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The last chapter gave in the judgment of present things, another world and eternal things in good and evil, the Lord's instruction for the disciples after the dealings of grace in Luke 15:1-32, and this as the only true power of estimating the present world (that is to say, by the standard of the future the eternal future of God. In order to complete that picture, our Lord gave a sight not only of one blessed man who had lived in what is eternal, while experiencing the bitterness of this evil age, but of another who lived only for the present, despising God's message about eternity.
In Luke 17:1-37 there follow further lessons communicated still to the disciples; and first of all, a solemn warning as to stumbling-blocks. It is possible that offences will come; but woe to him through whom they come! Next, while there is a strong exhortation against stumbling others, there is an equally urgent call to forgive others. We are to be firm against ourselves; we are to be firm for our brethren, even where they touch ourselves. Therefore the apostles, feeling the great difficulty, as indeed it is impossible to nature so to walk, ask of the Lord to increase their faith. The Lord intimates in reply that faith grows, and even in the presence of difficulty. It seeks what belongs not to nature, but to God. On the other hand, in the midst of any answers that God may vouchsafe, and of all service rendered to Him, the admonitory word is added that when we have done all things not when we have failed we are unprofitable servants. Such is the true language and feeling for a disciple's heart. This closes the direct teaching here addressed to His followers (Verses Luke 17:1-10.)
Our Lord is next (ver. Luke 17:11-19) presented in a very characteristic way, showing that faith does not necessarily wait for a change of dispensation. He had been laying, down the duty of faith in many various forms in the early verses of this chapter. It is here shown that faith always finds its place of blessing with God and proves Him superior to forms; but God is only found in Jesus.
In the ten lepers this blessed principle is brought out clearly. The healing of the Lord was equally manifest in all; but there is a power superior to that which cleanses the body, even were it desperately leprous. The power that belongs to and comes out from God is but a small thing, in comparison with the knowledge of God Himself. This alone brings to God in spirit (as it did really by the cross of Christ). Observe, that he who exemplifies this action of divine grace was one that knew not traditional religion as the others did, that had no great privileges to boast of in comparison with the rest. It was the Samaritan in whom the Lord illustrated the power of faith. He had told the ten equally to go and show themselves to the priest; and as they went they were cleansed. One only, seeing he was cleansed, turns back, and with a loud voice glorified God. But the way in which he glorified God was not by merely ascribing the blessing to God. "He fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan."
Apparently this was disobedience; and the others could well reproach their Samaritan fellow that he was unfaithful to Jesus. But faith is always right, whatever appearances may say: I speak not now of a fancy, of course, not of any eccentric humour or delusion too often covered over with the name of faith. Real faith which God gives is never so far wrong: and he who, instead of going on to the priest, recognizes in Jesus the power and goodness of God upon earth, (the instincts of that very faith that was of God working in his heart and carrying him back to the source of the blessing,) he, I say, was the only one of the ten who was in the spirit, not only of the blessing but of Him who gave the blessing. And so our Lord Jesus vindicates him. "Were there not ten cleansed?" said the Saviour; "but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger."
Faith invariably discovers the way to give glory to God. It matters not whether it be in Abraham or in a Samaritan leper, its path is entirely outside the ken of nature, yet faith does not fail to discern it; the Lord assuredly puts His seal upon it, and grace supplies all needed strength to follow.
But this was in its principle the judgment of the Jewish system. It was the power of faith leaving Judaism to itself, mounting in Jesus to the source of both law and grace, but not putting the legal system down. This was for other hands. Faith does not destroy; it has no such commission: angels will have that province another day. But faith finds its own deliverance now, leaving those who are under the law and love not grace, to the law which condemns. For itself it discovers the blessedness of freedom from the law, yet is not lawless to God, but, on the contrary, legitimately bound ( ἔννομος ) to Christ, really and duly subject to Him, and so much the more because not under law. In the present case, the cleansed Samaritan in going to Jesus was very simply under grace, in the spirit that animated his heart and formed his path, as Luke the evangelist here records.
How admirably this tale is adapted to the whole tone and character of the Gospel, I need not delay to prove. It must be plain enough, I think, even to a superficial reader, that as Luke alone gives the account, so to Luke it is most especially adapted for the purpose that the Holy Ghost had in hand in this Gospel, and also in this particular context.
We have further, in our Lord's answer to the Pharisees, who demanded when the kingdom of God should come, a striking revelation, and most suitable to Luke's purpose. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." It is not a question of signs, wonders, or outward show. It is not that God did not accompany His message with signs. But the kingdom of God, revealed in the person of Christ, went deeper appeals to faith (not sight), and demands the Holy Ghost's action in the soul to give the sinner to see and enter it. Here it is not a question exactly of entering or seeing, as inJohn 3:1-36; John 3:1-36, but rather the moral character of the entrance of God's kingdom among men. It does not address itself to the senses or the mere mind of man; it carries its own evidence with it to the conscience and the heart. As being the kingdom of God, it is impossible that His kingdom should come, without adequate testimony in love to man, who is sought for it. At the same time man, having a bad conscience and a depraved heart, slights God's word as well as kingdom, and looks for that which would please himself by gratifying his feelings, mind, or even lower nature. Our Lord, however, first of all lays down this great principle: it is no question of a "lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." The kingdom was actually there; for He, God's King was there. Then, after settling this moral truth which was fundamental for the soul, He turns to His disciples, and tells them that the days would come when they should desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and should not see it; for the kingdom will be displayed by and by. "When they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under. heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation." This is the necessary moral order of God. Jesus must first suffer; so "the sufferings of Christ," as Peter said afterwards, "and the glories that should follow." Such is the invariable method of God in dealing with a sinful world, where He brings in, not a test of man, but the effectual work of His own grace. But this presentation to faith now, as we have seen does not hinder the Lord from speaking of another day, when the kingdom of God would be manifest. Before that day of His appearing there might be a premature "Lo here! or, lo there!" The godly must not follow men's cries, but count on the Lord. He compares it to the days of Noe (that is, to the day of God's past judgment of man and his ways); then to the days of Lot.
First of all, then, we have, for the disciples, God's ways in grace, in the Son of man that first suffers, and finally will appear in power and glory. As for the world, careless indifference and enjoyment of present things will characterise the future as the past; but they will be surprised by the Lord in the midst of heedless folly. To this the Lord appends a peculiar, but not less solemn though brief word: "Remember Lot's wife! "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it." Apparently the wife of Lot was rescued by angelic power; she was certainly brought out of the doomed city; but it was only the more strikingly to be the monument of God's all-searching judgment. There she stands alone. The others perished; but she abode a pillar of salt, when Moses wrote the (morally speaking) imperishable memorial of God's hatred of a false heart, which, spite of outward deliverance, gave its affections still to a scene devoted to destruction. And so our Lord adds here what touched, not merely the Jewish system, but the condition and doom of the world at large. He lets us know that in that night two should be in one bed; one taken, and the other left. So two women at the mill; for here we have not to do with human judgments. God will then judge the quick; and so, no matter what the association, the employment, or the sex, whether within doors or without, there can be no shelter or exemption. Two might be ever so closely knit together, but God would discriminate according to the nicety of His own discernment of their state: one should be taken, and the other left. "And they answered, and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body. is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." Wherever there is that which is dead, and consequently offensive morally unto God, there unquestionably will His judgments fall.
But along with this we have also prayer (Luke 18:1-43), not merely as suitable to a soul's need, and in connection with the word of God received from Jesus, which we have seen in Luke 11:1-54. Here it is prayer out of the midst of circumstances of desolation and deep trial prayer with evil near at hand, as well as divine judgment. Consequently its ultimate bearing is in connection with the tribulation of the last days. But, at the same time, Luke never confines his view to outward facts. Hence, it is said, "He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray." It is the more striking, because the circumstances are evidently limited; while that which He draws from them is universal. The Lord is exhorting to prayer, in view of the final trial; nevertheless, He prefaces it with a plain moral precept on the value. of prayer at all times "that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." Certainly God will not be heedless to the continual cry of His own seemingly desolate elect in their fiery trial, where all the might of man is against them; but still the duty always remains true.
Now, it is Luke alone who thus treats the matter; the great moral value attached to prayer, at the same time connected, it may be, with general circumstances of sorrow, but bearing on the circumstances of the last day. The parable is intended to give or increase confidence in the heed God pays to the prayer of distress. Spite of indifference, an unjust judge yields to the importunity of a poor widow. If a bad man so acted, not because of his hatred of the wrong done to her that was oppressed, but to get rid of being always troubled by her cries for justice if it be so even with the unjust, would not God take up the cause of His own elect, that cried unto Him day and night? It could not but be. He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth? (Verses Luke 18:1-8.)
