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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 9

 

 

Verses 2-6

THE COMMISSION OF THE TWELVE

‘And He sent them to preach … and to heal … and they departed … preaching the Gospel, and healing every where.’

Luke 9:2-6

The passage throws much light on the work of Christian ministers in every age.

I. Authority over evil and disease.—The commission to the Apostles contained special reference to the devil and bodily sickness. Jesus gave them ‘authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.’

Here are two of the principal parts of the Christian minister’s business. We must not expect him to cast out evil spirits, but we may fairly expect him to ‘resist the devil and all his works,’ and to keep up a constant warfare against the prince of this world. We must not expect him to work miraculous cures, but we may expect him to take a special interest in all sick people, to visit them, sympathise with them, and help them if needful, as far as he can. The minister who neglects the sick members of his flock is no true pastor.

II. The importance of preaching.—One of the principal works which the Apostles were commissioned to take up was preaching. Our Lord ‘sent them to preach the Kingdom of God,’ and ‘they went through the towns preaching the Gospel.’ Preaching is, in fact, God’s chosen instrument for doing good to souls. By it sinners are converted, inquirers led on, and saints built up. A preaching ministry is absolutely essential to the health and prosperity of a visible Church. The pulpit is the place where the chief victories of the Gospel have always been won, and no Church has ever done much for the advancement of true religion in which the pulpit has been neglected.

III. Simplicity of life.—Our Lord charges His Apostles, when He sends them forth, to study simplicity of habits, and contentment with such things as they have. He bids them ‘take nothing for their journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread nor money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into there abide, and thence depart.’ The leading idea which the words convey is, a warning against worldliness and luxurious habits. Well would it be for the world and the Church if the warning had been more carefully heeded! From no quarter has Christianity received such damage as it has from the hands of its own teachers. On no point have its teachers erred so much, and so often, as in the matter of personal worldliness and luxury of life. They have often destroyed, by their daily lives, the whole work of their lips. They have given occasion to the enemies of religion to say that they love ease and money and good things far more than souls.

—Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The words of Quesnel on Luke 9:3 are worth reading. “Men will never he able to establish the Kingdom of God in the hearts of people, so long as they do not appear fully persuaded themselves of those truths which they preach And how can they appear so, if they plainly contradict them in their practice and behaviour? In order to persuade others to be unconcerned for superfluities, a man must not himself appear too much concerned, even about necessaries.”’

(2) ‘Our witness will be only powerful as it springs from and is accompanied by genuine sympathy. Sympathy is electric. It cannot be seen, but all can feel it. Sympathy is the golden key which unlocks the door of the heart. It is the Christ-spirit which embraces to itself every sufferer. In a word, sympathy is substitution. “Jesus was moved with compassion,” and so moved as to give His life for the sheep. After the example of our Master, let us then feel for and suffer with the sufferings of all kinds, of all classes, and of all ages; with the sickness of the body, the trouble of the mind, the sorrow of the heart, and even the sin of the soul. Let us seek to know our sheep, the conditions under which they live, the perils to which they are exposed, the trials through which they pass, that so amidst all the changes and chances of this mortal life we may be able to extend to them the comfort and strength and inspiration of Christian sympathy. Notwithstanding the griefs which oppress our hearts, the trials which distract our minds, the difficulties which beset our work, let us as pastors of the flock pray to have at all times

A heart at leisure from itself,

To soothe and sympathise.’


Verse 13

NO POWER IN OURSELVES

‘Give ye them to eat.’

Luke 9:13

There is an important principle underlying these words. It is that men are often put under obligation to do that for which they have, in themselves, no present ability.

I. Human strength.—It is the nature of human strength and bodily fortitude to have an elastic measure, and to be so let forth or extended as to meet the exigencies that arise. Within certain limits, for man is limited in everything, the body gets the strength it wants in the exercise for which it is wanted. God may fitly call a given man to a course of life which requires much robustness and a high power of physical endurance, on the ground that when he is fully embarked on his calling, the robustness will come, or will be developed in it and by means of it, though previously it seemed not to exist.

II. Intellectual force.—This, too, has the same elastic quality, and measures itself in the same way, by the exigencies we are called to meet. Task it, and for that very reason it grows efficient. Plunge it into darkness, and it makes a sphere of light. It discovers its own force by the exertion of force, measures its capacity by the difficulties it has endured, its appetite for labour by the labour it has endured. All great commanders, statesmen, lawgivers, scholars, preachers, have found the powers unfolded in their calling, and by it, which were necessary for it.

III. Moral power.—The same also is true, quite as remarkably, of what we sometimes call moral power. By this we mean the power of a life and a character, the power of good and great purposes, that power which comes at length to reside in a man distinguished in some course of estimable or great conduct. No other power of man compares with this, and there is no individual who may not be measurably invested with it. Integrity, purity, goodness, success of any kind, in the humblest persons or in the lowest walks of duty, begin to invest them finally with a character, and create a certain sense of momentum in them. Other men expect them to get on because they are getting on, and bring them a repute that sets them forward, give them a salute that means—success. This kind of power is neither a natural gift nor, properly, an acquisition; but it comes in upon one and settles on him like a crown of glory, while discharging with fidelity his duties to God and man.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Who is that gracious Teacher who had compassion on this starving multitude in the wilderness and said to His disciples, “Give ye them to eat”? It is Jesus Himself, ever pitiful, ever kind, ever ready to show mercy, even to the unthankful and the evil. And He is not altered. He is just the same to-day as He was eighteen hundred years ago. High in heaven at the right hand of God He looks down on the vast multitude of starving sinners who cover the face of the earth. He still pities them, still cares for them, still feels for their helplessness and need. And He still says to His believing followers, “Behold this multitude, give ye them to eat.”’

(2) ‘But all things He forsook, to give Himself

To ministry among the poor and sad, wherever need

Was bitterest, and the heart was pierced the most;

Wherever want most sad, and pain most sore,

Through the dark hours His steadfast watchings wore,

The touches of His tenderness were spent;

Till from the saved, the succoured, the consoled,

One voice of blessing clung around His name.’


Verse 23

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

‘And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’

Luke 9:23

Are we Christians in life and conduct? That there was a kind of life quite different from the life which men were commonly living, to which Christ and His apostles called them, is perfectly certain.

After Christ’s death persecution by municipal authorities and by imperial edicts threatened the lives of Christians, and, while the Christian life became more dangerous, the real and Christian living grew more rigid, and the denying of self, which was required by the circumstances of our Lord’s day, grew and expanded until it was made to mean that all bodily delights and joys of the senses and affections were either positively wrong or were infirmities which should be discouraged.

But is there no practical life possible in these days which may be called Christian?

I. The Christian life in principle must always be the same, however it may vary in circumstances, and if the rule in all our conduct is the same spirit which ruled the conduct of Christ, then I think we should all say that that was a Christian life. We know that the spirit which ruled the life of Christ was to do not His own will but the will of the Father which had sent Him, and if we knew a man who ruled his whole conduct not by his own will, but by the will of his heavenly Father; if his conversation were ruled by the will of God, and his business and his political action were ruled by the will of God; if his conduct amid wife and children and servants were ruled by the will of God; if the maiden in her pursuits and pleasures and aims were governed by the will of God; if the mother and the matron in the management of their homes, and in the cultivation of society, in manners, in dress, in activity, in reading; if in all the intercourse of the sexes, God’s Holy Spirit were the ever-present ruling influence; if in the matter of expenditure, in duty to the State, and in deeds of charity, the one simple unchanging standard of action were that which was Christ’s standard of action, then I think we should say that would be a Christian life.

II. Taking up our own cross has become a phrase, because it just hits the facts of life. Here are some examples of crosses which some of you have to take up. A feeble and ailing body which ties you to one place and robs you of many joys—that is a cross. The peevishness or perversity or jealousy of a dweller in your home you cannot escape—that is a cross. To be denied the rank, preferment, or place to which you are entitled by the mischance of fortune, or the arrogance of powerful caprice—that is a cross. The unfaithfulness of friends and the infidelity of those you have done your best to serve—that is a cross. To be childless for some is a cross. Unrequited affection is a cross. The ill deeds of those who are dear to you is a cross. To be misunderstood, maligned, or hindered is a cross. To have your home made so desolate by death that each day stares cold and lonely upon you—that is a cross; and if I were to go on for an hour I should not complete the long sum of this world’s crosses. What are we to do with them all?

III. ‘Take them up,’ says Christ, that is, recognise them as your portion, and bear them uncomplainingly. Take them up ‘daily’—mark the word!—just as you put on your dress. They may chafe you at first, but as you think of Him Whose servant you are, and Whose eye is your guiding star, and Who Himself set you an example in bearing His cross, the burden will grow lighter until you scarcely feel its pressure. Listen to St. Paul as he takes up his daily cross. What words they are! ‘Most gladly, therefore, will I suffer my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest in me, for when I am weak then I am strong.’ And if he could not escape, can we?

—Dean Page Roberts.

Illustration

‘The Saviour hardly ever said words whose bearing is more direct upon the practical work of our daily living; and though it is a bold thing to make the assertion, we do not hesitate to assert that no words ever uttered by Christ were ever so misunderstood and misinterpreted by very many men, in many places and in many ages. Christ’s teaching was, that the earnest believer must be ready to give up anything, though it should be a right hand or eye, that tended to obstruct him in his Christian course; and that he must be ready to fulfil every Christian duty, however painful, and to bear every burden laid upon him by the hand of God, though it should press upon him heavily and sorely, as the weighty cross upon the poor criminal who bore it to the place of doom.’


Verse 26

GROUNDS OF JUDGMENT

‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.’

Luke 9:26

If our Lord’s sayings on this subject are considered, it will be found that there are three main features, so to call them, by which Christians will be condemned at the great Day of Account.

I. Disobedience.—The first is disobedience—conscious, wilful disobedience—to the Gospel law. We are naturally so attracted by the Gospel as the revelation of God’s free grace and mercy, that we often forget another aspect of it. We forget that it, too, after its own manner, is a law. Christ was a higher and greater Lawgiver than was Moses, and His Gospel is the more exacting, because His Gospel is a more spiritual code than was that of the Pentateuch. It is a law of liberty, no doubt, because in Christ’s household obedience is not wrung out of unassisted and reluctant human nature by the sole force of penal sanctions; but it is not a law of licence. The Christian, justified freely, is not free to do whatever his lower nature may desire. The Sermon on the Mount is just as much a part of the everlasting Gospel as is the parable of the Prodigal Son; the twelfth chapter of the Epistles to the Romans is just as much as the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. Now this lofty, pure spiritual law is the standard by which we Christians shall be judged. It greatly concerns Christians to bear in mind how our Lord taught that all judgment will be relative to the opportunities which men enjoy in this life—that to whomsoever much is given of him will much be required.

II. False religious profession.—The second feature for which Christians will be condemned at the Day of Judgment is that of false or merely outward religious profession. Our Lord’s teaching is full of warnings on this score. We may take, for example, the great passage in the Sermon on the Mount in which He contrasted the practical religion of many a Jew in His day with that of a sincere servant of God. When God’s glory and will are lost sight of, and the desire to have the praise of men takes its place; when alms are given to secure a reputation for generosity, when prayers are said to secure a reputation for piety, when fasting is practised to secure a reputation for self-denial, then all are radically bad. The heart is eaten out of a good action by the impure and vicious desire for the praise of men.

III. Failure to make public confession.—The third feature is the failure of men to profess the truth of which they are secretly convinced. This clearly was the failure made at times when Christians were in a minority, or when earnest Christianity was powerfully opposed. There was no temptation to be ashamed of Christ when all the world around was, at any rate professedly, generally devoted to Him; but the temptation was a very formidable one when His Church was still young, and when Christians, so to speak, carried their lives in their hands. Wonderful it is how in those first ages of the Faith, men and women, boys and girls, in all conditions of life, joyfully accepted a painful death rather than be disloyal to their Lord and Saviour. Of the extant records of those early martyrdoms, some, no doubt, were the work of the collectors of the vague and decaying traditions of a later age; but the others bore upon them the undoubted stamp of truth. It is the same story over and over again.

—Canon Liddon.

Illustration

‘St. Peter would not have shrunk from confessing Christ had he been suddenly forced to choose between death and apostasy; but in the antechamber of the High Priest’s palace his fever cooled down. St. Peter meets a maidservant; and was it possible not to be astonished at her impertinence when she challenged him? What was it that made her so formidable? She represented a body of class opinion, the opinion of the class among whom St. Peter moved, and such is our human nature in its weakness, that he who was to become, through the grace of Christ, the first of the Apostles, succumbed in an agony of cowardice and shame—“I know not the man.”’


Verse 29

THE VISION ON THE MOUNT

‘As He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered.’

Luke 9:29

The vision of the Transfiguration was the joint experience of three men.

I. A loftier mount.—The Mount of the Transfiguration is a loftier mount than the Mount of the Beatitudes. The lowlier leads to the higher. If you hear Christ, and if you ask Him for those things which make man blessed, that will lead you up to a higher mount by and by. But for the most part the children of the Mount of Teaching never expect on this side of death to ascend to the Mount of Open Vision; they do not look for it. But Christ says that some shall.

II. Prayer and transfiguration.—If our Lord Jesus Christ went up into a mountain to pray, and as He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered, are we not most forcibly taught the service and value of prayer in relation to our own transfiguration? Prayer is the elevation of the soul to God in a yearning and receptive condition. Prayer is actual communion with the Father of glory. And actual communion of the soul with the Father of glory changes the substance and the form of the soul.

III. Spiritual vision opened.—We are not to suppose that the glory in which Christ appeared was shed on Him at the time. The glory was inherent in Christ. He is the Lord of glory. And the spiritual vision of the disciples, for the time being, being opened, they saw the glory, that they might bear witness.

IV. The effect of the vision on the condition that the men were in caused them to fall on their faces. They became sore afraid, for the poor outer man is quite incapable of the glory of the inner world until he is changed into the same image. Divine powers are slumbering in our inner man; but the body of our flesh and the fleshly life bring a heavy stupor on the finer powers of our spiritual body, and for the most part the inner man in most men and women is often asleep, as good as dead, just as good as dead. But this can be in a moment reversed.

Illustrations

(1) ‘As the glory of the sun makes a new earth, so the glory of Christ makes a new man. And nothing is more freely given than Christ’s glory to every repenting and deserving soul. From the operating of His glory on the soul’s nature comes that mysterious wedding garment.’

(2) ‘“To pray!” Luke’s is the Gospel of the Manhood. “Behold the Man” is its keynote. Hence it is full of prayer. It was “as He prayed that the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering.” And there is a transfiguration for you and me. It has not to be sought on mountain-tops of rapturous experience, or in fervid assemblies under the spell of the masters of human speech. It is effected for us as it was for Him. A life of prayer, a life in which prayer is no mere morning and evening incident, but a life that is ever turned heavenward—such a life will carry a transfigured face, whether its lot be cast among the elegant surroundings of culture and wealth, or amid the trials and stress of busy labour and humble commonplace.’


Verse 32

THE MOUNT AND THE PLAIN

‘But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him.’

Luke 9:32

A glorious scene lost because they were ‘heavy with sleep.’ The same men lost, not long after, in the Garden, an opportunity of comforting their Master which could never return, because they were ‘heavy with sleep.’ And here the sights and sounds of glory were missed because they were ‘heavy with sleep.’ And many a similar loss has been yours and mine because we have been ‘heavy with sleep.’ Your morning watch, that quiet hour when you might have had your Lord all to yourself undisturbed by domestic or outside sound—but you were ‘heavy with sleep.’ Add up the amount of time in which you have missed seeing your Master on the mountain of prayer because you were ‘heavy with sleep,’ and see what a total it makes. And then, of course, if you were ‘heavy with sleep’ when you ought to have been at prayer you will just have made all the mistakes that Peter made. If you do not know the happy power of rising early in the morning for prayer, what befell him will befall you.

I. On the mount.—Listen to him: ‘Master, it is good for us to be here.’ Of course it is. This is vastly better and easier than the life of struggle and calumny and hardship we have hitherto had. ‘Let us make three tabernacles,’ etc. Yes, Christian, if you have lost your time for prayer because you ‘were heavy with sleep,’ you will, like Peter, not feel the needs of the plain below. The other nine are down there, and they are Christians without power; and there, too, are the broken-hearted parents, and the devil-maddened child uncured, and the crowd who scoff at the impotence of your Master’s disciples. It is in prayer that you and I, as Peter did, see our visions. We live, thank God, in a time when the Mount of Transfiguration is found in many a hallowed gathering of God’s intimate ones. We know now that a deeper life and a higher life are possible to the believer than he used to think possible. We are learning that victory, not failure, is the thing which God gives us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

II. In the plain.—This transfiguration mount is the place where the Lord wants you to hear the voice, and learn the lesson, and see the glory which will brace and equip you for the life of the plain. You want to do something heroic. He wants you to take down this transfiguration power and use it below. It is for the home, the workshop, the office, the drawing-room, the unsympathetic sisters, the jesting brothers, the worldly associates who knew you before you learned the way up the mount—it is here the Lord wants you to be. No, you must not make three tabernacles up there. You must come down from the mountain. Every one wants to be doing something heroic nowadays. We are beginning to think life quite a commonplace thing if we do not look for the North Pole or explore a new glacier. But what is really needed is that you and I should come down with our transfigured faces into the trivial round and the common task of every-day life. Be often on the mount, but do not let it make you discontented with the life of the plain.

—Rev. R. C. Joynt.

Illustration

‘It is clear, from the narrative of Luke, that the three Apostles did not witness the beginning of this marvellous transfiguration. An Oriental, when his prayers are over, wraps himself in his abba, and, lying down on the grass in the open air, sinks in a moment into profound sleep. And the Apostles, as afterwards they slept at Gethsemane, so now they slept on Hermon. They were “weighed down” with sleep, when suddenly starting into full wakefulness of spirit, they saw and heard. In the darkness of the night, shedding an intense gleam over the mountain herbage, shone the glorified form of their Lord.’


Verse 33

A MISTAKEN VIEW

‘It is good for us to be here.’

Luke 9:33

What St. Peter meant when he uttered these words, ‘It is good for us to be here,’ what the feelings were which prompted him to use them, it is, of course, impossible for us to say. Holy Scripture makes but one short, significant comment on the impetuous disciple’s words—with that comment let us rest satisfied—‘Not knowing what he said!’

But even as St. Peter uttered the words in an ecstasy, so are those words being echoed on all sides, by lips which know not what they say. ‘It is good to be here. Here let us build up tabernacles.’

I. No continuing city.—A man has hosts of friends, is genial and popular, and made welcome everywhere. The pleasures, the excitements of the world, are freely offered to him, and gladly seized. He says, ‘It is good to be here—very good; I only wish I could always be here.’ Well, the years roll on—changes come—reverses overtake him—the friends who flocked about him in his prosperity vanish. He, the same one who used to say, ‘It is good to be here’—who dreaded the time when he would have to bid farewell to the world—is weary of everything, and longs for the end. Ah! in a state in which we have no continuing city, who would say ‘It is good always to be here’?

II. The world not good.—There are some who, in their love for the world, are saying, ‘It is good for us to be here. The world, and the things of the world, are very dear to us—we care for nothing else.’ Ah! God open their eyes before the storm break that shall lay their earthly tabernacle in ruins.

III. Where it is good to be.—There are others who would tarry for ever on the mount of transfiguration with their Lord—who dread the daily strife of tongues; the world’s sneers, and scoffs, and hardness, and unbelief. Many of us would fain escape the shame and offence of the cross. But our work lies where that offence daily meets us; and thither God’s voice calls us. There let us be found—our loins girded, our lamps burning—when the Master comes.

—Rev. J. B. C. Murphy.

Illustration

‘St. Peter saw quickly enough it was good to get a sight of God’s glory. So it is. David saw the same from the lovely shining stars—they told him of the power of the Maker. “When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the sun and moon … what is man, that Thou art mindful of Him?” A God so great to look upon and care for so small a thing as I! It was good for St. Peter and St. James and John to know Jesus as God and see His glory. It will be good for us to climb the upward path of difficulty, and on the mountain-top to see God too. We do not all see Him the same way, but His glory is revealed in so many things all around that we cannot miss the sight if we only look for it. If we miss seeing how great and glorious God is, then it is because we use our eyes wrongly or we do not look for Him. “Let us make three tabernacles.” That’s where St. Peter made a mistake; he meant “Let us stay here!”’


Verse 34

THE OVERSHADOWING CLOUD

‘There came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.’

Luke 9:34

How like were the disciples then to some of us who are Christ’s disciples now! That overshadowing cloud warns us, as it warned St. Peter, that this world is a battle-field, not a vision of Peace; a working time, not the rest that remaineth; the Mount of Crucifixion, not the Mount of Glory. To our Blessed Lord Himself that overshadowing cloud was a type of what His earthly life was to be.

I. The clouds.—Is it not true of you that often the cloud comes and overshadows you;—the cloud of anxiety, the cloud of sorrow, of disappointed hope, and disallowed design?

(a) Those who are rich in this world’s goods must often find the overshadowing cloud of anxiety darkening their lives; they wonder anxiously how their family will use their wealth when they are gone, and some must confess sadly that ‘they have heaped up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.’ Some among us have planted our home garden, and hedged it round, yet the cloud of apprehension comes lest the fairest flower of all should wither under the bitter blight of death.

(b) To the thoughtful and sympathetic there is ever present the overshadowing cloud of sorrow for others. However prosperous he may be, and in whatever happy scenes his own lot may be cast, he cannot but think of those who are living in poverty, in misery, and in crime almost at his very doors.

(c) And what shall we say of the poor? Is there not the overshadowing cloud ever present with them, the fear of hard times, of illness, or of failing strength, a cloud which sometimes seems to shut out the glory of God from their eyes?

II. Clouds hiding Christ.—The Apostles feared as the radiant forms of Jesus and His companions entered into the cloud; they feared because the cloud hid their Saviour from them, as the cloud hid Him at a later day when He ascended up into heaven. They were afraid to lose sight of Jesus even for a little while. So we, too, shall have much cause for fear if we suffer any cloud, be it of doubt, or trouble, or unbelief, to come between us and our Redeemer even for a moment.

III. The reason of clouds.—Why did the cloud so quickly veil the vision of glory from the Apostles’ sight? Why in this life does sorrow so surely mingle with our joy, and the cloud so quickly dim the sunshine? Because man has fallen from original righteousness, and was expelled from Paradise long ago. And it is because we too often forget this, and look for the undying flowers of Eden here in the wilderness, and desire to build our tabernacles here, instead of looking for a house eternal in the heavens; because we make gods of the idols of earthly joy, and prefer the meat that perishes to the Bread of Heaven, that the cloud so often comes betwixt us and the sunshine.

Presently, from that overshadowing cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, came a voice, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear Him.’ Ah! when a cloud arises to hide some scene in which we delighted, some form which we loved, some scheme which we cherished, and we fear as they enter into the cloud, may we hear that Voice, the Voice of our Heavenly Father, giving comfort, and saying, ‘This is my beloved Son; hear Him’! To whom else can we go, to whom else can we listen, when a horror of great darkness comes upon us, and the sunshine of our lives is hid? Surely in our hour of trial we shall desire to see and hear ‘Jesus only.’

Illustration

‘We may well take that scene upon the Mount as an allegory of human life, the bright sunshine ever and anon shadowed by the cloud, the sweetest cup of pleasure mixed with some drop of bitterness, since even the happiest

Taste not happiness sincere,

But find the cordial draught is dashed with care.

No one lives long in the world without discovering that

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

Even the most prosperous among us must admit that the overshadowing cloud has always come upon us in the day of our brightest fortunes. The whole of history tells the same tale. Ask the conqueror, the man whom all delight to honour—ask him for whom fame has woven the fairest chaplet, ask those for whom wealth and beauty have poured forth their choicest gifts, and all alike will tell you of their lives, that ever and again—

Across the sunbeam, with a sudden gloom,

A ghostly shadow flitted.’


Verse 41

THE CARE OF THE CHILD

‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?’

Luke 9:41

Christ is speaking to them all. He includes in the sweep of His censure the whole generation of them, parent and patient, and would-be physicians. He condemns them all.

‘You father! what have you been about, to let this horrid devil get hold of your child?’

‘You child, how have you suffered the devil to possess you?

‘And you, disciples of Christ, how is it that agonized child and distracted father appeal to you, out of their misery, and appeal in vain? Here’s a thing to hear of you: “I besought Thy disciples to cast him out, and they could not.”’

I. The fathers ought to keep their children from all snares of the enemy.

II. The children ought to resist him and defeat him, strong in a strength not their own.

III. The disciples ought so to possess the spirit of Christ their Master, that they can rescue all lost souls, and with the very same power which Christ used, cast forth the devil, set the children free.

Now, as of old, our Lord calls for this service from parent, from child, from faithful follower; in each case He has already given the power if we will only use it. Not to triumph is unpardonable; we ought, we can, we must. Not to do so is to be faithless and perverse, and unworthy of the patience of Christ.

Rev. F. L. Cope.

Illustration

‘This is a time when the current sets more and more in the direction of trusting blindly to mere access of knowledge and training of the intellect to equip and endow our youth, and we know that that, however desirable, can do almost nothing in setting free from the slavery of sin. We do not want clever babies; we want good, strong Christian men and women. Let us not hide from ourselves that we are face to face with a youth of both sexes, as much a prey to the devil as ever the demoniac boy. I am not concerned to discuss the question of how we compare, better or worse, with other times or other people. I speak of what I know, and I say that the corruption of our children to-day, the bondage to evil is really alarming. How can our girls and boys stand against it? Where will you find the workshop or the office which does not ring with vile talk? Our dim-lit streets and lanes are a shame; there are scarcely any real homes; parents, for the purpose of warning, advising, encouraging their children in the hard battle for right, are practically no use. Silly wiseacres sagely discuss the causes of physical deterioration, and they dare not, or do not, look at the principal causes of all.’


Verses 48-50

THE PRIDE OF THE DISCIPLES

‘He that is least among you all, the same shall be great … he that is not against us is for us.’

Luke 9:48-50

Two important warnings—

I. Against pride and self-conceit.—Filled with the vain notion that our Lord’s Kingdom was to appear immediately, the disciples were ready to wrangle about their place and precedency in it. Each thought his own claim the strongest. And all this happened in the company of Christ Himself, and under the noontide blaze of His teaching. Such is the heart of man!

II. Against an illiberal spirit.—The conduct of John and the disciples on this occasion is a curious illustration of the pride of human nature in every age. Thousands, in every period of Church history, have spent their lives in copying John’s mistake. They have laboured to stop every man who will not work for Christ in their way, from working for Christ at all. They have imagined, in their petty self-conceit, that no man can be a soldier of Christ unless he wears their uniform, and fights in their regiment.

Illustration

‘The divisions and varieties of opinion which exist among Christians are undeniably very great. The schisms and separations which are continually arising about Church government, and modes of worship, are very perplexing to tender consciences. Shall we approve those divisions? We cannot do so. Union is strength. The disunion of Christians is one cause of the slow progress of vital Christianity. Shall we denounce, and hold up to public reprobation, all who will not agree to work with us, and to oppose Satan in our way? It is useless to do so. Hard words never yet made men of one mind. Unity was never yet brought about by force. What then ought we to do? We must leave alone those who do not agree with us, and wait quietly till God shall think fit to bring us together.’


Verse 51

THE FASCINATION OF THE CROSS

‘He stedfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.’

Luke 9:51

The fascination of the Cross! Why was Christ so enamoured of such a goal? Why did He hasten to its outstretched arms, as He did to Mary?

I. He wished that none who followed Him should drink of a more bitter cup.

II. He must do His Father’s will, knowing that only in this way could He come at the reward of obedience.

III. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Illustrations

(1) ‘There is no picture in history more inspiring and significant than this of the Son of Man taking the highway to Calvary, because in the distance He heard the call of the Cross, as the sailor obeys the call of the ocean, and as the soldier obeys the bugle-call of battle.’

(2) ‘In the language of this verse, there is also taught us that there was in Christ a natural human shrinking from the Cross. That steadfast and resolved will held its own, overcoming the natural human reluctance. “He set His face.” Because the path was darkened by mysterious blackness and led to a cross, therefore He, even He, Who did always the things that please the Father, and ever delighted to do His will, needed to set His face to go up to the mountain of sacrifice. Through all the weariness and contumely and pain, His love held His will fixed to its purpose, and bore Him over every hindrance that barred His path. Many waters quench it not. That love is stronger than death, mightier than all opposing powers, deep and great beyond all thought or thankfulness.’


Verse 54

SONS OF THUNDER OR SONS OF CHRIST?

‘And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?’

Luke 9:54

I. The name and the lesson.—The question naturally arises, Was this the incident which led to the name of Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, being given by Christ to James and John? or was this merely an example of that fiery character which caused them to receive this surname? Many commentators think that the name did not arise from the story told in the text; and one great reason with them seems to be that the name appears as though it were recorded as a name of honour, just as the name of Peter, the Rock, was given to Simon, and recorded as a name of honour, indicating his strength as a foundation of the Church; whereas it is argued, that if this name had been given to James and John upon this occasion, it would have been a perpetual memorial of their weakness and folly, and would hardly have been set down as their recognised title. I cannot myself, however, refrain from thinking it probable that the name did take its rise from this story. Christ never did blame James and John for their zeal; He only spoke of their zeal as mistaken. He laid the blame on their ignorance, and not on any wilful violation of duty; and this lesson I can easily believe He would be most anxious to impress, so as that it should never be forgotten. What wonder, then, if He should adopt a method which would have the effect of keeping the lesson constantly before the Apostles’ minds? And to give them this new name would infallibly have this result.

II. Impulse v. Principle.—Like all the acts and words of Christ, the acts and words recorded in this history have still most important lessons for ourselves. I should say that the contrast of the conduct of John and James with that of Christ is precisely a type of the contrast, which is continually presented, of the conduct of men who act upon the mere impulse of feeling or passion, and that of men who act upon true Christlike principles. Sons of thunder are we all, in a certain sense, until we become sons of Christ; ever ready to let feelings of selfishness and pride get the upper hand, and show themselves stronger than the feelings of gentleness and patience and forbearance, which are alone in accordance with the spirit and example of Christ. Who does not plead guilty to the charge of showing himself in this way unworthy of his Christian profession? It is because we are by nature thus different from what we ought to be that Christ has come to give us power to become the sons of God.

—Bishop Harvey Goodwin.

Illustrations

(1) ‘It is the common assumption that what the Samaritan villagers were guilty of was merely a breach of hospitality; that they refused our Lord food and shelter. There was something far worse. It is said that before setting out on this journey “Jesus sent messengers before His face.” It cannot be that they were only couriers, to provide food and shelter. He was not wont to take such care for His bodily comfort. They were heralds, specially sent to tell the Samaritans that the Messiah was coming, and passing through their country on His way to Jerusalem to be proclaimed there. It was this that urged them to refuse Him food and shelter. They would harbour in their village no Jewish “impostor.” No doubt they expressed themselves strongly; and John and James, fresh from the Transfiguration scene, and knowing that He was certainly the Son of God, were indignant at the rejection of His claims, and wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritans. If the people had been merely rude and inhospitable, the offence would have been palpably inadequate to require such a punishment. They were vindicating the claims of the true and legitimate Lord, to be recognised publicly as such. They recalled a passage in Elijah’s history, which seemed to them to furnish a precedent for their conduct: “Shall we call down fire from heaven to consume them, as Elias did?”

(2) ‘That name, “Boanerges,” “the sons of thunder,” which Christ probably gave to the two Apostles from this exhibition of fiery temper of indignation, which clung to them in after years, was a necessary reminder of the need of forbearance in the spread of Christianity. And who can say how much of the forgiving spirit which breathes through the pages of John was due to the lesson which he then received? What a contrast there is between the Apostle, invoking the lightning to destroy the unbelieving Samaritans, and the aged Apostle carried into the Christian assembly, when his powers of speech were failing, and he repeated the often reiterated exhortation, “Little children, love one another.”’


Verse 55-56

NOT DESTRUCTION BUT SALVATION

‘But He turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’

Luke 9:55-56

No one can have failed to notice the marked difference between the stern spirit of Elijah and the gentle spirit of Christ. Of all the prophets of the Old Dispensation Elijah is the grandest and least civilised.

I. Hatred of the sin.—Elijah and the old heroes, doubtless, had not learnt to distinguish between the sinners and the sin. Doubtless they had not learnt to love the sinner, while they hated the sin. It was reserved for after-times to teach men that. It required a higher teaching than had yet been granted to mankind. It required the teaching of the Son of God Himself. Ths spirit of Elijah was a spirit of justice, a spirit of righteous retribution, a spirit of terrible vengeance: the spirit of Christ was a spirit of tenderness, a spirit of compassion, a spirit of love.

II. The love for the sinner.—But because the religion of Christ is a religion of love, because it bids us be kind, patient, long suffering, forgiving, do not fancy that therefore it is a religion of sentimentalism, fit only for weak women and effeminate men. It is nothing of the kind. It is a religion of mercy, but it is a religion of justice. It is a religion of charity and of intolerance of sin. It is a religion of love, but of hatred of oppression. If any man can see injustice and wrong done to those who cannot help themselves—and see it done, too, with callousness and indifference—then that man may be very wise and prudent in the eyes of a hollow society, but he has lost the spirit of justice, which is the spirit of Christ.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Renan tells us that in the pictures of the Greek Church Elijah is usually represented as surrounded by the decapitated heads of the Church’s enemies. And Prescott tells us that in the sixteenth century the brutal inquisitors of Spain tried to justify their fiendish deeds by appealing to Elijah’s act in calling down fire from heaven, and saying, “Lo, fire is the natural punishment of heretics.” They did not understand—or else they would not—that that act of Elijah’s was for ever condemned by One Who was at once Elijah’s Master and Elijah’s God.’

(2) What a changed world this world would be, if we could only always think of the soul of the man with whom we have to do! What a dignity, what a calmness, what a sweetness, would that sense of every man’s eternity throw into the daily transactions of common life! “The man I have to deal with has a soul!”’


Verse 62

LESSONS FROM THE PLOUGH

‘And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Luke 9:62

The point of view from which the Lord regards nature is often novel and unlooked for, producing all the effects—moral as well as intellectual—of surprise or discovery. The saying of the text is a condensed parable suggestive of—

I. The kind of work to which Jesus calls.—‘Having put his hand to the plough.’ Ploughing, in its first effects, is—

(a) An overturning and destructive process. This is the very aim of the Son of God’s manifestation, whether in Himself or His followers, viz. ‘to destroy the works of the devil.’ And the first grave charge brought against the apostles was, that they ‘had turned the world upside down.’ The Christian life is more than an uncompromising attitude, it is an active iconoclasm, an aggressive crusade. But the first field of the disciple is his own heart.

(b) A preparative work. It is but a beginning—of the whole cycle of agriculture the farthest from the harvest—but it is as necessary as any of the later processes, and may not be omitted. It fits the ground for the reception of the seed, and provides for the health and unhindered growth of the plants. It is thus, and not otherwise, the Kingdom is to be brought in.

II. What this work demands.—Our Lord checked thus the plausible desire of a compromising disciple. Is the requirement too stern? The defence is that it is absolutely necessary. As in ploughing, so in Christian life and service, there are requisite—

(a) The forward look and the distant aim. The skilled ploughman instinctively fixes his eye on a mark far ahead of where he stands, and keeps the ploughshare in line with it. The truly spiritual man is an enthusiast but not a fanatic; he is in the best sense an ‘idealist.’ The world mocks and denies whilst the Christian gazes at the city that is ‘out of sight’; but he has no alternative. The ‘forward look’ is the very law of the new life. No true work for the King is possible without it. And as for the ‘backward look,’ it is not for a moment to be thought of. ‘Remember Lot’s wife!’

(b) A straight course. The disciple’s duty is like the straight line of geometry, ‘the shortest between two given points.’ We must keep steadfastly on, turning neither to right nor left.

(c) Resolute and sustained effort. Putting the hand to the plough is a serious, deliberate act. It is that of one who professes to intend work. Are we in earnest?

These are high qualities the ploughman teaches us, but in their perfect embodiment there is only One Who can be our example.

Illustration

‘The ploughman and his team are a favourite subject for painter and poet; but this particular view of them, in which an analogy to His kingdom is declared, is too austere to lend itself readily to the uses of art. Two, and only two, of our modern men of genius recall to me, just at present, this mood of the great Teacher—Millet, the painter of the peasant life of France, in such pictures, for instance, as his “Sower” and “The Angelus”; and Burns, the poet of the plough, who sang with such immortal pathos the sorrow of the field-mouse, that

saw the fields laid bare and waste,

And weary winter comin’ fast,

And cozie here, beneath the blast

Had thought to dwell,

Till, crash! the cruel coulter past

Out through its cell;

and the ruin of the “wee, modest, crimson-tipped flower,” that had “met him in an evil hour.” Very terrible is the large pessimist moral concerning “suffering worth” with which the latter poem ends:

E’en thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,

That fate is thine—no distant date;

Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives, elate,

Full on thy bloom,

Till crushed beneath the furrow’s weight

Shall be thy doom!

In Christ’s reference to the ploughman’s task there is full recognition of its hardship and difficulty, nay, there is an emphasis on these, but we fail to detect the slightest trace of pessimism; on the contrary, His words ring with hopefulness, resolution, and strength.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

SPIRITUAL PLOUGHMEN

It is quite certain that our Lord Jesus Christ, Who never used His words or His metaphors lightly, meant a great deal by comparing the work of the Gospel to the work of the ploughman at the plough. What He must have meant was this, that all the characteristics which we see essential to the ploughman, are also essential for the work of the Gospel. Every single baptized member of the Church has his infant hand placed upon the plough at his baptism, and we are to be—

I. Men of dogged determination.

II. Men who go on whether the sun fall upon us—the sunshine of popular favour—or the cold rain and mist of hostile criticism.

III. Men who never look to the right hand or to the left, who do not say to ourselves in the middle of our work, ‘I am sorry I was ordained,’ or ‘I am sorry I took these responsibilities upon me again on my confirmation.’

IV. Men who never look back or look to the one side or to the other for mere comfort in life, or easier circumstances, but who are wholly bent upon this one thing, seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

V. Above all, we are to be men of unbounded hope with something before us, a future which, perhaps, we shall never see, and ever ringing in our ears a song which on earth, perhaps, we shall never hear—that picture the picture of a redeemed humanity, and that song the song of the eternal Harvest Home.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-9.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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