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Teaching On Prayer -- Luke 11:1-13
“And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples. And He said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?”- Luke 11:1-13.
In this passage we have our blessed Lord instructing His disciples as to the privilege of prayer. He had been stressing the lesson of how important it is to sit at His feet, and now His disciples came to Him as He was speaking to His Father. They asked Him to teach them to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. The disciples’ plea, “Lord, teach us to pray,” implied not only the need of instruction as to the proper language to use in prayer, but it also suggests the need of compelling power to move us to prayer.
Prayer is the normal expression of divine life, just as breathing is of natural life. Of every newborn soul it can be said, as of Saul of Tarsus, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). But there are certain important spiritual laws in connection with prayer which are learned only in fellowship with our blessed Lord. He was Himself a Man of prayer in the days of His humiliation here on earth, and He is still the great Intercessor at the Father’s right hand.
In response He gave them the outline of what is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer.” Strictly speaking, of course, it was not the Lord’s prayer, because He did not pray it. Our blessed Lord could not say the prayer as expressing His own needs and desires, because He was the absolutely sinless One. He, therefore, could not pray, “Forgive us our sins.” His disciples were still sinful men as we are, and so they needed to come to the Father for forgiveness. It would rather be designated “the disciples’ prayer.” It was never intended, apparently, to be used in a formal way, for there is no mention of such use anywhere in the Book of Acts, or in any of the epistles which give us Church practice as well as doctrine. But it is a model upon which all our prayers may well be formed. Used in this way, it fulfils the purpose for which it was given. We need to remember that it was part of our Saviour’s instruction to His own disciples. No one else is entitled to come to God in this way. When He is known as Father we are invited to bring our petitions to Him, assured that He delights to answer. If He seems to be indifferent, as in the case of the friend who did not attend immediately to the request of his neighbor, it is only to test our faith and perseverance. Truth is seldom found in extremes. There are some who insist that the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is intended for use on all occasions as a set form, and that the mere repetition of its beautiful phrases has an almost magical effect. Others are averse to using it at all and consider its petitions unsuited for the present dispensation of grace, and applicable only to the days when Christ was on earth and in the tribulation period yet to come. But surely there is no expression in it that the most enlightened Christian may not use on occasion, and as a whole it is of the greatest value in guiding our thoughts when we approach our Father in prayer.
But in Matthew’s Gospel, we find it as given for private prayer. Here it perhaps has a wider application. The words are not always the same in both Gospels. There are slight variations showing us that we do not have to say the same expressions each time when we come to God in prayer. Someone has said that it is “the prayer that teaches to pray.”
Prayer, with Jesus, was the expression of communion with the Father, from whom, as Man, He drew His strength day by day. His example moved the disciples to cry, “Lord, teach us to pray!” John the Baptist had instructed his followers along prayer lines. They desired Jesus to teach them how to draw nigh unto God. Notice the example given. They were to say, “Our Father which art in heaven.” First of all, Jesus emphasizes the Father’s name, which He came to declare (John 17:26). It is only those who are born of God who have the right thus to address Him. In true prayer we must know the Father and come to Him with adoring hearts, desiring that His will be done. When unsaved sinners use the prayer that Jesus gave as a religious form, they are appropriating what is not theirs. It is only the one who can say in faith that God is his Father, who has the right to use such words. This is a recognition of the blessed relationship between the saved and the God who saved them. God should be approached with reverence. The prayer begins with worship: “Hallowed be Thy name.” It would be well for us if we had His glory and majesty impressed on us. We should bow in adoration before we express a petition of our own. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” Faith looks forward to that time when the Lord shall come the second time and deliver His own from all the distracting conditions that now prevail. In that day all evil shall be put down and men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Then indeed the will of God will be done on earth as it is now done in heaven. All real blessing for mankind is bound up in the doing of His will. Some people act as though doing the will of God would take all the joy out of life, but it is just the opposite.
Next we have the matter of our temporal provision. “Give us day by day our daily bread.” We are instructed to come to the Father about our daily needs. He has promised to supply our every need as we walk in obedience to His Word (Matthew 6:33). We are told elsewhere that we are to be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make our desires known. Though He knows all about our desires already, He is delighted to have us bring all to Him from day to day.
