Frank Binford Hole
JUST AT THAT moment some of those present mentioned the case of certain unhappy men of Galilee, who had paid the extreme penalty under Pilate. They had the impression that they were sinners of the deepest dye. The Lord charged home upon His hearers that their own guilt was just as great, and that they too would perish, and He cited the further case of the eighteen slain by the fall of the tower at Siloam. In the popular view these were exceptional happenings indicating exceptional wickedness. The people listening to Him were committed to worse wickedness by failing to understand their opportunity; and, rejecting Him, they would not escape. Thus He warned them of the retribution coming upon them.
In the parable of the fig tree we have the ground of the retribution stated (verses 6-10). God had every right to expect fruit from the people; He sought it but found none. Then for one year there was to be ministry to the tree instead of demand from the tree. Jesus was amongst them, ministering to them the grace of God instead of pressing home the demands of the law. If there was no response to that, then the blow must fall. In all this His teaching flows on from the end of chapter 12: there is no real break between the chapters.
Now comes the beautiful incident, verses 10-17, in which is set forth figuratively what the grace will accomplish, where it is received. The poor woman, though bowed together and helpless, was one who waited upon the service of God in the synagogue. Her physical condition was an apt figure of the spiritual plight of many. They were full of spiritual infirmity, and the law they found to be an oppressive yoke, so much so that under its weight they were bowed together, unable to straighten themselves and look up.
This woman was a "daughter of Abraham," that is, a true child of faith -see Galatians 3: 7. Yet Satan had a hand in her sad state, taking advantage of her infirmity. Moreover the ruler of the synagogue would have used the ceremonial law to hinder her being healed. But the Lord brushed all this aside. By His Word, and by His personal touch, He wrought her immediate deliverance. Many there are who would say, "With me it was law, and infirmity, and hopeless bondage, and the power of Satan, until Christ intervened in the might of His grace: then what a change!" Deliverances such as these shame the adversaries and fill many with rejoicing. They are indeed, "glorious things that were done by Him."
At this point the Lord showed that even the introduction of the grace and power of the kingdom was not going to result in an absolutely perfect state of things. The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, brought in here, indicate that, while there would be much growth and expansion in the outward form of the kingdom, it would be accompanied by undesirable elements, and even by corruption.
With verse 22 of our chapter a distinct break comes from an historical point of view. The Lord is now seen journeying up to Jerusalem, teaching in the cities and villages as He went. But though this is so, there does not seem to be any marked break in His teaching recorded. The question in verse 23 seems to have been prompted by curiosity, and in reply the Lord gave a word of instruction and warning which was much in keeping with what has gone just before. If the incoming of the grace of the kingdom was going to result in the mixed condition of things, pictured in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, then the narrow way of life must be sought with much sincerity and earnestness.
The word "Strive," in verse 24, does not signify work of any kind but earnestness of such intensity as to be almost an agony. It is as though He said, "Agonize to enter in at the narrow gate while the opportunity lasts." Many seek a wider entrance through things of a ceremonial sort, as indicated in verse 26. But only that which is personal and spiritual will avail. There is no real entrance save through the narrow way of repentance. So again here the Lord shows the futility of a merely outward religion. There must be inward reality.
The parables of verses 18-21 show there will be mixture in the kingdom in its present form; but verse 28 shows that in its coming form there will be none. Then the patriarchs will be in it and the mere ceremonialists thrust out. Verse 29 gives an intimation of the calling of the Gentiles that was impending, for grace was about to go out world-wide with mighty effects. Grace, as we saw much earlier in this Gospel, cannot be confined within Jewish limits or forms. Like new wine it will burst the bottles. The Jew was first historically, but in the presence of grace his ingrained legalism often hindered him, so that he came in last. The Gentile, not hindered thus, becomes the first when grace is in question.
The chapter closes on a very solemn note. Now it is not the Jew but Herod who comes up for judgment. Herod hid his animosity with the cunning of a fox, but Jesus knew him through and through. He knew also that His own life, characterized by mercy for man, was to be perfected by death and resurrection. The hatred of Herod was however a small thing. The great thing was the rejection of Christ, and of all the grace that was in Him, by Jerusalem. They were the people that God had appealed to by the prophets, and that now He would gather together by His Son. The figure used is a very beautiful one. The prophets had recalled them to their duties under the broken law, while predicting Messiah's coming. Now He was come in the fulness of grace, and the shelter of His protecting wings might have been theirs. All however was in vain.
Jerusalem boasted of the beautiful house which was in the midst of her. Jesus had spoken of it earlier as "My Father's house," now He disowns it as "your house," and He leaves it to them desolate and empty. Jerusalem had missed her opportunity, and soon would not see her Messiah until the cry of Psalm 118: 26 is heard, which proceeds, "out of the house of the Lord." That cry will not be heard on the lips of Jerusalem until the day of His second advent.
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