Luke 9:51-19:27

Luke 9:51‑19:27  •  1.5 hr. read  •  grade level: 8
At this place, what has been suggested as the fourth part of our Gospel begins. The Lord, having ended His more formal ministry in Galilee, begins His journey to Jerusalem. (vs. 51.)
Our evangelist is the only one who notices the circumstances with which this journey opens. And there is something of his moral arrangement of incidents to be noticed here. As has been observed by another, commenting on this part of Luke, “this passage of history seems to come in here for the sake of its affinity with the text before (the Lord’s rebuke of John for forbidding the man who followed not with them); for there, under color of zeal for Christ, the disciples were for silencing and restraining separatists; here, under the same color, they were for putting infidels to death; but, as for that, so also for this, Christ reprimanded them.”
The moral order in our evangelist’s narrative is, I believe, thus exhibited in this place of his Gospel. But it introduces a very peculiar path of the Lord.
The recent vision on the mount may have led to it; but whether that is so or not, we find our Lord here addressing Himself to His journey, in the consciousness of its leading Him to glory. The time had come, we read, when He was to be “received up”—words which express His ascension to glory. And He seems to act according to this consciousness, sending messengers before His face, as though it were to prepare for Him a way suited to this anticipated glory. The chariot of God would be in readiness to attend Him from Jerusalem upwards (Luke 24:5151And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:51)); but it was now for the children of men to prepare His previous way from the place where He then was to that city. And He was thus, as it were, trying whether the world would own His claim to be “received up,” as afterwards He tried whether Israel would own His royal place in Zion (Luke 19:2828And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. (Luke 19:28)). But neither would the world know Him, nor Israel receive Him. The world was not ready for His claims, as is here expressed by the conduct of the Samaritan villagers. The earth did not care for His heavenly glory. “Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head,” an infidel world was again, in the spirit of it, saying.
The disciples, who had, it may be, caught the tone of their Lord’s mind on this striking occasion, look on Him as another Elijah travelling on to meet the chariot of Israel, and they move Him to do what Elijah had done, by resenting this indignity of the Samaritan villagers, as of the captains and their fifties. But the way of the Son of Man, for the present, must be different. He will pass to glory rather through sorrow of His own than through judgment of the world. He “will suffer thus far”; and therefore He here restrains this motion of His disciples, bows His head to this scorn of men by seeking another village, and that, too, not with preparation before His face, but as the rejected Christ of God.
In such a character, He accordingly resumes His journey. No sense of glory fills His soul, as it had done when He set out. The Samaritans had changed its current, and He goes on, consciously despised and rejected of men, who had now in full deliberation hid their faces from, and shut their doors upon, Him. And if, beloved, it is to the praise of grace in Paul, that he had learned how to be abased and how to abound, how to be full and how to be hungry, do we not see all this to perfection in our blessed Master? He knew how one moment to act in the perfect sense of His fullness of glory, and the next to become the despised Son of Man. He takes the place which the scornful villagers of Samaria give Him, without an effort or a murmur. Perfect Master, as well as gracious Deliverer!
And in this place of rejection we see certain ones brought into intercourse with Him, that we through them may have some good lessons read to our souls. Two of them are introduced in Matthew 8, but not in the same moral connection as here.
The Lord speaks on each case in the full sense of His present place of rejection in the earth. The whole bearing of the instruction proceeds from that. It is the Lord’s rejection that has given His saints a new place, new duties, and new attachments; and these are here brought out for our contemplation, that we may count the cost of being His. Nothing brings the saints into these new things but the total rejection of their Lord by the world; but let the Lord be apprehended in His rejection, and then these things will be entered into by the soul at once. No “looking back,” no knowing of man “after the flesh,” by those who have gone forth to the Son of God without the camp; and it is only when we, in spirit, stand there with Him, that we understand Him rightly.
These holy and solemn lessons are read to our souls by our divine Teacher from His present place—“despised and rejected of men.” He would still teach us, even through His own sorrows, that we might be kept in company with Himself and His thoughts, as we pass on from scene to scene across this evil world. (In answering the third of these persons, our Lord seems to refer to the call of Elisha, to which the recent mention of Elijah by His disciples may naturally have turned His mind. His little analogy and instruction taken from a plowman, seems to have been suggested by Elisha’s history. (See 1 Kings 19:2121And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. (1 Kings 19:21).)
Luke 10
This chapter gives us in order the mission of the Seventy. But it is only here that we get this; for the Lord, as I have already observed, in this Gospel looks out to man beyond the Jewish boundary; and thus we are given to see a ministry more extended in its character than that which properly suited itself to Jewish arrangements. It intimated a departure from strict primitive order in Israel, as did a similar appointment of seventy elders in the days of Moses (Num. 11). But this is all according to Luke.
This mission is sent forth with a message of peace from God to every city and every house; but, withal, no man was to be saluted by the way. This has great value in it. Jesus proposes, beloved, to settle not the mere intercourses of men in their social order, but the connection between God and sinners. That is the great circumstance, and which the Lord must first provide for. So with our apostle afterwards. With Paul it mattered little whether the saints were bond or free; for if bond, they were still the Lord’s freemen, if free, they were still the Lord’s servants. Their relation to the Lord was the great thing (1 Cor. 7); as here, we see it was so in the judgment of the Son of God. There was to be no saluting of any man, while there was to be the publishing of peace to every city and every house. It was not the courtesies of human life the Lord’s messengers were to bear on their lips, but a happy, holy, and weighty message from God to sinners.
This was the mind of the blessed Lord on now sending out His messengers; and on their return with a report of their labors, He anticipates the fall of Satan. A little sample of power in the hands of the Seventy hints this result to Him. But, after expressing it, He turns to check in His disciples the looking chiefly at power, telling them there was something for them richer than that, even a name in heaven, a memorial with a Father there; and however excellent authority over devils might be, or power in the earth, yet that memorial was happier still. It is not that He undervalues power, or withdraws it from them. Nay, He rather rejoices in it, and confirms it in their hands, saying, “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions.” But the home in heaven of the children is to be still more precious than the power on earth of the heirs of God.
And it has interested me much to observe, that it is just here (and in the corresponding place in Matt. 11), that the mind of the Lord in those Gospels approaches the most nearly to what it afterwards is in John. In John the Lord is in connection with the Father and the heavenly family, and it is just in this place of our Gospel that He looks out to those objects beyond all that was then surrounding Him in the apostate cities of Israel. It is as though our evangelist had just laid hold on the skirts of John; or rather, as though this mantle of our prophet, that energy of the Spirit which clothes him here, were taken up by that other prophet to do by it greater wonders, and bring out richer revelations still. The Father, the Son, the headship of all things in Himself, and the family who have their names written in heaven (Heb. 12:2323To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23)), these are the objects which are here present to the thoughts of the Lord, as He looks onward to what none saw but Himself, through the unbelief of the Jewish cities, and this little sample of power in the hands of the Seventy. And, in spirit, He rejoices in all this, and takes afresh His complacency in the person and the purpose of the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, and also in His own place in the blessed mystery; turning, too, in all personal intimacy towards His disciples, as meaning to identify them with this blessedness which passes before His mind, and which prophets and kings of old had not attained.
We have here, however, a painful instance of the way in which the Lord was liable to be intruded on, in this lowthoughted world. He was at this moment, as we have seen, happy in thoughts of heavenly things, when a lawyer proposes an inquiry which comes from other sources and springs altogether. But He bows His head to the intrusion, and comes down to man’s level. And in many other places, as here, we may notice the ease and patience with which He ever turned Himself towards man. I have already noticed the way in which He occasionally comes forth in divine glory at the bidding of faith (Luke 7); but His ease as a Teacher or a Healer coming forth at the call of man’s ignorance or need, is equally lovely in its place. Nothing was too glorious in God for Jesus to assume, when faith unveiled Him; and nothing too little in man for Him to wait on, when necessity or ignorance appealed to Him. And in all this He was never in haste, as though He felt He was meeting a difficulty, but always turns in the graceful as well as gracious ease of conscious power, telling the occasion, let it be what it may, that He was equal to it.
But this is only by the way, if perhaps the Spirit would give us some delight in marking the ways of Jesus.
This inquiry of the lawyer leads the Lord to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is peculiar to our evangelist. The purpose of it was to show this lawyer who his neighbor was: but in the usual way of the Lord, this instruction is conveyed in a body of larger doctrine; so that we get not only an answer to the inquiry, but other principles of truth. I see the same in the character of the apostles’ teaching afterwards. And this is always the way of power, and the way of God. God, in His dispensations, has done this. He does not merely restore what we had lost, but He brings in other glories and blessings which also carry with them the full restoration. And God, in His instructions, has done this. The Spirit of revelation not only answers the anxiety of an inquirer, but conveys that answer through truths and principles which unfold wider thoughts still. As here; the law of neighborly love is taught and illustrated by a beauteous exhibition of the grace of the gospel of the Son of God, brought in upon the complete inadequacy of everything else to answer the need of sinners.
The case which the Lord suggests in this parable was a defiling of the land; and all that the law could do in it, was to find out the wrong-doer, and exact eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Nor could the ministers of the altar under the law provide for the case. They had their service elsewhere. But a stranger, in the liberty of his own love, may attend to it if he please. And so with us sinners. God must come forth in the activities of His own love to meet our sad condition, for it lies beyond all other help. The services of a temple will not do for those who have no cleanness fit for a temple. Man is not there by nature; his heart is no sanctuary for God; but he lies in an unclean place, defiled in his blood; and what he wants is to be sought out and brought home. Man has been made the prey of a strong and cruel enemy, and it is that love which will go, and, at a great cost, bind him up, that he needs. And such a one has met him in the person of the Son of God in the gospel. Under the law, God was in the holy place, and the unclean must be removed, and the priest and the Levite attend that sanctuary. But in the gospel, God is in the unclean place, seeking the ruined ones; Jesus is going about doing good, the Stranger from heaven has come where man lay in his blood, and has looked on him and had compassion, has gone and had to do with all that pollution, untouched by it, washed the wounded sinner from his blood, and anointed him with oil (Ezek. 16). All this He has done, and changed places with the wounded sinner also. For, though rich, He became poor, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich—though without sin, He was made sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him—as the Good Samaritan changes places with the wounded traveler, getting down from his own beast and setting him on it. And He has done more than this; for He has told us that He has His eye upon us forever, that whether present or absent He thinks of us; as the stranger charges the host to take care of the poor, helpless man, and that when he comes that way again, as surely he will, he will repay him.
All this love, this costly and needed love, we have in the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, the True Good Samaritan. He kept the law of love to His neighbor, but only He; and we must go to learn the way from Him, do “likewise,” kindle our heart at His heart, if in any way we hope to answer that end of the law. This lawyer was making his boast in the law, but he had evidently reduced and qualified it, as every one must, who seeks, like him, to be justified by it. “Who is my neighbor?” said he; little judging that he was about to hear such a tale of love to one’s neighbor as was coming forth. The law was too high, too noble for this man’s thoughts. And so is it for us all. We see nothing worthy of that word, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart;...and thy neighbor as thyself,” until we trace the well-spent life of Jesus. The lawyer would have stood on the law, and refused Jesus; but he has to learn, if his ears could hear it, that Jesus alone upheld the law, or gave it efficacy on the minds and consciences of others.
It is our salvation to know Jesus as the Stranger that met us in our wounds with His oil and wine. Luke alone gives us this parable, but this is quite according to the largeness of the spirit of grace which fills his Gospel throughout.
The little scene which then closes this chapter is also peculiar to Luke, serving his general purpose of instructing us in great principles of truth. The two sisters here introduced were differently minded and being brought to the trial of the mind of Christ, we get the judgment of God on matters of much value to us.
The house which we now enter was Martha’s. The Spirit of God tells us this, as being characteristic of Martha; and into her house, with all readiness of heart, she receives the Lord, and prepares for Him the very best provision it had. His labors and fatigue called for this. Martha well knew that His ways abroad were the ways of the Good Samaritan, who would go on foot that others might ride, and she loves Him too well not to observe and provide for His weariness. But Mary had no house for Him. She was, in spirit, a stranger like Himself; but she opens a sanctuary for Him, and seats Him there, the Lord of her humble temple. She takes her place at His feet, and hears His words. She knows, as well as Martha, that He was wearied, but she knows also that there was a fullness in Him that could afford to be more wearied still. Her ear and her heart, therefore, still use Him, instead of her hand or her foot ministering to Him. And in these things lay the difference between the sisters—Martha’s eye saw His weariness, and would give to Him; Mary’s faith apprehended His fullness underneath His weariness, and would draw from Him.
This brings out the mind of the Son of God. The Lord accepts the care of Martha, as long as it is simple care and diligence about His present need; but, the moment she brings her mind into competition with Mary’s, she learns His judgment, and is taught to know that Mary, by her faith, was refreshing Him with a sweeter feast than all her care and the provision of her house could possibly have supplied. Mary’s faith gave Jesus a sense of His own divine glory. It told Him, that Though He was the wearied One, He could still feed and refresh her. She was at His feet, hearing His words. There was no temple there, or light of the sun (Rev. 22:22-23), but the Son of God was there, and He was everything to her. This was the honor He prized; and blessedly, indeed, was she in His secret. When He was thirsty and tired at Jacob’s well, He forgot it all in giving out other waters, which no pitcher could have held, or well beside His own supplied; and here, Mary brings her soul to the same well, knowing that, in spite of all His weariness, it was as full as ever for her use.
And oh dear brethren, what principles are here disclosed to us! Our God is asserting for Himself the place of supreme power and supreme goodness, and He will have us debtors to Him. Our sense of His fullness is more precious to Him than all the service we can render Him. Entitled, as He is, to more than all creation could give Him, yet above all things does He desire that we should use His love, and draw from His treasures. The honor which our confidence puts upon Him is His highest honor; for it is the divine glory to be still giving, still blessing, still pouring forth from unexhausted fullness. Under the law He had to receive from us, but in the gospel He is giving to us; and the words of the Lord Jesus are these—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And this place He will fill forever; for, “without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” Praise shall, it is true, arise to Him from everything that has breath; but comes from Himself, and from the seat of His glory, shall go the constant flow of blessing the light to cheer, the waters to refresh, and the leaves of the tree to heal; and our God shall have His own joy, and display His own glory, in being a Giver forever.
Luke 11:1-131And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. 2And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. 3Give us day by day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. 5And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; 6For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? 7And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. 8I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. 9And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 11If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:1‑13)
It is the Lord’s way in this Gospel, as I have already noticed, to bring His mind into contact with all the exercises of the hearts and consciences of men, that we may get the judgment of God (for that He ever carried in Him) on ourselves. These verses illustrate this. And the subject is prayer; one of deep interest to our souls. May the Lord guide the counsels of our hearts upon it!
The law, generally, did not require prayer, for the law was testing man, and calling on him to use his strength, if he had any; while prayer, on the other hand, comes forth on the sense of our weakness and dependence. I remember, however, two forms of prayer, provided by the law; but one is on the ground of innocency, the other on that of obedience; and thus both were suited to the dispensation with which they were associated (Deut. 21,26). John’s ministry advanced beyond the law, convicting flesh of being but grass; and as we learn here, that he had taught his disciples to pray, we cannot doubt but that, like the law, he provided an utterance for their hearts, suited to the standing up to which his ministry was leading them. So in the same wisdom here with the Lord. He provides a prayer for them suited to the condition of faith and hope to which He had conducted them. And all this is perfect, because seasonable, because suited to them who had just said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
But it would not have been thus perfect or seasonable had it been an utterance altogether according to the increased light into which the Church has been since brought. The Lord had not then entered, as the High Priest of our profession, into His heavenly sanctuary, nor was the Holy Spirit then given. His own name, therefore, is not pleaded here; as the Lord Himself says after this, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name.” But shortly after saying that, He adds, “At that day ye shall ask in My name”—thus plainly telling us that there would be an advance in the character of the worship of the saints. And so indeed we find it. The prayers which the apostles, through the Spirit, make for the saints, entertain higher thoughts and deeper desires than what this prayer (perfect, doubtless, in its place) of our Lord expresses. (See Eph. 1, 3; Col. 1; and so forth.)
And, from all this, I do indeed judge, that we may easily admit the perfectness, because of the seasonableness of this holy form of prayer, and discern spiritually that the Lord was not providing it as the utterance of the Church. I do not at all say that the soul may not still use it, and find its desire at times expressed by it. But I believe the soul, fully aware of its new place under the Holy Spirit with Jesus ascended on high, is doing no despite to the Lord’s holy furniture of His own sanctuary, if it do not use it. He is the Lord of the temple, and it is surely our joy to own Him thus; but He has now given the Holy Spirit to be the living power there, and He fills it with true and spiritual worship, with groanings which cannot be uttered, with supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, with the spirit of adoption which ever cries, “Abba, Father.” For the same Lord of the temple has now ordained it thus, and it is obedience to walk onward with Him. What once constituted the beauty of His house are now “beggarly elements,” because the Lord has gone onward, leaving Jerusalem and its worship behind; and it does not become us to look back on the goodly stones with admiration, if Jesus has gone forth to the Mount of Olives.
But these things, beloved, I rather suggest in connection with this scripture. He Himself further shows to us here, in the parable of the friend asking for the loaves at midnight, the value or success of prayer; and then, in His contrast between the human and heavenly Father, the warrant or securities of prayer. And these securities are twofold—one drawn from the love of the relationship, the other from the positive goodness of God Himself, that we may have strong assurance of heart, when we seek the Lord and His blessing.
I cannot, however, pass on from this without asking, Does not the little expression “from within” carry much moral value with it? I think it does. It seems to tell us that being “within” has a necessary tendency to indispose us to enter into those sympathies into which we should at all times allow ourselves to be called. Moses, it is true, though in the midst of Egypt, went out to look on the burdens of his brethren; and Nehemiah, though in the Persian palace, wept over the desolations of the city of his father’s sepulchres. They were both “within,” but faith thrust them out. Their circumstances made this trial of faith the severer, and its victory more excellent and unusual. For it is dangerous to get much or far “within,” lest the soul, surveying its condition, should say, “My children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee”—then the need of a brother “without” will scarcely be heard, the burdens of Israel or the desolations of Zion will scarcely be looked at or inquired after. (As a distinctive mark of this Gospel I would observe that, in the corresponding place in Matthew, the Lord says that the Father will give “good things” to them that ask Him, but here it is the “Holy Spirit.” And again, in contrast with John, the Lord here says that the Holy Spirit will be given on our asking, but there on His asking (John 14:1616And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:16)). But this distinction is also very characteristic of the two Gospels; for here, the Lord is teaching His disciples, training them, and calling their hearts and consciences, as I have said, into exercise; but in John, He is presenting Himself, and revealing Himself; and, therefore, in that Gospel, He speaks of His place and ministry in the great matter of the grant of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
Luke 11:14-5414And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. 15But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. 16And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. 17But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. 19And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 20But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. 21When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: 22But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. 23He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. 24When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. 25And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. 26Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. 27And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. 28But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. 29And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. 30For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. 31The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. 32The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 33No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. 34The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. 35Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. 36If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. 37And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. 38And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. 39And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. 40Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? 41But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. 42But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 43Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. 44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. 45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 47Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. 49Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: 50That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. 52Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. 53And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: 54Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him. (Luke 11:14‑54)
These verses give us other scenes, still illustrating, according to the way of our evangelist, matter of value to us.
