IN SPEAKING THE parable, with which this chapter opens, the Lord was continuing the same line of thought, as is shown by His application of the parable in verses 7 and 8. When the kingdom arrives it will mean judgment for the evil-doers, but the days just before its arrival will mean tribulation for saints. Their resource will be prayer. Even an unjust judge will be moved to right the wrongs of a widow, if she is sufficiently importunate; so the saint may continue waiting upon God with the assurance of being heard in due season.
There is not the smallest doubt about the coming of the Son of Man to answer the cries of His elect. The only doubt is as to faith being found in lively exercise amongst them. The Lord asked the question, "Shall He find faith on the earth?" but He did not answer it. The inference seems to be that faith will be at a low ebb, which agrees with His own plain statement elsewhere that, "the love of many shall wax cold." If we are right in believing that the end of the age draws very near, we shall do well to take this very much to heart, and stir ourselves up to faith and prayer. Only if we always pray shall we not faint.
The man who prays trusts in God. The trouble with so many is that they trust in themselves and in their own righteousness. To these the next parable is addressed. The Pharisee and the publican are typical men. The Lord takes for granted that God's grace, which brings justification for men, was available, but shows that all depends on the attitude of the one who needs it. The Pharisee exactly represents the elder son of chapter 15, the rich man of chapter 16, the unrepentant thief of chapter 23. The publican represents the younger son, Lazarus, and the repentant thief.
With the Pharisee it was himself, his character, his deeds. With the publican, the confession of sin, and of his need of propitiation-the word translated, "be merciful," is literally, "be propitious." How full of significance is verse 13! His position: "afar off," indicating he knew he had no right to draw near. His attitude: not lifting "his eyes unto heaven,"-heaven was no place for such a man as he. His action: "smote upon his breast," thus confessing that he was the man who deserved to be smitten. His words: "me, the sinner," for it is the rather than a here. The Pharisee had said, "I am not as other men," smiting other men rather than himself. The publican hit the right man, and humbling himself was blessed.
How strikingly all this fits in with the special theme of this Gospel. Grace was there in abundance in the perfect Son of Man, but except there be on our side the humble and repentant spirit, we miss all that it offers.
The next incident, which Luke relates briefly in verses 15-17, enforces just the same thing. Mere babes do not count in the world's scheme of things, but of such the kingdom is composed. It is not, as we should have thought, that the babe must reach up to full-grown estate to enter, but that the full-grown man must reach down to the babe's estate to enter. The former might have suited the law of Moses, but grace is in question here.
Again the next incident, concerning the rich young ruler, lays its emphasis on the same point. The Lord had just spoken of receiving the kingdom as a little child, when the ruler asks, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" His mind swung back to the works of the law, not knowing what Paul tells us in Romans 4: 4, "To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." Approaching on this basis, the Lord referred him to the Law, as regards his duty to his neighbour, and on his claiming to have complied from his youth up, He tested him further as to his relation to Himself. "Come, follow Me." Who is this Me? That was the supreme question, on which everything hinged, whether for the ruler or for ourselves.
The ruler had addressed Him as "Good Master," and this complimentary epithet the Lord had refused apart from the acknowledgment that He was God. In truth He was God, and He was good, and He presented Himself to the young man, bidding him relinquish what he possessed and follow Him-just as Levi had done some time before. Even the law demanded that God should be loved with all the heart. Did the ruler love God thus? Did he recognize God in the lowly Jesus? Alas, he did not. He might claim to have kept commandments relating to his neighbour; he utterly broke down when the first of all the commandments was in question. In his eyes his riches had in them greater value than Jesus.
With great difficulty does a rich man enter into the kingdom of God, since it is so difficult to have riches without the heart becoming absorbed by them to the exclusion of God. To those who thought of riches as tokens of God's favour all this seemed very disturbing, but the truth is that salvation is impossible to man, yet possible to God. This brings us back to the point which is in question. The kingdom cannot be earned, much less eternal life. All must be received as gifts from God. And if, in receiving the gift, other things are surrendered, there is an abundant recompense both now and in the world to come.
This saying of our Lord, recorded in verses 29 and 30, is a very sweeping one. In the present time there is manifold more for everyone who has given up good things of earth for the sake of the kingdom. Any difficulty we may have in understanding this is based upon our failure to appraise rightly the spiritual favours which make up the "manifold more." Paul illustrates that saying for us. Read Philippians 3, and see how he reckoned up the spiritual wealth poured into his bosom after he had "suffered the loss of all things." Like a camel stripped of every rag it had carried, he had passed through the needle gate, only to find himself loaded with favours on the other side.
All this would sound very strange to the Jewish mind, but the fact, which explained it all, was that the Son of Man was not at this time going to take the kingdom, but rather to go up to Jerusalem to die. So again at this point Jesus spoke of the death which was just before Him. The prophets had indicated that this was the way in which He would enter into His glory, though the disciples failed to understand it. And even though He thus again instructed them, they failed to take it in. Such is the power that preconceived notions can attain over the mind.
The Lord was now on His final journey to Jerusalem, and He approached Jericho for the last time. The blind man intercepted Him in faith. The crowd told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, yet he at once addressed Him as the Son of David, and asked for mercy. The rich ruler had asked what he should do, when the Lord had just spoken of the kingdom being received. The blind beggar said that he would receive when the Lord enquired what He should do to him. No transaction came to pass in the case of the ruler: a transaction was completed on the spot in the case of the beggar. The contrast between the two cases is very decisive.
The beggar received his sight, and, said the Lord, "Thy faith hath saved thee." This shows that the transaction went deeper than the opening of the eyes of his head. He became a follower of the Jesus, who was going up to Jerusalem and to the cross; and there was glory to God, both on his part and on the part of all the beholders. An equally distinct case of spiritual blessing met the Lord when He entered and passed through Jericho.
If, at this point, Luke's Gospel be compared with Matthew 20: 29-34, and Mark 10: 46-52, a serious discrepancy becomes evident. Luke most definitely places the cure of the blind man as Jesus approached Jericho, and the other two Evangelists as definitely place it as He left Jericho. With our limited knowledge it seemed impossible on this point to reconcile the different accounts. But during the last few years the archaeologists have been digging in the Jericho area, and have laid bare the foundations of two Jerichos; one, the old original city, the other, the Roman Jericho, a short distance off. The blind man understood the begging business and planted himself between the two! Luke writing for Gentiles, naturally has the Roman Jericho in his mind. The other Evangelists very naturally are thinking of the original city. We mention this to show how very simply what looks like an insuperable objection vanishes, when we know all the facts.
|« Previous chapter||Next chapter »|