“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” It is not the sinner who is in view, but the failing believer. If we will not forgive, we cannot be forgiven (Mark 11:26). This is an unalterable principle in God’s government of His family. When a believer has sinned and seeks restoration, he is forgiven as he forgives. This is not the same thing as the justification of a sinner, which is by faith alone. But having been ourselves forgiven, we are to forgive those who offend us, “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us” (Ephesians 4:32). We are told, “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). If we do not obey His Word, we will knock in vain at the door of restoration when we ourselves have failed. When we confess our sins, we dare not harbor ill-will even to those who have wronged us most. The poor sinner finds forgiveness when he trusts the Lord Jesus as his own Saviour. “Through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” But what we have here is the Father’s forgiveness when His own children fail, and if we forgive not our brethren then the Father will not grant us restorative forgiveness.
Next we have the acknowledgment of recognized weakness: “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” As if to say, “My Father, I am so weak myself, grant that I might not be put in a place of temptation which I could not stand and overcome.” That is, recognizing our weakness, we pray not to be exposed to a test too great for us.
Following this, our Lord gave His disciples a parable in order that they might be encouraged in importunate prayer. Sometimes we come to God in the attitude of prayer, but there is no real exercise of soul, and so He waits until there is greater concern before He answers. Our Lord illustrates it like this: “And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves.” The friend here pictures God who is the Friend of all, and would have us repair to Him in every trying circumstance and in every hour of need. He speaks of intercession on behalf of another. He pictures a man who has lost his way, coming to a friend of his and seeking refreshment and shelter. But the other finds himself out of needed provision, so he says, “I am sorry, but I do not have enough to help you. I have a friend who will, I am sure, be able to supply the need.” So off to his friend he goes at midnight, and rouses him up and pleads for bread to meet the need of his visitor. He says, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey (or, literally, out of his way) is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.” It is intercession concerning the needs of another. In full confidence the householder seeks the help of his friend, assured that he will not be denied.
But the householder is not willing to disturb his whole family at that hour of the night. He pleads to be left alone, for he has retired, and his children also are all in bed. Such might well be the answer even of the most faithful friend disturbed at the midnight hour. This is used only as an illustration of what, to our poor finite minds, might seem to be the attitude of God when we do not receive immediately the answer to our prayer. No request of ours can ever be a trouble to Him. His delays are not denials, but are meant to test our faith.
In this story the suppliant continues to knock. He refuses to be denied. He will not take “no” for an answer. Finally one can imagine his friend saying to his wife, “We shall have no sleep tonight unless I attend to his plea.” So he goes to the pantry and gets the bread, and gives it to his persistent neighbor. We are taught to continue instant in prayer (Romans 12:12) until the answer comes. We are not to be discouraged because God does not respond to our call at the first moment when we go to Him in regard to some particular matter.
Jesus applies the story by stressing three words in regard to prayer - “Ask… Seek… Knock.” It is for our own soul’s good that we become earnest in our supplications, pouring out our hearts in unremitting intercession, literally storming the gate of the storehouse of blessing until the answer comes. God will never deny the prayer of faith. “Ask,” “Seek,” “Knock,” are degrees of importunity. As we continue to besiege the throne of grace we shall be moved to heart-searching and to self-judgment, that thus we may pray according to the will of God.
“Every one that asketh receiveth.” The promise is very broad. It does not ignore instruction given elsewhere in regard to prayer, but it speaks of that which is normal: the believing soul going to God in unselfish intercession, counting on Him to meet every need. He can be depended upon to honor His Word and to give according to His infinite wisdom. Prayer is not trying to make God willing to bless. It is taking that place before Him where He can bless consistently with His own holy nature.
“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” Just as no loving, earthly parent would disappoint his child by giving what is worthless or harmful instead of the good sought, neither will God (though He reserves the right to give according to His wisdom rather than according to our asking) ever give what will, in the long run, be a disappointment to us. If He substitutes something else for what we ask, we can be sure it will be better than that for which we have pleaded. The egg would sustain life; the scorpion would destroy it. No loving parent would thus deceive his child.
“How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” This is the supreme gift for those who have trusted the Son. The Holy Spirit is the abiding Guest in the heart of all believers. His power will be made manifest in their lives as they are yielded to God, who is the Source of all blessing.
Prayer is the expression of dependence and confidence. Because we are weak in ourselves we turn for help to One who is almighty. Knowing His love as our heavenly Father, we trust Him, and so come into His presence with holy boldness to make known our requests. In answer to prayer He has chosen to give certain blessings which we will never receive if we do not pray, in order that He might draw our hearts out into communion with Himself and give us positive proof that we have to do with a living God. Our very needs furnish Him with the opportunity to display His tender love and compassion for us, and to manifest Himself as a personal God who delights to hear our cries and rejoices in coming to our relief.
It is a very blessed privilege to know God in such intimacy that we can go to Him on behalf of others. “This honor have all His saints” (Psalms 149:9). We do not pray aright if we are not subject to the will of God.
Only as we are walking in the Spirit can we pray in the Holy Spirit. This is characteristic of prevailing prayer in the new dispensation.
Misunderstanding Jesus -- Luke 11:14-28
“And He was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting Him, sought of Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with Me is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked. But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it”- Luke 11:14-28.
There are five sections to this portion of Scripture. First, in verses Luke 11:14-16, we have the Lord casting out demons, the wonder of the people and evil thoughts running through the minds of His enemies-certain of the Pharisees who were looking on. Second, in Luke 11:17-20 our Lord is talking with the Pharisees. Third, in Luke 11:21-23, the parable of the stronger one who takes away the armour of the strong. In Luke 11:24-26 we have the parable of the unclean spirit cast out, and the empty house. Then in Luke 11:27-28 we have our Lord’s words to the woman who had ascribed special honor and glory to the mother of Jesus. He refused anything of the kind, because it is not the will of God that we should put the mother in the place of the Son.
In the first part, then, we find the Lord Jesus, as usual, ministering mercy and grace to needy souls; and among others, there was one who was demon-possessed. The demon had such control of the man that he was unable to speak. But when the Lord cast out the evil spirit the man spoke freely, and the people wondered. But while they marveled at what was done, they did not recognize the fact that a great prophet had arisen among them, nor that One stood in their midst to show them the way to God. So they found fault with Him. They were continually misunderstanding Him, mainly because they did not desire to know the truth. How many people there are in our own day who will find fault with the Bible, with Christianity, with the Lord Jesus Christ, but who never make any effort to discover the truth. They seldom look into the pages of the Bible; they do not seem to want to find out what God has to say. They do not attend meetings where they might hear the Word preached, or observe what is taking place; and yet they are insistent on finding fault with the teachings of the Book they never open. I think one of the best ways to silence people like that is to challenge them to search the Bible for themselves and find the truth. Often we hear something like this: “I hear the preacher teaches so and so,” or “The Bible teaches so and so.” We should ask them, “Do you ever read the Bible?” You will find that they do not know the Scriptures with which they are finding fault. And so it was when our Lord was here. They had no desire to understand Him; they had no thought of taking His messages seriously. They had made up their minds that He could not be the Messiah, and so everything He did and said they misinterpreted. Even when He manifested His mighty power by casting out demons, some said, “He casteth out demons in the name of Beelzebub, the chief of the demons.” It was as much as to say that the demons are subject to a leader, which of course is absolutely true. They called that leader “Beelzebub,” which is another name for Satan. The name of one of the Phoenician gods was Beelzebub, which means “the lord of flies.” Such pagan nations had gods over everything. These Jews were really saying that the Lord Jesus was able to cast out demons because He was in league with the prince of the demons, and that the prince of the demons gave Him authority, and that the demons obeyed. There was no proof of this. They had never investigated. They never so much as talked it over with Him. They never looked into the matter, but they just jumped at that conclusion. And so men jump at conclusions today. Jesus has always been misunderstood. These people were hypocrites. They were trying to cover up their sins with a cloak of pretended righteousness, and when Jesus exposed their hypocrisy they hated Him for it.
You remember the story of the African chieftainess in the days of Robert Moffat. He had notice one day that he was to be visited by this chieftainess, and so he dressed up in his best clothes in order to meet her. She came attired in barbaric splendor. As she talked with him she happened to see a mirror hanging from a tree outside his cabin door. She had never seen anything like it before. She went up to examine it, and what she saw startled her. She beheld the ugliest face she had ever seen. She looked on the other side but saw nothing. Then she asked for an explanation. Whose was that awful face she saw in the glass? He explained that it was her own face. When at last she was convinced it was true, she demanded the mirror. He did not want to part with it; he needed it to shave, to trim and comb his hair. But she was insistent and offered to buy it from him, giving in trade elephant-tusks, or something else of value. He thought it would be better to be on good terms with her and so he sold it to her. And when she received it she took one last look at herself in it and dashed it to pieces on the ground, declaring that it would never tell on her again. That suggests why these hypocrites were always finding fault with our Lord. We read in John’s Gospel that the True Light gives light to, or, literally, casts light upon every man that cometh into the world. Their wickedness was manifested in the light of His purity and holiness, and so they charged Him with being in league with the prince of the demons. They tempted Him by asking for a sign from heaven: “If You are what You claim to be, then do what Elijah did - command fire to come down from heaven.” But our Lord never performed any miracle to gratify curiosity, but only to meet the needs of poor, suffering humanity. So He told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?” If what they insisted upon was true, then Satan was trying to destroy his own kingdom. The Lord Jesus said, “You say I cast out demons in the name of Beelzebub; what about your own sons? Here are Peter, James, and John and the other apostles, who also cast out demons. You say I cast them out by the power of the devil, then you are saying this of your own sons.”
“When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with Me is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.” It is easy to see who the strong man is, even Satan himself, who has held mankind in bondage for centuries, yes, thousands of years; but when Jesus came into the world He bound the strong man. When Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness our Lord met him every time with the Holy Scripture. He broke the power of Satan in the lives of people who had been his poor slaves. Now it becomes us to take sides with Him against Satan. “He that is not with Me is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.” You know what Jesus has done for you: He has delivered you from the power of sin. You know He has broken the chains of habit that bound you; but do you fully yield to Him? Have you taken your place in association with Him, owning Him before the world not only as your Saviour but as your Lord?
Next comes the parable of the unclean spirit to show the danger of professing outward allegiance to Him and having nothing in the heart. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest: and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Jesus likens the body and soul of a man to a house in which the evil spirit has dwelt. After the demon has been driven out, the house is empty, for the Spirit of God does not come into the man who has not accepted Christ. He pictures the demon as one going out into the wilderness seeking an abode, wandering through desolate places and finding no home. At last he says, “I will return to my house from whence I came.” When he returns he finds it swept and garnished. There is no one living in it. There may be no evil habits in the life, but Christ has not found lodgment in that heart; so the evil spirit says, “I will take me seven other evil spirits, and we will take up our abode in him.” Thus the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.
This has a special application to Israel. The unclean spirit of idolatry had been cast out of Israel, as a result of the Babylonian captivity. God sent them into Babylon to cure them of idolatry. Whatever else they failed in, they were never again an idolatrous nation. All down through the centuries since, Israel has maintained its confession, “The Lord our God is One.” The house was empty, swept and garnished when God sent His blessed Son to bring salvation to all who would trust Him. He was not received, so the religion of Israel has remained in the same empty condition ever since. The day is coming when the evil spirit of idolatry will return to the nation, with seven other spirits more evil than itself. In the great tribulation Israel will be given over to worse corruption than they have ever known before, when they accept the antichrist instead of the Christ of God. What a dangerous thing it is when the house has been delivered from evil habits and not given to Christ! Unless He does come in and take possession it is not enough to be freed from certain evil habits. We say, “Nature abhors a vacuum;” and it is just as true in the spiritual realm.
“And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked. But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” This woman’s cry meant, “Blessed be Your mother;” and Jesus immediately answered, “Blessed, rather, are they that hear the “Word of God and keep it.” All down through the centuries there has been a tendency to put the mother in the place of the Saviour, to make Mary the mediator, giving her the place that belongs alone to Christ. “There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Our Lord would not for a moment have us adore His mother, blessed as she is; but He pronounces a special blessing on those who honor and obey the Word of God. May we take His messages to heart and walk in subjection to the Holy Scriptures, not substituting human tradition for His revealed will.
Responsibility According To -- Luke 11:29-36
“And when the people were gathered thick together. He began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye, therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, die whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light”- Luke 11:29-36.
We are taught throughout the Word of God that our responsibility depends upon the light that God graciously gives us. The other day a young soldier wrote me from far-off New Guinea. He said, “I never in my life realized the true condition of the heathen until I got down here in New Guinea.” He told me that he had gone out among the raw heathen who had never heard of Christ or known anything about the gospel. He said it is awfully hard to believe that these men are going to be lost because of their ignorance. “I can’t understand it. Have you anything that would help to cast light on this problem?” he asked. One can turn only to the Word of God for light; there is none to be found anywhere else. In the book of Job (Job 34:23) we read definitely that God will not lay upon any man more than is right. In the day of judgment He will deal righteously. We are taught that, “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we read that paganism is not a step upward in the evolution of religion as many try to make it appear, but it is a definite declension. It is a degradation; it is a condition into which men have fallen, because of having turned away from the light which they once had. Man did not begin as a pagan, reaching up out of the darkness and seeking after God. He began with a full, clear revelation of God. In the beginning all men had the truth of the one living God. But many do not like to face that knowledge today; they do not like to realize that they have to do with God and that He is infinitely holy and righteous. This was so in the past ages when men turned away from the truth because they did not like to retain the knowledge of God.
In that first chapter of Romans we get the expressions, “God gave them up” and “God gave them over,” four times. Why? Because they gave Him up; they turned away from Him. They refused to walk in the light He had given them, and so He gave them up to darkness. But even today, although men are in darkness, everyone has a conscience. Every man knows something of right and wrong. His own conscience tells him he should love his fellowmen; that he should be pure, and kind, and true. But instead of that, men turn away from God and become impure, unkind, and untruthful; and all the time their consciences are convicting them of wrongdoing. In the day of judgment God is going to deal with men according to the light they have had and the light they have rejected. He will not cast the heathen into hell-fire simply because they never knew and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ when nobody carried the message to them; but the heathen are lost because of their own sin, because of their own wickedness, the vileness of which they are guilty. Thank God, “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That is where our responsibility comes in. We are to go to them and tell them how they may be saved. But let us suppose there is a heathen man living in darkness who wants to know the right way, who wants to be right before God; then I dare to say and believe that God will make Himself responsible to give him light enough to be saved. We may be sure that God will never allow a man to be lost who desires to be saved; He will give him light in some way or another.
But we at home need to be concerned about ourselves. We who have heard the gospel and have had the knowledge of Christ, we who know what our responsibility is, who have heard it all through the years, yet have done nothing about it! When our Lord Jesus was here on earth, those to whom the revelation of the Old Testament had been given came to Him wanting to see a sign from Him. They had a sign. They had the Bible. They should have known who Jesus was; they should have known when the Messiah was to come, and where He was to be born, and what kind of personality He would be. Though professing to believe the Bible, they did not search the Scriptures to find out whether or not Christ was the Son of God. They said, rather, “We would see a sign from heaven,” a sign to gratify their curiosity.
I can remember when I was a lad, deeply concerned about my own soul, I read in my Bible of angels appearing to men, and I went to my room, closed the door and said, “O God, if You will only send an angel to me to reveal things to me I will be saved.” But no angel appeared, and I am glad of it now. Instead of sending an angel He sent me back to His Word, and not long after, through the Word, I was saved. Just as these Jews came to Jesus seeking a sign, so many in our generation seek a sign. It is the evidence of our unbelief and unwillingness to rest on His simple promise. Jesus said, “There shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet, for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea-monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In other words, the sign that was to be given was that of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Alas, many people still come seeking for a sign, refusing to believe in the risen Saviour in the face of the evidence of the empty tomb. He said that the Queen of the South, that is, of Sheba, who came to hear the famous Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, “shall rise up in the day of judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” Sheba’s queen dwelt a long way from Jerusalem, but she had a hungry heart, and she was anxious to know the truth of God. She had heard that there was a great king in Jerusalem to whom great wisdom had been given, and who knew the true God and would be able to answer her questions and solve her problems. So she, at great cost to herself, came to Jerusalem, and when she met Solomon and communed with him, she was so stirred that she said, “The half hath not been told me.” The Lord Jesus said in the day of judgment Sheba’s queen will rise up against the men and women who have had every opportunity to know God, to know the truth, to know Christ, and yet they do not avail themselves of their privileges. In the day of judgment, if you who are living in a Christian land, go on as you are, you who have heard the gospel read and expounded from babyhood and yet have never opened your heart to Jesus Christ-if you go into eternity like that, how terrible it will be when you see standing beside the Son of God, the Queen of Sheba who gave so much to hear the truth. She will point her finger at you and say, “If only I had lived when you lived and had your opportunities how gladly would I have availed myself of them.” It is a terrible mistake to sin against the light that God gives us.
Then our Lord Jesus said to the self-righteous Jews, that in the day of judgment, “The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Many men reject the story of Jonas, and some who even stand at the sacred desk in our churches would cast out this story as false; but our Lord Jesus, God manifested in the flesh, said that as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea-monster, He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Thus He has placed His seal of authority upon that little Old Testament book which has been rejected and ridiculed by agnostics throughout the centuries. Jesus knew Jonas, and Jesus knew the men of Nineveh, and it is recorded that the men of Nineveh repented. Think of facing the men of Nineveh and having them look at you and say, “You had so many privileges and opportunities and yet you spurned them. We believed the first message from God that we ever heard. We believed the first time a prophet came to proclaim the divine truth, and God had mercy on us and saved us; but you have heard the Word expounded over and over again, and you turned away because of your love for the world. You were more concerned about gratifying your natural desires on earth than about obtaining a holy home in heaven.” The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented, and you have repented not. God grant that you may repent today and say to Him, “I have heard the Word so many times. I have had so much light; yet I have gone far from it; I have walked in darkness. Now I come confessing my sins and trusting Thy Son.”
When we receive light then we are responsible to pass it on to others. Our Saviour gave the parable of the lighted candle, “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.” If I have received light from heaven I am not to hide my light under a bed or a bushel or in a secret place. I am not to allow anything in my domestic life or in mgr business to hinder me from shining for God. Wherever I am and whatever my circumstances, I am responsible to pass on to others the light which He has given to me. Let us face this very seriously, my Christian brethren and sisters. Are we allowing anything in our behavior which is dimming the light? How about our next-door neighbors? Do they believe in our Christian profession, or is our light so hidden that they cannot see it, and do not even know that we are Christians?
I once knew a man who was going away for the summer to cut timber, and expected to be back in the fall. I said to him, “You will find yourself among the ungodly, and may the Lord help you to stand firm in your testimony.” He said he would be all right. He came back after three months. I said, “I am g]ad to see you. How did you get along this summer; did you find any other Christians there?” He said, “I was the only one, but I did not have any difficulty with the unsaved men. As a matter-of-fact, I managed to keep it so quiet that no one ever found out that I was a Christian.” That is hiding your light, and that is the very thing the Lord tells us we are not to do. If I know Christ as my Saviour, instead of keeping quiet about it I am to speak for Him, speaking not only with my lips but with my life as well. If lips and life do not agree, the testimony will not amount to much.
The Saviour uses another beautiful illustration: “The light of the body is the eye.” Therefore when my eye is single (“single” really means “sound”), that is, when it is healthy, the whole body is full of light. My feet do not have any eyes, but my feet know where to go if I have sound eyes; my hands do not have eyes, but my hands know how to perform aright if I have sound eyes. If I have sound eyes my whole body is full of light. On the other hand, if my eye is evil, that is, if the eye is diseased, then the whole body is full of darkness. When my eye is diseased I cannot see where to go, and I do not know how to use my hands; I need someone to direct me all the time. As Christians we are to have a single, or sound, eye. We will keep our eyes fixed on Christ when the eye is sound.
“When my eyes are fixed on Jesus
I lose sight of all beside;
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Gazing at the Crucified.”
When I am occupied with Him I have no difficulty finding my way through this world and doing that which He would have me do, but I need to be careful lest something come to spoil my eyesight. It is so easy to fall into habits that lead to moral darkness, or take up with things that will darken the spiritual eyesight. Give attention to God’s Word; cultivate the desire to read the Word of God. Nothing will kill the desire to read the Word of God so much as the habit of reading the trashy literature that prevails in so many places today. You cannot get spiritual light in this manner. People say, “I read my Bible, but I do not get much out of it.” The reason is that the eye is not sound; it has become dull, partially blinded and occupied with things that are opposed to the truth of God and the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. If, on the other hand, your eye be sound then your whole body will be sound, having no part darkness. So our blessed Lord stresses firmly the importance of walking in the light that He gives. Think of the responsibility of those who have already come to God in Christ, to pass that light on to others, and to so live before God that they will always have clear vision themselves to do what the Lord would have them do. If you have not received the light of life, if you have never trusted Christ as your Saviour, oh, I warn you, be careful! All men by nature are in darkness, but there is something worse than that. When you refuse the light that is offered you the darkness becomes far more serious than that darkness in which you were born. We read, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” That is wilful darkness. If men persist in going on in darkness, turning their backs to the light, the day may come when God will give them up to judicial darkness. In Jeremiah 13:16 we read, “Give glory onto the Lord your God before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.” If you persist in loving darkness rather than light God may some day say, “If you want the darkness you may have it,” and you will enter into the darkness forever. That is the doom of those who have refused the light- eternal darkness!
Searching Table-Talks -- Luke 11:37-54
“And as He spake, a certain Pharisee besought Him to dine with him: and He went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that He had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto Him, Master, thus saying Thou reproachest us also. And He said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the Wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. And as He said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge Him vehemently, and to provoke Him to speak of many things: laying wait for Him, and seeking to catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him”- Luke 11:37-54.
We have noticed before in our attempt to expound this Gospel that Luke frequently tells of the Saviour’s being invited out to dinner and his participation at the table with various groups of people. We have mentioned that there is no place nor circumstance which draws a man out and shows what he really is more than the dinner-table, when surrounded either by friends with whom he may have fellowship, or in the midst of enemies who are ready to find fault with him. A great part of the Gospel of Luke is made up of the table talk of our Lord. We have already considered some instances, and here we have another. On every such occasion His words are most faithful. Our Lord Jesus was always honest with people; He never flattered them; He never pretended to be what He was not; He never endorsed anything which was wrong; nevertheless He was never rude nor offensive, but faithful and true in all circumstances.
Here we read that a certain Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and “He went in, and sat down to meat.” There were other Pharisees present, and the host noticed that when Jesus was ready to recline at the table He did not go through a ceremony that was customary among them-He did not “baptize” before eating. This did not refer simply to the washing of the hands but to an elaborate cleansing in order that one might be fit to partake of the meal. This was of a religious nature, and they thought when this ceremony was finished they were clean before God. So the Pharisees marveled that Jesus had not ‘‘baptized” before eating. The Lord said unto them, “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?” In these words our Lord Jesus Christ insisted that though these religious zealots laid great stress upon the externals of piety, they neglected the internal realities that should have meant so much more to them. Many professed Christians make the same mistake today. They lay far more stress on outward ceremonies than on the inward life. There are those, for instance, who imagine that the ordinance of baptism cleanses them from sin, and that they are regenerated thereby.
The Lord saw into the very hearts of men, and He told them it was not enough to observe legal ordinances. If He were here today He would rebuke, just as strongly as He rebuked these Pharisees, those who imagine that being- a Christian depends on church-membership and ritual-services, rather than the cleansing of the soul before God. Our Lord told these Pharisees that they were very careful about cleaning the outside of the cup, but they did not clean the inside. They did not seem to understand that He who made the outside made also the inside. They cleansed the body with water, but the heart was full of ravening and wickedness. What God wants above everything else is a clean heart.
Our Lord was not ignoring the importance of the cleansing of the body, but that alone is not enough: the heart must be purified by faith. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” “But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” That is, when the love of God fills the heart so that one will be concerned about the needs of others, then only will these outward observances have any real value. How we need to take that to heart today! We receive blessing after blessing from God, and how seldom do we remember that we are to communicate to others of the good things which God has given to us. You can test the measure of a man’s spirituality, not by a pious look on his face, nor by his words, but very largely by his use of the means which God has entrusted to him. He who is constantly gathering up for himself, in utter indifference to the poor and needy about him, gives evidence that the love of God does not dwell in him.
Our Lord pronounced three woes upon the Pharisees. First because of the way they emphasized tithing of minor things while neglecting the more important things of life: “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They might go into the garden or out on the hillside or down by the seaside and gather these herbs. Then they always put away one-tenth of them for God, and thought when they had done this, when they had tithed these little things, that God must be pleased wtih them. But Jesus pointed out that while they were careful about tithing, there were other great matters of justice and the love of God which should have come first. It was perfectly right to apply the rule of tithing even to the smallest things, even though of little value, but the most important thing was a godly-walk-to walk in justice and righteousness before God and man, and to manifest the love of God in the life. The trouble with many religionists is that they have never known the reality of the new birth. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again,” and, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Outward observances will never make up for this lack of inner life.
The second woe was pronounced because of the devotion of the Pharisees to the uppermost seats in the synagogue: “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.” They were fond of outward show. They enjoyed having people look up to them when they entered the synagogue, which answers to the church today. Some men like the head usher to approach them and say, “Come here; we have a special seat for you.” And everybody says, “He must be somebody; who is he?” “Oh,” someone explains, “he is Dr. So-and-So, one of the great religious leaders.” And this dignitary sits complacently enjoying the admiration of the company while pretending to worship God. In reality he is but seeking satisfaction from the recognition given him. Such conduct is abhorrent to God who knoweth the proud afar off.
The third woe dealt with hidden uncleanness: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” We need to understand something- of what was written in the Law in order to get the full force of these words. According to the Law of Moses, an Israelite was defiled if he walked over a grave or came in contact with the bones of a dead body. He had to go through a process of cleansing before he could again take his place with the worshippers in the house of the Lord. These Pharisees, who should have been examples of holiness, who should have been the ones to whom others might come for help and guidance, were corrupt themselves and misleading, by their unhallowed influence and hypocritical lives, those who trusted them. They were utterly false. To associate with them was like coming in contact with dead men’s bones and becoming defiled, though they did not realize it. These were the scorching words of our Lord, and the worst of the matter was that they were absolutely true and every Pharisee at that table realized that they were true, though they may have gnashed their teeth with indignation when they heard Jesus say these things.
There were lawyers present, that is, men whose business it was to expound the law of Moses, men who had given themselves to years of study in the sacred Scriptures. When questions came up as to the interpretation of passages, these men were supposed to be able to give the final word. One of them, evidently stirred to the depths of his soul, said, “Master, thus saying Thou insultest us also.” The word “insultest” is a better translation than “reproachest”: “You insult us in talking like this.” His own conscience condemned him, for he knew what the Lord had said of the Pharisees was just as true of him and his fellow-lawyers. Jesus did not retract His words for one moment. He was not trying to insult anyone. He was absolutely faithful. He would not cover up their sins; He brought them into the light, that they might be judged in the presence of God.
Jesus pronounced three woes upon the lawyers as He had upon the Pharisees. The first was because they laded men with burdens grievous to be borne, and they themselves touched not the burdens with one of their fingers. These lawyers not only expounded the Law of Moses but they had also added to that Law many human traditions. Jesus said, “You have made the Law of God of none effect by your traditions.” They could explain to the people all these different commandments and rules and regulations, but Jesus declared that while they made these things clear to other people they themselves did not obey them. They were not genuine but insincere. Jesus emphasized the importance of obedience to God. They urged upon the common people obedience to the law and the traditions they had added to it but they did not obey many of the commandments themselves. In other words, they were saying, “Do as I say, but not as I do.”
In the second place, the Lord reproved and pronounced a woe upon the lawyers for absolute hypocrisy. They made a great deal of the sacred shrines. Jesus said, “Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the Wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute.” This is the only place in the New Testament where the Wisdom of God is personified. In the book of Proverbs we have this personification. In chapter 8 Wisdom warns men of the danger of insincerity and sinful folly. Here in the New Testament the Wisdom of God speaks, telling men of the doom that comes upon those who have not heeded the revelation God has given, though they profess to honor those through whom it came. The Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation: from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias.” Whether this refers to Zechariah, the author of the book which bears his name (who, according to the Jewish Targum, was slain in the sanctuary), or to that earlier Zechariah whose death is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, is a moot question. But the important thing to see is that God held unbelieving Israel accountable for all the blood that had been shed because of faithfulness to Him. The same spirit of rejection of the Word and opposition to the messengers of God was seen in that generation. As we know, terrible judgments soon followed.
The third woe is found in Luke 11:52, “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” The key was looked upon as the symbol of knowledge. The doctors of learning in Israel wore a key just as some of our college graduates, for instance, who have specially excelled in Greek, wear the Phi Beta Kappa key. Jesus referred to that when He said to Peter, “I give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” To these lawyers He said, as it were, “You have the key of knowledge; you are supposed to know, and you are recognized as men familiar with the Scriptures. Why do you not give to others the Scriptures in their simplicity? You have taken them away from the people and are keeping them for yourselves; yet you do not heed them, and the people are left in ignorance.” It is a solemn warning against the misuse of the Scriptures. If God has entrusted one with the knowledge of the Word, he is responsible to give out that Word clearly and helpfully so that others may share the blessing.
With these sayings our Lord’s table talk on this occasion came to a close. As He said these things unto them, the scribes and Pharisees began to question Him, trying to catch something out of His mouth whereby they might accuse Him. They desired to find some evidence showing that His teaching was contrary to the law of Moses; but they had no concern about getting right with God themselves.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 11". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany