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The Tree of Life:

St. Matthew

The Fulfillment of Prophecy

Chapter 1. The connecting link of the Old Testament and the New Testament is forged in the threefold "generation of Jesus Christ," who, "for our salvation did come into the world and take upon Him our nature," with its latent hereditary tendencies to good and to evil. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Our first inclination is to deny it. "Joseph was minded to put Mary away privily." The claim of a supernatural birth has been made for the Buddha, Augustus Caesar, and others. The difference in the Lord’s case, however, places it altogether beyond comparison. "His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." He is "God with us." The acknowledgment of God in Christ, with an implication unique in all time and for all time, is fundamental to the salvation of the human race. "Joseph took unto him his wife."

2. Immediately this acknowledgment raises the question of its adequacy to bring order into a world ruled by self-interest (Herod). The church asserts that wheresoever the Christ child has entered a heart ready to give up everything for his sake (Bethlehem), there is to be found the truth that will rectify every injustice which destroys the peace of the world. Self-interest challenges the validity of this conviction, and endeavors to crush it stealthily while in the bud. But the light of life leads those who are searching for the truth to the feet of the infant King, to rejoice in the perception of the good of his unselfish love of man (gold) as an answer to their prayer (frankincense) and an undying memorial to Him (myrrh). This is the spirit of Christmas. Our concept of Christianity grows with a new knowledge of the Word (Egypt) even while the world welters in the slaughter of the innocents. We deplore the wreckage of churches in the past through the violation of the spirit of charity (Rachel weeping for her children). History, however, only strengthens our faith, and prepares us to meet the enemy, not as yet at its source (in Judea), but in private life (Galilee), in seclusion (Nazareth). The greater part of our life is passed in God’s sight, not man’s sight.

3. The world is like a hopeless wilderness to us as soon as we try to make crooked ways straight for the spread of Christianity. The voice of conscience rudely disregards our feelings, and requires us to quit double-dealing. The good we do must be free from corruption. Reformation precedes regeneration in point of time. In point of importance, however, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire is first. The Lord Himself observed the same order. To fulfill all righteousness John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.

4. Then followed the temptations in the spirit. The forty days of fasting are significant of the temptations of a lifetime. The three temptations are types of all temptations. To make stones into bread is to substitute learning for practical living. To cast self down from the giddy height is to lose one’s head in seeking preeminence over all men. And to gain the whole world is to lose the soul in the worship of mammon. The words of the law that in each case repel the tempter are of universal application; the practical content in the mind and heart on each occasion is the secret of the power in the Word. Through growth in godliness light shines forth from character, impelling repentance, and giving a healthy impetus to the business of living—the Christian life. Obedience in proof of faith (Simon Peter), manliness (Andrew), charity and love (James and John), are chosen principles for restoring sanity to a world gone mad with the lust for money and power.

5. From heights scaled through humiliation, we learn the Lord’s own standard of life. Lasting happiness springs from humility, from sorrow for the state of the world, courage to withstand correction, eagerness to know God’s will, compassion, purity of heart, peacemaking, and patience under trial. The preservation of order in the world is dependent upon confidence based on the reception of these blessings. Without the Christian life the world must sink into darkness. Christianity comprises the fulfillment of "the law and the prophets," freed from self-righteousness. Anger, or contempt of the intelligence or the character of others, violates the law on a descending scale. We bring corresponding punishment upon ourselves, unless and until we set our feelings right for sure. Lust is essential adultery. We are in hell if sight or touch are permitted to enjoy the feeling of lust longer than it takes to perform a surgical operation—or cut it out. It is frequently difficult to distinguish love from lust. When sure that the feelings are lustful, the sooner we get rid of them the better. The perception of the truth by a good heart is a safer guide than the confirmation of wishful thinking by the spirit of the Word, or its letter, or the doctrine of the church, or human reason. When the truth hits us we should be on guard against resentment, in an attempt to disprove it, and escape condemnation. Debate within, or without, hardens the heart, and warps the judgment. Better concede that we may be in the wrong, and give up pleas in self-defense as far as is possible. This applies especially when concessions are necessary where dislike, or enmity, lurks within the heart. Our love is often put to a sore test when under the criticism or persecution of others.

