Luke 15

Frank Binford Hole

The Gospel of Luke

FROM THE TWO verses that open this chapter, it would seem that these words about grace and discipleship drew the publicans and sinners toward Him, while repelling the Pharisees and scribes. He did indeed receive sinners and eat with them: such action is according to the very nature of grace. The Pharisees flung out the remark as a taunt. The Lord accepted it as a compliment, and proceeded by parables to show that He not only received sinners but positively sought them, and also to demonstrate what kind of reception sinners get when they are received.

First the parable of the lost sheep. Here we see in the shepherd a picture of the Lord Himself. The ninety and nine, who represent the Pharisee and scribe class, were left not in the fold but in the wilderness-a place of barrenness and death. The one sheep that was lost represents the publican and sinner class; those who are lost, and know it-the "sinner that repenteth." The Shepherd finds the sheep; the labour and toil is His. Having found it, He secures it and brings it home. His shoulders become its security. He brings it home, and then His joy begins. Never does He have to say, "Sorrow with Me, for I have lost My sheep which was found."

It is impossible to find on earth the "ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance," though sadly easy to find ninety and nine who imagine themselves to be such. Yet if they could be found there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than there could be over them. All the myriads of holy angels in heaven have never caused such joy as one repentant sinner. What astounding grace this is!

The parable of the lost piece of silver pursues the same general theme, but with a few special details. The woman with her operations in the house represents the subjective work of the Spirit in the souls of men, rather than the objective work of Christ. The Spirit lights a candle within the dark heart and creates the disturbance which ends in the finding of the silver. The joy is here said to be in the presence of the angels; that is, it is not the joy of the angels but of the Godhead, before whom they stand.

Then follows the parable of the "prodigal son." The opening words are very significant. The Lord had been saying, "What man of you . . . doth not . . . go after?" "What woman . . . doth not . . . seek diligently?" He could not now say, "What man of you," if he have a prodigal son and he returns, will not "run and fall on his neck and kiss him"? We doubt if any man would go to the lengths of the father of this parable: the great majority of men certainly would not. This parable sets forth the grace of God the Father. Once more it is a picture of the sinner who repents, and we are now permitted to see in parabolic form the depths from which the sinner is raised, and the heights to which he is lifted according to the Father's heart, by the Gospel.

In the best robe we see the symbol of our acceptance in the Beloved: in the ring the symbol of an eternal relationship established: in the shoes the sign of sonship, for servants entered the houses of their masters with bare feet. The fatted calf and the merriment set forth the gladness of heaven and the Father's joy in particular. The son had been dead morally and spiritually but now he was as one risen into a new life.

If the younger son pictures the repentant sinner, the elder son accurately represents the spirit of the Pharisee. The one was hungry and went in: the other was angry and stayed out. The arrival of grace always divides men into these two classes-those who know they are worthy of nothing, and those who imagine themselves to be worthy of more than they have got. Said the elder son, "Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends." So he too found his society and pleasure in a circle of friends outside his father's circle. The only difference was in the character of the friends-the younger son's were disreputable, while his presumably, were respectable. The self-righteous religionist is no more in real communion with the heart of the Father than is the prodigal; and he ends up still outside while the prodigal is brought within.

Luke 16

THESE PARABLES WERE spoken to the Pharisees but the one that opens this chapter was spoken to the disciples. They were instructed by it as to the position in which men find themselves before God, and the behaviour that befits them in that position. We are stewards, and have been unfaithful in our stewardship. The steward was accused to his master that he had "wasted his goods." This phrase gives us a link with the previous parable, for the younger son had "wasted his substance with riotous living." All that we possess has reached us from the hand of God, so that if we squander upon ourselves that which we may have, we are really wasting our Master's goods.

The unfaithful steward found himself under notice to quit, whereupon he resolved he would use certain opportunities, still within his reach in the present, with a view to his advantage in the future. Verse 8 is the close of the parable. The steward was unjust-the Lord plainly calls him so-yet his lord could not but commend the subtle wisdom with which he had acted, in spite of it being to his own detriment. In matters of worldly shrewdness the children of this age excel the children of God.

Verses 9-13 are the application of the parable to us all. Earthly possessions, money and the like, are "the mammon of unrighteousness," because they are the things in which man's unrighteousness is mostly displayed, though in themselves they are not intrinsically unrighteous. We are to use the mammon in such a way as to lay up "a good foundation against the time to come" (see 1 Tim. 6: 17-19), or as our verse says, "when it fails ye may be received into the eternal tabernacles" (New Trans.).

Verse 9 therefore shows that we-are to act upon the principle so wisely adopted by the steward; verse 10 shows that we are to wholly differ from him in this, that what he did in unfaithfulness we are to do in all good fidelity. The "unrighteous mammon," which men struggle to obtain so earnestly, and often so dishonestly, is after all "that which is least." It is not properly ours at all but "another man's," inasmuch as "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." But there is "the true" mammon, which the Lord speaks of as, "that which is your own." If we truly realize that our own things are those which we have in Christ, we shall use all that we have in this life-money, time, opportunities, mental powers-with a view to our Master's interests. At all events, we cannot serve two masters. Either God or mammon will dominate us. Let us see to it that God dominates us.

Though all this was said to the disciples, there were Pharisees listening and they openly mocked Him. To their covetous minds such teaching was ridiculous. They were great sticklers for the law, and the law had never stipulated things like these. The Lord's answer to them was twofold. First, they were all for that which was outward before the eyes of men, merely concerning themselves with that which men esteemed. They ignored the God who is concerned with the state of men's hearts, and whose thoughts are wholly opposed to men's. Ultimately God's thoughts will be established and men's thoughts overthrown.

But second, the law in which they boasted was being superseded by the kingdom of God. The law had stipulated the things necessary for man's life on earth, and the prophets had predicted God's coming kingdom on earth. The time of the visible, world-wide kingdom was not yet, but nevertheless it was being introduced in another form by preaching, and already in this spiritual form men were beginning to press into it. The Pharisees were blind to all this, and were staying outside. But, though the law was being superseded in this way, not one tittle of it was going to fail. In its own domain it stands in all its majesty. It is "holy, just and good," and its moral enactments still remain. The particular enactment which the Lord emphasized in verse 18, was no doubt a tremendous thrust at the Pharisees, who were very slack in such matters, while busily occupied with their tithes of mint and anise and cummin.

This home-thrust was followed by the tremendous parable of verses 19-31, if indeed it is a parable. The Lord uses a few figurative expressions such as "Abraham's bosom," but He relates it all as fact. Verses 19-22 relate very ordinary facts of this life ending in death and burial, and there for us the curtain drops. As we begin verse 23 the Lord lifts the curtain and brings into our view the things which lie beyond.

The rich man acted on precisely the opposite principle to the steward at the beginning of the chapter. All that he had he used for selfish, present enjoyment and he left the future to care for itself. The Lord is not inveighing against riches, but against man's selfish use of riches without God. The rich man was all for the present, all for this world; God's kingdom was nothing to him.

The word Jesus used for "hell" here is hades; not the lake of fire, but the unseen world of the departed. He therefore shows us that even that is for the unsaved a place of torment. Four times over does He state that hades is a place of torment.

He also shows that once the soul enters hades no change is possible. The "great gulf" is "fixed." No transference from torment to blessedness is possible. No "larger hope" is here.

The rich man became quite evangelistic in hell. He desired his brethren to have a supernatural visitation to stop them reaching that awful place. The Lord shows us that no such supernatural event, were it possible, would stop people, if they are not stopped by the Word of God.

Today God is appealing to men by the New Testament as well as by Moses and the prophets, and in the New Testament is the record of the One who rose from the dead. If men reject the Bible, which is the full Word of God for today, nothing will persuade them, and they will reach the place of torment.

Oh, that a God-given conviction of this may possess us! Then, the "love of God our Saviour toward man" also possessing our hearts, we should be full of zeal for the souls of men. We should be more like Joseph Alleine, one of the devoted men ejected from their livings under the Act of Uniformity, who was said to be, "insatiably greedy of the conversion of precious souls!" And we should have the zeal for the souls of men while still it is the accepted time and the day of salvation.

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