Sermons by Marlin Harless


(Text: Luke 23:31)
By Marlin L. Harless

INTRODUCTION: There are several scriptures that either shadow or at least parallel this text which are as follows, Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner (Proverbs 11:31). For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts (Jeremiah 25:29). And say to the forests of the south, hear the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord God; behold I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein (Ezekiel 20:47).

And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince shall come and destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined (Daniel 9:26). Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them which obey not the gospel of God?" (1Peter 4:17).

I. THE SCHOLAR'S SPEAK: A. T. Robertson, notes (Word Pictures, vol. 2, p, 284) that green wood, being hard to burn, is a symbol of the innocent; dry wood, which catches fire easily, is the symbol of guilt. The application of this proverb is what will Jerusalem do if they are so bold, as to crucify the Messiah, at the time of its judgment from God? The New Bible Commentary offers the following commentary on (Luke 23:31), "For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Some think the question was probably a proverb at the time. On the lips of Jesus it means, 'If the Romans deal thus with One whom they admit to be innocent, how will they deal with those whom they find to be guilty?" But this statement seems not to take into consideration, the fact that Jesus' crucifixion originated with the Jews, and not the Romans. "But they [the Jews, emphasis, mine MLH], cried, saying, Crucify him, Crucify him" (Luke 23:21).

II. CLARKE'S COMMENTARY, VOLUME FIVE, MATTHEW - ACTS, page 496. Comment on (Luke 23:31), gives the following: "This seems to be a proverbial expression, the sense of which is: if they spare not a tree which, by the beauty of its foliage, abundance and excellence of its fruits, deserves to be preserved, then the tree which is dried and withered shall surely be cut down. if an innocent man be put to death in the very face of justice, in opposition to all its dictates and decisions, by a people who profess to be governed and directed by divine laws, what desolation, injustice, and oppression may not be expected, when anarchy and confusion sit in the place where judgment and justice formerly presided? Our Lord alludes prophetically to those tribulations which fell upon the Jewish people about 40 years after." [This would be the complete demolition and destruction of Jerusalem, and its Temple, by the Roman General, Titus, in A. D. 70, emphasis, mine, MLH].

III. BLEEK AND OTHERS, INTERPRET THIS SAYING HERE THUS: "The green wood represents Jesus condemned to crucifixion as a traitor in spite of His unvarying loyalty to Rome and all lawful Gentile power. The dry wood pictures the Jews, who, ever disloyal to Rome and all Gentile authority, will bring on themselves with much stronger reason the terrible vengeance of the great conquering empire. Theophylact, however, better explains this saying in his paraphrase, "If they do these things in me, fruitful, always green, undying through the Divinity, what will they do to you, fruitless, and deprived, of all life-giving righteousness?" So Farrar, who well summarizes, " If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and the false?" 1

IV. THAT SIN AND PUNISHMENT BECOME DEEPER AND DEEPER AND NEARER AS TIME GOES ON. "The green tree is exposed to the consuming fire; but the green tree in time becomes the dry, and how much more certain and more fierce then will be the devouring flame! The nation goes from bad to worse, from the worse to the worst; from dark to darker, from condemnation to calamity. So does a human soul, unguided by heavenly truth and unguarded by holy principle. At any and every time in danger, its peril becomes continually greater as its guilt becomes constantly deeper. Go not one step further in the course of sin, in the way of worldliness, into the "far country" of forgetfulness. Each step is an approach to a precipice. Return on thy way without a moment's lingering.---" C. 2

V. (LUKE 23:31), "FOR IF THEY DO THESE THINGS IN A GREEN TREE, WHAT SHALL BE DONE IN THE DRY?" "Jesus here uses a common proverb to convey more vividly the awfulness of their coming sufferings. The green tree is the symbol of the righteousness and the dry tree of the wicked. (Psalm 1: 3; Ezekiel 20:47). If an innocent man should so suffer, what would be the fate of the wicked? The green tree is representative of one which bears fruit, while the dry tree represents the one that does not bear fruit, but is ready to be burned, [emphas, mine,MLH]. The Jewish people were rejecting Him and leading Him forth to the death of the cross; upon them would come fearful judgment. They were more guilty than those who would take no part in the crucifixion" (Cf. 1 Peter 4: 12-18). 3

VI. SIN WHEN IT IS FULL GROWN REVEALS THE AWFUL AND FEARFUL CONSEQUENCES, OF JESUS' WORDS IN (Luke 23:31). "More terrible than the crucifixion will be the horrors that follow on it, when joy itself shall be the stuff of which misery is wrought (vs. 29), and death shall be a welcome release from life. All too easily do we assume that those were "crude and cruel days." No longer the cross, the oubliette, the rack, the screw, the iron maiden; no longer the inquisition or the stake: but does it mean more than that cruelty has grown out of its callow youth and put on the refinements of maturity?" 4


I. The green tree and the dry:---A word in explanation. The green tree is Christ; the dry tree in the first judgment is the Jewish nation; and the dry tree in the last judgment is the unconverted world. By a "green tree" Christ does not mean a young and tender tree, but rather one full grown and flourishing. By "the dry," He means a tree withered, worthless, and dead. With respect to the first judgment He may mean this: "If the Romans so treat the innocent Jesus, how will they treat the guilty Jerusalem?" or He may mean, "If the Jews so punish me, how will God punish them?" With respect to the second judgment, He surely means---"If God so bruise the innocent for the transgressions of others, how will He punish the guilty for their own iniquities?" I will now, with God's help, try to open up to you this solemn text. We have here two trees: one green---the other dry. I will show you, first, the glory and destruction of the green tree; and then, the shame and end of the dry. "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch [Christ, emphasis, mine, MLH] shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).

