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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 3

THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD

‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’

Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5

The murder of the Galilæans is an event of which we know nothing certain. The motives of those who told our Lord of the event we are left to conjecture. At any rate, they gave Him an opportunity of speaking to them about their own souls. He bade His informants look within, and think of their own state before God. He seems to say, ‘What though these Galilæans did die a sudden death? What is that to you? Consider your own ways. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’

I. People are much more ready to talk of the deaths of others than their own.—The death of the Galilæans, mentioned here, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judæa. It is just the same in the present day. A murder, a sudden death, a shipwreck, or a railway accident, will completely occupy the minds of a neighbourhood, and be in the mouth of every one you meet. And yet these very persons dislike talking of their own deaths and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody’s business rather than their own.

II. Our Lord lays down the universal necessity of repentance.—Twice He declares emphatically, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ The truth here asserted is one of the foundations of Christianity. If we have already repented in time past, let us go on repenting to the end of our lives. There will always be sins to confess and infirmities to deplore, so long as we are in the body. Let us repent more deeply, and humble ourselves more thoroughly, every year. Let every returning birthday find us hating sin more, and loving Christ more. He was a wise old saint who said, ‘I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven.’

Illustration

‘It is evident that our Lord’s informants were filled with the vulgar opinion that sudden deaths were special judgments, and that if a man died suddenly he must have committed some special sin. Our Lord bids them understand that this opinion was a mere baseless delusion. We have no right whatever to conclude that God is angry with a man because He removes him suddenly from the world. Ford gives a quotation from Perkins which deserves reading: “The common opinion is, that if a man die quietly, and go away like a lamb (which in some diseases, as consumption, any man may do), then he goes straight to heaven. But if the violence of the disease stirs up impatience, and causes frantic behaviour, then men use to say, ‘There is a judgment of God, serving either to discover a hypocrite or to plague a wicked man.’ But the truth is otherwise.—A man may die like a lamb, and yet go to hell; and one dying in exceeding torment and strange behaviour of body, may go to heaven.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE GALILÆANS’ WARNINGS

Our Lord does not say, Those Galilæans were not sinners at all. Their sins had nothing to do with their death. Those on whom the tower fell were innocent men. We know nothing of the circumstances of either calamity.

I. The warning to the Jewish nation.—This we know, that our Lord warned the rest of the Jews that unless they repented they would all perish in the same way. And we know that that warning was fulfilled within forty years, so hideously and so awfully that the destruction of Jerusalem remains as one of the most terrible cases of wholesale ruin and horror recorded in history.

II. The warning to individuals.—These Galilæans were no worse than the other Galilæans; yet they were singled out as examples, as warnings, to the rest. Pestilences, conflagrations, accidents of any kind which destroy life wholesale, even earthquakes and storms, are instances of this law; warnings from God, judgments of God, in the very strictest sense; by which He tells men, in a voice awful enough to the few, but merciful and beneficent to the many, to be prudent and wise.

III. The warning to evil systems.—The more we read, in histories, of the fall of great dynasties, or of the ruin of whole classes or whole nations, the more we feel—however much we may acquiesce with the judgment as a whole—sympathy with the fallen. It is not the worst, but often the best specimens of a class or of a system who are swallowed up by the moral earthquake which has been accumulating its force, perhaps, for centuries. May not the reason be that God has wished to condemn, not the persons, but their systems? that He has punished them, not for their private, but for their public faults?

—Rev. F. D. Maurice.

Illustration

‘The folly and uncharitableness of mankind are in nothing more clearly seen than in their disposition to blame every one who is unfortunate, and to think themselves surely in the right as long as they are prosperous. “While he lived,” said the Psalmist of the worldly-minded, “he counted himself an happy man; and so long as thou doest well unto thyself men will speak good of thee.” On the other hand, let one be smitten with disease or poverty, he shall never want some to ascribe his sufferings to the intemperance of his youth, to his extravagance, carelessness, or vicious indulgences while he had money, or to the judgments of God on his covetousness and want of generosity. And yet every day’s experience proves, both in public and private life, that the wisest of us is deceived, and the best man disappointed in three out of four of his worldly hopes and expectations. The reason of this is, that the present life is a state of trial, and not of reward and punishment; and the use to be made of it is, that the afflicted learn patience, the prosperous godly fear, and all men charity and candour in judging of others.’


Verse 5

THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD

‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’

Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5

The murder of the Galilæans is an event of which we know nothing certain. The motives of those who told our Lord of the event we are left to conjecture. At any rate, they gave Him an opportunity of speaking to them about their own souls. He bade His informants look within, and think of their own state before God. He seems to say, ‘What though these Galilæans did die a sudden death? What is that to you? Consider your own ways. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’

I. People are much more ready to talk of the deaths of others than their own.—The death of the Galilæans, mentioned here, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judæa. It is just the same in the present day. A murder, a sudden death, a shipwreck, or a railway accident, will completely occupy the minds of a neighbourhood, and be in the mouth of every one you meet. And yet these very persons dislike talking of their own deaths and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody’s business rather than their own.

II. Our Lord lays down the universal necessity of repentance.—Twice He declares emphatically, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ The truth here asserted is one of the foundations of Christianity. If we have already repented in time past, let us go on repenting to the end of our lives. There will always be sins to confess and infirmities to deplore, so long as we are in the body. Let us repent more deeply, and humble ourselves more thoroughly, every year. Let every returning birthday find us hating sin more, and loving Christ more. He was a wise old saint who said, ‘I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven.’

Illustration

‘It is evident that our Lord’s informants were filled with the vulgar opinion that sudden deaths were special judgments, and that if a man died suddenly he must have committed some special sin. Our Lord bids them understand that this opinion was a mere baseless delusion. We have no right whatever to conclude that God is angry with a man because He removes him suddenly from the world. Ford gives a quotation from Perkins which deserves reading: “The common opinion is, that if a man die quietly, and go away like a lamb (which in some diseases, as consumption, any man may do), then he goes straight to heaven. But if the violence of the disease stirs up impatience, and causes frantic behaviour, then men use to say, ‘There is a judgment of God, serving either to discover a hypocrite or to plague a wicked man.’ But the truth is otherwise.—A man may die like a lamb, and yet go to hell; and one dying in exceeding torment and strange behaviour of body, may go to heaven.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE GALILÆANS’ WARNINGS

Our Lord does not say, Those Galilæans were not sinners at all. Their sins had nothing to do with their death. Those on whom the tower fell were innocent men. We know nothing of the circumstances of either calamity.

I. The warning to the Jewish nation.—This we know, that our Lord warned the rest of the Jews that unless they repented they would all perish in the same way. And we know that that warning was fulfilled within forty years, so hideously and so awfully that the destruction of Jerusalem remains as one of the most terrible cases of wholesale ruin and horror recorded in history.

II. The warning to individuals.—These Galilæans were no worse than the other Galilæans; yet they were singled out as examples, as warnings, to the rest. Pestilences, conflagrations, accidents of any kind which destroy life wholesale, even earthquakes and storms, are instances of this law; warnings from God, judgments of God, in the very strictest sense; by which He tells men, in a voice awful enough to the few, but merciful and beneficent to the many, to be prudent and wise.

III. The warning to evil systems.—The more we read, in histories, of the fall of great dynasties, or of the ruin of whole classes or whole nations, the more we feel—however much we may acquiesce with the judgment as a whole—sympathy with the fallen. It is not the worst, but often the best specimens of a class or of a system who are swallowed up by the moral earthquake which has been accumulating its force, perhaps, for centuries. May not the reason be that God has wished to condemn, not the persons, but their systems? that He has punished them, not for their private, but for their public faults?

—Rev. F. D. Maurice.

Illustration

‘The folly and uncharitableness of mankind are in nothing more clearly seen than in their disposition to blame every one who is unfortunate, and to think themselves surely in the right as long as they are prosperous. “While he lived,” said the Psalmist of the worldly-minded, “he counted himself an happy man; and so long as thou doest well unto thyself men will speak good of thee.” On the other hand, let one be smitten with disease or poverty, he shall never want some to ascribe his sufferings to the intemperance of his youth, to his extravagance, carelessness, or vicious indulgences while he had money, or to the judgments of God on his covetousness and want of generosity. And yet every day’s experience proves, both in public and private life, that the wisest of us is deceived, and the best man disappointed in three out of four of his worldly hopes and expectations. The reason of this is, that the present life is a state of trial, and not of reward and punishment; and the use to be made of it is, that the afflicted learn patience, the prosperous godly fear, and all men charity and candour in judging of others.’


Verses 6-9

THE SPIRITUAL GROWTH OF LIFE

‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.… And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also … then after that thou shalt cut it down.’

Luke 13:6-9

Let us take as the basis of our thoughts the parable of the barren fig tree. Planted in a corner of the vineyard, protected by its walls, nourished by its properly prepared soil, there stands a fig tree. For two years the lord of the vineyard has come, eagerly expecting to see the promised fruit—for two years he has suffered disappointment. On the third year his patience is at an end—the tree is a failure. It is exhausting the soil and hindering the other plants. ‘Cut it down,’ is the order. But the vine-dresser, identifying himself with the tree, pleads for it that for one more year it may just have another chance.

I. The Creator and the creature.—Notice, first, the touching thought of the Creator for His creature. We were endowed by God—even if we sometimes forget the fact—with wonderful capacity of soul and mind and body and spirit. May I quote the splendid and solemn words of the Scottish Catechism: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever’? With these words in our ears we have the scope of our desires and ambitions. Yet how feeble and lustreless our lives are!

II. Protecting grace.—But notice that we are taught that our life has been planted in a vineyard with its own special protection, the vineyard of God’s Church, where we were planted at our baptism. Every gift that was needed has been bestowed upon us; and yet, when we look at our lives as they really are, can we say that they show any signs of growth? When we take great words on our lips, and join in great acts of worship, do we not realise that there is, perhaps, scarcely any prayer which we Christians ought to have more constantly in our hearts than this: ‘From all hypocrisy, good Lord, deliver us’? And if we, in our best moments, feel thus, can we measure the disappointment of the Lord Who made us, the disappointment of God at the work of His hands?

III. Unprogressive life.—Notice the barren fig tree cumbers the ground. Its life is unprogressive. We are all so apt to sleep; we cumber the ground and do mischief. An unprogressive life checks enthusiasm, and tempts men to doubt whether there is any reality in our conviction. Have you, for example, sometimes watched the effect upon young and ardent minds, fresh from the hopes of their confirmation, of the phlegmatic character of their parents? Truly, we could not be surprised if God, when He came to visit our lives, said, ‘Why cumbereth it the ground? Cut it down.’

IV. The patient God.—How is it that God is so patient? It is because the Vine-dresser is pleading for the barren fig tree. The Son of man is identifying Himself with the plants of his vineyard. If we would only honestly confess our sins we should bring ourselves within the protection of that all-prevailing Master. But that is only the first step in being saved. It is only by growing and progressing in the Christian life that we obtain the assurance that in the end we shall be spared. God’s forgiveness gives us another chance; but it depends entirely on how far, day by day, we submit to Christ’s will, and give ourselves to Him, whether we shall be accepted.

V. Aids to growth.—Of aids to growth there are:—

(a) Faith.—Faith is rising above all circumstances, duties, and occupations, and seeing steadily ahead one great purpose, the doing of Christ’s will.

(b) Prayer.—This is the inward activity of faith. If our prayers are to be the means whereby we secure our abiding in Christ, they must concern themselves mainly with the desire to bring all our capacities to God.

(c) Self-discipline.—It is plain that if we are to be the companions of Christ we must accept the conditions of companionship He has laid down. We must take up our cross and follow Him. The life that is not marked by continuous self-discipline is not marked by the love of God.

(d) Sacrament.—Lastly there is that wonderful sacrament of the Holy Communion. How is it standing with you in regard to your communions?

So then, by prayer, faith, self-discipline, and sacrament we come humbly to make sure of our abiding in Christ. On such a life the Creator, looking down, can see that it is good, and can rejoice in that which He has made.

—Bishop C. G. Lang.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE BARREN FIG TREE

It was to bring home to the consciences of the Jews, who told our Lord of the Galilæans being slain, the great lesson of their own need of repentance that He told this parable.

I. A fruitless fig tree.—Fig trees are common in Palestine—sometimes by the roadside, sometimes in among the vines on the hillsides. This was where this particular fig tree was planted. Why did the owner plant the fig tree? For ornament merely? No; he expected something from it, and so he came at the proper time to look for his figs. But how disappointed he was! Same again the next year—the year after, too! See now what he orders (Luke 13:7). ‘Cut it down.’ It was ‘cumbering’ the ground; it was doing mischief; it kept the sun off other things; it was taking the virtue out of the land all for nothing! Yet it was not cut down at once. The dresser pleaded for it. ‘Give it another trial—another chance—perhaps there will be figs next year.’ And so the tree was spared a little longer.

II. A fruitless nation.—How prominent was a fig tree among the vines on the hillside! Everybody could see it with its large green leaves. Our Lord once worked a miracle on a fig tree to teach a lesson to the Jewish nation (Mark 11:12-14). This parable too had a lesson for them. The Jews, like this fig tree, stood out prominently. They were God’s ‘peculiar people’ (Deuteronomy 14:2). The Jews were made great among the nations for God’s glory (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). But how like this barren fig tree they had been! Had they, then, borne no fruit? What about their strictness in keeping the Law? (Matthew 23:23)—their almsgiving? (Matthew 6:2)—their long prayers? (Matthew 23:14). What sort of fruit does the Bible call these? (Hebrews 9:14). ‘Dead works.’ These withered fruits were not the good fruit expected by the God of the Jewish nation. God had sent them Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others, and now His own Son; but the nation was barren, and worse than barren (Matthew 23:13; Matthew 23:15; Romans 2:24). They were doing mischief—‘cumbering the ground’; instead of drawing the heathen nearer to God they were bringing discredit upon their religion. What a warning to them was this parable! The axe was uplifted to cut down this Jewish tree. Is there nobody to speak for it? Yes; Jesus Himself. The blow may yet be turned aside, but on what condition? (Luke 13:5). If it repented and bore good fruit. Yet the axe fell just as Jesus said it would (Luke 19:43-44). God gave them forty years for repentance, and then the blow fell. The death of those Galilæans was a sort of foreshadowing of the terrible catastrophe. How many Jews perished! Jerusalem was utterly destroyed; multitudes perished in the Temple courts: their blood ‘mingled with their sacrifices’! The fruitless tree was at last ‘cut down’!

III. Fruitless lives.—But a church, a nation, is made up of men and women. Then what a church or a nation is will depend on what the individual members are. Each one of us responsible to God for the fruit he is bringing forth.

(a) See what God expects of us. Just what the master looked for from the fig tree (Colossians 1:10). Fruit. The ‘fruit of good living.’ See what lovely fruits we can grow if we will (Galatians 5:22-23).

(b) But is God disappointed with us? What will make Him displeased, disappointed? If we are bearing none of these fruits? But if we are bearing none of these, we are bearing other fruit—bitter, poisonous fruit—sin, and there can be only one end to all this. What is that? (Romans 6:23.) Such men are cumbering the ground. What is the sentence, then, they may expect? ‘Cut it down.’

(c) But who has to cut down the barren fig tree? (Luke 13:7.) Yet the dresser of the vineyard pleads for it. So He Who is to be our Judge (John 5:22) is our Intercessor—pleads for us to be spared—to be given another chance (Hebrews 7:25).

How good God is! how forbearing! how anxious that sinners should repent! See how he warned men before the Deluge (Genesis 6:3)—how he warned Nineveh (Jonah 3:4)—how anxious to spare sinners! Are we despising God’s goodness? See what it ought to do for us—‘Lead us to repentance’ (Romans 2:4). Perhaps we are having our last chance now! Let us make the most of it.

—Rev. Canon Watson.


Verse 8

ONE MORE CHANCE

‘Lord, let it alone this year also.’

Luke 13:8

How very few of us ever stop to think of the great mercy and long-suffering of our God, Who spares our lives from day to day and year to year.

Let us resolve, as we stretch forth our hands into the hidden future, let us resolve to bring forth more holy fruit than we have done in the years now for ever gone.

I. The call to arise.—The stirring summons and the beautiful promise of St. Paul to the Ephesians should be ringing in our ears and touching our hearts: ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ Sins and shortcomings of all kinds, especially those which through the power of the flesh would kill the spirit, must be left dead in the darkness of the past as we arise and come towards the light. I know thousands will say that, even when we have manfully resolved to let all that is unworthy die, it is not easy; nay, it is very hard. But remember, God shows us how to do it. As in the natural world there is no poison without an antidote, so in the spiritual world there is a God-sent antidote for the poison of sin (see Illustration). Sin is the poison which is death to the soul; the Cross of Christ is the certain cure. Kneel in penitence before the Cross, and the blood of the holy Victim cleanseth us from all sin.

II. The new light.—And He Who has the power to cleanse us from the sins of the past is the same Holy Friend Who gives the light to walk by in the present and in the future. ‘Christ shall give thee light.’ And we know full well by experience how sorely we shall need this light as the days and hours fly by. There are many enemies of the soul hidden as it were in the dark, but nevertheless striving to lead us into unclean paths, far, far away from all that is holy. There is that one great adversary, the devil: and it is only by the power of the light which Christ gives that we can detect his many devices to destroy our peace (see Illustration).

III. Light in the darkness.—Let us pray for this mighty gift.

(a) Some of us may have to feel bitterly the darkness that enshrouds the soul when it is wounded and bruised by an unexpected fall.

(b) Some of us may have to feel the darkness that falls upon the heart when one we love is taken away from earth, and the bitterness of bereavement cannot be sweetened by human power.

(c) And some may themselves have to hear the call, to lie down and die, and feel the darkness that hangs around the hour of death.

Whatever may be the nature of the darkness that is sure to come, the darkness of sin, of temptation, of bereavement, of sickness, of poverty, of death itself, there is but one light wherein we shall hope, and that is the light that Jesus gives.

Rev. W. E. Coghlan.

Illustrations

(1) ‘I have read somewhere that in the West Indies there is a tree which bears beautiful golden apples; they are enticing beyond measure to look at, but to eat they are deadly poison. When the natives used to go to war they would dip their arrows into the juice that their foes might meet with certain death. Now, wherever this tree is found there is always another close by, the juice of which, if used in time, is a certain cure.’

(2) ‘There is a story told of a hunter in a far-off land, who had to pass the weary hours of a dark night close to a wounded tiger. He dared not move a limb, for even when the leaves were stirred by the passing breeze he heard the hoarse growl of his fearful enemy. “Hours rolled on, and his powers of endurance were well-nigh exhausted; when at length the welcome streaks of light shot up from the eastern horizon. When the day dawned the tiger stalked away to a distant thicket, and the stiff and weary watcher felt that he was safe.” Thus it is with the beleagured soul; it is only in the light given by the Sun of Righteousness that our enemies can be put to flight.’


Verses 11-14

THE UPLIFTING POWER OF THE GOSPEL

‘And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.… Immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.’

Luke 13:11-14

Luke dwells with peculiar sympathy on the tenderness of Christ.

Our text is an illustration of the verse, ‘I am found of them that sought Me not.’ Here is grace, amazing grace, sovereign grace, grace much more abounding, as St. Paul would say. Nature transforms soot into diamonds and mud into opals and sapphires; grace works greater marvels as the heavens are higher than the earth.

I. Christ still uplifts men.—Those sunk in sin are suddenly arrested and lifted up. The habits of a lifetime are reversed: profane songs give place to hymns of praise. The forces of heredity are driven back; the Stronger Man expels the strong man armed; old things pass away, all things become new. The Gospel is still the power of God. Christ moves down the ages with the tramp of a conqueror, and stoops with the tenderness of a mother to uplift the fallen.

II. Those who are lowest can be raised up by Him.—Christ appears at His best when man is at his worst. Have you ever noticed water-lilies grow? The root is perhaps in eight or ten feet of muddy water: the sun draws it out of those dark depths, and the bud bursts into a blaze of white and gold, and lo! it becomes a companion of the sun which has drawn it of darkness into its own marvellous light. Never look at a water-lily without thinking of St. Peter’s words: ‘He has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.’

III. All this is a matter of experience.—It is a matter of experience that Christ uplifts those who have fallen into sin, and can in no wise lift up themselves by any power of their own. He uplifts those who are crushed and broken-hearted with sorrow, and turns the dark night into the morning. He uplifts those whose minds are clouded with distressing doubts and whose feet are bleeding and sore, and by His Spirit teaches them to find answers to all their hard questions at the foot of His Cross.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Charles Kingsley asked Turner how he came to paint “The Storm at Sea,” his masterpiece of colour and arrangement. “I painted it,” replied Turner, “under the stimulus of a personal experience. I was, at my own desire, lashed to the mast of a ship in a gale off the coast of Holland that I might study every incident in detail.”’

(2) ‘Seneca, the philosopher, who seemed not far from the Kingdom of God, confessed the feebleness of his Stoicism, and pleaded with a pathetic cry, “None of us has strength to rise; and oh that some one would stretch out a hand!” Some One stretched out His Hands on Calvary to lift up the fallen.’


Verse 18-19

THE GOSPEL IN THE WORLD

‘Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed.’

Luke 13:18-19

The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the world.

I. The beginnings of the Gospel were exceedingly small.—It was like ‘the grain of seed cast into the garden.’ If ever there was religion which was a little grain of seed at its beginning, that religion was the Gospel.

II. But the progress of the Gospel, after the seed was once cast into the earth, was great, steady, and continuous.—The grain of mustard seed ‘grew and waxed a great tree.’ In spite of persecution, opposition, and violence, Christianity gradually spread and increased. Year after year its adherents became more numerous. Year after year idolatry withered away before it. The prophetic words of the parable before us were literally fulfilled: the grain of mustard seed ‘waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.’ The Lord Jesus said it would be so. And so it came to pass.

III. Let us learn from this parable never to despair of any work for Christ, because its first beginnings are feeble and small.


Verse 20-21

THE GOSPEL IN THE HEART

‘Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven.’

Luke 13:20-21

The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a believer.

I. The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small.—It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture, a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard, a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian—some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul.

II. The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still.—It will gradually ‘leaven the whole lump.’ Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power.

III. Let us learn from this parable never to ‘despise the day of small things’ in religion (Zechariah 4:10).—The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run, If we see any symptom of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God, and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. ‘He that begins the work will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6).

Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts.

Illustration

‘It is thought by many that “leaven,” in this parable, was intended by our Lord to mean an evil and corrupt principle, and that the object of the parable was to describe the silent entrance and rapid growth of corruption and false doctrine in the Church of Christ. In defence of this view it is alleged that the word “leaven” is always used as an emblem of something evil. The doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, for example, is called “leaven.” But there is no force in the objection that “leaven” is generally used as an emblem of that which is evil, and therefore must be so used here. I do not see why the word is to be rigorously tied down to be only an emblem of evil; and why it may not be in this case an emblem of good. The goat in Matthew 25 is an emblem of the wicked: yet the goat in the Old Testament is a clean animal, and appointed to be used in some sacrifices, as well as the sheep. The serpent is generally regarded as an emblem of evil. Our Lord called the Pharisees “serpents.” And yet in another place He says to the disciples, “Be wise as serpents.” In short, I believe that the same word may be used in one place as a figure of that which is good, and in another as a figure of that which is evil. In some places leaven certainly means “false doctrine.” In the passage before us, I believe it means “grace.” Stella supports the view which I have maintained by quotations from Augustine and Gregory.’


Verse 23

A PUZZLING QUESTION

‘Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved?’

Luke 13:23

This question was put to Jesus by one who met with Him as He was journeying to Jerusalem. Yet it was not the question of that one inquirer alone. It has been asked by the heart, or the mind, or the lips, of men, from generation to generation.

I. A question of the lips.—Often it is a question but of the lips alone. ‘Are there few that be saved?’ asks the frivolous trifler who has chanced for a moment to be within the sound of spiritual things, and utters the first question which a vain curiosity may suggest, or which he has caught from another’s lips; and then he passes on regardless of the answer, careless whether the saved be many or whether they be few, or whether there be, indeed, any salvation at all.

II. A question of the mind.—‘Are there few that be saved?’ asks the religious controversialist, and he is already well prepared with an answer which is quite satisfactory to himself. Already he has formed his system of opinions according to which he measures and marks out the ways of God. He calls himself a High Churchman, or he calls himself Evangelical; he talks of points of doctrine, discusses disputed questions, baptism, or Church authority, or private judgment, and gets you into conversation that he may judge by your answer whether you belong to his party or not, and he is ready with clever argument and quoted text to prove himself right or to prove you wrong.

III. A question of the heart.—But often the question is put in a very different tone. It has become a question of the heart. ‘Lord, are there few that be saved?’ may be the trembling, earnest, desperate cry of one who is perplexed and bewildered by the dreadful power of evil; who sees that one dark shadow resting upon all; who thinks of the lives which seem to be wasted and aimless, of the purposes which come to nought, of the resolutions which are not fulfilled, of the slumber, the indifference, the sin, in which men throw away the life which God has given them; while here and there are a few whose lives are ‘saved’ and turned to glorious account, who seem to stand alone in the solitude of their holiness, and to have attained a stature which enables them to breathe a purer air. ‘Lord, are there few that be saved?’ Are we straitened in Thee, or are we straitened in ourselves? Is our Father’s love, indeed, restrained within such narrow limits? Are there indeed so few to whom it shall be given to have victory and to triumph over the world, the flesh, and the devil? Is it not written that the world has been redeemed?

In this way the meaning of our question deepens down according to the depth of character and the earnestness of purpose of him who asks it.


Verse 23-24

THE PUZZLING QUESTION ANSWERED

‘And He said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate.’

Luke 13:23-24

The question, ‘Are there few that be saved?’ drew from our Lord a wondrous answer.

I. Our Lord says, ‘Strive’; and He vouchsafes to add one reason why we should strive. A gate is appointed for us to enter into—the gate which leads to our true home, the only place where we can be happy, and this gate is strait, i.e. very narrow. So strait, so narrow, is this gate and way, that it cannot be found for mere seeking. Many, many there are who know more or less of it, have a true notion where it is to be found, and really wish they had entered in and were moving along that way; but they have not the courage to take the true and only method of entering; they will not make themselves low, little, and humble; they will not stoop, so the lowly door keeps them out; they load themselves with earthly riches, cares, and pleasures, so that they and their burdens take up too much room to crowd in through the narrow gate; they will not be converted and become as little children, so they cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

II. Men hold easily on, hardly seeking, not at all striving, until their path in life is run out, and they find themselves all on a sudden close to the other narrow gate, the very doorway of heaven itself, which is also called strait and narrow, because none may go through it who has not the mind of Christ, the lowly, meek, humble, self-denying mind, which He so earnestly invited, and charged all who would come to Him to learn of Him. But these have not learned it; and what is the consequence? When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, i.e. when the day of trial is over, and the night of judgment is come, and when the work of this world, according to the counsel of God, is ended, it will be as in orderly and strict households, when darkness and the hour of rest is come, and the family has retired, and the doors are made fast for the night; at such a time, if strangers, who have no claim to such a favour, much more of incorrigible servants who have forfeited their claim, come knocking and demanding admittance, the Master will say, ‘I know you not whence ye are.’ Who can describe the horror and despair which will come upon them in that moment, when they shall hear Him Who is love saying to them, ‘Depart from Me’?

Rev. J. Keble.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE ANSWER OF THE LIFE

The answer to the question, ‘Are there few that be saved?’ was one which the inquirer could scarcely have expected, and which at first must have seemed to him to be no answer at all. He is not told that they that be saved are many or a few. He is only bidden to strive to enter in. And yet that answer was the only one that could be given, the only one that could ever make the question plain.

I. The answer could not be expressed in words, but it might be learned by a life.—The question could not become clear by an explanation, but it might by the strife with sin. The words of Jesus lift the whole matter out of the clouds and mists which were surrounding it into the region where alone it could be clearly seen. He speaks not to the understanding, but to the heart; not to the intellect, but to the will. He bids that arise from its slumber, and brace itself for the struggle to win eternal life. ‘Strive to enter in.’ The task will not be an easy one. There is a strait gate. There is a narrow way; and there are hindrances many and great. Pride will hinder you; self-will will hinder you; sloth and love of ease will hinder you. The example of others will often keep you back. It will be a hard battle; but strive. ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved.’ Fight your way through all, and enter in. Bow down and pass through the little gate of perfect sincerity, of hearty trust, of earnest purpose. And when you have entered you will find that you see all things in a way in which you never saw them before, in a way in which you cannot see them now. You will have drawn nearer to Him Who sits upon the Throne; you will see things as He sees them; your will will have become like the Will of Him Who rules the world. The more heartily you enter into battle with the evil that is in you, the more earnestly you labour to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, so much the more you will enter into the mind and will of Him Who is glorious in holiness. And so you will come at last to possess a faith which is something better than a true creed, a living trust which is far above a mere orthodox belief, an anchor of the soul which will keep you firm and unmoved in any storm and in any tempest.

II. The Lord has left us a rule which is needed in these days certainly not less than in the days that are passed. In books, in newspapers, in conversation, men are every day disputing loudly upon some separate question connected with religion. They are arguing for or against some theory of inspiration, some doctrine of the Atonement, some attempt to number the years of eternity. And though these things are often discussed in a tone of thoughtless trifling which makes one shudder, yet there are thousands whose voices are never heard in all this strife of tongues, but for whom such questions have a deep, a terrible reality. We may learn, then, from the answer of Jesus that there are some things which are better learned by patient waiting than by anxious thought. We can live them out better than we can think them out. If we were in less haste to form opinions and theories of our own upon spiritual things, we might have less material to feed our pride, but we should far more certainly and safely attain to the knowledge of the truth. Let us then be content that there should be some things which we are not certain about, upon which we cannot pronounce judgment, which we must take on trust a little while longer.

III. While others are disputing, let us be living.—For religious argument is most dangerous to religious life. Very few can breathe its atmosphere long without feeling its poisonous power. We become so busy with the letter that we forget the Spirit, so anxious to prove our opinion correct that we forget to gaze upon Him of Whose glory our loftiest and brightest view is after all but a dim reflection. We may make ourselves very skilful in quoting the separate words of Scripture, or in observing the facts of experience, but we are in danger of knowing less and less every day of that one word of which the whole of Scripture is speaking, and which is in itself the sum and substance of the revelation of the Most High; the word which the Lord has been pronouncing in the ears of men ever since the Creation morning, the word which is the everlasting name of God, for ‘God is Love.’


Verse 35

THE DESOLATE HOUSE

‘Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.’

Luke 13:35

There is no such mournful passage in all history as this. The danger is that we think of old Jerusalem, a city now practically extinct, a city that flourished nineteen hundred years ago. This is Jerusalem, and me are the rejecting inhabitants.

I. Christ rejected.—We every day reject overtures of love, and turn our backs on doors that open to give us hospitality and rest. Every day we insult Deity; every day we put our fingers in our ears and shut out the most charming music; every day we desire the night to come in order that we may do the deed of darkness. That is the mystery of experience that makes all the realities of revelation possible to our faith.

II. Christ’s tenderness. ‘Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.’ Your house is ‘desolate.’ It was not shouted, it was not uttered in denunciation; there was no accent of threatening in the tone. The pathos of the word is its power. We do amiss to think that Jesus Christ pronounced His woes as if they were resentments or angry threatenings. They were full of tears; they would have been nothing but for their pathos.

III. Choose ye!—Still is the cry, ‘Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.’ But if we reject Christ once and again, and three times and seven times; if we keep Him standing knocking at the door and never reply, we must not wonder if, when after a long time we open the door to see if He is still there, we find He is gone. ‘Your house is left unto you desolate.’ You do not know how much your house owes now to the very knock you never answer. Christ cannot even be outside the door without a blessing being about the house. His very presence is a benediction; His very touch is a security. So long as He is found there outside, wet with dew, all night choking His voice into a moan, your house is not without a comfort. The accidental blessings, the blessings which come through Christ’s presence and ministry, you can never calculate. But when He is gone, when He no longer knocks at your door, then ‘your house is left unto you desolate.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-13.html. 1876.

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