6. Self-merit is no honor. We lower our dignity when sounding our own trumpet, or reflecting upon our own goodness. And prayer for show, or empty of meaning, is weak and hypocritical. Pray to Him who made all, and provides for and protects all alike as his own. Pray that we bring no stigma upon the Christian name we bear, that His law may be made clear to us, and that His will as held in conscience may be upheld in action. In the endeavor to live anew pray for strength from above, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from evil when tempted. Self-pity is debasing. It helps, and it means much, to be cheerful and hopeful, even while the heart is heavy with sorrow. The treasures of wisdom are the only treasures worth possessing. But an evil eye blinds us to the value of wisdom, and mammon is a lord that leads his servants into evil. And, why worry about the future? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything needful to your highest interests will be provided.

7. We do wrong in condemning people, or their motives. We may justly condemn their opinions, or beliefs, or conduct. But we can never see clearly how to help them, until we have freed ourselves from contempt, or jealousy, or partisanship (the beam in our own eye). Hateful criticism, however true, is nothing short of profanity, destructive of our own character (casting pearls before swine, that turn again and rend us). Opportunities for service open before us whenever the heart and head unite to give our best wherever it is needed (ask, seek, knock). Acquire the habit of considering others as much as self, and fix no limit to the service, in a Christian spirit in every word and deed. The fulfillment of the spirit of "the law and the prophets" presents a task worthy of man, the noblest work of God. Our opportunity lies in avoiding the line of least resistance—self-will—and entering life by the strait gate and narrow way. Many a time false thinking will appear in the garb of disinterested love. By their fruits ye shall know them, if the heart is open to conviction. They are not distinguishable to the closed heart. "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Character must be built on the living acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ, put to the severest test, and not found wanting. The authority in the truth in the Sermon on the mount is felt by the hearer who is convinced that the Speaker did what He said, and is not asking the impossible of any man.

8. The Lord descended to the plain to prove it. The cleansing of the leper implies that the Lord cleared his conscience of every thought of self-merit. "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me (John 7:16). The Lord then turns his attention to the belief that bad habits indulged from childhood (the palsied servant) are incurable. We are familiar with the fact, however, that we have acquired the power of controlling these same habits whenever it would hurt our interests or reputation to expose them. The Roman centurion had soldiers trained to obey him, and therefore knew that the Lord had only to say the word, and his servant would be healed. With the Lord’s help a true conscience can control bad habits just as easily as a false or spurious conscience. This practical lesson comes as a rebuke to the old church in faith alone (Peter’s wife’s mother). The fever is allayed by the touch of the hand of the Master. Excitement in the multitude causes the Lord to withdraw to the other side of the lake. A professed desire to follow Him uncovers a love of deceit and pernicious thoughts that preclude the acceptance of the Gospel. Discipleship requires the complete renunciation of the old Adam in us. "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." The attempt to do so arouses violent opposition, affording the opportunity for another demonstration of the power of his word in restoring our peace of mind. A main cause of trouble, the spirit of greed, grows incorrigible through long indulgence. The devils cast into the swine that perished in the sea again illustrate the power of the word to eject greed, and grant generosity in its place. Resistance on one occasion does not eradicate the evil altogether. "The whole city besought Jesus to depart out of their coasts."

9. On returning to his own city another case of palsy was brought to Him on a bed for cure. The confirmation of sin is often responsible for our inability to do a kindness, or even feel kindly, to another. And so He says: "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee," which sounds like blasphemy to many. The recognition of Jesus as God comes with the restoration of health. This is fittingly followed by the addition of Matthew, "the gift of God," to his chosen followers. The outstanding characteristic of his Gospel too is the fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament in Jesus Christ. Christianity exists to put mercy before creed or ritual, and "to call sinners to repentance." Repentance is a time of abstinence and self-denial. When the Lord is present there is good cheer even in tribulation. Only when the bridegroom is taken from us are we unhappy. New cloth is not used to fill a rent in an old garment, or new wine put into old bottles. The Lord teaches the world a new spirit in meeting trouble. Put the new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. Two sorrows that are healed illustrate the point. "They whom God enlightens" (Jairus) seek relief from pessimism—the love of living in the dark, or grieving without hope (the sick daughter). The life’s blood of an unknown woman had been wasted twelve years. The touch of the hem of the Lord’s garment gave instant relief. He knew that virtue had gone out of Him, reacting to the return of life to Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter. This is a remarkable testimony to the power of the letter of God’s Word to illuminate the mind, transmute wasted energy in grieving into a living faith in the Lord, and resuscitate within the church a sympathy for everyone in trouble that impels action to succor and to save. Sympathy opens the eyes to see the needful thing to do, and the mouth to speak the word of life (two blind men and one dumb man cured). The charge of hypocrisy in the work is often heard. But the evidences of new life and new joy are so marked, that they rise above criticism. The more we do to uplift society, the more we feel the Lord’s compassion for the masses "scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." Sympathy and understanding are at a high premium today. "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few."

