Luke 5-9:50

LUK 5-9:50  •  50 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Luke 5
We now enter on the fifth chapter, the materials of which, generally, we find in other Gospels. I would specially notice only what is characteristic.
I may observe again, that our evangelist is not much occupied with mere circumstances (as the order of time and the like), because he deals rather with men and with principles. And so would it be among ourselves. If one were narrating to another some events in order to acquaint him with the events, he would be careful to note accurately the details of time and place; but if he were using the events only for the purpose of illustrating principles or enforcing truths, he would be less careful as to such things. Thus we have, in this chapter, a scene which, in point of time, preceded much that we have already had in the previous chapter. The call of Simon to be a fisher of men, for instance, actually preceded the healing of his wife’s mother; but here it follows it. (See Matt. 4; 8; Mark 1). But that is nothing to Luke. His purpose is not to determine which came the first, but to give us principles; to give us God and man. And accordingly, while he is indifferent as to circumstances, he discloses, in the call of Simon, great moral principles which the other evangelists have not noticed.
And striking indeed is this disclosure. It gives us a view of man brought really under the power of God. There was nothing in a draught of fishes, let it have been as large and unexpected as it might, that in the way of nature connected itself with conviction of sin. But in the way of God there was. For it is ever the discovery of God that leads to repentance or true conviction of sin. It is only in God’s light that we can duly know ourselves. It was the common judgment of all those who, in old time, owned the fear of God, that they could not see Him, and live. They had carried that conscience with them ever since Adam had retreated from the presence of God among the trees of the garden. Manoah judged that he must die because he had seen God. Gideon looked for the same. Ezekiel fell on his face, and Daniel’s comeliness was changed into corruption when they came in contact with the glory. Isaiah learned the uncleanness of his lips, when he saw the King, the Lord of hosts. This was rightly learning themselves, not by themselves or among themselves, but by God. They found that they came short of His glory (Rom. 3:2323For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)).
So is it now with Peter. The glory had come very near him. Others might not have perceived it. What was a large draught of fishes to ordinary fishermen but a lucky cast? But a little matter will speak great things in the ear of a soul that God is leading. A hole in the wall is enough to show a prophet great abominations; and to such a one a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand is full of God’s works and praise. He who could command the fullness of the sea was now before Peter. A draught of fishes is now the glory to a heaven-led sinner; and the glory is no sooner at his side, than, like others of old, Peter learns himself. His eyes see God, and he abhors himself in dust and ashes.
This knowledge of ourselves by the light of God forms the principle of repentance. We may read many a blotted page in our history, and be sorry and ashamed of it; but to read ourselves in the light of the glory and presence of God leads to that repentance which the Spirit works. We learn that we are black, when the sun looks upon us (Song of Sol. 1), when the burning brightness of the glory rises upon us, as here upon Peter.
And let me add that as we learn ourselves in this way, so do we learn God. As my trespasses and follies may tell me much of myself, but I shall not know myself duly and thoroughly until I see myself in the light of God’s glory, so God’s works may tell me much of Him, His power and Godhead, but I shall not know Him really as He is until I see Him by the darkness of my own iniquity. Then it is I learn God indeed, when I see Him in the face of Jesus Christ, providing for me, a sinner, and rolling my darkness and shame away forever in the abounding riches of His grace. It was thus Adam learned God. The six days work of God’s hand did not give Adam all that God had for him, or tell Adam all that God was to him. It was his transgression that drew out the full treasure. “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel,” was the word that told what God was. The woman’s Seed was a secret which creation had not declared; it was a treasure richer than all the fruit of Eden, and which, grace abounding over sin, and not the labor of creating hands, had made Adam’s. Adam then learned God indeed, and the sinner so learns Him now. And this is the sequel of the mystery of death and life—we learn ourselves, all darkness as we are, in the light of the divine glory; we learn God, all goodness as He is, by the evil of our own sin.
Blessed truths these are which our evangelist here leads us into. The scene is peculiar to him, but quite in the way of the Spirit, who by him traces our Lord as the Great Teacher, dealing with men’s hearts and consciences, and with truths and principles. And upon this scene I would further observe, that the sinking here was no alarm to Peter, as it was afterwards (Matt. 14). Here he does not feel it, or think about it, for his soul was big with other thoughts, and his eye with other objects altogether, so that he had no place for thoughts of himself, or for fear. For this is the true healing of doubt and fear and all confusion. And what a pity it is that this fresh sense of the fullness that is in Jesus should ever cool. It was after this that Peter feared the waters, because it was after this that his vision was less occupied with Christ. Oh the shame and the sorrow of all this! But have not the brightest in our company failed, dear brethren? Even David, who stands among us (the redeemed of the Lord) in so dear and honorable a place, when a stripling in the fight, could say even to a giant, “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand”; but afterwards said in his heart, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.” Well for us, indeed, that One has stood through life and in death to the perfect good pleasure and praise of God. Saul’s hand, which David feared, was not so big as Goliath’s hand, which David despised; but then, Christ was not so large and full before the eye of David’s faith afterwards, as He had been before in the valley of Elah.
But into the further details of this chapter I do not enter. We have them generally in other Gospels. There are, however, at the close of it, a few words which are peculiar to our evangelist, and which I would therefore notice. “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”
This is still in the character of this Gospel, for it discloses another great secret in human nature, the power of man’s habits and associations, which, humanly, so hinders the operation of God in his soul. We have been drinking the old wine (that which the flesh has been providing for us from our birth), and our appetite for the new wine (that which the Son of God has brought with Him since nature and the flesh) is spoiled. We are all conscious of this. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” says the prophet. “Then may ye also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.” And here the Great Prophet, in like wisdom, warns us, that “no man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new.”
And it is, beloved, a solemn warning. All things are possible with God, it is most true, and He giveth more grace. But still we do well to take heed against relishing the old wine. Every thought that we allow, every desire that we indulge, savors of either the old or the new. It is a draught (small it may be), but still it is a draught of one or the other. And this leaves a solemn word behind it on the heart and conscience of each of us. What are you thinking of? What are you tasting now? We may say to our souls through the day. Is it provision for the flesh you are making? Or is it a walk in the sanctuary? Comes it from heaven or from hell? And ofttimes the saint has to learn, to his sorrow and shame, at the end, the provision he had been making by the way. The patriarch was not drunk at the beginning, but he became a husbandman, planted a vineyard, and then drank of the wine. “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this...thing?” the soul may indignantly reply; but if the hidden tempers of the dog be allowed, his active fury will break out in time. “Walk in the Spirit,” is the divine security, “and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” And surely, beloved, a little of that walking should enable us to change the speech, and to say, The new is better. That is what our blessed Lord would have. The holy, watchful habit of denying the flesh, its tempers and its lusts, will keep the appetite fresh and ready for this new and better wine; and into all this may the gentle and strong hand of the Spirit lead our souls daily!
Luke 6
Here we again have what we have in Matthew and Mark. But I observe that the appointment of the apostles is made after prayer; and this is not noticed by the other evangelists. As, also, on other occasions, the same notice of the Lord in prayer is peculiar to Luke. But this still shows us that the Lord is before us rather as a Man, than either as a Jew, or as the Son of God. For a Jew, considered as under the law, was not properly called to pray, for the law put him on his own strength; but prayer being the expression of dependence, is the first duty of a creature like man, who should learn to wait on God as his all-sufficiency and strength.
This ordination of the Twelve bound them, from henceforth, peculiarly around the person of the Lord. For they were to be with Him (Mark 3:1414And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, (Mark 3:14)). Upon which, however, I would suggest a thought or two, which I believe the soul may use to holy profit.
There is a difference between intimacy and familiarity. I may be familiar with the condition and circumstances in which another commonly walks, but have very little real intimacy with himself—as in the case of servants. And this has its strong illustration in the history of the Lord.
The centurion, the Syrophenician, or Mary the sister of Lazarus, were comparatively but little with Him. They are not seen in company with Him wherever He goes, but cross His path, to say the most, only occasionally. But when they are brought to deal with Him, they do so with most bright and blessed intelligence. They show that they know Him—Who and what He really is. They make no mistakes about Him; while even the apostles, who waited on Him day after day, betrayed, again and again, the ignorance and distance of mere nature.
Is there not a lesson in this for us? Is there not a fear, lest familiarity with the things of Christ be much more than the soul’s real acquaintance with Himself? I may be often, so to speak, handling these things. I may be reading the books which tell of Him. I may be busy in the activities which make His service their object. I may speak, no, write, about Him, while others, like the centurion, may be a good deal withdrawn from all this; but their growth in divine knowledge, and living understanding of Him, may be far more advancing. Saul had David about him, even in his household, at his bidding, as his minstrel, when he needed or wished for him; but Saul did not know David.
Surely this is a lesson for us, beloved. The multitude who waited on the Lord, and watched His steps, must have been able to give even Mary of Bethany, had she sought it, much information about Him. Hundreds in the land, as well as the Twelve, might have told her what He had been doing, where He had been journeying, the discourses He had delivered, and the miracles He had wrought. Information like this they had in abundance, and she but sparingly, save as she was debtor to them for it. But all that, I need not say, left them far behind her in real acquaintance with Him. And is it not so still? How many of us can give information about the things of Christ, and answer inquiries, correctly too, while the soul of the instructed sits and feasts on the things themselves far more richly. For the knowledge that a Mary may gather from the report of a multitude, no, from the lips of apostles, often becomes another thing with her, than it had previously been with them. A poor stranger, making her modest and yet earnest way to Jesus, in the crowd, may shame the thoughts of those who were entitled to be the nearest to Him; yea, of Peter himself (Luke 8:4545And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? (Luke 8:45)).
We need not so much to covet information about Him, as power to use divinely what we know; to turn it, through the energy of the Spirit, into a matter of communion, and the feeding and enlivening of our renewed affections. Then, and then only, is it what our God would have it to be (Col. 3:1616Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)) may teach us, that, while inquiring after knowledge, and laying up the word of Christ, the material of all wisdom, we should take care to nourish the simpler affections of the soul. Melody in the heart should be the companion of the indwelling word of wisdom and knowledge (Eph. 5:1919Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)). If it be not, the knowledge will be wanting in its savor, and in its power to refresh either ourselves or others.
This, at the same time, let me say, is not to lead us to give up action, or, if it may be, daily companionship with the interests and people of Jesus in the world. Perfection is likeness to Himself; and in that living Pattern we see this—busy in service wherever or whenever a need called Him, but all the while, in spirit, in the deep sense of the presence of God. Here alone lies the way that is fully according to the Great Original. As one sweetly says, pressing on the soul this grace of communion combined with service—“Child-like, attend what Thou wilt say, Go forth and serve Thee while’tis day, Nor leave my sweet retreat.”
This, however, only as we pass on—if the Lord give us some profit from it.
The holy instructions which we get in the progress of this chapter, are found in the sermon on the mount in Matthew. We need not determine whether the Lord delivered them on two different occasions, one of which is given us by the one evangelist, and the other by the other, or whether the very same occasion is recorded differently by them. (It has, however, been observed by others, that the sermon in Matthew was delivered on a mountain, and this in a plain (Matt. 5:11And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: (Matthew 5:1); Luke 6:1717And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; (Luke 6:17)). And instances are given of the Lord preaching the same things at different times. Compare Matt. 9:32-3432As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil. 33And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. 34But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. (Matthew 9:32‑34), and Matt. 12:22-2422Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. (Matthew 12:22‑24). Matt. 16:2121From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. (Matthew 16:21); Matt. 17:2323And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry. (Matthew 17:23); and Matt. 20:17-1917And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, 18Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, 19And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. (Matthew 20:17‑19).) The Spirit, I am assured, designs to serve a more general purpose by Luke than by Matthew. In Matthew, the Lord’s words are recorded, as though He were very particularly addressing Himself to a Jewish ear. There are instructions there which would exclusively, I may say, reach the conscience of a Jew, awakening in his mind recollection of the law and the prophets. These are omitted here, and the Lord speaks as having man before Him. The sayings of “them of old time,” that which was “the law and the prophets,” errors in fastings, alms-deeds, and prayers, which so prevailed among the Jews, get no notice here; but all that was moral, applying itself to the heart and conscience of man, does. (The warnings against covetousness, which, of course, are of this general or moral character, are an exception to this, for though they are found in Matthew, they are omitted here. But we shall find that they are thus omitted, only in order to bring them out in another place of this Gospel, in connection with other scenes and truths which were morally more suited to them. See Luke 12.)
And this is so according to the mind of that perfect Teacher, whose instructions are here and there thus variously delivered. He was sent to the circumcision, it is true. He could not, in actual ministry, pass the Jewish boundary, but He could see man through the Jew; and it has been the good pleasure of the Holy Spirit to show us, by Luke, the Lord’s mind reaching out and apprehending man in this way, dealing with the human, and not merely with the Jewish conscience and affections.
Luke 7
This chapter opens with another instance, in our evangelist, of disregard of mere circumstances and order of time; for the place which the case of the centurion fills in this Gospel is not according to that which it holds in the others.
There are also, in this narrative, peculiar and characteristic touches. Thus, we learn here of his sending the Jews to the Lord in his behalf, a circumstance which Matthew does not notice. Because Matthew, writing more immediately for the Jewish converts, would not record that feature in the case which might have nourished the old national pride; but Luke, writing more for the Gentiles, would have them remember the ancient favor in which the others once stood with God. Both of these things had their moral value, which the Spirit would surely consult. So, with a like moral intent, Luke does not notice the Lord’s comment on the faith of this Gentile, as Matthew does—the Jewish evangelist noticing this, as it might help to check the rising of a Jewish boast; the other not noticing it, for it might have helped to raise a similar feeling in the mind of a Gentile.
These distinctions appear to me to be perfect in their place. And then we get (and only here) the case of the widow of Nain, a case so tenderly affecting the human heart, that it properly lay under the notice of the Spirit in Luke. For in the style of one who was looking at man, and his sorrows and affections, our evangelist tells us, that the young man who had died “was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow”; and again, when the Lord raised him to life, that “He delivered him to his mother.” These are strokes and touches quite according to the human tones which have their happy and gracious current through the mind of the Lord in this Gospel. And the little word “only” is peculiar to Luke. It is used in the case of Jairus’s daughter, and of the man whose child was possessed with an evil spirit, and here in the case of the widow of Nain. And such a word would appeal to the tender heart of the Son of Man, and is lovely and touching in its place. Would that we caught more of the same tender spirit, while delighting at the discovery of it in Jesus!
And I cannot refuse to notice, in connection with this chapter, what has struck me in the Gospels—the ease with which our Lord allowed the veil to fall from Him at the bidding of faith. In old time, when a king of Israel was asked to heal a man of his leprosy, he rent his clothes, and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?” But Jesus, the despised Galilean, in all the repose and certainty of conscious glory, turns at once only to say, “I will: be thou clean.” The glory of the God of Israel shone out then without distraction, when faith rent the veil. So here—the faith of a Gentile appeals to him as the Lord of heaven and earth, who had once said in a word, “Let there be light, and there was light” and could now just “say in a word,” and the centurion’s servant should be healed; and immediately, with the same ease, the divine glory again breaks forth. No disturbance, as though some strange thing were being done; it was only looking through the cloud again, it was only letting the veil drop, that “the life-creating Sun,” the countenance of God Himself, might appear in power and grace. Anything that belonged to God was nothing too great for Jesus, when faith discovered Him. But, save to faith, He veiled Himself; for He came, the emptied Son of God, to atone for sins, and bring us home to Him from whom we had departed in pride. Faith, as it were, entitled Him to know Himself again for a moment; and that must have been a blessed moment to Him. But otherwise, through love to us, He refused to know Himself in this evil and apostate world, saying, “My goodness extendeth not to Thee.”
