Luke 19:28-Luke 23

Luke 19:28‑23:56  •  36 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Jesus enters the city with royal state. The fifth period of our Gospel begins with this action. The multitude take the tone of the occasion, and, by their welcome, their palm-branches, and their exultation, fill out the scene of this kingly procession. The shout of a King was among them. But the question still was, Would Zion rejoice? Would the children of Israel be joyful in their King? Would Jerusalem be glad because He was coming, meek and lowly, and riding upon an ass (Zech. 9:99Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9))?
This was the inquisition now held. And we know the answer. In one language or another all the evangelists give it. “Ye would not,” is said to the children of Jerusalem. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” is again the word upon Israel. And the whole course of the action here recorded gives the same answer. Jerusalem—that “favored seat of God on earth, that heaven below the sky”—had defiled itself. The temple is unclean; the elders of the people are unbelieving; hypocrisy and love of the world stain the priests and scribes and rulers; they challenge instead of accepting Jesus; and traps and snares are laid for His feet where the crown should have been prepared for His head.
The action of these chapters, in this way, joins in the universal testimony against Jerusalem; and Jesus has to weep over that “city of peace.” It had, of old, been His desire. “This is My rest,” He had said of it. And as the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, He seeks no relief from other cities here, but weeps over this faithless one. And, until Jerusalem be restored, the earth, from one end of it to the other, is a Bochim to the spirit of Jesus in His saints. Their joy is divine and heavenly until then; for the earth yields not joy to them, if Jerusalem is disobedient.
It is very blessed to see that the place which the Lord chose for His dwelling on earth was Salem, the city of peace. There, in very early time, His holy witness and minister showed himself (Gen. 14). And so, when He Himself really descended to the earth, He came as “the Prince of peace,” seeking Jerusalem; His heralds proclaiming “Peace on earth” (Luke 2). But man was not ready for this. Man had previously built a city of confusion (Gen. 11); and builders of Babel could scarcely be prepared for a king of Salem. “The son of peace” was not on earth to answer the salutation of “the Prince of peace” from heaven. Jerusalem, in her day, knew not the things that belonged to her peace. He had, therefore, as we see here, only to weep over her. Her citizens had refused Him, had said He should not reign over them; and He has to return to the “far country” (the supreme seat and source of all power), to get His title to the kingdom sealed afresh.
All this, however, tells us that, when He returns, it must be in a new character. His return will be in “a day of vengeance,” seeing that this visitation in “peace” was refused. And, as promising Him this day of vengeance on the citizens, the Lord says to Him, on reaching that “far country,” “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” The Stone that was first offered as a foundation stone, sure and precious, was disallowed by the builders; and therefore now, before it can reach its destined place of honor (that is, fill, like a great mountain, the whole earth), it must first smite the image. The kingdom that is to be taken by the returned nobleman is first to have all things that offend taken out of it. The unbelief and rebellion of man have thus shaped the course of the Lord of heaven and earth; and He has now to travel up to His glory and kingdom through “a day of vengeance.” (This day of vengeance is to be on the Gentiles as well as on Israel; on “all nations” (Isa. 34, 63); for Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles, as well as Herod with the Jews, rejected the Chief Cornerstone (Acts 4:2727For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, (Acts 4:27)).
But (let the earth be for a while never so angry), He will still take the city of peace for His dwelling, and Salem shall still be true to her name: as He says by His prophet Haggai, “And in this place will I give peace”; for that alone is His “strong city” (Isa. 26); its walls will be salvation, and its gates praise. Man’s “strong city” will then have been made a ruin (Psa. 108 Isa. 26). The day of vengeance will have accomplished that, for the city of confusion and the city of peace cannot stand together. And when He has thus, on the overthrow of man’s confusion, established His own peace, the earth will learn to answer the salutation of heaven, and to say, “Peace in heaven,” of which the acclamations here give us the pledge and sample. (See Luke 2:1414Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14); Luke 19:3838Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. (Luke 19:38)).