10. The laborers are sent forth with power to heal, as the Lord healed. The twelve represent all the elements necessary to establish Christianity on the earth. Simon Peter heads the first four, Philip the second four, and James the third four in all three Gospels. All three lists end with the name of Judas Iscariot. The three quartets represent the leading elements in the will, the understanding and the life of each Christian, or in the Christian Church. Christianity does not appeal to those who are in the love of self (Gentiles and Samaritans), but to all who feel the sorrows of the world as their own, and desire to do something about it, under guidance and help from above. These are "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," in captivity to reasoning excusatory of self-indulgence. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Emancipation for better living is within the reach of everyone. Proof in a healthy outlook, sincerity of purpose, newness of life, and freedom from vice or evil is the only guarantee of the meaning and power of the appeal. As we have received, so shall we give, without thought of reward. Our "meat" is in sharing others’ gains. In our public and private life the Lord expects us to greet one and all alike with peace and goodwill. If our salutation is unwelcome, ours is not to condemn, or resent, but to be sure that whatever evil we behold without does not in any degree adhere to ourselves. "Shake off the dust of your feet." We sink to a lower level if we do unto others what we would not have them do unto us, or anyone else. It is hard to preserve the good life intact from a world charged with rapacity and excess. What to think and what to do when confronting conflicting interests, tests our faith. The Holy Spirit prompts the word through conscience with increasing clearness the more we submit our wills to God’s will. The foes of our own household are our main concern. Everything must be brought into the light for judgment. The Lord’s Providence extends even to the least important thoughts. Our worth is measured by the weight of the burden we are prepared to carry, and the sacrifice of the self-life made in the interest of Christianity. The reward? There is a real joy in learning about the life of the Lord in the Word. It brings us into touch with Him and the infinite love of God in heaven. There’s a joy in receiving the truth, or the good of life, each for its own sake (a righteous man). And there is a joy even in dropping a comforting remark to anyone in trouble, for whatever it may be worth (a cup of cold water for a little one).

11. The report of the Lord’s life did not meet John’s expectation. The Lord, however, confirmed the report to John’s disciples, and added: "Blessed is he whosoever shall find no stumbling block in me." This answer is no reflection on John’s work. The corrective teaching of the letter of the Word, which John represents, can not be twisted to prove right wrong, and wrong right, at will, like a reed shaken by the wind. It may be rough, like John’s clothing, or his hard words, compared with the inner meaning—the doctrine of charity, or love. The love of evil must first be removed from the heart that the love of God may enter in. Mother church has no greater message to deliver than the call for repentance. At the same time the right motive—the love of God—is more important than the form of repentance. Men are tempted to set the world straight, and establish heaven on earth by force. This is a terrible violation of the childlike spirit of trust in God, which can grow only in a free interchange of higher values in life by self-renunciation. Children pipe in the mart for a dance and for mourning, but their fellows will have none of it. And so, to this generation self-denial and Christian living (John’s fasting and the Lord’s feasting) make life worthless for it. In truth, the sorrows which attended the transgressions of God’s laws in past ages bear no comparison with the sufferings inseparable from the abuse of the light of life today. Thank God, the offenders know not what they do. No man in Christendom knoweth the love of God except him who finds it in following the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. "The way of the Cross" concealed within the Scriptures is unveiled to the humble (that is, to babes), "who love truths because they are truths, and make them of use for life" (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture #57), and who recognize and welcome the voice of the Lord when He says to the tired and disconsolate: "Come unto me, and I will give you rest."

12. Trust in the Lord is the peace of the Sabbath, after days of labor. To meditate upon the Word, and take home a lesson from it (plucking the ears of corn and eating thereof) is in complete harmony with the spirit of that day. We despise any lesson of life when we make more of ritual than of practice—more of the letter of the law than of the spirit. The power to do good may have dried up by merely talking about it (the withered hand), but can be restored at will. The nations could stop fighting today, if they so desired with their whole hearts. They prefer war, which is destructive of Christianity. Yet Christianity is not dead. There are many who have experienced its healing power, and silently bide the time when men will be more open to the conviction of the futility of sin in any form. The Lord never forces any man possessed with a devil, blind and dumb, to see and confess this truth, until he is ready to stand by it for good. The love of hypocrisy tries to break down the defense. But the proof that the love of Christ integrates, and anti-Christ disintegrates, society is unanswerable. Hypocrisy is hard to break down even in the best of men. It is forgivable when unrecognized, but damnable when consciously allowed to pass without judgment. Our words ring true when consciously sincere, and false when meant to conceal duplicity. An exposé of the follies of hypocrisy is made apparent by the wisdom of sincerity in the Lord’s life in fulfillment of prophecy. He entered into the heart of all the knowledges and the wisdom of the race that condemned his generation, and rose from the dead in majestic obedience to it. The more anyone seeks to clear a guilty conscience of offense, the deeper he plunges himself into trouble. Our simple duty is to "do the will of the Father which is in heaven," to be a lover of the living church of God, and neighborly to everyone (my mother and my brethren).

13. "The same day." The Lord proceeded forthwith to teach a waiting throng about his kingdom as a kingdom of uses. First, the growth of the knowledge of practical living. To the irresponsible the practical teachings of God’s Word never take root. The superficial take them to heart with the best intentions, but, as soon as they meet opposition, their enthusiasm wanes, and the useful ideas fade out of existence. The worldly-minded gladly accept practical Christianity, but check its full fruitage as prejudicial to their success in life, or as bad policy. It takes patience and courage to overcome indifference, self-love and worldliness, and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. The disciple sees the meaning, and is protected from profanation by the Spirit of the Lord. The explanation in terms of life is the Lord’s work. Without Him we can do nothing. Secondly, the growth of our knowledge of the distinction between true and false ideas. It is in the heading out of wheat and tares that the difference appears. Wheat yields white and wholesome grains, while darnel produces black and poisonous seeds. Thirdly, the growth of our knowledge of faith. The mustard seed is "the least of all seeds," and pungent to the taste. A humble warm-hearted faith grows normally, and in time harbors many a helpful and useful thought. Fourthly, the growth of temptations. This subject is closely connected with the separation of that which is true from that which is false. Hence, the Lord’s explanation at this point of the parable of the tares and the wheat. Leaven produces fermentation, which is a recognizable symbol of trials that free us from conceit, or self-righteousness (the starch consumed by fermentation—Deuteronomy 10:16). Fifthly, the growth of the treasures of wisdom. These are hidden within the day’s doings, and become our own through self-renunciation in perfecting our lives in our "field of honor." Sixthly, the growth of the knowledge of the Lord as our Savior. The oyster covers a foreign particle that has invaded its home with coatings of nacre to remove the irritation. A knowledge of the Lord’s saving grace frees us from the vexation of evil within, as we make the effort to overcome it. Each gate of the Holy City was of one pearl. And seventhly, the growth of the separation of knowledges in the memory that have life in them. We have good reason for cherishing fond memories of the past, but reason (the net) may help us to learn yet more from unhappy recollections before casting them aside for good. What treasures of things new and old! Yet, human nature balks over the admission of the Divinity of the Lord who owns and dispenses them. Faith wanes; character-building is suspended.

14. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus," and John was in prison. We may be analyzing a common situation where group pressure constrains us to do things contrary to conscience. Christianity forces the issue—conscience or self-interest? Self-interest sometimes wins, and conscience is silenced; but, not forever. John’s disciples buried the body, and went and told Jesus. He withdrew to a desert place beyond Jordan apart. The multitude followed, and He healed and fed them out of compassion, and then went into a mountain to pray. A storm arose, and threatened the safety of the ship on the lake. With the dawn of a new day the Lord came walking on the water, and saved the disciples, Peter in particular. The strengthening of the inner life revives faith in the conflict with the foes within.