The Lord listens to two challenges from His enemies; for, in this world of ours, reproach was ever breaking His heart. But in the holy power of a great Teacher, as He was, He returns both these challenges on the head, or rather on the conscience, of His accusers. One said that He was allied to Satan in what He was doing; another, that at any rate He had not sufficiently proved that He was allied to God in it: “He casts out devils by Beelzebub,” said the one; “Show us a sign from heaven,” said the other. The Lord exposes such thoughts, and then lays open to them their condition, that they might learn that it was not in Him, but in themselves, this evil and this obscurity were to be found; for that He was the “Finger of God,” and the “Candle set on the candlestick.”
The Lord’s reasoning here is beautifully simple and powerful. But I may observe, contrasting verse 26 with Matthew 12:4545Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:45), that He does not here, as there, expressly apply the lesson of “the unclean spirit” to the state of Israel. And this difference is quite in keeping with the stricter Jewish nature of Matthew’s Gospel. So, His sentence upon the state of that generation is here delivered in the house, in one of the social hours of the Son of Man; in Matthew a like sentence is pronounced from the seat of judgment in the authority of the Son of Man (Matt. 23); a difference which vividly illustrates the style of the two Gospels.
The Lord, in His answer to the challenges of His enemies, leads to these thoughts. In the progress, however, of this scene, we have to notice an interruption. What He was saying seems to have borne, with moral power, on the heart of one who was listening; so that, “as He spake,” she lifted up her voice, and said, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked.” This was a testimony to the power of the words of our divine Teacher, which is His glory in this Gospel. And a like testimony is given to Him in the next stage of this same scene, for again, “as He spake,” a Pharisee who was present “besought Him to dine with him.” That man had evidently been moved by the power of His words, but not perhaps with the same affection as the poor woman, and he invites Him to his house. And so again, when He enters the house, He continues to act as the Great Teacher still, rebuking the religious pride and dark hypocrisy which He found there, until a lawyer, who was present, feeling the righteous rebukes, interrupts Him in like manner, and says to Him, “Master, thus saying Thou reproachest us also.” But the light abides faithful to its work, and goes on, still making manifest the darkness that was surrounding it, until the enmity of that darkness is fully raised, and scribes and Pharisees together begin so to urge Him, that He has to withdraw the light, the power of which had become intolerable.
Luke 12
It is, however, to pursue His way as a Teacher, though in other places, that the Lord thus retires from among the scribes, the lawyers, and the Pharisees. He enters the multitude, and at once resumes His teaching, taking for His subject what was suggested to Him in the house of the Pharisee-hypocrisy, and the persecution which a righteous remnant had to count upon.
Thus we have the Light here, the Great Teacher, as in the preceding chapter, doing His holy work. But I observe, that though much of the matter of this chapter is found in Matthew, it is given to us in a different manner. There it is simply as a discourse of the Lord, but here it comes forth as reply to others. But this distinction is still in the character of this Gospel; because in it, as I have already noticed, the Lord is dealing with man, and drawing forth his thoughts and conscience and affections into exercise, that they may be corrected, and formed by the mind of Christ according to God. The Lord’s teaching, therefore, is of ten, as in this chapter, in the way of answer to the inquiries and thoughts of others. And, as I observed at the close of the preceding chapter, that much which is delivered in Matthew, as from a judgment-seat, comes forth in Luke at a supper table, so I may say here, that that which had been as a sermon from an elevated place or pulpit in Matthew 5-7, comes forth here as words spoken in the heart of a multitude that were thronging about Him. There was more of the ease and relaxation of social life here.
And here again, as in the previous chapter, we have a testimony to the power of His words, for “one of the company,” judging, as it seems, from the current of the Lord’s discourse, that He was set against oppression, and the assumptions of the rich, seeks Him to entertain his charge against a wrongful and injurious brother of his. But the Lord has only to act as the light that rebukes darkness wherever it finds it, and He now among the multitude addresses a word against covetousness, as just before, among the rulers, He had been addressing another word against religious pride and hypocrisy.
On such a subject we might well pause for a little. And specially here, because, after this interruption, it seems to lead our Lord’s thoughts to nearly the end of His present speaking.
The love of having, of acquiring and possessing, which is covetousness is, as we know, one of the great principles which form the course of this evil world: “the lust of the eyes,” as John calls it. The great contradiction of it, as of every other principle that animates “the old man,” was expressed in the life as well as in the teaching of Jesus. In Him to perfection we see that description of the apostle made good—in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of His joy and His deep poverty abounded unto the riches of His liberality. His poverty was deep. He had not where to lay His head. And when He wanted a penny, in order to say a word on the image and superscription which it bore, He had to ask to be shown one. And surely His liberality was rich. He had a big purse, so to speak, but He never opened it except for others. He had the resources of all creation to draw upon. He could command bread for thousands out of a few loaves, and gather fragments by basketfuls afterwards. He could turn water into wine. He could summon a piece of money up from the sea, and, as the Lord of the earth, claim the beast of a stranger. This was surely a large purse. But He did not open it for His own use. He would rather go afoot, and be thirsty, and a hungered. And even out of His own slender store—the few loaves and fishes which He had for Himself and His disciples, He would still spare something for others (John 13:2929For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. (John 13:29)).
Where are riches of liberality like this? What was all this in the constant daily life of Jesus, but the contradiction of the covetous course of the world? Men could not praise Him because He did well to Himself (Psa. 49). With what decision of heart was He always forgetting Himself, and with what holy, conscious authority might He resist the motion of that one who, on the occasion of this chapter, covetously desired a share of the inheritance. He deals with the interruption thus occasioned as if a subject had been suggested to Him which was too weighty to be quickly laid down. He goes on with it, in the hearing of His disciples, until He shows them how this principle, this desire of having, this concern to acquire and to possess, must keep us unready for His coming—a subject which He then deeply and beautifully opens to our hearts and consciences. He aims to bring it morally very near to us showing that there are three different ways in which the soul is to entertain that object, or have communion with the great fact of the Lord’s second advent—(the Lord’s coming is the saint’s proper hope; His coming as a thief is to the world)—as the coming of a thief in the night to surprise the house; of a lord to reward his faithful stewards; and of a loved master, to make his watchful servants happy by his restored presence.
Matthew suggests the same in Matthew 24-25; only with this difference, that the figure of watching, desirous servants, is changed for that of virgins waiting for the bridegroom. But the moral is the same. And the variety of these figures has a great lesson for us; because it tells us, that Jesus seeks to range far and wide over our hearts. Presenting His return to our hearts under such different forms—a thief in the night, a master, and a bridegroom—He claims to be the Object, the Supreme Object, of the different passions of our souls. Fear, hope, and joy respectively would rise in the breast of the good man of the house, the stewards, and the watchful servants or virgins, in commanding power. The fear of the thief, the hope of sharing the rewards, or the joy of the bridegroom’s presence, would be supreme in the heart for the time. And this is happy, though it may be serious. It is happy to know that our Lord claims our affections. He knows that He has a right to be our Supreme Object. And the passion that does not render Him its highest exercise is not a worshipping passion.
This is holy and serious. For we may ask, Is it so with us? Is the seat of our affections a place of worship? Is Jesus there in the chief room? “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,” He says; and again, and that too in this very chapter, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body....But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell.” The watchfulness of fear, and the watchfulness of desire are both called forth. Every motion in the heart is only fully right, when it is making confession to the lordship or supremacy of Jesus.
The interruption given to our Lord led Him this way. In this manner the light in Him broke forth. For this world was but the place of man’s darkness; the light of heaven was, therefore, in all places where it entered, a reproving light (Eph. 5:1313But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:13)). The rich and the poor, the rulers and the multitudes, were alike exposed by it. As Jeremiah, in his day, visited “the poor,” and found that they knew not the way of the Lord, and “the great ones,” and found that they had altogether broken the bonds (Jer. 5:1-51Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it. 2And though they say, The Lord liveth; surely they swear falsely. 3O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return. 4Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God. 5I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the Lord, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds. (Jeremiah 5:1‑5)). And so here with Jeremiah’s Lord. Jesus had been in the midst of the accomplished scribes and Pharisees, and among the multitude, but all was out of order.
The most solemn impressions were left on His mind (vss. 49-59). He would have healed men. He came preaching peace, and had sent forth the Twelve and the Seventy, with peace to every city and house. But the peace had to return to Him and them. Division now, and judgment by fire by-and-by, were the portion of the earth. There was both intelligence and contention about the present things, but the testimony of God was not discerned, and man was satisfied with himself.
Luke 13
The teaching of the previous chapter was all very important to our souls; and now, at the opening of this, we are in the same season as we read, and so I believe upon the same truth also. The man who had accused his brother to the Lord learned from the Lord that he himself was on the way, with another accuser, to another Judge; for those words, in verses 58-59, were, as I understand them, addressed to him. So here, some tell our Lord of the special sufferings of certain Galileans, as though they must have been sinners above others (John 9:22And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:2)), and thus they were, in like manner, bringing up their brethren for judgment. But the Lord would have them also know that they were in the same condemnation, and, if they repented not, would all likewise perish. (It has been observed by others that this occurrence may have taken place in connection with the faction of Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:3737After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. (Acts 5:37)), in which there were Galileans who refused Caesar’s authority, and who would, therefore, of course, provoke Pilate. But the Galileans were Herod’s subjects (Luke 3:11Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, (Luke 3:1)). It has been, therefore, supposed also, that this interference of Pilate occasioned the quarrel between him and Herod, of which we read in chapter 23:12. Josephus mentions Pilate’s killing some Samaritans on their way to their own temple on Mount Gerizim.)
With the same thoughts of the sin of Israel upon His mind, the whole nation being ripe for the judgment of a mightier slaughter than that of the Galileans, the Lord indites the parable of the barren fig-tree.