It is easy to apprehend this, and the course of these two chapters presents it all to us very simply. Jerusalem being unprepared for Jesus of Nazareth, accounts for the need of two advents, and for the nobleman’s returning in a day of vengeance. But we may remark that, in the midst of all this, denied as He was everything for the present by the sons of men, still does He act in the consciousness of His lordship of everything. He claims the ass from the owner of it, because He could say, speaking of Himself, “The Lord hath need of him.” And it is very striking that, in the course of His life and ministry, though He was the rejected Galilean all the time, there was no form of the ancient glory that He did not assume. I have before observed how faith at times drew aside the veil, and disclosed His glory. But now I ask, What glory? All glories of Jehovah known and recorded of old—all glories which had taught Israel that their God was the one only Lord of heaven and earth. Thus: He healed leprosy, the well-known peculiar honor of God (2 Kings 5:77And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. (2 Kings 5:7)); He put away all sicknesses, as the ancient Jehovah-rophi of Israel (Ex. 15:2626And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. (Exodus 15:26)); He fed the multitudes in wildernesses again; He stilled the waves, as though He could again divide Jordan and the Red Sea; and He made the fish to bring Him tribute, as here He claims the ass, treating the earth and its fullness as all His own. The judicial glory of Jehovah He would also fill, when the occasion demanded it, pronouncing woe on the people, or leaving the city for desolation; as, of old, He had again and again judged and chastened His people, both in the wilderness and in Canaan. All the ancient forms of praise and honor known in Jehovah to Israel, He would thus put on; the Redeemer, the Leader, the Healer, the Feeder, and the Judge too, of His people. And, as led forth by the faith of a Gentile, He could show Himself one with Him who, at the beginning, by His word, had made the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them (Luke 7).
It may well be a happy service to gather up these fragments of His glory in the midst of His humiliation. But I may further observe, that the two parables which we listen to in the course of this action bear us very much through the whole of the divine dispensations. That of the Laborers in the Vineyard gives us the dealings of God with Israel, from the day when they were planted as His people in Canaan, to the time of the mission and rejection of Christ, the Heir of the vineyard. That of the Ten Pounds takes the divine economy up from that moment, and carries us through the present age, until the second coming, or kingdom, of Christ. And in each of them we read of the Lord’s going into a far country (Luke 19:1212He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. (Luke 19:12); Luke 20:99Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. (Luke 20:9)). The Lord of Israel did this. After He had left His people in their inheritance, in the days of Joshua, He withdrew in some sense, expecting that they would until the land He had given them, for His praise in the earth. But their history and this parable tell us the full disappointment of all such hopes. So Christ, the rejected Heir of the Jewish vineyard, has done this. Upon His rejection, He went into the same “far country” (heaven), leaving behind Him, not an earthly portion to the care of Jewish laborers, but talents, opportunities of serving Him, with His servants, under the promise of His return in the full title of the kingdom, then and there to reward them. And the parable tells us, as well as the history of our present age will tell us, the end of this. A very full view, after this manner, of God’s great plans these parables give, coming out here in the most artless and natural way, in the course of this action.
But is not that a tender thought which is suggested here—that the saints are, in this age, left to serve their Master in a place where, after fullest deliberation, He has been refused and cast out? The citizens of it have said they will not have Him; and service, therefore, to be fully of right character, should be rendered in the recollection of this rejection.
And again; if we thus learn the nature of service from this parable generally, from the history of the unprofitable servant we learn the spring of service. This man did not know grace. He feared; he judged Christ an austere man; his best calculation was to come off free in the day of reckoning; the bondage of the law filled his heart, and not the liberty of the truth. He was not a Zaccheus, who bore away in his soul, from the joy of communion with Jesus, and the certainty of His love, a readiness to give half his goods to the poor, and a purpose to restore to any he had wronged even more than the law exacted. But this man was no servant. He served himself, and not Christ. And so do all who do not begin with knowing that Christ has first served them, and that theirs is to be the service of grateful love. Grateful love! How happy the thought! Paul served in this spirit. The life that he lived, he lived by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave Himself for him. Grateful love, in the sense of forgiveness sealed and made sure to his soul, accounts (under the Spirit, surely) for fruitfulness in Paul; the want of that—ignorance and disesteem of it—in the unprofitable servant, accounts for his barrenness.
Luke 21
Thus have we seen it—the Lord of Israel, the Lord of the earth and its fullness, rejected by earth’s citizens; and He Who once visited them with a day of peace taking His seat at the right hand of power, waiting to visit them with a day of judgment (Luke 20:4242And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, (Luke 20:42)). This was the bearing of the preceding chapter, and this present one shows us more fully all the results to Israel and Jerusalem of this rejection of their King; that is, “the times of the Gentiles,” the season of Jerusalem’s depression, with the close of those times in the return of the Son of Man.