15. The issue of obedience to the law, or to man, follows. Failure to wash the hands before eating harms no one. But failure to help parents in want, and resort to subterfuge to evade conviction, stultifies the law altogether. To be offended by just criticism makes matters worse. The blind fall into a ditch—that is, hell—and take their followers with them. Obstinacy regards proffered help as an affront. Clearly, the most wicked thoughts that enter our minds are perfectly harmless, so long as we do not entertain them. As soon, however, as we cherish, or nurse them, they defile character. And who is entirely free from this love of evil thinking, which is represented by the daughter of a Canaanite woman grievously vexed with a devil. We cannot always get rid of ugly thoughts when we so desire. We do not know how ugly they are. The Lord cannot rectify the effect of our habit, until our pride as the elect has been humbled. The woman’s admission of the Gentiles—"dogs" in the eyes of the Jew—being content "to eat the crumbs which fell from their masters’ table," brought to light a faith that worked, and prepared the way for the cure of many other evils, and for further instruction in the spiritual life.

16. Returning to the land the Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven. Why? They recognize the signs of the weather in the sky! But they fail to see why nations and churches have risen and fallen, have come and gone! They ought to know these signs of the times without being told. The proof of the Lord’s Messiahship rests upon his testimony to the truth in his life, his death and his resurrection. Despite the hostility and obstruction of a wicked and adulterous generation, He is "the Light of the world" to lead the unsophisticated Gentile through repentance out of the darkness into the light. That is the meaning of the sign of the prophet Jonas. The disciples failed to see it, and doubted his word. They were affected by the leaven of the Pharisees, although they had witnessed his power to feed the thousands. There was good reason why they should "beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees." The world may think of Jesus as a great prophet, but to the disciples He is more than that—even "the Christ, the Son of the living God." That is beyond the comprehension of the hypocrite or the materialist. Christianity will be built on the living acknowledgment of the Lord, which is invincible. That acknowledgment opens heaven, to accept or reject good or evil at will. The potency of this belief, however, is dependent upon its freedom from vain boasting. We have our part to do. But the power to do even that is from the Lord. He told his disciples the sufferings that lay before Him to enter into his glory, but they could not grasp it. The self-life must be separated from the life from God. We are judged by our works, and not by our faith. The experience even in part amply testifies to the coming of the Lord.

17. "After six days"—after a completed period of temptations—dawns the blessed day of rest. The glory of the Lord may be seen by anyone whose love and faith and Christian life have opened his eyes to the perfection of the Lord’s character as revealed in "the law and the prophets" (Moses and Elias). How satisfying it is to live in the contemplation of the Divine! Our indisposition to return to real life again is removed by the touch and presence of "Jesus only." The meaning of the vision is not clear until the letter of the Word has yielded a spiritual lesson reduced to simple terms in practical life— the equivalent of the resurrection of the Son of man. Many, however, repudiate the claim of conscience (John), and become fanatics. The disorder is curable through faith, and prayer, and action in abstaining from a passionate adherence to distorted views of life and religion. The evil in these abnormal mental states must be driven out. Otherwise, the evil will oust the Christian ideal. The Lord rose from the dead, submitting to the powers that be in this world in his crucifixion. The tribute paid to Rome then was of the flesh alone, and not of the spirit. The fish provided the tribute money for the Lord, and for Peter. Mortal suffering is inseparable from a victorious faith.

18. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he who has attained the innocence of wisdom, freedom from sin through following the Lord’s example. The humility of a child opens the heart to the reception of the Lord. We see wherein we have been false to Him. To offend against "one of these little ones which believe in me" deliberately is most debasing. Offenses are unavoidable, and woe inevitable, but every misdeed or misunderstanding presents an opportunity to redeem character. It is better to pass through life incapacitated by suffering in self-denial, than to be wrong, and feel satisfied to remain in hell. The salvation of everyone is dependent upon the states of innocence imprinted in the soul in childhood. From these conscience is built up, and within these "heaven is at hand." "It is not the will of the Father in heaven, that one of these little one should perish." When, therefore, we are at variance with our brother, we should analyze our feelings. Our duty is to forgive those who trespass against us, that we may experience God’s forgiveness. If we see where we are at fault, and adjust our feelings rightly, charity will reign within. If not, examine the circumstances in the light of reason, and the teachings of the church. If after this, no fault appears at our door, then we may treat an offender as an outsider, but without prejudice or resentment. As are our judgments for good, and against evil, so is heaven formed within. Anything about which both the mind and will agree to is possible. And when put in practice—the third witness—the Lord is in the midst of it. The Lord places no limit upon the exercise of forgiveness. The Lord Himself forgives to the uttermost. Yet, we often hold others indebted to us in durance vile without compassion to do whatever we require of them. The lex talionis operates automatically in imprisoning ourselves, so that the Lord cannot reach us, until the heart of stone has become a heart of flesh.

