ONCE AGAIN WE find the Lord in prayer, and this awakened in His disciples a desire to be taught to pray. As yet they did not possess the Spirit as we do today, and hence "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20), and the help and intercession of the Spirit, of which Romans 8: 26, 27, speaks, could not be known by them as we may know it. At this period the Lord was their "Comforter" and Guide from without: we have "another Comforter," who is within. In response, the Lord gave them the pattern prayer, and added to it an illustration to enforce the need for importunity. If a man will rise at the midnight hour at the earnest solicitation of a friend, we may well come with confidence to God.
The Lord had instructed His disciples to address God as Father and the assurances He gave in verse 10 fit in with this, as also the statements of verses 11-13. The Father in heaven is not to be conceived of as less interested and considerate than an earthly father. He will not give that which is useless or harmful in answer to requests for necessary food. Nor, we may add, will He give what is useless or harmful if we foolishly desire it and ask for it. Many an unanswered prayer is, no doubt, accounted for by this.
Man in his evil condition knows how to give good gifts to his children; the heavenly Father will give to those who ask Him the greatest of all gifts - the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Lord in His teaching leading on to the developments that were soon to come. The Holy Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified, as we know from John 7: 39; but when He was given, He came upon a band of men and women who were continuing in prayer and supplication, as Acts 1: 14 records. We live in the day when the Spirit has been given; and so we may rejoice in the fruit of His presence, as well as in the power of the Word of God and of prayer.
In the next paragraph (14-28) we get the definite rejection of the grace displayed, and of the Lord Himself who displayed it; which leads the Lord to unfold the fearful result of this rejection and also to further emphasize the importance of obedience to the Word.
The dumb demon being cast out, the change in the man who had been his victim was impressive and undeniable. Many of the people however adopted the plan of vilifying what they could not deny. The remark about Beelzebub is not attributed to the Pharisees, as it is in Matthew. Doubtless they instigated it, but the common people supported them in it, as Luke records here. Others, shutting their eyes to the many signs already given, had the effrontery to demand a sign from heaven. In His reply, Jesus firstly showed that their accusation was wholly unreasonable: it involved the absurdity of Satan acting against himself. Secondly, He showed that, if true, their accusation would recoil on the head of their sons, if not on their own.
But thirdly, and this most important of all, He gave the true explanation of what He was doing. He had arrived on the scene stronger than Satan. Before His coming Satan had held his captives in an undisturbed peace. Now the stronger One was releasing these captives. His coming presented a test to all of them: they were either with Him or against Him. Not to be with Him was tantamount to being against Him, for there could be no neutrality. Men might appear to be gathering together, but if not with Him it would prove to be but scattering. This is a point we do well to note. There is a great urge today for gathering men together in all kinds of associations and groups; but if not with Christ, central and dominant, it is a process of scattering, and will ultimately be manifested as such.
Verses 24-26 are evidently prophetic. At that moment the unclean spirit of their ancient idolatry had gone out of Israel, but though they were "swept and garnished" in an outward way, they were engaged in refusing the One sent of God to occupy the house. As a result the old unclean spirit would return with others worse than himself, and so their state be worse than at the beginning. This word of Jesus will be fulfilled when unbelieving Israel receives Antichrist in the last days.
Not all were refusing Him however. A woman of the company perceived something of His excellence, and pronounced His mother to be blessed. This He accepted, for the first word of His reply was, "Yea." Yet He indicated something more blessed still. The truest blessedness for us lies in the receiving and keeping of the Word of God. The spiritual link formed by the Word is more intimate and enduring than any link formed in the flesh. The Lord was leading the thoughts of His disciples to these spiritual verities, and the hearing of the Word is that good part, as we have just seen in the case of Mary.
The Lord now proceeded to speak of the insensibility that characterized the people of His day. They were asking for a sign as though no signs had been given to them. Only one sign remained for them, which He speaks of as "the sign of the prophet Jonas." Jonah preached to the Ninevites but he was also a sign to them, inasmuch as he appeared among them as one who had come up out of what looked like certain death. The Son of Man was about to go into actual death and come forth in resurrection, and that was the greatest of all signs: moreover He was displaying among them wisdom far greater than Solomon's and His preaching went far beyond that of Jonah. Why was it that the people were not moved?
It was not because there was no light shining. Men do not light a candle in order to hide it, as verse 33 says. The Lord had come into the world as the great Light and His beams were shining upon men. What was wrong was wrong, not with the light but with the eyes of men. This is emphasized in verses 34-36. The sun is the light of our bodies objectively: but our eyes are light to us subjectively. If the sun went out, there would be universal darkness, but if my eye went out, there would be absolute darkness for me. If my spiritual seeing faculty be evil, my mind is full of darkness: if single, all is light. In other words, the state of the one upon whom the light shines is of great importance. The state of the people was wrong, hence their insensibility to the light that shone in Christ.
But, if the people did not receive the light to their blessing, the Lord at least would turn the searchlight of truth on their state. He began with the Pharisees, and the rest of the chapter gives us His indictment of them. The Pharisee who invited Him was true to type; a critic, and obsessed with ceremonial details. The hour had struck for the critic to be criticized and exposed. Nothing could be more trenchant than the Lord's words. As we read them we may form some conception of how men will be searched in the day of judgment.
Their hypocrisy is the point of verses 39-41. Ostentatious cleanliness where the eyes of men reach, filthiness where they do not. And further, rabid self-seeking lay under their apparent piety. They were full of "ravening" or "plunder." The word, "give," in verse 41, is in contrast with this. If only they became givers, rather than plundering other people, all things would be clean to them, inside as well as outside. Such a radical change as that would imply true conversion.
Verse 42 points out their perverted judgment. They specialized on things that were neither important nor costly and ignored things of utmost weight. Verse 43 shows that love of notoriety and the adulation of men consumed them. Hence they became unsuspected centres of defilement for others, as verse 44 indicates. They damaged others as well as themselves. A terrible indictment indeed, but one that sadly applies in varying measures at all times to those who are exponents of a merely outward and ceremonial religion.
At this point one of the doctors of the law protested that these words were also an insult to such as himself. This only led to the indictment being more closely pressed home against himself. These teachers of the law busied themselves with laying burdens on others. They legislated for others, and coolly ignored the law for themselves. Moreover they were marked by the rejection of God's word and of the prophets who brought it, though after the prophets had been killed they honoured them in building their tombs, thus hoping to gain the prestige of their names now that they were no longer tested by their words. A cunning device, that! But one not unknown even in our day. It is easy to laud to the skies a century after his death a man that would be fiercely opposed during his life of testimony. The Lord's words imply that what their fathers had done would be done again by the sons. The generation to whom He spoke were guilty not only of the blood of the former prophets, but of the Son of God Himself.
Finally, in verse 52 we find that just as the Pharisees defiled other people (verse 44) so the lawyers took away the key of knowledge, and so did Satan's work in hindering others from entering into the true knowledge of God. They slew the prophets, and blocked the way of life.
The Lord evidently uttered these tremendous denunciations with calmness of spirit. The best of men would have spoken differently. Hence to us comes the injunction, "Be ye angry, and sin not" (Eph. 4: 26). We easily sin in being angry against sin. He needed no such command. His opponents thought they had but to provoke Him further and He would easily succumb. He did no such thing as they anticipated, as the next chapter shows.
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