This chapter then introduces the mission of John the Baptist to the Lord, which I believe to be a matter of great interest and meaning.
John had, long before this, testified to the person of the Son of God. As to that he had no doubt. But it seems that he was not prepared for all the results of being the Lord’s witness. Like Moses in his day. Moses was the minister of God, and had the conduct of the camp through the wilderness. But he became impatient under the charge, and says, “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that Thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom?” The weakness of his hand to hold the glory betrays itself, and seventy others are made to share it with him. But though he is thus rebuked in the secret place of the Lord, yet before others his Lord will vindicate him; so that, immediately afterwards, Aaron and Miriam are put to signal reproach for not being afraid to speak against him (Num. 11-12). Just so here with John the Baptist. John betrays the common weakness, and is offended in Christ. Like Moses, he becomes impatient, not being prepared for all the cost and charge of being the Lord’s prisoner as well as minister. He knew Jesus to be the Son of God, as Moses had known Jehovah to be the Redeemer of Israel; but as the murmurings of the camp had been too much for the one, so the prison and injuries of Herod now prove too much for the other; and John, like Moses, must listen to a rebuke in secret: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” But before men also, like Moses, he shall stand graciously approved by his divine Master. “Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist.”
This is the constant way of the Lord. He smote Israel again and again in the secret places of the wilderness, but before their enemies He was as One who had not seen iniquity in them. Many a question was settled between the Lord and the camp when alone, but into judgment of the ungodly they were not to enter. And so are the saints now under the judgment of the Father, but the future judgment does not await them. In that day they are to have boldness.
In this way, John here proves the faithfulness and grace of his blessed Master. And after the Lord has thus vindicated and honored him before that generation, He turns to give them the character they had earned by their treatment both of John and of Himself. And what is this, but a telling of us, that man is a creature whom God cannot cure? God had now been making full proof of him, addressing him by different ministries, but man had no answer for God. When He mourned to him, man had no tears; when He piped to him, he had no dancing. The human heart was found to be no instrument for the finger of God. All was out of tune, when God tried it. Intelligence and zeal and action are there at the bidding and awakening of other influences, but nothing was there for God. He would have raised a solemn tone by the Baptist, who came neither eating nor drinking, and then a more joyous one by the social Son of Man; but there was no music in the heart of man for God. This was now proved after the trial of the most skilful hands. For all these attempts had been proving the skill of the player, so that wisdom stood “justified of all her children.” What could have been done more than had been done? “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.”
After this solemn word, our evangelist leads us to another scene—the house of a Pharisee, where the Lord had gone, upon invitation, to dine. For our Lord in this Gospel is eminently the social One—social as a Man, in order to converse with men. Therefore we find Him here, as I have already noticed, more frequently than in the other Gospels, seated for meals in the houses of others, be they who they may, for there He could find the mind relaxed, and free to show itself.
This scene in the Pharisee’s house is one of great moral value. It shows us that nothing rightly or really introduces us to Jesus but our sins. Admiration of Him as a Teacher, or as a Doer of miracles, will never throw us across His path according to God. It is only sin and the sense of it that can really introduce us to the Son of God; for He is a Saviour, and sent to us of the blessed God as such. Nicodemus was led to Him as a Doer of mighty works; but Nicodemus must be born again, must get other thoughts of Him, before he can duly go to Him. So, here, this Pharisee. It is clear that it was not as a sinner he knew Him. He had been attracted, amiably attracted too, by something which he had seen in or heard of Him, and he prepares Him a feast. But there is another in the house who reaches Him by a different path altogether. She is a sinner of the city, and her sins bring her to Him, and she prepares another feast for Him; and it is at her feast, and not at the Pharisee’s, the Lord really seats Himself. Her tears and ointment and kisses are the feast at which the Son of God sits, while all the costlier provision of the host is passed by.
This is very blessed. It is the sinner who really provides the feast and the company for Jesus. Neither the table nor the friends of the Pharisee were quite the thing for Him. It is only the faith that apprehends Him as a Saviour that can spread a table for the Son of God in this wilderness-world. And I observe in each place where the conversion of Levi the publican is recorded, that we are told immediately afterwards he prepared meat for the Lord in his own house. For he was one of those whom Jesus came down from the bright heavens to visit. He was a publican, an owned and a published sinner in the world; and Jesus was the Saviour. The faith of such, therefore, opened the door and entertained Him, made Him welcome in His own proper character, while everything else only kept Him outside still.
It is our joy to know this and believe it. And when we begin as sinners with a Saviour, our journey is wonderful and glorious beyond all thought; for our sins lead us to Christ, and then Christ leads us to the Father. And what a path that is! It stretches all along from the darkest and most distant places of creation, where sin and death reign, up to the highest heavens, where love and glory dwell and shine forever. Angels have their own untainted sphere to move in, but they have never trod such a path as this. The Church passes from a sinner’s darkness into God’s marvelous light, and there has been nothing like that; and none but a sinner conscious of the value of the Son of God can understand it. And I see, from this striking scene, that this character of a sinner saved by the grace of the Son of God, is remembered to the very end. This woman loved much, but her love did not serve her as a sinner; for at the end the Lord says to her, “Thy faith” (not, Thy love) “hath saved thee; go in peace.” This is much to be observed by us all, for it is very comforting. The fruit of our love may be honored before others, as here this poor woman’s tears and ointment are owned before the Pharisee. A cup of cold water shall not lose its reward, if given for love to Christ. But before the conscience of the sinner nothing is owned but the blood, and the faith that rests in it. It is faith, and not love, that sends us on our way with the eunuch rejoicing, or bids us, with this poor woman, to go in peace. And sweet it is thus to be cast on Jesus, and on Him only. Let the soul be as elevated, the walk as bright and unspotted, and the love as glowing, as they may be, let the experience be as rich and various as David’s or Paul’s, yet Jesus, Jesus, is the only Saviour. Jesus first sends away in peace, and the first confidence and joy are to be kept steadfast to the end.
I cannot, however, close this part of our Gospel, or quit this house of the Pharisee, fruitful spot as it is, without another look at it. For it seems to me to have been a place where the great conflict which has been often fought, the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, or between the two wives, the bondwoman and the free, was again witnessed.
By transgressions, such as Adam’s, the creature assumed strength independent of God; and therefore, in restoring him, God must teach him that He alone is sovereign, and that all creature strength must fail. And this is the lesson which the law and the gospel together teach; for the law, testing man, shows the vanity of confidence in flesh; the gospel, revealing God, shows the safety of trust in Him. And the mystery of the two wives teaches the same. Hagar had strength in the flesh, but her seed was not the heir. Leah had strength and title in the flesh, yet her son did not excel, but lost the birthright. Peninnah had strength in the flesh, but no child of hers delivered Israel out of their misery and oppression. On the other hand, all blessing and honor lay with the children of promise. Isaac caused laughter, and was he in whom Abraham’s house was established. Joseph got the birthright, and, as soon as he was born, Jacob spoke of returning to his inheritance, for “if children, then heirs.” Samuel filled the mother’s heart and lips with a song, and was nourished up until he lifted Israel from the dust, regained the glory out of the hand of the enemy, and raised the stone of help in the midst of the camp. And all these things teach us, as the law and the gospel teach us, that by strength shall no man prevail. “The rich are sent empty away,” the bows of the mighty are broken, but the poor handmaid is remembered, and she that was barren bears seven.
This is the lesson which God is teaching us; the necessary lesson in a world like ours, where the creature has departed from God in pride, in the assumption of strength affecting to be God. The Lord God is ever therefore saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.”
This is the conflict in this world of ours, and that which is of flesh or of man has ever struggled with that which is of God or of the Spirit, and this struggle we have had exhibited from very old time, and have it still. The house of the two wives, to which I have referred, constantly presented it. That of Abraham very especially witnessed it. There Hagar and Sarah for a season dwelt together, but in discord and strife. The family of Jacob presented the same. Leah had the right of the flesh or of the firstborn, but Rachel was the object of election and delight; and they two, the wives of the same husband, dwelt together, but could not agree together. Elkanah’s house was the same. Peninnah and Hannah were the Hagar and Sarah, the Leah and Rachel again—pride and provocations with the one, and constant sorrow of heart with the other. And all these scenes were the expressions of the way in which the flesh persecutes the Spirit. Of the same struggle the Church in Galatia was another scene. And the heart of each believer is, in measure, the same. And nothing heals the house, the Church, or the heart, but strengthening the freewoman, giving fruitfulness to the seed of God, the spirit of adoption, the principle of child-like, holy liberty in us and among us. Bring forth Isaac, and send away Ishmael, and dwell in an undivided house. “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Now the Lord found Israel very much the same. That which was born after the flesh persecuted that which was born after the Spirit. The poor barren woman was found there again, the tainted sinner and the publican, weak and lost in themselves, receiving the gracious visitation of the God of all power and love, but suffering the scorn and persecution of those who had strength in themselves, as they judged—the Pharisees, the Hagars and Peninnahs of that day. This was all, in principle, the flesh and the Spirit again, the bondwoman and the free; and this house which we have now been visiting was a sample of this.
May our faith be strengthened to do justice to God’s love! That love claims our full and happy confidence. To render it only a diffident and suspicious trust, is to treat it unworthily. May all such spirit of fear and of bondage be gone! May the true Sarah in our hearts cry out, and cry until she prevail, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.” For when the Lord does His work, He does it in a way worthy of Himself. When Israel came out of Egypt, they came out, not as though they were ashamed of themselves, but harnessed and full-handed. They came out as the host of God should. Not a dog dared to move his tongue against them, nor was there one feeble person among their tribes. And so with us sinners going forth from under the power of darkness with our Redeemer. We are not to go forth with fear and suspicion, as though we could hardly trust the arm that was saving us, but in such a way as will declare plainly that the work is the work of Him whose “love is as great as His power, and knows neither measure nor end.”
We are to leave the Pharisee’s house behind us, like this poor sinner, not minding what the company there say, but bearing the sweet echo of the Lord’s voice, which tells us of peace, still upon our heart and ear. Then we shall go forth, like Israel from Egypt, as the redeemed of the Lord ought to go, letting hell and earth know, in our joyous and perfect assurance of His salvation, that He who is higher than the highest is on our side, and that we are feeding upon “the mighty’s meat.”
Luke 8
Entering on this chapter I would observe that in the case of the poor sinner, which closes the preceding one, we see deep personal affection as the fruit of conscious forgiveness or healing; here, in this company of women, devoted attachment and service. In the poor sinner, all the hidden fountains are opened at the bidding of the grace of Christ. She knew that He had accepted her, sinner as she was, and this commanded her heart. It left her without an eye for the Pharisee’s feast, or an ear for his scorning, for Jesus had drawn her apart from everything; and to come near Him, as near as love and gratitude and worship could bring her, was all her concern. And at the same bidding of His healing love, this company of women attach themselves to Him. They follow to serve Him. Grateful love told itself out in her silently; in them it was busy. It would be with Him wherever He was, that it might give Him whatever it could minister.
Various fruit, but each blessed. And Jesus can understand both, and receive the secret tears of the one, and the active services of the other.
The beauty of either case would be sadly soiled, if these were not the fruit of conscious healing. What affection, what service so pure as that which comes thence? The publican may smite on his breast in conscious guilt, and that in its place is surely a right and godly affection. But how are the beauty and the attractiveness of it outshone by the tears and services, the love and the devotedness, that spring and flow forth from conscious acceptance! Nothing is so precious to God, nothing so lovely even in our own thoughts, when we consider it for a moment. And, on the other hand, how sad when (instead of tears and services) self-satisfaction, high-mindedness, slight and contempt of others, or the mere unspiritual pursuit of knowledge and the busy competition of party, mark the heart and the ways. May we all, beloved, cherish these simple patterns which the Spirit here records, and which so meet the approving presence of the Lord.
This is the first of a series of chapters, in which we see the Lord, the Twelve, and the Seventy, in succession, going forth to minister (see Luke 8:11And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, (Luke 8:1); Luke 9:11Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. (Luke 9:1); Luke 10:11After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. (Luke 10:1)); and this extended exhibition of ministry is all according to the grace of the Spirit in this Gospel. And as a further expression of the same grace, our evangelist tells us that the Lord went “throughout every city and village”; leaving no spot unvisited by His light and goodness. And this divine Minister of grace is attended by a suitable train. A company who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, and cleansed of devils, follow Him now to witness His grace; as, by-and-by, when He comes forth in power, He will have behind Him an equally suited train of shining ones to reflect His glory (Rev. 19:1414And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14)).
Luke then records the parable of the Sower, given to us also, we know, by both Matthew and Mark. No doubt it has the same general character and purpose in each Gospel; but I observe that the Lord here is not so careful, by directly quoting the prophet Isaiah, to apply the judgment of God to Israel; and this is still according to His mind in Luke.
In the progress of this chapter we get the case of the Gadarenes, of the woman with the issue of blood, and of Jairus’s daughter, combined in the same way as in Mark.
On these and similar acts of power and goodness we may generally observe, that the Lord’s ministry always bears these two characteristics upon it—He was ever judging the devil, but never the sinner. He went on blotting out the traces of the destructive power of the one, but leaving the traces of His own redeeming power on the other. By the very same stroke He did these two things. Every blind man made to see, every lame one made to walk, alike witnessed the judgment of the power of the enemy, and the blessing, of the sinner. When He cleansed the leper, when He raised the dead, this twofold testimony was given. And so the devil meets Him only to tremble, and the believing sinner only to take away a blessing and to take it always with a welcome. Let the Lord be doing what He may, or going where He may, did He ever allow the needy child of man to feel himself an intruder? Even His upbraidings cannot be called upbraidings. For what were they? They were only for want of confidence in Him— because the sinner did not come with sufficient boldness. He upbraided him, not for being too confident, but for not being confident enough. His language was after this manner, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”
This was not upbraiding. This was not repelling the sinner, but resenting his lingering and suspicions. Nothing can be surer, in the ways of the Son of God on earth, than these things, that He was ever judging the devil, but never the sinner. It was like Moses, who would go forth and smite an Egyptian; but if he himself were refused and insulted by an Israelite, he would go into exile, go where he might, unfriended and alone, rather than touch a hair of his head (Exodus 2). Or like Samson, another distinguished and honored type, who will seek occasion against the Philistines, and even join affinity with them, just to plague and impoverish them, but will be as weak as a child if the men of Judah resist him (Judges 15:1212And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves. (Judges 15:12)). Moses and Samson had strength enough against the enemy, but none against their own people; as the Son of God will judge the devil and all his works, but say of sinners, “I came not to judge,” not “to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:5656For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. (Luke 9:56); John 12:4747And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47)).
So was it now. Gadara was a portion of the Jewish or sanctified earth. It was within that land on which the eyes of the God of heaven and earth rested from one end of the year to the other (Deut. 11:1212A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:12)). But the unclean had long since entered that land and defiled it, and there we find them at this time in herds, as also the full display of the enemy’s unbridled strength. Legion and the swine were in Gadara, to tell us what the place of Jehovah’s choice had now become. It was the very palace of the strong man, but the Son of God now enters as the stronger, to do His proper work, to show Himself the Redeemer of the captive, and the destruction of the power of death.
But the feeders of the unclean swine in that place are not prepared for this. It was a trespass on them, and they would have Jesus depart from their coasts. Terrible indeed this is. Nothing that we see in all the history of the Gospel gives us such an expression of the dark and unclean region of Satan as this. With such a display of the grace and power of the Stronger Man in the midst of them, still they desire Him not, but would sell all their interest in the Son of God for a herd of swine. This was very awful; and Jesus has but to leave them, and to return across the lake of Galilee, to pursue His way in other scenes.
A Jewish ruler seeks Him, that He would come to his house, in behalf of his little only daughter, who there lay a-dying. He goes onward with the purpose of proving Himself, in the house of the Jew, the resurrection and the life; but His path thither is interrupted by the faith of a needy stranger, who touches Him in the crowd. She had a plague in her body. It was a kind of fretting leprosy, a fountain of uncleanness in her very flesh, which no skill of man could heal. In her extremity she hears of Jesus, and by a single touch, gets all that she needed. But no one knew her, or cared to know her. Both herself and her touching the Lord would have remained a secret in the busy crowd, only He Who heals her knows her, and owns her before them all. The multitude was thronging and pressing Him; but it was not need or sin that urged them, and therefore He feels it not. But her fainter touch was felt, because it was the touch of a consciously needy and defiled one, who had learned to believe that there was virtue in Him. Her sorrow introduces her to Him, and He knows her because He had healed her. This was the ground and the character of their acquaintance; and the Son of God and the healed sinner thus meet together to be alone in the crowd—she a stranger to all but Him, and He treating as strangers all but her.
This is full of the truest and most solid consolation for our souls. But beside that, this path of the Lord is all full of meaning. It tells us what we know the path and action of the Son of God is to be. For He has before Him, in the distance, the day of His power in Israel, the house of the Jew, where He will make the dry bones live, and call His people from their dark and long sleep, as prisoners from the pit; but on His journey there, or during the present season, by the way, a stranger engages His sympathies, a poor, unnoticed one (save by Himself), whom conscious necessity had thrown in His way, like the Church of God, which alone occupies the Son of God, while on His way to display His power in resurrection and life in Israel in the latter day.
I judge this to be the character of what we get here. And thus, this chapter (which opens with the Lord going forth to His ministry) gives us these samples of the varied fruit of His toil both in the Church and in Israel; showing us also, as in Gadara, what a world it was into which He came to toil, that all His blessed travail might close in His own praise both in heaven and earth, the world’s conviction and judgment, and the comfort of every sinner who will but trust in Him.
Luke 9
In the opening of this chapter, we get, in order, the mission of the Twelve. But the Lord does not here, as in Matthew, limit their labors, to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” this distinction being still according to the general character of each of the two Gospels.
The exercise of Herod’s conscience is then noticed, and perhaps a little more largely than in either Matthew or Mark, and is again referred to in chapter 23. This is still according to our evangelist. But the martyrdom of the Baptist, on the other hand, is not so fully detailed; for that was a fact in the course and history of the Jewish apostasy, and lay, therefore, less within the notice of the Spirit in Luke.
The transfiguration is then given to us, and more particularly, too, than in either Matthew or Mark.
The full proof of Israel’s unbelief had now been made. (This proof is laid out more fully and orderly in Matthew’s Gospel than in either of the others.) Israel had refused to receive their own. They had not discovered in Jesus of Nazareth the Light that was to lighten the world, and be their glory. The earth, for the present, was therefore lost to Jesus. For Zion, by ancient decree (Psa. 2), is the seat of divine dominion in the earth. A cross, as the Lord here forebodes, and not a crown, awaits Him therefore.
But if the earth be closed upon Him, the heavens must and will open to Him, and to His saints now, in the day of His refusal here, gathering around Him by faith. And the purpose of this vision on the holy mount is to give His saints a pledge of some of that glory in the heavens which is their inheritance.
There was no moment like this. This was the hour of passing from earth to heaven. The secret of God, in vision, was here disclosed. The heavenly Jerusalem stood, for a moment, with her opened gates, before those favored disciples, Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elias appear in glory with Jesus; but Peter, James, and John behold it. There were, in this manner, both companions and witnesses of the glory. As in the coming millennial kingdom, the Bride of the Lamb will descend, as this glory now rests on the hill, and the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it (Rev. 21).
Such I deem to be the great purpose of this vision, which we call “the transfiguration.” There is an intimation in verse 37, that it was witnessed at night. A circumstance of much meaning, I believe. For as this was the place of the heavenly glory, and as that place will need neither sun nor moon, but the glory of God will lighten it, so this mount is now lighted up as by the body of the glorified Lord. (So “the holiest” in the temple, another type of the heavenly place, had no light but from the glory.)
Again, I observe that these heavenly and glorified strangers talk with Jesus about His decease. Fit theme for such a moment! For that decease is to be had in everlasting remembrance. The glory will celebrate it (Rev. 5). The whole order of heaven, the redeemed, the angels, and all creation, will own it, as we see in that place of the Revelation. For the glory owes itself to the cross—as the trumpet which ushered in the jubilee was heard only on the day of atonement; the time of restitution and refreshing, in this manner, owning its dependence on the smitten Lamb of God (Lev. 25), or on “the decease” of Jesus.
And further, I find that this journey up the hill (taken as it was, under promise that it should lead to the kingdom (vs. 27), was a little too much for the disciples. The Lord is in prayer until the glory appears, but they are heavy with sleep. This, too, has meaning. Nature was betraying its weakness— the flesh was burdensome, and could not travel such a road. It was an uphill journey to poor man. The wise virgins slumber. All this is so. But still when Peter and his comrades awake, “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” is his word—this telling us that his heart and desire were really in the right place, though flesh was weak; as the wise virgins, though they slumber, have oil in their vessels to recruit their lamps, when the Bridegroom comes—that oil, like this word of poor loving Peter, telling us that, in the real longing of their hearts, they waited for Jesus.
This is another point of interest and of comfort. And at the end, in full harmony with the great leading purpose of this vision, and of which I have spoken, “the excellent glory” appears (2 Peter 1:1717For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (2 Peter 1:17)). The cloud comes to take the heavenly family home. The Lord and His companions enter it, while Peter, James, and John stand without.
This is all in harmony, but it is all wonderful. Within this cloud, as we here see, the glory was seated again—as of old, when it traversed the desert. It now acted as the veil separating the holy from the holiest; and it is the peculiar honor of the changed and risen saints, alike transfigured or glorified, to have their place in it, while Israel and the spared of the nations only walk in the light of it. And thus, this part of the vision being somewhat beyond the present thoughts of the disciples, they fear, as Jesus with Moses and Elias are enfolded in that cloud. For the heavenly places, or the top of the mystic ladder, up to which this cloud was now separating these glorious strangers, had not as yet been disclosed to Jewish faith. Jacob had been at the foot of it, and Jacob’s people knew the God of Bethel, and lived in the hope of the promise touching the inheritance of the land. But neither Jacob nor they knew of anything, at the top of the ladder, save the voice of Jehovah who addressed him. The transfiguration now discloses the secrets of that glorious place, and shows a family of shining, heavenly ones there with Jehovah-Jesus. This was a mystery; that God was to have a family in the place out of which the blessing was to flow, and the glory was to shine; as well as a restored people and a subject creation at the foot, to enjoy the blessing, and to dwell in the light of the glory.
Thus, this vision was an advance, filling up the revelation of the purpose of His will, that God will gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth (Eph. 1:1010That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: (Ephesians 1:10)). Indeed, so glorious a vision as this had never been enjoyed. Abraham’s passing lamp was glorious, and the ladder of Jacob was glorious. The sight of the burning bush was full of blessing The sight of the God of Israel by Moses and the elders at Horeb, was glorious, and also that of the armed Captain under the walls of Jericho. Angels were welcome visitors from heaven to patriarchs and rulers of old, and the passage of the Lord Himself before the mediator (Exodus 34), and the prophet (1 Kings 19), at the mount of God, were both perfect in their season. But this vision on the top of the hill is beyond them all. That which, perhaps, the most nearly approaches it, is the rapture of Elijah in the presence of Elisha, for that was the conducting of the glorified ones up to the place where they are now seen. But this therefore, surpasses it, giving us to see the heavenly family, not merely on their way to glory, but peacefully at home in it; no terror making them afraid, no surprise as from light that was beyond them, as with Isaiah, Daniel, and others; but all is the consciousness of being at home, though in the very midst of the brightness of it all.
Excellent, however, as this was, it was destined to yield to something more glorious still. Acts 7 gives us what is Stephen’s mount of transfiguration after this. And then the martyr himself is stamped with the heavenly glory. He shines with the light of the children of the resurrection, who are to be as the angels (Matt. 22:3030For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matthew 22:30)). It is not that, like the disciples here, he sees that light reflected in others, but he bears it immediately himself. Nor is it that the glory is let down on the mount that he might see it here, but the heaven itself is opened, and he sees it there, and One waiting to receive him into it. His eyes behold Him for himself, and not for another. And his word before the council is a comment on all this, showing a line of strangers and sufferers (among whom he there takes his place), led by “the God of glory” up to “the glory of God” (Acts 7:2,552And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, (Acts 7:2)
55But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, (Acts 7:55)
Whether, however, there with Stephen, or here to Peter, James, and John, heavenly secrets are disclosed, and the Church is shown to be at the top of the ladder, in the glory of the Son Himself. There is the celestial, as well as the terrestrial. The heavens declare the glory of God. Heaven and earth are both to have in them the witness of redemption. Redemption is too excellent a work to remain uncelebrated either here or there. It is a work that has called forth the full flow of divine love and power, and must be known, therefore, in heaven and on earth. The Church is appointed to tell of it there, and Israel with her attendant nations to speak of it here; and this heavenly witness of it is here, for a passing moment, seen in her place on the top of the hill. But what a grace and calling that is! The very conception of it is divine. None but God could have conceived such a purpose; nothing less than infinite love could have formed the thought of a family drawn from among sinners, to be loved with the love, and glorified with the glory, of the Son; to dwell in one house, and sit on one throne with Him. But, oh, how little do our wretched hearts value either Him or His glory!
After the vision had passed, and they were descending the hill, the Lord, in the other Gospels, talks to them of the ministry of Elias. But that is unnoticed here; for being Jewish ministry, it was less suited to the purpose of the Spirit in Luke. Beyond this, there is nothing characteristic in this chapter, until we reach the close.