19. The Lord then went to "the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan." The problem of divorce belongs there, since it is a break in external relationships due to internal disagreement. Man is responsible for the break, which is only permitted to avert greater evils. Marriage for self-indulgence is legalized adultery. Some preserve the inborn purity of their vow by a perception of the fitness of things, others by mutual concessions, and others from a sense of duty. Marital happiness is conditioned upon the rejuvenation of the soul, the pure joys of childhood enriched by a mature understanding of their content. Ethical culture is not enough to attain life that can be called "eternal," and that comes only from God, who is pure love. The Lord specified the commandments on the second table as essential to happiness. The rich young man claimed to have fulfilled their requirements. Yes, but one thing is needful for perfection, a selfless attachment to wealth, or to culture. That is the fulfillment of the first great commandment, and hard to attain. It takes a lifetime to detach the heart from its illusion of the almighty power of the dollar, or of knowledge. Whoever follows the Lord in the regeneration, "when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory," shall also sit upon a throne to set up a new order without as well as within himself.

20. "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a householder hiring laborers into his vineyard." Those who are most attached to wealth, material or spiritual, are hired first. Those less attached to it have less of the heat of the day’s work to endure. Those hired at the eleventh hour have little or no attachment to overcome. The reward of each is but a penny. "All service ranks alike with God, whose puppets best and worst are we" (R. Browning). All of which is a fitting introduction to the last journey to Jerusalem, with the cross already in sight. To the disciples, the vision of world dominion is uppermost. Who shall be greatest in the kingdom to come on which they have staked their all? Contrary to their expectation he will be chief who subordinates his own interests to the interests of others, "even as the Son of man came to give his life [the self-life] a ransom for many." Two blind men receive their sight at their own request. The Lord opens our understanding and perception to this new and higher order of things, if and when we so desire.

21. The Lord then asks us to place our reason under his direction. It is not free to prove right to be right, when it has long grown accustomed to prove wrong to be right. The ass is tied. The two disciples are told to loose it, and bring it to the Lord. He hath need of it. Language that clothes our thoughts is like the garments that clothe the body. And so we bring our troubles to the Lord for judgment. The people put their garments on the ass, spread them in the way, and cried, saying, "Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." The Lord entered Jerusalem as its king, and cleansed the temple, his dwelling place with man. He cleansed his own Humanity of the spirit of gain, to the perfected praise of babes and sucklings— "the lamb of God" made ready for sacrifice—his last trials. On the morrow the condemnation of the fig tree represented the self-inflicted judgment on the Jewish Church for lack of charity. The Lord asserted that this condition is not unalterable, as is generally supposed. Whoever asks in prayer, believing, shall receive. His authority for doing what He did is beyond the understanding of the self-righteous who have nothing to be sorry for. The despised publican and harlot enter heaven, his kingdom, having responded to the appeal of John, his forerunner. The householder in the next parable is the Father. The vineyard is the church as a center for the cultivation of neighborliness. The prophets were sent continually to receive of the fruits, only to be rejected and killed. And when the Son and heir appeared, they treated him likewise, and seized the inheritance. From their own lips their conduct proved their unworthiness of the trust committed to them. The headstone of the corner is the acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ as our God and Savior. The builders of the temple rejected it. To know what Christianity teaches, and refuse to have anything to do with it, hurts one’s own character; but, to acknowledge it in Christian living, and then go back on it, and emasculate it, completely destroys character. Many an honest Christian may feel the test put upon him so great at times that he is tempted to renounce his faith, but hesitates through fear of the loss of reputation. Such an unworthy motive comes to the surface only to be condemned.