This chapter corresponds, in its general purpose, with Matthew 24-25, and Mark 13. But, among other distinctions, we may observe the little circumstance which opens it. And it is very peculiarly in the way of Luke.
This poor widow stands in contrast with the nation generally. Our Lord gives her this place. At least, in contrast with those who may be judged a sample of the nation in its worldly wealth and religious self-importance. And as the Lord of Israel here looks at these two together, so had the prophets of Israel before Him. They see the nation in apostasy, and the remnant in the midst of it; like the two at the mill, or in the field, as we have already seen. For, in the last days, when the things of Israel become the subject of divine notice again, these two will once more be manifested.
It was easy for the blessed Lord to pass from the rich benefactors in this scene, to the widow with her two mites. We know His mind too well to think that it could have been otherwise. His Spirit in His prophet (Isa. 66:1-21Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? 2For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. (Isaiah 66:1‑2)) shows a wonderful thing, somewhat similar to this. He sees the contrite and broken-hearted man, and turns to such, rather than to all the gorgeous works of His own hand. The heavens and the earth are and were and shall be both His delight and His glory, but “to this man” will He rather look. The deepest affections are stirred there.
What comfort is this! And how easily do our own affections understand it? For that which sympathizes with our mind or taste is really nearer to us than that which serves our interest. The one who, abroad, in the affairs of life, promotes our advantage, is not so near to our hearts as the one who can sit with us, and enter into the enjoyments of our mind and taste. And so with our God. That which secures His glory, like the heavens and the earth, is passed by for the humbled sinner that trembles at His word. There the divine mind meets its dearer object.
Who would have it otherwise? But who can measure the consolation that comes to us from this?
It has often been observed with what propriety the Lord, when quoting Isaiah 61, breaks off with the words “to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19-2119To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (Luke 4:19‑21)); because the words which immediately follow in the prophet being, “and the day of vengeance of our God,” the Lord could not of them, as of the preceding words, say, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears,” His ministry being one of grace and not of judgment to Israel. But now, in this chapter, the Lord, as it were, continues His quotation from the prophet, and goes on to reveal “the day of vengeance,” in order, as He tells us in verse 22, “that all things” (not some merely, as before) “which are written may be fulfilled.”
This day of vengeance upon Israel as a nation extends, in some sense, all through these present “times of the Gentiles.” The crisis in the latter day is the character of the whole period. They are all “days of vengeance,” as the Lord here calls them, though there is to be a special season and visitation at the close—“the day of vengeance” as the prophet calls it (Isa. 34, Isa. 63). And it is the whole period which our Lord here, I judge (rather than in the corresponding chapters in Matthew or Mark) gives us to look at—that dreary and evil season, the portion of Jerusalem during “the days of vengeance,” or “the times of the Gentiles.” And accordingly, instead of pointing at “the abomination of desolation” (as is done in Matthew and Mark, and by which is described the last enemy of Jerusalem), our evangelist has the more general expression, “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed about with armies”; introducing “all the trees,” in the parable, in connection with “the fig-tree”—these being still further marks of the more general character of this Gospel, and of the more extended view of Jerusalem’s sorrows which the Lord is here taking. Indeed, it is only Luke who has the expression, “the times of the Gentiles.”
And this being so, the Lord here looking through the long vista of Jerusalem’s griefs, the strong impression left on the mind, after reading this chapter, is this—that the Lord’s great purpose was to guard His saints against the thought that the kingdom of Israel was to be entered at once or in quietness. He tells them that they were to count on no such things at all, for before the kingdom could arise there were to be judgments and sorrows. “The time draweth near,” some would say; “I am Christ,” others would say”; or the same seducer might utter both (vs. 8); but the Lord here warns His disciples against such. The citizens had already hated their offered King; and, as enemies, they must be slain, before the kingdom could fully appear. And to leave on the hearts of the disciples the clear and full impression of all this, so that they might stand in an evil day, and not be seduced by any false prophet of peace, was the great purpose of the Lord in this discourse with them.
I believe that Daniel, in like manner, looks through the whole time, “the times of the Gentiles,” as being one and the same in character; and calls it “the war” (Dan. 9:2626And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall 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)). The end, it is true, will be special, and will be manifested “with a flood,” as he speaks; but the whole is a war, and desolations are determined, until that which is also determined be poured upon the desolater.