II. (I) THE GLORY AND DESTRUCTION OF THE GREEN TREE. In meditating upon the glory of the green tree, we had better keep the substance of it and the shadow of it apart from each other. To do so we will look first at the natural tree, and next at the Savior, who is represented by it. In the midst of yonder wilderness, overrun with all manner of weeds and poisonous plants, there lies an humble patch of dry, bare ground. From the midst of the dry, barren ground, where nothing ever grew before, there rises up a young tree, tall and fair to look upon. Higher and higher it grows, until its shadow falls upon the tops of the loftiest trees around it; higher and higher, until all the trees in the wilderness are but weeds when compared with it. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord" (Revelation 1:8a).

Now turn to the reality. Christ is that tree of God. In His birth He grew out of ground that was barren. [Yes, "And as a root out of a dry ground," (Isaiah 53:2b), emphasis, mine, MLH]. As a man, He grew up in stature and wisdom, and favor, and glory, until there was none such upon the face of the earth; until He stood alone as the great tree of life in the midst of the perishing; until He bid fair to stretch forth His branches to the uttermost ends of the world. Look back to the green tree. How beautiful it is! It has no crooked bows, or twisted branches. There is no worm eaten or withered leaves: every leaf is as fresh as when first unfolded from the bud. "His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself" (Revelation 19:12). There are no weather-beaten, time-stained flowers: every flower is perfect. There are no bitter or rotten fruits: all its fruits are ripe and uninjured. From the lowest root to the highest leaf, it is without a fault. Behold in this some faint picture of Jesus. His birth was as pure as the creation of an angel. His childhood was as spotless as sunshine. His thoughts were as clear as the river of God. His heart was a well of love. His soul was a great deep of light. His life was unstained by the shadow of evil. He was the admiration of angels. He was the joy of God! Look back to the green tree. Mark its promise. Leave that tree untouched, and what will it become? "Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?" (John 8:46).

Will it not reach up to heaven, and spread till it over-shadows the world? Who will it leave without a shelter? What disease will it not cure? What hunger will it not satisfy? Will it not grow into a universal blessing? Behold in this the shadow of Jesus! Had He dwelt upon earth until now, what would He not have done for mankind! If in three years He healed such crowds of diseased persons, what multitudes would He have cured in eighteen centuries? Oh, when we think of it, the glory of that green tree of God! Wonderful, wonderful Jesus! "His name shall be called wonderful" (Isaiah 9:6c).

How can we now turn from the brightness of Thy glory, to the gloom of Thy sorrow? Oh! Who shall tell the tale of destruction? "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). The axe and the flame from beneath, and the glittering arrows from above, stripped and rent, and leveled all Thy glory. Thou wast slain and buried off the face of the earth!

III. (II). AND NOW I PAUSE; AND TURN FROM CHRIST'S CROSS TO CHRIST'S QUESTION---"What shall be done in the dry?" We have looked for a few moments at the glory and the destruction of the green tree. We turn to the shame and end of the dry. Look then, O unconverted man or woman, at that dry tree. It is springtime: thousands of plants around are putting forth green leaves; but not a leaf appears upon it. It is summer: the gardens are white, and many colored-with flowers; but the dry tree stands as bare as it stood in spring. It is Autumn: the orchards are golden and red with fruit; but the dry tree remains black and dead. Sinner! Thou art that dry tree. "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1:6).

Thousands around you are fruitful trees in the garden of God; they bring forth ripe faith, and tender love, and mellow peace, and the fruits of joy and humility. God gathers their fruit in its season, and rewards them an hundredfold. But you are barren, without faith, without love, without hope, without peace, without joy, without humility; you stand unmindful alike of God's commands, of God's warnings, and of God's forbearance---a withered cumberer of the ground. But the evil is still worse. You are taking up the room which others might occupy with advantage to the world, were you but removed. Look again, O unconverted man or woman, at the dry tree. "Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?" (Luke 13:7).

The showers that soften the folded buds, and spread open the tender leaves of living trees in spring-time, rain down on the dry tree in abundance; but, alas; it only decays the faster. Sinner thou art that dry tree. The gospel which has softened many hard hearts, has made yours more callous. God's mercies help to make you worse! Like the cross, the chief of all His gifts to you, they are the "savour of death unto death." "To the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16).

Before I conclude, I would give you a word of warning, and a word of encouragement, Remember, O unconverted man or woman, that this fearful question, "What shall be done in the dry?" remains still unanswered. As certain as I see the sufferings of Jesus, I see the sufferings of the lost! I can doubt no more. Penitent, a word to thee. In my bitter text there is some sweetness for thee. Penitent, if they have done these things in the green tree, why should you die? If Jesus died why should not you live? What if He died for you! (H. G. Guinness.) 5 "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5:11, 12).

IV. THE MISERIES OF LOST SOULS EXCEED THOSE OF CHRIST:---Could He not mean, that, "If I, who am not a rebel against Caesar, suffer so, how will those suffer whom the Romans take in actual rebellion at the siege of Jerusalem?" Jesus seems to suggest, "If I who am perfectly innocent, must nevertheless be put to such a death as this, what will become of the guilty?" If when fires are raging in the forest, the green trees full of sap and moisture crackle like stubble in the flame, how will the old dry trees burn, which are already rotten to the core and turned to touch-wood, and so prepared as fuel for the furnace! "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44).

If Jesus suffers who hath no sin, but is full of the life of innocence, and the sap of holiness, how will they suffer who have long been dead in sin, and are rotten with iniquity? As Peter puts it in another place, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God: and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17, 18). Note well that the sufferings of our Lord, though in some respects far beyond all conceivable woes, have yet some points about them in which they differ, with advantage, from the miseries of lost souls. Accordingly, our Lord knew that He was innocent, and therefore His righteousness upheld Him! "Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34b).

Whatever He suffered He knew that He deserved none of it: He had no stings of conscience, nor agonies of remorse. Now the sting of future punishment will lie in the indisputable conviction that it is well deserved! The finally impenitent will be tormented by their own passions, which will rage within them like an inward hell; but our Lord had none of this! There was no evil in Him, no lusting after evil, no self-seeking, no rebellion of heart, no anger, or discontent. Pride, ambition, greed, malice, revenge, these are the fuel of hell's fire!! Men's selves, not demons, are their tormentors; their inward lusts are worms that never die, and fires that never can be quenched: there could be none of this in our Divine Lord!! "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, Behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Revelation 1:18).

Again, lost souls hate God and love sin, but Christ ever loved God and hated sin. Now, to love evil is misery; when undisguised and rightly understood sin is hell! Our Lord Jesus knew that every pang He suffered was for the good of others: He endured cheerfully, because He saw that He was redeeming a multitude that no man can number from going down to the pit: but there is no redeeming power about the sufferings of the lost, they are not helping any one, nor achieving a benevolent design. The great God has good designs in their punishment, but they are strangers to such a purpose.

Our Lord had a reward before Him, because of which He endured the cross, despising the shame; but the finally condemned have no prospect of reward nor hope of rising from their doom! How can they expect either? He was full of hope, they are full of despair! "It is finished" was for Him, but there is no "It is finished" for them!! Their sufferings, moreover, are self-caused, their sin was their own! He endured agonies because others had transgressed, and He willed to saved them! They torment themselves with sin, to which they cleave, but it pleased the Father to bruise the Son, and the necessity for His bruising lay not in Himself, but in others! (C. H. Spurgeon.) 6 "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

CONCLUSION: Are you absolutely sure of your salvation? In order to become a Christian, you must obey the gospelthat is, do what God says, to become a Christian! Many folk think they are saved, when, in reality, they have only heard the gospel, possibly, believed it; but they haven't repented, nor confessed Christ, neither have they been baptized or immersed, for the remission sins!! If this is true in your case, you must do the following:

1. "How shall they BELIEVE in Him of whom they have not HEARD?" (Romans 10:14b).

2. "For with the heart man BELIEVETH unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10a).

3. Jesus said, "Except ye REPENT ye shall all likewise PERISH" (Luke 13: 3, 5).

4. "Whosoever therefore shall CONFESS me before men, him will I CONFESS also before my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32).

5. "He that BELIEVETH and is BAPTIZED shall be SAVED" (Mark 16: 16a).

6. "Be thou FAITHFUL unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2: 10e).


1 The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, (Luke 23:31), page 239, Exposition, H. D. M. Spence

2 The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, (Luke 23:31), page 254, Homilies by Various Authors, W. Clarkson

3 The Gospel Advocate Company, Commentary, (Luke 23:31), page 448, H. Leo Boles

4 The Interpreter's Bible, vol. 8, (Luke 23:31), page 405, Exposition, by Walter Russell Bowie & P. Scherer

5 The Biblical Illustrator, vol. III, (Luke 23:31), pages 566 & 567, Homiletics by Joseph S. Exell

6 The Biblical Illustrator, vol. III, (Luke 23:31), pages 567 & 568, Homiletics by Joseph S. Exell


1. The King James Version, Thompson's Chain-Reference Bible, 5th Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

5. Theological Dictionary of The New Testament

6. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

E-Mail Address: ( Dear reader, in the event you find errors or mistakes in this sermon, spelling, scripture references, etc., please inform me of the same!! Or call: Telephone # (304) 247-6895. Thank you! (MLH).

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