22. The first of this group of parables (21:28–32) shows the weak spot in the will to believe; the second (21:33–46) exposes the effect of rejecting the means of salvation, the Son of man; and the third, the failure to wed the will to the ideal in Christian living, by sharing the new life with the Giver and his guests at "the marriage supper of the Lamb." The selected guests declined. Their reason? Business as usual! The gentiles responded, and among them a guest without a wedding garment. This is the gift of heaven to all the Lamb’s followers (Revelation 19:8). Many, however, expect to share the joy of heaven without making any sacrifice for it. This belief binds hand and foot in the service of self, and leads to total darkness. The self-righteous question the justice of it. The nation is in bondage to Rome. Does the Lord approve of it? The silence that followed his dictum meant consent to law enforcement as the lesser of two evils, even though it were only for self-preservation. Question: Is it possible to obey the law? Marriage for self-advantage is no marriage. It is therefore barren, and ends in death. "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." The ability to obey the law, and rise from the dead, is the inalienable possession of every man. Question: Which law? The two great commandments are absolute spiritual values, which are inviolable. The Lord’s question: "What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?" Admittedly "the son of David." "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord?" The answer demands more than a lip confession of His Divinity.

23. Therefore, the Lord continues: The scribes and Pharisees give good advice. Follow that; but not their example, for they accept no responsibility for the burdens they place on other men’s shoulders. They live for the praise of men. They advertise their own probity. They seek preeminence and distinction. Christians are all brethren, feeling less and less worthy of recognition, the more they are privileged to do for others. X ray pictures of hypocrisy disclose malignant conditions beneath the surface that need great courage to eradicate. Everything is in the open in the light of heaven. The hypocrite tries to conceal the corruption within; or, if called in question, justify it. Whited sepulchers! Outwardly respectable members of society, but inwardly self-righteous, self-centered and self-willed! God’s chosen people! They build monuments in honor of the great prophets, whom they rejected and killed to the last One of them. "Behold your house (the temple in Jerusalem) is left desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." History repeats itself, but only that we may thank the Lord for the light, and the opportunity to rewrite it.

24. He left the temple. The church had rejected its Lord and its God. Every truth for the building of character had been perverted. This desolation of the church would be repeated in Christianity prior to the Lord’s Second Coming. As soon as "the first love" of the Apostolic age cooled down, the church was disrupted by bitter doctrinal controversies, "wars and rumors of wars" (verses 4–7). The second period of Christianity, from the fourth to the sixteenth century, was characterized by the denial of its principles in the life—killing the disciples, and following false prophets (verses 8–14). "The abomination of desolation," characteristic of the third period, found expression in the dogma of salvation by faith alone (verses 15–22). And the last state of the church—naturalism, rationalism, materialism and atheism—appeared in the eighteenth century, when "false Christs" took the place of the Lord in the church, which then "called falsity truth, and evil good" (verses 23–28, Arcana Coelestia #3900). It was hard to discover the love of God, faith in Him, or heavenly truths anywhere. Then appeared the sign of the Son of man in heaven, the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word of God. "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn." Good people will see the meaning of the sign, and suffer for the sins of man that appear in the light of it. "And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." That is the practical Second Coming—the truth in the Word with power to remove the cause of all sorrow and sighing in the world to the glory of God. The growth of charitable work in the last century reassures us of the dawn of a new and better age. Summer is nigh when the leaves of the fig tree appear. In the light of revelation the evil in the race today, the aftermath of the past degeneration, is brought before us for judgment. To each man comes the solemn warning, "Watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."

25. The three parables that follow specify the coming of the Son of man severally to the will, the understanding and the outward conduct. The Lord gives everyone an affection for the truth learned in childhood. This the ten virgins represent. Sometimes that truth is welcomed in a loving heart, and becomes "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." At other times it is unwelcome; we resent correction. Our lamp has gone out for lack of oil. The bridegroom comes, the five wise virgins go in with him to the marriage, and the five foolish ones find the door closed to them. So long as evil is cherished in the heart, we must suffer till the will to believe is strong enough to submit to a change of heart. Watch! The five talents represent the truths received in childhood, and the two talents the truths acquired in mature life. Their being doubled signifies the acquisition of love in putting them to service. The one talent represents truth without love—truth used to condemn, and not to save. "I knew thee that thou art a hard man, and I hid thy talent in the earth." The harsh hypercritical spirit must be cast out of our nature, and the truth rendered serviceable under the gentle spirit of trustfulness in God. The talent is given to him that had ten talents, that nothing should be lost. Finally, "when the Son of man shall come in his glory, he shall separate his sheep from the goats." The works of "the sheep" were done "unto one of the least of these my brethren," while the works of "the goats," lacking that motive, condemned them to everlasting punishment. The Lord works perpetually to remove from the heart the spirit of self-righteousness and self-merit, and put guilelessness and trustfulness in their place in all the good we do. The Son of man thus affects His Coming to us in a changed will, a changed mind, and a changed life.

26. The stage is now set for the closing events of Passion week. The plot to take the Lord’s life is brewing. He saw all clearly before and behind the scenes. Divine Love was needed to meet the trial with Wisdom adequate to the situation. The Scriptures supplied the need; the Wisdom in them opens to the eyes of love. This is signified by the woman anointing the Lord’s head. The disciples considered the act wasteful. The worldly begrudge an unbounded display of love which they cannot understand. Judas must have felt thus when he estimated his Master’s worth at a paltry thirty pieces of silver. The day of unleavened bread (signifying "pure love") arrived. And when the even was come, Jesus sat down with the twelve, and informed them that one of them would betray Him. They partook of the supper, sang a hymn, and went out into the mount of Olives. From the mountaintop they descended to the valley, where Jesus felt the agony of subjecting his will to the Divine Will in the ordeal before Him. At the betrayal, Judas told the armed throng to hold fast him whom he kissed, and then approached his Master, and kissed Him. The Greek word for the "sign" means a formal greeting, but another word for the act means the kiss of love, by which Judas was born again (verse 24). The church condemned the Lord to death for claiming to be "the Christ, the Son of God." Cowardice shook the faith of the new church: Peter renounced his sworn confession of allegiance to the Lord. The cock crew, the Lord’s words came to mind, and Peter was smitten with remorse.

27. The change at work in Judas was completed when he saw his Master was condemned. He expiated his crime by the complete surrender of his life into the hands of his Maker to be refashioned by Him as clay in the potter’s hands. The blood money purchased the potter’s field, in fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 45:9; Jeremiah 18:6; Zechariah 11:12, 13; Arcana Coelestia #3652). And thus an enduring faith and self-sacrificing love provided a sure foundation for the Christian Church soon to take form. Jesus was brought before Pilate, accused of claiming to be "the king of the Jews"—a rival of Caesar. Shall the law of love rule in the affairs of men, or a despotism? The depravity of the church and people is unbared in clamoring for the release of Barabbas, and the crucifixion of the Lord. The state would accept no responsibility. Pilate washed his hands in innocency before the multitude. The cruel treatment of the Lord in mockery, and by insolent abuse and crucifixion, showed the depths to which man can fall when crossed. Everything the Christ stood for was ignominiously rejected to the last scrap! They even parted his garments, and cast lots for his vesture. The scriptures meant nothing to them. They could only offer vinegar mingled with gall to quench his thirst for righteousness. "By the darkness over all the land was represented that in the universal church there was nothing but evil, and the falsity thence derived" (Apocalypse Explained #526). He saw it all and felt the terrible loneliness and hopelessness of the situation, which gave poignancy to the bitter cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forgotten me?" By his death the veil of the temple was rent in twain, and "opened the way to His Divine itself through His Human made Divine" (Arcana Coelestia #2576). "The spirits in prison" were "liberated by the Lord, and introduced into heaven" (verses 52, 53; Arcana Coelestia #8018). The nucleus for the formation of a new church on the earth also appeared. Joseph of Arimathea took from the cross the body of the Lord, wrapped it in clean linen, and laid it in a new tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary kept guard at the sealed entrance to prevent desecration, and the Roman soldiers were there to thwart deception. The church is the custodian of the Word, to preserve it from mutilation, until the fullness of time when Christianity has become a real power in the world.

28. To the selfish and worldly the Word is a closed book. But to loving hearts that feel the bitterness of life, power from above opens the Scriptures, that they may see the triumph of Love over death. Mother church will find the way of the cross in the daily walks in life, according to the instruction of the angel to the women, "Tell the disciples that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him; lo, I have told you." On their way the women met the Lord Himself, and received from Him the very same instruction: "Tell my brethren that they go into Galilee and there shall they see me." The Word in its spirit and the Lord Himself insist that He is only to be seen in the good life, in contradistinction to the false teachings of the former church that led to its dissolution, and still persist. Every true disciple of the Lord now turns to the evidences of new life in the world viewed from within (the mountain in Galilee) for proofs of the Lord’s resurrection in man today. Healthy doubts only strengthen the assurance that the Lord from His Divine Human is steadily bringing order out of chaos in the world, despite all appearances to the contrary (Arcana Coelestia #7931). "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth," make Christians of all well-disposed people, "teach them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always to the end of the age. Amen."


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