But it is very significant, that, while Matthew and Mark give us more particularly the last great Jewish sorrow, or “Jacob’s trouble,” and Luke more widely the whole age of “the times of the Gentiles,” John does not notice this remarkable prophecy at all. The Lord’s solemn entry as the King into Jerusalem goes off quite in another direction from what it does in any of the previous Gospels. The Greeks, representing the attendant and obedient nations in the latter day, come desiring to see Him, and this leads Him out at once to other thoughts. His soul then passes through a trouble; and shortly afterwards He forebodes, not the judgment of Israel, according to this prophecy, but the judgment of the world and of the prince of the world. And at length, in the riches of His grace, as Saviour of the world, He tells of Himself being lifted up on the cross, and of His being the Light of the world, and the One who spoke according to that commandment which the Father had given Him, and which is life everlasting. (See John 12).
This is all strikingly characteristic of the four Gospels, and aids the conclusion that this prophecy, not found in John, is about Jewish matters, and connected with the return of “the Son of Man” to the earth. For that is not the Church’s prospect. The saints now wait for the descent of “the Son of God” from heaven to the air (1 Thess. 1). It is the Jewish election, who, by-and-by, will have to wait for the days of the Son of Man.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are the proper utterances of the heart, in sympathy with Jerusalem and her children, all through these “times of the Gentiles.” The city still sits solitary. The mountain of Zion is still desolate. The crown is fallen, and the joy of the heart is gone. The punishment of iniquity is not yet accomplished in that land and among that people. Rachel still weeps. But the Lord will not cast off forever (Lam. 3:3131For the Lord will not cast off for ever: (Lamentations 3:31)), and Rachel has been told this, “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:1616Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. (Jeremiah 31:16)).
But there is another expression, also peculiar to our Gospel, which perhaps leads to other prospects. Speaking of the consummation of these Jewish sorrows, the Lord says, “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
To say, “The time draweth nigh,” before any trouble could come, would be deceit, as we have seen; but now when the day of vengeance is at its height, to say “Your redemption draweth nigh,” would be holy and seasonable comfort to the faithful. And, in like manner, the prophets connect “the day of vengeance” with the “year of My redeemed,” as the Lord here does (Isa. 63:44For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. (Isaiah 63:4)). Judgment on the apostate nation, deliverance and joy to the remnant, are both to be looked for. For though the Lord make a full end of all nations, yet will He not make a full end of Israel. The promised “times of the restitution of all things” will surely follow the threatened “times of the Gentiles.” And those promised times of restitution, called here by the Lord “your redemption,” will be the true Jewish or earthly jubilee, which preeminently was the time of restitution or redemption. (See Lev. 25).
In Israel the land and the people both belonged to the Lord; and in the year of jubilee He dealt with them as His own. For forty-nine years He allowed confusion to prevail. Lands might be sold, and the people themselves go to the creditor. But this was to be only for a season, for God’s claim was paramount; and every fiftieth year He would assert it. Israelite might traffic with Israelite, and corrupt the primitive order, or God’s world, making the whole system man’s world; but all this corruption and disturbance was to have an end, and this end came in the returning year of jubilee. Then the Lord arose, as it were, to act on His own principles, and assert His own rights; to undo all the mischief which man’s trafficking had introduced, and to replant the land and the people according to their beginnings under His own hand. His hand was then uppermost, and His order and purpose would show themselves openly. And what joy it is to see this, that the moment we get things again under God’s hand, the moment we find ourselves in His world, it is a jubilee we are keeping, a season of joy, a time for the restoration of grace, a time for making a happy return, every one to his family, and every one to his possession.
How blessed (to speak according to the figure or symbol of this ordinance) it is to have the Lord the Landlord of the earth again. “Happy are the people that are in such a case.” And this jubilee was introduced by the day of atonement (Lev. 25:99Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. (Leviticus 25:9)). That was the day that was to open the millennial age. For it is nothing but the work of the Lamb of God that can lead to any joy or deliverance among us. The precious blood is all our title. And thus it is that the jubilee and redemption are connected; so that when the Lord here says, “Your redemption draweth nigh,” it was as looking out to this jubilee of Israel and the earth. The jubilee was God’s redemption of His land and people. Supposing that no kinsman could be found able or willing to do this previously, God Himself, in the fiftieth year, would exercise both His rights and His resources in behalf of His oppressed land and bondaged people. And thus this jubilee was “the year of My redeemed” (as spoke the Lord by the prophet), or, the season of “redemption,” towards which the eyes of the expectant, suffering remnant are here directed by their blessed Master.
We learn, then, that “these things shall come to pass”; these “days of vengeance,” these “times of the Gentiles,” will run their course, but “redemption” is to be behind them all. The “smoking furnace” will pass first, because the Lord’s rights and claims have been denied by the rebellious citizens of this world, because there was no “son of peace” in man’s “city of confusion”; but, as surely, the “burning lamp” will follow (Gen. 15). A cry from the citizens, that they would not have Him, followed the Lord; and on His return He must therefore visit them, in His sore displeasure, before He proclaims the jubilee. But the jubilee waits to crown and close the work.
This is food for hope; and God is the God of hope. To be without hope is to be without God (Eph. 2:1212That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:12)). We cannot have faith without having hope; because the truth we believe is God’s truth; and God, being Love, will not reveal truth to us without making that truth of such a character as will inspire hope in us. He must give this shape to His revelations. He who called Israel out of Egypt called them into Canaan. And so with us; “Being justified by faith, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:22By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)).
This is most sure. God is the God of hope as well as of salvation. But the style of this chapter suggests (what has struck me generally throughout Scripture) that the food which hope gets in Scripture is comparatively little—rich indeed, but small in quantity. This, however, is only a further witness of the perfection of the divine oracles. Because God Himself is our present lesson. We are called to learn Him first, and then the inheritance or glory He has to give. And this is so right. For when we thoroughly know the excellency or goodness of a person, we can easily assure ourselves that we shall be no losers by him. His character warrants our hope, and is the security of our expectations. No, we wrong Him, if we do not hope from Him. Had man, however, been the author of the Scriptures, they would have been very different from this. They would have been filled with descriptions of the promised joy. Just as touching the life and character of Christ: had man been the author of such a history, he would have dealt largely in description and encomium. But the way of those who have spoken of Him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is the very opposite. So as to our prospects. Look at Job’s history. Long account we get of his sorrows and the exercise of his faith, but the joy and honor in which all those sorrows resulted are given us in one short chapter. Bright, to be sure, is the exhibition there of his final condition, but comparatively small, and soon disposed of. And in this manner, generally, the testimonies of God give us large and repeated account of the evil of this world, and of our consequent trial of faith in it, but feed the hopes of our hearts more sparingly. For, as I suggested before, it is rather Himself we are to know now, and on Himself to feed now.
Our present chapter is after this pattern. We have sorrow and trial occupying the scene largely, but the prospect at the end presented shortly, and soon filled up—“Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Luke 22-23
These chapters find their likeness, to a general intent, in Matt. 26-27 and in Mark 14-15. But still, as ever, there are distinctive marks and notices.
In the opening of these solemn scenes the Spirit, in Luke, accounts for the act of Judas, as He does afterwards for the denial of Peter, by disclosing Satan as the source of both. Neither Matthew nor Mark do this; but John does it with even more exactness, noting the progress of the power of Satan over the traitor. And these distinctions are quite according to the mind of the Spirit in the different Gospels. Matthew and Mark do not touch the secret spring of wickedness, for it had not been much noticed in Israel; Luke does, for he was looking out to larger and deeper principles of truth; and John still more fully, because he reaches farther into divine things and spiritual power than any of them. And this might again give us some recollections of Job; for in his history the source of the trials of the saints is strikingly opened also, the accuser therefore appearing before God against the righteous man, as here he is shown desiring to sift the disciples like wheat. But here the sources of security are also opened, the Lord saying, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” This we have not in Job.
Again: I observe that the words with which the Lord seats Himself at the paschal table, the inquiry among the disciples at such a moment as this, as to which of them should be the greatest, and the marvelous grace of the Lord’s reply; the notice about buying a sword, or of the militant state into which the disciples were now to count on entering; the healing of the wounded ear; the look at Peter; and the reconciliation between Pilate and Herod—all these are peculiar to Luke, and quite of the character of his Gospel, giving us the exercise of the Lord’s grace, and also the workings and affections of nature in others.
So, as we advance still farther, it is here only that we see the affections of the “daughters of Jerusalem”—a sight quite within the Spirit’s proper vision in Luke. And this company of women hold a very peculiar place. They do not take part with the crucifiers, but at the same time they are not of one rank with “the women of Galilee,” who, as disciples, left their distant homes and kindred to follow Jesus. They melt, as with human affections, at the sight of His sorrows, and return from it smiting their breasts; but they do not appear to receive Him as the Hope of their own souls or of the nation. And yet, in all grace, He appears to receive them as the sample of the righteous remnant in the latter day. But indeed, dear brethren, we may say, in connection with this little incident, that one feels too sadly, in one’s own heart, that it is one thing to render to Jesus the tribute of admiration, or even of tears, and another thing to join one’s self with Him for better or for worse, through good and through evil, in the face of this present world; one thing to speak well of Him, another thing to give up all for Him.
In like manner, it is only our evangelist who gives our Lord’s desire for Israel on the cross—“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And so (as is well known amongst us), it is only here that the repentance and faith of one of the malefactors is recorded. And suited, characteristic expressions of grace these are. For as the exercises of the human heart are especially called forth in this Gospel, so are the ways of that divine goodness which had all their utterance and current in the midst of us through the Son of God’s love. It abounds with discoveries of man; but so does it with the gracious actings of the Lord; that the evil and the darkness of the one may find their blessed remedy in God Himself through the other.
This conversion of the dying malefactor was further refreshment for the heart of Jesus in these dark and lonely hours, as we observed on the case of the poor blind beggar and that of Zaccheus the publican. His faith, like theirs, was truly precious. What a ready Teacher the Spirit was to him! In the twinkling of an eye (to speak so) the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ sprang forth in his soul! He understands himself in his guilt and just desert of judgment; he understands Jesus in His faultlessness, and right possession of a kingdom! And he learns, in his conscience, that his only refuge is to pass over from his own state of guilt and exposure into the shelter and glory of Christ!
There was no fruit in this poor soul, it has been said. He never did anything for Christ. But where, we may ask, is such fruit to God as faith itself? There is no fruit of faith that glorifies God as faith itself does, faith in the gospel, in the sufficiency and worthiness of Christ. Because it receives a revelation which exalts and sets off everything that can be to God’s praise. It admits a report or declaration about the blessed One, which magnifies all the divine excellencies, and everything that is worthy of God.
And this is His own purpose in it. As the apostle says, “That He might show the exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:77That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)). This is His purpose, to display Himself to let it be known abroad, through all His creation, Who He is and what He is, and thus make His own works again, but more gloriously than of old, utter His praise. And how blessedly was this purpose answered in the soul of this dying thief; and how is it to this day answered in the history of this glorious conversion! May we never, with some, stand to inquire about the fruit of faith in him, but read in his story the purpose of God in the gospel of His dear Son, to tell out His own doings “to the praise of the glory of His grace” forever. But this only as we pass by this little history, which is peculiar to Luke.
So, though they are but slight additions, Luke is the only one who calls Golgotha by its Greek or Gentile name, Calvary; and while in Matthew and Mark the centurion’s testimony is given to Jesus as “the Son of God,” here it is to Jesus as “a righteous Man.”
But beyond all that strikes me as characteristic in these chapters is that other utterance of the Lord on the cross— “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” This is peculiar, and shows us that the Lord’s mind, while passing through His last hours, is not given to us in the same path in the different Gospels. In Matthew and Mark, we have the cry of conscious desertion: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”—the cry of the smitten and bruised Lamb. In John He passes on without reference to God or the Father at all, but simply, as with His own hand, seals the accomplished work in the words, “It is finished!” But here it is between these paths that His soul is kept. It is not the sense of desertion, and its due attendant, appeal to God; nor is it the sense of divine, personal authority; but it is communion with the Father, the utterance of a soul that depended on Him, and was sure of His support and acceptance. And this is quite according to our Gospel. It is that central path, so to speak, which the mind of the Lord has been taking all through it. It is God as absent from Him that He feels in Matthew and Mark; the Father as with Him that He knows here; Himself that He is divinely conscious of in John. All these Thoughts had their wondrous and holy course through the soul of the Lord in these hours. Perfect in every exercise of heart, though various; and none could trace them thus, by the pen of one evangelist after another, but the Spirit that awakened them. “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.”
By this cry the independent life of the spirit is fully and formally owned. The Lord, in dying, commends His “spirit” to the Father. Stephen afterwards, in dying, commends his to Jesus. A happy witness to us that both the Lord and His servant looked for something superior to, and independent of, the body. They looked to a condition of the spirit. This was not what the dying thief looked for, but what, through surpassing grace, he got. As a Jew he looked for a future kingdom; but his dying Lord promises him present life with Himself in paradise. For “life” as well as “immortality” (incorruption of the body) are brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1).