This fig-tree was planted in a vineyard, as Israel was set in God’s vineyard, in the midst of ordinances and privileges, watered and tended with all diligence and care; but without fruit. Israel had no root in itself to yield God anything; and the ministry of Jesus, the patient Dresser of this vineyard, had now nearly proved this. By that ministry the goodness of God had been leading them to repentance (Rom. 2); it had been the digging about and dunging of this barren tree, but, with all this there was no fruit. And we then see, in the next little scene, that there was no sense in Israel of their real state. The sick were there, and thus the need of a physician; but they seem unconscious of it. A daughter of Abraham is found to be in disease, but the rulers of Abraham’s house reject with pride the attendance of the Good Physician.
In all this way, the corrupted state of the nation passes before the mind of the Lord, and He seems to utter thoughts according to all this, reflecting on the great tree where the unclean had found their rest, and on the whole lump which had now felt the leaven. And in this mind He enters on His journey. The proved sin and the coming judgment of Israel being before Him, He pursues His way to the city.
But here let me notice that, in John, the Lord is seen frequently at Jerusalem, for Jerusalem had no higher character, in the esteem of the Stranger from heaven, than any other spot on the earth. But in the other Gospels the Lord is not seen to enter that city, which was the ordained seat of His government as Son of David, until He enters it, when His ministry was closing, in royal state, offering the kingdom to the daughter of Zion, and when He is fully and formally rejected by her. In this Gospel by Luke His gradual approach to the city for this purpose is more distinctly traced than in either Matthew or Mark. (See Luke 9:5151And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, (Luke 9:51); Luke 13:22,3322And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. (Luke 13:22)
33Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. (Luke 13:33)
; Luke 17:1111And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11); Luke 18:3131Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. (Luke 18:31); Luke 19:1,11,281And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. (Luke 19:1)
11And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. (Luke 19:11)
28And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. (Luke 19:28)
). He seems to linger, as it were, from stage to stage, not willing to hasten the doom of the nation, because what was to happen to Him there was to fill up their sin, and leave them for judgment. He was waiting to be gracious, as now in this age, the long-suffering of God in not sending Jesus is salvation, not willing that any should perish. And this reserve in His movement towards the city reminds me of the departure from it of the glory in Ezekiel. (See Ezek. 1-11). The glory there lingers from stage to stage, as loath to depart, though the pollution in the city would not allow it to stay. And so here; the Lord lingers, in the same way, delaying the hour of Jerusalem’s judgment, journeying still towards it throughout the Gospel, but not reaching it until His ministry was closing.
It is with strong and clear thoughts upon His heart that He makes these approaches to the city, and eyes it in the distance. In Luke 9:5151And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, (Luke 9:51), as I have observed already, He moved onward as though His journey were conducting Him to glory. In Luke 18:3131Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. (Luke 18:31), He has the city before Him as the place of His suffering. But here, in Luke 13:2222And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. (Luke 13:22), He is looking toward it as though His presence there was to close “the day of salvation” to Israel, and bring forth the judgment of God. It was this thought that was now on His mind. All the previous scenes of this chapter, the report of the Galileans, the parable of the fig-tree, and the hypocrisy of the rulers in Abraham’s house, with the disease of Abraham’s daughter, all led Him to these thoughts as He is now approaching the city. And it may be that this mind is so expressed in His whole manner that one who was observing Him, as somewhat understanding His thoughts, says, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” A moment, however, of interest to our souls this was, and I would for a little pause over it.
It suggests to us this: that the Lord had a method—perfect, I need not say, like everything else with Him—in answering questions. He never aims at merely conveying information, as we speak, but seeks to affect the heart or the conscience. It is not so much the inquiry, but the inquirer, that He deals with. Perhaps every case would show this; but I would instance it shortly. Thus: when asked as to the time when His word against the temple should be accomplished, He does not satisfy that, but leads the disciples’ thoughts into large and serious matters, sealing His instructions on their souls by the weighty parables of the ten virgins and the talents (Matt. 24-25). In answer to John, “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” He does not say, “I am He, and ye need not look for another,” but shows John’s disciples those objects which were fitted to carry the answer home to them in real, living power (Matt. 11). And so here: “Lord, are there few that be saved?” was not answered formally, but morally, or in such a way as was suited to the man himself, giving him matter for serious self-inquiry and self-application.
A method, we may surely say, that bespeaks His wisdom and His goodness, and that He was indeed dealing with man; not displaying His own resources of knowledge, but, in good earnest, seeking and saving the lost. Man’s method is a poor thing. For look at Jesus in contrast with the learned men, or (as Paul speaks), “the princes of this world.” When they were asked where Christ should be born, they answered formally—truly, it is true, but formally—not seeking to stir the conscience of the king on the occasion thus offered them. Matthew 2. But when Jesus was asked of Whom He was born—“Where is Thy Father?”—His answer comes not merely to their ears, but with all serious and solemn power to their consciences (John 8).
He needs not our commendation, beloved; but it should be happy to any of us to ponder His perfections, and admire His beauty. And I am sure that these reflections are of value nowadays. For the present is a time when many are running to and fro, and knowledge is increasing. And this should be a caution to our souls; for the saint has always to watch against what is called the spirit of the times. Paul, when he prays for the saints, that they may grow in knowledge, first desires that they might have the spiritual understanding (Eph. 1:17-1817That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:17‑18); Col. 1:99For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; (Colossians 1:9)). For the mere intellect is not valued. Rather let us lay our inquiries aside, than follow them in the acuteness of human ability. And is it, beloved, out of season to recur to the thought of one who lived to Christ in days before ours—that the desire to know much even in spiritual things may be the witness that God Himself is not known in reality? To know Himself is life eternal. And as another of our own day has most profitably observed—“The natural man often receives truth more quickly than the saint, because the saint has to learn it in his conscience, to have that exercised before God by what he is learning.” Most needful is this admonition. We may hasten to be wise and full of knowledge in this busy age, and the soul be injured, deeply injured, all the while. But this only by the way.
In this reply of the Lord to the question now put to Him I apprehend that the “striving” and the “seeking” are not merely different measures of intensity in the same action, but morally different actions. The “seeking” comes upon the alarm of the Master’s rising, and it is fear that awakens it; the “striving” is an action of the heart and conscience before God, before the Master of the house had risen up; an action, therefore, not resulting simply from the fear of being left on the outside. And how often is this description of “seeking” exhibited among ourselves. Sudden alarm will call forth religious affections; but they live only while the danger passes. As saith the Lord by the prophet, “O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail...Yet...I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life” (Jer. 22).
This passage in our chapter is, thus, one of very important admonition to all. But as the Lord pursues His way, it is still not of Himself, either in His suffering or glory, that He is thinking, but of Jerusalem, and her sin and her judgment. Some tell Him of Herod, and his purposes against Him; but the Lord simply tells them that Herod and all his purposes could not prevail against Him; for that, unimpeded by him and everything else, He must walk on until He reached Jerusalem; which, as eminent in privilege under God, was eminent in wickedness against Him also; and had to fill up the measure of her guilt, by slaying the last and chiefest of the prophets. Herod’s rage was not, therefore, to be considered, for Jesus must walk through his jurisdiction. And thus it is, that Jerusalem is the object which the blessed Lord still has on His mind, as intimated in verse 22. And to all this, with which His soul had in this way been laboring, He gives expression, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Jerusalem “would not.” The care of the hen was refused, but the fox was already within; and, therefore, there is to be nothing but present scattering instead of gathering. Herod and Rome were boasted in, and God and His Christ refused. “Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.” And the Son of God has but to leave His mountain for the present in their possession, until, in the spirit of repentance and faith, the people should welcome Him back, and say, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
(This Herod was the fourth son of the Herod who, in Matthew 2, is called “Herod the king.” From Luke 3:11Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, (Luke 3:1) we learn that Galilee was the scene of his government, as may also be drawn from this passage. Some have judged that he desired to get the Lord out of his dominions, because the Lord had a great and growing interest there, and because he hated Him for His righteousness and His testimony. Not daring, however, to put Him to death, because of the people, he seeks to drive Him out, or frighten Him away. He would have Him, perhaps, act the part of a fearful one, and thus act unworthily of Himself; as Nehemiah’s enemies sought to ensnare that dear and simple man in his day. See Nehemiah 6:10-1410Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee. 11And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. 12And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me. 14My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear. (Nehemiah 6:10‑14).)
Luke 14-16
In these chapters we have the Lord’s characteristic way in this Gospel very strongly marked. Throughout them He is the teacher, the social Son of Man addressing Himself to all around Him, whether in the power of One Who was convicting the conscience or in the grace of One Who could bind up the heart.
The contents of these chapters are very generally peculiar to this Gospel. Several parables are delivered which we find nowhere else. And I may here observe that there are more parables in Luke than in any of the other evangelists; and this still shows the special mind and action of the Lord in this Gospel.
As we pass along the pages of the evangelic narrative, or along the ways of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world, what a character do we see gradually unfolded. And what a simple piece of truth-telling are we listening to! In every page (to use the language of another) we are struck with a candor, a simplicity, and a naturalness not to be found in the same degree in any other book; and as to its great Subject, Jesus, who, save by admitting their inspiration, can explain the fact that a few fishermen should have conceived the idea of a character of such perfection as no author, even in the most enlightened age or country, ever equalled? “The gospel bears an imprint of truth so great, so striking, so inimitable, that its inventor would have been more wonderful than its Hero is.” And, as has been often said, there is no repose for reason but in faith; for the existence of the Bible cannot be accounted for without bringing God in.
There is no moment or passage in His history at which we might not have paused to listen to all this. But I observe it here, as we enter on a portion of our Gospel, in which the blessed Jesus has to do with men in great variety of character; and while the evangelist is bearing Him along the checkered scene, the naturalness of the story, and the perfection of Him Who is the great Subject of it, may be easily noticed by us all.
The first scene is laid in a Pharisee’s house, where, as His custom was, He had come, upon invitation, to dine. The principals of the company, as we may judge them to be, watch Him to entangle Him just as He enters the house. He shortly answers their thoughts, making them their own judges and witnesses.
On His being free, if I may so say, to look round Him, after He had entered, the object that He first looks at is, the guests taking their seats at the table.