Then follows another parable of a very different character. It is not the value of persistent prayer, and the certainty of God appearing even for the weakest, no matter how apparently deserted (indeed, so much the more, because of it in His own). We have, further, the moral condition of man illustrated in two ways a broken spirit with little light but a real sense of sin, and another soul satisfied with itself in the presence of God. "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous) and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican." Not that the Pharisee represents a man who denies God, or who is not a religious man. He is religious, but such religion is the most damning thing about him. The evil is not merely his sins, but his religion: nothing more blinding to himself and other men, nothing more dishonouring to God. On the other hand, the poor publican has neither clear light nor peace, but at least he realises the commencement of all true light he has learned enough of God to condemn himself. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." He alone of the two judged things according to his little light. He judged himself truly, and, therefore, was in a moral condition to see other things aright, as God should bring them before him. There was as yet no such privilege known as a purged worshipper having no more conscience of sins. Therefore, the convicted publican is found outside, beating his breast, and standing at a distance, not so much as looking up. It was suitable that it should be so; for Christ's work was not yet wrought, still less applied to his soul. It would have been not faith, but presumption, I do not doubt, at such a time, and under such circumstances, for him to have come nigh. All was in its season. But if God invites a believer now to draw near into the holiest of all, is it not equal presumption for that soul to quarrel with the grace of God displayed in Christ's work of redemption, and to raise questions about its effects for itself? God may, and does, bear with the wound to His own grace; and He has His way of correcting such wrong; but there is no ground in the parable to warrant what is too often founded upon it. We owe it to Christ to resent every misinterpretation which goes to undo what He has done on the cross. The publican before us was not meant to give us a full view of the Christian state, or of the blessings of the gospel, but of a man taught of God to feel his own nothingness as a sinner before Him; and God's estimate of him, in comparison with the man who was satisfied with his state. It is humility founded upon the sense of unworthiness, which is always right as far as it goes. (VersesLuke 18:9-14; Luke 18:9-14.)
Next is set forth humility, founded on our littleness (ver. Luke 18:15-17). Many a man is consciously unworthy, because he feels himself a sinner who has no just sense of his littleness in the presence of God. Our Lord here gives this further lesson to the disciples, and uses a child as the text. We shall find how much it was needed if we look into the Gospel of Luke.
Then we have the ruler, to whom our Lord shows that all was wrong where a soul is not brought to know that there is none good but God. Had he really known how good God is he would have soon seen God in Jesus. He saw nothing of the sort. He knew neither God nor good. He looked upon the Lord merely as good after a human fashion. If He was but a man there was no goodness in Him; it is only in God: God alone is good. If Jesus were not God, He was not good. The young ruler had no right, no just title to say, "Good Master", unless that master were God. This he saw not; and therefore, the Lord proves him, and searches the ground of his heart, and demonstrates that after all he valued the world more than God and eternal life. This he had never suspected in himself before. He loved his natural position; he loved to be a ruler, though a young one; he loved his possessions; he loved what he had of present advantages in the world. He really clave to all these things without knowing it himself. The Lord, therefore calls upon him to give them up, and follow Him. He thought there was no demand of goodness but what he was able to meet; but the trial was too much for him. Man was not good God only. Jesus, who was God, had given up beyond all comparison more, yea, infinitely.
What had He not given up, and for whom? He was God, and proved it not least in a self-abnegation truly divine. (Verses Luke 18:18-25.)
Then we have the hearers and disciples disclosing their thoughts. They began to claim something of credit for what they had given up. The Lord admits that there is no abandonment of faith but what will meet with a most adequate remembrance from the Lord another day.
But, at the same time (verses Luke 18:31-34), He takes unto Him the twelve and says, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished." This is what He was looking for, whatever they were. "For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him, and put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again; and they understood none of these things. And this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken." It is an important lesson, and not the first time we find it in Luke, and, indeed, in other Gospels also. Nor can it be too often repeated, that lack of intelligence in Scripture does not depend upon the obscurity of the language, but because the will does not like the truth that is taught. This is the reason why difficulties are felt and abound. When a man is made willing to receive the truth, his eye is single and his whole body full of light. The will is the real hindrance. The mind will be clear, if the conscience and the heart be set right. Where, on the contrary, God breaks down the believer, and sets him free in the liberty wherewith the Son makes free, the conscience is purged, and the heart turned towards Himself. All then becomes right: he is brought into the light of God; he sees light in God's light. Was this the condition of the disciples as yet? Were they not still cleaving to their own cherished expectations of Messiah, and an earthly kingdom? They could not understand Him, no matter how plain the words employed. The hardness of His saying lay not in any lack of perspicuity. Never man spake as this man, His enemies themselves being judges; neither was it from any defect in their natural understanding that the disciples were thus slow. The state of the heart, as ever, was in question; the will was at fault, even though they were regenerate. It was their reluctance to receive what Jesus taught that made the difficulty; and it is the same thing still with believers, as with others.
In verse 35 we enter on the closing section of all the historical Gospels, as is well known, that is to say, the entrance into Jerusalem from Jericho. Only there is a difficulty here to some that Luke appears to contradict what we have in the other accounts of this part of Christ's progress. "It came to pass, that as he came nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the wayside begging." From the other Gospels we know it was when He went out of Jericho, not when He came in. The truth is, that our English version, excellent as it is, goes a little beyond the word of Luke; for our evangelist does not say "When he was come nigh unto Jericho," but "when he was nigh." It is not necessarily a question of coming near, but simply of being in the neighbourhood. The utmost which can or ought to be allowed is, that if the context so required, it might bear the translation (a paraphrase rather) of coming nigh; but this case demands the very reverse. It is evident, whether you go into a place or whether you come out of it, you are equally nigh on one side of the town or on the other. The truth is, that Luke merely states the fact of vicinity here. Further, we know that just as Matthew, for his design, so he displaces facts historically for the purpose of giving a more forcible moral picture of the truth in hand. I have little doubt that in this case the reason for putting the blind man here rather than in leaving, the town was, that for Jericho He reserved the wonderful call of Zaccheus, with the object of bringing that tale of grace, characteristic of His first-advent, into juxtaposition with the question and parable of the kingdom, which illustrated His second advent; for immediately afterwards we have His correction of the disciples, thoughts, that the kingdom of God was immediately going to appear; because He was going up to Jerusalem. They expected that He was going to take the throne of David at once. Accordingly, Luke puts together those two features the grace that illustrates His first coming, and the real nature of the second coming of Christ, as far as regards the appearing of God's kingdom. Now, had the story of the blind man healed at Jericho been left for its historical place, it would have cut the thread of these two circumstances. There is, therefore, in this, as it appears to me, an ample and divine reason why the Spirit of God led the writer to present the cure of the blind man as we find it. But then he does not say what the English version makes him say, "As he was come nigh," but simply, "When he was nigh to Jericho," leaving it open to other Scriptures to define the time with more precision. He only states that it was while the Lord was in the neighbourhood. The other Gospels positively tell us it was as He went out. Clearly, therefore, we must interpret the general language of Luke by the exacter marks of the time and place of those who declare it was as He was going out. Nothing can be simpler. The healing of the blind man was a kind of final testimony that Messiah was there. He was coming in the way, not of the power that once overthrew Jericho, but of grace that showed and could meet the real condition of Israel. They were blind. Had they possessed the faith only to cry to Messiah about their blindness, He was therewith power and willingness to heal them. There was none but a blind man or two to own real need, but our Lord at least healed all who cried. (Verses Luke 18:35-43.)
Then, as He entered Jericho, Zaccheus, the chief of the tax-gatherers, was mightily stirred with the desire to see this wondrous man, the Son of man. Hence he lets nothing stand in the way. Neither personal deficiency, nor the crowd that was there, is allowed to hinder his intense purpose of heart to see the Lord Jesus. He therefore climbs up a sycamore tree by the way; and Jesus knowing well the desire of Zaccheus, and the faith that was at work there however feebly, at once, to his joy and astonishment, invites Himself to his house. "Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully." All fell to murmuring. It was the same tale at the end as at the beginning. "And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." He had been really a conscientious man. He was a man thus characterised; for it is no promise of what he is going to do, but he mentions that which was no doubt a fact about himself at that very moment. He was what men call a just and good man, yet a chief tax-gatherer and a wealthy one, though they be hard things to put together. Here was a tax-gatherer who, if through in cautiousness or any defect guilty of wrong to another, needed no pressure to restore fourfold. Such was his habit. Our Lord, however, cuts it all short. As a matter of human righteousness it was well; it was the proof that Zaccheus exercised himself as a man to have a conscience void offence in his own way. Nor is this out of keeping with the tenor of Luke's Gospel, as, indeed, it is only here that we have the story at all. Our Lord, however, shows that it was not the time to think or speak of such matters. "This day is salvation come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." How infinite the blessing! Was it a fitting time for speaking of himself? It was not a question of man's walking righteously, or of talking about it. In truth, man was lost; but the Son of man was there to bear his burden. This great and glorious fact superseded all others. Whatever there had been working in him at any time all was now swallowed up in the presence of the Son of man seeking and saving the lost. What can give us amore vivid, true, and blessed representation of the Lord Jesus Christ in His first coming with the grace of God that brings salvation? (Luke 19:1-10.)
Immediately after (and, if I mistake not, expressly put in close conjunction with this) is the parable of the nobleman who goes into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. They were all wrong therefore, in looking for the kingdom of God immediately to appear. Not so. Christ was going away to heaven to receive the kingdom from God there not about to take it from man now and in this world. It is evidently, therefore, a picture of the Lord's return at the second advent, after having received a kingdom. It was not a question of human willingness or power, but of receiving from God. But then, further, He shows that meanwhile His servants are called to occupy themselves till he come. He called His ten servants, and delivered to them ten pounds; and said unto them, "Occupy till I come." Then we find another picture His citizens hating Him; for nothing can be more elaborate than this parable. The Lord's relation to the kingdom at the second advent is contrasted with the grace that flows out in the former part of the chapter. This is the main subject with which the parable opens. Next, we have the place of the servants responsible to use what the Lord gives. Such is another great point shown out here. It is not, as in the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord giving different gifts to different servants, which is equally true; but here it is the moral test of the servants carried out by each having the same sum. This proves yet more than in the other case how far they laboured. They started with similar advantages. What was the result? Meanwhile hatred became apparent in the citizens, who represent the unbelieving Jews settled down in the earth. "When he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded those servants to be called unto Him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy mina hath gained ten minas;" and so with the other; and then we hear of the one who says, "Lord, behold, here is thy mina, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee." There was no confidence in His grace. The consequence is, that, treating the Lord as a froward man, he finds Him froward. Unbelief finds its own response as truly as faith does. As "it is unto thee according to thy faith," so alas! the converse proves true. It is to man according to his unbelief.
Further, we have a remarkable difference in the rewards here. It is not, "Enter into the joy of thy Lord;" but one receives ten cities, another five, and so on. He that was fearful and unbelieving, on the contrary, has his mina taken from him. Again, then enemies are brought forward. The unfaithful servant is not called an enemy, though, no doubt, he was no friend of the Son, and dealt with righteously. But the open adversaries are called into the scene; and as the Lord here pronounces those men His enemies which would not :that He should reign over them, He says, "Bring them hither, and slay them before me." Thus the parable is a very complete sketch of the general results of the Lord's second advent for the citizens of the world, as well as of the occupation and reward of the servants who serve Him faithfully meanwhile. (Verses Luke 19:11-27.)
Next, we have the entrance into Jerusalem. We need not dwell on the scene of the riding in on the colt; but that which is peculiar to Luke claims our attention for a moment. "And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen: saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest."(Ver. 37, 38.) Thus the Spirit of God works to give them a step, and a great step, in divine intelligence beyond the song of the angels at the beginning. What they justly sang at the birth of Jesus was, "Peace on earth: good will that is, God's good will in men," ushered in by glory to God in the highest. Here we have a signal change or converse. "Glory in the highest" is the result, not the introduction; and instead of "peace on earth," (which will, no doubt, be the fruit by and by, as it is according to God's mind, the anticipation from the beginning,) the disciples meanwhile and most appropriately, sing, "Peace in heaven." It was not a question of peace on earth now. The reason was manifest: the earth was unready, was about to judge unjustly, and to be judged. Jesus was on the very point of being cast out and cut off. He was really in heart thoroughly rejected already; but He was shortly to enter on other sufferings, even to the death of the cross. The effect, then, of that which was imminent was not peace for the earth yet, but peace in heaven most assuredly; and therefore we can comprehend how the Lord guided by His Spirit the song of the disciples at the close just as much as at the beginning; that of the angels expressed the general idea of God's purposes the moral effects to spring from the death of the incarnate Son.
After this we hear the murmuring Pharisees rebuked, who would have had the disciples rebuked for their song: if they had not sung it, the stones must have cried out; and the Lord vindicates the blameless (Ver. Luke 19:39-40.)
Then follows that most touching scene, peculiar to and characteristic of Luke Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. It was not at the grave of the one He loved, though about to call from the grave. The weeping in John is in the presence of death, which had touched Lazarus. It is therefore infinitely more personal, though it be also the wondrous sight of One who, coming, with the consciousness of divine power to banish death and bring life into the scene, yet in grace nevertheless did not one whit the less, but the more, feel the power of death as no mere man ever felt, yet as none but a real man could feel. There never was any one that had such a sense of death before as Jesus, just because He was life, the energy of which, combined with perfect; love, made the power of death to be so sensible. Death does not feel death, but life did. Therefore He that was (and not merely had) life, as no one else, weeps in the presence of death, groaning, in spirit at the grave. His having power to banish death weakened His sense of it in no respect. If poor dying man felt it somewhat, the Lord made flesh, the God-man, entered into it in spirit the more because He was God, though man. But here we have another scene, His weeping over that very city that was about to cast Him out and crucify Him. Oh it is a truth for us to treasure in our hearts His weeping in divine grace over guilty Jerusalem, forsaking its own mercies, rejecting its own Saviour the Lord God. Its desolation He predicts, and destruction, because the time of its visitation was unknown. (Verses Luke 19:41-44.) His visit to the temple and its cleansing are mentioned summarily; as also His teaching there daily the chiefs of priest and people, With their desire to destroy Him but hardly knowing how, for all the people hung on Him to hear. In Luke 20:1-47 we have the various classes of religionists and worldly men trooping one after another, hoping somehow to ensnare or accuse the Lord of glory. Each of them falls into the trap which they had made for Him. Accordingly they do but discover and condemn themselves. We have the priests with their question of authority (ver. Luke 20:1-8), then the people hearing the history of God's dealings with them, and their moral condition fully brought out. (Verses Luke 20:9-19.) We have further the crafty spies, hired by the chief priests and scribes, that feigned themselves just, and thought to take hold of His words, and embroil Him with the earthly powers. (Verses Luke 20:20-26.)
We have, after these, the Sadducees denying the resurrection. (Verses Luke 20:27-38.) But here we may pause for a moment; for there are special and profoundly instructive touches peculiar to Luke. More particularly remark this that he alone, of all the evangelists, here characterizes men, in the activities of this life, as "the children of this world," or age. They are persons who live merely for the present. "The children of this world [age] marry, and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world [age], and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels." In the resurrection state there will be no such relations. The difficulty existed for, or rather was made by, unbelief only. Indeed, what else can incredulity ever pretend to? It imagines difficulties, and nowhere so much as in the most certain truth of God. The resurrection is the great truth to which all things turn which the Lord has shown in its final form, too, in His own person now raised from the dead, then just about to follow. This truth was combated and refused by the most active sect among the Jews at that time, the most intellectual and the best informed naturally. These were the persons who most of all set themselves against it.
But our Lord brings in another remarkable point here. Not only is God not the God of the dead, but of the living; but "all live unto him." (Ver. Luke 20:38; Luke 20:38.) Two great truths are here present living unto God after death, and future resurrection, when Jesus comes and brings in the new age. This was especially of value for Gentiles, because it was one of the great problems for the heathen mind, whether the soul existed after death, not to speak of the resurrection of the body. Naturally the Jews, save the unbelieving portion of them, looked for resurrection; but for the Gentiles the Spirit of God gives us our Lord's answer to the Sadducees, both proving the resurrection which is common to all the Gospels, and bringing in the living, of dead men in the separate state. It peculiarly fell within the domain of Luke.
This truth is not confined to the present portion of our Gospel. We have similar teaching elsewhere. Does not the account of the rich man and Lazarus intimate the same thing? Yea, more; not only the existence of the soul separate from the body, after death, of course) but also blessedness and misery at once. They are not absolutely dependent on the resurrection. Besides, there is the final publicly adjudicated portion of misery for body and soul before the great white throne. But, inLuke 16:1-31; Luke 16:1-31, blessedness and misery at once are felt by the soul in the dissolution of the link with the body. The figures, no doubt, are taken, as they must be, from the body. Thus we find the desire for cooling of the tongue, which men of speculative mind use to prove that it was the time of being clothed with a real body. Nothing of the sort. The Spirit of God speaks to be understood, and (if He is to be understood by men) He must deign to use language adapted to our comprehension. He cannot give us the understanding of a state which we have never experienced, unless it be by figures taken from the present state. A similar truth appears also later on in the case of the converted thief. The point there is just the same immediate blessedness, and not merely when the body is raised from the dead by and by. That is what he looked for when he sought to be remembered, when Jesus comes in His kingdom. But the Lord adds more immediate blessedness now: "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Depend upon it, we cannot be too stringent in maintaining, the importance both of the resurrection, and of the immediate blessedness or misery of the soul separate from the body before the resurrection. To give up the reality of the soul's existence in either misery or blessedness at once is only a stepping-stone to materialism; and materialism is but a prelude to giving up both the truth and the grace of God, and all the awful reality of man's sin and Satan's power. Materialism always is essentially infidel, though far from being, the only form of infidelity.
Towards the end of the chapter (ver. Luke 20:39-44; Luke 20:39-44) our Lord puts the great question of His own person and the position He was just going to take not on the throne of David but on the throne of God. Was not He Himself, David's Son owned as his Lord by David? On the person and position of Christ depends the whole of Christianity. Judaism, lowering the person, sees not or denies the position. Christianity is based not on the work only but on the glory of the person and place of Him who is glorified in God. He takes that place as man. He who humbled Himself as man in suffering is exalted as man to the glory of God on high.
Then follows the judgment but very briefly on the scribes; and in contrast With their selfish hypocrisy, ("which devour widows' houses and for a show make long prayers") the Lord's estimate of real devotedness is the widow's mites. (Luke 21:1-4.) Mark notices it as the service of faith and so brings it into his Gospel of service. Luke shows it as a question of the heart's state and trust in God. It fell therefore, within the domain of these two.
We have after this the hearts of the disciples proved to be still earthly and Jewish; but the Lord brings before them not the glory and beauty yet in store for Jerusalem but it is judgment specially on the temple. (Verses Luke 21:5-36.) At the same time we have particulars which demonstrate the weighty difference between this description of the judgment of the Jews and Jerusalem, and mark it off from the accounts of either Matthew or Mark. Observe more especially this, that here the Lord Jesus brings before us a very direct and immediate picture of the destruction of Jerusalem that was then imminent. Matthew passes by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and fixes attention upon that which will take place in the end of the age. Luke gives us this last also closes, at any rate, with the future crisis; but the main point is the central portion of Luke is to point out the destruction then actually at hand as a distinct state of things and time from the circumstances of the Son of man's day. This is made perfectly plain to any one who considers it patiently. He says, "When ye shall sec Jerusalem, not "the abomination of desolation" (not a word about it here for it belongs to the last days exclusively; but "when ye shall see Jerusalem) compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains." Not a word about the great tribulation such as never was since time was; it is simply "days of vengeance." "These be the days of vengeance that all things which are written may be fulfilled." There is retributive severity, but not a sign appears of its being anything unparalleled. "There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people." So there was. "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations." This is a matter of fact description of what was really fulfilled to the letter in the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus. Thus there is no exaggerated description. The pretence of commentators, who rush to hyperbole as a cover for their misapplication, is cut off. Not that I allow it any more in Matthew. The only reason why men have so spoken of that evangelist is because they turn aside his prophecy of the end of the age to that which has been already accomplished. When the last days come, be assured they will learn too late that there is no hyperbole with God or His word.
And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Not only is there the sack of the city, the slaughter and captivity of the people, but continual occupation by their enemies till the termination of the period God allows the nations to have the supremacy over Israel. These times are going on now. Jerusalem has been trodden down of the Gentiles for many centuries as every one knows, throughout mediaeval and modern history. It seems particularly thus expressed in order not to continue the phrase to the Romans or previous imperial powers from Babylon downwards. Thus at the present time the Turks are the actual holders of it. The fact is notorious, that Jerusalem has been in the hands of many masters who have dealt hardly with the Jews. So He closes this matter.
Next, He introduces the last days. And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars. There was not a word of all this when He spoke of the siege and capture of the city under Titus. After the Gentile domination is over (which clearly it is not yet), there shall be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and distress of nations; men's hearts failing them forfear; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken and then shall they see not when the Romans of old took the city but, in the future crisis, when these astonishing tokens, heavenly and earthly, are given by God then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
He gives then a parable but not of the fig tree only: this would not be suitable to the largeness of Luke's scope. "Behold the fig-tree and all the trees." The difference between Luke and the others is this not that you have not the Jewish portion in his Gospel but that, moreover all the Gentiles are brought in. How perfect it all is! If it be but a parabolic description, the evangelist for the Gentiles not only gives the fig tree which is in Matthew, but the Gentile trees which are heard of nowhere else. That one tree notoriously applies to the Jews as a nation; the other figure ("all the trees") adds the rest, so as to be universal.
Then the Lord adds some moral considerations for the heart: "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth." Need it be remarked here that this again falls in with our evangelist beyond all others? So too the brief picture of His daily occupation in the temple and of His nights apart at Olivet which in no way precluded the people from coming to hear early in the morning. What unwearied travail of love!
In Luke 22:1-71 we see our Lord with the disciples not now as a prophet, but about to become a sacrifice meanwhile giving them the sweetest pledge of His love. On the other hand, there is the hatred of man, the weakness of the disciples, the falsehood of Peter, the treachery of Judas, the subtlety and terrors of the enemy who had the power of death. The day of unleavened bread comes on, and the passover must be killed; and Peter and John go to prepare it. According to the Lord's word, the place was given. "And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:14-16.) It was the last act of communion of Christ with them. He eats with them: He will not drink. Another cup was before Him. As for this cup, they were to take it, and divide it among themselves. It was not the Lord's Supper, but the paschal cup. He was about to drink of a far different cup, which His Father would give Him the anti-type of the passover, and the basis of the Lord's Supper. But as to the cup before them, He says, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." It was about to come morally; for Luke holds to that great principle the kingdom of God was about to be established in what you may call the Christian system. The phrase in Luke does not import some future dispensation or state of things about to be above or below, in visible power, but an imminent coming of God's kingdom, really and truly here. The other Gospels connect it with the future; Luke speaks of what was to be made good shortly "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
Meanwhile, He gives them also a new thing. (Luke 22:19-20.) He took bread with thanksgiving, brake it, and gave to them, saving, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant* of my blood, which is shed for you." It was not the point with Luke to say "for many," while this was most appropriate in the Gospel of Matthew, because it intimates the extending of the efficacy of Christ's blood beyond the Jew. The old covenant which condemned was limited. The new covenant (or, rather, the blood of the rejected Christ, the Son of man, on which it was based) refused such narrow barriers. In Luke the same thing, occurs here, as we said applied to His account of the sermon on the mount. It is more personal, and hence deals more closely with the heart and conscience. How many a man acknowledges justification by faith in a general sense, who, the moment you make it personal, would shrink from taking the place of a justified man, as if this would be too much for God to give him! But, in truth it is impossible to go on with God aright, until the personal question is settled by divine grace. So the Lord here settles it for them personally. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you."
* "Testament" is wrong here, and, indeed, everywhere else in the New Testament, save in the parenthesis ofHebrews 9:16-17; Hebrews 9:16-17.
"And truly the Son of man goeth,......... but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!" An awful moral contrast rises before the spirit of the Saviour. Thus He felt it: as it is said elsewhere, "He was troubled." There is much vagueness in minds as to this merging all in the atonement, to the great detriment of their distinctness even in holding the atonement itself. To me it is a grievous thing, this denial practically of a large part of the sufferings of Christ. Pushed out, it rests on a want of faith in the real humanity of the Lord. I take for granted now that there is a firm hold of His bearing God's wrath on the cross. But even where that is maintained in a general way, at least, it is an awful thing to deny any part of His moral glory; and what is it but denying, this, to shut out those real sufferings which prove the extent and character of His humiliation, exalt and endear Himself in our eyes, and issue in the richest streams of comfort for His saints, who can afford to lose none of His sympathy?
Now, the Lord Jesus did feel the traitor's heartless ways (and we may learn it yet more from Psalms 109:1-31.) Surely also we ought to feel it, instead of merely treating it as a thing, that must be, and which Scripture prepares us for, or which God's goodness turns to gracious ends. All true enough; but are these the platitudes that content us before His troubled spirit? Or is not the sense of His sorrow to fill the heart in presence of this ineffable love, which endured all things for the elect's sake? Yea, it was from all: our Lord has to meet shame in those He loved best. "They began to enquire among themselves which of them it was that should do this thing." (Ver. Luke 22:23; Luke 22:23.) There was honesty in these hearts; but what ignorance! what unbrokenness of self! "There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted greatest." Other evangelists, as well as Luke, mention that, when He was in the midst of His miracles and teaching, they were full of their unseemly rivalry; Luke mentions it where it was beyond comparison most painful and humiliating in presence of the communion of His body and His blood, and when they had just heard of the presence of the traitor in their midst, who was offering to sell their Master for thirty pieces of silver! "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth." What grace! what a pattern! But forget not the warning. The patronizing, of the lordly benefactor has no place in Christ's mind for His followers. To serve was the Lord's place: may we prize it! (Verses Luke 22:24-27.)
Another touching, and beautiful trait in our Lord's dealing is here worthy of remark. He tells the disciples that it was they who had continued with Him in His temptations. In Matthew and Mark, and even in John, their forsaking of Christ is very conspicuous a little later. Luke alone tells how graciously He noticed their perseverance with Himself in His temptations. Both, of course, were perfectly true. In Luke it was the reckoning of grace. It was really the Lord who had deigned to continue with them, and had sustained their faltering steps; but He could say, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." It is always thus in grace. Matthew and Mark tell us the sad truth that, when He needed the disciples most, they all forsook Him and fled. His rejection was complete; and Old Testament Scripture was amply fulfilled. But, in view of the Gentile calling, New Testament grace has here a happier task.
Again, it is a scene peculiar to Luke, that, in the presence of the Saviour's death, Satan sifts one of the chief followers that belonged to the Saviour. But the Lord turns the sifting, and even the downfall of the saint to ultimate and great blessing not for that soul only but for others. How mighty, and wise, and good the ways of grace! not only its reckoning, but its experiences and its end! It was Simon that furnished the material. "Simon, Simon," says the Lord, "Satan hath desired [demanded] to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Simon, sadly ignorant of himself, is full of bold promises to go to prison or to death; but, says the Lord, "Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." All the evangelists record the fall; Luke alone records Christ's gracious prayer for, and purpose in, his restoration.
Then comes in another communication of our Saviour not more interesting than full of instruction. It is the contrast of the condition of the disciples during His ministry, and that which must be now that He was going to die. It was indeed concurrent with a change of vast import for Himself not awaiting His death, but in many respects beginning before it. The sense of His rejection and His approaching death not only pressed on the Saviour's spirit, but more or less also affects the disciples, who were under the pressure especially of what was done by men. "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors [or], [rather, lawlessness ἀνόμων ]: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough." It is not surprising that the disciples at that time failed to seize His meaning. Though all the rest of His teaching might have taught them better, they took His words in a material sense, and conceived that He urged them to take a literal sword. It is evident He took up the figure of a sword and purse to show, that instead of counting any more on miraculous resources, they must in future use, according to the measure of their personal faith, whatever God furnished them with; that is, they must employ natural things for the Lord, instead of being, as hitherto, shielded by supernatural power in the midst of their foes. We find them afterwards using miracles; but it was for others. In their earlier mission it was never needed. No blow fell upon them. No prison closed its doors upon one of the twelve, or of the seventy. They traversed the length and breadth of the land, everywhere bearing their plain, solemn testimony, ever guarded by God's power: just like their Master Himself. We see how truly miraculous this power was apart from any exertion of it on their own behalf. But now all was to change; and the disciple must be as his Master. Jesus was going to suffer. They must make up their minds to the same thing. Of course, they are not excluded from but exhorted to, the looking up to God, and using faithfully whatever means the Lord gave them.
This, I apprehend, is the clear meaning of His altered language here. The Messiah was about to be openly cut off. The arm that had upheld them, and the shield that had been over them, are removed. So it was with Him. He was now about to face death; first in spirit, then in fact. Such was ever His way. Everything was in that order. He was surprised by nothing. He was not like a mere man who waited till he could not help following, and then went in steel through the trouble. This may be the way of men, to avoid what they can, and think as little as possible of what is painful and disagreeable. It may even be according to men's ideas of a hero, but it is not the truth of Christ. On the contrary, though the true God, He was a true man, and a holy sufferer, having a heart that felt every thing: this is the truth of Christ as man. Therefore He takes all from God, and feels all, as it really was for His glory.
Accordingly our Saviour, at the mount of Olives, (ver. Luke 22:39-46; Luke 22:39-46) shows how true what I have just asserted is; for there it is that He is found first of all telling them to pray, lest they should enter into temptation. Temptation may come and test the heart; but our entering into it is quite another thing. "Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Still farther to show its character, and His unimpeachable relation to God, as well as how really He was a suffering man, "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." So difficult is the path of faith for men in one direction or another, that (in earlier days when, in the midst of adversaries and full of superstition, men yet clung to the stainless honour of the Son of God)the timid orthodox ventured on the bold step of expunging verses Luke 22:44-45; for what, after all, is so adventurous as this Uzzah-like anxiety for the ark of God? They thought it impossible that the Lord Jesus could suffer thus. Little did they estimate the depth unfathomable of the cross, when God hid His face from Him. Had they discerned this better, and been simple in the faith of His real manhood, and held to the written word about His sufferings on and before the cross, they had not been so easily stumbled. But they were not simple, understood in the Scriptures, and accordingly dared, some to stigmatize these verses, others to strike them out. In modern days they manage things both more prudently and more effectually. They may not obelize or obliterate; but they do not believe them. Men pass them over as if there was nothing for the soul in them, as if the Saviour Son of God condescended to a show, a pantomime, instead of enduring the severest conflict and anguish that ever had been the portion of a human heart on this earth. Never was any thing but reality in Jesus; but if in the days of His flesh there was one passage more affecting than another, any thing which more than another presents to us His sorrows clearly, graphically and with solemn instruction for us, anything for God Himself above all glorifying (the cross alone excepted) it was this very scene where Jesus avoids and wards off no suffering, but bends to every stroke, (and what was He spared?) seeing God's hand in all.
Now their hour was come, and the power of darkness. Before this they could not lay hands upon Him; but now, the active work done, and Himself definitively refused, Jesus accepts all humiliation, shame, and suffering. But he does not see man merely. He does not look at the devil, or Jews, or Gentiles. He feels all man did and said, and owns His Father. He knew full well that His Father could have hindered every pang had He been so pleased could have turned Israel's heart could have broken the nations. But now the Jew is left to abhor Him, the Gentile to despise and crucify Him. Against the holy servant Jesus whom God had anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathering together; but was it not to do whatsoever God's hand and God's counsel determined before to be done? He saw God His Father above and behind all the secondary instruments, and bowed and blessed, even while He prayed with blood-sweat. He would erect no barricade of miracles to shelter Himself. To weigh before God such circumstances as then surrounded Jesus, to anticipate in His presence what was coming, did not lessen, but rather increased the depth of all; and so we find Him praying earnestly to His Father that, if it were possible, the cup should pass away from Him. But it was not possible; and so He adds, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Both were perfect. It would have been hardness, not love, had the cup been treated as a light thing: but this could never be with Jesus. It was part of the very perfection of Jesus that he felt and deprecated the awful cup. For what was in that cup? The wrath of God. How could He wish for the wrath of God? It was right to deprecate it: it was like Jesus, notwithstanding, to say, "Thy will be done." Both the deprecation and the acceptance were thoroughly perfect both equally in their due place and season. Who fails to see it, or would harbour a doubt, that knows who Jesus was, and what the glory of His person? It is not a question, however, of His merely being God; and you destroy the value of the suffering if you do not give full place to His humanity. Not that His Godhead ever made His suffering less; else the result would have been some nondescript estate which was neither Godhead nor manhood, but somewhat made up of both. It was an early error to suppose an impassible Christ. There is no worse invention against the truth, unless it be the lie which denies Him to be God the Son. An unsuffering impassible Christ is of Satan, not the true God and eternal life. It is a false chimera of the enemy. Be assured, that if the suffering be so real and precious to God, it is a dangerous thing to pare down, fritter away, or deny any part of it. For us it is the question of what God tells us in His word of the sufferings of Christ not whether we understand all He says about them. Be assured that we know but in part, and have much to learn, especially of that which does not touch our own immediate necessities; but there is one thing we are always responsible for and that is, to submit to God, to believe Him, even though we enter very little into the depths of all that He has written for us of Jesus.
Only this I would add. It does not become such as say they do not understand this or that, to take the place of being judges. It is intelligible that those who know should judge; not so, as it appears to me, that people should take the place of judging who confessedly do not know. It were wise, not to say becoming humility, to wait and learn.
Next we see Judas, who approaches and kisses Christ: the Lord of glory is betrayed by the apostle. The final scene comes on apace; and not more surely, according to the word of Christ, the murderous malice of the priests, than the energy of Peter, so fatal, to himself, who could not face the difficulty into which his self-confidence carried him. He that could not pray with his Master, but slept in the garden, breaks down without his Master before a servant girl. The rest fled. John tells the tale of his own shame, with Peter's. The scene is complete. There is not a witness for Jesus now. He is alone. Man has it apparently all his own way, in mockery, blows, and blasphemy; but yet he is only accomplishing the will, the purpose, and the grace of God. (Ver. Luke 22:63-65.) The chapter closes with Jesus before the council of elders, chief priests, and scribes. "Art thou the Christ?" was too late now: they had proved that they would not believe. From henceforth [not] ["hereafter,'' as in the A.V.] shall the Son of man be sitting on the right hand of the power of God. It is the well-known transition, we see everywhere, on the rejection of the Messiah. "Art thou then the Son of God?" said they all. He owns to the truth; and they need no more to condemn Him.
In Luke 23:1-56 Jesus is found not before Pilate only, but Herod; and the two men who heretofore hated each other are here reconciled, now that it is a question of rejecting Jesus. It is only Luke who gives us this touch. What a league of peace over the rejection of the Saviour! At any rate the scorning of Jesus proceeds; and Pilate, carried away against his conscience by the will of the people, gave sentence that it should be as they required. Jesus is led away to the cross, and Simon is compelled to bear it after Jesus; for now man shows his needless cruelty in every form
The women that were there lament with the crowd after Jesus: there was much of human feeling in this, though not faith or real love. Why not lament for themselves; for in truth there were days of sorrow coming, when they should say, "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare; and the paps that never gave suck." "Then they shall begin to say to the mountains fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Jesus was the green tree; and if Jesus was so treated, what should be their fate, as set forth fully by that dry tree, which was Israel? Undoubtedly Israel ought to have been the green tree of promise; but it was only a dry tree waiting, for judgment. But Jesus, the green tree(where there was all the vigour of holy ways and obedience), was far from honour, and now on His way to the cross. Such was man, to whom He had been delivered! What would be God's judgment of man? (VersesLuke 23:27-31; Luke 23:27-31.)
And they crucified Jesus between two malefactors the one on the right hand, and the other on the left and Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." They part His raiment, and cast lots for it. The people behold, the rulers deride, and the soldiers mock; but a superscription was written over Him in Greek, and Roman, and Hebrew letters This is the King of the Jews. (VersesLuke 23:32-38; Luke 23:32-38.)
Jesus works the great work of salvation in the heart of one of the malefactors. It was a real work within: it was not merely a work ever so perfectly done outside. Most assuredly there never was a soul saved but the work was done for him done alone by Jesus He alone suffering, the sinner saved. But where the heart knows the work done for the soul, there is a work done in that very soul. So it was here: and it is of great importance that those who maintain the work for, should equally maintain the work in. Even in this case, where the effect was produced rapidly, the Spirit of God has given us the great moral traits of it. First of all appears a hatred of sin in the fear of God; then the repentant heart rebukes the shameless evil of his fellow, who feels that it is, least of all, a time thus to sin boldly in the presence of death, and of God's judgment. "We indeed justly; but this man hath done nothing amiss." Evidently there was more than righteousness here. There was a sense of grace, as well as of sin, and sensitiveness about God's will. There was delight in "this man," Jesus, whose holiness made such an impression, that the poor felon, now a believer, could challenge all the world, and feel no more doubt of the Lord's blameless life than if he had witnessed it all through. How great is the simplicity and assurance of faith! Who was he that could correct the judgment of priests or governor? "This man hath done nothing amiss." It was a crucified robber! He forgot Himself in Christ the Lord thus vindicated. Then he turns to Jesus, and says, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Yes! and Jesus will remember could not put Him aside. He never cast out either a soul that came to Him, or a prayer that was founded on His glory, and desired association with Him. It could not be. He came down to associate with the poorest and feeblest on earth. He is now gone on high to associate with Himself there those who were once, possibly, the worst on the earth, now with Himself above, cleansed of course (need we say it?) cleansed by water and blood. And so with this soul whom grace had now touched. "Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." What more convincing proof that the man had not an anxiety about his sins? for if he had, he would, of course, have put it forward. He would have said, "Lord, do not remember my sins." Nothing of the sort was uttered, but "Lord, remember me." What would Christ's kingdom be to him, if his sins were not blotted out? He so counted on His grace, that no doubt or question remained, and he asks to be remembered by Jesus at His advent, ascribing the kingdom to Him who was hanging on the cross. He was right; and Jesus replies with ineffable grace, and according to that style so worthy of God (compare Psalms 132:1-18), which not only answers the prayer of faith, but invariably surpasses it. God must be God in His recognition of faith, as everywhere else. We saw on the mount of transfiguration that there is a blessedness beyond that of the kingdom, where government is not in question. This is not the theme predicted by prophets, but a glory which the person of Jesus alone can account for, and His grace alone introduce to. So here Jesus says to the converted robber, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise" at once, by virtue of His blood, the companion of Christ in the garden of divine joy and delight. (Verses Luke 23:39-43.)
Then the Spirit of God notices the darkness which reigned, and not merely in the lower air around the earth; for the sun was darkened, the splendid orb of natural light, which rules the day. The veil of the temple, too, which characterized the whole system of the Jewish religion, was rent from top to bottom. This was not the effect of an earthquake, nor of other physical causes. The natural light disappeared, and Judaism vanished, that a new and true light might shine, making him who saw it free of the holiest of all. Luke groups the external facts together, and leaves the Lord's death more alone with its moral adjuncts.
"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." Here there is no cry to God in the sense of being forsaken, when His soul was made an offering for sin. This was given appropriately by Matthew and Mark. Nor is it as the consciously divine person, the Son, pronouncing the work finished for which He had come. It is the ever perfect man, Christ Jesus, with unwavering confidence committing His spirit into His Father's keeping. (Compare Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 31:1-24) It was the atoning One. On the cross, and nowhere else, was expiation effected; there was His blood shed; there His death, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet knew what it was to have the face of God hid from Him in judgment of sin our sin. But the words here are no expression of His suffering, as thus abandoned and atoning, but of the peaceful departure of His spirit, as man, into the hands of God the Father. He is drinking the cup in Matthew and Mark; He, the true, but rejected Messiah, the faithful servant, now suffering for sin, who had laboured in grace here below. But here the Saviour is viewed in His absolute dependence and trust in Him, whom He had set before Him, as in life always, so with equal affiance of heart in death. It was the province of John to show Him even then above all circumstances in personal glory. It is beyond all controversy, that here the human side of Christ's death is more vividly portrayed than in any of the Gospels perfect, but human; just as in John it is the divine side, though care is taken to prove particularly there its reality, as well as the witness of its efficacy for sinful man. The consistency of this with all we have seen in Luke, from first to last, is unquestionable: Son of God of the Highest, as of David also; but He is emphatically, and in every detail, the Son of man.