Death bounds the empire of sin and Satan. Sin reigns unto death. The judgment that follows death belongs to God. The enemy may follow up to that point, but he goes no farther.
“Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” was the word here to one who was then just passing the gate of death. The kingdom that he looked for, and of which he spoke, was not yet; but the gracious hand of Christ was alone entitled to lead him; and though it will not lead directly and at once into the promised land, where the tribes of the Lord are to share their desired and abiding inheritances, yet it will lead in paths worthy of itself, paths of light and life; for He is the God of the living only, and in Him is no darkness at all. God is the “Father of spirits”; and the spirit given up, or death past, we are alone with the living God. The spirit returns to Him who gave it; and it is said to us, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”
Have we not the fullest testimony that it was so with the Lord? Did not the rent rocks, the opened grave, and the riven veil, tell that He was Conqueror on the other side of death? “In that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. And we may trust the single Hand that meets us there also. It may lead to paradise first, and not to the kingdom until the resurrection, but every path will be according to the Hand that opens it. It was to lead the dying thief that day—but where, except to paradise, the place where Paul had such visions and revelations as he could not utter when he returned to earth? And into that paradise a dying malefactor and the dying Lord of glory (wondrous company!) were to go that day.
Paul counted it better to depart, and be with Christ. He had, in some sense, already experienced paradise (2 Cor. 12). It may have been by a surprise that he was taken there. He had no time, it is likely, to prepare himself for such a journey and an untried journey, an untravelled road, it was to him. But there was a Hand that could conduct the spirit without amazement. And so with us. We hear of the sudden, unexpected death of saints. But He who is principal in the scene, and who holds the keys of hell and death, cannot be surprised. And, therefore, though we learn from the apostle that the visions and audiences which he got there filled him with an occasion for glorying, they were so exalted, yet never does he intimate that they were too great or too high for him. His spirit was attempered to them, for the One who had prepared the scenes in the third heaven for him, had, in the same moment, got him ready for them.
He that hath wrought us for the resurrection in glorious bodies is none less than God Himself, and He has given to us the earnest of the Spirit; “therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5).
And our meeting death (entrance to this paradise, as it is to us), is altogether different from Christ’s meeting it. We are to meet it as any pain or trouble in the flesh, the enemy using them all for our mischief, if he may, but God bringing blessing and praise. No three hours of darkness is there before us, but the sense of a love that is stronger than death. But He had to know that time as the hour of the power of darkness, as He speaks in this Gospel. And He had to know the full righteous exaction of that penalty (of old incurred by us), “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” That was the cup He drank—the bitter cup, tasted at Gethsemane, and exhausted at Calvary. Blessed for us who love Him to know, as He speaks in the Book of Psalms that “the cup of salvation” is also His. And He will take it, by-and-by, in the kingdom, leading the praises of the congregation in the sanctuary of glory.
And a thought full of joy (had we but hearts for it) arises here—that everything is heightened and honored by the hand of the Son of God. Everything that has been spoiled and broken by us is taken up by Him, and, in His hand, raised to a character which we could never have given it. The law broken by us has been magnified and made honorable by Him; all human grace, all fruit of human soil (as we see especially in this Gospel), has been presented to God by Him, and in Him, more fresh and lovely than we could ever have offered it; all service has been rendered to perfection, and all victory gained gloriously, by Him, to God’s praise forever. And so worship. What prayers and supplications were those which Jesus once made in the day of His grief and bruising; and what praise will that be which Jesus will hereafter lead, when He thus takes the “cup of salvation”! Where could have been the temples that would have been filled with such incense as the Son brings! What sacrifices has our God thus accepted in His sanctuary! Surely it is our comfort to know this; for it is in the midst of our ruins these temples are raised.
These thoughts arise while thinking on that cup which Jesus drank here, and on that other cup which He refused for the present, waiting to take it in the kingdom. But I will pass on, just again observing, that wherever we have noticed anything peculiar to our evangelist in this portion of his Gospel, it is still, as we have now seen, according to the design and manner of the Spirit by him. The great materials are, of course, the same in all, for all is fact and truth; but the Lord’s mind through it all is thus variously given out to us.