He is offended. The old mind of Adam, and not the mind according to God, formed this circumstance, simple as it was. They chose the chief rooms. This was Adam. This was according to that desire to be something, which, of old, grafted itself on the heart of man. Jesus could not but be offended. In Him, from the beginning hitherto, and down to the death of the cross, there had been, and was to be, the full contradiction of this. Adam was nothing—a creature of the dust—and he sought to be everything. Jesus was everything, but emptied Himself of all. He became a Man, and, in that form, humbled Himself in every way. In the person He assumed, or the station in life that He filled—in the testimony which He bore to Himself, or the cloud with which He veiled His glory—in all this He ever took the lowest room. But here, in the Pharisee’s house, He finds Himself in the midst of those who were choosing the chiefest. How could He but be offended? Such guests were not to His mind.
Then the host who bids them becomes His object. But there was no relief for Him there. Selfishness in another form shows itself to Him. The host’s board was not such a one as He had been spreading in this world, since He came into it. For He had been feeding multitudes who had nothing to give Him in return. The selfishness of the “old man” grieved Him now, as his pride had just before. The host is not after the mind of this perfect Witness of the mind of God, any more than the guests.
Then, after the guests are seated, and the feast proceeds, the conversation at table leads Jesus to other sorrows.
I believe it was a gracious motion that had come over the heart of one of the company, when he said, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” He was, I doubt not, attracted by the Lord. But this matters not. It directed the Lord’s mind to sad thoughts on the whole scene which was at that moment under His eye. He saw a well-filled table. Guests in numbers were there—as many as had been invited. But the thought seems to arise in His mind—If God had spread this table, He would not have gathered His guests so easily. And this reflection gives occasion to the parable of the Marriage Supper.
It was a painful thought to Jesus—and so will it be to those who have His mind. There is relief for it surely in the knowledge of this, that “the foundation of God standeth sure”—and that the unbelief of man shall never touch the purposes of God. But to think that, when man spreads a table, guests will be found there, as many as are bidden; but that when the living God makes a feast, not one that is merely bidden eats of His supper! A mess of their own pottage is preferred. A piece of ground, a yoke of oxen, or a wife, will estrange the affections of the very best of us—and no one guest at His costly board would the Lord of life and glory find, if He Himself did not compel them and bring them in. Mere bidding would never do. It was tried, but it failed—and He who—was at the cost of spreading the table must be at the trouble of gathering the company. His oxen and His fatlings shall load the board, and His servants shall visit the lanes and alleys, the highways and hedges, to get some to eat of them.
Was ever a feast treated so? The present scene answers that, as the sorrowing heart of Jesus mused upon it.
Surely He came into the world to be thoroughly wearied, as one has said. How could He but be a Man of sorrows in a place fashioned and filled, throughout all its order, by the pride of life and the lust of the eyes? He did not wait for His darkest hours to make Him “acquainted with grief.” The most promising moments, the social hours of human friendliness, brought their sorrow with them to the heart of this blessed Stranger. And this parable tells us so. (In Matthew, this parable stands in another connection, having more direct reference to what was Jewish. (See Matt. 22).)
We have not, however, followed our Lord through the whole journey yet. We have seen Him grieved and offended on entering the house, and while in the house; but we have now to watch Him on leaving it.
The multitude follow Him. But this will not do. This was done every day. Thousands waited on Him continually, thronging and pressing Him along the streets or highways. But that will not reach the heart of Christ (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)). Neither does this action of the multitude; for it does not bespeak their conscious need of Him as a Saviour. It is rather their adoption of Him as a Teacher or a Pattern. And that, as the first thing, will not do. He turns to address this crowd with words of solemn warning. His soul is not at that ease in the midst of them, which speaks their full welcome to Him; for they had not come to Him in character. Nicodemus would have honored Him as a Rabbi, or a Scholar—the people at the lake of Galilee as a King—the multitude here as a Pattern or Forerunner; but He is not at home in such company—not fully at home. He is not grieved in the same measure, perhaps, that He had been in the house which He had just left, but there was no rest nor joy for His spirit here. He must go onward before He reachs His rest, as His words to the multitude tell us.
When we think of this for a moment or two, we may well say, we know not how sufficiently to bless God for it. Let us give to Him in what shape or way we please, it will not do; we must receive from Him. The Pharisee gives Him a feast inside the house, and the multitude give Him their respect and admiration outside; but He is either grieved, or, at the most, unsatisfied. He passes on through all this until “publicans and sinners” draw near to hear Him. They do not come to give Him anything, but to get something from Him (Luke 15:11Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. (Luke 15:1)). Then did He in spirit rejoice; His heart tasted the desired fruit of its journey, and was satisfied.
What can surpass this in consolation to us? These poor publicans, these tainted ones of the city, would have no business in the Pharisee’s house; nor did they affect to follow the Lord with the multitude, for they are unworthy, and know that they are so. But they can go and touch the hem of His garment, or take their pitchers to the Fountain, and there “in shame and poverty sit down.” And so they do; and so they are welcome to do. He is happier to give to them, than they are to receive. Jesus had now travelled far—far in the spirit, I mean. He had come to, and through, and from the house of the Pharisee, and along the road with admiring crowds; but it was wearisome to Him. He found no rest, until now that the sinner came to get from Him. For the joy that fills this chapter tells us that His weariness was now over. The fold that had received the lost sheep, the house that witnessed the recovered piece of money, and the home of the father that had entertained the returned prodigal, set off, as in figures, the Saviour’s joy now in the midst of publicans and sinners.
This is beyond expression—wonderful to tell it; but this to Jesus was the house of God—this to Him was the gate of heaven.
He had been charged by the Pharisee with receiving sinners, as though His ministry did not secure righteousness, but gave liberty to evil. Of course He might have pleaded various answers to this. He might have defended His grace to sinners, on the ground of the necessity of the case, or on the ground of God’s glory. But in this chapter, from beginning to end, in each of the lovely parables, He vindicates it simply on the ground of the joy that He, and the Father, and all heaven itself, were finding in it.
Only think of that, beloved! If the Lord God is asked a reason for His ways of salvation with you and me, He says that He takes delight in them—they make Him and His glorious habitation to rejoice. What assurance, what consolation, spring from that! Would his neighbors, think you, murmur at the shepherd’s joy over his lost sheep now found by him; or the woman’s friends grudge her pleasure, as she swept her piece of money into her lap? And so it is with God. It is His own joy in the salvation of sinners that Jesus proposes as His warrant or vindication. And why should man either murmur or disbelieve? May not the Lord prepare joy for Himself, as well as the shepherd? Who dare deny our hearts the assurance and consolation of this! Let us cherish the thought deeply in our souls that the gospel of our peace is a spring of joy to Him Who planned and accomplished it; that our God has done nothing less than this, laid the scene of His own happiness in our salvation, as these parables testify to us.
This chapter is, in this way, a gate of heaven to us, as it was to the wearied feet of Jesus. He had travelled, as we have seen, past Pharisees, guests, host, and crowds of attendants; and was now sitting with sinners who knew their need of Him, and came to get what they wanted. Heaven, in one sense, is but this spot stretched out—the habitation of saved sinners and of a rejoicing Saviour.
The Lord, as we shall now find as we still pass on with Him, has, however, others to converse with still. He has to meet disciples, after all this variety at which we have been looking. And accordingly, at the opening of Luke 16, He does meet them. He gives them a word to stir their diligence, and encourage their hopes. He tells them to aim high in their expectations, and to lay out their energies to sure and eternal profit. Being disciples, they are to be regarded as having already come back like prodigals, and their business now was to value the hopes which grace had set before them, and to “make to themselves friends” of every talent and opportunity, as knowing that their labor should not be in vain in the Lord.
A word in season to disciples was this, enforced on them in the parable of the Unjust Steward. For our great Teacher had chosen words—words seven times refined in the fire; and He rightly divides them among all. And this we may now still further see; for the Pharisees are to close these scenes, as they opened them.
The heavenly principles with which the Lord had just exhorted His disciples these men deride; for they were covetous. They were everything which the world could esteem—and this estimation they sought and served for; and, of course, they could not but deride the heavenly principles of the Son of God. But He exposes their moral state; and then, in a parable, the doom of that state. He convicts them of having been false to that very law in which they boasted; and also of having refused that word of the kingdom which the God of the law had sent forth to succeed it. Their whole moral condition might, thus, in a sentence or two, be exposed and rebuked. But this was nothing to them; they were served in the world; their principles fed them sumptuously, and clothed them in fine linen and purple; and in this they were satisfied, though upon this lay the judgment of God.
This was the closing solemn word, addressed to “the accomplished religionists” (as the Pharisees have been called) of that day. The mind of the Lord makes this its last disclosure on this great moral occasion. It had dealt with guests, and host, and multitudes, and disciples, and Pharisees. It had divided the word of truth among them. And if we prize the thoughts of God on all we see around us, we shall study such exercises of the mind of Christ as these. His candle, in this way, should shine on our head, and by His light we should walk through all the darkness which so thickly and variously surrounds us.
I know of nothing as a grand display of divine morals beyond this. The soul, in going through these chapters, should be lost in admiration. The style of the Lord here illustrates what another has said of Him—“He watched His opportunity of instructing; it was brought out on the suitable occasion. Hence the danger of systematizing, Christianity; for it was not so introduced. The law was an ordered system, but grace and truth were incapable of being exhibited at once (save in His person), but required to be unfolded gradually, as man’s necessities discovered themselves.” This is very just. And from this it is gathered, most justly also, “that it is of no small importance to notice attentively, not only the matter, but the manner, of the Lord’s discourses; that which led to them, as well as the point to which they tend.”
But there is another thing to be observed here, and it turns to us for searching and warning. Jesus judged righteous judgment. He was not to be flattered. He did not try either persons or circumstances in reference to Himself. That is where we so commonly fail in all our judgments. We see objects, whether persons or things, so much in our own light. How have these circumstances affected ourselves? How have these people treated us? These are the inquiries of the heart; and in the answer they get the judgment is too commonly formed. We are flattered into good thoughts of people, and slighted into hard ones. Jesus was not such a one. The Pharisee’s compliment and good fare did not affect His judgment on the whole scene in his house. The friendliness of a social hour could not relax the rightness of His sense of things; as Peter’s recent confession, on another occasion, did not hinder the rebuke that Peter’s worldliness deserved. Jesus was not to be flattered. Like the God of Israel in old times, His ark may be boasted in, and brought into the battle with a shout; but He is not to be flattered by this. Israel shall fall for their unrighteousness (1 Sam. 4).
What a lesson for us! What reason have we to guard against the judgments of self-love! against the trying and weighing of things or persons in relation to ourselves! This firm, unswerving mind of Jesus, may be our encouragement, as well as our pattern, in this; and we may pray, that neither “this world’s flattery nor spite” move us from having our thoughts as before the Lord all the day!
The sense, however, of God’s way, as being so above ours, and of the perfections of Jesus as only serving to expose our many errors, must not be allowed to swallow us up with overmuch sorrow (2 Cor. 2:77So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2 Corinthians 2:7)). We are disposed often so to consider and mourn over experiences, as to get below the place where faith would put us. This, however, must not be. Faith must prevail. And faith, as well as conviction, has a separating power. Conviction of sin separates to the place of sorrow, as it did Nathanael to the shade of the fig-tree, and as it will the repentant Israel by-and-by, “every family apart, and their wives apart” (Zech. 12:1414All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. (Zechariah 12:14)). But so faith. It concentrates the power of seeing and hearing upon its object, opening the ear of a prodigal to the music which the Father had commanded, but closing it to even the recollection of past follies, and to the murmurs of present, conscious coldness.
Precious faith! It deals with God. The prodigal was silent. He did not stay his father’s hand, as though he was doing too much for him. That might have appeared modest and humble, but it would not have been so—for true humbleness forgets ourselves. His silence at the table was faith. And it had a rich feast before it. Among other things, it might have fed on the well-known truth, that the ascending affections are never equal to the descending. A child never loves a parent with the intensity with which a parent loves his child. Yes, and more than this—the parent is satisfied to have it so. A father is satisfied to know that his love will never get its “recompense in the same” from the bosom of the child.
These thoughts might have fed the heart of the prodigal, as he ate in silence of the fatted calf. And they should be our thoughts towards our heavenly Father. Not that He is indifferent to the state of our hearts towards Him. That would be neither His glory nor our joy. But He knows that His love will ever be the larger. He will ever be the One to “exceed” as David with Jonathan. For He is in the higher place; and that place will maintain its rights and attributes. And it is among the attributes of the descending affection (which comes out of the higher place), as I have said, to flow with the richer and more generous current; and all that faith has to do is to allow this, and to rejoice that it is so. Faith ascends to God, and makes that journey in silence. Not even the complaints and confessions of a righteous, self-judging spirit are to be heard. But nothing, except that “light that no man can approach unto,” can transcend the elevation of that rest and dwelling-place up to which it bears the heart in triumph. “Lord, increase our faith!”
The reflection with which the Lord opens these verses appears to have been suggested to His mind by these scenes of Luke 14-16. All that had been passing under His eye and ear led Him to thoughts of offences; and such thoughts find their utterances here, in secret with His elect. He found hindrances to the display and settlement of His kingdom in the place where all should have been prepared for it; and He is led to pronounce woe on the offender.
Offences are those principles which are inconsistent. with the nature of His kingdom, and hinder its exhibition— “obstructions and oppositions given to faith and holiness.” And in order, it may be, the more carefully to guard His disciples against offending, the Lord gives them two admonitions, according to which two essential virtues of His kingdom were to be preserved—its purity and its graciousness. If there were trespass, He requires rebuke; for this would maintain, His house in pure or holy order; if there were repentance, He commands forgiveness; for this would maintain His house in loving, gracious order.
But these demands which He makes on the hearts of His disciples they find to be quite beyond them, and lead them to know that they must needs get strength out of Another for them. Under this consciousness they say, “Increase our faith”—faith being that which takes us into the resources of One Who is greater than ourselves, and draws virtue out of that which has been divinely ordained to meet our necessity.
For, in addition to our previous meditations on faith, I might say that, considered as that by which a sinner is justified, faith is simply the believing of a testimony, that testimony being the gospel; our justification being “by faith, that it might be by grace.” This intimates that work must be excluded. And this the fourth chapter of Romans discusses and teaches. But Scripture also speaks of faith as the principle which animates the life of a saint. This the eleventh chapter of Hebrews presents to us. And, in this character, it is a growing virtue or principle in the soul. It may be either weak or strong, great or little. As we read here, “Lord, increase our faith”; and as we elsewhere read, “O ye of little faith”; and again, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed”; and again, “Your faith groweth exceedingly.”
In this sense Scripture considers it, as I before said, a growing principle in the soul. It is our entrance into the power of the testimony which is believed; “the substance [confidence] of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction] of things not seen.” It is, we may say, the power of divine life in the soul, and may be in health and vigor there, or the contrary. It stands for the energy of the kingdom of God within us. Scripture mentions it as that which apprehends God, waits on Him, walks with Him. So that if faith is strong, those, and the like graces and actions, are fresh and lively. And being this, it should be with real, unfeigned humiliation we speak, when we confess that our faith is weak; for this, if made in spiritual intelligence, is a confession of how little our souls are alive to God.
Scripture, I need not say, abounds with notices of this great principle. It considers it in its source, its actings, its qualities, and its value with God, and the like. And the Lord here, in answer to the desire of His apostles for an increase of it, describes it to them in its two chief attributes—its sovereignty, so to speak, and its self-renunciation—being that which can command the sycamore-tree into the sea, but then will come back to God and say, that all is nothing. These are its necessary excellencies. It takes all blessing from God, but leaves all glory with God (Rom. 4).
These few verses form another distinct portion of our Gospel. The Lord is again looked at on His way to Jerusalem, passing through Samaria and Galilee; and in this scene— simple in its materials as it is—He takes a place before us which may well fill our souls with joy and praise—the place of the altar, God’s ordained place of sacrifice and worship. This suggests a subject of deep interest to our souls, which I would follow for a little.
All knowledge of God must flow from revelation, for man by wisdom knows not God (1 Cor. 1:2121For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)). True worship has the same source. Each of these—knowledge of God and worship—is always to be according to such revelation as He has at the time, or in the dispensation, given of Himself.
Understanding this, I might instance shortly a line of true worshippers from the beginning.
Abel was a true worshipper; for he worshipped in faith, or according to revelation (Heb. 11). The firstling of the flock was according to the promise of the bruised Seed of the woman, and according to the coats of skin, with which the Lord God had covered his parents.
Noah followed Abel, and worshipped in the faith of the woman’s bruised Seed. He took the new inheritance only in virtue of blood (Gen. 8:2020And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8:20)). He was therefore a true worshipper also.
Jacob was a true worshipper. The Lord appears to him in his sorrow and degradation, in the misery to which his own sin had reduced him, revealing Himself as the One in whom “mercy rejoiceth against judgment”; and he at once owns God as thus revealed to him; and this revealed God of Bethel was his God to the end (Gen. 28, 35). Here was enlarged revelation of God, and worship following such revelation; and that is true worship.
The nation of Israel was a true worshipper; for God had revealed Himself to that nation, and established His memorial in the midst of them. They knew what they worshipped. John 4:2222Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. (John 4:22). But in the midst of this worshipping nation there might still be true worshippers who did not conform to the divinely established order, provided their departure from it was also according to new revelation from God. As, for example, Gideon, Manoah, David, who were all true worshippers, though they offered sacrifices on rocks or in threshing-floors, and not in the appointed national place; just because, by a new and special revelation, the Lord had consecrated those new altars. (See Judges 6, 13; 1 Chron. 22). The healed leper, in this passage of our Gospel, exactly on this principle, was a true worshipper, though, like Gideon, Manoah, and David, he departed from the usual order; just because he apprehended God in a new revelation of Himself. The healing which he had felt in his body had a voice in the ear of faith, it being only God who could heal a leper (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)).
The Church of God is now, in this dispensation, a true worshipper on exactly the same around; worshipping according to enlarged revelation, having fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And this is still, like the other cases, worship “in truth,” because according to revelation. But it is “in spirit” also; because the Holy Spirit has now been given as the power to worship, enabling the saints to call God “Father,” and Jesus Christ “Lord” (1 Cor. 8:66But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)). There is now communicated power, as well as revelation, for the purpose of worship.
This subject of worship is indeed a blessed one for further meditation for us all. The faith of the Samaritan leper, who turned from the priest at Jerusalem to lay his offering at the feet of Jesus, thus using Him as God’s anointed altar, has suggested it. He heard the voice of healing—he owned the God of Israel in the mercy that had met him. This was revelation to him, and he believed it, and was led by it into the sanctuary. And this that had happened to him is the only ground of worship from creatures such as we have been, live we in what age or under what economy we may. He had been healed, and he knew that he had been healed. On what ground can we stand to worship but this? We may cry out in the bitterness of a surprised conscience; but that is not worship. It may be the way of the drawing of the Father, and end in the sanctuary; but it is not worship. The blood of Christ purging the conscience from dead works alone leads to the service or worship of the living God (Heb. 9:1414How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)). As in the very heavens, and so forever, the saints, in their glories, worship while standing on this ground, as the floor of their temple (Rev. 5:99And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; (Revelation 5:9)). “Our calling,” as one has beautifully said, “is to consecrate our life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the mercy of God’s redemption—our whole life is to be a continued priesthood, a spiritual serving of God, proceeding from the affections of a faith working by love, and a continued witness of our Redeemer.” It is mercy, as the Spirit Himself teaches, that opens the temple doors, and leads us in to exercise our priesthood before God (Rom. 12:11I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)). And that mercy is ours, we know, only by the hands of our wounded, stricken Redeemer. As that fervent hymn tells it out:
“Hark how the blood-bought host above
Conspire to chant Immanuel’s love,
In sweet harmonious strains!
And as they strike their golden lyres,
This theme alone their bosom fires,
That grace triumphant reigns!
“Join thou, my soul; for thou canst tell
How sovereign grace broke up thy cell,
And burst thy native chains!
And from that dear and blessed day,
How oft art thou constrained to say,
That grace triumphant reigns!”
We must, after this manner, take our own part in the worship. As the psalmist, after calling on all creation to praise, says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”
Luke 17:20-18:820And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. 22And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. 24For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. 25But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. 26And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32Remember Lot's wife. 33Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. 34I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 37And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. 1And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 17:20‑18:8)
In this portion we again get another subject for our thoughts, as disciples of the Great Teacher, who was ordering all for our edification. “The kingdom of God” is here treated by the Lord, in answer to an inquiry from the Pharisees. We do not learn the circumstances of this scene where it was, or when it was; such notices are beside the purpose of the Spirit in our evangelist, as I have said; but we have largely our Lord’s teaching upon the matter itself. (Luke 18:11And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (Luke 18:1) ought rather to be, “to the end that they ought always”; and so forth; thus linking this parable with the previous discourse.)
His manner here illustrates what I have already said on His answering questions. He addresses the conscience, giving a word suited to the moral state of the inquirer, rather than to his question.
With this view He here rightly divides the word between different hearers; for, in verse 22, He turns from the Pharisees to the disciples, giving different views of the kingdom of God to each: that given to the Pharisee being faithful to his condition of soul; and that given to the disciples being seasonable food for the renewed mind, according to its growing capacity. As He says in another place, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” And so, in the wisdom of the Spirit of Christ, when Paul was met by the inquisitive Athenians, he did not answer them according to their inquisitiveness, but declared to them the serious things of God, of judgment, and of repentance.
The subject of this short discourse is “the kingdom of God.” That expression indicates a dispensation in which divine power is brought in. As the apostle says, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” It is, I judge, as another has said, “The exercise or exhibition of the ruling power of God under any circumstances.”
It has different exhibitions; and it is this truth which our Lord opens to us in this place. He teaches us that this kingdom of God is “not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”—but, by-and-by, it is to be “the days of the Son of Man,” or manifest, glorious power. In John also the Lord speaks of these two forms of the kingdom, only under different expressions from those which we have here. I mean in His confession to Pilate, where He owns Himself “King of the Jews,” but lets the Roman know also, that that character of His power could not then be manifested; but that, for the present, it was to take another form under Him as the “witness unto the truth” (John 18). So here; it is now the kingdom “within”; and, by-and-by, it will be the kingdom of “the days of the Son of Man.” The glories belong to the same Jesus, but they are diverse. It is hidden glory now— glory within, in the Holy Spirit, the glory of a sanctuary known only to God and the worshippers. It will be displayed glory by-and-by, or glory in the world, known from one end of the heaven to the other.
Having thus testified these two forms of the kingdom, the Lord goes on to teach what was to take place before it could pass into its second form. He tells the disciples that He Himself was to “suffer many things”; that they were to be in “desire”; to always pray and not faint; and to dwell in the separated places, the house-top and the field, the places of prayer and desire, as Isaac and Peter witness (Gen. 24, Acts 10). And then, as to all beside, He further tells them, that just on the eve of the kingdom’s taking its manifested form, or when “the days of the Son of Man” should begin, the world would be found in all the surfeit and intoxication of the times of Noah or Lot; and that, consequently, those “days of the Son of Man” would break in upon them with the surprise of lightning, but with a just discerning also between man and man—between those who are in the appointed desire and prayer, and those who have found in planting and building, in buying and selling, the spoil of their hand, and are satisfied.
There was, however, a third object. In the history of the times of Lot there was not only Lot himself, and the people of Sodom, but also Lot’s wife. She perished not in Sodom, but between Sodom and Zoar. To her the departure from Sodom was exile, not deliverance. Many of the camp in the wilderness treated separation from Egypt with the same mind. And this yields a solemn, practical question for us. How do our souls entertain the thought of separation from the world? In the esteem of our hearts is it exile or redemption? Are we singing over that thought, like Israel at the Red Sea; or, like Israel afterwards, are we remembering the fish of Egypt, its onions, its leeks, and its cucumbers? Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. She sighed as an exile from Sodom. Do we sing, as the ransomed of the Lord, out of it?
“Remember Lot’s wife,” was the Saviour’s weighty word in the midst of this discourse on the kingdom of God. And it is a weighty and serious word to lie on our hearts.
And the Lord further teaches us that, in neither form, is this kingdom of God subject to the “Lo, here” or the “Lo, there” of man. It makes itself known. It is the property of power to do so. Whether the kingdom be within, or abroad in the world, it will make itself known. As the Lord says of the Comforter within, “But ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” And I may instance Paul as being thus conscious of its presence. As soon as it filled his soul, as soon as he had the Son revealed in him (and that was the kingdom within) it had power at once to separate him to God. With this new and wondrous joy in him, he could go forth, like Abraham, from home and kindred. He did not want man’s seal to be set on his title, nor man’s supplies to be opened for his happiness. He neither conferred with flesh and blood, nor did he go up to Jerusalem, to them that were apostles before him, as though he needed their countenance. He went down to Arabia, where sands and solitude awaited him, instead of to the pillars in the Church, and to the city of solemnities. For the Son was revealed within—his title was sealed, and his resources were opened there, by the hand of God Himself— and he was independent of man’s sanction and man’s supplies. God was both his Witness and his Portion (Gal. 1).
But this may well humble us, beloved. For how little have we learned this divine independency of the creature! Even to look to Arabia with our back upon Jerusalem, would it not be something too much for us? Have we such a kingdom within, such light and strength and joy in God, that “flesh and blood” are no longer our resources? What would our hearts feel if only sands and deserts were before us? But the first joy of adoption in Paul gave every place on earth the same character to him, and that first joy should be ours to the end.
The parable of the Importunate Widow closes this discourse. It may raise the question with us, Whence comes this cry, this day-and-night cry, of the elect? The saints now being gathered are to rejoice in the delay of the Lord as salvation to others (2 Peter 3). But the Jewish election of the latter day are often presented as crying on the Lord, the righteous Judge, to show Himself. And the Lord appears to have them, the rather, in His view, as He uses this parable. Notwithstanding, there is a cry from the saints, in some sense, unceasingly heard of God. There was a cry from Abel’s blood. There was, we also learn, a cry from Sodom (Gen. 4,18). There is a cry from the unpaid wages of the hireling (James 5). Even stones may have a voice in the ear of the Lord (Hab. 2:1111For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. (Habakkuk 2:11); Luke 19:4040And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. (Luke 19:40)).
But after the Lord had given His elect this high place with God, this place of interest and prevalency, He closes with words fitted to put a holy reserve upon their hearts, and to make them look to themselves rather than to their privileges and powers. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” Surely this was the way of a perfect Master, mingling the chastened and the brilliant lights together, giving a character of holiness to our dignities, and, in respect to the exercise of our highest functions and powers, imparting a modest estimate of ourselves.
Luke 18:9-309And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. 15And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 17Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. 18And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 19And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. 20Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother. 21And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. 22Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. 23And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. 24And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 25For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? 27And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. 28Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. 29And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, 30Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:9‑30)
Here we find another subject in like manner distinctly considered.
There are three scenes in this portion of our Gospel, two of which we have in Matthew and in Mark. Our evangelist does not notice their circumstances in time or place, but appears to present them together for the purpose of illustrating one great moral subject, according to his usual manner.
The subject is our approach to God, or way of entrance into the kingdom; and it fitly follows the previous scene, in which the nature of the kingdom was considered and taught; as we saw. In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, in the case of the little children, and that of the young ruler, we are taught what are the characteristics of those who enter, and have their welcome in, the kingdom.
It is the renouncing of self in every form. This is our calling, our perfection; to forsake all that is of man, or of the flesh, or of the world—that we may be established certainly and happily in God Himself, and in His rich provision for us.
These three cases set forth this self-renouncing. The poor, broken-hearted publican did so; the little child does so; the young ruler, had he become the Lord’s follower, would have done so. By these instances, and His reflections upon them, the Lord opens this doctrine. The apostles, afterwards, under the Holy Spirit, go on with it more fully. For the thorough emptying of the creature, or the renunciation of the flesh, is, we need not say, essential to the obedience of faith.
The law had previously come seeking for good in the flesh, or fruit of it unto God. But it found none. The Son of God, on the contrary, came in such a way as condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)). Paul accordingly, in his doctrine, has done with the flesh altogether. He saw it to be a mighty wreck— not as yet fully out of sight, or gone to the bottom, but left by him to perish in its own corruption. He had been cast on a new world, in a new creation, with the risen Son of God.
It is edifying to mark the fervency and decision with which, in every shape and pretence of the flesh, he either escapes from it, or renounces it. Is it subject to condemnation? Yes, but Christ has borne the judgment of it, and he, a believer in Christ, is free. Has the flesh its religion? He counts it all as loss and dung; its ordinances and observances, its bondage and fear, he disclaims and refuses, glorying in the righteousness of God by faith. Has it wisdom? Yes; the world has its princes—the wise, the scribe, and the disputer; but Paul insists that God has made all this as foolishness, and covets only that wisdom which the Spirit searches out and reveals. He escapes from all that it was exposed to; he renounces all that it could pretend to. He was not in it, but in Christ raised from the dead for him. And this is glorious faith, which, after this manner, leaves the flesh in its condemnation, on the one hand, and, on the other, in its endowments—whether of wisdom or of righteousness or of anything else—far away and forever behind us.
Paul had been specially gifted of God to be a witness of the worthlessness of man or of the flesh in its best estate. For if any other might have had confidence in it, he more; as he tells us (Phil. 3). But his renunciation of it exposes its utter vanity, as being the act of one who had made the fairest and most flattering attainments in it.
And it is faith alone that does this. That is the transcendent excellency of faith—doing what nothing else can do. Love is exalted among the virtues to the chief place (1 Cor. 13). But faith does what it was never committed to love to do. It is that which lays hold on God’s salvation for the sinner. And until we get to God, our best thing only keeps us the farther from Him. Paul’s zeal, a good thing in the flesh, led him to persecute the Church. The wisdom of the princes of this world led them into darkness and ignorance of the mystery of God (1 Cor. 2). They were princes, it is true, the most exalted of their generation, but they were princes of this world; and their being princes there only strengthened them against the Lord of the true glory. For with such the world is the object; with God the world is judged.
Returning, however, for another moment, to our evangelist, I might observe that, in the midst of all this teaching on self-renunciation, in the cases of the publican, the little child, and the young ruler, the Great Teacher Himself practises His own lesson. Jesus renounces Himself. “Why callest thou Me good? none is good, save One, that is, God.” He was good, but He would not look on His goodness. This was self-renouncing. What He renounces bespeaks His personal and moral glory; what we have to renounce betrays our shame and depravity; but still, He practises the lesson He teaches, and goes before as our Pattern. We have this again shown us by the apostle in Philippians 2. There he presents the Lord Jesus emptying Himself. It was, surely, of that which was infinitely or divinely glorious; yet He emptied Himself; and upon this He exhorts us to empty ourselves of all spirit of strife and vainglory. Thus there is sympathy; but such sympathy as, while He and we are found exercising ourselves—to speak in this manner—in the same lessons, yet does it bespeak His perfectness in everything, and our state of dishonor; so that we may assert the sympathy, but by that is only speaking to His praise and our own shame. And when, not merely our sympathy, but our oneness with Him is declared by the apostle, the same is made to appear; for though one, He is the Sanctifier, and we the sanctified (Heb. 2:1111For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11)), characters which tell out loudly and clearly the infinite moral distance that there is personally between us, though one in the purpose of God.
May the gracious Hand that has redeemed us as sinners, beloved, still lead us safely onward as saints; and the Good Shepherd, Who once laid down His life for us, feed us in the pastures of His holy Word for His name’s sake!
In this portion of our Gospel, which I separate to itself, there is nothing, perhaps, characteristic. The Lord here, as in the corresponding places in both Matthew and Mark, addresses Himself to His journey, in the full anticipation of the sorrows and death in which it was shortly to end.
But there is in Him, all through this journey, the expression of a greatness of soul that is perfectly wonderful and blessed. He has Jerusalem, and His cup of sorrow there, full before Him. He finds no sympathy from those who were His own. He gathers no admiration from the world. It is the cross, and the shame of it too, that He is called to sustain— all human countenance and support being denied Him. Yet He goes on without the least possible abatement of His energy in thoughts and services for others. We deem ourselves entitled to think of ourselves, when trouble comes upon us, and to expect that others will think of us also. But this perfect Sufferer was thoughtful of others as He was going onward, though every step of His way only conducted Him to still deeper sorrows; and He had reason to judge that not one step of it all would be cheered by man in return. His own little band, even, understood not the sorrows about which He was speaking to them.
And here let me observe, that while, through this Gospel, we have been noticing our Lord as the Teacher, dealing with the thoughts, the hearts, and the consciences of men, we cannot but have observed the great ignorance of Scripture which even the apostles themselves betray continually. It does not appear that it was acquaintance with the prophets which had beforehand prepared them for the claims of Jesus of Nazareth; nor afterwards, in their intercourse with Him, do they seem to grow in knowledge. They wonder at one thing after another which He was constantly either doing or saying, though all was “according to the Scriptures,” or “that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
Their hearts, as Lydia’s afterwards, had been opened. The attractions that were in Jesus, had entered, and separated them from their fishing nets, and kinsfolk, and publican’s tables. So their consciences, more or less, like Peter’s, may have been visited by a convicting ray of His glory. But their understandings had remained but little affected.
That grace and blessing, however, came in due season. After He rose from the dead, when all the comforts of His own personal intercourse with them were about to cease, “then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:4545Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, (Luke 24:45)); and the first chapter of the Acts, before the Holy Spirit was given, affords a sample of the fruit of this new endowment—this opened understanding to understand the Scriptures. A great comfort all this was in the increasing sorrow and darkness of their condition. Their Lord had gone, and the enemy was still alive and in power, therefore the light of God now began to shed its beams on opened eyes, that thus, by nothing less than God’s light, they might walk through the world’s darkness. Their gracious Teacher was personally withdrawn, and their understandings were, accordingly, opened to know the treasures, the comforts, and the strengthenings of His Word.
But as yet it was not so, as we gather from this passage. The Lord addresses Himself to His journey, in the anticipation of the sorrow and shame in which it was to end; but He gets no sympathy from those who had been His care and the objects of His teaching. “Uncheered by earthly smiles,” we may surely say, His lonely journey was.
We are, however, to witness refreshment and cheer for His spirit, provided by the unseen hand of the Father. For that hand draws a few sinners to Him; and, under that power (John 6:4444No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)), they come in faith to Him, as He now repairs to that guilty city, where the prophets had perished. He has not to spend any toil of His own upon them. This beautifully distinguishes these cases. They are made ready for His enjoyment, as by the teaching and drawing of the Father in secret and alone. And, as the joy of a harvest, they are brought to Jesus in these dark and lonely hours: the blind beggar, whose faith we see here; Zaccheus, who meets Him in the next stage of the way; and the dying thief, who calls on Him just at the end of the way. These are His good cheer during His journey. They had cost Him no care or toil, as those who were daily His companions had. He was not tried by the slowness of their hearts, or the dimness of their faith; but they were as the joy of harvest to the reaper.
The strong decision and intelligence of faith which appears in these cases is exceedingly blessed. The blind beggar whom we have here is not to be put off by the religious ceremoniousness of the multitude who would not have “Jesus of Nazareth” intruded on, but he urges his case on the ear and the heart of “Jesus, the Son of David.” Here was faith in its decisiveness and intelligence. He knew what and Who Jesus was. And Jesus owns the good cheer and refreshment which this faith yields Him. For He stands at once at the bidding of this faith, and entirely commits Himself to it, saying to the poor man, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?”
Thus did the God of grace cheer the way of this toiling, travelling Minister of grace. What will His satisfaction be when He sees the full fruit of the travail of His soul!
Luke 19:1-271And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. 11And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:1‑27)
The stages of the Lord’s journey are here very distinctly marked. He is seen, as in the preceding chapter, approaching Jericho, and now passing through it. Then on His road from Jericho to Jerusalem, just outside of which He pauses for a moment, and then formally enters it. And here, as also in Matthew and Mark, the closing scenes in the trial and conviction of the city are also very exactly noticed, this being the subject of these two chapters, like Matthew 21-23, and Mark 11-12.
But they have their peculiarities. The conversion of Zaccheus, a little narrative that strikingly exhibits the work of God in the soul of man, is peculiar to Luke. And the parable of the Talents, or of the Nobleman who went into a Far Country, here follows that little narrative, though given by Matthew in another connection; for, here, these two scenes are made to illustrate the several purposes of the first and the second comings of the Lord; it being the way of the Spirit in our evangelist, as I have noticed, so to combine circumstances and matters of instruction, that moral ends may be answered to the heart and conscience, and that principles and truths of the kingdom may stand illustrated before us. But the parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son is omitted here, being introduced, more suitably with the design of the Gospel, in Luke 14. For there it takes a general or moral character; whereas, had it been introduced here, it would have had a stricter application to the Jews. So the curse on the barren fig-tree is not here, nor is the sentence on Jerusalem largely and fully pronounced.
(I have observed throughout these meditations (as well as here, concerning the parable of the Talents or Ten Pounds), that Luke does not strictly observe circumstances and sayings in order of time, because his purpose is moral. In Psalms 105 and 106 we may observe just the same. The purpose of the Spirit there being moral and not historical; that is, to vindicate Jehovah in His dealings with Israel, and to convict Israel in their dealings with Jehovah; the psalmist does not give the events to which he refers in their succession, or order of time. He speaks of the plague of darkness before that of flies, and of Korah’s rebellion before the making of the golden calf. This is precisely according to what strikes the mind in Luke.)
Zaccheus, as I observed on the preceding meditation, was one of the refreshments provided, through the grace of the Father, for the wearied soul of Christ, as He was travelling His present way to the city. And the Lord owns this refreshment; for He says of the conversion of this publican, that it was answering the purpose of His coming: and, therefore, He must have tasted in it something of the fruit of the travail of His soul. The character of this conversion is simple and comforting. The boldness of faith is remarkable here, as in the preceding case; Zaccheus being deaf to the injurious observations of the righteous or moral world, as the poor blind beggar had been to its religious formality and reserve. And the fruit of communion with Christ, in the place where He was giving the convicted sinner the pledges of His favor, is brought forth very fresh and abundant.
The parable which follows this happy history, as we see plainly, and as I have shortly noticed before, illustrates the great end of the Lord’s second coming. The prophets had not distinguished the two comings so clearly. Thoughts both of grace and glory arise at once and together from what they say of the advent of Messiah. Isaiah 61, to which our evangelist has already led us, instances this. (See Luke 4.) The grace, the vengeance, and the kingdom, appear there in unbroken order and succession. So the praise and prophetic words which attended the birth of Jesus in this Gospel rehearse the same. (See Luke 1-2.) But the need of two advents comes out formally upon the unbelief of Israel, and their rejection of their King I say formally, because, of course, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” And the history of Christ under the figure of “the stone,” to which allusion is here made, gives us these two advents exactly on this principle, and the consequent vengeance which is now to accompany the second.