Remark here the absence of a crowd of circumstances of the deepest interest to the Jew, when grace makes him meek, and obedient in heart of solemn warning to him, whatever the unbelief which shuts up his heart and seals his ears, to the truth Here is no dream and message from Pilate's wife; here no awful episode of Judas . In remorse and despair, casting the price of innocent blood into the very sanctuary, and going away to hang himself; here no imprecation of His blood on them and on their children; here no detail of the guilty people's unconscious accomplishment of the living oracles of God in the Psalms and Prophets; nor here any allusion to the earthquake, and the rent rocks, and opened graves, or the subsequent appearing of risen saints to many in the holy city. All this has its due place in the Gospel for the circumcision. Luke tells us what had the largest bearing on the Gentiles, on the heart, its wants, and its affections. We see the people beholding, the rulers also with them sneering, the soldiers mocking with vulgar brutality, but Jesus dealing in ineffable grace with a justly crucified malefactor. No doubt there was the deepest of suffering for Himself. Certainly, too, His suffering, though not confined to the cross, there culminated, as there alone was sin judged; there God's necessary intolerance of it was proved, when only, but most really, imputed to Christ. Thus, the only perfect man, the last Adam, who was there rejected of the Jews, and despised of men, with a loud voice, which denied the exhaustion of nature in His death, commended His spirit, as man, to His Father. It is not here, therefore, One speaking in the sense of God's abandonment (as we saw in Matthew and Mark), though this cup He had, indeed, drank to the dregs. But in this Gospel the last words are of One who, whatever the forsaking of God for sin, was perfectly tranquil, and peacefully committed Himself to His Father. It is the act and language of Him whose confidence was unlimited in the One He was going to. He had come to do His will, and had done it in the face of growing scorn and rejection; and God had not guarded Him from the murderous hate of man, but contrariwise, delivered Him into their hands, greater things being in counsel and accomplishment than if He had been received. The truth is the sum of what all tell us. Those who believe God, instead of being fettered to the traditions of a school, good or bad, must open their mouth wide for Him to fill with His good things old and new. He who on the cross tasted, for expiation, the unutterable woe of which Matthew and Mark speak, is the same Jesus who, Luke tells us, never wavered for a moment, not merely in His obedience, but in unreserved confidence in God; and the expression of this, not of atonement, I read in the precious words, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." (VersesLuke 23:44-46; Luke 23:44-46.)
Accordingly, the centurion is mentioned here as owning Jesus to be "a righteous man," whatever man might have judged or done. The people seem conscious that it was all over with them stricken in heart over a deed they could not but feel to be dreadful, though hardly defined. God does not leave man without witness. But, as usual, with men without the revealed light of God, though conscious when sin is done that there is something utterly wrong it is soon forgotten; so here, though not without the sense that the case was desperate, they go not only as sheep without a shepherd, but stumble in the dark night. All His acquaintances and the women are seen in their sorrow not vain surely not; but still they stood far off: (VersesLuke 23:46-49; Luke 23:46-49.)
Yet was this the moment when, spite of a traitorous disciple, spite of another too confident that denied Him with oaths, spite of all who ought to have been faithful forsaking and fleeing, spite of the distant and saddened lookers on who had once followed Him devotedly, God emboldens a man of high station, who might have been then the least expected by us (and, as we are told elsewhere, Nicodemus). Joseph of Arimathea was a man that had waited for the kingdom of God for some time, a good man and just, and a real believer, though he had shrunk from open confession of the Lord Jesus; but now, when fear might naturally have more than ever operated to keep him back, grace made him bold. This, at least, was quite right, and like the God of all grace. If the death of our Lord does not unlock a man's heart and tongue, I do not know what will. So this timid Joseph waxes valiant in fight. The honourable counsellor renounced the expediency and prudence of the past, horrified, no doubt, at their counsel and deed to which he had not assented. But now he does more: he add to his faith virtue. He goes boldly to Pilate, and begs the body of Jesus, Which, being obtained, is worthily laid in the rock-hewn sepulchre, wherein never had man beenlaid. (Verse Luke 23:53.)
"And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.'' (Ver. Luke 23:54-56.) It was affection, but with little intelligence. Their love lingered. over the scene of His death and burial, without for the present in the least realizing, that life which was to be put forth soon so gloriously. Had they not heard His words? Would He, would God, not make them good?
On the morrow of the sabbath, very early indeed in the morning, these Galilean women were there, and some others with them. (Luke 24:1) And they found the stone rolled away, but not the body of Jesus. They were not alone; angels appeared. Two men in shining array stood by these perplexed saints. "And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, [what a rebuke to their unbelief!] Why seek ye the living (One) among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you while he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words." (Ver. Luke 24:5-8; Luke 24:5-8.) This last is ever a great point with Luke the emphatic value always of any part of God's word, but especially of the words of Jesus.
Accordingly, after this was duly reported to the apostles and the rest, one like another incredulous, we have the visit of Peter (accompanied, as John lets us know, by himself), who sees confirmation enough, and departed, wondering, in himself at that which was come to pass. (Verses Luke 24:9-12.)
Luke then ushers in another scene, still more precious, peculiar in its details at least to himself the journey to Emmaus, where Jesus joins Himself to the two downcast disciples, who discoursed, as they went, on the irreparable loss they had sustained. Jesus hears this tale of sorrow from their lips, brings out the state of their hearts, and then opens the Scriptures, instead of merely appealing to the facts in the way of evidence. This employment of the Scriptures by our Lord is very significant. It is the word of God which is the truest, deepest, weightiest testimony, even though the risen Jesus Himself were there, and its living, demonstration in person. But it is the written word which, as the apostle himself shows, is the sole adequate safeguard for the perilous times of the last days. Here, too, the loved companion of Paul proves, in the history of the resurrection, the value of the Scriptures. The word of God here the Old Testament interpreted by Jesus is the most valuable means for ascertaining the mind of God. Every Scripture is inspired of God, and is profitable yea, able to make us "wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus." Hence our Lord expounds to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. What a sample that day was of the walk of faith! Henceforth it was not a question of a living, Messiah on the earth, but of Him that was dead and risen, now seen by faith in the word of God. On the face of the account, this was the great living lesson that our Lord was teaching, us through the two disciples. (Verses Luke 24:13-29.)
But there was more. How is He to be known? There is but one way that can be trusted in which we can know Jesus. There are those in Christendom that descant upon Jesus as ignorant of His glory as a Jew or a Mahometan. Our own day has seen how men can speak and write eloquently of Jesus as a man here below, all the while serving Satan denying His name, His person, His work, when they flatter themselves they are honouring Him, like the weeping women (Luke 23:27), without a grain of faith in His glory or His grace. Hence was it of all importance that we should learn wherein He is to be known. Thus Jesus sets forth the Only way in which He can be rightly known, or that can be confided in. On this alone God can put His seal. The seal of the Holy Ghost is unknown until there is the submission of faith to the death of Jesus. And so our Lord breaks bread with the disciples. It was not the Lord's Supper; but Jesus made use of that act of breaking the bread significantly, which the Lord's Supper brings before us continually. In it, as we know, bread is broken the sign of His death. Thus Jesus was pleased, Himself with them, that the truth of His death should flash upon the two souls at Emmaus. He was made known unto them in the breaking of bread in that most simple but striking action which symbolises His death. He had blessed, broken, and was giving the bread to them, when their eyes were opened, and they recognised their risen Lord. (VerseLuke 24:30; Luke 24:30.)
There is a third supplemental point, which I only touch on His instant disappearance after He was made known to them in the sign of His death. This is also characteristic of Christians. We walk by faith, not by sight. (VerseLuke 24:31; Luke 24:31.)
Thus the great evangelist, who exhibits what is most real for man's heart now, and what most of all maintains the glory of God in Christ, binds these things together for our instruction. Though Scripture was perfectly expounded by Jesus, and though hearts burned as they heard of these wondrous things, still it must be shown in concentrated form that the knowledge which alone can be commended by God or trusted by man is this Jesus known in that which brings His death before the soul. The death of Jesus is the sole foundation of safety for a sinful man. This is the true way of knowing Jesus for a Christian. Anything short of this, anything other than this, whatever supplants it as fundamental truth, is false. Jesus is dead and risen, and so must be known, if He is to be known aright. "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more."
And so, that same hour, we see the disciples returning to Jerusalem, and finding the eleven there, who say, "The Lord hath risen, and appeared unto Simon." (Verses Luke 24:32-34.) Here we have nothing about Galilee. In Matthew, Galilee is the quarter especially noticed. A rejected Messiah, fitly and according to prophecy, finds Himself in Galilee, the despised place. It was so during His life and public ministry (and hence it figures in Mark so prominently). He takes the same place now after His death and resurrection, there resuming relations with His disciples. The godly remnant of the Jews must know the rejected Messiah there. His resurrection did not terminate their path of rejection. The Church knows Him yet more blessedly as ascended, and itself one with Him on high; and its rejection is even more decided. However, in Matthew, Galilee is the sign for a converted Jewish remnant till He come to reign in power and glory. The remnant of the last days will know what it is to be cast outside Jerusalem also, and it is as outcasts that they will find real deepening of faith and due preparation of heart for receiving the Lord when he appears in the clouds of heaven. This Galilean resort Luke does not give here. Substantially Mark gives Galilee for the active life of the Saviour like Matthew, because, as has been said, there His ministry was chiefly exercised, and only occasionally in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Therefore the evangelist of the ministry of Jesus draws attention to the place in which He had ministered most Galilee; but even he does not speak of it exclusively. Luke, on the contrary, says nothing of Galilee at this point. The reason seems to me manifest. His theme is the moral state of the disciples, the way of Christ's grace, the Christian path of faith, the place of the word of God, and the person of Christ, only known safely, according to God, in that which sets forth His death. This at least must he the basis.
There is another truth necessary to be known and proved, His real resurrection, who stood in the midst of them with a "Peace to you;" not without His death, but founded on it, and thus declared. So, in the next scene at Jerusalem, this finds its full display; for the Lord Jesus comes into their midst, and partakes of food before their eyes. There was His body; it was risen. Who could longer doubt that it was really the same Jesus who died, and will yet come in glory? "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself!" As we know, the Lord deigns to go yet farther in John; but there it was to convict Thomas's unbelief, as well as with a mysterious typical meaning behind. He would correct the previously absent and still doubting disciple; it is the sight that is the point there. This is not the question here, but rather the reality of the resurrection, and the identity of Jesus risen with Him they had known as their Master, and withal as still man, not a spirit, but having flesh and bones, and capable of eating with them. (VersesLuke 24:36-43; Luke 24:36-43.)
After this our Lord speaks once more of what was written in Moses and prophets and psalms concerning Him. (Ver. Luke 24:44.) It is the word of God again brought out; not merely to two of them, but its unspeakable value for them all.
Further, He opens their understanding to understand the Scriptures, and gives them their great commission, but bids them remain in Jerusalem till endued with power from on high, when He sends them the promise of the Father. (Ver. Luke 24:45-49.) Here the Lord does not say, "Make disciples of all the Gentiles, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This most fitly has its place in Matthew, spite (yea, because of) His rejection. The suffering but now risen Son of man takes the universal field of the world, and sends His disciples among all the nations to make disciples, and baptize them into the name of the Trinity. It is not, therefore, the old limits of Israel and the lost sheep, but He extends the knowledge of His name and mission outside. Instead of bringing Gentiles to see the glory of Jehovah shining on Zion, they are to be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as now revealed fully; and (instead of what Moses commanded) "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
In Luke we have not the charge of the work committed to the workmen, as in Mark, with signatures of God's gracious power accompanying; but here it is the message of a Saviour dead and risen, the Second Man, according to Scripture, and the moral need of man and the grace of God, who proclaims in His name repentance and remission to all the nations or Gentiles. Therefore, just as we have seen the resurrection of our Lord in connection with Jerusalem, where He had been crucified, so He would have the preaching begun there, not going away, as it were, from the guilty city alas! the holy city, and only the more guilty, because such was its name and privilege. But here, on the contrary, by virtue of Christ's death who put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, all disappears in the presence of the infinite grace of God all blessing secured, if there be but the acceptance of Christ and His work. Hence He says, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer." No doubt man was guilty beyond measure and without excuse. There were mighty purposes of God to be accomplished; and not only must He rise on the third day, but He enjoins that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name repentance necessarily showing the great moral work in man, remission of sins being God's great provision of grace through redemption to clear the conscience. Both were to be preached in His name. Who that believes and understands the cross could dream longer of man's worthiness? Repentance, so far from allowing it, is the perception and confession that there is no good in man, in me; it is wrought by grace, and is inseparable from faith. It is man giving up himself as altogether bad, man resting upon God as altogether good to the bad, and both proved in the remission of sins by Jesus, whom man, Jew and Gentile, crucified and slew. Remission of sins therefore, with repentance, was to be preached in His name. This was the sole warrant and ground. They were to be preached to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem.
In Matthew the point appears to be the rejection of Jerusalem, the rejecter, because of its Messiah, the discipular remnant starting from the mountain in Galilee; and the presence of the Lord being guaranteed till the end of the age, when other changes come. In Luke all disappears, except grace, in presence of sin and misery. Absolute grace begins, therefore, with the spot which needed it most, and Jerusalem is expressly named.
We have seen how this chapter settles, if I may so express it, the Christian system on its proper basis, bringing out its chief peculiarities with striking force and beauty. More remains of similar character, especially the very distinct privileges of the understanding opened to understand, and the power of the Holy Ghost; the one given then, the other not till Pentecost. "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day....... And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." Thus the Holy Ghost was not given yet as an indwelling person, but rather a reiteration of the Father's promise. Remaining in Jerusalem they should be clothed with power an essential thing for Christianity, and quite distinct from spiritual intelligence already conferred, as is apparent also in Peter's word and way in Acts 1:1-26. In the Gospel of John where the person of Jesus shines so conspicuously, the Holy Ghost is set forth personally, with equal distinctness at least, in Luke 14:1-35; Luke 16:1-31. But here this is not the point, but His power, although He be, of course, a person. It is rather the promise of the Spirit's power to act in man that is brought before us. They, like Christ, must be "anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power;" they must wait for "power from on high" from the risen and ascended Man.
But even so, the Lord Himself would not terminate the Gospel thus. "And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them." It was a spot that used to be most precious to Him, and, observe it well, was not less precious to Him after He rose from the dead. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, that an object of affection to Him before He died ceases to be such to Him when risen. Hence it would seem to give an open contradiction to those that deny the reality of the resurrection body, and of its proper affections. He was indeed a real man, albeit the Lord of glory. He led them out, then, as far as Bethany, the retreat of the Saviour, to which His heart turned in the days of His flesh. "And he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." He that filled with blessing the hearts devoted to Him in His life, was still blessing them when He was separated from them for heaven. "And they worshipped him." Such was the fruit of His blessing, and of His great grace. "And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God." It was meet it should be so. He that blesses us not only communicates a blessing, but gives the power that returns to God a blessing the power of real worship communicated to human hearts on the earth, by the Lord Jesus now risen from the dead. They "were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God;" but they were associated in life and love with One whose glory was far above them or any conceivable precincts of the earth, and were soon to be made one with Him, and to be the vessels of His power by the energy of the Holy Ghost, who would make this evident in due time.
May the Lord be pleased to bless His own word, and to grant that those who love Him and it may approach the scripture with still more confidence! If aught which has been said here tends to remove somewhat of mist from any eyes, encourages, simplifies, or otherwise helps in reading God's word, surely my little labour will not have been in vain, either now or for eternity. The Lord alone can make His own word sanctifying. But it is much to believe it to be what it really is, not (as unbelief thinks) a field of darkness and uncertainty, requiring light upon it, but a light itself, which communicates light to the dark, through the power of the Holy Ghost revealing Christ. May we prove that it is indeed like Christ, of whom it speaks, needed, real, and unerring light to our souls; that it is also the sole, adequate, and irrefragable witness of divine wisdom and grace, but this only as revealed in and by Christ! I take it to be a token of great good that, as in early days, the person of Christ was not only the fiercest battleground and prime object of the final struggle of the apostles on the earth, but was the means whereby the Spirit of God wrought to give a deeper and deepening enjoyment of the truth and grace of God more profoundly searching, no doubt, but at the same time more invigorating for the saints), so no otherwise, unless I be greatly mistaken, is it now. I remember the time, though unable to boast of any very lengthened scene to look back on as a Christian, when at least almost all for I will not say all were more engaged in attacking ecclesiastical error, and spreading much of kindred and other truth (and, in its place and time, important truth). But it was truth that did not so directly build up the soul, nor did it so immediately concern the Lord Himself. And although not a few, who then seemed strong and courageous enough, are gone to the winds (and a similar sifting still goes on, and will to the end), yet sure am I that in the midst of all these troubles and humiliations God has been elevating the standard of Christ for those who are firm and faithful. God has shown that His name is, as ever, a stumbling-stone for unbelief; but for the simple and spiritual a sure foundation, and most precious. The Lord grant that even these our studies of the Gospels, which have been necessarily curt and cursory, may nevertheless give an impulse not only to younger saints, but to those who may be ever so old; for assuredly there is no one, whatever may be his maturity, who will not be all the better for a fuller acquaintance with Him who is from the beginning.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Luke 21". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany