By Leslie M. Grant
The unique spotless manhood of the person of the Lord Jesus is the predominant theme in the Gospel of Luke, written by the only Gentile writer of Scripture, who also wrote the book of Acts. Grace is therefore an outstanding subject -- the grace that brought the great Creator down to partake of flesh and blood in genuine relationship with mankind, to enter into and understand by experience what it means to "learn obedience by the things which He suffered" (Heb.5:8). The facts as to His birth by the virgin Mary are here beautifully told; and His pure manhood is seen too in His many prayers of lowly dependence. The reality of His bodily resurrection also is emphasized more fully than in any other Gospel. His communion with the Father is sweetly evidenced, and His delight in communion with His disciples. Here is the peace offering aspect of His sacrifice, and the peace of harmonious well-being is apparent. Consistent with this, Luke does not record the Lord's cry of abandonment from the cross, but does record His last words, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (ch.23:46).
LUKE'S GOSPEL WRITTEN FOR A GENTILE RULER (vs.1-4)
Luke's introduction shows that, though he was concerned about giving exact information in this letter to Theophilus, he had not thought of being an instrument directly inspired by God. Theophilus was evidently a Gentile authority of whom nothing more is said in scripture, except in Acts 1:1, where only his name is mentioned. Many others had been energized to write an orderly history of those things concerning the Lord Jesus, and Luke was persuaded there was room for his letter also, having received accurate information from those who were eyewitnesses and servants of God in ministering His Word (v.3). But God had ordered that Luke was to write scripture and laid hold of him for this purpose, without Luke realizing that he was inspired by God. Therefore we may expect depths and beauties in this book that Luke himself had not designed.
Theophilus was manifestly in governmental authority (compare v.3 with Acts 26:25), and Luke desired that he should have accurate knowledge and certainty of those things in which he had already had some instruction. The human element in Luke's words is beautifully transparent, as intended by God.
THE BIRTH OF JOHN PREDICTED (vs.5-25)
Luke begins by speaking of the priesthood in Israel in the days of Herod. But the high priest and others who were prominent are passed by, and Zacharias, an otherwise very ordinary priest, and his wife Elizabeth are singled out, both of the line of Aaron, comparatively righteous before God and as regards law blameless (v.6). Zacharias means "God has remembered," and Elizabeth, "God has sworn" -- names very appropriate since God was about to fulfill His great promise concerning the Messiah. Having no child and advanced in age, they aptly reflected Israel's condition of desolation, from which only the grace of God can produce blessing.
It was "heads of their fathers' houses" (1 Chron.24:4) who served in these priestly courses by turn, elders who represented the priesthood, for there were too many priests for all to serve in the temple. The work of Zacharias was to burn incense in the temple where only priests could enter. He thus was an intermediary: the people prayed while he made intercession. This was God's order in Israel, so different to that now in the Church of God.
When an angel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to Zacharias, he was understandably troubled and fearful, yet in what more appropriate place should a priest expect God to reveal Himself? However, the words of the angel were intended to set him at perfect rest. He addressed him by name with no introduction except the quietening words, "Fear not" (vs.11-13). The message of the angel was plain and direct. The prayers of Zacharias had been heard: his wife Elizabeth would have a son who was to be named John. His birth would give joy and gladness to his father and many others. The prophecy of the angel is clear and precise that John would be great in the sight of the Lord (not in the world's eyes), that he should drink neither wine nor strong drink, which evidently indicates that he would be a Nazirite (Num.6:1-8). It was also God's sovereign ordering that he should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. There was only one John the Baptist: it would be folly for another to aspire to be the same as he (Jer.1:5). John would be divinely prepared for his unique service of preparing the way of the Lord, and his powerful, earnest preaching of repentance turned many Israelites to the Lord (vs.15-16).
Verse 17 explains Matthew 11:1 4, "If you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come." The very fact of the Lord's saying, "If you are willing to receive it" indicates a deeper spiritual application, which Luke explains. It was not that John was the same person as Elijah, but John's service before the Lord was "in the spirit and power of Elijah." John's ministry was of the same character as that of Elijah, sternly pressing on Israel the guilt of their disobedience to the law. The reference here is to Malachi 4:6 which some of the Jews took to mean Elijah personally, but John denied this interpretation (Jn.1:21). The same applies to another prophet who will yet rise during Israel's tribulation, with the same object in view (Rev.11:6), though unlike John and Elijah, he will not be alone. John's ministry would have good effect also on proper family relationships (v.17). It would subdue the spirit of disobedience and replace it with the wisdom of the just, for the chief object of that ministry was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Repentance is essential for this, and since John was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, he must emphasize the guilt of Israel so as to prepare their hearts to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus.
The angel's message was so clear and positive that it ought to have left not the slightest doubt in the mind of Zacharias, yet his word was not enough for him. He felt he must have a sign to confirm this or else accept the testimony of his aging circumstances rather than the testimony of God's Word! He aptly pictures the unbelief of Israel.
The angel then disclosed his name, Gabriel, the one who stood in the presence of God and was sent directly with this message. He then gave a sign, though not so pleasant as Zacharias desired. Zacharias would be deprived of speech until the day this prophecy was fulfilled (vs.19-20). Again we have here a likeness to Israel's condition at the time, mute regarding the things of God, unable to lift their voices in praise and thanksgiving, just because of unbelief, until the day they see their Messiah.
The people waiting outside the temple were perplexed when he came out, for they had not expected God to intervene in the nation's affairs, but the evidence was clear that Zacharias must have seen a vision in the temple (vs.21-22). It is then briefly mentioned that, when the days of his service were finished, he returned to his own house. He would not see frequent service in the temple, for there were twenty-four courses of priests, each to serve in turn, evidently being changed each sabbath day (2 Chron.23:8).
It is not said how soon after this Elizabeth conceived, but when it happened she confined herself at home for five months, though deeply thankful to God that He had taken away the reproach of her barrenness (vs.24-25).
GABRIEL'S ANNOUNCEMENT TO MARY
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth in Galilee to bear a yet more marvelous message to a virgin who was engaged to marry Joseph, both of them being of the house of David. Gabriel's salutation speaks of great grace given to Mary (favor and grace being translations of the same Greek word), of the Lord's presence with her, and of her being blessed among women. Thus her personal blessing is mentioned first (great grace given to her), then her relationship to the Lord (His presence with her), and her relationship to others (blessed among women).
Mary was perplexed at such words, as no doubt also by the sudden appearance of the angel, but wisely waited in silence for an explanation. "Fear not." he says, to set her at rest. Again he speaks of her being favored by God (this subject -- grace or favor -- being beautifully emphasized in Luke). No human merit could deserve such honor as being chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. But God had chosen her to be the one who would independently of human resource conceive and bring forth a totally unique Son, His name to be called Jesus (vs.30-31).
He (not Mary) would be great, called "the Son of the Highest," a dignity far higher than could be given to Him by Mary, indeed an eternal dignity. Therefore the Lord God would give to Him the throne of His father David. First mentioned is His being Son of the Highest, His eternal deity; then Son of David, which involves His manhood, being born of Mary. David's throne will be given to Him in the Millennium, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob, with no other ever rising to take that throne. His kingdom will be perpetual (vs.32-33).
Mary does not question the truth of Gabriel's words, as Zacharias did, but did ask how she was to give birth to a child apart from contact with a man. This gave occasion for the marvelous declaration of verse 35, that the Spirit of God would come upon Mary, the power of the Highest overshadowing her, with the result that "that holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (v.35). While He would be a true Man, born of a woman, yet He was altogether untainted by her sinful nature, intrinsically holy, the fruit of the power of the Spirit of God. Nothing is said here of His former eternal existence as Son of the Father, the eternal Son, but this is vitally involved in His being called the Son of God.
Gabriel tells her also of Elizabeth's conception in her old age of a son, she being the cousin of Mary. He needed to add nothing more as to John, for this was enough to exercise Mary to visit Elizabeth, as was divinely intended. Mary's simplicity of faith is beautiful. She willingly took the place of a handmaid, a servant, and accepted the word of Gabriel, in contrast to the unbelief of Zacharias (v.38).
MARY'S VISIT WITH ELIZABETH
Mary then takes a journey to Judea, with haste, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us observe that haste in this case is commendable, for it was based upon the word of God given to her, and the Lord had designed this to strengthen and encourage faith in both of these favored women. As Mary entered the house and spoke, the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaped; and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, broke forth in a short but beautiful prophecy (vs.39-45). Here the living power of the Spirit of God is accompanied by a lowly spirit of humility that finds delight in the blessing of another, recognizing that Mary is to be the mother of the Lord. Elizabeth rejoiced in the blessedness of Mary among women and in the blessedness of the fruit of her womb.
Though Elizabeth was older than Mary, yet she felt herself unworthy to have the mother of her Lord visit her. But she knew that it was for joy that her own child leapSaturday 25-Jun-2011 11:14genuine delight in Him who was born of the virgin. She also speaks of the blessedness of Mary's faith and the unquestionable fact that what she had believed would certainly take place.
MARY'S WORDS OF PRAISE
Mary's praise and adoration ascribed to the Lord is beautiful. She is a picture of the godly remnant of Israel, the mother of the man-child (Rev.12:1-6), and her language here will be that of the restored remnant of the Jews following the Great Tribulation. Her soul (the center of her emotions and affections) magnified the Lord, Jehovah. Her spirit (the center of her understanding and intelligence) rejoiced in God her Savior. Verse 46 indicates her submission to His authority when using the title Lord. Verse 47 shows her worship of the supreme God, yet who in grace became her Savior, for she knew herself to be a sinner who needed His salvation, just as we all do.
In verse 48 she is seen to recognize His tender mercy and care for her in her low estate, and that hers was an honor that would never fail to elicit the respect of all generations. While the great and mighty of this world are forgotten, this lowly, humble woman has such an honor as will never be forgotten.
To God also she ascribes infinite power, the mighty One who dealt with her in such power as in no other. But she hastens to add, "and Holy is His name," for in the world, power is ignorant of holiness, but God's power is sanctified (set apart) from every corrupting element. There also is the gentle, tender side of His character, showing mercy without ceasing to those who fear Him. "His mercy endures forever" (Ps.106:1)
Note that from verse 46 to 49 it is God personally of whom she speaks, "the Lord," "God my Savior," "He that is mighty," and "Holy is His name." But from verse 50 to 55 it is rather what He has done that is emphasized. His mercy is first mentioned, then strength (verse 51) by which the pride of the ungodly is humbled, showing judgment together with strength. Imaginations and high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God are brought down to dust. In verse 52 rule is seen, His putting down the mighty of this world and exalting the lowly. Verse 53 deals with His administration, His filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. He reverses the cruel order of the world. Verse 54 tells of His help to His suffering servant Israel, remembering mercy after long years of Israel's captivity, and this according to His promise to Abraham and his seed -- not according to the covenant of law. The law is left entirely out of Mary's prophecy, for here the glory of God and the person of Christ is the theme. What she speaks had direct application at the time and will also have application at the end of the Tribulation. Mary remained until near the time of Elizabeth's delivery, then returned home.
BIRTH AND CIRCUMCISION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
The promise to Zacharias is realized as Elizabeth gives birth to a son, which causes much rejoicing among her neighbors and relatives at the great mercy of the Lord toward her. According to Jewish law, the babe was circumcised the eighth day and evidently the priests decided that he should take his father's name, Zacharias. But his mother firmly objected and insisted that John was his name. Zacharias himself settled the dispute by writing that his name was John (v.63). Others marveled at this, surprised that he would not agree to give his son his own name. But the angel had settled this before.
When he gave the name John to his son, Zacharias immediately regained his faculty of speech. His unbelief was changed fully to faith, and he spoke in praise to God. These things being reported in the region, there was a serious, reverent fear that fell upon the people who realized that God was acting in some unusual way. He prepared hearts to expect in John an unusual character "And the hand of the Lord was with him," we are told, in subduing, living reality of power (v.66).
THE PROPHECY OF ZACHARIAS
The prophecies of Elizabeth and Mary are found before that of Zacharias, though he was the first to be visited with a revelation from God. But he was slower in believing. However, he was now filled with the Holy Spirit to express another stirring that warms the heart. He spoke in the language of firm assurance and conviction, as though all was fully accomplished, though as yet the Messiah had not been born.
Jehovah, God of Israel had visited and redeemed His people, he declared. There is no question as to the accomplishment of this, though the people were not yet free, and the nation as such will not be redeemed until the end of the future seven-year Tribulation period. It is in Christ that God has visited His people, He who is raised up as a horn of salvation in the house of David. The horn speaks of potential power, for it was specially for power in salvation that Israel was looking, little realizing that this must involve great suffering and death for the Messiah. Zacharias gave no suggestion of this, though mentioning the remission of sins (v.77).
He refers to the messages of the prophets from earliest times as speaking of the Messiah, but he does not consider such prophecies as Isaiah 53 which speak of the Messiah as suffering, but rather appeals to those prophecies that speak of His great power in delivering Israel from their enemies (v.71). This was mercy promised to the fathers, His holy covenant sworn to Abraham. What was necessary to accomplish this is a matter which evidently did not occur to him. Simeon's prophecy, a little later, is more discerning in this regard (Lk.3:34-35), though not actually indicating the death of Christ, but suffering nevertheless.
In Israel's future deliverance Zacharias expresses the desire that Israel might serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life, which will be true in the Millennium when all their fears will be banished (v.74).
In verse 76 he addresses his child John, to say that he will be called the prophet of the Highest; going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, a herald of One infinitely greater than himself. Because of this great honor, no greater prophet had ever risen than John, none having such a place as this (Lk.7:28).
Verse 77 shows that John would drive home the truth to individuals, to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins. This would call for his preaching a personal repentance, a most important matter to prepare the Jews for having to face their Messiah. The actual remission of sins would only be by God's tender mercy, through the visitation of Him who was the very arising of the day for those in darkness, that is, the blessed Son of God. It is He who would give light to those in darkness, those who had only the shadow of death hovering over their heads, feeling the desolation of their hopeless state. He would change the path of their feet from that of self-will and rebellion to one of peace and tranquility.
John, we are told, not only grew physically, but also in strength of spirit, for he sought the presence of God, though in virtual seclusion, being alone in the deserts. This was a most unusual life for one born into the priesthood of Israel, but John sought no recognition from the high priest or other authorities. In this lonely way he was being prepared by God for his special work.
THE BIRTH OF THE LORD JESUS
God in His sovereign wisdom and power at this time ordered the events of man's government to accomplish His own will. Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world (the Roman Empire) should be enrolled for the purpose of census taking. It is noted in a parenthesis that this census was actually taken when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which was at least six years later. Of course it was not known that it would be this long delayed, but this was the means God took to have Joseph and Mary at Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. Because Joseph (as Mary) was of the line of David, Bethlehem was the place of his enrollment. Prophecy concerning Christ must be fulfilled in every detail.
He whose goings forth had been "from eternity" is now born in Bethlehem (Mic.5:2), the eternal God, yet now in manhood "born of a woman." Marvelous miracle of grace! He who is Creator has yet been an infant, dependent upon His mother's care and ministrations! How this can be we are not expected to understand, but it does demand our simple, honest faith and draws forth the deep adoration of every renewed heart. How contrary are God's thoughts to those of men! Jesus is born in lowliest circumstances, of the poor of the land, not in courts of royal glory and with no official announcement and fanfare to welcome the advent of the great King of kings. More than this, because there was no room in the hotel, He was laid in a manger. Today there is still no room for Him in the ordinary social structure of the world: if His name is mentioned, it is not with the desire for His presence. But the obscurity of His birth is wonderful to the heart of a believer.
ANNOUNCEMENT TO SHEPHERDS
Nor does the angel choose distinguished rulers as those to whom he makes his marvelous announcement, but rather shepherds who in the night kept watch over their flock. This beautifully manifests the grace of God. For He is the Shepherd of Israel who never slumbers nor sleeps, watching alone while the world is unaware. The shining of the glory of the Lord frightened the shepherds, but they must be impressed with the wonder of the revelation given them. Their fears were quieted by the word of the angel and his good tidings of great joy, directed not only to the shepherds and not only to Israel, but to "all people."
So it is those in the place of lowliness who are told, "There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord" (v.11). Wondrous grace! He is called "Savior" first, before His official title is used. The sign of His being wrapped in swaddling cloths (not sewn clothing, but cloth wrapped around Him) and lying in a manger, was intended to bring the shepherds to see Him, as was the case.
When the message was given, then the angel was joined by a multitude of others lifting their voices in praise to God, but adding also, "on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Sadly, peace on earth did not immediately follow this announcement, but man is to blame for this. From the heart of God peace has been offered toward men in the person of His Son, but they have refused His Son, and peace cannot be known by the world until it receives the Prince of Peace. Such peace is absolutely certain, but in the future.
This announcement of His birth is a matter of great importance (Heb.1:5), for nothing is to be left open to the least question as to its truth. Many others have claimed to be Christ, but none of them have been so presented at the time of their birth. A wicked promoter of this kind of thing would never announce a child as Christ at the time of his birth, for how could he expect the child to turn out in the pattern he desired?
Coming with haste, the shepherds found precisely what the angel had told them They did not keep it to themselves, but reported what they had witnessed throughout the region. It is evident there would be no reason whatever for their reporting such things if the report were not true. Therefore the people who heard it were not skeptical, but wondered what all this meant.
Mary, on the other hand, quietly remembered and pondered over the significance of the many details that had to do with this unique child. The shepherds had no doubt told her of the angel's message to them, and this, besides many other things later experienced, would awaken the keenest wondering interest in her heart. As they returned to their work, the shepherds were filled with praise to God, their eyes having confirmed what they had heard with their ears.
HIS CIRCUMCISION AND PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE
The ordinances of the law are seen to be carefully observed, and at His circumcision on the eighth day the child is named Jesus, the name decided by God before His conception. This too was announced to Joseph when Mary was pregnant with her firstborn (Mt.1:18-21).
After 33 days (the length of time for a woman's purification after a man-child was born -- Lev.12:4), they brought Him to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord. The law required a sacrifice with every such presentation, and though the Lord was sinless, this was done according to law. Circumcision symbolizes death, and the presentation of children to the Lord in Israel required this symbol of death. In Christianity baptism would answer to this (Col.2:11-12), and if a believer desires to present a child to the Lord, God has made the provision of baptism for such a presentation.
The sacrifice in this case was to be two turtle doves or two young pigeons (v.24), though we are not told which of these Joseph and Mary brought. The two birds were allowed rather than a Lamb in cases of poverty (Lev.12:8), and Joseph and Mary were poor people.
SIMEON AND HIS PROPHECY
God had further witnesses prepared to give glory to His blessed Son. Simeon, an aged man whose godly, devoted character was well known, one who waited for the consolation of Israel (that is, the coming of the Messiah), was given a revelation by the Spirit of God that he should not die before he had seen God's Messiah (vs.25-26). At the proper time the Spirit of God led him to the temple so that he was there when Joseph and Mary came in with the Lord Jesus (v.27)
How blessed was his privilege of taking up in his arms this One who is God manifest in flesh! In deepest reality he felt this privilege, therefore blessed God and expressed his contentment now in dying because his eyes had seen God's salvation. He did not think of remaining to enjoy Messiah's presence on earth or the blessing of Israel because of it. His is the same faith as Abraham's, who rejoiced in seeing Christ's day (Jn.8:56), but well knew that he personally would "go to his fathers in peace" (Gen.15:15).
But Simeon's prophecy is by no means confined to Israel. In fact, he speaks of "all people" first, then of light to the Gentiles, and last, "the glory of Your people Israel" (vs.30-32). How deeply the grace of God had effect upon this dear man's soul! He was above mere selfish considerations and delighted in that which glorifies the Lord Jesus. God's salvation is His own Son. Salvation therefore was there, though as yet neither Israel nor Gentiles nations are saved.
Joseph and Mary, marveling at such things being spoken of this young child were also given more serious thoughts to consider by this same man of God. It is Mary specifically who is told that, because of Christ, many in Israel would fall and rise again (v.34). This has surely been true of many individuals who stumbled at first, then were lifted up and saved by divine grace.
Yet, though at present individuals have fallen and risen again, Israel as a nation remains in a fallen state, and not until the end of the Great Tribulation will many rise again, though it will not be all, for two-thirds in all the land of Israel will be cut off and die in unbelief (Zech.13:8). Christ is certainly a sign spoken against by the guilty nation, and through Him the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed, that is, by presenting Christ to people, God brings out what their thoughts really are -- those of love for God or of hatred toward God (Jn.15:22-24). In a parenthesis (v.35) it is noted that a sword would pierce Mary's soul also, a reference to her seeing this blessed One crucified by wicked hands.
ANOTHER AGED WITNESS
Another very aged witness is brought in by God at that instant. Anna, her name meaning "She was gracious" is the daughter of Phanuel ("the face of God"), of the tribe of Asher ("happy"). How appropriate are these connections! She had been married to a husband for about 84 years (v.37): hence if she had been married at 16, her age at this time would be 107. Her consistent devotion to the Lord, with fastings and prayers night and day, had not wearied with age.
At that time she expressed her thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to those present who looked for redemption in Jerusalem (v.38). Of course, this was no formal gathering, but a spontaneous case of speaking of the Lord -- not of teaching, but of prophesying, which is addressed more to hearts and consciences than to the intellect. She definitely spoke for God, led by the Spirit of God.
THE RETURN TO NAZARETH
After observing all that the law required at Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary returned home to Nazareth with the Babe. Verse 40 shows the reality of the Lord's manhood. He developed both physically and in strength of spirit, and was being filled with wisdom. Certainly His divine nature expressed itself in unique wisdom, but even His wisdom is looked at in this chapter from a human viewpoint since Luke's unique perspective is Christ as Man. Also the grace of God was upon Him. This is God's favor, perfectly deserved in His case, as it is not in ours.
Nothing is said in Luke of the wise men, the Magi, coming to see Him in "the house" (Mt.2:11) not in the manger. Joseph and Mary must have taken Him back to Bethlehem after going first to Nazareth since His age at the time of the wise men's visit was well over a year, for Herod at this later date had all the children under two years killed in an effort to do away with the Messiah (Mt.2:16). At that time Joseph and Mary went to Egypt (Mt.2:13-14), then later, after the death of Herod, returned to Nazareth (Mt.2:19-23). The intervening time between the Lord's being taken to Egypt and returning later to Nazareth is not referred to at all in Luke, where nothing of the Lord's history is seen again until He was twelve years of age.
AMONG THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW
In verse 41 it is noted that Joseph and Mary made a practice of going to Jerusalem every year for the Passover Feast. Their poor circumstances did not hinder this important occasion. Nor was it a short, easy journey, but about a three or four day trip each way on foot or donkey. What a reproof to Christians who will make many excuses for not attending gatherings and conferences of the people of God!
One specific case is mentioned when the Lord reached the age of twelve years. At this age a child was given the privilege of being expected to begin to show an interest in the affairs of his own nation and its religion. The family traveled in a good sized company to Jerusalem for the feast, and when the days were completed they began their journey homeward. It seems they did not remain for the entire Passover week, but after fulfilling what ceremonies the law required within two or three days, they left Jerusalem, although the feast was still in progress. But the Lord Jesus remained behind (v.43). It may seem strange that Joseph and Mary had not made sure that a twelve year old child was with them, and that they did not miss Him until they had gone a day's journey. Evidently they had taken his presence for granted, for His dependability had surely been proven to them in every respect, and they supposed that He would be in the company (v.44). But they were certainly not enjoying His company. Because He is so faithful, let us not merely take His presence with us for granted, but rather cultivate the fellowship of His company. Their neglect cost them two days of travel besides three days of searching for Him. We too will find that lack of communion with the Lord will cost us something.
They found Him at last in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors of the law, both hearing them and asking them questions (v.46). He was making no display of His knowledge, but becomingly taking the proper place of a twelve year old, and willingly listening to the expositions of the doctors and inquiring of them. Evidently they asked Him questions too, for His answers and understanding astonished them. Here is illustrated the truth of Isaiah 7:15, "Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." Butter is the cream of the milk in solidified form, typically the Word of God made good to the soul through exercise (churning). It is the Word itself. Honey is typical of the ministry of the Word, gathered and digested by the worker bees before being contributed for the good of all the hive -- therefore that which believers gather to share with others. What the learned doctors gave of the law that was truly of God was honey, and the Lord received this, though the butter was first, that is, God's Word itself made good to the soul in personal exercise. If the blessed Son of Man required this, how deeply indeed we require both the Word itself and the ministry of the Word, that we might discern the distinction between good and evil, and choose the good.
Joseph and Mary were amazed. Mary reproached Him for having been absent from them all this time. But He could not accept any reproof. He answered with two questions that were reproofs to them, though gentle. What was the reason they had sought Him? If they had been exercised as to the will of God, they would have been unerringly led to Him. Did they not realize that He would occupy Himself with His Father's interests? Mary had said, "Your father and I," but He set this aside with His words, "My Father's business." Had they expected He would care only for the company of other children at such a time and have no interest in the very center of Israel's interests, the temple? Most children at that age would have only slight interest in the temple and the learning of the doctors of the law, but did they not expect Him to have a vital interest in this? This ought to have been the first place they should seek Him, for it was His first opportunity to enquire of the learned men concerning matters of vital importance.
He went down with them to Nazareth and continued in subjection to them, just as is becoming for any child His age (v.51). Blessed humanity indeed! His mother kept all of His sayings in her heart, surely a good example for us!
Verse 52 records His perfectly normal development, both in wisdom and stature. For us to fully understand how this can be in regard to One who as God knows all things, is impossible. But the facts are recorded, not the explanation of the facts. The child's normal development proved Him to be truly Man in every proper sense, but not sinful man. Also He increased in favor with God and man. This favor (or grace) was because of a character that fully merited it. Each day of His life was a fresh occasion of delight to the heart of God the Father. Man too could not ignore it and appreciated it until He began to assert the claims of God over men, just as Saul loved David until he realized that David was actually by his character and by God's will entitled to be the king of Israel (1Sam.16:21; 18:6-11).
A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS
The first two verses of this chapter establish the precise time of the appearance of John the Baptist in his ministry, so that the reality of it cannot be disputed, and they indicate that this solemn call of Israel to repentance was at a time when wickedness was prospering in high places. Tiberius Caesar was notorious for his cruelty to the Jews, specially bitter toward them, though other religions meant nothing to him either. Pontius Pilate's administration was one of cruel injustice. Herod and his brother Philip were both characterized by moral depravity (Mt.14:3-4). Also there were two high priests -- Annas and Caiaphas -- in total opposition to the Word of God (v.2). They were appointed by the Romans, who chose those they favored most, in this case both Sadducees, those who refused the truth of resurrection and denied the existence of angels or spirits (Acts 23:8). This was the dark setting for the solemn message of John, his own nation being enmeshed in corruption!
The Spirit of God laid upon the heart of John the Word of God so needed at that moment by Israel. But though of the priestly family, he did not go near the temple in Jerusalem nor seek any authority from priestly dignities before preaching the truth of God. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, in the vicinity of the Jordan River (v.3). He was not interested in seeking crowds or he would have begun in the city, but crowds nevertheless came to him in the wilderness. This was God's doing, not man's. John maintained a decided separation from the established religious center of the nation, for he preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Only those who admitted they had sinned would come to him therefore, for everyone baptized with John's baptism was in this act admitting that he had broken the law of God and therefore death and burial (typified in baptism) was a just sentence against him. This baptism was in view of remission of sins, for a confession of guilt is required if there is be forgiveness, Symbolically, this baptism looks forward to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, in which alone forgiveness is to be obtained.
Isaiah 40 is quoted in verse 4-6 as referring directly to John as a voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." Repentance was certainly a prime necessity in this preparation, an honest facing of sin that had dishonored God. The Lord's paths were to be made straight, for He would allow no tortuous, twisting deceit of men's minds: they could not approach Him in a state of dishonesty.
Valleys would be filled, that is, those willingly of lowly character, would be lifted up, but mountains and hills (people in a state of self-exaltation) would be brought low. The crooked (perverted principles commonly accepted) would be made straight, and rough ways (the paths in which sin has caused trouble and sorrow) would be made smooth, for sin would be judged. He speaks of the salvation of God being seen, not only by Israel, but by "all flesh" (vs.5-6). This prophesied-salvation is accomplished only in the One whose way John was preparing.
Matthew 3:7 tells us that it was when John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees watching him baptize that he said, "Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Yet Luke shows that this was spoken to all the crowd who came, for there were many who were cunning and deceitful (v.7). Whoever might have such moral character, let him take to heart John's words. He pressed that if they would claim to repent, let their repentance be proven by fruits consistent with it. To boastfully say that Abraham was their father was no repentance at all, but self-justification. God could raise up children to Abraham "of these stones," that is, those present whom the Pharisees considered of no value (as Peter, by definition "a stone").
The axe was laid to the root of the trees (v.9): no measure of self-improvement on the part of Israel would be recognized by God. If the tree was bad, as evidenced by its fruit, the tree would be cut down (not only some of its branches) and thrown into the fire. Solemn warning of the judgment of God against falsehood in any of us or in any nation, no matter how appealing an impression falsehood seeks to make.
Only Luke records the people asking John what they ought to do, for Luke singles out those things that have to do with moral character. John's Gospel rather dwells on the Baptist's testimony to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Here John answered the common people to the effect that they should willingly share what they had with those in need (v.11). This is not the gospel of grace, but it challenges Israelites as to whether they were willing to act by faith in the true God. Not that this necessarily would be a proof of faith, for some would do such things with selfish motives, but it was a challenge nevertheless. John did not have the full answer to people's needs, but he pointed to the One who did.
The hated tax gatherers also inquired and were told simply to collect no more taxes than the government appointed. This is an elementary matter, but it confirms the fact that it was a common practice for these men to profit by dishonesty. Jewish soldiers -- the police of that time -- were warned against intimidating or oppressing anyone, as is a temptation for this class of men; also against false accusations, and were told to be content with their wages, which is possibly the least appreciated exhortation (vs.12-14). But reality of faith would welcome such instruction.
The atmosphere of expectancy among the people had been awakened by God. But though the birth of the Lord Jesus had been heralded by the shepherds and confirmed by wise men from the east, yet the people had evidently forgotten this and reasoned as to whether John was the Messiah. John unhesitatingly denied this. In fact he had said before that he was merely sent to prepare the way for the Lord. He baptized with water (which the Lord personally did not -- Jn.4:2), baptism being simply a formal rite that symbolized putting a dead person in his grave. But one mightier than he was coming after him, whose shoe-lace he was unworthy to unloose. This coming one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (v.16).
The time of the baptism of (or in the power of) the Spirit was not until after Christ had died, risen and ascended back to glory. It would be a marvelous, miraculous work of grace, infinitely greater than John's baptism. John did not know the details of this unusual baptism. It is Paul, in 1Corinthians 12:13, who is given the privilege to explain that by this baptism all believers, Jewish and Gentile, are baptized into one body, the Church of God. The term "baptized" is used because all mere natural distinctions are buried, that there might be a full, true unity of believers from every nation under heaven, thus forming a completely new and wonderful company, distinct from the nation Israel and from the Gentiles as well. Thus, the power and grace of God are wonderfully displayed.
Baptizing with fire is the solemn alternative of this, as verse 17 shows. It is virtually burial by fire, the devastating judgment of God upon unbelievers. John uses the symbol of the threshing-floor where the wheat (believers) is separated from the chaff (unbelievers), the wheat gathered into the granary, the chaff burned with fire not to be quenched, an eternal, abiding judgment. How awesome a contrast to the greatness of blessing of those redeemed by the blood of Christ! Here Luke ends the ministry of John with the observation that he had more than this to say in exhorting the people.
John's brief public ministry is silenced by the vicious enmity of King Herod toward God (vs.1-20). It was right that John should reprove Herod for his serious sin in taking his brother's wife as his own, for Herod was king of that nation chosen by God and responsible to be subject to God's authority. So there is no doubt the prophet spoke for God. There were other evils also for which John reproved him. but rather than taking this to heart, Herod added the wickedness of imprisoning the Lord's servant. Matthew 14:3 indicates also that Herod was influenced by his evil unlawful wife to do this.
THE LORD JESUS BAPTIZED BY JOHN
John's ministry occupied very little time: as he said, he must decrease while the Lord must increase (Jn.3:30). This chapter illustrates the fact that the order in Luke's Gospel is not chronological, but moral, for the event of verses 21-22 took place before that of verses 19 and 20, yet here is recorded after. John had certainly not been put in prison at the time He baptized the Lord. John 3:22-23 is clear also that the ministry of John the Baptist overlapped that of the Lord Jesus for a short time.
So verse 21 does not mean that John baptized no one after baptizing the Lord, but it emphasizes that there is an important connection between their baptism and His. By being baptized the Lord was virtually pledging to take on Himself the responsibility for the sins of repentant Israelites, and would fulfill this pledge in His own death on the cross, of which His baptism is symbolic. Thus, the Lord was devoting Himself fully to the will of God. Only Luke mentions that He was praying at this time. God answered Him by the great miracle of opening the heavens. On four occasions we have such an event recorded in scripture -- in Ezekiel 1:1; Luke 3:21 (recorded also in Matthew and Mark); Acts 10:11 and Revelation 19:11. The last is future, and John 1:51 prophesies of this same future event.
With this opening of the heavens the Spirit of God descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon the Lord. Only in this Gospel is a bodily shape mentioned. This marvelous event, witnessed by many, was to make known unmistakably the Father's pure delight in, and approval of this blessed Man who was more than Man, the beloved Son of the Father. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all engaged in this wonderful event. How could it be that those who witnessed this could ever forget it? Yet the religious leaders chose to ignore it. Notice too that Luke speaks of the Father personally addressing the Son in the intimacy of living relationship and expressing delight in Him.
THE GENEALOGY OF THE LORD JESUS
The time of this initial act preceding the public ministry of the Lord is told us here as being when He was about 30 years of age (v.23). What years of patient, unobserved preparation those 30 years were, compared to the brief three and one half years of His public ministry! But John the Baptist's time of ministry was much less, comparatively, while his lonely, isolated preparation was just as long.
The Lord's genealogy given in these verses proceeds back to Adam. The genealogy of Matthew 1 begins with Abraham and comes forward to Joseph and Christ. Matthew gives the kingly line, so there the official title of Christ to the throne of Israel is established. This is through Joseph who was not actually in the line of the Lord Jesus at all. Though verse 23 speaks of Christ as supposedly the son of Joseph, yet the line is manifestly that of Mary, for Joseph had a different father, Jacob (Mt.1:16). Both lines go back to David. Luke, however, giving the actual genealogy, goes back to Adam to emphasize the reality of the Manhood of the Lord Jesus and to remind us that man as such proceeded-from God (v.38).
TEMPTED BY THE DEVIL
The Father having pronounced His delight in His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In Mark 1:12 it is said the Spirit "drove" Him for Mark speaks of His servant character, and Matthew 4:1 interestingly reads that He was "carried" by the Spirit (JND trans.), for Matthew considers Him as King, therefore as it were carried as a king in triumph. But as the Man Christ Jesus He was "led," for He is here willingly dependent on the leading of His God and Father
This temptation (or test) by the devil was to prove who He really is, for there could be no doubt that He would triumph perfectly over such temptation: this had been settled by the Father's approval of Him beforehand: He is His own Son. But as the test of fire proves the reality of pure gold, so this test proved the Lord Jesus to be absolutely without dross, without sin. Satan's temptation may cause in us a struggle because there is in us an inclination to succumb. But in Christ there was no such thing. "In Him is no sin," no inclination to do evil, therefore no struggle, but firm decision against temptation. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do" (Jn.5:19). It is impossible for Him to do anything other than the Father does, therefore certainly it was impossible for Him to sin.
Observe the contrast here between Adam and the Lord Jesus. Adam was in circumstances of beauty and plenty in the Garden of Eden. Nothing was lacking to him, yet he quickly gave in to temptation. Christ was alone amid desolation, having eaten nothing for forty days, and was hungry. Yet Satan temptations found not the slightest tendency of yielding on His part. Satan's first temptation (v.3) is subtle. It is an appeal to pride, yet also to need, for it questions whether Christ is really the Son of God and urges Him, if so, to ease His hunger by turning a stone into bread. This may sound reasonable enough if one decides to live by his own reason. But it was by the Word of God that the Lord Jesus lived and by which all men ought live. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 to show this. He would certainly do nothing as directed by Satan: it was His very nature to live only by the authority of God's Word.
The second temptation (vv. 6-7) is also an appeal to pride as well as an appeal to greed, but again there is no inclination in the Lord to succumb to this. From a mountain top the devil shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. (Indeed, the length of time all these kingdoms will exist is virtually "but for a moment.") Satan can show all he has in a moment of time, but the Lord will take eternity to show us the riches of His possession. It is true enough that all these kingdoms have been delivered to Satan: he is a usurper who deceitfully prevailed upon Adam to yield the world's authority to him. So he tries also to bring Christ under his authority by his false offer of all these kingdoms, if Christ will only worship him! Of course the Lord knew well the cunning wickedness that moved Satan, but He does not refer to this. Rather He quotes again from Deuteronomy (ch.6:13), that worship is allowed only to the Lord God. He is the one Man of true, unswerving faith, dependent only upon God.
The supernatural power that Satan has in both taking Christ from the wilderness to a high mountain and in taking Him to a pinnacle of the temple is a matter of wonderment. But this was allowed by God to demonstrate the superior moral power of total obedience to God on the part of the sinless Son of Man. Satan was defeated.
In the third temptation the devil again quotes Scripture in an effort to induce the Lord Jesus to act in self-reliance to prove He is the Son of God. This temptation also was an appeal to pride, but with the subtle inference that the Lord could prove Scripture true by this act. But Satan left out four words in quoting Psalm 91:11-12, where it is said, "to keep You in all Your ways" (not in Satan's ways). The Lord does not mention this, but there is nothing in Him to respond to Satan's temptations. The Lord quotes again from Deuteronomy (ch.6:6), " You shall not tempt the Lord your God." Thus He perfectly kept the place of dependent Manhood, living simply by the Word of God, not arguing with Satan, but silencing him with nothing but the written Word of God. The devil then left him for a season. Satan's withdrawing does not mean his giving up: he would return again before the cross (Jn.14:30), but again would find no inclination in Christ to succumb to his oppression, any more than to his temptation.
MINISTRY IN GALILEE INCLUDING NAZARETH
Only John's Gospel speaks of the Lord's ministry in Jerusalem before He returned to Galilee, and no public preaching is mentioned, though individuals were drawn in faith to Him (Jn.1:38-51). In Galilee news of Him began to spread and He taught in the power of the Spirit of God in the synagogues. It is evident too that He made another visit to Jerusalem before John was put in prison (Jn. 2:13) and from there into the Judean countryside (Jn.3:22-24).
Whether the Lord came to Nazareth again before or after this Jerusalem visit we cannot say, for Luke is not interested in fixing the time of events, but in their moral significance and order. In the Lord's home city He entered the synagogue and stood up to read the Word of God. It is not said that He asked for the book of Isaiah, but this was handed to Him, certainly by divine guidance. He opened the book to Chapter 61:1-2, a most lovely prophecy of the Messiah (vs.17-19). It was in Judea that the Spirit of God had publicly come upon Him, anointing Him for the marvelous service of grace: now when He returned it was the perfect time to read this Scripture. He was first to preach the gospel to the poor, and "the common people heard Him gladly." He manifestly came for the help of those in need, not to seek the patronage of the rich. The broken hearted, the captives, the blind, those who were bruised -- these were the subjects of His gracious ministry. The bruised speak of those suffering under oppression.
He concludes His reading with the words, "to preach the acceptable year of the Lord," and closed the book in the middle of a sentence, for in Isaiah it is added, "and the day of vengeance of our God." In this way He separated the two events very pointedly. Sitting down, He told His audience, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (v.21). This prophecy of Isaiah could be true only of the Messiah; therefore it is absolutely true that the Lord Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. Anyone falsely making this claim would be a wicked imposter. But the day of vengeance was not to be fulfilled yet. Old Testament Scripture had not indicated that grace would be preached for a long time before the day of vengeance took place, but it has continued for nearly 2000 years, He who has closed the Old Testament book of prophecy for the time being will Himself be the One to open the book again to disclose the day of vengeance. Thus the whole dispensation of the grace of God intervenes at the present time, which includes the birth of the Assembly, the Church of God, at Pentecost and the rapture of the Church to glory at the coming of the Lord.
The Lord's gracious words cause His hearers to marvel. Because He was well - known since he was brought up in their city, they could not understand such words proceeding from His mouth. He had not learned these things in the schools of the rabbis. He was not of the priestly tribe and had not been given credentials by the priests to allow Him to speak like this. Was He not Joseph's son, son only of a lowly carpenter? But He did have these things: why did they not seriously enquire so they might find that God, not man, was the Author of what He spoke?
The Lord knew their hearts and that they were ready to accuse Him of mere words without power. They had heard of His miracles in Capernaum and were interested, not in His words, but in seeing miracles. He anticipated therefore what they would have to say, and therefore adds that "no prophet is accepted in his own country" (vs.23-24). Such is the pathetic condition of people's hearts that they do not want a prophet who might know them too well.
He then gave two Old Testament examples of God's pure grace, not shown to the proud nation Israel, but to Gentiles at a time when the need was deeply felt. First, though there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah the prophet, yet in time of need Elijah was sent to none of them, but to a Gentile woman in Sidon (vs.25-26). She was blessed through this and saved from dying from hunger. The second example was of Naaman the Syrian who came to Elisha at a time when there were many lepers in Israel. Again, no Israelite was healed, but Naaman received this great blessing (v.27). This is the Word of God which was in Israel's possession, and both cases are most striking in the fact of grace being shown to Gentiles.
Yet the very reminder is intolerable to the Jews of Nazareth. It offends their religious pride and racial dignity, for does it not reduce Jews to the level of requiring grace? But law, not grace, is the principle they want, though they, with all Israel, were guilty of breaking the law and desperately needed the grace of which Isaiah 61 had spoken, just as they needed the Messiah who had spoken to them. Filled with anger, they have no hesitation in further violating their own law by the attempted murder of God's prophet by taking Him to a cliff to throw Him over. They would consider He was not loyal to His own nation, but men's thoughts of loyalty are too often merely selfish sectarianism which in this case was so intense as to resort to cruel and violent murder. But He simply passed untouched through the midst of them (v.30). Here is the protection of the power of God on behalf of the obedient Man. He shows no supernatural display of power, but rather God rendered His enemies powerless to carry out their intentions. This same power is often exerted, completely unknown in most cases, for the protection of believers who depend in faith on His sovereign grace.
MIRACLES IN CAPERNAUM
The Lord returned to Capernaum on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. The emphasis is placed upon His preaching there, which He did on the sabbath days. People were astonished at His doctrine (as in Nazareth, but there resented), for there was manifest power in the words He spoke. Such power necessarily faces people with a decision to make: will they bow to that word or will they refuse it? No indifference can be allowed.
His words were also backed up by miraculous powers. In the place of the profession of God's name, the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon (v.33). What a comment on Israel's spiritual condition! He cried out loudly, "Let us alone," for it was the demon within him who was disturbed by the presence of the Son of God. The man spoke almost as though the Lord was encroaching on their property. Though knowing Him to be the Holy One of God, the demon used the expression "Jesus of Nazareth," a designation commonly used to infer something inferior in men's minds. He questions if the Lord had come to destroy them, that is, the demons. For they can understand nothing of grace.
Rebuking the demon, the Lord orders him to come out of the man, which order the demon must obey, but not without one last, vicious thrust, throwing the man down in the midst. Fourteen times in Luke the words "the midst" appear, indicating the place of central attraction (not always translated this way in the New King James Version, but the same Greek expression, if the Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament, by G.V.Wigram, is consulted).
People were amazed, not only at the power of the miracle, but more importantly by the authority and power of the word spoken by the Lord Jesus (v.36). Every miracle was intended to draw attention to the authority of His word so people might believe Him and submit to His word. His fame spread into the surrounding area so whatever people thought of Him, they could not ignore Him. There is fullest public testimony to the power of His word, as in fact there is to the grace and truth of that word.
It appears that Simon's house was always available (as ours ought to be), and such a house will receive blessing from the Lord's hand. In answer to the prayers of loved ones, the Lord stood over Peter's wife's mother (for Peter was married (1Cor.9:5) to immediately dispel a high fever that afflicted her (vs.38-39). Such immdediate results are certainly miraculous. In fact, after a high fever subsides, one is generally left weak for a time, but she rose immediately and ministered to the Lord and to others. How lovely is the affection and energy that grace awakens in a believer!
The unwearied labors of the Lord continued until the setting of the sun, with large numbers coming to be healed of various diseases (vs.40-41). He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. The laying on of hands is consistent with the character of Luke's Gospel, for the Son of Man has come in grace to identify Himself with the sorrows and trials of His people, indeed to feel these things Himself and to sympathize with those in need, as He met their needs by His grace. Not one was turned away. Present day so-called "healers" may profess great power in healing, but they would not even claim to heal all who come to them. In fact, when the people find they are not healed, the healer will blame this on their lack of faith! Such healers thrive on neurotic cases, who, by the power of suggestion, claim to be healed, but such were not the miraculous healings of the Lord Jesus. In Him there is pure, living reality, not a mere religious show.
All of this is a little shining forth of the eventual great blessing that earth will receive when the Millennium is introduced. It is He alone who can bring this. Still it is only a sample, for He had not come to reign. When demons, being cast out of many victims, cried out that he was Christ, the Son of God (which of course is true), He silenced them. His great power and glory as the Messiah must wait, for He came to suffer and die first.
He sought no flattery from man, nor would He remain to take advantage of the excitement that had been awakened. Early the next day He withdrew to a deserted area (v.42). Every servant of the Lord also must learn that he cannot live always before the public eye, for he needs the quietness of the presence of God.
The people followed Him and urged Him to remain, but with calm, firm decisions He told them He must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also (v.43). His Father had sent Him for this and He would fully obey. Popular opinion and natural feelings would not influence Him otherwise. Nor would He be turned from His blessed work of preaching the Word of God, for He made it clear that His miracles were intended simply to draw attention to the vital truth of that Word. If people made miracles an object, they lost the true blessing. The kingdom of God is that in which the authority of God is dominant, and this kingdom had to be established even before the gospel of the grace of God was declared following the death and resurrection of the Lord. Paul preached both (Acts 20:24-25). It is not that there are two gospels, but the kingdom speaks of the authority of God established over subjects. The grace of God is vital too, for authority and grace are complements of one another.
PETER, JAMES AND JOHN CALLED AS DISCIPLES
It is good to read in verse 1 that by the Lake of Gennesaret (or Sea of Galilee) the people pressed upon the Lord Jesus, not to see miracles, but to hear the Word of God. Two fishing boats were nearby, the fishermen taking time to wash their nets. We elsewhere read of Simon and Andrew "casting a net into the sea" (Mk.1:16), typically the labor of evangelists in fishing for men; then of James and John "mending their nets" (Mk.1:19), picturing a restorative, pastoral work, to revive one's energy for effective service. The washing of nets speaks of keeping one fitted for service by the washing of water by the Word (Eph.5:26), similar to feet-washing (John 13), for defiling contacts will hinder our service.
To avoid the pressure of the crowd, the Lord used Simon's boat, anchored just off the shore. There He sat down to teach the people (v.3). The sea speaks of the Gentile nations, and it is symbolically from a Gentile viewpoint that He spoke, as in Luke generally. His message is one of grace that in its essence includes Gentiles as fully as Jews. His sitting down reminds us of His present sitting at God's right hand while proclaiming grace through His servants on earth.
When the Lord finished speaking, He called for action, telling Simon to launch out into the deeper water and let down the nets. Simon protested that he and others had worked all night (the most likely time for catching fish) without success. Yet he accepted the Lord's word in measure at least: he let down one net, though the Lord had said "nets." Too often, sadly, our obedience is only partial. The fish were too many for the net and it broke (v.7). This account is in contrast to John 21:11, where the Lord in resurrection gave orders that were obeyed and the net was dragged to land rather than the fish gathered into the boat and the net did not break. In Luke two boats were loaded to capacity and were near to sinking. The blessing that God is willing to give is more than our limited vessels can accommodate.
Such results from the Lord's simple words astonished Peter and the others with him at the greatness of this Man of lowly, gentle character. Peter felt his own sinful unworthiness in His presence and confessed it in falling at His knees. But while he says "depart from me," yet he does not himself depart. Indeed for his own sinful condition he needed the grace of this faithful Son of Man. While we too are utterly unworthy to be near to Him, yet it is the only place in which our wretched condition can be met, and the grace of His heart delights in the fellowship of those who trust Him as Lord and Savior.
More than this, the Lord's words to Simon Peter assure him that he is not only loved by the Lord, but he will be useful to Him and of blessing to others. Simon was not to fear, for he would catch men (v.10). This experience with the fishes, together with the Lord's words, has such an impression on Simon, James and John that they leave behind their former employment and follow the Lord. It is the Lord's word that is authoritative, yet in grace He often supplements it with evidence of His power on our behalf, to encourage our hesitant hearts.
THE LEPER AND THE PARALYTIC HEALED
In a certain city a man full of leprosy implored the the Lord Jesus to heal him (v.12). The name of the city is not mentioned, for leprosy is a type of the corruption of sin that is found in every city. In verse 5 Peter's toiling all night depicts the energy of the flesh, which required the grace of God for correction. The corruption of the flesh now required the same grace. The man, falling on his face, expressed his confidence in the Lord's power to heal him, but was not sure as to His willingness to do so. Lovely is the grace of the Lord's heart that promptly responded, "I will." This word, with the touch of His hand, a close contact, produced immediate results. While other people would be defiled by contact with a leper, His touch removed the disease with its defilement.
The Lord charged the man to tell no one (v.14), for he does not want advertising. But as the law instructed, the former leper was to show himself to the priest and offer a suitable sacrifice for his ceremonial cleansing. This would be an unquestionable testimony, which priests could not honorably ignore.
In spite of the Lord making no display of His marvelous work, His fame was spread through the whole region and large crowds were attracted, both to hear and to be healed. It may seem to us that this was a great opportunity for preaching: indeed how many preachers would be excited by such a prospect! But He withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (vs.1-16). How profitable a lesson for us if we tend to think much of "numbers"! He was not influenced by the excitement that was awakened. The presence of God is much more important than crowds of people. He was guided fully by God, not by the apparent interest of the people, which, as He knew, could as easily turn into hateful rejection, for it was the crowd later that cried out for His crucifixion.
Another case is told us now, not necessarily in chronological order, but in moral sequence. The Lord was teaching in a house, with many Pharisees and doctors of the law present, not only from the towns of Galilee, but also from Judea and Jerusalem. The healing power of the Lord was evident at the time, as it was not in Nazareth (Mk.6:5).
A paralyzed man was brought in a bed -- a picture of the helplessness of the flesh, which is our sinful nature inherited from Adam. Those who carried him were not thwarted by the crowd in the house, but took him to the housetop, there breaking up the tiling of the roof to let the man down before the Lord (vs.18-19). Let us not be too dismayed by whatever formidable difficulties there may seem to be in the way of our bringing helpless people to the Lord. Persistent, believing prayer will accomplish true results. Their faith was immediately rewarded.
However, the Lord does not first heal his body. He assures him of something much greater: his sins are forgiven. Certainly only one who knew the heart of the man could say this. The Scribes and Pharisees reasoned in their hearts along this line, that God alone can rightly forgive sins. This was true, but how ignorant they were of the greatness of the person before their eyes! Not only did He know the man's heart, He knew their hearts and their thoughts and answered them in such a way as ought to have convinced them that, while He claimed the title "Son of Man," He was more than this: He was the omniscient God, the Son (vs.21-24).
Yet the Lord had come in lowly grace as Man on earth to perfectly represent God. He asked which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven you," or "Rise up and walk." For men to say either would produce no results. To prove His authority as regards forgiving sins, He illustrated visibly His authority as Son of Man over disease. At His word the paralyzed man immediately rose up and walked. Not only was the paralysis healed, but the body, previously in disuse with muscles atrophied, was given strength for immediate activity -- carrying his couch to his home, When such grace and power was so marvelously exercised, who could dispute the grace and power of the Lord Jesus to forgive sins?
The grace of God thus is seen as capable of meeting man's helplessness occasioned by sin, just as it is sufficient in dealing with the flesh's energy and its corruption. The healed man glorified God, while all who saw it were amazed and gave glory to God, being filled with fear and wondering awe.
THE CALL OF LEVI
In verse 27 the Lord speaks only two words to Levi, a tax collector. Such men were Jews having a franchise to collect taxes for the Roman government, and this was obnoxious to the strictly orthodox Jew, specially since many of these would demand more than was due and keep the extra. From the very place of his taking in the money, Levi is called by the Lord, "Follow Me." Grace produces a mighty change in regard to the selfishness of the flesh: the power of the word of the Lord had immediate effect. Levi left his lucrative business, rose up and followed Him (v.28).
In contrast to Levi's previous selfishness, we see in verse 29 his making a great feast for a great company. Levi is called "Matthew" in Matthew 9:9, for it was quite common for one man to have two names. When Matthew wrote of this feast Himself (Mt.9:10), he neither mentions himself as the host, nor of its being a great feast, but says only, "Jesus sat at the table in the house." Grace had wrought such a work in Levi's heart that he had become genuinely unselfish and seeking no recognition of his unselfishness. His one desire in this was to have others present to hear the word of His Lord and Master. Other tax collectors were present, together with those not designated in any way (v.29).
However, Scribes and Pharisees expressed their haughty criticism, not to the Lord, but to His disciples, for their eating with tax collectors and sinners. Because of their personal feeling against tax collectors, they classed them with the general run of "sinners" who probably did not zealously follow the rituals and regulations of the religious leaders. Such rituals were only a cover-up for their own sins, but their proud self-righteousness did not admit this. This self-righteousness of the flesh is its worst feature. The Scribes and Pharisees were not cured because they would not admit they were diseased: they felt no need of correction. This itself is disease in its most advanced and alarming state.
The Lord answered them in such a way that ought to have made them ashamed of themselves, as well as to have caused them concern about their own sinful condition. Those who are well, He says, have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (vs.31-32). He was Himself the divine Physician, come in grace, to meet the need of those sick because of sin -- not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (v.32). How could they criticize a mission so gracious as this? Why did they not see themselves in their true light as sinners in need of repentance and of the grace of the Lord Jesus?
WHY DID HIS DISCIPLES NOT FAST?
Now that we have been told of the Lord eating with publicans and sinners, the question arises as to why the disciples of John and also the followers of the Pharisees often practiced fasting, and "making prayers," yet the disciples of the Lord Jesus ate and drank rather than fasting. The Lord had spoken of calling sinners to repentance (v.32), and the Jews considered fasting as being repentance, for it was an outward act intended to signify self-sacrifice or repentance, and often accompanied true repentance. But fasting itself was not repentance. John the Baptist had preached repentance to prepare Israel to face the Lord Jesus, but when repentance had done its work in turning people to the Lord Himself, they now had an Object to lift their hearts above their former state. To be occupied with one's own state after having the Lord Jesus revealed to the heart, is not faith. To choose the mere sign of repentance in preference to Christ Himself only proved that true repentance was lacking. The disciples of the Pharisees considered fasting a work of merit, while refusing the Lord Jesus. The Lord answers that the children of the bride chamber would not fast while the Bridegroom was with them. The presence of their Lord Himself was cause for rejoicing, but when He would be taken away from them by way of death, and later ascend to heaven, then they would fast (v.35), not merely physically, but in soul and spirit, in sorrow and self discipline because of His absence.
THE OLD MUST GIVE PLACE TO THE NEW
Such principles of truth as the above must be kept clearly distinct from one another, and the Lord speaks a parable to show this important distinction. No one is so ignorant as to cut off piece of cloth from a new garment to repair an old one (v.36). It would not take long to cause a tear when they are joined, and also the two will not match. The new garment of the grace of Christianity is not intended merely to patch up the old garment of a broken law, that is, to improve man in the flesh. This is a misuse of grace and will be of no help to the law. The two principles are distinct. What people need is the new garment, which means discarding the old one altogether. The four cases in this chapter, Peter, the leprous man, the paralyzed man and Levi all illustrate the receiving of the totally new garment.
Also, new wine, the Lord says, is not put into old wineskins (v.37). Glass bottles were unknown at that time, and containers were made of skins of small animals. Their life was short because of the fermentation of the wine, causing the skins to stretch so as to be useful only once. This is a picture of the vessels (individuals) receiving the new ministry of the grace of God. The vessels too must be new, that is, if they are not born again by the power of the Spirit of God, they are unable to contain the vital reality of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Old vessels (those not born anew) will have no proper appreciation of grace: it will prove too much for their capacity and "burst" them: they will perish. But the new vessel is capable of preserving the new wine. Further, the vessel itself (because it is new) is also preserved. The pure grace of God is perfectly suited to one who has been born of God.
Verse 39 reminds us of the difficulty that many had in leaving Judaism and embracing Christianity. Peter (in Acts 10) seemed little prepared to carry the grace of God to Gentiles, for it was unlawful for a Jew to even enter a Gentile's home (v.28). Also in Acts 15 we see the mistaken effort of Jewish believers to mix the grace of God with their old garment of law. Only the powerful energy of the Spirit of God in the apostles overcame this grave danger. Many otherwise godly Jews still felt the old was better, though in fact the new was infinitely superior.
LORD OF THE SABBATH
"The second Sabbath after the first" is literally translated the "second-first Sabbath" (JND trans.), an unusual expression. The first Sabbath was that following the Passover, and the firstfruits of the produce of the field were offered the next day, the first day of the week, typical of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore the following Sabbath was called "the second-first." Before the firstfruits were offered to God it was not permitted for anyone to eat, though the grain was ripe, but afterwards they were free to eat. There was therefore no reason why the disciples could not eat of the new grain at this time, and they picked the heads of grain and ate them as they walked through the grain fields (v.1). Deuteronomy 23:25 gave permission for them to do this in another man's field, so long as they did not take the grain away in a vessel.
But the Pharisees had formulated their own new laws, and objected that picking and eating grain on the Sabbath was contrary to the law (v.2), and they dared to reproach "the Lord of the Sabbath" because He had not kept His disciples from working on the Sabbath. But He did not denounce their adding human tradition to God's law (as He did in Matthew 15:3). Rather He referred to what David did (vs.3-4) when he and his men were hungry and even God's ceremonial law was allowed to be broken to alleviate their hunger. The showbread was for the priests only, but David and his men ate of it (1Sam.21:2-6).
Why was this allowed? The moral circumstances must be considered: the priesthood had sadly failed, the true king was in exile and hungry because of persecution. Could the Pharisees not see a clear resemblance as to the Lord and His disciples? The priesthood then was in a state of corruption: the true King of Israel was despised and His disciples hungry. This should have struck the consciences of the Pharisees, for they and their nation were to blame for the hunger of these disciples of the true King because they had refused to recognize them. Then the Lord adds a telling positive word, "the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath" (v.5). Notice that the word "also" implies a great deal, for He is Lord of all, including the Pharisees!
On another Sabbath, when He was teaching in the synagogue, a man was present who had a withered hand. This case and the one previous are found in the same sequence in both Matthew and Mark. The scribes and Pharisees, zealous for their own laws, watched for an occasion to accuse the Lord, specially since the man was there with a withered hand. Knowing their thoughts, He made an issue of this serious matter. He could have avoided a confrontation by having the man meet him privately to heal him, but the callous religious prejudice of the Pharisees must be faced publicly.
The Lord had the man stand forth in the midst. He then asked the penetrating question as to what is lawful on the Sabbath days, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it (v.9). How perfectly He brings things into their proper perspective by His simple words! The Pharisees could make no reply, for there was no way out for them except to acknowledge His perfect right to heal on the Sabbath day. He looked at all of them in turn, certainly inviting an honest response. How could any of the objectors meet that gentle, steady gaze? He told the man to stretch forth his hand, which he did, and the hand was immediately restored In the case of the paralyzed man of Chapter 5:18, he was totally helpless, a picture of one lost and in his sins. The man with the withered hand is typical rather of a believer who needs restoration from a state in which he has lost ability for positive works of good. The left hand speaks of works from a negative viewpoint, that is, a believer might desist from evil works and yet be badly impaired as to positive good works (of which the right hand speaks). He needs the grace of the Lord Jesus for restoration.
How cruel and unreasonable is the religious prejudice of the Pharisees! When grace is shown to a man in such need, they were filled with madness because it was done on their holy day (v.11). They would deny the right of God to show compassion on a day when, of all days, it was certainly most becoming. They plotted together as to how to deal with the Lord Jesus, with the intent of killing Him (Mk.3:6). They viciously deny Him the right of saving life on the Sabbath, while they on the same day formulate their evil plans to murder Him!
PRAYER AND THE APPOINTMENT OF HIS APOSTLES
Blessed is the contrast of verse 13! If enemies will take wicked counsel together, the Lord will seek the quiet solitude of the presence of God in a mountain above the common level, and continue all night in prayer to God. Enemies were planning to destroy the work of God. Can this turn Him from it? In no way! His lowly dependence on God for the steadfast continuance of His work is beautifully evident here. There is no proud defiance of man with Him, but the calm confidence of dependence on God's power to continue His work. Such is the beauty of His perfect Manhood.
Rather than the work being deterred, it increased. In the morning, calling together His disciples, He chose twelve to be called apostles. These had the honor of being His special witnesses and representatives in the work of His grace, for they were to be with Him, thereby having the invaluable experience of learning His character and ways so that later they might be fitted for use in establishing Christianity in the world.
In each case where we find the apostles listed, there is a different order, though in Matthew and Luke they are linked in twos, which implies a witness, though we may be sure there is more than this involved, such as the Word of God committed to them having the authority of God in it. Judas is mentioned at the end as the traitor. Of course the Lord knew him fully when He chose him, but this is designedly a solemn warning to anyone who would dare to nurture a wicked, deceitful heart in dealing with the things of God. Bartholomew is evidently Nathaniel of John 1:45.
GREAT CROWDS HEALED
In the Lord coming down to the plain in verse 17 is a picture of His coming to bless the earth at the introduction of the Millennium, but only a glimpse. His apostles, the company of disciples and a great crowd of people from Judea, Jerusalem and Tyre and Sidon, coming to be healed of diseases and demon possession, all indicate this great Millennial gathering (v.17). The blessing was on a large scale, and all sought only to touch Him, for this alone secured healing because of virtue proceeding from Him. None were denied: all were healed. What a contrast to the vaunted healing campaigns that proffessedly-Christian men (and women) conduct today! If two or three are apparently healed, there is loud advertising, but what of the many left unblessed?
PRESENT BLESSING OF DISCIPLES
There is a striking contrast between "the whole multitude" of verses 17-19 and "His disciples" in verse 20. The great blessing of verse 19 might tend to excite the disciples at the prospect of the glory of the kingdom being ushered in. The Lord quiets this with words that indicate they should be prepared for poverty, hunger, weeping and persecution. This is manifestly spoken at a different time that "the sermon on the mount" (Mt.5:6-7), though it includes similar things, but in condensed form. Also the crowd was addressed in Matthew, but in Luke His disciples are addressed. In Luke there is no indication of His speaking from a mountain, as in Matthew 5:1.
The Lord had chosen the poor, but He did not bless them with earthly riches, as will be the case in the coming kingdom; yet they were blessed, "for," as He says, "yours is the kingdom of God." The inner reality of the kingdom belonged to them then, for they had received the King. Today too the kingdom belongs to those who wait in patience for the return of Him who is King. So, Revelation 1:9 shows the apostle John and the Church today to be "in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." This is true blessing, true happiness in the face of all that today is contrary to the future glory of the kingdom.
In the Millennium there will be no hunger or thirst: all will be prosperity. Meanwhile to hunger and thirst is a blessing, for it is with the prospect of being filled. In fact, though there may be trying deprivation, yet the soul may even now be filled with spiritual good. If there is weeping now, our Lord being at present rejected and absent, yet weeping will eventually be turned to laughter when we are with the Lord, so even now, in possessing this certainty of future hope, we are more blessed than we realize.
More than this, in persecution the believer is blessed, even when hated and ostracized, his very name held in contempt as though evil (v.22). Yet there is a condition here noted, "for the Son of Man's sake." Only if the persecution is for His sake can we claim the blessing, but if so, it is vitally real and valuable. We are exhorted not to be discouraged by persecution, but to rejoice and leap for joy, for such identification with Him is worth infinitely more than a popular life on earth. The Jewish fathers had been guilty of inflicting such persecution on the prophets, and to be identified with the prophets in such suffering is true honor. Moreover, there is great reward, not in the earthly kingdom, but as He says, in heaven (v.23).
WARNINGS TO THE SELF-COMPLACENT
Verse 24 is directly addressed to the rich, not for blessing, but with warning of woe. If before the coming kingdom men seek riches, this is all they have: they ignore the future to receive their consolation now. Those who are full now, satiated with things of this present life, will find themselves hungering. Those who laugh now will yet mourn and weep. Things will be fully reversed from what people naturally think today. If all speak well of us (v.26), it is no sign of God's approval, but of solemn humiliation to come. Ungodly people spoke well of false prophets and still do so today. Men's approval is empty, and worse, when one does not have God's approval.
LOVE TOWARD ENEMIES
Many are spiritually deaf and do not hear such things. They have intentionally closed their ears to the things of Christ. But the Lord then spoke to those who would hear. He told them, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." Love is not merely having a kind feeling, but being genuinely concerned for the true, proper welfare of another If that person returns hatred, it is all the more reason to be concerned for him, for he needs special help. Doing good in return for evil is both rightly representing God and providing an example that should touch the hearts and consciences of others. This, and returning blessing for cursing, requires the lowly dignity of true faith, as do those things that follow, such as praying for one who acts despitefully (v.28). Our natural resentment is greatly modified by the power of the Holy Spirit when we allow Him to work in us ungrieved and unquenched (Eph.4:30; 1Thes.5:19).
There may be even physical violence, and not only is this to find us unresisting, but willing to bear further injustice, turning the other cheek. If a school bully were to beat up my child, this is not a question of my own rights merely. Rather, I am responsible for the child, and this should be reported to the school principal or to the parents of the bully. If one steals even our necessary garment (our cloak), we are not to strive to hold on to a garment more necessary still (our tunic) (v.29). Generally one would not steal another's garment unless he needed it, and we are to consider this. If it were a matter of a person stealing to increase his wealth, or, for instance one stealing a car for the fun of it, the police would actually require us to make a report, for the robber would be a threat to others besides ourselves.
As to giving to everyone who asks from us, this must be subject to sober wisdom; for someone may ask for a large amount to be spent on a project that is questionable, and concern for his own good might be reason to refuse this. We must also draw a firm line when people claiming to be the Lord's servants, urge us to give to their particular work. There are too many who take advantage of Christianity to make money. But if one is in need and asks for something to relieve that need, we ought to be fully prepared to give to him what is necessary. This attitude will result, by God's intervention, in receiving back in the same measure that we willingly give (v.38). The Lord is seeking in all of this to draw out the genuine faith of His people. He is certainly not "browbeating" His own! Also, if one has taken away what belongs to us, faith will make no demands for its return (v.30). However, if one borrows from another and forgets to repay him, it would be only right to remind the person of this, not because we want our rights, but to encourage the other person's reliability.
If we desire to be treated in a certain way, let us be sure to treat others in this way (v.31). If we do not practice this, why do we expect it of others? Also, if we only love those who show love to us, this is nothing to our credit: such a thing is common among sinful people of the world, as is doing good to those who do good to us (vs.32-33). Or if we lend, expecting to receive as much again, this is the same selfish principle that animates the ungodly (v.34).
Genuine love is much more than this, for it has honest care even for enemies, doing good and lending without expectation of receiving anything back (v.35). There are people who would not ask for a gift, but would not hesitate to ask for a loan, though they have little intention of paying it back. It would be wrong for us to encourage dishonesty in anyone, but so far as we ourselves are concerned, it is better for us to suffer wrong than to demand our rights. Faith on our part can leave my such things in the hand of God. If so, our reward will be great, and also in practical life we shall be children of the Highest, rightly representing His character of kindness to all, whether they are thankful or not. The reason for our being merciful is simply that our Father is merciful (v.36).
JUDGING CRITICALLY FORBIDDEN
If we are to be merciful, then it follows that we must avoid a judging, critical attitude, even though others are wrong (v.37). We are not their masters. If we do speak of their wrongs, let it be with a genuine desire to see them restored and blessed, not to put them down. Generally speaking, if we refrain from harsh criticisms we will find that others are not so likely to criticize us. If we readily forgive others, then others are more likely to forgive us, for we must remember there are cases where we also need forgiveness. This does not contradict the judgment of actions that is required in cases where serious evil has come into the assembly, as in 1Corinthians 5:3-5. Even there, harsh criticism would be out of place, but solemn, sober discipline carried out in a spirit of true self-judgment, yet firm scriptural decision by the local assembly.
In contrast to personal judging, a character of liberality (v.38) will encourage the same character in others. The symbol used of the measurement of certain dry foods, the seller doing everything to give full weight and measure, and even more. Such unselfishness will awaken unselfishness in others too. How refreshing a contrast Is this to the grasping deceit of people of the world!
The Lord's parable of verse 39 is connected with verses 37 and 38. If one is blind to what the Lord has been teaching, he needs another with open eyes to lead him. If both are blind, neither has a proper example to follow: they both fall into the ditch. The believer is not blind, but let him keep his eyes open! Also, if one has a proper teacher, he should not remain blind, spiritually speaking. Certainly the disciple is not superior to his teacher: if so, he would not require his teaching, but if the teacher has taught him well, so he becomes mature, he shall be "as his teacher," that is, there will be a similarity (v.40). Let us therefore learn well from the Lord Himself and we shall become more like Him.
Verses 41 and 42 show that our sight may be very discerning as to the fault of another and fail to discern a greater fault in ourselves. Rather than giving helpful teaching, we may sharply criticize a trifling matter, but ignore more serious evil in ourselves. Unless we use honest self-judgment as to our own actions, we shall not see clearly to be of help to others in overcoming whatever impediments they may have.
This goes deeper than things seen on the surface. It is the heart that must be reached, for only if the heart has been purified by faith, will good fruit proceed from the person (vs.43-45). If the tree is corrupt, whatever fruit it may bear will be corrupt. An unbeliever may attempt to pass as a believer, but the results will eventually manifest him as a corrupt tree. He will be known by his fruit. It is useless to think of finding figs on a thorn-bush or grapes on a bramble.
The Lord in these verses is striking at people's pretense of goodness, while their hearts are untouched by His grace, unregenerate, and therefore still under sin. A good person is one whose heart is purified by faith in the Son of God, for by nature "there is none good, no not one" (Rom.3:12). Only the grace of God can make a difference in the person. In this case a "good treasure" is implanted in his heart, the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, communicated to "earthen vessels" (2 Cor.4:6-7). Only good can come from this, however weak the vessel may be. Without this good treasure a person has only "an evil treasure" in his heart and his mouth soon expresses this, for what is predominant in the heart, his mouth will speak.
REAL OR PRETENDED DISCIPLESHIP?
Deceit in one's heart will often result in good-sounding words. One of the worst forms of hypocrisy is to call Jesus "Lord" when one has no intention of obeying Him (v.46), but this is as common an evil today as it was when He was here. This does not at all contradict 1.Corinthians 12:3, which says, "no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit". In 1.Corinthians 12 Paul is speaking of ministry being given in the assembly, where the Lordship of Christ was paramount. If one's ministry fully acknowledged Jesus as Lord, then that ministry was by the power of the Holy Spirit. But here in Luke the Lord does not have the Assembly in mind at all, but people who would glibly use the Lord's name without any thought of subjection to Him. In contrast to this, the Lord expresses His approval and encouragement of the reality of faith that takes His Word to heart, hearing with a faith that responds in obedient action. The person of the Lord Jesus means everything to such an one. He digs deep, through all the mere accumulation of earthly-mindedness, and reaches the bedrock, typical of Christ as the Son of God (Mt. 16:1-18). He wants reality and is satisfied with nothing less than the eternal Son of God on whom to build his entire life. Whatever floods or storms arise, he is not moved, for it is the foundation Rock that secures him (v.48).
On the other hand, if one "hears" with no resulting obedience, he is building without a foundation. To him the words of the Lord Jesus are merely optional principles of a good man, not having great importance. To such a person the Lord's words do not indicate the truth of who the Lord Jesus is. But to separate His words from the solid, eternal truth of His person as the living Son of God is to leave the hearer so exposed to the storms of circumstances as to have no place of standing at all. He has no foundation and comes to ruin (v.49).
A CENTURION'S SERVANT HEALED
The Lord then came to Capernaum and there was appealed to by a Gentile, a Roman centurion, by means of the mediatorship of Jewish elders. In contrast to this a woman of Canaan later came to Him herself, asking His mercy for her daughter (Mt.15:22), but He ignored her because she appealed to Him as though she was Jewish. But when she called Him "Lord" rather than "Son of David," He reminded her that she was in the place of a "dog," being a Gentile. She then took her proper place and He answered her need. But in this case, the centurion fully realized his place and asked only as an undeserving Gentile, not for himself, but for a servant who was dear to him. The Jews testified to the commendable character of the centurion as one who loved the Jewish nation, even to the building of a synagogue for them (vs.4-5).
The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to go with the messengers. Yet the centurion sent others to tell Him that he himself was not worthy to have the Lord even enter his home, no more than he was worthy to come to the Lord. But he asked that the Lord only say the word which would heal his servant. The centurion reasoned that he himself, a man subject to authority, had authority over all those under him and they would obey his commands. So he recognized the Lord as the One truly subject to the will of God, yet Himself having authority over creation, so that even sickness would immediately obey His command (v.8).
In this centurion we see a picture of Gentiles today brought into blessing by the pure grace of God. First, he recognized that God had sovereignly chosen Israel as His special people, and He loves them rather than envying them. Secondly, he takes a place of complete unworthiness in reference to having any claim upon the Lord Jesus. Then thirdly, he gave the Lord His true place and honor of being both Son of Man, obedient to the authority of God, and Son of God in authority over all creation. This beautifully illustrates the proper attitude of Gentiles in their reception of the blessings of Christianity. The heart of the Lord Jesus was so refreshed by the man's words that He told those who followed Him, "I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel" (v.9). The Greek word for "great" used by the Lord in this instance is great in its largeness: faith was not constricted by mere natural thought or feeling. Yet let us remember that the important reason for this was the Object of his faith, the glory of the person of the Son of God. The servant was healed immediately, as the messengers found in returning home.
THE SON OF THE WIDOW OF NAIN RAISED
Not only was this illustrious Person able to heal the dread diseases of mankind, for we now find that death itself is no problem for Him. In the centurion's servant we witness the healing and blessing of Gentiles at a time when Israel was stumbling in unbelief, and in the case of the son of the widow of Nain we see a picture of the great grace and power of the Son of God as able to bring the nation Israel from a state of death to that of life, as will be the case yet for that desolate nation when she is completely restored after centuries of death and decay, for the receiving of Israel again by the Lord will be figuratively "life from the dead" (Rom.11:15). The young man being carried out for burial (v.12) was the only son of his mother, whose heart was surely desolate with sorrow. Here is the same lesson as seen in Naomi in the Book of Ruth. Naomi is typical of Israel's former blessing reduced to widowhood and desolation, so that, just as it required Ruth also to fill out the picture of Israel restored to blessing, so it takes the resurrection of a son to show this picture of Israel's future rising from death. The Lord's compassionate words, "Do not weep," are backed up by immediate action. He touched the coffin and spoke with calm authority to the young man who sat up and began to speak. Wonderful anticipation of the day when good words will be put into the mouth of Israel (Hos.14:1-3), "a pure language" in contrast to the vain words of unbelief (Zeph.3:9). The Lord then delivered him to his mother. How great a comfort this must have been to her desolate heart, just as Naomi was comforted in the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, the mighty man of wealth, bringing new life in the child born as a result of his happy union (Ruth 4:13-15).
This great miracle of resurrection stirred a wholesome, reverential fear among the people. This, with other occasions of His raising the dead, provides proof that Jesus is "the Son of God with power" (Rom.1:4). The people glorified God for raising up a great prophet, and realized that this was a manifest visitation of God among His people (v.16). The report went out to all the surrounding area and to Judea, some distance removed from Galilee.
JOHN SENDS MESSENGERS TO QUESTION THE LORD
The disciples of John the Baptist carried news to him in prison of the power of the Lord Jesus over disease and death. This beloved prophet of God had ministered publicly only for a short time in the living power of the Spirit of God, and had borne faithful witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus as the Son of God (Jn.1:34). He heard of miracles performed by the Lord, but there was no miracle performed to release him from prison, nor had the Lord taken any place of power and dignity such as might be expected of the Messiah of Israel. Evidently this bewildered John, and his faith for the time wavered. Sending two of his disciples to the Lord, he instructed them to question Him as to whether He was the one for whom Israel looked, or was it for another? Not only John was affected in this way, for none of the Lord's disciples expected their Messiah to take a pathway of humiliation leading to the death of the cross. This was contrary to the great manifestation of His glory for which they looked. But they must learn that He was to be "made perfect through suffering" (Heb.2:10).
John's two disciples witnessed the marvelous power of the Lord Jesus in the healing of great numbers of infirmities and virulent diseases, of demon possession also and restoring the sight of many who were blind (v.21). This last was a special sign of the power of Messiah (Isa.42:6-7). No other had ever opened the eyes of the blind before the Lord Jesus did so (Jn.9:32-33).
The Lord answered by telling them to report to John what they had seen and heard in the way of miraculous power shown in tender mercy to those who were in deepest need, and ending with "to the poor the gospel is preached." John may have wondered why he was not brought out of prison, when Isaiah 42:7 spoke of the Messiah "bringing the prisoners from the prison", but soon he was delivered from prison by way of a martyr's death, which surely has resulted in greater blessing than he had imagined. However, the things the Lord had done could not have been done by any other than the Son of God, the true Messiah of Israel. There could be no question whatever. Yet the Lord only gently reproved John's doubts, "Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (v.23). Who else could possibly speak this way?
THE LORD'S COMMENDATION OF JOHN
The Lord then addressed the crowd, defending John as a true prophet of God, though He says nothing of Herod's cruel injustice in imprisoning him. What had the people gone into the wilderness to see? Was it merely a reed (a weakling) shaken by the wind, moved merely by earthly circumstances? Or was it a celebrity in fine clothing? People who want to attract attention do not go the the wilderness: they seek that which caters to the flesh, such as kings' courts where they may show themselves to advantage amid the glitter and tinsel. Yet people were impelled to go to the wilderness, to see what? A prophet? Yes, the Lord, says, "and more than a prophet."
John had the great privilege, not only of prophesying of Christ, but of preparing the way before Him. He was God's messenger to announce the blessed Christ of God. No other had ever been accorded such dignity as this. No greater prophet had ever arisen. Though the greatness of John's moral and spiritual character is evident (Jn.1;1-27; 3:27-31), it is not this to which the Lord refers, but to the greatness of the dignity of the place God had given him. In this regard he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. The Lord speaks of the future glorious millennial kingdom for which the Old Testament had taught Israel to look and which will be introduced entirely by the power and grace of God. Yet we may also rightly apply it to the present aspect of the kingdom of God in its mystery form, that is, believers even now have a favored place in the present kingdom that John did not have.
Verses 29 and 30 are still the words of the Lord Jesus. The people generally, and tax collectors specifically, recognized that God was righteous in sending John to call Israel to repentance. They therefore submitted to John's baptism of repentance, publicly justifying God rather than themselves. But the proud self-righteous Pharisees refused God's counsel against themselves. They preferred the deceitful covering up of their guilt rather than to admit their guilt by being baptized by John. This was haughty rejection of the Word of God.
The Lord then used a question to stir the interest of the people, asking what He might compare with "the men of this generation," that is, a generation of self-righteous men. The similarity of His illustration is striking. They were children -- childish and immature -- sitting idly in the marketplace (the place where serious business is transacted), complaining that people had not danced to their music and they had not wept to the tune of their mournful dirge (v.32). They had not liked John the Baptist's serious call to repentance, but had virtually played their frivolous music to him, complaining because he was too serious to dance. But how could John respond to this when their true state was one of departure from God. He abstained from even eating and drinking with them, for God had sent him for the serious purpose of bringing them down in self-judgment in view of preparing the way of the Lord. They accused him then of having a demon.
On the other hand, the Son of Man did eat and drink with them. He did not weep to the tune of the mournful dirge of the Pharisees with their legal demands. They were legal minded enough to strongly criticize Him for eating with tax gatherers and sinners (Lk.5:30). They wanted Him to conform to their cold, formal religion, which reduces people to a practical state of mourning. But He had brought the grace of God that people desperately needed. He would not do as they wanted him to, to put on a long face and pretend to be very religious. Then they criticized Him for not conforming to their attitude of false humility. He did not practice their outward show of fasting, but even ate with tax collectors and sinners. Then they falsely accused Him of being a gluttonous man and a winebibber, just as religious zealots today glory in their boasted self-denial and despise others who do not do the same. Thus self-righteousness despises the grace of God and is grossly unfair in its accusations.
In both these cases God's wisdom was condemned by religious leaders. But all wisdom's children (genuine believers) fully justified that wisdom, whether in the stern message of John or in the gracious ministry of the Lord Jesus, for both were in perfect place. Faith recognized this, while unbelief remained undiscerning and insensible.
IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON THE PHARISEE
The Lord not only ate with tax collectors and sinners, He accepted the invitation to dinner of Simon, a Pharisee. This also was grace, though the Pharisee did not think of it in this way. As the Lord was sitting there a woman of the city, known as a sinful person, came boldly into the house and stood behind Him weeping. She then washed His feed with her tears, kissing His feet and finally anointing them with ointment (vs.37-38). Such a sight ought to have amazed the Pharisee, causing him to wonder why such a totally unique thing was done. Could we imagine this being done to any other person? No indeed! In fact, to do this to any other would be idolatry. Only Christ is worthy of such tears of repentance and such lowly adoration of any created being.
But the Pharisee discerned nothing of this: he understood nothing of the woman's tears nor of her evident full submission to the Lord Jesus. All he could think of was that the Lord had allowed a sinful woman to touch Him. Therefore he concluded that Christ was not a prophet, for a prophet would surely have had some knowledge of the woman's character (v.39).
However, the Lord knew, not only her character, but the reality of her tearful repentance and the reality of her loving adoration of Himself. More than that, He knew all the thoughts of Simon, and what He spoke to Simon should surely have persuaded the haughty Pharisee that the Lord was certainly a prophet of unusual greatness, for He more than answered Simon's unexpressed thoughts, using an example of two debtors.
Of the two debtors He speaks of, one owed ten times as much as the other. The creditor "freely forgave them both." Then the Lord questioned Simon as to which of them would love the creditor more, and Simon answered correctly "the one to whom he forgave more" (vs.40-43). How little Simon was prepared for the direct and striking application of this! The Lord reminded him that when He was invited into his house, Simon did not give Him water to wash His feet, which was a usual common courtesy in that land of sandals and dusty paths. But the woman had done far more: she washed His feet with tears and wiped them with her hair.
Again, a kiss was a common friendly greeting in Israel, but Simon had ignored this, while the woman had not ceased to kiss the Lord's feet, which expressed affection and humble adoration. Simon had not furnished oil with which to anoint the Lord's head, but the woman had anointed His feet with ointment, typical of fragrant, lowly worship (vs.44-46).
How powerful and wise then are the Lord's words in verse 47: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much." Simon was to realize that the Lord knew more about her sins than Simon did, yet all were forgiven. It was a sense of His -- forgiving grace that drew her to Him, and in this condition she expressed her responsive affection toward Him.
The Lord adds a word that ought to have deeply penetrated Simon's conscience: "to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." Did Simon realize that there was anything in his life that needed forgiveness? Did he practically dismiss it as being "little"? Indeed, did Simon love the Lord at all, let alone love Him a little? The woman realized she was a sinner. Simon should have realized he was a sinner too. But some think of their sins as being of little consequence. and therefore think they have no need of forgiveness. Others, whose sins are no more glaring than the first, yet realize their sins are a serious offense against God, and are deeply burdened by them. Their hearts cry out for forgiveness, When forgiveness is realized, they love much.
Then the Lord addressed the woman, but did not refer to her sins as being many. He simply assured her they were forgiven. She had His word for this, so there remained no lingering doubts that all were fully forgiven. Wonderful certainty, for the Lord had said it!
The Lord had answered Simon's thoughts, but others present at the meal were dense enough to question within themselves as to how the Lord could forgive sins (v.49). He answered their unbelieving thoughts also, but not by speaking to them directly. Rather, He added still more striking words of encouragement to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace" (v.50). Not only does He forgive: He saves and gives peace. He gives this positive assurance to the woman in the presence of all these doubters. At least, she was given no reason to doubt, though others may have unbelieving doubts, at the thought of forgiveness, salvation and peace with God being given now to those who receive the Lord Jesus. She knew she needed just what the Lord spoke of, and she received it. How beautifully mingled here is the majestic greatness of the Lord Jesus with His tender grace and truth!
WOMEN PROVIDING FOR THE LORD JESUS
The grace of the heart of the Lord Jesus must be made known through all the country, though not yet in its fullness, nor as resulting from the value of the sacrifice of Calvary. The Lord did not therefore preach "the gospel of the grace of God" as did Paul later (Acts 20:24), but preached "the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." The kingdom emphasizes authority rather than grace, yet grace was by no means lacking, as seen in Luke 4:17-22. In fact, one who honestly submits to the Lord's authority will realize his total dependence upon His grace.
In this intensive evangelization throughout the land, the twelve were with Him, and also many women, three of whom are mentioned by name, all evidently having been healed of infirmities or demon possession. Mary of Magdala was one who loved much, for she had been delivered from the oppression of seven demons. This is not, as some have imagined, moral depravity, but spiritual captivity, both frightening and oppressive. Joanna is noted as the wife of Herod's steward, a man of high rank and responsibility. These facts may awaken our interest, but whatever questions we may have as to the facts are not answered. But the faith of Joanna and of Mary Magdalene brought them to the grave of the Lord Jesus on the first day of the week (Lk.24:10). Susanna is mentioned only by name.
These women ministered of their substance to the Lord. For the Lord of glory, possessor of all creation, to make Himself dependent on the ministrations of women, in lowly humility, is really a blessed testimony to the grace of His heart, while at the same time they are given opportunity to express their appreciation of His grace in a way that will receive a full reward from God.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
When large numbers were gathered together, the Lord told the parable of the sower (vs.5-8). There is serious instruction in this parable to the effect that, however great may be the apparent interest among crowds of people, they do not all hear with the conviction of vital faith in the Son of God.
The sower sowed his seed in a broadcast manner so it was sowed in every direction. Some fell on the hard-trodden pathway and could not take root at all, but was soon eaten by birds. Some fell on the rock with little soil covering it. Springing up quickly, the plant withered away, for there was no depth of earth to hold moisture. That which fell among thorns was soon choked out, there being no room for two contrasting plants. Only that falling on good ground was fruitful, bearing one hundred fold. It is the ground that makes the difference, for the seed is the same: it is all good seed. Giving no explanation of the parable, the Lord cried out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." If there is honest interest in Him, people will desire to know the significance of His words.
At least the disciples were concerned, no matter who else was not. Answering their inquiry, the Lord indicated that believers alone will be able to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Others will be given the evidence that there are such mysteries, but if they are not concerned to learn, the parables will leave them in the blindness of ignorance, yet having had a testimony that renders them responsible for their ignorance.
The explanation is beautifully simple (vs.11-15). The seed of the Word of God has in it the vital power of life. It is sown broadcast in the whole world (Mt.13:38). The Lord began this, His disciples went farther afield to proclaim the Word, and today radio is used to much more broadcast this precious seed. The wayside symbolizes some who hear the Word, but through hardness of heart are impervious to its influence. The birds (evil spirits under Satan's authority) are quick to steal away the seed. No real impression has been made. The rock with shallow soil covering it pictures hearts spiritually hard underneath, though perhaps having pleasing or inquisitive personalities. Such are outwardly impressionable. They receive the Word at first with joy, thinking the gospel of the grace of God to be a wonderful thing, but the conscience is not seriously reached. There is no repentant facing of their sins. It is a shallow thing with no root, so when the testing of the heat of tribulation comes, there is no moisture of the Spirit of God to resist the heat. Such people give up their profession of faith just as easily as they had assumed it.
The thorns speak of the cares, riches and pleasures of this life which many people allow to dominate their very existence, so that, though they would like the Word too, and accept it in a general way, yet it does not mean as much to them as the material vanities that are only thorns that cause eventual trouble. There is no real room for both, and one who wants both will find that it is the Word that is choked out. In this case, though the seed of the Word is good, no mature fruit comes from it.
The good ground speaks of those who in genuine faith receive and keep the Word of God. This ground has been prepared by the plowshare of the Spirit of God working repentance in the heart. The seed falls into the ground, its roots are able to go deep, the cultivating keeps down the weeds and thorns, and the plant, strong and vigorous, brings forth abundant fruit. Luke speaks only of a "hundredfold" increase, emphasizing the great moral contrast in true faith to the shallowness of mere profession. Matthew 13 and Mark 4 both speak of differences in the amount of fruit, showing that even true believers do not bear an identical amount. In Luke it is added that believers bring forth fruit with patience or endurance. Fruit takes time it gradually develops and matures. So the reality of faith is proven in the fruit that is eventually borne.
PARABLE OF THE LAMP
While fruit is primarily for God, yet it connects with testimony before people. Therefore the Lord added the symbol of the lighted lamp (vs.18-18). The chief object of light is to bring things out in their true character. Who would deliberately hide a lighted lamp under a vessel or basket or under a bed? Will a believer choose to be ashamed of having others know he is a believer? If the Spirit of God has "lighted" him, it is for the purpose of giving light to others. Let him be willing then to have nothing secret, but that his conduct and words may bear witness to his faith. Hiding the light under a vessel infers our being too busy with things of this life to witness for Christ, or putting the light under a bed infers we are too lazy to let our light shine for the Lord.
Verse 18 refers back to the parable of the sower and those who hear the Word of God. How we hear is of the utmost importance. Hearing with honest faith is true hearing, for faith brings one's life into the open, everything laid bare before God. What one receives by faith will cause further abundance, but if he has not, by genuine faith, received what he appears to have, he will lose it all. For he has never really appropriated it: he is a mere professor of Christianity who seemed to have something, but is like the wayside or rocky ground or thorn-infested ground.
NATURAL RELATIONSHIPS SET ASIDE
The moral connection is continued in verses 1-21. We have seen that it is the seed of the Word of God received by faith that brings forth fruit for God. No matter how close may be a natural relationship, it has no place in the new life produced by the seed of the Word of God. This does not mean that we should ignore our natural relationships, for they have a place that requires our acting rightly toward relatives on the basis of the first creation, to which we are still attached as long as we are in this world. The Lord Jesus showed such natural affection and care for His mother when dying on the cross (Jn.19:26-27).
But spiritual relationships, by virtue of divine life in Christ and given to believers, are superior to those natural. The Lord's mother and brothers desired to see Him. Mark tell us what their motives were. They wanted to restrain Him from preaching, for they thought He was out of His mind (Mk.3:21; 31-35). Will the Lord Jesus agree to His relatives' demands in such a case? No! His spiritual relationships are much more important that those natural. Thus, He told the people, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the Word of God and do it" (v.21). For us too, if our natural relationships interfere with our obedience to the Word of God, we must refuse this interference. It is made clear for us that the Lord's mother and His brothers had no more claim on Him than does any other believer.
HIS AUTHORITY OVER THE SEA
A new section begins with verse 22, which continues to chapter 9:36. Here the fullness of grace in the Lord Jesus is seen in His great ability to meet the many troublesome features of a world away from God. This world is a place of disturbance (ch.8:22-25); a place of bondage to Satan's power (vs.26-39); a place of disease and death (vs.40-56); a place of misery and want (ch.9:1-17) and worst of all, a place in which the Lord of glory is rejected (ch.9:18-38).
The Lord gave instructions to His disciples to take a boat over to the other side of the lake (v.22). Certainly therefore there was no possibility of their failing to reach the other side. Simple faith in Him would have subdued the fearful apprehensions of the disciples when a storm arose. But often we also are guilty of such unbelief in spite of having His written Word to show up our fears and doubts as being groundless.
The Lord calmly slept in the stern of the boat while the storm caused the disciples such anxious fear as to finally awaken Him with their panic-stricken words. At least they waited until the boat was filled with water -- not literally filled completely, but enough to cause them, humanly speaking, to be in serious danger. There is a dispensational lesson in this, reminding us of the deep trouble of the remnant of Israel when in the throes of the Great Tribulation; yet the dispensational picture is not emphasized in Luke, but the moral principles of the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus for every demand of faith, and in spite of the weakness of faith.
Rising from sleep, the Lord simply spoke and the elements were brought into calm subjection. It is that voice alone we need, whatever may be the disturbance of our circumstances, whether the powerful wind, the unseen forces that rouse the waves, or whether the visible and alarming surges of trouble and distress. He asked them a pointed question, "Where is your faith?" For faith in Him would leave no doubt of His authority over the storm even when asleep. In spite of earlier proofs of His divine power, they wondered at the greatness of this Man who commands the winds and the waves.
THE HEALING OF "LEGION"
If the elements must obey the Lord, what of the malignant power of Satan? This He met immediately on arriving at Gadara, in the person of a man who had been long possessed by demons -- totally under satanic power. His condition was one of shame, wearing no clothes, and his environment that of the corruption of death, living among the graves (v.27). There was a strange mixture in the man's condition. While crying out, "What have I to do with You" he was drawn, in spite of this, to fall before the Lord Jesus (v.28). The man still had a human spirit and soul in spite of the awful power of the evil spirit, and it was the superior power of divine grace in the Lord Jesus that drew him, while the evil spirit within him protested, knowing that Jesus is the Son of God. The very presence of the Son of God was torment to the evil spirit, as were the Lord's words of command that he should come out of the man.
The power of the evil spirit was frightening. Chains and fetters were superhumanly broken by the man (v.29). The world may attempt to bind the power of Satan by such things as legislation, rehabilitation and moral reform, but these things fail, and Satan drives his victim into a moral wilderness. This case, however, was particularly pathetic. The man confessed his name as Legion, because he was possessed by many demons, enough to infest 2000 pigs!
It seems a strange fact that demons desire a body in which to dwell. Unfallen angels are likewise spirits, but they evidently have no such inclination. These demons had a fear of being sent into the abyss (v.31), that is, the bottomless pit (Rev.9:1-22; 20:1-2), a place of confinement from which there is possible release when God allows it. When commanded to leave the man, they asked permission to enter into a herd of swine, which the Lord permitted (v.32). According to law Jews had no right to be keeping swine (Lev.11:7), and the Lord allowed the results as a pointed lesson to them. The demons had no proper control of the swine, and they, evidently terrified, rushed headlong by way of a steep cliff, into the lake and were drowned (v.33). Josephus speaks of Gadara as a Grecian city, that is, composed of Grecianized Jews, who therefore ignored Jewish orthodoxy, but the Lord nevertheless did not spare the swine.
The swine herders reported what had taken place, for Mark 5:13 tells us that the herd numbered about 2000. This elicited the interest of the whole country. They found the man who was previously demon-possessed sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (v.35). But rather than rejoicing at the grace and power of God so clearly demonstrated, they were afraid. They feared more for their illicit livelihood than they feared the power of Satan. They preferred to have the man demon-possessed than to lose their swine! Such is the blindness of unbelief.
Though the matter was explained to them, the whole multitude of the country were united in entreating the Lord to leave them, for their fear was great. He did not force His presence on them: He acceded to their wishes and left again by boat. But an effective testimony remained. The recovered man was anxious to be in the company of the Lord, but the Lord rather sent him back to his accustomed environment, telling him to show others what great things God had done for him (v.39).
This was in contrast to some other cases, for some were told to tell no man (Mt.9:30; Mk.1:33-34). In those cases the Lord remained in the area where He was, and human advertising tended to hinder His work because of the excitement of those attracted merely for the sake of the miracles. In Gadara, however, this man bore striking witness to the whole city that the Man they had refused was the One who wielded the power of God over the cruelty of evil spirits (v.39). Again, some may be inclined to exaggerate the greatness of the change that has taken place in them. In this case the change was so great it could hardly be exaggerated. The man also had been well known previously because of the dreadfulness of his condition.
THE LORD'S POWER OVER DISEASE AND DEATH
Returning to the west side of Lake Galilee, the Lord Jesus found the people waiting for Him. Now another problem arose. He had stilled the elements and had overcome satanic power, but Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, fell at His feet to entreat Him regarding the impending death of his daughter (vs.41-42). His only thought was that the Lord might prevent his daughter from dying, but we are to learn in this case a deeper lesson as to the Lord's power over death. If the demon-possessed man speaks of Israel's demon-infested state during the Tribulation, from which the power of the Lord Jesus will set them free, the daughter of Jairus illustrates Israel's being reduced to a state of virtual death -- dead in trespasses and sins -- from which the Son of God will yet awaken them in resurrection power and grace (Rom.11:15). The daughter was 12 years old, reminding us of the twelve tribes and God governing in perfect wisdom.
An interruption occurred at this point that teaches us a serious lesson. If the blessed Lord of glory is to rightly meet the question of death, He must first meet the solemn question of sin, which is typified in the long-standing disease of the woman who came up behind Him (vs.43-44). The twelve years in both these cases indicates a complete governmental cycle through which Israel's twelve tribes must pass before the lasting millennial blessing of God will be known to them. People naturally have more fear of death than they do of sin, though sin is really most to be feared, for it is against God, while death is God's righteous sentence against sin.
The woman had spent all that she had on physicians with no good result. What a picture of people's efforts to have their ills corrected by good works, humanitarian service and religions of every kind! But it is Christ they need. Their very life-blood is being drained away by the sin that will not yield to human treatment. By only touching the hem of the Lord's garment, she was healed immediately (v.44). The simplest touch of faith taps the great resources of His power. While His power could heal her disease, yet we know that His own death and blood-shedding was required to take away sin, of which the woman's disease was a picture. In view of the unquestionable certainty of His future sacrifice, He could even then save sinners who put their faith in Him.
However, the Lord did not allow her to leave without her hearing His word. In answer to His question, "Who touched Me?" Peter protested that many were touching Him. But crowds may surround the Lord without any real exercise of any kind, while one coming in faith receives eternal blessing. The Lord pressed the point, adding that virtue had gone out of Him. Of course He knew all that was going on in the woman's heart, but she must make herself known voluntarily. She came trembling, falling down before Him and declaring the full truth of her former state and the reason for her touching Him, with its blessed result (v.47). Therefore, she received, not only the feeling of being healed, but the full, definite assurance from the lips of the Son of God that her faith had made her well. It is vitally important that every believer have the clear, authoritative Word of God as to the absolute certainty of his eternal salvation. Nothing but this can give certainty. With His Word, she may well indeed "go in peace."
He had calmly taken time with the woman while the little girl was dying. While He was still speaking, the news came by a messenger from the ruler's house that his daughter had died, and with the added words, "Do not trouble the Teacher" (v.49). Mere natural thought considered that it was too late. One can imagine the distressed anguish of Jairus in all of this, including his feeling that the Lord had not come quickly enough. How comforting then were the Lord's immediate words, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well" (v.50). As in the case of the woman, so here, the solid assurance of the word of the Lord Jesus is wonderful.
At the house of Jairus He allowed only Peter, James and John and the father and mother of the girl to go in with Him to the little girl. There was no need for more than the witness of the three disciples: they stand for the nucleus of the faithful remnant when Israel will be brought to spiritual life after the Tribulation. The father and mother stand for the previous natural relationship -- Israel connected with the fathers. There was great weeping and wailing in the house, for hope for the girl seemed lost entirely, as it seems to Israel today in reference to any revival of that virtually dead nation.
The Lord put the mourners out of the house. Sorrow and sighing must flee away at His presence. The simple ease with which He acted is again to be noted here, as commonly in Luke. Taking her by the hand, He told the girl to arise. Her spirit returned to her body by divine power and she immediately arose, not only restored to life, but in good health: her restoration was complete. Marvelous miracle of grace! He who has power over the elements, over Satan's power and over sin's ravages, also has power over the dreaded power of death.
He instructed the astonished parents to give her food (v.55), for she illustrates too the case of any individual who has been dead in sins and is brought to life by faith in the Lord Jesus. Spiritual food is an immediate necessity for every new-born soul. In contrast to the case of the man of Gadara (v.39), those here were told not to report the matter to others. The Lord wanted no mere awakening of the curiosity of the crowds (Mk.1:45).
THE LORD JESUS SUFFICIENT FOR HUMAN MISERY AND NEED
The Lord had shown Himself as the perfect remedy for the world's disturbance, its bondage to Satan, its disease occasioned by sin and its fear of death. Next we see Him capable also of graciously relieving its misery and want. In meeting this need, the Lord desired His disciples to take part with Him in this compassionate mission (vv.1-5 and v.13), though the power to show such grace belongs to Him, and it is He who communicated that power to them. The commission of these first five verses is shown in Matthew 10:5-6 to be confined to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but Luke does not mention this, for he emphasizes the moral condition that required the grace of the Lord Jesus, and in this Israel is only a sample of all mankind.
The disciples were given power and authority over demons and diseases (v.1). The Lord's own power and authority had been previously seen in these very things, so He told them to do what He had done. Yet He sent them with the first object of preaching the kingdom of God, which involves primarily God's authority; for it is only in this that the miserable conditions of the world can possibly find a right answer.
He told them not to take supplies for their journey, not even walking sticks for support, no scrip (a shoulder bag used for carrying food), no money and not even extra clothing (v.3). The Messiah of Israel was sending His servants to His own people (Israel) who were responsible to fully and thoroughly care for His messengers. Those who accepted them as indeed the servants of Jehovah would on this account supply their needs. When received in a home, they were to stay there until leaving the city: they were not to look for more humanly desirable circumstances, but to be content with the hospitality offered them.
For any in Israel to refuse these servants was an evil so solemn as to call for the shaking of the dust from their feet (v.5), the virtual refusal of their city, a testimony against them as warning of judgment to follow.
Later, in Luke 22:35-37 the Lord rescinded this commission and told them virtually the opposite. Why? Because Israel then had rejected their Messiah. The cross of Christ has radically changed these things today. The Lord's servants therefore cannot now expect recognition from Israel. They were to carry the gospel far beyond Israel, to the Gentiles. Gentiles are classed as "aliens" and strangers" (Eph.2:12), 50 they cannot be expected to supply the support of the servants of the Lord Jesus (3 Jn.7).
The twelve were obedient to the Lord, going through the towns of Israel, both preaching and healing (v.6). Mark 6:7 mentions that they were sent in pairs, so this arrangement allowed them to cover a good number of towns. But Luke 10:1 tells us that the Lord appointed 70 others later to do similar work in preparation for the Lord's coming to those places.
A brief mention is next made of the perplexity of Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, when he heard of the works of the Lord Jesus. His conscience was troubled at the suggestion by some that Christ was John the Baptist risen from the dead (v.7). There was no excuse for such ignorance, for it was well known that both John and Christ had been publicly seen together (Mt.3:13-17). Both were preaching the Word at the same time, and John bore special witness of his inferiority to this One infinitely greater than himself. But people had many ignorant speculations as to Christ, as they do today. Some considered Him to be a reincarnation of Elijah or of some other long-dead prophet. Satan tries every means of depriving Christ of His proper glory. Still, in curiosity Herod desired to see Him (v.9), for Herod had a religious bent, but no evident faith. When he eventually did see the Lord (Lk.13:7-11) and Christ did not entertain him with any miracle or even answer his questions, he treated Him with mocking contempt.
The disciples returned to give a report of the mission on which the Lord sent them (v.10). But He did not allow any excitement about their accomplishments, nor did He send them again immediately, as though their work was the foremost matter. He took them to a deserted place for quietness. Waiting on God to renew strength is a deeply vital matter for His servants.
The waiting was not long protracted, however, for the people soon followed Him. He was not resentful of this intrusion, but received them, again speaking to them of the kingdom of God and healing those who were in need of healing. Notice again that it is His Word that had first place. His speaking continued till late in the day, and the disciples became concerned that the people would have little time to find food in the surrounding towns (v.12).
In response the Lord told them to give food to the crowd, which drew their protest that their resources were too meager for so great a number (v.13). The same may seem to be the case with ourselves, spiritually speaking: we may feel the poverty of our own resources. Yet if we have Christ, He is more than sufficient to meet the need of all mankind, as He proved immediately. He gave instructions for the people to sit down in groups of fifty (v.14), which would make over 100 groups when women and children were added to the 5000 men present. Such order was necessary to facilitate the distribution of the food by the disciples. Fifty is 5x5x2. The number 5 emphasizes that God is with man in faithful care (as the four fingers and the thumb illustrate), and the number 2 is the witness of this. The same factors are required to multiply this to 5000. Does not this teach us that whether for a smaller or greater number, the same principles of order apply?
As the dependent Man the Lord looked up to heaven in blessing before breaking the five loaves and the two fishes. The loaves speak of Him as the bread of life, the One who has suffered and died to be the spiritual food of human beings. The fishes speak of Him as the One passing through the waters of judgment for the sake of man's nourishment. Notice here also the numbers 5 and 2. The disciples are spoken of as having the privilege of distributing the food to the crowd (v.16). No mention is made of the wonder of the miracle in the amazing multiplying of the loaves and fishes: the ease and simplicity of the matter is what stands out. All were satisfied, and twelve baskets were left over. Thus grace for the present age is abundant, with plenty reserved for the 12 tribes of Israel when they turn to the Lord.
THE WORLD A PLACE WHERE CHRIST IS REJECTED
Though the Lord Jesus had brought with Him in His own Person the answer to the many needs that trouble the world, we next see the worst feature of the world's sad condition. It is a place where Christ is rejected.
In contrast to the Lord's dealings with the multitude, we find Him in verse 18 deeply affected by the loneliness of exercise. Though the disciples were with Him, yet He was "alone praying." The context makes clear that the solemn anticipation of His coming suffering and death was weighing on His soul. Not one of His disciples had the understanding to enter into the reality of that imminent ordeal. Yet He sought to stir exercise in their hearts as to this, when He asked them as to the people's general conception of who He was. Their answer indicated that there was little serious, honest concern about this among the people, but idle speculation. As we have seen, it was inexcusable ignorance to say He was John the Baptist risen from the dead, and in fact to suppose He was Elijah or any other prophet raised again was manifest ignorance of the Word of God.
He then pressed the point upon them, "Who do you say that I am?" (v.20). Was theirs a true concern and a true discernment? Peter's response was positive indeed: "The Christ of God." He and the other disciples were evidently drawn by the attractive power of this blessed Person, so they had living faith in Him personally. Yet ought they not to have been concerned, not only as to who He was, but as to the vital importance of every word He spoke? He sought again to stir their exercise as to this by firmly, authoritatively charging them to tell no man that He was Christ, because "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders (the most experienced) and chief priests (the most religious) and scribes (the most learned), and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (v.22).
Surely such words from Him whom they confessed as the Christ of God ought to have stirred their deepest exercise and concern. But though they were with Him when He was praying, He was really "alone," for they did not enter into nor understand the solitary exercise of soul through which He was passing, and even when He spoke of His death and resurrection, they did not take it to heart.
Though He had spoken to them this way many times, and though only eight days after this Moses and Elijah spoke with Him of His death in the presence of Peter, James and John (vs.30-31), the reality of such words had no apparent effect on the disciples. They could neither understand that He would actually suffer and be killed, not that after being killed He would rise again the third day. It was not consistent with their preconceived natural understanding concerning the Messiah. Let us take this to heart, that our preconceived notions must not impair our reception of the plain Word of God.
If any one therefore thinks of following the leading of the Lord Jesus, let him be fully prepared. he is called upon first to deny himself (v.23), which means not merely giving up certain advantages, but giving up himself, to deny himself any title of making decisions merely on his own. It means denying himself any rights as belonging to earth. He is to take up his cross daily and follow Christ. Matthew 16:24 does not include the word "daily," for there the initial decision is emphasized, but Luke emphasizes a daily practice.
If one would save his life, that is, escape from the dangers connected with true discipleship, he would in the end only lose his life. But if one would willingly lose his life for Christ's sake, he would actually save it as regards its real, abiding value. One may think he is saving his life by gaining the world or amassing great riches in the world, but he can do all this and yet lose himself or be cast away as useless. Many are snared by such delusions. Such things involve being ashamed of Christ personally and of His words -- ashamed of the One who did not seek gain or honor for Himself in the world, but who willingly accepted the place of rejection. The day was coming when He would come again, no longer in lowly humiliation, but as the Son of Man in His own glory over all mankind, in His Father's glory and the glory of the holy angels, all giving Him the place of great dignity. Then He would be ashamed of those who, when He had come in grace, were ashamed of Him and His words. Solemn reversal of the whole matter!
He added that some standing there would not taste death till they had seen the kingdom of God. For if we are encouraged by the Lord in true self denial and bearing the reproach of the cross, we are further encouraged to anticipate the future glory of the Lord Jesus in His coming kingdom. Suffering must come first, but glory is sure to follow.
The fulfillment of the Lord's words as to seeing the kingdom of God was seen just eight days later. Of course it is only a preview of the kingdom that Peter, James and John were privileged to see, but a very real encouragement for faith in view of the sufferings of this present time. Matthew 16 speaks of six days here, and Luke "about eight days." Matthew refers to the days intervening, while Luke counts both the day the Lord spoke and the actual day of the transfiguration. Today we would likely say seven days.
Only Luke speaks of the Lord praying at the time He was transfigured (v.29). The fashion of His countenance was altered. Matthew speaks of this as His face shining as the sun. This reminds us of His personal intrinsic glory, while His clothing, white and glistening, speaks of the glory with which He is invested, connected with the offices He occupies. These glories will be displayed to the world only in the age to come, the manifested millennial kingdom of 1000 years, but a sample of this is given here for our present encouragement.
Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke to the Lord. Moses represents those saints of God who have died but will be raised and have their part in the heavenly kingdom. Elijah stands for those who have been translated into heaven without dying. The earthly side of the kingdom is represented by the three apostles. Moses and Elijah spoke to the Lord about His death to be accomplished at Jerusalem (v.31). How much more sympathy they had with the Lord's exercises than did the apostles!
The three disciples were very sleepy even in the presence of His glory, and it seems they completely missed the topic of the Lord's conversation with Moses and Elijah, though they recognized them without difficulty, in spite of never having seen them. The vision was brief, and as Moses and Elijah depart, Peter felt it necessary to say something, and spoke without proper consideration. Rather than being rightly impressed with the transcendent glory of the Lord, he spoke of themselves and of its being good for them to be there (v.33).
Then Peter made a fleshly suggestion as to building three tabernacles, one for the Lord, one for Moses and one for Elijah. It is the same principle as building shrines to commemorate a certain event. The Lord did not want a tabernacle, and Moses and Elijah would not want to to be honored in this way along with the Lord. God the Father could not for a moment tolerate this, so He sent a cloud to overshadow them, causing them to fear. He spoke from the cloud, "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him" (v.35). It is His word to which we must take heed: our own suggestions have no place in His presence. Nor does God say anything of Moses and Elijah.
God having spoken, the vision passed and Jesus was found alone, no more transfigured, but the solitary Man of sorrows. The disciples realized that the vision was not to be spread to others at that time, and kept silent about it. Matthew 17:9 says that the Lord so instructed them. Peter writes of it later, at the proper time, Christ having then been glorified (2 Pet.1:17-18).
THE LORD'S POWER WHEN THE DISCIPLES FAIL
Verse 37 begins a section that ends with verse 62, in great contrast to the wonder of the transfiguration. In each case the failure on the part of disciples has to be reproved, but Christ is seen as their unfailing Resource. The wonderful mountain top experience is exchanged for scenes of trouble and distress. With a large crowd present a man cried out in anguish to the Lord on behalf of his only son, whom he says was oppressed by an evil spirit -- a demon. The cruel, vicious character of the demon is emphasized in this case, as he attacked the boy suddenly so as to cause him to cry out in terror, inwardly convulsing him so that he foamed at the mouth, and outwardly crushing him when evidently he would leave the boy for a time (vs.38-39). It seemed to be a case in which the demon had entrance or egress at his will. At the father's request the disciples had tried to cast the demon out, but could not, in spite of having been given authority to do so by the Lord (v.1).
Today, though people may not commonly be possessed by an evil spirit in the western world, there are those who in a fit of temper resemble the poor boy. They "foam out their own shame" (Jude 13), using language that only exposes their folly. They need more than disciples to help them: they need the grace of the Lord Jesus. The Lord's words in verse 41 imply that the spiritual state of His disciples was responsible for their failure to expel the demon. He spoke of the disciples as being faithless, that is, lacking in positive faith; and perverse, which indicates an abuse or misuse of the power the Lord had given them. This connects with the Lord's words in Matthew 17:21 concerning the same incident, "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." Prayer and faith go together as the positive power, and fasting is the negative side, involving the self-discipline of not perverting the power the Lord gives. We too should take to heart the solemn admonition that the Lord may give us a gift and special grace to do fruitful works for Him, yet we may abuse these things for selfish or self-willed purposes.
The Lord's presence on earth, even among His disciples, caused His heart deep pain and distress at their spiritual condition: "How long shall I be with you and bear with you?" As the tormented son was brought to the Lord, the evil spirit, as though in defiance, threw him down and convulsed him. The Lord Jesus simply rebuked the evil spirit, healed the child and delivered him to his father. It is the simplicity and ease of His work that is stressed in Luke, though we know from Mark 9:20-27 that there was more involved than this, for Mark shows the detailed service of the Lord in the work He does for His creatures.
Though all were amazed at the great power of God in His hands (v.43), and wondered at the power of His miracles, the Lord did not encourage any elation or excitement among His disciples, but sought to subdue any such tendencies in them by urging upon them the sobering truth of the words He had spoken before, that the Son of Man would be delivered into the hands of men. Yet preoccupation with the wonder of His miracle seemed to leave them impervious to the truth of His words. Were they fearful lest His warning was as serious as it appeared to be? It is possible that we avoid truth because we fear it, that it may restrict or change what we naturally don't want changed or restricted. Such fear stems from a lack of confidence in the Lord Himself.
CORRECTING A SELFISH DESIRE FOR GREATNESS
The next two cases both press the great need of disciples for honest humility, but each from a different viewpoint. In the first case the disciples quarreled over who should be greatest among them. The desire to be great in our own circle of believers is a most common spiritual disease. We all naturally like recognition for ourselves, which involves others being set lower than we! Comparisons of this kind should be totally obnoxious to us. The Lord knew both what they said and the reasoning of their hearts, for He alone knows every motive of people. How admirable was His gentle wisdom in using a child as an object lesson! He set the child by Him, as though to say that He considers a child to be entitled to as much recognition as the greatest of them. To receive a child in His name was to receive Him, which involved receiving the Father who had sent Him. How contrary are the thoughts of God to those of His creatures! A child cannot give any place of prominence to a man, but a man's treatment of a child shows where his heart is. Showing such lowly character is true greatness, so he who can willingly take the lowest place is the one who is great -- not "greatest," for the Lord makes no comparisons in this matter.
HIS CORRECTION OF SECTARIANISM
This second case deals with our natural pride in assuming that our own religious position is the only right one. Such an attitude stems from spiritual pride also, just as does the desire to be great, a pride that can be most subtle. The Lord had called the disciples to follow Him and they naturally considered that others were wrong who were not doing the same as they. John had been so persuaded they alone were right, that when he and others saw someone expelling demons in the name of the Lord Jesus, they ordered him to stop, "because he does not follow with us." John seems to have not thought seriously concerning his own failure to cast out a demon though the Lord Jesus had sent him and the other disciples for this purpose (v.40). Yet, had the Lord them that they alone had authority to cast out demons in His name? Not at all! Still, He did no more than to gently correct John with the reproving words, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side" (v.50).
We may be puzzled as to who this man was, and how he received authority to -actually cast out demons. But this is not our affair. If the Lord wanted us to know the answer to this, He would have told us. The Lord did not give John authority over the man, and we also do not have authority over others who may be doing the Lord's work. The Lord did not tell John to leave Him and follow the man, but neither was he to speak against the man's work that manifestly showed the power of God. People like this, though the Lord does not give us permission to associate with them, may well teach us the important lesson that we should be more diligent to do our own work well. Sometimes people of this kind may be more definitely "for us" than we realize.
CORRECTING OUR NATURAL RESENTMENT OF BAD TREATMENT
In this case the Lord deals with the question of our wounded pride. From this time the Lord is seen in Luke as steadfastly proceeding toward Jerusalem "to be received up" (v.51). As He had before said, this involved His suffering and death, but the blessed end in view was before His eyes. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb.12:2).
Passing through Samaria, He sent messengers to prepare the way for Him, but the inhabitants of a village refused to receive Him because His face was toward Jerusalem: it was evident He was going there. They resented Jerusalem for religious reasons, but how little did they realize His purpose in going there!
John and James, indignant at this treatment of the Son of God, desired to imitate Elijah in calling down fire from heaven to consume these Samaritans (2 Ki.1:9-12). The Lord rebuked them (v.55). They did not understand the character of God's present dealings in sending His Son into the world. He had come in grace, not in judgment. For us the lesson is plain: we must not merely imitate what was right for another time, but should have some true knowledge of our own time and what is suitable for it. Christ had not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Therefore at the present time it is true faith to humbly submit to rejection with Christ. The Lord did not insist on forcing His presence on these Samaritans. He and His disciples went to another village.
CORRECTING NATURAL THOUGHTS AS TO GOD'S CALL
The last subsection of chapter 9 shows that true discipleship to Christ is not a matter of mere human resolve, but the genuine call of God. Three different cases are found in this section. The first indicates the natural enthusiasm one who thinks he is able to follow the Lord wherever He goes. But this man did not understand that this would be far from an easy path. Even the foxes and birds had some place of security they could call their own, but not so the Son of Man (v.58). His enthusiasm therefore would not last for long, and the Lord's words virtually told him that he was not prepared for what he proposed.
Secondly, the Lord called another to follow Him and the man hesitated. One is too forward, the other is too slow. He felt his natural obligation toward his father should come first, and that he should care for his father as long as he lived (v.59), just as Abraham waited in Haran until his father died, before obeying the word of God to go into Canaan (Gen.11:31-12:4) The claims of natural relationship can be a formidable hindrance to one's single-hearted following of the Lord, but His claims are paramount. The Lord's words, "Let the dead bury their dead" (v.60) indicate that those who have no life spiritually can occupy themselves with merely natural matters, but when the Lord calls one to preach the kingdom of God, he is to obey. The Lord allows no excuse. This does not contradict 1Timothy 5:8, "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household,he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" For one can certainly do the Lord's work while at the same time providing for his own house, but this man wanted to delay doing the Lord's work until he was fully free from any obligation to his father.
The third case is of a man who asked for only a short delay in his service. He wanted first to say "goodbye" to those in his home (v.61). His thoughts were influenced by what he considered a natural social courtesy which involved more than saying "farewell" more likely a "going away party." Compare the indecision of the Levite in Judges 19:5-10 and the sad consequences. The Levite thought it courteous to remain longer at the urging of his concubine's father, but such lingering was merely the weakness of indecision. Social courtesy can rob us of much valuable time in the Lord's service. The Lord spoke of an attitude of this kind as "looking back" after once putting one's hand to the plow. One holding a hand plow must give his undivided attention to his work, keeping his eyes forward to both make a straight furrow and to keep the plow at a constant depth. If one lacks the genuine purpose of consistent, unswerving devotion to a path of discipleship, he is not fit for the kingdom of God.
THE SENDING OF SEVENTY OTHERS
As we progress in this Gospel, earthly things tend to recede and heaven comes gradually more into view, specially following the transfiguration (ch.9:8-36) and the Lord setting His face toward Jerusalem to be delivered up to the Jews (ch.9:51).
Yet the testimony of the Lord increased. He sent forth seventy other disciples, in pairs, to prepare the way for Him in every city to which He would come. He gave them no encouragement to believe they would be kindly received: indeed His earthly nation Israel was determined to reject and kill Him. In view of this, the laborers were few, though the harvest was great. They were not to think of themselves therefore as a select group on a higher plane than others, but to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth more laborers into His harvest. The term laborers is used for those on the lowest level of employment, but though having no dignified title, they do the hard work. Yet what is their work compared to His? -- for He was to come to every place where it required seventy plus the twelve to prepare the way for Him.
The seventy were sent as lambs in the midst of wolves (v.3). Again, as with the twelve in chapter 9:1-5, they were instructed not to carry provisions with them, no purse (for money) no scrip (for food), nor extra shoes, for the testimony is toward Israel, God's chosen nation, who were responsible to care for the servants of Israel's Messiah. They were not to carry anything superfluous, but also to refrain from what was irrelevant, even from saluting people by the way. They had a singular purpose which must not be hindered even by social courtesy, that is, by spending time in social conversation (not that they should be discourteous). We have before noticed that these instructions are not a commission for our day, for this was changed completely by the Lord in view of His imminent death (Lk.22:35-37). But the 70 were to expect the hospitality of the houses they visited. Theirs was a message of peace. If they were received in a house to which they came as they entered a city, then God would see that peace was effective in the house; and the servant was to remain in that house as long as he stayed in the city, and was not to be ashamed to partake of their offered provision. This was God's means of provision and their labor deserved such recognition. Simplicity and humility of faith would accept this, and not restlessly try to spread the responsibility of one's keep around to others also.
They were to eat the food given them, willingly identifying themselves with those who received them (vs.7-8). They were to heal the sick by the miraculous power given them by the Lord. This was intended to focus attention on their message, that the kingdom of God had come near. The authority of this kingdom was centered in the person of the Lord Jesus, Israel's true King, though He asserted no claim to any publicly manifested kingdom: the kingdom was among men in a mystery form. The kingdom will be public when the Lord reigns, but the kingdom had come in the person of the King, who had many who were subject to Him in heart, though He was not yet reigning.
If such a message from the King was refused by His subjects, then the servants were to leave and wipe off the very dust of the city from their feet, as a testimony against the city. It was to be a solemn act of separation and renouncing of all identification with the city that rejected their Lord. The preaching of the gospel today does not call for any such action, for the gospel is to individuals in an evil world, not to cities. The gospel has saved people out of many wicked cities, giving them a heavenly inheritance. But cities are earthly, and these cities were connected with God's earthly people Israel: as cities they would therefore suffer for the refusal of their Messiah. Sodom's judgment would be more tolerable than God's judgment on a city that rejected them (v.12). The reason is that Sodom had not known the witness of the personal presence of the Lord Jesus and was therefore not as responsible as these.
The Lord singled out three cities upon which He pronounced a most solemn sentence. Chorazin and Bethsaida had seen His great works of power, including healing the sick and casting out demons, yet their hardened consciences were insensible to the repentance this ought to have awakened. He affirmed that the Gentile cities, Tyre and Sidon would have long before repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, if they had been given a similar testimony. This is an indication that, while Israel refused their Messiah, He would soon be received among the Gentiles and Israel's cities would lie waste. Capernaum is spoken of as having been exalted to heaven, evidently a proud, prosperous city, but was doomed to be brought down to hades, consigned to desolation.
The Lord added that those who heard His messengers did so as hearing Him: those who despised them despised Him and His Father also.
CAUSES OF REJOICING
We are not told what length of time elapsed before the seventy returned (v.17), but when returning they were filled with joyful enthusiasm, reporting to the Lord that even the demons were subject to them through His name. Actually, they should have expected this since the Lord had sent them for this. He did not encourage their excitement over the work, though He spoke of beholding Satan fall from heaven as will occur when the Great Tribulation is about to begin (Rev.12:9-14). Divine power alone will do this at the appointed time. Meanwhile the Lord said He gave the disciples authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, referring to the enmity of demons (v.19). The disciples too would be protected from the harm that satanic power would desire to inflict. But this was not for the purpose of drawing attention to the messengers, but to Him, the blessed Lord of glory, who Himself gave this authority.
The fact of their having this authority was not a matter to rejoice over, for the spirits who were subject to them would be consigned to the darkness of eternal judgment. They, on the other hand, had cause of eternal rejoicing: their names were written in heaven. The grace of God is the true reason for our rejoicing. Yet there was no earthly inheritance in view for these messengers. If they thought the power then present would mean the introduction of the kingdom to Israel, He corrected this thought by the assurance that their names were written in heaven. Little did they understand His words.
Verse 21 is deeply precious, as the Lord Jesus Himself rejoiced in spirit at the contemplation of the Father's love and wisdom in revealing the truth to "babes." "The wise and prudent" by the world's standards were left ignorant while babes (those who took a lowly place of subjection) had revealed to them what was of eternal, vital value. Those who think of themselves as being wise usually consider that only what they can reason out is worthy of their acceptance. They are stumbled by the very simplicity of what God makes available for His creatures, while the unquestioning faith of babes accepts and understands without difficulty. By such unpretentious wisdom the Father sees fit to humble the pride of mankind.
The Lord then adds what is usually more characteristic of John's writings. If His unique subjection in Manhood is evident in verse 21, yet He is the Man of God's eternal counsels and therefore more than Man: He is the Son of the Father, to whom all things are delivered by the Father's hand. This is not only things earthly or in connection with Israel, but inclusive of the entire universe. He is the Man to whom all must answer, for He is God. He alone of all men knew the Father: this is a vital, fundamental knowledge in perfection, an eternal knowledge such as no other could possibly have. As to the Son also, none could possibly know Him but the Father, for both are eternal, infinite, supreme. Yet the Son does reveal the Father and those therefore know Him to whom the Son is pleased to reveal Him. His knowledge is of course inherent in His very nature: ours is only by revelation from Him. Babes have been given such a revelation, not to enable them to understand the greatness of the mystery of the Person of Christ, but in faith to know Him and adore Him, apart entirely from the reasoning of intellect. They willingly give Him His place of infinite greatness, immeasurably higher than human understanding, and they gladly keep their own place in lowly subjection to Him.
He then turned to His disciples privately (v.23), not to the great and noble men of the earth, but to those virtually "babes," and told them that their eyes were blessed in seeing the things they were seeing: theirs was a marvelously unique privilege such as many prophets and kings had desired to see and had not seen; and also to hear what the disciples heard, and were not so honored. How little did the disciples realize and appreciate the wonder of having in their midst the great Creator come down in gracious Manhood, the One in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily! Why indeed should these few men be chosen "that they should be with Him?"
We too have cause to marvel at God's amazing grace in blessing us with the magnificent gift of the Holy Spirit sent into the hearts of all who by faith have received the blessed Son of God. We are blessed greatly today with infinite blessing such as could never have been known in previous dispensations. At least the eyes of our hearts (Eph.1:18) are greatly blessed, and our ears too by the Word of God now made known.
THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
In verse 25 a wise man of the world (not one considering himself a "babe") decided to test the validity of the Lord's understanding. How little prepared he was for the humbling answer, an answer simple enough for a little child! The Lord knew that when the lawyer asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, he thought he knew the answer, therefore the Lord turned the question back on him: he was a lawyer: what did the law say about this? (v.26).
The lawyer's answer (from Deuteronomy 6:5) was the best the law could possibly give, for it is a most striking summing up of the whole law. But how strong and uncompromising are its demands! Who has loved the Lord God with his whole heart, his whole soul, his whole strength, his whole mind? It is impossible to think of this being true of anyone except the Lord Jesus Himself. Similarly, who else could claim that he loves his neighbor as himself?
The Lord did not face the lawyer with these questions. He told him that, as to the law he has answered rightly. Then he applied it to the lawyer himself, "do this and you will live" (v.28). He did not say this would give the man eternal life, but rather that, as long as he continued perfectly fulfilling these requirements, he would continue living on earth.
However, the man's conscience must speak. Did he really expect to go on living on earth for eternity? He felt he must defend himself somehow. He ignored completely his responsibility toward God, which he had rightly quoted (perhaps assuming that he could just take this for granted), and focused on his neighbor in an effort to justify himself. "Who is my neighbor?" he asked. This was really an admission that at least there were some people he did not love as himself. Did he expect the Lord to say that only those people whom he liked best were his neighbors? But if he -was looking for a theological, intellectual argument, he was completely stripped of any material for this by the Lord's simple and pointed illustration which we call the story of the "Good Samaritan."
There likely were cases similar to the one the Lord described in verse 30, yet how aptly it illustrates the history of man a man left Jerusalem (defined as "the foundation of peace," that is, a city of righteousness), and went down toward Jericho, meaning "fragrant," attractive to the natural senses, but a city under the curse of God (Josh.6:26). The descent is very steep -- 3,624 feet (1,100 meters) in a distance of 13 miles (21km) --just as man has descended since first leaving the place of obedience to God. Attacked by satanic power, he has been robbed of everything, left helpless, destitute, dead in sins. Perhaps the lawyer was too self-righteous to recognize himself in such a condition spiritually, but it was as true of him as of all mankind.
By chance a priest came down that way, he who was versed in the ritual of the law with it sacrifices and ceremonies, one whose work it was to have compassion on the ignorant and those who were out of the way. Merely seeing the poor man was enough for him; he passed by on the other side. What can the law's rituals do for one who is totally destitute and helpless?
A Levite, arriving at the place, at least came and looked at him, but also passed by (v.32). He was the servant connected with the priests, to do the manual work this service required. But if mere formal ritual is of no value in this sad case, neither is it possible for man to save himself by good works: he was too far gone for the Levite. Instruction in worship and service is useless to a dying sinner: he needs a Savior!
Then a Samaritan (one despised by the Jews as having an inferior religion), as he journeyed, came where the man was, and was moved with compassion toward him. This beautifully illustrates the mercy of the Lord Jesus, though He was not a Samaritan. Yet He was treated as such by His own people, the Jews, who contemptuously spoke of Him in this way (Jn.8:48). the man needed help from completely outside of himself, and the Samaritan did everything for him.
Binding up his wounds, he poured in oil and wine. Are we not reminded that Christ "was wounded for our transgressions?" (Isa.53:5). Thus He is qualified to bind up sin's wounds for us. The oil speaks of the Spirit of God given us by pure grace; the wine, the blood of Christ which cleanses from all sin and brings joy in place of misery, for wine speaks of joy also. Setting him on his own beast indicates Christ putting us in His own place, that is, we are "accepted in the Beloved One" (Eph.1:6), seen by God as "in Christ" by His marvelous grace. The inn to which he was brought is typical of the Church, the dwelling of God on earth.
The host speaks of the Spirit of God who presides in the Assembly, the Church of God, and to Him the Lord commits the keeping of our souls until the day that He will come again. The Samaritan took full responsibility for the man, as the Lord Jesus does for us. Wonderful indeed is His gracious provision!
The Lord knew the lawyer would not understand the significance of all this, but the simple narrative itself was enough to have serious effect upon him. How pertinent was the Lord's question as to which of these three was actually a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves. There could be no argument about this. But the lawyer did not answer, "the Samaritan" since he hated that name: rather he said, "He who showed mercy on him."
The Lord's reply is beautifully appropriate: "Go and do likewise." There was nothing more the lawyer could possibly say, but he was left with that which should have deeply searched his heart. Did he have such an attitude toward others, in fact toward Samaritans? Had he humbly received the mercy he needed? We hear nothing more of him, but if the Lord's words did cause him later to see himself as the man who fell among thieves and therefore to trust in the mercy of the Lord Jesus, then he would indeed be in a position to have a real heart for his neighbor. The story has lessons that both unbelievers and believers may deeply take to heart.
IN MARTHA'S HOUSE
The story of the good Samaritan shows us how honorable service can be, and predominantly so in the history of the Lord Jesus. Yet among believers, service may become irksome if the proper motives are not active, and this is seen even in Martha who gladly received Jesus into her home. She evidently forgot for the time the principle of self-denying love that moved the Samaritan to do that which was of considerable self-sacrifice. While Mary, Martha's sister, sat at the feet of the Lord Jesus to hear what He had to say, Martha was preoccupied and distracted in preparing and serving the meal (v.40). Concentrating only on her service, she was making it too hard for herself. How much better to at least have a restful spirit, no matter how much work there may seem to be! Her irritation built up until it came to the breaking point.
She not only criticized her sister, but laid the blame on the Lord for not caring that Mary had left her to serve alone. Does this not emphasize that a complaining spirit is always against the Lord? Whatever the occasion, the Lord is over all things, and we always imply by our complaints that the Lord is not caring for us properly. The Lord could not accept her reproof, yet He was most gentle in reproving her for being full of care and troubled about many things.
Many things occupied her mind and her hands, but He said, "One thing is needful." Did all her serving mean more to the Lord than the genuine communion of her heart? Communion is both hearing Him and speaking with Him, and this is vital if we are to serve Him in a proper way, as well as in a calm, restful spirit. Mary had chosen that good part which would not be taken from her. He did not say "better part," for there is no need for such comparisons. The good part she chose would result in her doing good. The Lord speaks positively, but not comparatively. Did Martha learn from this? We believe she did, for her service later (Jn.12:23) was without complaint.
Valuable Instruction as to Prayer
As this chapter opens the Lord Jesus was exemplifying the character of dependent communion with His Father (that character that He commended in Mary). His example awakened the exercise of at least one of His disciples to desire the Lord to them to pray, for the disciples remembered that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray.
The prayer the Lord taught (vs.2-4) corresponds to Matthew 6:9-13 and whether it is the same occasion or not, Luke omits some expressions that Matthew includes, making Luke's record quite brief in comparison. It is the Spirit of God who has decided this, giving an outline here morally suitable for the Gospel of Luke, but it is an outline, not intended to be repeated verbally, for there is no closing sentence and no "Amen" included. In fact, even in Matthew the closing sentence, "For Thine is the power...." in the KJV is only an addition by a copyist, for it is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts.
First, God's primacy (our Father) is affirmed, yet in gracious relationship with us. "Hallowed be Your name" is next, which speaks of His dignity as sanctified from all others. Then the desire for His full divine authority is expressed in "Your kingdom come." This is the Father's kingdom, not that of the Son of Man in the millennial reign, but the giving up of the kingdom into the hand of the Father (1Cor.15:24) when the millennium is completed.
Only when the Father's kingdom comes (in eternity) will His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but our praying for this now will tend to form in us an obedient, subject spirit. Meanwhile, "give us day by day our daily bread" expresses our dependence continually upon His faithful administration. Then the plea for God's mercy in forgiveness of sins is added. This is not the forgiveness of one coming to God for the first time, but rather a Father's forgiveness when His children have sinned, so it has to do with His daily government in the lives of believers. We can only expect this forgiveness insofar as we ourselves are characterized by a forgiving spirit. The last request is negative, "do not lead us into temptation," for we must realize our great weakness and likelihood of failure when put in such circumstances. Peter did not pray this way (Lk.22:33) for he was confident he would not deny his Lord: therefore he had to learn by sad experience.
This prayer was adapted to the need of the disciples at the time before God's great dispensational change in introducing the Church age by means of the gift of the Spirit of God (Acts 2), following the death and resurrection of Christ. The beautiful expressions in Paul's prayers of Ephesians 1 and 3 and of Colossians 1 could not possibly have been used in this "disciples' prayer," so it would be a great mistake for us to now limit ourselves to pray simply as the Lord instructed His disciples.
The Lord then had much to add in encouraging the persistent, believing prayer of His own. If one had a friend (not simply a neighbor) and even at midnight went to him to request the loan of three loaves of bread because of an emergency, is it likely that his friend would excuse himself from helping because it would disturb his own comfort? The Lord answered, that if even on the basis of friendship the friend might not be disposed to help at that hour, yet simply because of one's persistence -- his earnest insistence in asking -- his friend will respond (v.8).
It is true that a man may respond simply because he does not want to be bothered by constant asking. This is not God's attitude, but He desires to see in our prayers the reality of earnestness rather than just giving up because no immediate answer to our prayer is forthcoming.
In verse 9 He encouraged an increasing urgency in prayer, not only to ask, but to seek, and more still, to knock with the insistence of one who has serious need. Yet all three degrees of urgency will be answered, for God cares for us in perfection of love. Everyone who asks receives. This supposes the asking to be in subjection to the will of God, for some asked and did not receive because they asked amiss (James 4:3). The one who seeks finds: this too must be genuine, honest seeking the blessing of God, as is also the case with knocking. The door will be opened where faith impels one to knock. In all of this it is faith that is encouraged.
A son asking bread of his father generally has confidence that his father will answer considerately. To give a stone in place of bread would be cruelty: do believers not have more confidence in their Father than this? The stone would be harmless but useless in this case, but if a serpent was given instead of a fish, the substitute would be positively harmful. In prayer therefore let us ask in unwavering faith, assured that our Father will answer in the best way possible for us.
The Lord concluded His treatment of the subject of prayer by reminding His disciples that they themselves were evil, that is, they had an evil nature, therefore their motives were likely to be selfish, yet in spite of this they knew how to give good gifts to their children (v.13). How much more then should He who is perfect in truth and goodness, be depended on to give the greatest of all good gifts to those who ask Him, that is, the gift of the Holy Spirit? This was said to the disciples who at that time had not received the Spirit as an indwelling possession, nor could do so until Christ had been glorified after His death and resurrection (Jn.7:39). They were encouraged to ask for the Spirit, for it was God's intention to give Him. Now that the Holy Spirit has come and dwells in every believer (Rom.8:9), it would be a mistake for a believer to ask for Him again. We may rather thank God for Him and seek grace to "walk in the Spirit" consistently, for we are blessed today far beyond all we could ask or think.
A Stronger Than Satan
Verse 14 begins a section in which there are seen many forms of opposition to the grace of the Lord Jesus, beginning with the cunning deceit of Satan. The Lord had cast out a demon who had caused his victim to lose ability to speak. But when the demon was cast out his victim was able to speak. The people wondered at such manifest power But the subtlety of Satan was immediately awakened in opposition. He influenced men to accuse the Lord of expelling demons by Satan's power. In fact, such men were willing partners in such gross deception and for them there was no forgiveness (Mk.9:2-30). Satan also attacked through those who sought a sign from heaven. They discounted the Lord's character of moral perfection and His words of pure truth, but rather wanted proof by some miraculous sign. But Satan can produce apparent signs and lying wonders (2 Thes.2:9), so his reason for emphasizing these signs is evident.
The Lord discerned the working of their minds and showed them their inconsistency. Satan claimed that the Lord is using his own (Satan's) power to cast out demons, but if this were the case Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself. It could not possibly stand: it would ruin itself immediately. Satan is certainly not going to use his power deliberately against himself. The word Beelzebub very likely comes from Baal-zebub the Old Testament, meaning "lord of flies," indicating the repulsive character of the evil one.
The Lord then asked a most penetrating question. These same people as above took pleasure in any ability their own sons had to cast out demons, for God had occasionally in the past given the power of doing this to some Jews. Their faith had counted on Him and He had answered. So the Lord asked His critics, "by whom do your sons cast them out?" They were too embarrassed to answer the question, so He added, "therefore they shall be your judges."
Demons had never in such numbers been cast out before the Lord's time. Such work could only be the finger of God, and it required the positive conclusion that the kingdom of God had come upon them. This great work cannot be ignored. In one aspect of it, the kingdom was at hand, but in a very real way it had already come upon them in the person of the King, to whom they gave no recognition. Satan was as a strong man armed, keeping his stronghold, his goods not disturbed so long as his strength prevailed. But a stronger than he, the Son of God, had attacked in overwhelming power, divesting Satan of his goods and armor, dividing the spoils, that is, giving to others the benefit of His victory.
The Lord drew a very decided line in this case. One who was not with Christ was against Him (v.23). There was no middle ground. Men may speak as though they are against Satan while at the very time they are his willing dupes, blinded by unbelief and serving his interests. These are not believers at all. The expression in the latter part of verse 23, "he who does not gather with Me scatters," while true as it is of unbelievers, may include also those believers who do not put the Lord's interests foremost. One may be saved and yet not exercise a character of shepherd care like that of His Lord. If so, he will tend to scatter the sheep, which is really Satan's work as John 10:12 shows us.
In verses 24-26 the Lord added a most solemn warning. The Jews at the time were proud of having cleansed the country of idolatry in a public, outward way. The unclean spirit had gone out, though not said to be "cast out." This was mere outward moral reform, swept and garnished, but not having received the better Occupant, the Lord Jesus. He was available and was the only One able to overcome the power of Satan, but the self-righteous pride of Israel's heart refused Him. Today there are large numbers in the same alarming condition, having an empty religion that caters to their self-righteousness, but with no heart for the Lord Jesus, the Son of God.
The final result will be dreadful. The evil spirit will return to find a congenial atmosphere, reformed, religious, but with plenty of room for seven other evil spirits more wicked than himself. Man's heart is not a vacuum: it craves company. But in rejecting the company of the Son of God, one voluntarily opens the door for satanic occupants. So Israel, in the tribulation period, will accept idolatry worse than they have ever before entertained, blindly receiving the lie of the antichrist which will open the door for an infestation of evil spirits. Similarly, the last state of one who has merely reformed his ways without receiving Christ, will be worse than before his reformation.
ADDRESSING THOSE IN THE BLINDNESS OF NATURAL IGNORANCE
In this section we see another form of opposition to the true grace of God, not this time satanic deception, but fleshly confidence which involved no discernment of what the grace of God really is. This began with the loud words of a women, who, having heard Him speaking, desired to give honor to His mother, not to Him. She saw in Him only that which human nature had produced. But Mary had added nothing whatever to the Lord (He being conceived entirely by the Holy Spirit) and this is a sad case of flesh seeking the credit for producing even the Lord of glory! Her spiritual blindness was reproved by the Lord's simple answer, that blessedness belongs rather to those who hear and keep the Word of God. How vital a matter is this for those who are inclined to worship Mary! The Lord had spoken the words of God: did the woman have a heart to hear and keep these words? Do we have such a heart?
The Lord reproved this dull fleshly mindedness in His following words. The people were crowded thick together (v.29), and He warned this evil generation, who instead of taking to heart the Word of God, desired a sign. One important sign, that of Jonah the prophet, would be given them. Matthew 12 speaks of Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish as symbolical of the death and resurrection of Christ; a great sign indeed, yet ignored by Israel. Luke rather stresses Jonah as being a sign to the Ninevites, and in this case his preaching which produced repentance was foremost, and that among Gentiles. Just so, the emphasis here is on the Word of God, that which works in power to produce repentance and faith.
The men of Ninevah would bear similar witness to that of the Queen of Sheba, they also being Gentiles, but who had no interest in their relationship with God until awakened by the preaching of Jonah, which brought the city to repentance. Now here was a far greater than Jonah preaching the pure word of God to a corrupt nation that had every reason to be concerned about God's claims, but they would not repent, though they callously wanted a sign!
The lighted lamp of verse 33 speaks of the testimony of God. No man hides a lamp when he lights it: it is not intended to be a secret thing. Nor will he put it under a bushel basket. As to God's testimony, we may too easily obscure it through fear (making it a secret) or through busy occupation (of which the bushel speaks). The Lord Jesus did not do this. He let the light shine out in wonderful fullness for all to see: the lamp was on the lampstand. No one had any just excuse for not responding.
Why did they not see? Because their eye was not single. The eye lets in the light: if this perception is transparently honest and straightforward, it is a single eye. But if my perception is blurred by the stubbornness of wanting to see in my own way, this is an evil eye and will result in the whole person being full of spiritual darkness. It is well known, for instance, that two witnesses may report an incident totally differently, often depending on what they want to see.
Therefore what people boast of as their religious "light" or knowledge may be total darkness because their own wills are involved in it. How earnestly we should guard against this! If however, as a result of receiving the true light, our whole body is full of light, having no part dark, that is, all being subject to the light that enters, then all shall be full of light as from the bright shining of a lamp, that lamp being the testimony of Christ. If there is honest willingness to receive the light in every department of one's life, the result will be fullness of light in the soul. Faith will be rewarded with clear, genuine knowledge from Him who is light.
WOES PRONOUNCED AGAINST THE PHARISEES AND LAWYERS
It may have been that the Pharisee of verse 37 was impressed with what he heard, for he urged the Lord to eat with him, and the Lord accepted the invitation. Yet how little had the Lord's words really entered the Pharisee's heart!, for in his thoughts he becomes a critic of the Lord for not observing the religious formality of washing His hands before eating. If one's hands are soiled it is sensible to wash them, but if not, where is the sense of making a religious tradition of washing?
The Lord's words were therefore searching and unsparing, not only as to the man personally, but including his fellow Pharisees. Mere formal observance is a serious evil. Anyone daring to profess spiritual understanding without having his heart penetrated by the light of God's truth, and stressing outward forms of religious observance, is actually opposing God. This is the third form of opposition to the grace of the Lord Jesus -- that of legal formality (vs.37-54). It was tragically true of the Pharisees generally that they were zealous to clean the outside of the cup and platter while inwardly having thoughts of cruelty and greed in reference to the people and of wickedness toward God. Foolish and willingly blinded, they did not consider that the God who made the outward form of things also made what was inward, and He discerned every inward motive; yet they thought the giving of alms would cleanse away every moral evil (v.41).
The Lord pronounced a solemn woe upon the Pharisees, for they were strictly careful to tithe the smallest things, extremely meticulous in certain details, while ignoring honest judgment of good and evil, and ignoring the love of God. Indeed it was God's love that in the first place gave the law to seek to reach men's consciences and hearts by their inability to keep it. Honest self-judgment and appreciation of the love of God were then two matters they should have positively regarded, while not leaving the other matters undone, that is, neither making small things an issue nor ignoring them.
A second "woe" was pronounced on the Pharisees because of their love for prominence and recognition by men in the synagogues and in the streets (v.43). The Lord's reproof was due to their outward show before men, with no concern as to their inward relationship to God. The third "woe" included the scribes, adding the solemn epithet, "hypocrites," and likening them to graves that were concealed in such a way that people who walked over them were not aware of the corruption of death so near at hand. Because of cunning deceit in concealing their own spiritual corruption, they deceived the common people.
Scribes and lawyers were rather closely linked, for scribes began by being simply writers, then virtually became theologians. Eventually they involved themselves with Israel's law from a judicial point of view and thus became lawyers and sometimes doctors of the law (as was Gamalial -- Acts 5:34). They therefore considered themselves to be authoritative interpreters of the law. They could be Pharisees at the same time -- a double evil! A lawyer therefore objected to the Lord's scathing words, for he complained that by implication even the lawyers were reproached (v.45). But if he thought the Lord would retract or modify His words in deference to lawyers, he was mistaken. In fact, the Lord added three "woes" for lawyers also. First, instead of their being concerned to obey the law, they considered themselves enforcers of the law upon others. So they heaped heavy burdens on the people but never lifted a finger to help bear the burden. Too often it is true that one who is rigid in his teaching may be loose in example.
The second woe (v.47) was because the lawyers were foremost in raising monuments on the graves of the prophets, for they knew the history of these men who had often suffered martyrdom at the hands of Israel's leaders. These leaders had hated the prophets while they were living, then flattered them when dead! The Lord spoke of this as a witness to the fact that they were guilty of the murder of the prophets, that is, they were glad they were dead! They were the very sons (in practical character) of those who had killed them.
If they wanted to relegate this murderous persecution to a bygone day, the Lord spoke of the wisdom of God (not that of clever lawyers) as declaring that He would send prophets and apostles, some of whom would be persecuted and killed by the generation then present. Then He announced a principle that is so unacceptable to people generally that it is either ignored or strongly resisted. That principle is that the blood of all the prophets of the past would be required of the present generation; and lest there be any mistake about it, He speaks of the blood of Abel (who was killed by Cain), and down to Zechariah who was killed in the place of his priestly service for God (2 Chron.24:20-21). "Yes," the Lord insists "It shall be required of this generation" (v.50). The reason is simply that this generation to whom He spoke maintained the same attitude of refusal of the testimony of God, which they very soon proved in the murder of the Lord Jesus and of various apostles later.
The Lord's final woe to lawyers is because they had taken away the key of knowledge. They did not enter the kingdom themselves, but professing themselves wise, they used their intellect to obscure actual knowledge, thereby also hindering others from entering the kingdom. So they could be counted wise, they kept others in a condition of ignorance! All of these things, from verse 37, show the opposition of mere legal formality to the pure grace of the Lord Jesus, which works in inward reality.
But the scribes and Pharisees (which included lawyers) immediately proved the truth of His words, that inwardly they were full of cruelty and wickedness, for they vehemently urged Him to speak of many things they thought might lead Him to speak in a way they could use against Him (vs.53-54). How vain an effort! He spoke only words of truth and soberness.
THE PEOPLE WARNED AGAINST FALSE LEADERS
At a time when the crowd was extremely large, the Lord addressed His disciples "first of all," warning them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. We have seen that their meticulous formality was only a coverup of inward evil. Why? Because their object was to impress the crowd. How great a danger this is even for true disciples! We like the recognition of others and forget to seek only the approval of God. Let us not be influenced by numbers; but remember continually that God searches the motives of our hearts. All that is covered now will eventually be revealed, the Lord said (v.2), and what is hidden now will yet be known. Let us then keep always in view the day of manifestation, when Christ will be manifested and we also fully manifested before Him. Even what we say will be manifested. Sometimes people have spoken carelessly, not realizing a tape recorder was operating, and they have had to later face the embarrassing words they had spoken. How much more solemn when all shall give account to God for every idle word! Let us remember these things were spoken to disciples. Closely linked with this warning is the fear of man, which is another form of opposition to the grace of God. It is often because of fear that we act like hypocrites. but the limit of man's persecution is the killing of the body. Believers have no right reason to fear men. God, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell. That power involves the raising of the unbeliever's body and the judgment of the Great White Throne which results in the torment of the lake of fire. It is God who is really to be feared (v.5). Those who persecute others may think little of this, but how dreadful to think of God mocking when their fear comes (Prov.1:24-31)!
The believer is expected to maintain firm confidence in God, combined with wholesome fear, for this God of great glory numbers the very hairs of our head (v.7). Neither does He forget even the sparrow which has so little value to us. Therefore, He will certainly not forget His own people whose value is greater than many sparrows. Believers have therefore no cause of fear. He encouraged them to confess Him before others, saying that He, the Son of Man, will confess before the angels of God. those who confess Him before men. The term "Son of Man" involves His relationship with all mankind: He is in control over all of them. Blessed incentive for our courage of faith! On the other hand, denial of Him will bring denial of us before the angels. What a test of whether our motives are really for His glory! In confessing Him we make it clear that we are fully on His side.
This leads to another form of opposition to the grace of God, that is, the hatred of Christ by man. The Lord faced this squarely, and all true disciples will find it is true. But we still have no reason to fear, for the Lord is in control. The Son of Man would be spoken against (v.10), for man in the flesh is at enmity against Him. Yet with many who opposed Him there was still definite possibility of conversion and forgiveness. Let us remember this and pray for the conversion of those who act as enemies against us. But one who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit would never be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 explains this clearly. The scribes had accused the Lord Jesus of casting out demons by satanic power (of which Luke 11:15 also speaks). One who openly and intentionally takes such a stand of callous hatred is blaspheming the Spirit -of God by whom Christ was actually casting out demons. This malicious evil, in the face of every witness to the contrary, would never be forgiven. Such people seal their own doom.
Those who hated Christ would hate believers too. But if believers were arrested to face the Jewish council or magistrates, they were told not to predetermine how they were to answer charges against them, or what they should say. The same Spirit of God who energized Christ would energize them and guide them in their words. For the grace of God is greater than the strongest opposition of hatred.
WARNING AS TO COVETOUSNESS
We next meet with another form of opposition to the grace of the Lord Jesus -- the greed of man. This new opposition was occasioned by a man urging the Lord to intercede his man's brother that he might share an inheritance with him. Whether his brother had gotten it honestly or not we do not know, but this has nothing to do with the involvement of the Lord Jesus in the matter. He was not here as a judge or a dispenser of fair play among men. He was here to declare the truth of God and to save people from their sins.
The Lord addressed the whole company, which would include His disciples, telling them to pay serious attention to be watchful against covetousness (v.15), for true life is not to be measured by the amount a man possesses. Many are deceived by this, with tragic results; and though such results may not be reaped during one's lifetime, the tragedy will be eternal if one does not turn to the Lord.
The parable the Lord presents in verses 16-20 is surely applicable to a great number of similar cases in our day. A rich man prospered greatly, with practically everything he touched turning to wealth. But rather than asking the Lord what to do with his great possessions, he consulted with himself, and received only a selfish answer. He decided to enlarge his storage facilities so he would have more than sufficient for many years to come. For all those many years he anticipated indulging in every pleasure he desired.
But suddenly, shockingly, his elaborate plans were interrupted the same night. God spoke and called the poor man (no longer rich) a fool, for that night his soul would be required. The unwelcome intrusion of death, for which he was not prepared, would divest him immediately of all his possessions. Whose then would they be? To whom would he be willing to relinquish them? Solemn question for a selfish man! Greed defeats its own ends, for in striving to gain we lose what we strive for. The man had concentrated on treasure for himself, with no conscience toward God, no concern for treasure in heaven. But one who leaves God out of his plans is a fool indeed. The grace of God had no attraction for him, and without this grace he was left destitute for all eternity!
THE DISEASE OF ANXIETY
One may not be so greedy as to want to selfishly amass great riches, and yet may be a victim of worry and anxiety. This too is in reality opposition to the grace of God, yet even a believer often succumbs to it, for it is His disciples to whom the Lord spoke in verse 22. Parents must be concerned as to the needs of their family, and sometimes the future seems extremely bleak due to health problems, lack of employment, money shortage, lack of education etc., but the Lord encourages implicit faith rather than anxious worry. He cannot fail, though needs press heavily. The question is simply, Is the grace of God sufficient for the child of God? The Lord can be depended on to supply His saints with every necessity of life. For the life is more than the things that we think necessary to support it, and God is concerned for every aspect of life. Certainly we should work to support ourselves and our families (2 Thes.3:10), but worrying is not working.
Even the ravens, unclean birds, totally unadapted to work to store up for the future, are yet fed by God. They have no worry about providing for the future, but find provision as the need arises. It is God who provides for them. It is a pointed object lesson for us, that we should have likewise no anxiety, but simple, unfeigned faith in Him who cares for us with perfect love.
The Lord asked if we can add a cubit (18 inches) to our physical height by worrying. If our anxious thoughts cannot change even the small matters, what is the sense of anxiety in reference to anything? Worry only distresses us and often others too. It can change nothing. Why not then be calm and at peace in trusting the Lord? He has certainly always proven faithful.
As to clothing, the Lord used the example of the lilies, created without ability to work, yet clothed in beauty such as even Solomon with all his wealth was not able to equal. Since God so lavishly gives such beauty to grass, though it exists so briefly, how much more can He be depended on to clothe those whom He has given His Son to redeem!
As to our necessary food and drink for even the immediate future, there is no reason to be in anxious suspense, though we may not see where the provision may come from. In fact, whether our need is met or not, the anxiety will be of no help, though worry is characteristic of the world. Let us remember constantly that our Father knows we have need of all these things if they are necessities, and therefore calmly trust Him and depend on His grace.
More than this, if we seek first the kingdom of God (v.31), that is, the place of honest subjection to His authority, then He will take care of all the details of our needs. In being subject to His authority, we shall have utmost confidence such as will encourage the self-discipline that delights to obey Him. Certainly if we do delight to obey Him we shall not be lazy and forget our responsibility to work in subjection to Him, but we shall trust Him rather than worry.
How few will there be who respond to this call for implicit faith! He calls them a "little flock," so helpless if left to themselves in a desolate land, and amid enemies. He encourages them, "Do not fear," for His own hand was with them, and the kingdom is in true reality theirs, given them by the Father's good pleasure.
The kingdom was not yet publicly manifested, but its inner reality was such as to enable its subjects to sell their property and give alms, for their time on earth was realized as brief, and the exercise of faith was to look forward to a treasure in the heavens. Therefore the disciples were not to hold on to things here, where all could easily be taken away anyway, whether by robbery or by aging and corruption, and for those Jews all was taken by the Romans 40 years later. The same principle holds today: are we using what the Lord has given us for Him or simply to fulfill our greed for the latest fashion, a fancier home, the latest car, etc.?
The heart will be where our treasure -- what we count as valuable -- is. The treasure in the heavens is certainly Christ, for whom we may wisely "suffer the loss of all things," as Paul expressed it (Phil.3:8). For what sensible person would not be willing to lose what he cannot hold anyway, in order to gain what cannot be lost for eternity?
SERVANTS: FAITHFUL OR UNFAITHFUL?
To value a treasure in heaven encourages our expectation of the coming of the Lord. The waist girded speaks of being prepared for a journey, as Israel was commanded in coming out of Egypt (Ex.12:11), with no loose flowing ends to impede their feet. Ephesians 6:24 speaks of having our waists girded with truth. Thus it speaks of the truth keeping us in proper self control. The lamps burning pictures the brightness of our testimony before the world that it is Christ whom we serve and for whom we look.
Everything about us should show that we are expectant of the future. Because we wait for our Lord, our character and the actions of our lives should be consistent with the hope we have in Him. So that, "when He will return on occasion of the wedding" (Numerical Bible -- F.W.Grant) we will be prepared to gladly welcome Him (v.36). It is not that Christ is coming after the wedding, but in view of the wedding. The marriage supper of the Lamb will take place after the Rapture (Rev.19:7-9). Luke is drawing attention to the moral character that is proper in view of the wedding. But when He knocks -- when we have the first indication of His coming, rather than rushing first to make ourselves presentable, we may be fully ready to open immediately -- fully prepared to greet Him.
The Lord pronounced a special blessing for those servants whom He finds watching at His coming. He then added that He will gird Himself, seat them at His table, and will come forth to serve them. They have served Him on earth: then He who is the Lord of glory will serve them. Marvelous grace indeed! But it surely emphasizes the noble dignity of true service, providing a blessed incentive for us also to gladly serve Him now.
Though Luke does not directly refer to the Rapture, yet it is evident that the Lord's coming indicated in verse 38 will be at that time. There were four Roman watches, the evening, the midnight, the rooster-crowing, and the morning (Mk.13:35) But the Lord mentioned only the second and third here. For He will not come as early as impatience might desire; yet not as late as laxity might think. As to history, the midnight watch is now passed, as indicated in Matthew 25:6, "And at midnight a cry was heard, 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him'." For centuries believers practically "slept", not expecting the Lord's coming, but in the 19th century there was a great awakening to the prospect of that coming. It seems very decisive that this was the midnight cry. Thus we are now we are in the third watch, the rooster-crowing. Thus it appears that He will come for His own in this very watch! For in the fourth watch He will go forth to appear to the remnant of the nation Israel in the turbulence of the great tribulation, as Matthew 14:24-25 illustrates. but the rapture will take place before that time, so we may at any moment expect our Lord to come for us.
However, verse 39 speaks differently. Instead of a servant, we read of the goodman of the house, the ruler, and the Lord's coming is likened to the visit of a thief. He does not come as a thief to the Church, but to the world (1Thes.5:2-4). The man here had lost his servant character, and was really part of an ungodly world, whatever his profession might have been. We know from other scriptures that this phase of the Lord's coming is at least seven years after the Rapture (Dan.9:26-27), but Luke is not concerned with the time element, but with the reality of the Lord's coming, whether to reward watchfulness or to judge the careless. What the Lord said in verse 40 is manifestly connected with verse 39. His coming as the Son of Man is His coming to the world in judgment, and it will be at an unexpected hour. Of course it is just as true that no-one knows when he will come for the Church, but that coming is not unexpected and we are to be watching!
Peter did not understand these distinctions, and inquired if the Lord spoke the above only for believers or for everyone. The Lord did not answer this directly, for the time had not come to reveal the truth of the Rapture, as it was revealed later to Paul (1Thes.4:13-18), though in John 14:3 the Lord implied the Rapture but with no reference to the dead in Christ. Here the Lord again drew a line of clearest demarcation between a faithful and wise steward and an unfaithful servant. The first is one whom the Lord has appointed to serve the needs of those in his household. That servant who is faithful to such a charge, not giving up, but continuing till the Lord comes, will be blessed by being given rule over all that He has. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim.2:12). "He who overcomes shall inherit all things" (Rev.21:7).
The contrary character is seen in verse 45. Though the man was in the place of a servant, he was not a servant at heart, for he has no heartfelt expectancy of the Lord's coming. Because he was not born of God, he gave up any hope in Christ. He became an apostate. His attitude toward other servants became cruel and hateful, and lost all self-control.
But the Lord will come, and in the case of the faithless servant, judgment will be certain and solemn. We learn later that these two aspects of the Lord's coming (that for believers and that in judgment of the ungodly) will be at least seven years apart (Dan.9:26-27), but the time is unimportant to Luke compared to the dreadfulness of the punishment of the ungodly, being cut in two and sharing the same awful fate as outright unbelievers who made no profession.
But more seriously still, while many unbelievers are ignorant of the Lord's will and therefore will be beaten with few stripes, the servant who knew that will and ignored it, will be beaten with many stripes. The end in the Lake of Fire is the same for both, for neither have received the grace of God in Christ, but the measure of punishment will differ according to responsibility. The one who has been more privileged is more responsible and must answer for his irresponsibility. The unbeliever may not know the scriptures at all, but is generally responsible for not wanting or trying to know, for he does have the testimony of creation and of conscience for which he is responsible.
CHRIST'S PRESENCE BRINGING FIRE TO THE EARTH
The coming of the Lord Jesus in incarnation was the bringing of fire on the earth. This is the fire of God's holiness seen in discerning judgment, which indeed will be more publicly manifest in a coming day when the eyes of the Lord will be "as a flame of fire" (Rev.1:14). But the Lord's own ministry discerned things that differed, and the fire was already kindled, either to burn into souls the self-judgment that was proper, or to give them the forewarning of the fire of God that would judge them.
The Lord would be exposed to judgment -- the judgment of God for us -- in the "baptism" that awaited Him -- of the solitary agony of the death of the cross where He bore our sins (1Pet.2:14). For this purpose He had come, and was "distressed," that is, strictly confined by limits that kept death always as the end in view so far as earth was concerned. He would bear a judgment such as no one else ever could -- the judgment that was due to our sins.
Did people suppose that His coming was to bring peace on earth? (v.51). It was not so. Though angels had announced at His birth, "on earth peace" (Lk.2:14), yet this offered peace was refused by mankind in their rejection of Christ, and peace will not come now until the millennial kingdom. Meanwhile there is a sharp and solemn division between those who receive Him and those who do not. This division would be not only in nations or cities, but in families, with closest relatives divided against each other. We know this will continue through all this day of grace. This division should be expected if one servant is faithful and devoted and another one careless and irresponsible.
SIGNS TO BE DISCERNED
Verses 54 to 57 show that the evidence of division was already present although not all had spiritual eyes to see. The crowds were proficient in discerning the signs of the weather; yet when the signs of more serious storms of the judgment of God were most evident, many people were blinded to this. The presence of the Lord Jesus had revealed both the grace and the truth of the heart of God, and the sin of mankind that opposed the truth of God. Certainly the solemn issues raised by such a confrontation would not just go away: the day of accounting and recompense must come. In fact, there was here a matter of simple righteousness which people's consciences ought to have discerned and judged without difficulty, but instead they made the Son of God their adversary by opposing Him. If they were wise they would have had this matter between them and Him settled before He charged them with an accusation that would mean their eternal judgment.
REPENT OR PERISH
This chapter shows that righteousness by itself provides no hope for man, but presses upon us the solemn lesson of repentance. Thus it prepares the way for chapters 14 and 15, for chapter 14 shows man's character in contrast to that of God, yet God remaining a God of grace; while in chapter 15 the heart of God is revealed to man in his lost state, God rejoicing in bringing him back by sovereign grace.
The Jews told the Lord of the Galileans who had evidently been murdered by Pilate in the very act of their sacrificing. This must have taken place at Jerusalem, the center of sacrificial worship. The Jews were apparently thinking, not so much of the cruelty of Pilate, but of some supposed special sin of the Galileans that deserved such punishment. How adept we are in turning attention to the wrongs of others to avoid criticism of ourselves! The Lord answered with a deeply penetrating word. Did they suppose those who suffered in this way were by this proven to be worse sinners than others? He emphatically answered that this was not the case; and added, "but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (v.3).
To reinforce this He referred to another tragedy, evidently fresh in the minds of the people, in which eighteen victims had been killed in the collapse of a tower. These were dwellers in Jerusalem, so tragedies were not confined to the Galileans. But He pressed home the same lesson. Such things are a warning to the living to repent while they have time, for there is no difference between people as to the fact of their guilt: all need the same grace: all must repent or perish.
The fig tree planted in the vineyard (v.6) is a pointed illustration of the need to repent. The vineyard is Israel (Isa.5:7) planted in a fruitful hill, but through disobedience the vine had been plucked up and scattered among the nations (Isa.5:5-6). The remnant that God recovered from the captivity is looked at as a fig tree now in the vineyard. But as the vine had proven not true to proper character, so now the fig tree produced no fruit for three years. God was about to cut it down, but through the intercession of the dresser of the vineyard, there is one year of grace given. Christ is the Intercessor who has labored with His people that they might bring forth fruit for God, and God bore long with them before they were cut down after the rejection of their Messiah. Even the grace of His patient goodness did not lead them to repentance, but God's heart of goodness was manifested.
THE CROOKED MADE STRAIGHT
God's grace continued to be manifested in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. If the many rejected Him, yet He would not ignore any concerned individual. His teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath was for all who would hear, and there was one woman in special need. Her spine so affected as to leave her pathetically bent over, unable to stand erect (v.11). It is a picture of Israel being affected by the sad ravages of sin, her way twisted and crooked, and she brought down to a point of inability to help herself.
For one who realizes and acknowledges such helplessness, there is certainly grace available from God. The Lord Jesus called her, and without any preliminaries, pronounced her healed of her infirmity (v.12). He backed up His words by laying on His hands, and she was immediately made straight. Israel could have received such grace if only she acknowledged her crooked condition, as she yet will when faced with the great tribulation. The woman, in evident faith, glorified God, showing a lovely contrast to the general state of cold criticism fostered among the people by their religious leaders.
The ruler of the synagogue, rather than rejoicing that the woman had been healed from a pathetic infirmity, was indignant that she had been healed in his synagogue on the sabbath day (v.14). Mere religion without Christ is tragically unreasonable and coldly prejudiced. This ruler addressed, not the Lord, but the people, scolding them for coming on the sabbath day to be healed. He did not stop to consider that, if the healing the Lord was doing was work, then even preaching was work. But this was not servile work, no mere working for gain, which the law forbid (Lev.23:7). God certainly did not forbid such things as healing the sick under law. Only legal minded men could imagine such cruel restraints.
The Lord did not hesitate to brand the ruler as a hypocrite, for the Lord reminded him that his own actions condemned his words, for it was common for them to release their animals from their stalls and lead them to water on the sabbath days. They considered (and rightly so) that this was proper care and consideration for animals. But these rulers refused to allow such care for a suffering woman! Perhaps they expected monetary from their animals if they were well while they had no profit from a human being healed!
The Lord spoke of the woman as a daughter of Abraham. This involves more than a natural relationship, but the relationship of true faith (Gal.3:7). After eighteen years of bondage to Satan, should she be kept under this bondage because it was the sabbath day? The Lord knew how to express matters in such a way as to show up the cruelty of mere religious prejudice.
His words put His adversaries to shame, although not ashamed enough to confess their wrong. At least the common people rejoiced in recognizing His works as glorious and not illegal. But prejudice blinded the leaders to the moral grandeur of what He was doing.
PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND LEAVEN
This leads on in verse 18 to the Lord declaring the fact that even in the kingdom of God, which was being introduced, there would be the same opposing principles as were seen then in Israel. As Israel had degenerated into a state where its leaders were hypocrites, so in the kingdom of God such a state would develop. The grain of mustard seed, very small indeed, is a picture of the beginning of that kingdom. But it would grow into a great tree, outdoing the normal growth of a mustard plant. When it became great in the world, the birds of the air would lodge in its branches. Such is the present condition of the kingdom. This is outward Christianity -- Christendom -- for the fowls of the air symbolize Satan's activity, and Satan has today taken advantage of the growth of Christianity to introduce innumerable hypocrites, taking a place as though they were actually Christians. This is the external character of the kingdom today.
Its internal state is seen in the following parable (vs.20-21). In each case it is seen as introduced in purity, but eventually evil is admitted, for the kingdom has been entrusted to the hands of men who always introduce corruption into what God entrusts to them. The woman hiding the leaven in three measures of meal speaks of the professing church being guilty of introducing false doctrine into the very sphere where the precious purity of Christ as the meal offering is the food of God and the food of His saints, who are priests of God (Lev.2:9-10). The doctrine of Christ has been corrupted by subtle deceit, so the kingdom suffers this internal contamination in our present day.
Continuing to travel to various cities and villages on His way to Jerusalem, the Lord was questioned whether few will or many will be saved. He did not answer directly, but in a way to stir the serious exercise of the individual, for in speaking of the masses of humanity, people too often want to avoid personal responsibility. The Lord told his questioner to strive to enter in by the narrow gate, that is, to earnestly seek the true path of God. The wide gate (Mt.7:13) is to be avoided, for many go in there, just following the crowd to destruction. One is not saved by his striving, but if one is lax and half-hearted about a matter so important, how can he expect God to show him grace? For the time would come when it would be too late for people to become concerned. Many will eventually seek to enter in, but will be unable. They will be much like Esau who earnestly sought the birthright he had lost by unconcern, but was rejected because he found no place for repentance (Heb.12:17). He wanted the blessing, but would not repent of his sin.
The future coming of the Lord at the Rapture is involved in verse 25 (cf.Mt.25:10), the Master having risen up, after long patience, to shut the door to heaven (the saved being first brought in). Then many will pray, not in honest repentance, but in desperation, wanting the door opened to them. How solemnly chilling is the Lord's answer, "I do know know you, where you are from." The Lord cannot acknowledge any true relationship.
The people will protest that He ought to know them because they have eaten and drunk in His presence (though they cannot say, "having fellowship with Him"), and that He has taught in their streets. Because of these outward contacts they demand some recognition. This is the very character of the hypocrite. He touches the fringes of Christianity by his formal observances, but in heart he does not know the Lord. Therefore the Lord repeated, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from." He then adds the solemn words, "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." Their ability to deceive will no longer make way for them: their falsehood will be exposed.
What humiliation for those who thought they could brazen their way through every obstacle into heaven! These Jewish leaders boasted in their natural fathers -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- and in the prophets of Israel, but they would find they had no spiritual relationship with them at all. "Weeping and gnashing of teeth" would be theirs, while their fathers and the prophets would have the pure joys of the kingdom of God, from which they themselves would be thrust out. For the kingdom will be fully purified from the admixture of which we read in verses 19-21. They will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt.13:41- 42). The weeping is only in self-pity, not in repentance. Wailing is the attitude of complaining, for faith is absent. Gnashing of teeth is a spirit of rebellion, not corrected even by the solemn judgment of God.
However, verse 29 shows that if Jews debar themselves by unbelief, God will yet bring others (Gentiles) from the east, west, north and south to sit down in the kingdom of God. Those whom men consider "last" -- of no importance -- (as Jews considered Gentiles), will be first because of the reality of faith. Those who are considered "first" (as Jews considered themselves because of their outward show of religion to impress others) will be last. God is a God of truth, and all will be brought to its proper level in the day of His judgment.
Verse 31 shows us that hypocrisy hates exposure. The Pharisees attempted to intimidate the Lord by demanding that He leave or be killed by Herod. Of course, if they had any confidence that Herod would actually kill Him if He remained, they would certainly rather have had Him remain! The threat was hypocritical. However, it seems likely that Herod himself was involved in the hypocrisy, for the Lord in replying called him a "fox." It was an empty threat, made in the hope He would leave, rather than expose their hypocrisy. Thus, as He reproved their hypocrisy, they added to it!
The Lord instructed the Pharisees to return the message to Herod that the Lord would continue to cast out demons and do cures "today and tomorrow." The two days speak of testimony that would continue faithfully despite all objections, and the third day is evidently a reference to His being perfected in resurrection. It is clear that He does not speak of three successive literal days.
He continued His journey toward Jerusalem. He would not be frightened away from this purpose. It was in Jerusalem, not in Herod's domain of Galilee (Lk.3:1), that He would die. "But He would "walk," not run away. His measured, firm devotion to the will of God would not be affected by man's threats. It was Jerusalem, God's appointed center, that had achieved the notoriety of killing the prophets (v.33). The measure of her hypocrisy would yet be more emblazoned before the whole world in the murder of Israel's Messiah.
His heart expanded in a precious expression of tenderest love and concern for that guilty city: "How often I wanted to gather your children together" (v.34). He is far more than a prophet: He is Jehovah, the God of Israel, as of the whole creation. He had pleadingly spoken many times throughout the Old Testament, but now affirmed, "you were not willing."
Now the city was about to crucify its Lord. How then can these leaders any more glory in their house, the temple? The Master of the house having been cast out, their house is left desolate. This would not be for a short time either. With a solemn "assuredly," Israel was told they will not see Him until the time their attitude toward Him is totally changed, when (at the end of the great tribulation) they will give Him His place of supreme blessedness when He comes in the name of Jehovah, of whom He Himself is the perfect representation.
EATING IN THE PHARISEE'S HOUSE (vs.1-14)
This chapter shows the heart of God in seeking man, yet also man in thorough contrast and opposition to God. One of the chief Pharisees invited the Lord Jesus to his house for a meal, evidently not out of affection, but to find occasion for criticism, for "they watched Him." Yet the Lord did not refuse: He would genuinely seek the good of man, whether criticized or not. We may wonder if perhaps the Pharisee had invited the man with dropsy (edema) as a test case. But the Lord was not on the defensive. Lawyers and Pharisees were present, and He asked them if it was lawful to heal on the sabbath day. He knew their prejudice as to this, but they would not answer because they could find no law in scripture that would support them.
Verse 3 interestingly shows that His question was an answer to the lawyers and Pharisees -- evidently an answer to their watching Him.
He healed the man before their eyes. It is evident they did not approve of this, though they said nothing, for they had no honorable or scriptural basis for their opposition. Their proud, legal thoughts would not bend to simple truth and honesty, so He "answered them" a second time, though they had said nothing. His second answer was also a question they did not answer. They knew perfectly well they would rescue immediately any animal they owned, which had fallen into a pit on the sabbath day. He had spoken in chapter 13:15 of their concern in feeding and watering their animals on the sabbath. Should they have more pity for an animal than for a human being in need or in trouble?
Then He addressed the invited guests in the Pharisee's house as He observed them taking the most prominent places for themselves. He advised them not to assume such a place, in case this was intended by the host for a more honorable person, in which case the matter might end in the humiliation of the social climber. If this is true in the natural realm, how much more so among the saints of God! Aspiring to a high place is both unseemly and exposing oneself to the shame of humiliation.
If one takes the lowest place, however, he may be invited to go up higher, and others will give him honor (not worship, which is for God only). This led to the Lord's announcing the serious principle that self-exaltation will end in abasement, while self- humbling will end in exaltation. The outstanding example of the first is Satan, who said, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the Most High" (Isa.14:14). He was answered, "Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit" (v.15). The great example of self-humbling is the Lord Jesus, who humbled Himself to come down to the depths of the agony of the cross; but is now highly exalted above all the universe (Phil.2:5-11).
The Lord Jesus then told the Pharisee who had invited Him that, in providing a supper, he should not call his friends, brethren, relatives or rich neighbors, but the poor, maimed, lame and blind. It would seem as though the Pharisee had in mind being in turn invited by others, for it is unlikely that the Lord would have said this if the Pharisee's motives had been unselfish. Apparently his motives in inviting the Lord had not been honorable.
Yet is this not a searching word for us all? How often do we think of inviting to our homes those who are in deeply trying circumstances? The Lord will not fail to reward such kindness shown even in a natural way. How much more so if we show kindness in seeking to meet the needs of those spiritually poor, maimed, lame and blind? Notice the expression, "at the resurrection of the just" (v.14). Such care, in unselfish honesty, would be evidence that one is truly born again, for only believers will have part in "the resurrection of life" (Jn.5:29) or "the first resurrection" (Rev.20:6), which will bring full reward for every work of faith on the part of those who have trusted the saving grace of the Lord Jesus (v.14).
"A GREAT SUPPER"
A guest spoke of the blessedness of one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God. He had in mind the future glory of the kingdom, but did not realize that the kingdom had a present, vital, moral form that was not appreciated by the Jews, and the invitations to that great supper were being given at that very time, for the true King was present in lowly grace, yet many were excusing themselves.
For this reason the Lord gave the parable of the man making a great supper. It is God who has provided this supper in marvelous grace, and the invited guests were the Jewish people who had many great promises in the Scriptures. In contrast to Matthew 22:3-4, we are told it is "His servant" who is sent, not "servants." In Matthew the gospel is seen as carried by people, in Luke the emphasis is on the one "servant" who is typical of the Holy Spirit of God. It is His great work to bear witness to Christ as the fulfillment of the promise of God -- Christ in the perfect completion of redemption, as is beautifully indicated in the words, "all things are now ready" (v.17).
Every Israelite was invited first to the great gospel supper of the grace of God, fully prepared and freely offered. But all made excuses. One said he had bought a piece of ground, and it was necessary for him to see it. He made it clear that his property meant more to him than the friendship of the host. But the supper was at a set time: he could see his property at any time. Similarly, another had bought five yoke of oxen and excused himself because he wanted to try them out. Israel had more regard for their land and possessions than for the personal invitation of the King to eat bread in the kingdom of God. Another did not even ask to be excused, but said it was impossible for him to come because he had married a wife. What kind of a wife had he married? Was she so opposed to the host that she would not permit her husband to accept his invitation? Had Israel made such unholy associations? Gentiles today make similar excuses, and continue to incur the anger of the Master of the house, for they are insults to Him who has acted in marvelous grace and kindness toward mankind, seeking their blessing and their fellowship.
The King His servant therefore into the streets and lanes of the city to call the poor (those who cannot pay), the maimed (those who cannot work), the lame (who cannot walk) and the blind (who cannot see). This describes Israelites who by the law have found themselves exposed as desolate, guilty, helpless and blind; therefore fit subjects for the grace of God.
But even this effort did not fill the Master's house (v.22), so the message was sent outside the city to the highways and hedges, for the gospel is not to be fenced in, but now is broadcast to welcome Gentiles, that is, the whole world. Also it is added here, "compel them to come in." Only the Spirit of God can compel people, which He does by the sweet compulsion of God's love, for He is the Servant in this parable.
"Servants" in Matthew 22:9 are told only to invite, not to compel, for the servants are believers whom the Lord sends to proclaim the gospel of His grace. But the solemn word is given from the Master that those who were first invited would not taste of His supper. Those who claimed be looking for the kingdom would not enter it, for they despised the kindness of the King Himself.
THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
In the supper we have seen the grace of God freely offered and commended to everyone, but discipleship costs something. While grace is altogether without charge and saves souls eternally, yet grace produces such effects as to make one willing to sacrifice his own comfort for the Lord's sake. This is discipleship. At a time when great crowds followed him, the Lord strongly admonished them. Some were attracted to Him for selfish reasons, who knew nothing of His grace in their hearts and consequently and were not prepared to respond to that grace. But if one was to really be His disciple, he must "hate" his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, and in fact his own life also. If this seems a stern, startling declaration, it is because of its real importance, once properly understood.
The hate here is not the vindictive hatred of 1John 4:20, for in that case one's hatred of his brother proved him to be a liar when he claimed to love God. But every other relationship must give way to the disciple's devotion to Christ. Christ must be first, or one is not a true disciple. One must bear his cross, virtually putting himself under the violent death of crucifixion, in honest self-judgment; that is, identifying himself willingly with Christ crucified. Other relationships will be rightly regarded and maintained only if the heart is undivided in true devotion to Him. For instance, an unbelieving father may accuse his son of hating him because the son is purposed to follow the Lord Jesus and refuses to worship his father's idols. If the world thinks this of us, then we just submit to their hostile thoughts, not showing love to their idols.
The tower being built (v.18) is symbolic of Christianity. The tower is a place of observation and a place of eminence, visible for all to see; and a place of defense. Is one prepared for these things in adopting a Christian stand? It is far wiser to count the cost of building before beginning. To honestly follow Christ is no light matter. On the other hand, one should count the cost of not following Him. Indolent self-pleasing will always end in tragic disappointment. But when one begins as a disciple of the Lord, then finds no ability to continue, he will be exposed to the ridicule of the world. Certainly the resources are not natural abilities: if we are to continue, it must be Christ who is the object of our devotion, Christ in whom are the resources for every need that may arise. In other words, let the disciple check closely on himself as to whether his confidence is fully in the One he professes to follow.
Christianity is also a warfare. A king going to war is careful to first evaluate the strength of his forces in comparison to that of the enemy (v.31). Satan is a formidable foe, having sway over the whole world (1John 5:19). Who can stand against him? The Lord Jesus did, and He overcame the world (Jn.16:33) with all the power of Satan behind it (Heb.2:14). To be His disciple, one must count upon His strength, his confidence being fully in Him, for "this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith" (1Jn.5:4). If in faith one fully counts upon the Lord, he is fully equipped to face the enemy. If one does not have this faith, he will make peace with the world, which will avoid conflict, but which will in effect make him an enemy of God (Jas.4:4)! Let one most carefully consider the issues!
The Lord then emphasized that one cannot be His disciple apart from forsaking all that he has. He does not mean that one should literally ignore his wife, his children or other natural responsibilities (1Tim.5:8), but to allow none of them to have a prior place. Christ must be first.
The seasoning of salt is involved in these things (v.34). Salt is good, though only in moderate quantities: if salt lost its seasoning savor, it would be useless. We are saved by grace, as the great supper has taught us, but grace must be seasoned with salt (Col.4:6). It seems that salt speaks of righteousness, which must necessarily accompany the grace of God. If this seasoning of righteousness is lacking in our discipleship, then grace is not rightly represented. Though it is entirely by virtue of the grace of God that we are saved, yet grace does not exclude righteousness, as though we could "continue in sin that grace may abound." Certainly grace predominates, but grace is flavored by righteousness, as is indicated in Romans 5:21, "so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.5:21). Under law the demands of righteousness dominated, now grace dominates, but righteousness is not by any means discarded. In the honest recognition of these two balancing principles there will be true discipleship. Too little salt is not good, and too much salt can be offensive.
SEEKING THE LOST SHEEP
Though discipleship to Christ is a wonderful privilege, yet man would never choose a path of true discipleship if God did not seek him first. In this chapter we see that all the blessing for man originates in the heart of God, and therefore God's great joy predominates in the repentance and restoration of sinful people.
In the person of Christ there is drawing power to bring tax gatherers and sinners to hear Him. The Pharisees and scribes resented this, and in proud self-righteousness denounced Him for receiving and eating with sinners. Sad indeed that they can discern the sin of others while blind to the sin of their own hearts.
How appropriate therefore is the parable He speaks to them. It is one parable, though in three sections, the first showing the heart of the Shepherd, the Spirit of God; the second, the heart of the Spirit of God using a woman, type of the church; and the third, the heart of the Father.
The value of one soul is great in the eyes of the Shepherd. The ninety nine were left in the wilderness while the Shepherd sought the one lost sheep until He found it. He laid it on His shoulders, bearing it home with rejoicing, and expecting his friends to rejoice with him. The simplicity of this is both attractive and easy to be interpreted, particularly when the Lord spoke of the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. The home is heaven; the recovered sheep is carried safely all the way there, dependent entirely on; the strength of the Shepherd. So the believer is perfectly secure.on the shoulders of His strength.
This is clearly the case of one who has gone far from God, lost in his sins. The ninety-nine however, do not picture believers: they were left in the wilderness, and they are said. to be those "who need no repentance." For the Lord spoke this to the Pharisees who considered themselves in no need of repentance: there was therefore no occasion of joy in heaven on their account. Only one who realizes his lost, ruined condition will appreciate the grace of God. The emphasis is on repentance. How many there are who have no concern about this whatever, so that it seems that only one out of a hundred will be brought to this self-despairing place of repentance and therefore find salvation through the seeking Shepherd. Does it not teach us that there is more real value in one repentant sinner than in nine-nine self-righteous Pharisees?
THE SILVER COIN SOUGHT AND FOUND
The woman losing and seeking the silver coin illustrates the energy and grace of the Spirit of God in seeking the lost sinner. The woman is not a picture of the Spirit, but of the Church of God in which the power of the Spirit works in seeking the lost. The lamp being lit speaks of testimony. The sweeping of the house reminds us of the broadcasting of the gospel of grace; while the diligent search is the special care of personal concern for individual souls. Wonderful it is that the Church is given the great privilege of sharing with the living God in His care for souls, and in His rejoicing in the repentance of the lost, for the lost piece of silver is clearly a picture of a lost sinner who, when found, is said to be a sinner who repents. Of course the silver itself, being inanimate, has no such feelings, but it pictures the dormant state of the unbeliever -- valuable, yet lost, and worth the labor of seeking. The woman too expected others to rejoice with her in her finding the silver. So in the presence of the angels of God there is joy in the contemplation of one sinner repenting.
THE FATHER'S LOVE
In verse 11 the two sons of a certain man do not picture true believers as sons of God, but rather those who by creation are God's offspring (Acts 17:28). In the younger son we see the publicans and sinners of verse 1, and in the elder son the self-righteous Pharisees. The younger son demanded what he could get, and went far from the father to enjoy it. Yet we must observe that the living of the father was divided between the two sons (v.12). The elder received his full share, but remained in close proximity to his father, where his living would not be squandered. But he had no real heart for his father, let alone for his brother (vs.2-30). His nearness to his father was only outward, just as was that of the Pharisees in relation to God. The elder son therefore represents Israel in all her outward blessings as the people of God, and the younger son, the Gentiles in their being without God and without hope in the world.
The Lord did not make the slightest excuse for the younger son, who indulged in riotous living. Doubtless he had many friends until he spent all his money and was reduced to poverty. His case is a striking picture of how sin brings one down. We may characterize this experience in eight words: (1) demanding -- v.12, (2) departing -- v.13, (3) dissipating -- v.13, (4) destitute -- v.14, (5) dependent -- v.15, (6) degraded -- v.15, (7) desiring -- v.16, and (8) denied -- (v.16). The independent young man had become dependent on one whom before he would have scorned, and to feed swine would be to the Pharisees a most repulsive occupation. In common with many like him, the young man came down to this, even to where he craved the husks that were good only for swine. Former friends were gone and no-one cared for him.
It is in such a case that divine grace begins its wonderful work. The young man "came to himself." He was stirred to remember his father's house with its plenty, even for servants. A change took place, and the pride of the young man was finally broken. He decided to go to his father with an honest confession, "I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son." He hoped to be taken in merely as a hired servant.
But his father saw him coming from a great distance and ran to meet him, embracing him and covering him with kisses before a word was spoken. This is the only indication in Scripture of God running. How gladly He welcomes a returning sinner! Then the son spoke the words that had been formed in his heart by the exercise of being brought so low. But the father did not even allow the last of those words to be spoken -- "make me like one of your hired servants."
Instead the father called immediately for the best robe with which to clothe him, a ring for his hand and shoes for his feet. This was no treatment for a hired servant. The best robe is Christ our righteousness, for every believer is "in Christ." The ring (being endless) speak of eternal life, but being applied to his hand indicates that eternal life has a present effect on the works of our hands. The shoes speak of protection as to our walk in the world. What wonderful provision the grace of God makes for every believer!
The fatted calf was killed that his hunger might be satisfied and that others too might eat in communion with him. The calf pictures Christ, the perfect sacrifice on whom we are privileged to feed, the solid food that gives sustenance and strength. The whole house rejoiced in the restoration of the son, but the food of that rejoicing is typically Christ and Him crucified, for this is the basis of all blessing to mankind.
Verse 24 proves that this case is one of a lost and ruined soul being brought to God and saved. He was dead, having no spiritual life, but now alive. He was lost, totally away from God, but now found. These things could not be said of a believer who simply needed restoration. "And they began to be merry." Such joy begins with conversion and goes on for eternity. But there are eight points that describe the conversion of the young man: (1) revived -- v.17, (2) remembering -- v.17, (3) resolved -- v.18, (4) repentant -- vs.18-19, (5) returning -- v.20, (6) received -- v.20, (7) restored -- (v.22), and (8) regaled -- (v.23).
However, the elder son spoiled everything for himself by his self-importance. Returning from the field (typical of the world, for the world can have a religious side too, outwardly in near proximity to God), he heard music and dancing in the house. He had not been near enough to know the father's joy, so he inquired of a servant (v.26). But the glad reception of his brother only angered him and he refused to enter the house (v.28)
The father's attitude toward the elder son was just as fully in contrast to the elder son's haughtiness as it had been in contrast to the folly of the younger son. As he had shown kindness to the returning prodigal, so he showed kindness to his critical brother, entreating him to share his own joy (v.28). How sadly self-righteous, independent and intolerant was his answer to his father! He claimed to have served him for many years, never transgressing his commandment, just as Pharisees liked to think they were rigid law-keepers. He complained that his father had never given him a kid so that he could make merry with his friends (not with his father). Yet the father had before divided his living between both sons! Again, if the son had faithfully served him, it was certainly not without renumeration! He had far more than enough to buy a young goat if he wanted it. Moreover, he would have been welcome to eat just as much of the fatted calf as did his brother. But his intolerance toward his brother was bitterly expressed. In fact there was no need of comparing himself with his brother at all, but this illustrates the pride of the Pharisees in despising Gentiles.
Let us suggest eight words also to summarize what is said of the elder son: (1) inclining -- v.25, (2) inquiring -- v.26, (3) informed -- v.27, (4) indignant -- v.28, intreated -- v.28, (6) inflated -- v.29, (7) independent -- v.29, and (8) intolerant -- v.30.
The brother did not say, "my brother," but "your son." Yet the father still addressed him as "son" and spoke to him of the younger son as "your brother." He reminded him that he was ever near to the father, sharing all the father's goods. This was true of Israel in an outward way (Rom.9:4-5), though their hearts were far from God (Mt.15:8). But the father had the last word, firmly insisting that it was appropriate that his brother's return should be an occasion of great joy, for it was virtually life from the dead, one lost being found. How penetrating a parable for the Pharisees, if they would but listen, and how encouraging a parable for a repentant sinner!
A PARABLE AS TO THE USE OF THE MASTER'S GOODS
Now the Lord turned to address His disciples. For though it is pure grace that saves and finds deep delight in the repentance of a sinner, yet God's wise government is not ignored in the case of one wasting His goods, as the prodigal had done. The steward (one employed to care for his master's goods) in this chapter had proven unfaithful. The goods (the unrighteous mammon -- v.11) are earthly possessions entrusted to the hands of the steward, that is, to all mankind. Sad to say, all of Adam's race has been guilty of wasting our Master's goods. For who would dare to say that he had used all his material possessions honestly for God? Pharisees are no less guilty of this than are prodigals. "The unrighteous mammon" refers to all material possessions including money.
The steward was called to give an account, and was given notice that he has forfeited his stewardship. Just so, because of Adam's sin he was sentenced to death, "and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom.5:12). We have forfeited all title to any place on earth. In the case of each individual, the actual putting out of the stewardship is at death; meanwhile we are still in possession of our Master's goods. How shall we use them? Would the restored prodigal not have serious thoughts as to how he ought to use his father's goods after he had been shown such kindness?
The steward pondered what was his wisest course, not with the object of pleasing his master, but to care for his own interests. Having no other promise of employment, he was clever enough to devise a plan that would benefit himself and please his master. Being evidently in the place of a credit manager, the steward used his wits effectively in providing for his future. He called his employer's debtors and offered to them the kindness of reducing their debts if they would simply write a check out for the reduced amount. In this way he collected what might have remained outstanding bad debts, so his employer was benefited by it. His motives were not those of love for his employer, nor for his debtors either, but entirely selfish, for he counted on the debtors showing him kindness in return when he was discharged. The man was plainly an "unjust steward" since he used his master's goods with his own benefit in view, but his master commended him because he realized some present gain from what might have been otherwise uncollectible.
Thus, unjust men of the world are far-sighted enough to use what they have with a view of benefiting in the future on earth. In their own generation they are wiser than the children of light (v.8). The children of light know they are to be put out of this world entirely, and have accepted God's decree as to this. But do we use our possession with eternity in view? Sadly, we easily forget that all we have has been entrusted to us by God only for a brief time. We should therefore use "the mammon of unrighteousness" to "make friends." This term, "mammon of unrighteousness" is used because our earthly possessions are too commonly used in an unrighteous and selfish way, not that our possessions are unrighteous in themselves.
Notice that the steward used these things in showing kindness to others. God can commend this, though certainly He cannot commend motives of selfishness. Are we using in an honestly unselfish way that with which God has entrusted us for our brief time on earth? It is only our wisdom to do so in view of "an everlasting home" (v.9). How much better to have friends for eternity than those who can benefit us on earth! "When you fail" (v.9) refers to when we die, as is indicated also in our being "put out of the stewardship" (v.4).
Those things of "least" importance, our earthly possessions, test us as to whether we are faithful. If we are faithful that in using these things, then it is a safe conclusion that we will be faithful in our use of much more. If one has not proven faithful in these passing things, then who would trust him with the true riches, that is, infinitely higher spiritual blessings?
Or, put in another way, if we have not proven faithful in using another's goods, can we expect to be given that which is our own? "Another's goods" are those which God has allowed us to use on earth for the time being, but we cannot call them our own, for we only have them in trust. But "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" are given to the believer today: they are his own because he will keep them for eternity. This is in contrast to what we have only for a time on earth.
This lesson is summed up pointedly in verse 13. There is no true service to two masters at the same time. The world serves mammon, material things: the believer is a servant of God. Let the lines be clearly drawn: the believer is not wise if he tries to serve both masters. It will not work. Pharisees made a show of serving God, while all the time being mere servants of mammon. They were not believers at all.
SELF-EXPOSURE OF THE PHARISEES
The Pharisees could not conceal their irritation at the Lord's words, and thus they derided Him. This exposed their covetousness -- their greed for the mammon of unrighteousness -- and He spoke directly to them as being those who, desiring men's approval, did not consider that God knew their hearts, and their deceit would be exposed (v.15). What men esteem highly is often an abomination in the sight of God. Our great God discerns every motive of every heart.
The law had promised earthly blessings on condition of obedience, and the Pharisees were clinging desperately to the desire for those blessings without obedience. Now the dispensation was changing. John the Baptist was the last of the prophets under law. Now the kingdom of God was preached, and for one to enter it, he had to force his way in the face of opposition from the scribes and Pharisees (see. J.N.D. translation). This kingdom did not promise present wealth for its subjects. In fact, "blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt.5:3).
Yet this was not because the law had failed: it had not, but man under it had proven a total failure. The law is the word of God: not one iota of it can fail, though all temporal things (heaven and earth) pass away.
The Lord added verse 18 because the Pharisees took advantage of what the law had said, to allow divorce for virtually any cause. Deuteronomy 24:1 had required a man, if putting away his wife, to give her a bill of divorcement (Mt.19:3-9). But the Lord calls divorce and remarriage adultery (though Matthew 19:9 gives the one exception); and if one were to marry a woman divorced from her husband, he committed adultery. This is evidently a case where the first husband had not remarried, for adultery is the violation of the marriage bond. The world shows no regard for God's thoughts as to marriage and divorce, but a believer should be most careful to honor God in marriage, with the firm intention of proving consistently faithful. Then the only permission he can find for divorce in Scripture is if his spouse is guilty of fornication. If one is divorced by his spouse, then let him make sure from Scripture that his circumstances allow him to marry again.
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
All these matters in the previous verses have to do with the fact that what men esteem highly is often abomination in God's sight. This is emphasized by the record of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man, clothed in purple (that is, living as a king) and fine linen (the assuming of at least outward moral righteousness, as did the Pharisees), partook of the finest food every day. Such luxury in Israel was considered a sign of God's approval: but how far this is from the truth! The poor man, Lazarus, was laid at the rich man's gate, full of sores. His condition ought to have awakened sympathy and concern. But even his desire to have only the crumbs from the rich man's table was evidently ignored. The dogs had more sympathy for him than did the man of wealth. (Is there not a hint here that Gentile "dogs" had more heart than did the self-righteous Pharisees?)
However, what a reversal at death! "The rich man died and was buried." The poor man, Lazarus, died also. The rich man's name is not told us: it was not worth remembering. Whether Lazarus had a burial or not is of no importance, for, as to his spirit and soul, he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. This tells us that his faith had been in the living God, for he is "blessed with faithful Abraham" (Gal.3:9). Jews considered this their natural title, but the rich man found he had no such title at all, as many Jews will find to their regret. The rich man may have had a beautiful, imposing funeral, but it made no difference to his condition of torment after death.
The rich man's body was in a grave, but he lifted up his eyes in "hades," which speaks of the condition of his soul and spirit as separated from his body. Hades is an unseen state, and does not refer to a place, just as death refers to a state, not a place (as is popularly believed). But there was a great distance between him and Abraham. Each was in a place, but the place of the rich man was a place of torment, and that of Lazarus a place of blessing. The rich man pled for mercy, but too late! He asked only that Lazarus might be sent to merely dip his finger in water and cool his tongue, for the heat of the judgment he must bear was tormenting. Did he remember that he had shown no mercy to Lazarus in his lifetime?
Abraham reminded him that in his lifetime he had had his good things and Lazarus evil things. He had lived only for this life. How fatal a mistake! Now Lazarus was comforted and he was tormented. The body had no part in this, for it is the intermediate state between death and resurrection that is involved here -- the time the body is in the grave. But there was conscious comfort for the spirit and soul of one, conscious torment for the other.
Abraham solemnly reminded the rich man of his past and that of Lazarus, and adds beside this that at death a great gulf has been fixed between the saved and the lost, so it is impossible for any cross over from one side to the other. All the prayers for the dead that man's "religion" can devise are useless. At death there is no doubt as to a man's final destiny: it has been decided.
Then the tormented man prayed for his five brothers who were still living, desiring that Lazarus might return from death to testify to them, that they might be saved from so dreadful an end. Abraham answered that they had Moses and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament Scriptures: let them believe what God had written for their benefit. The formerly rich man objects that this was really not sufficient: they needed the evidence of such a miracle as one returning from death, to convince them to repent.
The answer to this is most solemn and decisive. No miracle, however great, will persuade one to repent if he has chosen to ignore the clear Word of God. The Old Testament bears abundant testimony to warn men of the folly of pursuing a self -- centered, independent course. To ignore this is a bold insult to their Creator. If the moral power of the Word of God accomplishes no moral result in them, then physical miracles also will produce no moral result.
A little later another Lazarus did come back from the dead (Jn.11:43-44)! Did men believe? No, they determined to put Lazarus to death again (Jn.12:10-11)
GRACE IN VIEW OF OFFENSES
We have seen the grace of God clearly and beautifully declared, yet the world rejecting it. The Lord Jesus then spoke to His disciples. What should be their attitude in view of the reality of this marvelous grace, and in view of the fact that it was commonly despised? No matter how greatly grace may be abused, we are called upon to maintain it always in its fresh purity and truth in every personal relationship. Offenses (or causes of stumbling) will arise: there is no doubt of this; but the ignoring of grace is to blame. "Woe to him through whom they (offenses) do come!" Are we as sensitive to such evil as to agree that death by drowning is better than our being the cause of stumbling little ones (v.2)?
If grace is not operative in another, this does not excuse any lack of grace on my part. In the case of personal trespass, grace wilt rebuke the offender, not haughtily, but in genuine love, for it is not grace or love to allow sin to continue. If there is repentance, then grace fully forgives. Lest we should set a limit if the offense is repeated, the Lord insists on forgiving seven times in a day, so long as the offender turns again to the offended in repentance (v.4).FAITH AND SERVICE
It is little wonder that the apostles ask in such a case, "Lord, increase our faith," for grace and faith are inseparable companions. Only faith can draw the resources of God's grace. The Lord answered that if their faith was only as large as a tiny mustard seed, their word could root up "this mulberry tree" (which is noted for its deep, spreading roots), and cause it to be planted in the sea. Evidently He was referring to the deep-rooted sin that re-asserts itself even seven times in a day. There is such power in the grace of God, when laid hold of by faith, as to root out and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Certainly this is naturally impossible, but faith recognizes that God's grace is greater than every obstacle: it depends on God.
Verses 7 to 10 remind us that we must be servants, not masters. Faith does not act independently, but in obedience to God and His Word. One may say he has faith to do great things, but if those things are not definitely the will of God, his claim is not faith at all. As servants we must keep a servant's place: this is vital when seeking to act by faith. A servant may be working in the field, plowing or feeding cattle (typical of gospel work and pastoral work connected with men), but when coming in to his master's house he was still a servant, and in Israel he was then to serve his master before receiving his own meal. Let us take this principle to heart. Whatever good work we may have done for the blessing of others, this does not entitle us to a higher place than servants. Rather, such work should be followed by direct service to the Lord Himself, that is, a spirit of submissive communion and worship that puts His pleasure first.
When a servant has done what the master commanded, does he expect special recognition, special thanks and praise? No! He simply did what was normally expected of him. So we too, after we have done all that was commanded us, have no reason to expect to be the objects of God's special favor: it is better to think of ourselves as unprofitable servants, for we know we could have done more. Real profit would be in doing more than what was commanded out of honest love for our Lord; and when such a thing is true we would never think of boasting of it. On the other hand, if we have not done all that has been commanded, what kind of servants are we? We saw in verses 1-4 a forgiving spirit, now in verses 5-10 a humble spirit, which is also a becoming feature of the knowledge of the grace of God in a world that rejects that grace.
TEN LEPERS CLEANSED
Now in verses 11 to 19 a thankful spirit is added. The Lord passed through Samaria and Galilee enroute to Jerusalem. Notice that Luke puts Samaria first, though Galilee was the more distant from Jerusalem. It is another reminder that Luke does not write chronologically, but uses a moral order. At one of the villages along the way, ten lepers pled for mercy, though they spoke from a long distance because of their sad physical condition. The Lord Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, for it was the priests in Israel who were to judge as to whether one's leprosy was cured (Lev.14:1-3). As the lepers went in obedience to His word, they experienced the great miracle of the healing of their leprosy. One can imagine their excitement as they saw the miracle take place before their eyes!
One of them realized immediately that the Lord Jesus was entitled to a place higher than the priests; and while he probably went to them later, yet he gave the Lord first place by turning back and loudly glorifying God, falling at the Lord's feet with thanksgiving. Here was spontaneous, genuine appreciation of the Benefactor. Grace was rightly received and realized: whatever others did, he would express his unfeigned thankfulness before satisfying men's judgment as to his being healed. It is added that he was a Samaritan (v.15).
We may be sure the Lord valued this response; but He asked "where are the nine?" How easy it is to be glad for what one receives while having virtually no appreciation of the Giver! Sad, selfish condition! Also, at least some of the nine were Jews, because the Lord spoke of the Samaritan as "this stranger," so even Jews, being blessed as they were by Him, had still no real heart for their Messiah!
The Samaritan received from the Lord an assurance given to none of the others, "you faith has made you well." The Lord was clearly not referring to the man's physical condition, for the nine others also had been healed, even apart from faith. The man was spiritually heated, brought in reality of faith to God, and given this precious assurance. Again, only faith can rightly appreciate and respond to the pure grace of God.
THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Verses 20-37 show that grace produces a watchful spirit in those who know it, and who know grace has been refused by the world. The Pharisees demanded to know when the kingdom of God should come. Very likely they hoped that He would give an opinion as to which they might be able to find Him wrong. How little were they prepared for His answer! He told them that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. This truth was paramount for the time: the kingdom of God was among them (marginal reading), and they did not observe it. For what is a kingdom without a king? The King Himself was there, the Son of Man; and there were some at least whose hearts had been drawn in subjection to His authority, without display, without ostentation. While the millennial kingdom will be introduced in great power and glory, observed by all creation, yet God's kingdom was and is now being formed in a vital, moral, quiet way by hearts responding to the lowly grace of Him who is King, but asserting no claims to a throne at present. The Pharisees, however, looked for the kingdom while refusing the King!
The Lord then addressed His disciples. There were days in the future that would cause a yearning for one of the days of the Son of Man, that is, His coming in great power to deliver His people Israel from the terrible throes of the great tribulation.
Because the time would seem long (and indeed almost 2000 years have gone by), there would be deceivers to ensnare souls with false hopes: "see here, or see there," that is, some plausible substitute for the promise of the Messiah. The disciples were warned to refuse to follow such things. For when the Son of Man comes to reign it will be as apparent as lightning flashing across the sky. While this will introduce the millennial kingdom, yet notice that the emphasis is not on the kingdom, but on the King Himself, the Son of Man.
They were not to expect this coming in the near future. First the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected, which would involve His being put to death. How long this rejection would continue is not suggested at all, yet this has continued following His resurrection for almost 2,000 years, and verse 26 is still future.
Events leading up to His coming to reign will not impress the world as being unduly spectacular. Normal living will continue as it did in the time of Noah, although (as in Noah's day) in a time of great evil and distress, which Scripture calls the great tribulation (Rev.7:14). Certainly people were aware of the testimony of Noah as to judgment, and there will be no lack of testimony then also, but people of the world will continue in an independent way, still concentrating on the material things of life, eating and drinking and marrying -- things not wrong in themselves, but too often the only object of men's existence. Forgetting God, they will be suddenly shocked by His unexpected intervention in their affairs as He comes to judge them (2 Thes.5:3).
Similar things are said as to the days of Lot, when men were occupied with their own prosperity and pleasure. We know in fact from the history (Gen.19:4-10) that Sodom was also guilty of the dreadful moral corruption of homosexuality, but the Lord only spoke here of their concentration on living for this life (v.28), adding to the previous verse that they bought, sold, planted and built, which things indicate their preparation for continued living on earth, but with no concern for eternity. But when believing Lot went out of Sodom (practically dragged out), the city was suddenly destroyed by fire and brimstone (burning sulfur) from heaven.
Such will be the sudden intervention of the Son of Man when He is revealed in power and glory at the end of the great tribulation (Rev.19:11-21). As in the case of Lot, when the signs become evident as to judgment, let no one linger, even to collect his belongings before fleeing. "Remember Lot's wife." She had gotten outside of Sodom, but looked back and became a pillar of salt (Gen.19:26). She was not decisive but half-hearted in leaving Sodom. The Lord was pressing a moral lesson for all mankind, as is usual in Luke; though this refers to the same time as does Matthew 24:16-18, for when judgment sweeps over the land of Judea it will be sudden and swift, and following immediately in the wake of the setting up of "the abomination of desolation," an idolatrous image, in the temple area of Jerusalem.
One who sought to save his life would lose it, because he considered his possessions his life (v.33). This is a moral lesson for all times, but to be strikingly seen at that future time of the tribulation. God, in view of and prior to the revelation of the Son of Man, will use the ungodly to carry out His own discriminative judgment. Of two men sleeping in one bed, one will be taken in death, the other spared for blessing. Of two women grinding together, one will be killed, the other spared, her life preserved (v.35). Verse 36 is not included in most Greek manuscripts, so there is a question as to its being scripture. In fact, since the subject is prefaced "in that night," it is hardly likely that men would be working in the field. But the emphasis of this whole portion is on the fact of God so overruling the sweeping carnage of the land of Israel that those will be singled out for death whom He has decreed to die.
To answer the question as to where the one in each case is taken, the Lord spoke of the eagles being gathered together where the body is. In other words, when judgment is called for, God will have the executors of that judgment prepared to carry it out.
GRACE PRODUCING PERSISTENT PRAYER
This section connects with the subjects of chapter 17. We have seen in the four sections of that chapter that the gospel of grace produces in the believer a spirit that is (1) forgiving; (2) humble; (3) thankful; and (4) watchful. To complete this list, a prayerful spirit is now added.
Nothing should at any time discourage our consistency in prayer. The parable the Lord used as to this is most instructive. The judge He spoke of was in no way a commendable character, having no fear of God and unfeeling as regards men. Whether the woman who came to him had a just cause against her adversary is not told us, for likely this did not affect the judge one way or the other. He was simply not interested and therefore would do nothing for the woman at first. But when she continued presenting her case to him, he decided to give judgment in her favor, just so he would not be bothered by her any more. The Lord insists that he was unjust.
Notice, however that she was a widow with no husband to take up her case. Helplessly, she depended on the judge; and though unjust, he finally acted on her behalf, out of mere selfish motives.
God's elect, virtually helpless in a persecuting world, have only God to depend upon. Their cause is right, and God is absolute in justice and truth. Is He less dependable than a selfish judge? Let His own cry day and night to Him, never discouraged because the time seems long, for He will speedily act on their behalf, though He bears long as to the injustice of others against them. Because He is long-suffering toward the ungodly, He uses this also to teach us longsuffering, yet at the same time He encourages constant prayer and supplication, which He will answer in proper time.
"Nevertheless," He adds, "when the Son of Man comes, will He find really faith on the earth" (v.8)? This is His coming in power and glory at the end of the great tribulation. The godly remnant will have cried pleadingly to God. Will the Son of Man find the faith that has confidently expected an answer such as His coming brings? It is a question to exercise hearts to fully expect an answer.
THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
Verse 9 introduces another subject which ends with verse 34, and is a summing up of things that have gone before, as in the presence of God, prior to the last great division of the book of Luke, which begins with verse 35. Verses 9 to 14 form a first part of the larger subject, which shows in four parts that people must have to do with God, and upon principles that cannot be ignored.
First (vs.9-14) one must have a righteousness far superior to that of the Pharisees. The Lord's parable was spoken to those whose confidence was in their own self-righteousness and who therefore despised others, two things that go together. The Pharisee and the tax collector are put in total contrast. In fact, the Pharisees favored such contrast. The Pharisee prayed "with himself," but addressed "God;" for his god was really himself, and his prayer is an expression of pride in not being like certain other men, including the tax collector. But what special merit is there in not being an extortioner, unjust, or an adulterer? Thousands of others avoid these things just because of the folly of them. The Pharisee prided himself also on missing two meals out of 21, and giving tithes of all his possessions. In his eyes these things so outweigh his sins that he did not even mention that he was guilty of any.
The tax gatherer however, stood afar off, his eyes cast down in self-judgment. He spoke of nothing whatever in his own favor (though possibly he might have had just as much to boast of as did the Pharisee). He pled only for mercy from God, confessing himself to be "the sinner" (JND). It is no question of how bad a sinner he was, but of the fact of being a sinner. Of course the fact was just as true of the Pharisee, but he chose to cover it up by talking about what sins he did not commit.
The Lord assures us that the man who faced facts honestly in the light of God's pure truth went to his house justified, rather than the other. The seIf-righteousness of the Pharisee left him in a state of no righteousness whatever, not justified, but actually under condemnation. The honest self-condemnation of the tax collector resulted in God counting him righteous, for his being justified means just this, that God has imputed righteousness to him because he admittedly had none of his own, but had faith in the living God. Compare Romans 4:1-8. The Lord sealed this by re-affirming a principle so constantly outstanding throughout scripture, that one who exalts himself shall be abased, while he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Satan is a striking example of the first, while the Lord Jesus is the supreme example of the latter. This is the first principle of our having to do with God.
GRACE TO LITTLE CHILDREN
Now, in this second section, added to a character humbling of oneself before God is a genuine concern for the most helpless and dependent of God's creatures, for if we lack this we do not rightly know the heart of God. The disciples exposed their ignorance of God's heart by rebuking those who brought infants to the Lord for His blessing by the touch of His hand. But it was the disciples who needed rebuke. He called those who brought the children (for it seems they were already going away because of the disciples' rebuke) and encouraged the little ones to come to Him, "for of such is the kingdom of God." So there is no question that families of believers have their place in the kingdom of God. We could not say the same of the Assembly of God, the Church, for all in the Church must be born again and indwelt by the Spirit of God.
The Lord concluded this subject with declaring that the kingdom, rather than for self-important men, is opened only to those who enter as little children. The lowliness of honest, dependent faith is imperative in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom one has to do with God, the kingdom being that sphere where God's authority is paramount, therefore calling for a spirit of unquestioning subjection and obedience.
THE RICH YOUNG RULER
These verses show that God must be first in priority. Our possessions of whatever sort must not be allowed to take His place in the heart. If we have not learned this, we have not learned aright the wonder of the grace of God. The ruler who questioned the Lord Jesus was concerned about inheriting eternal life and he recognized that there was in Christ a goodness that could not be denied. Yet it was not enough to realize that Christ is a good teacher. He needed to understand more than this concerning the Lord. So the Lord asked him why he called Him good, reminding him that only God is good. Of course Jesus is good because He is God manifest in flesh, but the ruler sadly discerned nothing of His true glory, for he was thinking, not of what God is, but of his own doings. But his doings could have nothing to do with inheriting eternal life: for this he must be born again. But the Lord did not speak of this: rather He referred to the standard God had given as regards people's doings, that is, the ten commandments. The ruler knew these, but did not consider that he needed something outside of his own good works.
As to these commandments, he said he had kept them from his youth up. No doubt, compared to others he had done well in this regard. But how little he knew of his own heart in the sight of God! For like all others, he had sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23), but was insensible to this solemn fact.
The Lord did not tell him that he had come short: rather He used a wise method designed to awaken the man to a sense of his sin in such a way as to drive him back to the Lord. Because the ruler only thought of what he should do, therefore the Lord gave him something to do. Whatever may be the man's virtues, the Lord told him he lacked one thing. That thing was a genuine faith in the person of Christ. It is faith that is sternly tested in the Lord's instructions, to sell what he had, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and with confidence of treasure in heaven, follow the Lord.
If he thought of Christ only as a good teacher, we can understand him not responding favorably to this. He was very sorrowful, for he was very rich. Many indeed there are who choose their riches rather than the blessed Son of God. The Lord knew his riches were a hindrance and therefore spoke as He did. Whether or not the ruler later turned to the Lord we do not know, but he had been given enough to cause him serious exercise of heart.
The Lord warned His listeners of the danger of riches hindering one's entrance into the kingdom of God. It was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (vs.25). The suggestion that the simile of a camel going through the eye of a needle had reference to a small gate through which a camel could not go without unloading may be rather attractive to some, but no reliable historian substantiates this concept. In fact, the Lord says it is impossible with men, but possible with God, indicating that this is naturally an impossibility. His hearers were astonished at His words, for riches were considered to be a sign of God's favor in Israel, but such favor can easily be turned into an occasion for self-satisfaction. Riches are not a sign of God's favor today.
FUTURE BLESSING BUT PRESENT SUFFERING
In this section we see that a true recognition of God's gracious supremacy will always result in the greatest blessing for mankind. The ruler needed this. Peter contrasted himself and the other apostles with the ruler by asserting that they had left everything to follow the Lord. The Lord Jesus however did not flatter Peter for this, but gave the solid assurance that anyone who leaves his own possessions or his natural relatives for the kingdom of God's sake will receive many times as much even in this present world, and the infinite blessing of eternal life in the age to come. The Lord did not speak of material blessings, but that which is much more vital and valuable, as indeed is the present joy and blessing of the grace of the Lord Jesus, the sweetness of communion with Himself.
Although there is eternal blessing for the believer and also spiritual blessing in the present time, yet our present blessing will be mixed with suffering and rejection in this world. The Lord spoke to the twelve (vs.31-34), taking them aside. Jesus, the true Servant of God, would do nothing to avoid the suffering He foretold: He (and the disciples with Him) would go determinately to Jerusalem with the object of having all things accomplished that were written as to His sufferings and death. The Son of Man was taking His directions from His God and Father, in fullest obedience. The leaders of His own nation Israel would deliver Him into the hands of Gentiles, to be subjected to mockery, violence and contempt, then to be scourged and crucified.
The Lord's words were clear and explicit, and no less clear was His addition, "and the third day He shall rise again." Nor was it the first time He told them this. Compare chapter 9:21-22. Yet nothing of His sufferings, death and resurrection registered in their minds. Indeed, when He died, none of the disciples remembered even then His assurance that He would be raised the third day, though unbelievers remembered it (Mt.27:62-63). The disciples were blinded by their own natural preconceptions.
THE BLIND BEGGAR AT JERICHO
Verse 35 begins the third and last great division of the book of Luke, as the Lord is about to present Himself in Jerusalem for the accomplishment of His matchless work of redemption. The blind beggar sitting by the wayside near Jericho is a striking reminder of the condition of Israel which only His sacrifice could posibly change. The Lord's healing of the man is a picture of His healing the blindness of the remnant of Israel in the coming day when they turn to Him.
The noise of the crowd stirred the interest of this blind man, who is told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. But he did not use that term, for Nazareth was a place despised by the Jews. Rather, he cried out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (v.38). He recognized in Christ the glory of the true King of Israel, and he asked for nothing on the ground of his deserving it, but pled only for mercy. Such a cry is always sufficient to cause the Lord to stand still. He commanded that the man be brought to Him. Notice how God sees fit to reduce a sinner to such a state as to be dependent on the help of others, for pride must be broken down.
Then the Lord asked him what he wanted (v.41). It was useless for him to speak as the rich ruler had done, "What shall I do?" (v.18). He knew he could do nothing to give himself sight. Nor did he say, "Good Teacher," but "Lord, that I may receive my sight." He took his own place of helplessness, gave the Lord the supreme place of authority, and depended on His mercy. So it will be with the remnant of Israel in a coming day, a great contrast indeed to their present pride in "going about to establish their own righteousness" (Rom.10:3).
He was answered immediately by the amazing miracle of receiving his sight, a work which no other had ever done before this blessed Messiah of Israel had come (Jn.10:32). But as well as receiving his natural sight, he was told by the Lord that his faith had saved him. This went far deeper than his natural healing, for many were healed who showed no evidence of faith at all. The man's soul was saved, for his faith was in the Lord Jesus. More than this, he was so attracted to the Lord that they followed Him, though this meant the long, steep climb to Jerusalem -- about a 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) ascent in a distance of 13 miles (21km). The common people, seeing the great miracle, gave praise to God, as Israel yet will do.
ZACCHAEUS RECEIVING THE LORD JESUS
There was yet another man to be rescued from Jericho, the city of the curse (Josh.6:26). The Lord, in faithful grace, passed through that city, an available Savior for all, but responded to by only a few, for Jericho is a picture of the attractive world that He was about to leave by way of death. Zacchaeus was a rich man among the tax collectors, but his riches did not satisfy him. Hearing of Jesus, he desired to see Him, drawn by the question in his mind as to the person of the Lord, not with desire to see a miracle done by Him.
The obstacle of his physical shortness did not hinder him, for faith will overcome obstacles. It produced the energy to climb a sycamore tree (v.4). How little he anticipated that the Lord would even notice him in the tree, let alone stop and speak to him by name, telling him to make haste and come down. It was the call of sovereign grace, powerful and real, with the addition that He must come to the little man's house. We may well marvel at the delight of the Lord's heart in coming personally into the home of one in whose heart His grace had worked to awaken faith. Zacchaeus responded without delay, rejoicing in receiving this Guest so infinitely great.
But many witnesses were present with strong criticism of the Lord for partaking of the hospitality of a man they considered a sinner because he was a tax collector for the Roman government. These critics were religious Jews, jealous of the reputation of their own nation. In answer to these accusations Zacchaeus told the Lord that he gave half of his goods to the poor, and if by false accusation he had taken more from any man than was fair, he restored this fourfold. It is possible that by mistake he exacted an unfair amount, and later restored fourfold, but there is no doubt that he was telling the truth, for the Lord would certainly have exposed a falsehood. How many of Zacchaeus' accusers could have honestly said the same?
Yet he did not have to tell the Lord of his good works: the Lord knew well every detail concerning these. Moreover, his works had nothing to do with his salvation, for the Lord said that salvation had come to his house that very day, not when he was doing his good works (v.9). For Christ Himself is salvation (Lk.2:27-30); and salvation came to Zacchaeus because he was a son of Abraham. The meaning of being a son of Abraham is clearly told us in Galatians 3:7: "those who are of faith are sons of Abraham." Then the Lord added a statement that sweeps completely away all thought of Zacchaeus deserving any blessing from God; and yet gives assurance that the blessing was his: "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (v.10). This salvation was entirely by the grace of the Son of Man who had sought and found a lost sinner.
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN MINAS
Although salvation is according to grace, yet we must have the balancing truth that reward is according to works. This fact is seen in this section. Because the Lord was nearing Jerusalem, and the crowd thought this meant that the Kingdom of God would be immediately established, He spoke a parable to correct this misconception.
The nobleman going into a far country indicates that the Lord Jesus would leave this world in view of receiving a kingdom in the future, and returning. The disciples themselves had no conception of the Lord leaving and returning, for they expected Him to take His royal throne on His current trip to Jerusalem. But the kingdom and glory must be delayed, though in another form the kingdom of God would exist in the midst of a contrary world. This other form is called "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev.1:9), the King Himself being absent, but His blessed authority recognized by those true to Him in the midst of circumstances contrary to the coming glorious display of His millennial kingdom.
The ten servants of the nobleman (v.13) speak of those in the place of responsible testimony given us today, as disciples called upon to fulfill a sacred trust of representing Him in His absence. For the words, "Occupy till I come" imply that they are to occupy His place of testimony till He comes. How serious and holy a trust! Each is given the same amount of money, in contrast to Matthew 25:15, where talents given to each differ in number according to ability. The talents speak of varying spiritual gifts given to disciples, while it would seem that the pounds (or minas) picture "the faith which was once delivered to the saints?" (Jude 3), and of which, as to an individual, we read, "0 Timothy, guard what was committed to your trust" (1Tim.6:20). This is the sacred truth of God, that which is capable of giving great increase as we rightly use it. As to this, each servant has the same resources with which to trade.
But a word is inserted here as to the citizens of this nobleman so hating him as to send a message after him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." When Christ was raised from the dead and returned to glory, this harsh message was sent by Israel early in the book of Acts in their determined persecution of those who preached Christ, including the murder of Stephen. The very scene then of our trading with the truth of God is one in which we may expect persecution.
However, nothing can hinder Christ receiving His kingdom and returning in power and glory. Then He will reward His servants. There is no reason here to speak of the Lord's coming first to rapture His saints into His presence. This is passed over, for reward is connected with the kingdom, not with the rapture. The reckoning here is to determine how much has been gained by trading and pictures how much we have gained by use of the Word of God committed to us.
One servant is said to have gained one thousand percent, and another five hundred percent. Each of these servants is commended and given a commensurate reward -- the one, authority over ten cities, the other, over five cities. This large sphere of authority is because of faithfulness "in a very little"; that is, the servant has proven trustworthy and in the millennial kingdom he will have this degree of public prominence.
But one servant made no gain whatever. His excuse was foolish, both showing his critical attitude against the nobleman, which was unjustified, and his stupidity in not at least depositing the mina in the bank, since he did consider his master as "austere." He was judged out of his own mouth. This is the case of one who claims to be a Christian, but has no true respect for the Lord Jesus: he is not a child of God at all. He may have a Bible, but keeps it unopened on a shelf. It does not mean enough to him to cause him to share its precious truths with others because he has a critical attitude toward its Author.
The man therefore lost what he had been entrusted with, and it was given to the man who had the ten minas. Notice the parenthesis of verse 25, "But they said to him, Master, he has ten minas". The man had gained the ten minas for his master, and though it rightly belonged to his master when he brought it to him, yet the servant was still in possession of it! He had been allowed to keep it! What we gain honestly for the Lord we really gain for ourselves. How far He is from being an austere master! Indeed, this man was rewarded with all he had gained, plus the Lord's commendation, plus authority over ten cities, plus the mina for which the other man had no proper respect! The one who proves faithful in valuing what God gives will receive more: he who places no value on God's grace will lose even that with which he might have gained more.
The final judgment will come for the outright enemies of the Lord, who did not want Him to reign over them. They will be slain before Him (v.27). But the unfaithful servant will share in this judgment too, for he had virtually taken the same stand as they. The judgment is swift and immediate, with no delay and no appeal, but according to simple, plain truth.
PRESENTED AS KING IN JERUSALEM
The Lord Jesus had declared plainly the glorious end in view of His supremacy in reigning. Now He proceeds purposefully toward that end, though this meant by way of rejection and death. Nearing Bethphage -- meaning "the house of unripe figs" typical of Israel's being unprepared to receive Him; and Bethany -- meaning "the house of affliction" -- picturing His treatment by His own people; He sent two of His disciples to a nearby village where they immediately found an unbroken colt tied, which they were told to bring to Him,. Only the Lord could give such instructions, for all things are His property; for another to do this would be stealing. No difficulty presented itself, for the words, "the Lord has need of him" settled the matter even for the owners, who at first questioned the disciples.
A most unusual and striking scene then unfolds. Clothing from the people was put on the animal for the Lord to ride upon: other garments were spread on the ground in the way for the donkey to walk on, as symbolizing the submission of the people to this blessed, though lowly Messiah of Israel. He did not ride on a war horse, as He will when coming in judgment (Rev.19:11), but on a lowly donkey's colt, for He was presented in grace, offering peace, if peace would be received. The Spirit of God mightily moved the mass of disciples in praise to God for this One whose works had proven the glory of His person. They declared that He was the King come in the name of Jehovah.
But the Lord was the King rejected by earth, for it was no longer said "on earth peace" (Lk.2:14), but "peace in heaven and glory in the highest." The Prince of peace would return to heaven by way of death and resurrection, and peace would now be available only in heaven, not on earth, which God would give up to its state of hostility against the true King. This giving up would result in unceasing trouble and distress for all the present day of grace, until the King will be revealed in power and glory. The disciples did not understand this, but it was the Spirit of God who caused them to speak as they did.
Some of the Pharisees resented this adulation given to the Lord Jesus, and wanted Him to rebuke His disciples. If He had not been Israel's true King they would have had reason for objecting, but the Lord silenced their objections by implying that the disciples were energized by the Spirit of God to speak, and if they would not speak, then God would make even the stones to immediately cry out. How true it is that if people will not give true honor to the Son of God, this will not stop God from using any means He pleases to glorify His Son.
WEEPING OVER JERUSALEM
Though the Lord's ride on the young donkey has been called His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it is with no such feelings that He viewed the city. He wept, for Jerusalem was not prepared to receive Him: it was ignorant of the things that belonged to its peace. Just as is true of the world today, men wanted peace, but were so blinded as to not recognize the necessary requirements for peace. These were centered in the person of the Lord Jesus, the Prince of peace, but because of unbelief those things necessary for peace were hid from Israel's eyes (v.42). Prophetically the Lord pronounced upon Jerusalem the terrible alternative to peace -- that it would be made the prey of its enemies, subjected to oppression, siege and destruction. This judgment fell in the year 70AD, for they did not recognize God's time of visiting them in the person of His Son (v.44).
CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
For the second time (Jn.2:13-17) the Lord found in the temple those who bought and sold, and again He acted with firm decision for His Father's glory in expelling them from His Father's house. His words were solemn and scathing: God's house was a house of prayer, but men were showing their contempt for God promoting their selfish practices there, taking advantage of those who came for prayer. He did not hesitate to accuse these merchants of making God's house a den of thieves (v.46).
By this time the chief priests and scribes had fully purposed to kill the Lord, and they sought opportunity for this. But He taught daily in the temple during these days before His apprehension. They could do nothing until God allowed it. The Lord Jesus continued to act for God in the face of their resentment and enmity. The people were attentive to His words, and on this account the leaders were fearful of arresting Him lest it would provoke the people to riot. The fear of God was of little importance to them, but the fear of man and the pride of self-righteousness always go hand in hand.
AUTHORITY:FROM HEAVEN OR OF MEN?
The chief priests and scribes used every means they could to discredit the Lord Jesus among the people. While He was teaching and preaching in the temple, they planned a determined attack to challenge His right to do as He did. What authority did He have for teaching a preaching in the temple, and who gave Him this authority? Their thoughts were earthbound, for they thought of no authority but that of man, and this was the very snare that trapped them.
With admirable wisdom the Lord responded by also asking them a question. >From what source did John the Baptist receive his authority to baptize: was it from heaven or from man? Though they had ignored it, yet they could not escape the fact that heaven's authority is far superior to man's. But if they admitted the truth that John's baptism was from heaven, they would condemn themselves for not believing him, but if they were to lie and say it was from men, then they would be in trouble with the people whom they wanted to influence. In fact, if of men, then what men? John the Baptist had absolutely no human credentials as they well knew: he was sent from God.
Deceitfully they evaded the question by claiming they did not know (v.7). He flatly answered them then that neither would He tell them by what authority He acted. For certainly His authority had the same source as did that of John: it was from heaven. If they would not honestly admit the one, then manifestly they had no intention of admitting the other. In fact, they had admitted themselves not to be qualified to judge as to the question of authority.
PARABLE OF THE WICKED VINEDRESSERS
The parable the Lord then spoke was pointed enough that the chief priests and scribes discerned its application to themselves (v.19). The vineyard is Israel, over whom the vinedressers (religious leaders) had been allowed authority by God, while He retired from the scene for the time of their testing under law. Yet He sent servants (the prophets) from time to time to remind Israel of their true Master and to require some proper recognition of His rights. Notice the patient grace of the Master of the vineyard, for when one or two servants had been badly mistreated and sent away empty, it would be natural that the full force of His displeasure would bring quick judgment against the keepers of the vineyard.. But even after a third had been badly treated, there was no punishing action taken. Rather, the Lord of the vineyard decided to send His beloved Son who was certainly worthy of the deep respect of the vinedressers. All of this is a great understatement of the actual patience of God, who had sent many prophets to Israel before sending His Son.
When God in His marvelous grace sent His beloved Son to Israel, this precious manifestation of His kindness toward man only exposed the cruel enmity of man's heart against God. Israel's leaders were concerted in their determination to kill the Heir (v.14), so they might claim unchallenged possession of the vineyard. Such was the guilt of Israel's leaders in killing the Son of God.
How blinding is the greed of man's heart! How can he hope to escape the just retribution of the Lord of the vineyard? The more patient and longsuffering God has been toward men, the more dreadful and decisive will be His judgment when eventually it falls. In fact, the destruction of those vinedressers took place when, in the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, Israel's leaders were totally stripped of authority and destroyed. The giving of the vineyard to others (v.16) may refer to Israel being yet, in the coming millennial age, placed under the authority of those whose genuine faith will fit them for the place of responsible government.
The destroying of the vinedressers and the giving of the vineyard to others seemed to some to be too hard. They said, "God forbid." But is justice never to be done? He looked them in the eyes and quoted from Psalm 118:22, asking them what God meant by declaring that the stone rejected by the builders is to become the head of the corner (v.17). Jacob, prophesying concerning Joseph -- a striking type of the Messiah -- said, "from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (Gen.49:24). Israel's true Shepherd, the Messiah, is the "one stone" referred to. Psalm 118 says He would be rejected, yet would become the head of the corner. How could the chief priests and scribes evade the force of such words? This same One they rejected will yet take supreme authority, yet they were plotting His death.
The Lord added a most solemn word for their consciences. Those who fall upon this stone, that is, Israel casting out and crucifying their Messiah, would be broken, as indeed history has proven true (v.18). But all those upon whom the stone will fall will be ground to powder. This is the dreadful judgment of the Son of Man at the time of His future manifestation in power and glory. When much time has been given for repentance, and men refuse this, their judgment will be swift and decisive..
But the blindness of unreasoning unbelief had taken hold of the chief priests and scribes. They perceived that the Lord's parable of the vinedressers had direct application to themselves, yet they were so hostile as to determine to fulfill the prophecy of the parable by putting Him to death! (v.19).
TAXES REQUIRED BY CAESAR
Although the chief priests and scribes had before been trapped by the cunning snares they had laid for the Lord, they tried again the same type of deceit attempt to ensnare Him, so they might find an excuse to accuse Him before the Roman authorities. They sent spies who pretended to be righteous men, but their hypocritical flattery was fully discerned by the Lord. Yet, enemies as they were, they bore public witness to the fact that He taught the way of God in truth (v.21). What a condemnation of their own evil designs! When the spies asked if it was lawful to give tribute (or taxes) to Caesar, they were expecting Him to champion the cause of Israel against Caesar and to say "No." They hated Caesar's authority, but the expected answer would have given them a dishonest means to accuse Him.
He showed He knew their deceit, and asked was the image and superscription on a coin. Being under Roman domination they were required to use Roman currency, and answered correctly that it was Caesar. He told them, since it was Caesar's money, then render it to Caesar, but He added solemnly, "and unto God the things that are God's" (v.25). Their sin had put them in bondage to Rome: they must bow to this shame. But what of giving God His due? They were reduced to silence, and could only marvel at the wisdom of His words.Then the Sadducees decided to try their dexterity in tempting the Lord Jesus. They denied the resurrection, and thought they had an iron-clad argument that would easily defeat Him. They based their argument on a provision in Moses' law that directed that if a man died childless, his brother was to take his wife and have children that would be counted as his brother's (v.28). They then proposed an unlikely case of the same woman have as husband seven different brothers in succession, all dying childless. Then came their vainly triumphant question as to which of the seven would have her as wife in the resurrection (v.33). They thought their very question disproves the possibility of any resurrection!
With simple, pointed words the Lord exposed their pathetic ignorance. Marriage is only for this world. He did not speak of those who die in their sins and will be raised for judgment at the Great White Throne; but only of those accounted worthy (by grace through faith) to obtain "that world," the glory of heaven, and the resurrection from among the dead. They neither marry nor are given in marriage (v.35). (Those unsaved will certainly not be married either, but will be raised only to be cast into the lake of fire.) Nor can death ever again touch those who have been raised, as at present it terminates the marriage relationship (vs.34-36). Moreover believers are as the angels which are neither male nor female, as we are told in regard to the new creation (Gal. 3:27-28). They are sons of God, having a relationship and dignity higher than all natural relationships, being sons of the resurrection, that is, introduced into a sphere that mere human intelligence has not penetrated.
The Lord not only answered their question, but rather proceeded to expose their ignorance of the Word of God in using Moses as their authority, though Moses had declared the truth of resurrection when he called God the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. For God is not a God of the dead, but of the living (v.38). Though their bodies were put in graves, their spirits still live unto Him; and God cannot consider man complete apart from the union of spirit and soul and body (1Thes.5:23). Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be a resurrection.
BOTH LORD AND SON OF DAVID
Some of the scribes (but probably not the Sadducees) couldn't help but admire the wisdom of the Lord's words, but all were silenced. Now the Lord asked a question more vitally important than those questions asked Him, which they were unable to answer, but which they ought to have known from their Old Testament scriptures. Why did the scribes say that Christ, the Messiah, was David's son, though David himself in Psalm 110:1 plainly called the Messiah "Lord"? (v.41). There could be no doubt of the application of that scripture, and the scribes could not dispute it, yet had no response.
The fact is that both are true: He is not only "the Offspring of David" -- David's Descendant -- but "the root David" (Rev.22:16). As Man He is David's son, but as God He is David's Lord. Though as Man He came from David, yet since He is God over all, it is just as true that David came from Him. Certainly His eternal glory as God is the far more important fact, yet this had been passed over and ignored by the scribes. This same tragic ignorance is repeated today by many who even claim to be Christian: they recognize that Jesus is indeed a great man, but forget (and in many cases even strongly deny) that He is God manifest in flesh. The Lord's question then should stir every such person to realize that he needs to learn the Word of God. If Christ is David's Lord, how is He then his son? Let everyone face this question seriously.
By their questions to the Lord and the Lord's question to them, the religious leaders exposed the ignorant folly of their opposition to the truth. The Lord therefore, in verse 45 to 47, in the hearing of all the people, gave solemn warning as to men who claim to be the highest authorities of learning. Notice that although all the people could hear this, He spoke directly to His disciples. Believers ought not to be deceived by men's high pretensions. The scribes wore long robes to draw attention to themselves, as is copied by men's religions today, and loved to be recognized wherever the people gathered. They liked the highest religious honors and places of honor at feasts. All of this was empty vanity, a veneer to cover up the fact of their ignorance of God's Word, ignorance of His ways in government, ignorance of His grace. How different was the precious character of the lowly, faithful Son of Man, who being the eternal Son of God, was entitled to every honor, yet sought none whatever from man.
Greed was another evil principle linked with such arrogance, such greed as had no pity even for widows. Instead of caring for them, as Israel's leaders ought to have done, they devoured their houses, that is, made themselves rich at their expense (v.47). At the same time their long public prayers made a show intended to impress such people. Solemn is the Lord's denunciation of this hypocrisy: these leaders would receive greater judgment.
THE WIDOW'S TWO MITES
The first four verses are a continuation of the subject of Chapter 20. If the scribes had no regard for widows, God takes full account of them. Rich men may donate large sums to the temple service and yet make no real sacrifice at all, however much it may impress others. The Lord of glory sees and discerns the motives of every heart as well as the actual gifts given. The poor widow, putting in only two mites, is commended above all the rich men, for she gave virtually all her living. If she had only given one mite, this would have been unusually generous, but her love toward the God of Israel was unreserved. Scribes had ways of prying money from the people, just as do many preachers today, but the widow was giving as to God an offering acceptable, well pleasing to Him; and she will not lack a full reward from God.
THE TEMPLE'S DESTRUCTION AND SIGNS OF THE TIMES
The natural, earthbound thoughts of men then come out in another direction. Some drew attention to the adornments of the temple with its attractive and expensive stones and decorations. How little man sees as God does! The temple was God's house, but men gave more honor to the house than to its Lord: in fact it had become virtually their house (Mt.23:38). The Lord pronounced solemn judgment upon it: there would not be left one stone upon another (v.6).
The fact of this coming destruction indicates clearly that Christ had not come to establish His kingdom. But He was asked as to when these things will take place. People commonly want to understand the chronological order of events while not being concerned about the moral issues connected with such events. They asked for a sign, little realizing that present moral and spiritual conditions are the most significant factors in reference to the future judgments of God.
The Lord did not satisfy mere curiosity, but admonished them to be careful not to be deceived. For as to prophecy there are innumerable deceptions, but if we are deceived, we are to blame, for God is not deceived, and honest communion with Him in subjection to His Word will preserve us. We have surely witnessed in our days the truth of what the Lord says, that many would come in His name, claiming to be the Messiah (v.8), and thousands have been deceived by them in spite of the Lord's plain warning.
The Lord gave forewarnings of things in the end time, many of which we see today. Wars and commotions would come (v.9), as they have, but this is not enough to signify the end. Nations and kingdoms being at enmity with one another indicates there would be no gradual change for the better in the world by means of the gospel, as some have fondly imagined. Instead there would be a marked increase in alarming signs -- earthquakes, famines, pestilences, -- all of which we have known to have escalated in relatively recent years. Fearful sights, such as men's cruel atrocities on a large scale, the murder of millions of Jews in Germany, the massacre of great numbers who followed Jim Jones to Guyana, massacres more recently in China, in Iraq and among the Serbs and Croatians, in Zaire, and many other dreadful occasions, have shocked the world. Great signs from heaven are evident - changing weather patterns, hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. How well the Lord knew and fully declared that the gospel would not convert the world. His words here are a rebuke to those who have cherished such futile hopes.
But previous to these the disciples would be subjected to bitter persecution, as a result of the enmity of religious Jews. The disciples would be imprisoned and brought before Gentile kings and rulers for the sake of the name of Christ. This became true very soon after the Lord Jesus returned to Glory. But the Lord used this persecution in a way that men did not expect, for a testimony to Himself and to the gospel of His grace. Also, the disciples were to depend completely upon His own power and wisdom when these things occurred, not considering beforehand as to what to say, for His superior power would intervene and give the words to speak that would silence the opposition of their adversaries. We see this in Peter and John (Acts 4:13-14); in Stephen (Acts 6:8-10; 7:1-60); and in Paul on various occasions (Acts 22:1-21; 24:24-25; 26:1-31).
The deep pain and trial also of betrayal by even close relatives would be the experience of many of them, and some would suffer death as martyrs. The disciples of the Lord Jesus would in fact be the object of the hatred of all mankind generally. How contrary to their expectations of the advent of the kingdom! Yet in the face of such dreadful affliction He told them not a hair of their heads would (eternally) perish. The eternal end was secure, though this does not mean that none of them would die, for the Lord said some would die as martyrs (v.16). In fact, since then all the disciples have died, but they were to have no fear of the most bitter persecution.
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
Verse 20 refers to the siege of Jerusalem in 70AD, with its ensuing great distress for the Jews, which has continued for centuries. There are things here very similar to the description of the sorrows of the Great Tribulation as seen in Matthew 24:15-21; but that will be more dreadful than the Roman destruction of Jerusalem here in Luke 21. Those in Judea are told to flee to the mountains, for Jerusalem would be totally desolated, as it was by the Romans armies under Titus. For those were days of vengeance because of Israel's rejection of their Messiah, fulfilling Israel's prophetic scriptures (v.22).
The Lord deeply felt what Israel was bringing upon herself (v.23). Though it was men -- the religious leaders -- directly responsible for killing their Messiah, yet it was their women with child who would greatly suffer. How careless are men in realizing that their ungodliness causes those who are dependent on them to suffer! The distress would be great, for God's wrath would be upon Israel. Many should fall by the sword, and many carried captive in every direction (v.24). So it has been while "the times of the Gentiles" run their course. Israel for centuries was a people without a country. The fact that in 1948 they regained a country for themselves after centuries of dispersion signifies that the times of the Gentiles are nearly fulfilled.
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN
Verse 25 now goes on to the time of the end. There will be signs literally in the sun, the moon and the stars, though the spiritual significance of these is the most important. The supreme light of the knowledge of God will be darkened through widespread apostasy -- a complete turning away from the Lord. Reflected light (the moon, symbolical of Israel) will be greatly affected; and stars will fall, that is personal apostasy will become rampant. Nations on earth will be torn by distress, with perplexity, and the evidence of this has already begun in our day. The troubled sea and roaring waves speak of the troubled state of all nations, each fighting for what it considers its own rights.
While these things, and verse 26, refer directly to what will be seen in the future 7-year tribulation period, yet the similarity of conditions today tend to persuade us that that time must be very near. The hearts of many are failing them for fear now, seen for example in the great fright over the possibility of a nuclear holocaust and terrorism, and the alarm over certain nations becoming militarily strong and bold. The expression "the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" appears to infer man's discovering the power of the atom, which God has used for man's benefit, but man shaking those powers in a way that is harmful. The Greek word for heavens is ouranos from which the word uranium comes. Whether there is a direct connection here with man's splitting of the atom may be questionable, but while God has for ages been using nuclear power in the sun for the great blessing of mankind, when man got possession of a little measure of that power, he immediately used it for destruction!
At any rate, there is a direct connection between the powers of the heavens being shaken and the Son of Man coming in power and glory. This is not His coming for the saints at the Rapture, but at least seven years later, at the end of the Great Tribulation, when He will subdue all nations under Him.
Verse 28 can have its application both to the believing remnant of Israel in the time of the tribulation and to ourselves now. For the first application, their redemption will be the liberating power of the Son of Man in setting Israel free from her ages of bondage. In the second case (taking place earlier) our redemption will be of our bodies at the Rapture (Rom.8:23). We already see the beginning of such signs as mentioned in verses 25 and 26, therefore let us look up.
THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE
Then in verses 29-31 the Lord spoke the parable of the fig tree, typical of Israel, and all the trees symbolizing other nations. When the trees begin to blossom, it is the evidence that summer is near. In fact, even before the Rapture we see the beginning of the signs of the Lord's coming in glory, which will be later than the Rapture. For Israel has once again become a nation possessing her own land. Other nations surrounding her, having been for years almost unheard of and of little significance, have become militant and are pressing to the front for recognition. This great resurgence of national ambition tells us that the kingdom of God is near. If the millennial kingdom is near, the coming of the Lord for the Church (the Rapture) is at least seven years nearer.
Verse 32 may infer that the generation that sees the beginning of these things will also see the end of them. If so, the end is very near indeed! But the word "generation" is also used by the Lord in a moral sense, as for example, "an evil and adulterous generation" (Mt.12:34); or "faithless generation" (Mk.9:19); so the implication may be in this case that men would not so change in character that their faith would bring in the kingdom, but rather, that the kingdom would cause the evil generation to pass. Or it may be that both applications are correct.
Verse 33 goes far beyond the kingdom to the passing away of heaven and earth at the time of the Great White Throne, some 1000 years later (Rev.20:11). The words of the Lord Jesus will never pass away.
Then verses 34 to 36 press upon us the moral character suitable to the truth of these great future events. Verse 34 is negative, dealing with things that are the most common detriments to a walk with God -- the undue emphasis put on eating and drinking and the cares of this life. How easily we slip into a state that seeks only the satisfaction of our own appetites, while matters of intense, eternal importance are left knocking at the door! Of course eating and drinking are necessary, but is it that for which we live? Should the cares of this life, the many details of living, so occupy us that we are loaded down with them? Where is the faith that looks out from all this in vibrant expectation of something infinitely better?
The warnings against carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life apply directly to those going through the future tribulation. They are to watch and pray always that they might be counted worthy to escape the things that threaten all around them, and at the end to stand before the Son of Man. At that time those believers will be kept through the tribulation, while the Church will be kept out of the hour of it (Rev.3:10). No reference is made in this chapter to the Lord's coming for the Church, but rather to His coming in power and glory as the Son of Man at the end of the tribulation period.
The Lord spent the last few days of His life on earth teaching in the temple (v.27), but His nights were spent on the mount of Olives. The power of the Spirit of God moved the people to come early in the mornings to the temple to hear Him. How the people could so soon change from hearers to persecutors crying out for His crucifixion may seem astounding to us, but such is the sad fickleness of the crowd of those who are hearers only, and not doers of the Word of God. They were curious, but unsaved, without true knowledge as to who the Lord really is.
THE TREACHERY OF JUDAS (vs.1-6)
As the Passover feast drew near, the chief priests and Pharisees felt hard pressed to find some way of apprehending and killing this "prophet" who was offending their pride. They feared to arrest Him in the presence of the people, and further, they did not want to do it on the Passover, for it might cause an uproar of the people (Mt.26:5). But God had decreed that the Passover would be the day of His sacrifice. Also Judas, because of having hardened his heart against every kindness of the Lord Jesus, had at this time permitted Satan to enter into him (v.3), showing that he was not a true believer. His motive was greed, which he might have restrained, but Satan's power impelled him to bargain with the chief priests and captains of the Jewish soldiers as to betraying his Master for a price. But note the shame of the condition of the chief priests. Being in close outward relationship to God, one would expect their character to be honorable, faithful, reliable, but they were glad to patronize a man in his treachery toward a friend! Judas then looked for an opportunity to betray Him when the masses of the people were not present.
The day of unleavened bread arrived, and Luke added, "when the Passover must be killed" (v.7). It was the day God had ordained for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. That day began at 6:00 pm. The mock trial took place during the night, and at 9:00am that same day He was put on the cross. But knowing well all that awaited Him, the Lord was in calm control of all the circumstances.
PREPARING THE PASSOVER (vs.7-13)
He sent Peter and John with instructions to prepare the Passover, "that we may eat." This fellowship of eating together with His disciples was a matter of precious value to Him as He was about to be taken from them to suffer and die. How good to see that the disciples did not trust themselves to decide where to prepare the Passover, but rather asked Him to direct them. If they had not had this simplicity of faith, they could not have expected His miraculous answer to their question. He told them that as they entered the city they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water (v.10). They needed only to follow him to the house to which he was going. The Old Testament refers often of those carrying containers of water. The container holds only a very limited measure. Does this not remind us of the ministry of the Word of God under law, as for instance with Hagar, type of the legal covenant, and the water in her bottle soon spent? (Gen.21:14-16). The Old Testament ministry was only a sample of something better than itself (2 Cor.3:7-11). The man with the pitcher led to the house, as the ministry of the law leads to the house of the New Testament, that is, the truth of God's house, the Church. In reading the Old Testament all who had spiritual eyes to see would recognize that the Old Testament was leading to something far better than itself. But sad to say, only comparatively few in Israel were prepared for the marvelous revelation of the truth of the Church, for which the Old Testament was intended to prepare them.
The Lord's message to the owner of the house was immediately received, and he showed them a large upper room furnished. If the house speaks of the truth of the Church, the house of God, the upper room speaks of the heavenly elevation of Christian worship in contrast to Israel's earthly, carnal worship. The furnished room reminds us that God has made every provision for the Church: no human additions are needed, such as a robed choir, stained glass windows, imposing ceremonies, musical instruments, etc.
Indeed, at this Passover and the introduction of the Lord's supper there was nothing ornate or imposing: the Lord was facing the stark reality of the death of the cross with a small group of sorrowful men, distressed at having been told that He was leaving them. As will always be the case for faith, they found things just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover. How little they understood all that was involved in this at the time! Later they would see it with better understanding, specially when Paul wrote 1Corinthians 11:23-26. But they were obedient.
THE PASSOVER AND THE LORD'S SUPPER (vs.14-23)
The observance of the Passover, followed by the breaking of bread, was "when the hour had come" (v.14). The breaking of bread is not to be a haphazard thing, observed just whenever people feel the Spirit leads them. The time should be known beforehand, so that the coming together is for this purpose (note Acts 20:7 as to the stated reason for gathering). What the time should be is of course dependent on local circumstances, but all should know beforehand that all may be present at the appointed hour.
Verse 15 is a most beautiful expression, restrained, yet intimating the depths of His desire for fellowship with His disciples at the moment when His great sufferings were imminent, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before suffer." In deep affection for them He sought their affections too, some little comfort of their fellowship in view of His very soon being utterly alone on a cross of unspeakable agony.
He would not again eat of the Passover until the spiritual significance of the Passover is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Of course His own death was the fulfillment of the meaning of the Passover, but Israel remains blinded as to this until they will "look on Me whom they pierced" (Zech.12:10) and He will bring in the kingdom for that nation. Only then will the Passover be fulfilled for them.
Verses 17 and 18 refer strictly to the Passover, and again the Lord referred to the kingdom of God in connection with the cup He gave them. He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God should come. This is in reference to Israel also, and the spiritual significance is most important. From that nation as such, the Lord would receive no joy until that time. This fact was in His mind when He immediately introduced the Lord's supper. For since He receives no joy from Israel at this present time, He seeks His joy from the Church, the body of Christ, during this dispensation of the grace of God.
The observance of the Lord's supper (verses 19 and 20) forms a parenthesis here, so that verse 21 connects with the Passover, not the Lord's supper, at which Judas was not present (Jn.13:27-30), for he had gone out before the Lord's supper. This parenthesis coincides with the parenthetic character of this present dispensation. The whole Church dispensation is a parenthesis inserted between Israel's rejection of Christ and the future time when God will deal with Israel in the tribulation period to bring them into subjection to Christ. Thus the Church is set as a lovely jewel in the dark background of Israel's history, and these two verses (19-20) are also like a beautiful jewel presented in a black background, precious indeed to the hearts of those who love the Lord at a time when He has been cast out by Israel and the world.
The bread, for which He gave thanks and broke it, is the staple food of life, symbolical of His body given for us. Suffering and death are strikingly illustrated in the bread. A grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies. After growing up, it is cut down, then threshed, and the grain ground into flour, then mixed with other ingredients, kneaded, allowed to rise, kneaded again and again, then exposed to the heat of the fire to provide food for people. Little indeed do we know the depths of His sufferings, but the remembrance of His sufferings and death is surely of vital importance in the breaking of bread. Tenderly He asked His disciples to observe this for a remembrance of Himself.
The cup -- the wine -- speaks, not so much of His sufferings, but of His blood shed, the sign of an accomplished sacrifice, for the wine symbolically speaks of joy, the precious result of the work of Christ in redemption. For it is "the cup of blessing which we bless" (1Cor.10:16), though it too is the result of suffering and death, for grapes are crushed to produce the wine. Indeed, unspeakable joy is the result of the unutterable sufferings of our blessed Lord. Therefore it is "with joy and sorrow mingling" that we remember Him.
The cup is "the new covenant in My blood" (v.20) as the Lord Jesus says. For this new covenant, as was true of the old, must be ratified with the shedding of blood, but in this case the blood of a sacrifice of eternal value, for He is Himself the eternal God as well as sinless, unique Man. This new covenant had been made with Israel centuries before (Jer.31:31-34), and its terms will be totally fulfilled to Israel in the Millennium. The Church today was not the subject of that covenant, but we receive all the benefits of it by pure grace, though not under it! We receive those blessings, not as a matter of having been promised them, but as brought in from being far from God, by the grace of God alone. See Romans 9:4 and Ephesians 2:11-13.
Next we are faced with the somber contrast of the sad treachery of Judas. The Lord spoke the words of verses 21 and 22 during the Passover feast, before the Lord's supper was introduced, but Luke only reported those words afterwards to emphasize the great contrast of the betrayer's cold unfaithfulness to the unswerving faithfulness and grace of the Lord Jesus as expressed in the supper. The hand of Judas was with the Lord on the table when the Passover had been celebrated. Divine sovereignty had ordained that the Son of Man would go to the cross, yet this took nothing from the seriousness of human responsibility on the part of Judas. The inquiring of the disciples as to whom the Lord referred to shows that evidently none had suspicions, so the deceit of Judas was apparently well covered.
THE DISCIPLES' SELFISH AMBITION (vs.24-30)
Verses 24 to 30 indicate another sad contrast to the grace of the Lord Jesus. This contrast is seen in His own disciples. Judas was false, but these were true disciples who quarreled about who would be the greatest! But the Lord Jesus was at the very time willingly taking the lowest place! His answer to them was beautifully gentle and faithful. The kings of the nations, while flattered as "benefactors," were actually putting others in subjection to their authority. Sinful human nature aspires to such power over men, but believers were to have no such ambitions. If one is great, let him be as the younger, taking a lesser place: if one would be chief, let him be a servant.
In natural relationships the one who is served is the greater, but the blessed Lord of glory reversed this in the world: He was in the midst of His disciples as a servant. How precious an example indeed! True service is a most honorable and fruitful occupation. The Lord gave them also a word of commendation and encouragement. It was they who had continued with Him at a time when He was tried by the animosity of the world. He deeply valued this faithfulness, and His words would surely encourage them in their appointed path of trial and of service.
Yet, though they could expect present trial, He appointed His disciples a kingdom -- future indeed, but such as the Father had appointed to Him to be revealed in due time. They would have to wait for the time of this glorious exaltation, when they would be feasted in His kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This judging will be an administrative government in the Millennium, for which suffering with Him has fitted them. Then indeed they will have no such attitude of seeking to exalt themselves, and only then will he exalt them.
PETER WARNED, YET SELF-CONFIDENT (vs.31-34)
In verses 31 to 34 the Lord dealt with another evil in His own disciples that contrasts sharply with His own blessed character as seen in the Lord's supper. This is human self-confidence. Peter was singled out in this case, for he was a natural leader, yet we must not suppose that he alone needed to learn lessons concerning self-confidence. Rather he was an object lesson to speak seriously to all the disciples.
The Lord Jesus told Peter that Satan had desired to have "you" (a plural word), that is, all the disciples, that he might sift them as wheat. To sift wheat is to remove the chaff from the kernels. The disciples were "wheat," but needed fleshly "chaff" removed from them. Certainly all the disciples were deeply tried that night: in fact all "forsook Him and fled" (Mt.26:56). But it is Peter alone to whom He says, "I have prayed for you (singular) that your faith should not fail." The King James Version reads, "I have prayed for thee," which is singular. Modern English uses the word "you" for either singular or plural, but the original is singular. A special need was present, which the Lord fully discerned, though Peter did not. Yet it is good to observe that the eleven (Judas having gone out) were wheat from which of was necessary that the chaff should be separated through their experience of failure. The Lord Jesus, as the faithful Advocate, prayed for Peter before his fall. Certainly then Peter's faith did not fail, though he failed. Indeed, his faith in Christ was more strengthened by this experience that taught him to have "no confidence in the flesh" (Phil.3:3), and after that he was fitted to "strengthen his brethren" (v.32).
But at that moment Peter's self-confidence was so strong that he virtually said the Lord was in error by telling Him that he was ready to accompany Him to prison and to death. His denial later was sadly shameful, yet his self-confidence was worse evil than his denial because it was the root cause of his denial. The Lord had the last word, however, telling Peter firmly that the rooster would not crow until Peter had three times denied that he knew Him.
THE LORD'S REPROVAL OF FLESHLY ZEAL (vs.35-38)
Yet another sad feature of the disciples' contrary character was exposed by the Lord's words in verses 35 to 38. He reminded them of His former commission to them, when He sent them only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, without money, a container for food or shoes (Mt.10:5-23); and they acknowledged that they had lacked nothing in this venture. Now He changes the commission. Why? Verse 37 gives the answer: Christ was to be reckoned among the transgressors. His death was imminent. Israel had rejected Him. They could no longer depend on that nation for support. In fact they would be sent to others beside the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and they would have to be prepared for their new mission by taking their purse and a food container. Vitally important also was a sword, for which even their garment was to be exchanged if one had no sword.
It is most evident that the Lord referred to "the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph.6:17), for this is the weapon most essential for every servant of God in the present age. If we must sacrifice our garment of self-respectability so as to have the Word of God as a vital possession, this is preferable to being without a solid grounding in the Word of God, by which to meet the enmity of Satan in a world under his domination. For we must take the offensive in carrying the gospel to a world opposed to it, and this requires serious preparation. For we serve a Lord who has been reckoned among the transgressors, and we can expect no sympathy from His enemies.
The disciples, however, missed the force of the Lord's words, and considered only their carnal weapons. Their forwardness in displaying two swords indicated their fleshly zeal that was ready to fight, in contrast to His firm, decided faith in meeting all enmity with His Word, without carnal weapons. He simply said, "It is enough," certainly not enough swords, but enough discussion. He would say no more since they did not understand. They had to learn by sad experience.
HIS PRAYER OF AGONY IN THE GARDEN (vs.39-46)
Again, from verse 39 to 46, the beauty of the grace, faithfulness and devotedness of the Lord Jesus shone radiantly in contrast to the spiritual sloth of His wearied disciples. As had been His practice each night, He went to the mount of Olives, His disciples following Him. But well knowing that the sufferings of the cross lay immediately before Him, and knowing the serious testing His disciples were about to face, He told them to pray that they might not enter into temptation, that is, pray that they should not succumb to it. His words surely ought to have prepared them for the solemnity of that hour, yet how little did they realize their need of preparation! Indeed, Peter had said, "I am ready" (v.33); but we may reverently say that the Lord Himself was not ready to face the cross until His blessed preparatory prayer in the garden. He always did everything at precisely the right time, not too early, not too late.
Withdrawing a distance from them, He prayed alone. With what holy, reverent awe and adoration we should view that sight. Even this sorrow of His in Gethsemane we cannot rightly enter into; and far less that of the cross.
While the Lord Jesus prayed for the removal of the cup of the anguish of being made a curse by God (and it was perfectly right that He should have a will desirous of avoiding this), yet He added, "not my will, but Yours, be done." Here is precious, perfect manhood, having and expressing His own Human will, yet fully submitting Himself rather to the will of the Father.
Only Luke mentions an angel from heaven strengthening Him. The intensity of His distress had a weakening physical effect, and this specially is noted in the Gospel that deals with His true manhood. The angel ministered physical strength, not spiritual. Even in His saints it is the Spirit of God Himself who ministers spiritual strength (Eph.3:16). But as His deep agony increased the earnestness of His prayer, He was bodily afflicted with His sweat becoming like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. How truly and fully He is Man, with all the limitations of dependent weakness that this implies, but totally apart from sin and always doing the Father's will.
In contrast to His anguish, His disciples, unaware of the imminent accomplishment of the most dreadful yet wonderful event of all history, were asleep. The Lord had told them what lay before, but the sorrow of it was only sufficient to make them heavy with sleep, rather than earnestly concerned (v.45). They had slept in the presence of His glory (Lk.9:32), and now also in the presence of His agony. How sadly we resemble them! We too might take to heart His serious admonition to rise and pray lest we enter into temptation rather than resisting it.
BETRAYED AND ARRESTED (vs.47-53)
Only the Lord was prepared when the enemy came. Judas went ahead of the crowd, evidently thinking that the Lord would not know that he was in any way linked with these soldiers. How blind was his unbelief, and how grossly deceitful, that he would kiss the Lord with the object of betraying Him! The Lord's words to him (v.48), faithful, yet with no bitterness or anger, showed him that his treachery had been discerned. What could he do now? Where could he go? For he had proven to friends and enemies alike that he could not be trusted. Terrible exposure! We know from Matthew 27:3-5 the tragic end of this pathetic victim of Satan's delusion, that he hanged himself and entered eternity lost, and destined to eternal punishment.
But the disciples were panic stricken. What could they do? They questioned the Lord as to whether they should use their carnal weapons for defense. But one of them (Peter) didn't wait for an answer. We too may sometimes pray, then excitedly act without an answer from the Lord. No doubt he aimed for the man's head, but only cut off his right ear. If the Lord had not been present, this act would have likely started a violent riot, but how blessed it is to see the calm dignity of the Son of God in true control of the situation. With gentle words He touched the servant's ear and healed him. One may wonder if that act was not enough to awaken some serious exercise in the man's soul, which would never have been awakened by Peter's fleshly zeal. For it is the goodness of God that leads people to repentance.
No mention is made in Luke of the divine power by which the Lord Jesus, speaking His Old Testament name, "I Am", put His attackers prostrate on their backs. Only John mentions this (Jn.18:6). But His calm rebuke to the chief priests, captains and elders in verses 52 and 53 should have burned deeply into their consciences. They had come with carnal weapons, but His daily contact with them in the temple had shown that He never adopted such weapons. The incongruity of their coming in this way only exposed their evil motives. "But," He added, "this is your hour and the power of darkness" (v.53). They were to be allowed in their brief hour, to fully express their hatred against Him and against God, they being the willing tools of satanic power.
BROUGHT TO THE HIGH PRIEST: PETER'S DENIAL (vs.54-65)
The Lord with calm dignity submitted to being apprehended. First, He was brought to the house of the high priest, a man responsible to be Israel's intercessor, but become the accuser of Israel's Messiah! Peter followed, but afar off. In fact, all the disciples had at this time forsaken Him and fled (Mt.26:56). John had however later entered the high priest's house, and through his influence Peter also was allowed in (Jn.18:15-16). Peter's heart needed warming, but the world's fire is a poor substitute for the Lord's companionship. Peter sat down in the wrong company. His self-confidence (v.33) his rash use of the sword (v.50), his following afar off (v.54), had been leading him in this dangerous direction, and now he was caught in Satan's snare. It required only the words of a girl to frighten him into denying that he knew the Lord.
Peter had a little while to think this over before another challenged him, with the same result. Then an hour went by before the third challenge, a confident, pressing one. What could he expect in remaining in their company? He certainly had no more strength the third time than the first, except to deny more strongly that he knew the Lord. As he spoke, the rooster crew. How could his eyes refrain from turning toward the Lord, as the Lord turned to look (surely in tender compassion) at Peter? No use any longer to try to brazen the matter through: he went out and wept bitterly. For he was "wheat," a true believer, but he had miserably failed in this solemn sifting of Satan. What believer has not had a similar experience in one way or another falling under Satan's attack?
MOCKED AND BEATEN BY THE JEWISH SOLDIERS (vs.63-65)
Our eyes are directed now to the Master, who was the object of the vindictive hatred of the Jews who had arrested Him (vs.63-65). With the same quiet calmness of perfect manhood He bore in lowly dignity the many abuses inflicted on Him all that night. Luke does not say as much about this ordeal as does Matthew, but refers to the many things spoken blasphemously against Him. Peter did not have the privilege of witnessing the Lord's calm dignity in bearing the cruel abuse of the soldiers.
BEFORE THE JEWISH COUNCIL (vs.66-71)
In the early morning the Jewish council (the Sanhedrim) was gathered to sit in judgment against the Lord Jesus. Yet the due order of a court was glaringly absent. No charge was laid, but they asked Him if He was the Christ. He responded that if He would tell them the truth, they would not believe Him. They had already made up their minds to disbelieve Him. On the other hand, if He would ask them the same question, that is, if He was Christ, they would not answer. They did not want to be involved in a discussion as to who the Christ really is, lest they should trap themselves. But they demanded that He declare Himself, was He the Christ? Why did they ask Him this? He had not demanded any official position as Christ, the Messiah. Nor would His answer to them in one way or the other affect their determination not to let Him go. They were seeking only some deceitful justification for their murderous intentions.
But He added a positive, solemn, striking statement to the effect that, in spite of all they would do against Him, the Son of Man would in due time sit on the right hand of the power of God. Though killed Him, God would exalt Him above all creation.
Blindly, they have no hesitation in fighting against God. They asked the crucial question: was He the Son of God? His answer was positive, the form of the expression meaning simply, "as you say, so it stands: I am." He had not been advertising who He was, but the matter bothered their consciences: they were afraid He might be the Son of God because of much evidence in His life and ministry, but they hated the thought of having to give Him a place of honor, and in spite of every evidence they were determined to reject Him. His answer then was all the more designed to strike their consciences.
Because of the Lord's answer they considered they had justification for condemning Him. His faithful confession was interpreted by their religious prejudice as blasphemy. He was condemned for telling the truth as to who He is.
DELIVERED TO PONTIUS PILATE (vs.1-5)
It was still early morning when the Lord Jesus was brought to the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor (Jn.18:28), for the Jews were determined to quickly force through their vicious purpose so as to allow no time for any appeal to sober justice. From the beginning of that mock trial the absence of orderly court procedure was most apparent. They laid no charge as to anything He had done, nor did they even lay the charge that He said He was the Son of God, for Roman law would never condemn a man for such a thing, but they made the indefinite accusation that they found Him perverting the people. This was no charge for a court of law, so they added a false charge that He forbad paying tribute to Caesar. They had cunningly sought to make Him commit Himself to object to tribute to Caesar, but He had plainly told them otherwise (Lk.20:21-25). They added to their charge that He had said He was the Christ, a King, for this might make Pilate think He was challenging the authority of Caesar.
It was not difficult for Pilate to see through their subtlety. He knew perfectly well that they would have no objection to the refusal of tribute to Caesar, so their charges were only subterfuge. But he asked Christ if He were King of the Jews, and the answer was in the affirmative. While the fact of His being King was true, yet everyone knew that He had not in any way sought to overthrow the Roman government.
Pilate saw that it was transparently evident that under Roman law no charge whatever could be sustained against the Lord Jesus, and Pilate publicly declared that he found no fault in Him. This being the case, justice demanded that He be immediately released. But the fierce opposition of the Jews, though they had no specific charge of wrongdoing against Him, was such as to influence Pilate to forget justice, and he began a course of vacillation that ended in the grossest miscarriage of justice that history has ever known.
SENT BY PILATE TO HEROD
The Jewish leaders were concerned only that the Lord's teaching might tend to undermine their authority over the people. They mentioned His preaching from Galilee to Jerusalem, and Pilate grasped at a possibility of shifting responsibility for judgment to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, who was at the time at Jerusalem, so he sent Him to Herod.
Herod did not have the slightest interest in the question of justice being done in this case. Yet he was exceedingly glad to see the Lord, not because he had any interest in Him personally, but because he had heard many things as to His miraculous powers, so his idle curiosity was aroused in hope of seeing the Lord perform a miracle. How pathetically childish for a man in a high place of authority! The Lord remained totally silent in spite of the many questions that Herod asked Him. What a sight! The questioning monarch probably shifted his questions in every direction in hope of getting some answer. The chief priests and scribes were full of vicious, vehement accusation against Him, yet He remained calmly silent in such a way that they knew and felt Him to be master of the entire situation.
Yet rather than convicting them, this only galled Herod and his men of war. They resorted to the cowardly resource of contempt and mockery, clothing Him in a gorgeous robe in mockery of His being King of Israel, before returning Him to Pilate. Herod's contempt added to the official enmity of Galilee against Him, so the Jews, Galileans and Romans were all represented in the rejection of the Son of God. How sad, yet how instructive is the fact of the common contempt of Herod and Pilate toward the Lord Jesus being the means of making them friends! (v.12). Nor is such a thing uncommon today. Herod seemed to have gotten rid of his gnawing fear that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead (Mt.14:2). His conscience was evidently dulled and hardened by sin, so he appeared as cold as a stone.
BARABBAS CHOSEN IN PREFERENCE TO CHRIST.
Pilate's conscience strongly warned him against issuing the death penalty, for there was no concrete accusation of the Jews that could be sustained. Their charge that Lord Jesus was perverting the people was purely one of envy, as Pilate knew well (Mt.27:18). In speaking to the chief priests and rulers he plainly declared that he found no fault in Him. To this also he added that Herod could find no occasion to condemn Him. This was the second time Pilate spoke so plainly in this regard (cf.v.4). The issue therefore was transparently clear: justice must release Him. Yet Pilate tried a compromise with the unjust suggestion that he would chastise (lash) Him before releasing Him. He thought this lesser judgment might satisfy the Jews. By this dishonorable means he was himself weaving the net in which the Jews snared him. Then He involved another unjust principle in the trial. For it was the Roman custom to release one prisoner at the Passover, the Jews being allowed to choose which one (Jn.18:39). This practice assumed the prisoner to be guilty, so the custom should have had no application whatever to the Lord Jesus. But Pilate unjustly allowed the Jews to chose between Jesus and Barabbas, the latter being an insurrectionist and murderer. In the blindness of their unreasonable folly the Jews demanded Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified.
It seems Pilate had not expected such a choice, so he attempted to reason with the people again, but only to hear the unreasoning, vicious demand that Jesus be crucified. For the third time Pilate insisted that he had found no cause in Him for the death penalty, yet as before, Pilate said he would chastise Him. In fact, John tells us that Pilate did scourge Him (Jn.19:1) even before his final efforts to release Him, so that Pilate actually added more injustice than the Jews had demanded. Finally, Pilate gave in to the clamoring voices of the multitude. This unhappy representative of the Roman government (which so prided itself on its justice) was guilty of the most glaring and outrageous injustice that history has ever known.
The man proven guilty of sedition against the government and of murder was released, while He whom the judge declared three times to be without fault was condemned to crucifixion! It seems inevitable that Pilate would be left for the rest of his life with a torturing, burning conscience.
THE LORD OF GLORY CRUCIFIED!
While we are told elsewhere that Jesus went forth bearing His cross (Jn.19:17), yet Luke does not mention this, but speaks of Simon a Cyrenian being enlisted to carry the cross (v.26). The Lord first bore it, then it was transferred to Simon. But Scripture does not support the assumption of many that Jesus collapsed because of the weight of the cross. Let us not dare to go beyond the Word of God with such inferences. But this occurrence does teach us that there is a sense in which the disciple of the Lord Jesus might bear the cross after Him, as one identified with Him in His rejection by the world. Not everyone was consenting to His death. A great company (and women particularly mentioned) followed Him in mourning and lamentation. His words to them are striking. Rather than to weep for Him, He told them to weep for themselves and for their children, for the rejection of their Messiah would mean unspeakable sorrow and trouble for Israel. Rather than the normal blessedness of childbearing (Ps.127:3-5), the day was coming when those would be counted happy who had no children to suffer the anguish that Israel had invited upon herself in the cry, "His blood be upon us and on our children"