51 And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he were going to Jerusalem.54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? 55 But he turned, and rebuked them.56 And they went to another village.
The record of the last journeys of our Lord toward Jerusalem forms a unique feature in the Gospel of Luke. In the other Gospels some of these incidents are included but they occupy only one or two chapters; here, however, they fill ten chapters with events most of which are no where else related.
The direction of the journeying was first eastward through the borders of Galilee and Samaria, then across the Jordan and then southward through the region of Perea. This region is not so designated in the Bible but is described by the phrase, "beyond the Jordan," and as most of these incidents occurred there, this period of the life of Jesus is commonly called his "Perean ministry." Luke here emphasizes the divine prevision and at the same time the human courage of our Lord. He indicates that Jesus saw plainly his coming death and also his glorious ascension, but that he unfalteringly moved forward to the intervening agonies of the cross.
The first incident of these journeys was in a village of the Samaritans. Certain messengers had gone before to prepare entertainment for the large company which followed Jesus, but the Samaritans would not receive him; then his disciples, James and John, suggested that they should "bid fire to come down from heaven and consume them." There was something admirable in the indignation of these disciples. The Samaritans were moved by a narrow and provincial prejudice and they were offering to Jesus a gratuitous insult. It sometimes seems that the genius for indignation has disappeared, and it is refreshing to see men who feel deeply any disrespect to Christ, any injury to his cause.
But Jesus rebuked his disciples, "And they went to another village." There may be place for righteous indignation, but there is no place among the followers of Christ for anger, for intolerance, or for revenge. This is not a time of judgment, but of grace. It is not for us to attempt to administer vengeance, but to preach the gospel of love.
2. Jesus Rebuking Rashness, Insincerity, and Indecision. Ch.9:57-62
57 And as they went on the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.58 And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.59 And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.60 But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God.61 And another also said, I will follow thee, Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house.62 But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
These three incidents show how carefully Jesus was sifting those who wished to become his followers and how deeply he appreciated the fact that he was passing through this region for the last time. The first of the three men with whom Jesus spoke was being swept along by his emotions, by the sight of the crowd which was following the Master, and by the thought that it would be a great privilege to be in such company. He had not for a moment realized that it might involve sacrifice and pain to become a disciple of the Master. It was for this reason that Jesus turned to him with a statement which implies a rebuke and suggests that the Master realized the thoughtlessness and rashness which were prompting this professed follower. "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Of course Jesus is eager to have men vow their allegiance to him and openly acknowledge their discipleship; but among his followers there is no place for rashness. He would have us count the cost.
In the case of the next man, when he was bidden to follow Christ, he offered an excuse, "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." This was a natural request and it seemed that a tender duty made it necessary for him to decline the invitation of the Master. There seems something rather severe in the reply, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God." It is evident that Jesus had looked into the heart of this man and saw that he was making a selfish excuse out of a sacred duty. If his reply was sincere, it none the less merited a reproof, for a more sacred duty than caring for the dead was laid upon him by the invitation of the living Christ. No tie, however tender, can be regarded as a sufficient excuse for refusing to become a follower of Christ. Jesus was passing that way for the last time. Prompt obedience was absolutely necessary. Those who were spiritually "dead" and who had not heard the summons of the Master could provide the needed burial; but it was possible for the one who had been called by Christ to perform a more sacred task: he could begin to proclaim the gospel of salvation and of life.
In the case of the third possible disciple, there was no carelessness; he had counted the cost; it was not his intention to make any excuse; he was sincere and definite in his intention, but he wished to delay. He was not quite certain that it was best just then to leave his family and his friends. At least he wished to delay long enough to return to his home and to bid them farewell. But Jesus rebuked him; "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Such hesitation indicates that one has not appreciated the glory and privilege involved in the call of Christ or that he still weighs against it the sacrifices it involves. He is self-condemned. There is no place for indecision among those who are to be heirs of the Kingdom of God.
3. The Mission of the Seventy. Ch.10:1-24
1 Now after these things the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself was about to come.2 And he said unto them, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.3 Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves.4 Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes; and salute no man on the way.5 And into whatsoever house ye shall enter, first say, Peace be to this house.6 And if a son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him: but if not, it shall turn to you again.7 And in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: 9 and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.10 But into whatsoever city ye shall enter, and they receive you not, go out into the streets thereof and say, 11 Even the dust from your city, that cleaveth to our feet, we wipe off against you: nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh.12 I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which were done in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment, than for you.15 And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt be brought down unto Hades.16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me.
17 And the seventy returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in thy name.18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven.19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall in any wise hurt you.20 Nevertheless in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father; for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight.22 All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth who the Son is, save the Father; and who the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.23 And turning to the disciples, he said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: 24 for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.
The sending out of the seventy messengers who were to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus is recorded by Luke alone. This is in harmony with the fact that only in this Gospel do we read of the extended journeys toward Jerusalem made by our Lord on the occasion of which the Seventy were sent forth. The work was for only a limited time and their office was temporary; but in his instructions to them Jesus suggested many principles of life which apply to his followers in all the ages. He first intimated the reason for their being chosen. It was because the harvest field in which they were to work was so great and the laborers so few. He intimated that before the world can receive the message which the Seventy were sent to deliver, they and their successors must earnestly pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth more laborers into the field. This is a prayer which all who serve the Master may offer earnestly and at all times. The work seems to be only begun. Our sympathy with the Master will make us yearn to see the work accomplished with more speed, which can only be possible when larger numbers of laborers are secured. V.2.
Jesus told his messengers that as they went forth they must expect to meet with dangers. "I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves." They were, however, to encumber themselves with nothing superfluous and they were to waste no time in idle ceremonies; they must journey as men who are impelled by one supreme motive. Vs.3, 4.
As they entered a home they were to offer the peace which the gospel can give, but if rejected, they were to believe that their very message would return to them with added force. Thus our Lord signified that no word spoken for his sake is really wasted. Vs.5, 6.
They were to continue in the home which received them, content with what was given, offering relief to those in distress and using every opportunity to proclaim the message of grace. Vs.7-9.
Where their message was refused, and they were not received by city or town, they were to turn away, shaking off the dust of their feet, thus intimating by an Oriental symbol that they had no connection with the enemies of Christ. At no time is the reception of the gospel message universal. There are always some who refuse to accept its gracious offer. Vs.10-12.
The thought of those who would surely reject his messengers reminded Jesus of the cities which had already rejected him, and he paused for a moment to speak solemnly of their guilty unbelief. He referred to Chorazin and Bethsaida, declaring that in the Day of Judgment it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for these cities, for even the heathen world would have repented in the face of such evidence of his divine mission as Jesus had given to the cities of Israel. He referred particularly to Capernaum, to its peculiar privileges and to its consequently greater condemnation. Jesus was stating the abiding principle that unusual opportunities involve unusual responsibilities. He emphasized the seriousness of rejecting his messengers by stating that in despising them men are really despising himself and that those who reject Jesus are rejecting his Father who sent him., vs.13-16.
In order to complete the story of the Seventy, Luke proceeds at once to describe their return. They came back elated, with the report that even the demons were subject to them. Our Lord replied by a statement that in the overthrow of these messengers of Satan he saw the ultimate defeat of the Prince of darkness and of all the forces of evil, and he declared that he was giving to his messengers power over all that might oppose or might threaten to destroy them. Yet, he added, their chief joy should not be in their ability to perform these works of wonder, but rather in their having a part in his triumphant cause and in receiving his salvation. Vs.17-20.
At this time our Lord himself shared in the exultation of his followers and returned thanks to the Father for what he was accomplishing through the humble messengers whom Jesus had chosen, so that the results were a manifestation of divine power. He added a striking claim which indicates that the ideal Man is likewise the true Son of God who alone can reveal the Father to men. Then lastly, as he turned to his disciples, he congratulated them upon their great privilege, assuring them that "many prophets and kings" desired to see the things which they were seeing as his servants and as the instruments of his power. He intimated something of the exalted joy which through all the coming years his followers would feel as they realized their privilege of serving such a Master, and of revealing him to men. Vs.21-24.
4. The Good Samaritan. Ch.10:25-37
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? 30 Jesus made answer and said, A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.31 And by chance a certain priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.32 And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on other side.33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, 34 and came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on them oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.35 And on the morrow he took out two shillings, and gave them to the host, and said, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, I, when I come back again, will repay thee.36 Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among the robbers? 37 And he said, He that showed mercy on him. And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was spoken to a certain lawyer who, trusting to his knowledge of the Old Testament, and of its subtle interpretations by the rabbis, came to Jesus hoping to dispute with him and to defeat him in debate. He asked Jesus this question, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He evidently thought that Jesus would prescribe some new rites or ceremonies or would in some other way disparage the Law. He was startled, then, to have Jesus reply, "What is written in the law?" This answer robbed the enemy of his own weapon. He, however, made a skillful reply, and declared that the Law is summarized in the requirement to love God and man. Jesus again replied, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live." There was no shadow of evasion or deception in the statement of Jesus. Perfect love to God and to man is surely the way of life; but who can show such perfect love? Jesus came not to destroy this requirement of the Law but to reveal its complete fulfillment, to secure pardon for those who were guilty of its infraction, and to give power to those who felt their need.
The reply of Jesus not only defeated the lawyer; it smote his conscience. He realized that he himself had never fulfilled the requirement of the Law he knew so well. He therefore attempted to justify himself by limiting the sphere to which the law of love applies. This is always the experience of those who seek to save themselves while rejecting the salvation of Christ. No one in his own power can fulfill the demands of this perfect law; either we must secure aid outside ourselves and trust in a loving Saviour, or else we must in some way lessen the demands which the law makes. The lawyer suggested that it is impossible to love everyone, even though it be required to love our neighbors, and to justify himself he asked the question, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied by the story of the man, evidently a Jew, who went down the steep road from Jerusalem to Jericho and, as he passed through the narrow gorge, was beset by robbers who stripped him of his garments and his possessions and left him half dead. The first to approach this pitiful sufferer was a priest, a man whose profession and task in life would induce him to perform a deed of mercy, but in fear of thieves or in blind oblivion to the need of the wounded man, he passed by on the other side. Next came a Levite, one whose office was that of a helper to the priests, a man who supposedly would be less burdened by official duties and would have more time to extend relief; but he likewise passed by. At last came a Samaritan, a man of an alien race and of a despised religion, but he showed compassion; he bound up the wounds of the sufferer and placed him on his beast and brought him to an inn and paid for his entertainment. He showed the spirit of love. Thus Jesus indicated that our neighbor is not only one who "lives near" but one who needs our help, as well as one who helps our need. He demonstrated the truth that the law of love is not limited by rank or station or race or creed. Nor is it limited to man. One must likewise love God with all the heart, and thus he will surely love and serve the Son in whom the love of God is made perfect.
5. Martha and Mary. Ch.10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word.40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.41 But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: 42 but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
The unfailing human interest of Luke is nowhere more perfectly expressed than by this exquisite scene in the home at Bethany. It is to be regretted that it has become the occasion for endless debate as to the relative merits of Martha and Mary. Some imagine that the former was unloving but energetic and efficient, and that the latter was affectionate, but sentimental and indolent. In reality both sisters had admirable qualities; both loved the Master and longed to please him; but on this occasion Martha, in her very eagerness to serve, had overburdened herself in the preparation of an elaborate meal, while Mary, with truer intuition of what Jesus wished, "sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word." She knew that he desired, not for his own sake, but for theirs, to reveal himself and to deliver his heavenly message, and thus according to the fine art of hospitality, she considered first the wish of her guest and was thus doing more to entertain the Master than was her sister.
"Martha was cumbered about much serving;" she was distracted by the many things she was trying to do. It is possible for a follower of Christ to attempt too much; sometimes this is due to a sense of self-importance and of pride. It may result in such a mood of irritation and temper as was shown by Martha when in criticizing her sisters he humiliated her by rebuking her in the presence of their Guest, and by addressing the remark to him rebuked him as well, "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me." In his reply Jesus showed his affection by tenderly repeating her name, but he rebuked her spirit and revealed its cause, "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." There was no need for an elaborate meal; but few things or one would have sufficed; yet one thing was needful, and that Mary had chosen, for while the Master does appreciate all that we undertake for him, he knows that our first need is to sit at his feet and learn his will; then in our tasks we shall be calm and peaceful and kindly, and at last our service may attain the perfectness of that of Mary when in a later scene she poured upon the feet of Jesus the ointment, the perfume of which still fills the world.
6. Jesus' Teaching Concerning Prayer. Ch.11:1-13
1 And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.3 Give us day by day our daily bread.4 And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.
5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; 7 and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee? 8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth.9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.11 And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
When the disciples came to the Master with the request, "Lord, teach us to pray," they had already, for some time, been with Christ in the school of prayer, and they had been impressed by that most valuable of object lessons, namely, the example of Christ himself. If in our minds doubt ever arises as to the reality and efficacy of prayer, we need only turn to the Gospel of Luke to be reminded that our Lord spent long hours in intercession and that he prayed at every crisis in his life. Surely we shall not be misled if we follow in his steps!
What the disciples wished, however, was some special form or formula for prayer, such as John the Baptist seems to have given his followers. Jesus replied by granting them a matchless model and then by encouraging them in the assurance that prayer will surely be heard. This "Lord's Prayer," more fully recorded by Matthew, was not intended as a form which must be used rigidly on all occasions, but as a type which should mold all prayer, however free and varied and spontaneous it may be.
The first word, "Father," suggests the filial spirit in which all believers should draw near to God, and it intimates much of the encouragement which Jesus gave his disciples in the verses which immediately follow this prayer.
The prayer contains five petitions, two relating to the cause of God in the world, and three to personal needs of the petitioners. The first is a request that the "name" of God, his revelation, or our conception of God, be so reverenced, or so exalted, on earth as it is in heaven. The second is a parallel request, namely, that his Kingdom may come. This Kingdom is to be external, visible, glorious; it depends upon the inward transformation of individuals, but it will yet appear in a perfected social order, and in the universal reign of Christ. The next petition is for "bread sufficient for our needs," and it implies our right to pray for all that concerns our physical welfare. We are then taught to pray for pardon, as we come to God in a spirit of forgiveness toward others; and lastly, to ask for continual protection from the snares of the Adversary and from all the powers of evil.
To encourage his disciples in such petitions Jesus gave them the story of the man whose ceaseless, almost shameless, asking secured for him the answer to his request for needed bread. Jesus implied, however, that there is, on the part of God, no such reluctance to be overcome, so that all who "ask" of him will receive what they need; if they "seek" relief he will grant it, if they "knock," even at "midnight," he will open the door without delay.
Further still Jesus encouraged prayer by again reminding his hearers that they were praying to a Father. Human parents reply to the requests of their children, not by mocking them or with injurious gifts, not by giving a stone when bread is asked, or a serpent for a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg. If then, with all our imperfections and limitations, we know how to give good gifts to our children, much more can we expect our heavenly Father to give his Holy Spirit, and so all other good if lesser gifts, to them that ask him. Thus again we see that the blessed name of "Father" is the key to the lesson. If we approach him as children it will be with confidence, but also with submission, as we know that, whether he gives or withholds, his reply will be an expression of infinite mercy and of fatherly love.
7. Jesus Rebuking Blasphemy and Unbelief. Ch.11:14-36
14 And he was casting out a demon that was dumb. And it came to pass, when the demon was gone out, the dumb man spake; and the multitudes marvelled.15 But some of them said, By Beelzebub the prince of the demons casteth he out demons.16 And others, trying him, sought of him a sign from heaven.17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub.19 And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges.20 But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you.21 When the strong man fully armed guardeth his own court, his goods are in peace: 22 but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him his whole armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.23 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.24 The unclean spirit when he is gone out of the man, passeth through waterless places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will turn back unto my house whence I came out.25 And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished.26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more evil than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man becometh worse than the first.
27 And it came to pass, as he said these things, a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which thou didst suck.28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
29 And when the multitudes were gathering together unto him, he began to say, This generation is an evil generation: it seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah.30 For even as Jonah became a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.31 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and shall condemn them: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here.32 The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here.
33 No man, when he hath lighted a lamp, putteth it in a cellar, neither under the bushel, but on the stand, that they which enter in may see the light.34 The lamp of thy body is thine eye: when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when it is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.35 Look therefore whether the light that is in thee be not darkness.36 If therefore thy whole body be full of light, having no part dark, it shall be wholly full of light, as when the lamp with its bright shining doth give thee light.
The first of these two discourses, vs.14-26, was given by Jesus in reply to the charge that he wrought his miracles by Satanic power, v.15; the second, vs.29-36, was an answer to the demand that he should compel his enemies to believe in him by giving them "a sign from heaven," v.16.
Jesus had just cast out a demon. His enemies did not attempt to deny that a miracle had been performed; but, in order to discredit him with the people, they explained the miracle on the ground that Jesus must be in league with the Devil. He replied by showing the absurdity of suggesting that the Devil was casting out devils, or "demons," for in that case his power would be like a kingdom "divided against itself" and so certain to be "brought to desolation," or like a house thus divided and sure to fall. Vs.17, 18. He then turned the charge against themselves: some of their countrymen claimed the power to cast out demons; Jesus did not discuss the reality of these reputed cures but pointedly asked by what power they were effected; is it also demonic power? v.19. Jesus then declared definitely that his miracles were being wrought by divine power and that their character was a certain proof that he was representing not the kingdom of the Devil but "the kingdom of God." V.20. Instead of aiding the Devil, he was despoiling him. He described the Devil as though a strong man, fully armed and guarding his goods, but Jesus himself was a "stronger than he," and was taking away his armor and delivering his captives by miracles of grace. Vs.21, 22. In this conflict there can be no neutrality; one must be on the side either of the Devil or of Christ. V.23.
Jesus then rebuked his enemies by the parable of the Unclean Spirit. The demon of unbelief had once possessed the Jews, and had been manifested in the form of idolatry; it had been cast out, but it had returned with more terrible manifestations of hypocrisy, covetousness, hatred, fanaticism, and pride. Such had been the fate of the nation; and such is the experience of an individual who turns from sin and rebels against Satan but fails to accept the Lordship of Christ. The empty heart is in peril. Reformation is not regeneration. One must beware of the demon of unbelief. Vs.24-26.
At this juncture a "woman out of the multitude" interrupted with an expression of congratulation for the mother of Jesus. In reply Jesus intimated that his mother might rightly be called "blessed," but that the woman had missed the real point; it was a privilege to sustain to Christ such a close human and natural relationship, but better far to possess that spiritual kinship which is indicated by faith and by obedience to God. Vs.27, 28.
Jesus continued to rebuke the unbelief of the Jews as he now turned to answer directly the demand for "a sign from heaven." He declared that such a sign would be given, in his resurrection from the dead. This miracle would be wrought without any human intervention; it would be a direct act of God and would fulfill the conditions of "a sign from heaven;" it would be the counterpart of the miraculous deliverance of Jonah from the sea. However, the very demand for such a sign was an impertinence and an insult; it reflected discredit upon the divine character of the miracles which Jesus had already wrought. It failed to recognize the nature of his teachings, which surpassed the wisdom of Solomon and the startling message of Jonah. The eagerness of the heathen queen to hear, the willingness of the Ninevites to repent, rebuked the stubborn unbelief of the Jews who refused to accept "a greater than Solomon," "a greater than Jonah." Vs.29-32.
Finally Jesus showed that their guilty unbelief was not due to lack of evidence or to the need of a new "sign," but to their indifference and their impenitence. As a lamp is designed to light a house, and as the eye is intended to illumine the body, so the soul which is right with God possesses the faculty of spiritual sight. This sight is dimmed and destroyed by sin. The inability of the Jews to believe was not due to lack of "signs" and proofs, but to lack of sight. No amount of light will help a blind man. Those who turn to Christ in repentance and faith and love will find him to be the Light of the world, and their whole souls will become radiant with divine splendor. Vs.33-36.
8. Pharisaism Exposed and Denounced. Ch.11:37-54
37 Now as he spake, a Pharisee asketh him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first bathed himself before dinner.39 And the Lord said unto him, Now ye the Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter; but your inward part is full of extortion and wickedness.40 Ye foolish ones, did not he that made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, all things are clean unto you.
42 But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and every herb, and pass over justice and the love of God: but these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.43 Woe unto you Pharisees! for ye love the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces.44 Woe unto you! for ye are as the tombs which appear not, and the men that walk over them know it not.
45 And one of the lawyers answering saith unto him, Teacher, in saying this thou reproachest us also.46 And he said, Woe unto you lawyers also! for ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.47 Woe unto you! for ye build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.48 So ye are witnesses and consent unto the works of your fathers: for they killed them, and ye build their tombs.49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets and apostles; and some of them they shall kill and persecute; 50 that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51 from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary: yea, I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.52 Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
53 And when he was come out from thence, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press upon him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things; 54 laying wait for him, to catch something out of his mouth.
The conflict between Jesus and his enemies here reached its climax. He rebuked their hypocrisy, and pronounced upon them six solemn woes. His words are full of warning for his followers in all ages; religion ever tends to become a matter of form and ritual; hypocrisy is often unconscious; its practice is almost universal.
A Pharisee whose heart was foul with sinful thoughts wondered that Jesus had sat down to eat without first washing his hands according to the Jewish ritual. No such ceremony was required by the Law, but only by the traditions upon which the Pharisees laid such stress. Jesus declared that to wash the body while the heart is impure is as absurd as to cleanse the outside of an unclean cup or platter. He declared that God who made the body created the soul also, and that God is more concerned with the latter than with the former. He insisted that while it may be well to wash the hands, a better preparation for a meal would consist in filling the heart with love, which might be expressed in gifts to the poor. It was much more important that the Pharisee should take the hatred from his heart, than that Jesus should wash his hands. Vs.37-41.
Hypocrisy, however, is ever concerned with external forms while disregarding realities. Therefore Jesus pronounced a woe upon the Pharisees for tithing the small garden herbs while neglecting justice toward men and love toward God, for observing some minute religious rite while breaking all the Ten Commandments. Yet he did not condemn them for caring for these trifles, but for neglecting things essential. "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." V.42. Jesus further rebuked the vanity and the desire for prominence and public recognition which is at once a mark and a cloak of hypocrisy. V.43. He further compared the evil influence of hypocrites to the defiling contact with a grave, which is level with the ground, upon which one may unconsciously tread and so become ceremonially unclean. Men are not on their guard against those who make loud boasts of religion. V.44.
At this juncture a lawyer interrupted Jesus with the statement that these severe denunciations seemed to include him and his associates. It was true that most lawyers were Pharisees, but they were the professional teachers of this sect, the recognized leaders of the party; and in denouncing all Pharisees Jesus seemed to include even these proud expounders of the Law. Jesus replied that religious teachers who are insincere, or who allow their religion to become a mere matter of form, are most of all to be rebuked. He pronounced upon them three woes: the first, for extracting from the Law minute and burdensome requirements which they were not careful to observe themselves. It is a grievous fault for students and scholars to make religion a matter of weariness and distaste, instead of a delight to the common people. Vs.45, 46.
Secondly, Jesus rebuked their heartless cruelty and fanaticism. Teachers of religion are ever tempted to become bitter partisans, and even to have a share in killing the very prophets and apostles of God. The hatred of Jesus shown by his enemies was like that of their fathers who had killed the divine messengers of old. The blood of these martyrs, from the first to the last mentioned in the Hebrew Bible was yet to be required of the nation, and those who rejected Jesus would partake in the judgment as they were partakers of the crime, vs.47-51.
Lastly, the lawyers were rebuked for keeping back the knowledge of God, by their false interpretations of Scripture and their disregard of the real spiritual needs of the people. Such teachers of religion are like men who hold the key to a sacred temple; they themselves will not enter and they keep back all who would. It is a solemn responsibility to be a professed teacher of divine truth; and to be at once a "lawyer" and a "hypocrite," is to merit these solemn woes which fell from the lips of Christ. So enraged were his hearers that they threatened him with physical violence. Hypocrites hate to be exposed. Wise men are glad to be warned and to repent before it is too late. He who spoke these bitter words of rebuke is ready to pardon and to purify and to lead his followers in the paths of service and of peace. Vs.52-54.
9. Faithful Testimony Encouraged. Ch.12:1-12
1 In the mean time, when the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together, insomuch that they trod one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.2 But there is nothing covered up, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.3 Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.5 But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows.8 And I say unto you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me in the presence of men shall be denied in the presence of the angels of God.10 And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.11 And when they bring you before the synagogues, and the rulers, and the authorities, be not anxious how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: 12 for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say.
When Jesus had bitterly rebuked the public religious teachers of his day he turned to his disciples and spoke words of cheer which have strengthened his followers in all days. Such encouragement was needed; the bitter hatred of his enemies now threatened the life of Jesus, and made it evident that his disciples could expect no kinder treatment than their Lord. Then, too, Jesus had shown the special guilt of those who professed to be guides in matters of religion; his disciples therefore needed courage to continue their public witness both because of the great responsibility involved and because it would bring upon them the hatred of men. He encouraged them, first, by the assurance that the corrupting influence of the Pharisees would come to an end; their hypocrisy would be mercilessly unmasked; their power would cease; while on the other hand the witness of the disciples would not always be confined to places of obscurity but would be heard in all the world. Vs.1-3. How truly has this prophecy been fulfilled! Compare the present influence of Hillel or Gamaliel with that of Peter or John. No one can measure the power for good possessed by the humblest witness for Christ.
Jesus further encouraged his disciples by assuring them of the loving care of God. They should look to him in reverent trust; this would give confidence and strength and free them from the fear of man. Their enemies could harm only the body; God controls the eternal destiny of souls, and to him even the body is precious, and he is concerned with the most minute details of our lives. If he notes the fall of a sparrow, he must know the peril and need of every one who is testifying for his Son. Vs.4-7.
Then again for faithful witnesses there remain great rewards, in spite of what they now may suffer from men. As they now acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, so in the glories of heaven he will acknowledge them as his true and loyal warriors who merit and will share the blessedness of his triumphant reign. Vs.8, 9. On the other hand, those who blaspheme his name by ascribing his power to a Satanic source, ch.11:15, will be regarded as guilty of an unpardonable sin. This would not apply to such as in ignorance rejected Jesus, but to those who had full opportunity of knowing him, and who then scoffed at his claims and maliciously insulted his divine Person, and made of him an impostor and associated him with the powers of evil. V.10.
Last of all, in spite of opposition and threats of all the earthly powers, and in the presence of the most imposing tribunals, the witnesses of Jesus never need fear, and must never allow themselves to be silenced. The Holy Spirit, whom their enemies opposed and blasphemed, would speak through them; he would teach them both how and what to say, vs.11, 12. This promise was not designed to encourage indolence or lack of possible preparation, but to assure the Christian witness that a divine Presence would ever give him needed wisdom and strength and grace.
It is a grave responsibility to testify for Christ, but it is the duty of everyone who bears his name; and in this service he can be assured that the influence will be measureless, the protection unfailing, the reward heavenly, the sustaining grace divine.
10. A Warning Against Covetousness. Ch.12:13-21
13 And one out of the multitude said unto him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.14 But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods, 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry 20 But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The parable of the Rich Fool was related by our Lord to teach that riches neither form the real content nor assure the continuance of life, so that it is the sheerest folly to seek for gold while forgetting God.
A man had come to Jesus with the request, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." The reply implied that the Master regarded his work as spiritual, and that he was not willing to invade the sphere of civil law or to usurp the place of regularly appointed authorities, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?"
Possibly this reply contains a message for the modern day and warns us against confusing the functions of the Church with those of the State. The sphere of the Church is spiritual, and its province is not to determine questions which are commercial and political. The Church, however, does provide and inculcate principles which are involved in all moral questions and which determine justice and right in every sphere of human life. Thus Jesus refused to "divide the inheritance," but he pierced to the root of the request and saw that the man was neglecting the civil law and seeking the support of a religious teacher because he was moved by avarice; and it is this same "love of money" which lies at the root of most of the injustice and inequity and cruelty which burden the world to-day.
Therefore Jesus turned to the multitude with the warning: "Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." To enforce his message Jesus told the story of the rich man who was heaping up goods for selfish enjoyment in future years, and who was suddenly confronted by the necessity which death brings of leaving to others all that he had amassed. His foolishness consisted in forgetting that fortune and life itself are dependent upon the will of God, and that a man really owns nothing but owes everything to God, and that the real value of life consists in the unselfish use of wealth and of opportunity according to the will of God. How his vain words, "my fruits," "my barns," "my grains," "my goods," "my soul," are contrasted with the solemn message: "This night is thy soul required of thee."
"So is he," continued Jesus, "that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." It is the sheerest folly to forget that riches neither form the real content nor assure the continuance of life; it is madness to heap up goods while neglecting God.
11. The Cure of Anxiety. Ch.12:22-34
22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.23 For the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment.24 Consider the ravens, that they sow not, neither reap; which have no store-chamber nor barn; and God feedeth them: of how much more value are ye than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit unto the measure of his life? 26 If then ye are not able to do even that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.28 But if God doth so clothe the grass in the field, which to-day is and to-morrow is cast into the oven; how much more shall he clothe you, O ye of little faith? 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: but your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.31 Yet seek ye his kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you.32 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.33 Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth.34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
In addressing the crowds Jesus warned them against covetousness by speaking to them the parable of the Foolish Rich Man who trusted in his goods and forgot God; he now turned to his disciples to urge them to forget their worries by trust in God. While a Christian must not be selfishly absorbed in amassing wealth, he need not be anxious about even the necessities of life. The reason is that "the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment," and therefore God who gave life and made the body will surely provide food and clothing; he who did the greater will not fail to do the less.
For an example of such providential care Jesus points to the birds: without the "fruits" and the "barns" and the "goods," which failed to prolong the life of the rich man, the ravens continue to live; "God feedeth them: of how much more value are ye than the birds!" Of course we are to be diligent and industrious and to exercise thrift and foresight; but we are not to be anxious. Worry will not prolong life; on the other hand, it is worry and not work that kills. Therefore, if anxiety shortens life, it surely will not supply the necessities of life; trust God for food. Vs.24-26.
So, too, as for clothing; if God robes in such beautiful colors the perishable flowers of the field, will he not provide garments for his own children? To be anxious about these necessities is to imitate the heathen who know nothing of God's providential care. We show ourselves to be his children by our trust in him. Vs.27-30.
However, while we are not to be absorbed in seeking wealth, as the foolish rich man, or to be anxious about food and raiment, as are men of the world, there is something about which we should feel a deep concern, and that is the Kingdom of God. If we seek and labor for its coming, we can be sure that our Father will supply our temporal needs. Even though at times we may be in peril and in want, we can be certain that we are to share at last the blessedness of that Kingdom. Vs.31, 32. Therefore we should not be absorbed in gathering the goods that perish, but by deeds of sacrifice and works of charity, inspired by gratitude to God and love to men, we are to lay up "treasure in the heavens" which will never be stolen or destroyed; and as the heart always follows its treasure, our thoughts will be turned upward toward God; trust in his power and love will banish our anxiety and free us from care. Vs.33, 34.
12. An Exhortation to Watchfulness. Ch.12:35-48
35 Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; 36 and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him.37 Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them.38 And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants.39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through.40 Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.
41 And Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all? 42 And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath.45 But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 46 the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful.47 And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; 48 but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.
Our Lord had been warning his disciples against allowing their minds to be absorbed in the selfish acquisition of wealth, and against being anxious about needed food and clothing; they were to be supremely concerned about his Kingdom which would appear in glory at the time of his return. As to the events preceding this return, as to its circumstances and results, he taught them more definitely just before his death; here he simply enjoined upon them the attitude of watchfulness, implying that if his coming was occupying their thoughts they would be kept at once from worldliness and from worry, and would be diligent in serving him.
He illustrated this attitude of heart and mind by two parables, the parable of the Returning Lord and the parable of the Thief. In the former, the master has been attending a marriage, his servants are awake and clothed, the house is lighted, and all are ready to receive him. So delighted is he on his arrival to find them faithful that he is ready to give any expression to his joy; he even is willing to cause them to sit down and to partake of the banquet they have prepared for him.
The second parable illustrates the truth that as the time when a thief will come is unknown, therefore the only way to act is to be ready at all times for his approach; therefore, our Saviour added, "Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh."
The Master here as elsewhere indicated that his return was to be delayed; his absence was to be like a long night; much must transpire, much be done before he would reappear, but his followers must ever be prepared for his return. This did not mean that they were to be nervously expectant nor were they to be saying that the day of his coming was just at hand; rather they were to be at their places of duty, faithfully performing their tasks, and absorbed in the work which the Master had given them to do.
This attitude of watchfulness, and of interest in the return of Christ, should particularly characterize teachers and leaders. This is the force of the question which Peter now asked. He inquired whether all believers would share equally in the blessings of the Lord's return; would not those, like the apostles, who had been most prominent in his service receive from him a greater reward? Jesus replied that larger privileges imply greater temptations and greater responsibilities. If a Christian minister has been faithful in feeding his people with spiritual food, he will be rewarded with even higher opportunities for service; but if the long delay of his Lord's return shall make him forgetful and unmindful of its reality, if he shall use his high position selfishly or shall use his power unkindly, then when the Master appears he will be punished with the utmost severity.
The chief advantage of a religious leader lies in his opportunity for knowing more fully the teachings of Christ; his superior knowledge, therefore, will be the ground of his more terrible punishment in case of unfaithfulness; the principle is abiding and applies in every sphere. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required."
Thus Christ taught that in the future there will be degrees and gradations both of punishments and rewards.
13. The Divisive Influence of Christ. Ch.12:49-59
49 I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled? 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 51 Think ye that I come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.53 They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.
54 And he said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass.55 And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass.56 Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time? 57 And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? 58 For as thou art going with thine adversary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him; lest haply he drag thee unto the judge, and the judge shall deliver thee to the officer, and the officer shall cast thee into prison.59 I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the very last mite.
Jesus had been warning the crowds against the peril of selfish enjoyment and urging his followers to watch and to labor for his return and his Kingdom; but he did not want them to be deceived and to suppose that this Kingdom could be established without conflict and delay. The present age was to be one of strife and division, and the Master himself was to be their innocent cause. Some day he would return to bring justice and holiness and righteousness to complete victory, and then he would be indeed the Prince of peace.
Now, however, his coming into the world had cast upon the earth the burning brand of division and strife. This was so inevitable that Jesus had no regret that the fire was already kindled; but it would not burst into a conflagration until Jesus had been crucified, and he felt a pathetic impatience to have that dreadful experience accomplished. As Jesus emerged from that baptism of fire he would be the torch which would set the world ablaze with conflict and separation. This division would occur even in a home circle of five: father and mother would be divided against son and daughter and daughter-in-law.
Thus Christ, and specifically his cross, is now dividing the world. Happy are those who interpret his message and understand his mission and turn to him in repentance and faith!
The multitudes, however, were still unbelieving, and Jesus rebuked their stupid ignorance. He declared that they could so interpret the signs of weather as to predict correctly rain or drought, but they could not see in his words and works the proofs that he was the Christ, the Saviour of the world. However, he warned them to repent before it was too late. They would have wisdom enough to agree with an adversary while on the way to a courtroom before sentence had been pronounced, much more should they see that it was the part of wisdom to seek peace with God before the day of mercy and grace had passed.
14. A Call to Repentance. Ch.13:1-9
1 Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2 And he answered and said unto them, Think ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they have suffered these things? 3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish.4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, think ye that they were offenders above all the men that dwell in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
6 And he spake this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.7 And he said unto the vinedresser, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: 9 and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down.
At the very time when Jesus was urging upon his hearers their need of repentance, a report was made of a cruel slaughter of Galilaeans at the hand of Pilate. It was expected that Jesus would declare the poor sufferers to have merited their fate, and that he would fall into the common fallacy of supposing that exceptional suffering is a proof of exceptional guilt on the part of men. Jesus, however, replied that temporary exemption from suffering is a mark of special grace on the part of God. All impenitent men are certain to suffer, and deserve to suffer; if judgment has not fallen the delay should be regarded as a merciful opportunity to repent.
Jesus enforced the same truth by referring to a recent calamity in which eighteen men had been crushed by the fall of a tower. Their fate was not to be regarded as a sign of their special sinfulness, but as a warning to others that they would likewise suffer unless they repented of their sins.
The Master had in mind the entire Jewish nation and he further enforced his call to repentance by the parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree. This was a true type of Israel, but also a symbol of every impenitent soul. God mercifully preserves and blesses and spares, but the day of mercy will end. The nation, as the individual, which produces no fruit of penitence and of righteousness is certain to be cut down. While the opportunity is given, repentance must be shown. "Now is the acceptable time; ... now is a day of salvation."
15. A Cure on the Sabbath. Ch.13:10-21
10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath day.11 And behold, a woman that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years: and she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up.12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.13 And he laid his hands upon her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.14 And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, answered and said to the multitude, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore, come and be healed, and not on the day of the sabbath.15 But the Lord answered him, and said, Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath? 17 And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame: and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
18 He said therefore, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I liken it? 19 It is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his own garden; and it grew, and became a tree; and the birds of the heaven lodged in the branches thereof.
20 And again he said, Where unto shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.
A true follower of Christ will worship in public on the Sabbath Day, for this was the custom of our Lord. On one of these days he found occasion to reveal his sympathy and power by releasing a poor woman who for eighteen years had been bound by "a spirit of infirmity," just as on such occasions his word to-day brings deliverance to souls bound by the power of sin.
It was his sympathy which prompted this act and further led him to relieve the consciences of his hearers from the burden of traditions placed upon them by false interpretations of the Law. When the ruler of the synagogue criticized Jesus, by addressing those whom the woman represented, on the ground that such healing broke the law of Sabbath rest, his hypocrisy and that of his sympathizers was unmasked by the reply that where self-interest prompted, they interpreted the Law so liberally as to allow them on the Sabbath to loose their cattle which had been bound but a few hours, while they refused to allow Jesus to relieve a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound for years. They were pretending to be zealous for the Law while denying its essential principle of love. Their real breach of the Law was shown both by their lack of sympathy for the woman and their hatred of Christ. Their interpretation of the Law was shown to be absurd, for it prevented an act of mercy which, on the Sabbath, was not only allowable but necessary. Jesus never intimated that he would abolish the Sabbath; he only designed to restore to it the true spirit of worship and love and liberty and joy.
In view of this gracious work of power the multitude rejoiced; and Jesus spoke the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, the former to indicate that his power yet was to extend over all the earth and the latter that it was to transform all human life. Some readers interpret the former parable as indicating the unsubstantial forms that Christianity at times assumes, and the latter the false doctrine which at times permeates the Church. Whichever interpretation one accepts, it is hardly wise to base upon it any theories as to the order of events related to the coming and Kingdom of Christ. All will agree that small beginnings and invisible forces are not to be despised or distrusted by the followers of the Christ who some day will deliver the whole suffering creation "from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God."