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A Call To National And Individual Repentance -- Luke 13:1-9
“There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it die ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down”- Luke 13:1-9.
There are two sections in this portion which is now before us. The first five verses contain a solemn warning, based on two events which had taken place recently in Palestine. Then in Luke 13:6-9 we have a parable emphasizing the same truth which our Lord stresses in the first part.
The Lord was ministering in the city of Capernaum which He called His own city-the city to which He had transferred His residence, and to which He seems to have taken His mother after leaving Nazareth. As the people listened to Him, some came to tell Him of terrible things which had occurred just a few days before in Jerusalem. There had been an uprising among certain zealots from Galilee. The Roman Governor, Pilate, had commanded a squad of soldiers to put an end to this rebellion, and a number had been killed in the very courts of the Temple. Naturally the Galileans were greatly distresesd and disturbed. They wondered why God had allowed this wholesale destruction of their own kinsfolk. The people thought that He saw some wickedness in them greater than in ordinary folk; otherwise He would not have allowed them to be slain in this way. Jesus declared that this was not necessarily true. The Galileans had not been killed because they were guilty of greater wickedness than that of ordinary men. Then He solemnly warned all His hearers, saying, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” In other words, He warns them that the judgment of God is hanging over all unrepentant men; the judgment will fall eventually upon all who have never been cleansed from their sins. These are solemn words indeed! They ought to be taken to our hearts in day like this when there is such widespread individual and national departure from God.1 It is easy for us, as a people and as a nation, to sit down in our complacency and self-sufficiency and imagine that in the sight of God we are far superior to some of the nations which are suffering so terribly in this present world conflict. But above the sound of battles, above the roaring of the bombs, above the agony of the cries of the wounded and dying, we may hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
1 These addresses were given during the Second World War.
The incident brought before us in these first three verses was one of violence, but the next was an accidental occurrence. Jesus speaks of “those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell.” Evidently a faulty tower had collapsed, jarred perhaps by an earthquake, and a number of men had been killed. There was a tendency to say, “Well, they must have been great sinners to have been exposed to such a death as that; otherwise a good God, a gracious, kind Creator, would have protected them from that accident.” But that does not follow, because accidents come to good and evil alike. The righteous as well as the unrighteous suffer from them-from pestilence, conflagrations, hurricanes, and natural disturbances of various kinds. So again Jesus rebuked the people for supposing that those who had died were sinners above others. He said again, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
The call to repentance is one of the missing links in the preaching of modern times. Some of our brethren are almost afraid to speak of repentance, lest people think of it as something meritorious. Repentance is not a work of merit: repentance is an acknowledgment that one has no merit, that in himself he is just an undeserving sinner exposed to the judgment of God. God “commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Repentance is not to be confounded with mere penitence. Penitence is sorrow for sin, but we are told, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” It is not mere sorrow because one has done wrong. I may grieve in my heart to think of the wrong I have done, of the injury I have caused another, and yet I may not really be repentant toward God. Repentance is not to be confounded with what some call “penance.” Penance is an effort to atone for something which one has done by suffering voluntarily; but no physical suffering or self-denial can ever make up for the wrong we have done to God and to man. Repentance is not to be confounded with reformation. Some people have the idea that repentance is trying to break off from their sins and live righteously. There may be reformation apart from repentance, but there never can be true repentance apart from reformation, because if I really repent I shall certainly seek to reform. The word “repent” means a change of mind; it is not merely a change of viewpoint. It is not like a change which one might make, for instance, from one political party to another: a man might be a Democrat today and a Republican tomorrow, or vice versa- that is not repentance! Repentance is a change of mind which results in a complete change of attitude. When a man, who has been living in sin and utter indifference to God, confesses his sin and judges his wickedness and earnestly seeks to be delivered from it, when he is determined to walk, not in his old ways or live as he formerly lived, but turns to the God he had spurned and puts his trust in the Saviour He has provided-this is genuine repentance! We read of “Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The repentant man now finds in Christ not only a Saviour from all his sin and guilt, but also One who gives him a new life in order that he may walk henceforth in a new way. He will live no longer in bondage to the things which dominated and controlled him in the past.
How men need to heed the call to repentance! The apostle Paul, from the very first day of his ministry, stressed that all men should repent and turn to God. Men of the world need to repent of their sins; and Christians need to repent of their coldness and indifference. In the letters to the churches in the book of the Revelation, seven times over the Spirit of God says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Seven times in these letters the call is given to professing Christians to repent and get right with God!
What need there is for national repentance! Our Lord Jesus called the children of Israel to repent, but they refused to hear His voice. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Because, as a nation, they refused to repent they were given up to judgment. Oh, how loudly this demand should ring through the land today, calling upon us as a people to repent of the sins of corruption and wickedness, cov-etousness and violence that characterize us! How we have misused God’s mercies and forgotten our responsibility to honor Him! Thank God, no matter how far down a man or a nation may go, there is still hope in Christ; but if there be no repentance there can be only judgment at last.
Next we have a parable which shows how Israel failed to honor God and how patient He had been: “He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” The fig tree planted in the vineyard was the Jewish nation in the land of Palestine, and the Dresser was the Lord. For three years Jesus had been ministering to Israel: He had gone about calling men to repentance and preaching the kingdom of God, but there were few who had ears to hear and hearts to understand. So God’s patience was exhausted; and He said, “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” But the Dresser of the vineyard interceded, saying, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” And so the fourth year of ministry began, during which time Jesus continued to proclaim the truth and call men to repentance. But in the midst of the year the Jews rose up against Him and the Roman soldiers led Him to Calvary and crucified Him. There was no national repentance, and as a result the fig tree was cut down: the people of Israel were scattered throughout the world, even as we see them to this day. What a lesson to learn! God has borne with us as a people, not for three years but for a century and a-half, and we are drifting farther and farther from Him. The sentence may soon go forth: “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” Other nations have lost their heritage; other nations have been destroyed because of their godlessness. Why should we be spared? But still the Holy Spirit is working; still the message of God is going forth. Oh, that we may have ears to hear and hearts that will respond, that individually and as a people there may be sincere repentance, that we may turn to God and thus avert the threatened doom!
Making Crooked People Straight -- Luke 13:10-17
“And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And He laid His hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto die people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on die sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on die sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when He had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things diat were done by Him”- Luke 13:10-17.
As we go over this account we are reminded that all through the three and one-half wonderful years of our Lord’s ministry, as He went about doing good and healing all oppressed of the devil, He found Himself in conflict with a certain group of legal formalists in Israel who put far more value upon outward observances, sacred ceremonies and religious rites than upon the human soul. And yet the soul of man is more to God than all such rites and ceremonies. Our Lord Jesus never lost an opportunity to rebuke this type of hypocrisy. He calls it that very definitely.
Many people go along the line of least resistance, because they do not want to bow their heart before God and really get right with Him. They place the emphasis upon outward things-attending church, ordinances, such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or elaborate ritualistic services. They stress these things rather than the recognition of the Lordship of Christ and the salvation of men.
There are some spiritual lessons set forth here which the Lord would have us learn. He was teaching in one of the synagogues in Capernaum on the Sabbath. It might have been, possibly, the very synagogue which has been uncovered within our own times from the dust of nearly two millenniums. While teaching there one Sabbath day He observed before Him a poor woman to whom His sympathy immediately went out. He knew she “had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.” It might have been arthritis or some type of spinal trouble which bowed her down. She had doubtless gone to physicians and sought help and failed to obtain it. But as the Lord looked upon her, His heart went out to her in compassion and He called her to Him, and said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” There is no form of suffering which we endure but that the Lord looks upon us in compassion, ready to give needed grace, and sometimes He heals us if that is His highest will for us; if it is not His will to heal us He will give needed grace to sustain the spirit in the midst of trials, so that we can learn to glory in tribulation and to rejoice even in our infirmities. Jesus looked upon this poor woman with compassion, and called her to Him. He does the same with us. He looks upon us; He has compassion upon us, and He calls us and bids us come to Him and bring to Him all our ailments, our difficulties, our perplexities, assuring us that He is ready to undertake for us in His own marvelous way.
The woman left her place and came forward. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened upon her. I imagine she was a rather humble-looking person; her poor, bent body witnessed to her suffering. But oh, how all was changed as she came to the front! The Lord laid His hands upon her-those hands which were so often lifted up in blessing; those hands which were laid upon the eyes of the blind, and they were opened; those hands which were laid upon lepers, and the leprosy was cleansed; those hands which were so soon to be pierced with the nails on the cross-He laid those hands upon this poor woman, and she felt the thrill of a new life coursing through her entire body; and she who had been crooked was made straight in a moment. And we are told she glorified God. She realized that He who had wrought this miracle upon her must be God’s Servant, for she recognized the fact that the healing was from the Lord. How far she entered into the truth of the Saviour’s Deity, I cannot say; but she recognized at least that the power of God had wrought this miracle. We might expect that there would have been great rejoicing on the part of all who were present, that a paean of praise would have risen from the throng who had witnessed this manifestation of the love and power of God. But though this was true of some, there were those who looked upon it all with jealous eyes and with bitter envy in their hearts. Even the ruler of the synagogue was indignant. To him it was a profane interruption of a sacred service. He did not speak to Jesus face-to-face but turned to the people and said, “There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” But God finds more glory in delivering people from their suffering, physical and spiritual, than in any formal religious service. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Thou hypocrite.” That word “hypocrite” is really the Greek word for an actor, and literally means “second face.” Greek actors did not appear on the stage showing their own faces but put on masks, and so the word “second face” was given to an actor. It is applied here by our Lord to one who is not real-Thou hypocrite, thou two-faced one! Jesus thus exposed the unreality of this man, who was one thing before men and quite another before God. He was altogether different in his home, and possibly altogether different in his business and in his relations with other persons than he was as ruler of the synagogue. There are many such hypocrites still: men, and women too, who can be very pious when they are in church but very impious when driving a hard bargain through the week; or who make everyone miserable in the home because of a violent temper and a hard and cruel manner in dealing with the family. Bunyan pictures one like this: “A saint abroad and devil at home.” Two faces: one face for the public, another face for other relations. There are many who resent a preacher’s speaking like this. They do not like to have sin called “sin”; they do not want anything that will disturb them in what they call their “religious exercises.” Our Lord knew this man, and He exposed the corruption of his heart as He exclaimed “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” When they attended to their animals on the Sabbath it was all right; but when He healed a poor, suffering woman and delivered her from an infirmity of eighteen years standing, they looked upon that with indignation. Yet this woman was a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound: that is, she was one who believed in God as Abraham did; she was a true daughter of the covenant. She was not merely a Jewess by natural birth, not merely one who sprang from the line of Abraham, but she was a woman of faith, in spite of the affliction wherewith Satan had bound her. She believed God; she had faith in Him. We read that, “They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” She was a woman of faith and now her faith was rewarded. She was healed of her infirmity, and some who should have rejoiced only complained!
Notice how definitely Jesus traces her infirmity back to Satan himself. Sickness never comes directly from God. God is infinitely pure; there is no corruption in Him. All the sickness, all the infirmity that anyone has to endure is the direct or indirect result of sin. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean one’s own personal sins are responsible for his infirmities. It would be cruel to take the stand which was taken by Job’s friends, that calamity comes to one only because of personal sin. But no one would ever have been ill if sin had not come into the world by Adam’s fall. There are times when in a very special way Satan undertakes to inflict punishment upon God’s people, but he can do that only as God gives permission. This is clearly illustrated when Satan went before God, and God said, “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth?” Satan replied, “Thou hast given him everything a man could desire, and that is the reason he fears Thee, but take it away from him and then Thou wilt see that he will curse Thee to Thy face.” God gave Satan permission to test Job in this manner, and Satan went forth and took everything away from him: his sons, daughters, and all his possessions. The only thing he left Job was a wife with a bad temper; all else was gone. But Job looked up to God and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Satan went before God again, and God said, “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” Satan said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.” Some physicians consider that this was a form of elephantiasis, a lothsome disease with excruciating agony. His wife said, “Why not curse God and die?” But Job said, “We receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not also receive evil?” God demonstrated to the devil that Job’s love was for Himself alone. In similar ways Satan is permitted to try God’s people still. He is permitted to put illness upon us; but the Lord will turn it all into blessing if only we learn to receive it as from His own hand and recognize no second causes.
In this case, notice again the way the Lord puts it: “Ought not this woman… whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond?” Do you see what He had done? He had made a crooked woman straight! Of course her ailment was physical; but I think there is a spiritual lesson here for us. All through the centuries since, that is what the gospel has been doing-it has been making crooked people straight. Sin makes us crooked. We have “all gone out of the way.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” As God looks down upon us He discerns the crookedness in all of us; but when we come to Christ He can straighten us out. The lives of some people are more crooked than others. Some people can cover their crookedness from the eyes of their fellows, but it is useless to try to hide their crookedness from God. There are many who have never come to the place where they have confessed their crookedness, acknowledged their sinfulness, and faced their true condition before God. He desires to do something for them; He wants to straighten them out, but they refuse to come to Him, for they do not realize their need of His grace. One of the most crooked persons I ever knew was a man who was crooked in his business. All who patronized him found that he cheated them. But when he came to Christ it was not long before people were saying, “You know Mr. So-and-So is a different man: he is straight in all his dealings.” Many people have been morally crooked, licentious, and given to vile habits; but they have come to Jesus and trusted Him, and He has made them upright. We cannot do this for ourselves. Only the Lord can straighten us. If you are morally crooked, and you have tried to straighten yourself and have not been able to do so, I plead with you: come to Jesus; look to Him; confess your failure and your sin to Him, and you will find that He is able to make you straight. He does not merely improve the old life; He gives a new life. When you receive this new life you will learn to hate the things you once loved and to love the things you once hated.
Coming back to our story-a picture of what Jesus can do for all crooked people who come to Him-we are told that, “When He had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” Evidently there were many besides the rulers who were opposed, many critical Jews who were angry, because of the healing of this poor woman on the Sabbath. But they were ashamed; they did not dare say anything more. And all the people, that is, the common people- the people who loved to hear the words of Jesus and to see His works of power-”rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” Thank God, He is still doing glorious things! He is still straightening up crooked people; He is still delivering folk from their infirmities. If you, to whom this message comes, have not known in your own life God’s wonderful work of grace, He bids you come to Him just as you are, and He will make you straight.
Two Aspects Of The Kingdom Of God -- Luke 13:18-21
“Then said He, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. And again He said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened”- Luke 13:18-21.
We are told in the beginning of this and the other Synoptic Gospels that John the Baptist came preaching repentance because the kingdom of God was at hand. The Lord Jesus took up the message as He began His ministry. For centuries, ever since the dispersion and partial return to the land, the Jews had looked for the King who was to deliver them from Gentile domination and set up the dominion of righteousness on the earth. Now the King was among them, and they knew Him not. The same prophets who told of the kingdom also predicted the rejection of the King at His first coming; and foretold a second and glorious advent when He should return in power and regal splendor, at which time the years of their mourning would be ended, and Israel would enter into fulness of blessing.
But what of the period lying between these two advents? Will the kingdom remain utterly in abeyance; or will it take some other form unpredicted by the prophets of old? These questions are answered, at least in part, in the two parables now before us. Here they are called parables of “the kingdom of God.” They are found also in Matthew’s Gospel (chap. 13), but there the term “kingdom of heaven” is used, an expression peculiar to that Evangelist. This is really synonymous with what we commonly call Christendom. There is a large part of the world where Christ is acknowledged outwardly as the earth’s rightful King, at least. There may or may not be heart-subjection to Him; but men professedly own allegiance to Him, as indicated by the very letters “A. D.”-”In the year of our Lord,” which we use in dating all our correspondence and other documents. “Christendom” really means “Christ’s Kingdom.” This is what our Lord referred to when He spoke of the mystery of the kingdom of God. It is the kingdom in mystery-form while the King Himself is absent in the heavens.
There are two different aspects of this kingdom brought before us in the two parables given here. Matthew gives both, as mentioned above, in a series with five other parables in the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel, where we have a remarkable outline of the whole history and the moral principles that were to characterize the kingdom of heaven while the King remains away. “Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” Elsewhere we are told that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. This does not mean that it is the smallest of all seeds in the vegetable world but the smallest in the herb gardens. And yet that little seed produces the greatest tree of all the herbs. It grows very rapidly and soon overshadows everything around it. Now this is the picture the Lord gave of the outward development of the kingdom of God. Have you ever stopped to think this through? When our Lord first ascended to heaven there were eleven men definitely committed to Him, recognized as His apostles, to bear His message to the world. There were some few hundreds of others throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria, who acknowledged His claims. That small beginning was like the mustard seed, the nucleus of the kingdom. These eleven were commissioned to go everywhere preaching the kingdom of God, and telling of the Saviour who had died to put away the sin of mankind and who had ascended to heaven, and is coming again to judge the world. You know how rapidly the kingdom expanded. Within a very short time after the ascension of the Lord Jesus we come to Pentecost, and on that day three thousand souls openly confessed their allegiance to Him. Then within a short time after the healing of the lame man at the temple gate, the number became five thousand; and as the days went on more and more throughout all Jerusalem and Judaea came out for Christ. The gospel reached Samaria, and many hundreds of Samaritans believed, and so it went on to the Gentile world. The remarkable fact is that though the gospel had to contend with idolatry of the worst kind, within three hundred years paganism in the Roman empire had been practically conquered, and Christianity superseded it. Early Christian writers about that time taunted the enemies of Christianity with words something like these: “Your temples are deserted. Christians are found everywhere throughout the Empire.” So the Word went on and on until today there are untold millions of people in the world who profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. But our Lord said the tree grew until it “waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.” If we turn back to the eighth chapter of this Gospel we find the parable of the sower who went out to sow his seed, “And as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.” When our Lord gives the interpretation of that parable in the eleventh and twelfth verses, He says, “The Seed is the Word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” In this our Lord shows that the fowls of the air represent evil emissaries, agents of Satan, who are seeking to destroy that which is of God, and to keep the good seed of the kingdom from bearing fruit in the hearts of those who hear. Is it not a remarkable thing then that only a short time afterward He likens the kingdom of heaven to a mustard tree, with branches spreading abroad in a remarkable way, but in which the fowls of the air actually find lodgment? But does not that agree with the history of Christendom? The way in which nation after nation has been brought out of the darkness of paganism to a knowledge of our blessed Saviour has been truly miraculous; but oh, what unspeakable evils have been hidden in the professing Church of the living God! When we think of the many emissaries of the devil who have found shelter inside the great Christian organizations, who are filled with bitter hatred for the gospel, and endeavor to turn people away from the truth, one might well be appalled and disheartened if the Lord had not foretold all this.
The next parable is that of the leaven, “which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” Let me suggest a word of caution here: Do not say that the kingdom itself is like leaven. That is what many people believe. They have the idea that leaven is a symbol of the kingdom, and just as a housewife puts yeast in dough, so the gospel has been committed to Christ’s servants to be carried to the end of the world; and it will go on working and working until everybody will be converted, and this whole universe will be brought to the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now that would be a wonderful thing if it were true, but many scriptures show that it is not so. Our Lord Jesus put the question: “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” He told of ever-increasing apostasy as the end draws near. He said, “As it was in the days of Noah so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” The whole world was not converted in Noah’s day; neither will the whole world be converted before our Lord comes again.
In an earlier section of this exposition we have discussed the meaning of leaven and seen that throughout Scripture it represents always that which is evil, either in practice or in doctrine. We are warned in both 1 Corinthians 5:6 and in Galatians 5:9, that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Leaven is ever and always evil. In the light of this fact, what do we really see here? The Lord was telling what was going to take place after He went away. He showed how the kingdom was going to spread throughout the world. He knew that millions would profess faith in His name, and to them His truth was to be committed. It was to be kept inviolate, unleavened. But He foresaw the efforts that false professors would make to turn His disciples away from the truth and to bring in the leaven of evil teaching. Like Jezebel of old, the woman here works surreptitiously to pervert the truth. Thus she, the false church, hides the leaven in the food of the children of God. In Revelation (Chap. 17) we have that evil woman, Babylon the Great, riding the beast and dominating the affairs of this world, professing to be the Lamb’s wife, but branded by God Himself as a false harlot and the persecutor of the saints. This, I believe, is the woman we have pictured here, coming from the outside into Christianity, professing to teach the truth which God revealed to His people. Think of the widespread perversion of the truth. For instance, Christ told His disciples to go into all the world and baptize believers from among all nations. Soon this simple ordinance was said to produce the new birth, and it was taught that only by baptism could we be assured of salvation. Jesus instituted the precious ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in memory of Him till He comes again. It was not long before people were taught that the bread and wine were transubstantiated into the very body and blood of Christ and offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. That which was intended to be a beautiful testimony to the finished work of Christ was made to mean the very opposite. There are literally thousands of people who are taught to go to Mary instead of to Christ, to pray to Mary and to the apostles and other saints who came after them, as though the saints in heaven could hear. Nowhere are we told that the saints can hear our prayers. God, revealed in Christ, is the only One who knows our hearts, and who can hear the cry of our lips. “There is .one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” A picture came to me this past week, sent by someone, I suppose, who desired to enlighten me. It represented two ladders leading to heaven. At the top of one was what was meant to be a picture of Christ, and at the top of the other was a picture of Mary, His mother. At the bottom of Mary’s ladder was a group of priests and nuns urging people to climb up to her for salvation. All such received a glad welcome. Those who insisted on taking the other ladder met, at the top, a scowling Christ, cold, severe and merciless. The picture showed some people climbing up that ladder, and after getting halfway up they tumbled off. But Mary was pictured as the blessed one with a kindly face, looking down in compassion upon the people as they climbed to heaven. They were making it through Mary when they could not make it through Christ! There you have an illustration of what I mean by the insertion of the leaven of error in the meal. Think of the Blessed Lord who said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Is He cold and unconcerned? And is it His mother, Mary, who is tender and loving and ready to help sinners? What a travesty on the gospel! As our Lord looked forward He said, all this “is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” Oh, how thankful we can be that we can come right back and test everything by this Book, and rejoice today that we know Christ as the One who came down from His glory to accomplish the work that saves, and to give assurance of eternal life to all who trust Him!
A Great Crisis -- Luke 13:22-35
“And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And He said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets. But He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him, Get Thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill Thee. And He said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”- Luke 13:22-35.
This portion of Luke’s Gospel brings us to a great crisis in the history of Israel. For three years our blessed Lord had presented Himself to the people as the promised King, the One who the Old Testament prophets had predicted would come in the fulness of time to reign here on the earth; but He had met with ever-increasing opposition. The leaders rejected Him from the very first. They would not recognize Him nor His credentials. They positively refused to see in Him the promised Messiah. For three years they had closed their hearts to Him, and the time had come when Israel, for the present, must be set to one side, and soon the call of God would go out to the Gentile world.
Jesus left Galilee and traveled slowly down the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, through Decapolis and Perea, in order to reach Jerusalem in time for the Passover-the last Passover which He was to eat with His disciples. On the very day of the feast He was to die as the true Paschal Lamb. As they journeyed through the villages and talked together, one turned to Him and asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” This is a question that arises in many hearts. Will there be comparatively few in heaven, or will there be many? Now the Lord does not exactly answer this question here. There are several passages of Scripture which I think answer it very clearly. We know that all children who die in infancy will be saved, because our Lord Jesus definitely declared, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” This, in itself, gives us some idea of the vast multitude of the redeemed. But of those who have grown to years of maturity, there have been far more who have spurned the Word of God than who have received it. None will be saved who reject the light which God gives them. All such are condemned justly. But on this occasion, our Lord, instead of answering the question, stressed the importance of being tremendously in earnest in view of the coming day. He said unto them, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” It is not that we are to be saved by our own efforts, for by these we would never be saved at all; but we must be in earnest when the door to life stands open, and we are invited to enter in; we must be sure that we heed the gracious invitation and do not pass carelessly by, lest we find at last that we have lost our opportunity.
Jesus adds, “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are.” We may well take these warning words to our hearts today for they are intended for us as truly as for the people of Israel of old. The door into the kingdom of God still stands open, but it is a narrow door. None can pass through that door with their sins upon them. But as Christ Himself is the Door, we may find in Him deliverance from our sins, and thus enter into the way of life. The narrow way is that of subjection to Christ; a way that involves denial of self and recognition of our responsibility to live for Him whose grace alone can save us.
I plead with you to give heed to the words of our Lord, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Do not let anything keep you from making sure of your eternal salvation. But be like the man in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, who, when he heard of the impending destruction of the city in which he lived and learned that life was to be found only through entering the wicket gate, refused to be turned aside by any of his own townspeople, and putting his fingers in his ears, ran from them crying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!” and so made his way toward the shining light pointed out to him by Evangelist.
Jesus warns of the danger of unreality as He continues His discourse: “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.” Or, as many might put it, “We have attended church; we have sung gospel hymns; we have listened to sermons; we have given money to help in missionary endeavors.” But these things cannot save. So He adds, “But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” You will remember in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, our Lord says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” Now observe the contrast. His own sheep are those who entered by the strait gate and took the narrow way. They are all those who believed the gospel. He says of these, “I know them.” Notice the difference as to those mentioned here to whom “He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.” There are none to whom He will say, “I used to know you but I do not know you anymore; I knew you once, but you have forfeited the right of all recognition.” He says to all who are lost: “I never knew you!” Not one soul will be found knocking on the outside of that closed door who was once saved and then forfeited salvation; but there will be thousands, I am afraid, perhaps myriads, who thought they were Christians, and their friends on earth thought they were, and yet the Lord will say to them in that day, “I never knew you!” They have never been really born of God.
The Lord was speaking particularly to those of Israel who had heard His message, who had been told He was the promised Messiah and King; yet the great majority had refused to believe in Him. He says, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Notice the evidence of full recognition of those who had entered into the other world-they will know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets. They will behold them even though they are on the other side of the great gulf; they will see beyond into the heavenly aspect of the kingdom, the fathers of Israel, and the prophets whose Scriptures they had professed to cherish; but they, themselves, who had failed to recognize the Redeemer when He came to deliver them, will be shut out in the darkness. Oh, be warned lest the day come for you when you shall see in yonder glory, father, mother, friends, and dear ones who knew and loved Christ; yet you, yourself, be shut out because you did not receive the Saviour. Receive Him now if you have never received Him before, even as these words ring in your ears. You need His blood to wash away your sins. Receive Him now in faith. The moment you do so He receives you, and you pass through the strait gate. Israel had that opportunity but they lost it. They forfeited their privileges; therefore, the day drew near when they would be cast out and others would take their place. “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” There are millions from the Gentile world who have come in to appropriate and enjoy that which Israel despised. So we are told, “And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.” Israel was first in God’s plan for blessing and now she is last. “The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him, Get Thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill Thee.” They pretended to be interested in saving the life of our Lord, but they did not understand that no one could take it until He Himself laid it down. Knowing all that was before Him and perceiving their deceitful attitude, “He said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” That is, perfected as to salvation. We read in the second chapter of Hebrews that He who was ever perfect as to His character; was made perfect as the Captain of our salvation by His death on the cross.
He had set His face to go to Jerusalem and finish His testimony there, where He was to lay down His life for our redemption. As He thought of that city-the city that was privileged above every other city on earth but which knew not the time of its visitation-He cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” In these words He tells us the yearning that is in the heart of God, not only for Jerusalem and for the people of Israel, but for all men everywhere who turn carelessly and indifferently away from His message.
“From heaven His eye is downward bent,
Still glancing to and fro
Where’er in this wide wilderness,
There roams a child of woe.
“And as the rebel chooses wrath,
God wails his hapless lot,
Deep-breathing from His heart of love,
I would, but ye would not!”
If unsaved, I plead with you, do not hurt the heart of God by continuing to reject His Son. He loved you enough to give Christ to die for you. You could not insult Him more than by spurning that Gift, and saying, “I am not interested in Christ.” On the other hand, there is nothing you could do which would gladden the heart of God more than to say, “I receive Thy Son; I trust Him now as my Saviour; I own Him as my Lord.” It is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
We have next the Lord’s words directed to those who had spurned His testimony. With Israel it was final rejection. They did not realize that they had crossed the dead-line. The Lord said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The crisis had been reached in God’s dealing with Israel for that age. From that time on, as one may see by reading any of the Gospels, there was no attempt made to win the whole nation of Israel. They have closed the door upon themselves. So God gave them up to hardness of heart. Not until the Lord returns will the nation come to repentance. Ever since He said, “Your house is left desolate,” Israel has been set aside and is no longer in the place of a favored people. On the other hand He offers deliverance to every individual Israelite who will turn to Him and trust Him. There is no difference, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “There is no difference between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon Him.” In the book of Acts we see the Lord through Peter, pleading with the people of Israel to save themselves from that unrighteous generation by acknowledging the Saviour whom the nation, as such, has repudiated. But the day of Israel’s regeneration as a whole is deferred until the once-rejected Jesus is manifested in glory, and they look upon Him whom they pierced and bow in repentance at His feet.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 13". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent