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Luke 18:1 And He spake a parable.—This parable is closely connected with the preceding discourse about the second coming of Christ. The widow is the Church; the judge is God, who long forbears to avenge her wrongs. The parable is of a somewhat paradoxical nature, like that of the Unjust Steward, and like that of the Selfish Neighbour (chap. Luke 11:5). “The argument is: If such be the power of earnest entreaty that it can win right even from a man sunk in selfishness and fearing neither God nor man, how much more will the right be done by the just and holy God, in answer to the continued prayers of His elect!” (Alford). Always to pray.—It is rather urgent prayer that is here commended than a prevailing state of mind, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. To faint.—A military metaphor: to abandon anything from cowardice, sloth, or despondency.
Luke 18:2. Which feared not God, etc.—A common form of expression to describe an unprincipled and reckless character. Probably the second clause of the description—“neither regarded man”—brings into stronger light his recklessness, and consequently the apparent hopelessness of the widow’s case; regard for the good opinion of others being, with many, a stronger motive than fear of God.
Luke 18:3. A widow.—One of a class more exposed to injustice and wrong in Eastern society than among us. Avenge me.—Probably too strong an expression; rather “do me justice” (so in Luke 18:5; Luke 18:7-8); “consider my case, and free me from the evil practices of my oppressor.”
Luke 18:4. Though I fear not, etc.—This intensifies the situation, as it brings into clearer light the shamelessness of the judge. He deliberately admits to himself the villainy of his own character, so that no conscientious scruples are seen to affect him from beginning to end.
Luke 18:5. Her continual coming.—Lit., “her coming to the end”—“her coming for ever.” Weary me.—“Wear me out” (R.V.). This rendering seems rather weak, as there does not seem much difference of degree between “trouble” and “weary,” or “wear me out.” The word is a pugilistic term, and means literally “to give any one a black eye.” May there not be a half-humorous fear expressed, lest the widow should lose patience and strike him? There is no example of the word being used figuratively to mean “weary,” though the corresponding Latin word (obtundere) is often so used.
Luke 18:7. Shall not God? etc.—Over against “the Unjust Judge” is set God, the righteous judge, and over against “the widow” His elect. Though He bear long with them.—If “bear long” is here an allusion to God’s long-suffering or compassion, the rendering in the A.V. yields no sense. In the R.V. the passage runs: “And He is long-suffering over them.” The word, however, which means “slow-minded,” may denote “to be slow in avenging or assisting them.” So that, literally rendered, the passage would be: “Though He be long-suffering [towards their enemies] in their behalf.” On the whole, the latter interpretation seems preferable.
Luke 18:8. Speedily.—I.e., soon, though the time seems long. Cf. 2 Peter 3:8-9. Faith.—I.e., this kind of faith which continues in prayer without fainting. It implies that, in consequence of the delay, importunate prayer for His coming will be the exception rather than the rule. There is no prophecy in the words that the number of believers will then be few.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 18:1-8
Persevering Prayer.—The difference between this parable and that of the Selfish Neighbour (ch. 11) should be kept in view. That taught the general lesson of perseverance in prayer: this deals with perseverance in prayer for a particular thing—namely, the coming of the Son of Man for judgment, which has been the theme of the preceding chapter (Luke 18:20-37), and is recurred to in Christ’s question at the end of Luke 18:8.
I. The story.—The judge is one of those, too common always in the East, who poison the fountain of justice at its source, and are “companions of thieves.” His character is painted in dark colours, and the darker they are, the more do they serve to bring out the contrast between him and the Judge to whom Christians have to pray. That contrast is the very point of the parable. So far gone in selfish wresting of his office is this man that he is fully conscious of his own baseness, and does not even attempt the farce of varnishing it, but, with cynical frankness, acknowledges his motives to himself. His delay in granting the widow’s petition, and his final yielding, come from the same motive—his own convenience. It was troublesome to do as she wished, but when it became more troublesome not to do it, he did it. The judge is meant to be as much unlike our Judge as can be conceived. The widow is meant to be like the true disciple. She is the figure of God’s “own elect, which cry day and night unto Him”; and that not only in her persistence, but in her desolation. Whether we bring into connection the frequent Scriptural emblem of the bride, and think of the state of the Church during her Lord’s absence as widowhood, as we should probably do, or content ourselves with the vaguer interpretation, which regards her simply as afflicted, and the prey of oppressors, she represents the state of the Church in the absence of her Lord. The Eastern widow has no protectors, and, therefore, many oppressors; and if she can find no redress from the law, she is desolate indeed. Her prayer does not breathe so fierce a spirit as “avenge” suggests. What she asks is deliverance for herself, rather than vengeance on her foe. The deliverance cannot, indeed, be accomplished without retribution on the oppressor, but that is not the primary burden of her prayer.
II. Our Lord’s comment.—The argument is a “much more.” Every point in the description of the Unjust Judge is to be reversed, and then we shall have the picture of our Judge. He does not delay for His own ease; He is not careless to our sorrows, nor deaf to our prayer. If His judgment seems to slumber, the delay is the tarrying of love, and is for the good of the Church. When the intervention comes, it will not be wrung from an indifferent hand by fear of being troubled, but be the loving gift of Him who knows when, as well as how, to grant deliverance. The whole teaches—
1. That the Church will have to pass through a period of desolation and oppression, which will only end with Christ’s coming.
2. That its true attitude during that time should be earnest desire and prayer for that coming.
3. That there will be long delay.
4. That this delay is not the result of carelessness towards the Church’s need and cry, and so that no delay should deaden faith or silence entreaty. Jesus adds further an assurance and a sad question. The assurance is that whensoever deliverance comes, the thing will be done suddenly. The law of God’s judgments is that they travel slowly, but come suddenly at last, and are “a short work.” The final question is really a sad prediction. “But”—notwithstanding the certainty, and My assurance of it—“the faith” in His coming (not merely “faith” in the wider sense of the word) will have waxed dim. This closing word at once shows the correctness of the interpretation, which gives a special direction to the persevering prayer enjoined, and enforces the exhortation by the consideration of the danger to which the waiting servants are exposed.”—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 18:1-14
Luke 18:1-14. Lessons on Prayer.
I. A lesson on prayer.
II. A lesson from a widow’s urgency (Luke 18:2-5).—
1. An unjust judge will listen to an urgent suitor. How much more will a holy, righteous, and merciful God!
2. A friendless widow, by perseverance, gained her cause. How much more will God’s “own elect,” His own children, get a speedy answer when they cry to Him!
III. Lessons from a Pharisee and a Publican.—Contrast the attitude, the prayer, the failure, of the one, with the attitude, the prayer, the success, of the other.—W. Taylor.
A Parable on Prayer.—Luke’s second parable on prayer (see Luke 11:5-14), peculiar to his gospel. Summing up the whole widowed life of the Church in her life of prayer. How to pray (1–9). How not to pray (12–14). An impressive instance of Luke’s method of balance by contrast.—Alexander.
Luke 18:1-8. Perseverance in Prayer.—From the lessons Jesus taught His disciples on perseverance in prayer, it appears how well aware He was that God shows Himself so little like a Father that those who trust in Him are tempted to think Him rather like a man of selfish spirit, or like an unjust judge, who is indifferent to right. The relevancy of this parable requires that this character should be regarded as representing God, not as He is indeed, but as He seems to tried faith. The didactic drift of the parable is: You will have to wait on God, possibly till hope deferred make the heart sick; but it is worth your while to wait.—Bruce.
“Always to pray.”—The story and the lesson in this parable are not as parallel rods, but the one is laid across the other, and they touch only at one point. That one point is “always to pray, and not to faint.” Thus, “the key of this parable is hung up on the door.” This parable teaches how to pray for ourselves. Put all your soul and strength into your prayers; keep on praying under God’s delays.
I. The helpless.—In the East widows are the most helpless of beings. Your soul is even as this widow. It is in great need. There is no help for you in yourself.
II. The helper.—God has boundless store, and is not troubled by your coming to Him. Turn to the Mighty for help.
III. The appeal.—Let it be definite, earnest, for things good and right. God’s delays are not denials. So we must persevere in prayer.
IV. Encouragements.—God loves to be pressed. The lesson is taught by contrast and unlikeness. Would you make God worse than a godless judge?—Wells.
“Continue in prayer.”
Many get discouraged in praying because the answer does not come at once.—It should be settled in the mind—
I. That God always hears the true prayer, and that He will always send an answer, though it may not always be the answer we desire. God’s plans reach out widely, and work slowly.
II. The reason of God’s delay may be to increase our earnestness.—The story of the Syro-Phenician woman illustrates this.
III. Many prayers are never answered because men faint at God’s delay.—A little longer patient perseverance would have brought you a great reward. Many lose heart just when the answer is about to be granted.—Miller.
A Strong Argument.—The argument, as in the case of the Unjust Steward, is à fortiori: “If such be the power of earnest entreaty that it can win right, even from a man sunk in selfishness, and fearing neither God nor man, how much more will the right be done by the just and holy God, in answer to the continual prayer of His elect!”—even though, when this very right is asserted in the world by the coming of the Son of Man, He may hardly find among His people the power to believe it; though few of them will have shown this unweariedness of entreaty which the poor widow showed.—Alford.
Luke 18:1. “Men ought.”—
1. Prayer a duty.
2. Binding on all.
3. Always to be maintained.
4. To be offered fervently.
“To faint.”—Said properly of a coward in battle. Prayer is here spoken of as a militia or warfare. The arms of the Church are prayers. The Church militant is the Church supplicant. Her congregations for public prayer are her armies of soldiers storming the gates of heaven with a siege of prayers.—Wordsworth.
Discouragement.—The danger of discouragement arises from the delay in receiving an answer, while the adversary continues to harass.
Luke 18:3. “A widow.”—In its struggles with the world, and with sin within or around it, while feeling abandoned by God (of which condition we have a picture in the case of Job), and left without earthly support or help, the soul resembles a widow, who in vain entreats the assistance of a wicked judge. But perseverance in prayer overcomes at last even the severity of heaven.—Olshausen.
Loneliness and Helplessness.—Every soul conscious of its loneliness, conscious that it has no help, save in God only, is a widow.—Augustine.
Luke 18:3. “Avenge me of mine adversary.”—Here we see the Church, which in her nature and her destiny is the bride of Christ, and waits for His festal appearance, in the form of a widow. Matters have the look as if her betrothed spouse were dead at a distance. Meanwhile, she lives in a city where she is continually oppressed by a grievous adversary, the prince of this world. But since she continually calls on God for help, it may, in a weak hour, appear to her as if He had become the Unjust Judge over her—as if He were dealing entirely without Divine righteousness and without love to man. But she perseveres in prayer for His coming to redeem her, and although this is long delayed, because God has a celestially broad mind and view, and accordingly trains His children for Himself to the great spiritual life of eternity, yet it comes at last with surprising quickness.—Lange.
Luke 18:4. “Would not.”—The only way in which to move such a man was either
(1) to bribe him, or
(2) to intimidate him, or
(3) to weary him into attending to the petition. The widow’s poverty and weakness left her with only the third resource.
Luke 18:5. “Weary me.”—The word ὑπωπιάζω is well known to have been a pugilistic term, corresponding to the word “punish” in the slang of the “ring,” but having special reference to the eyes of an antagonist. St. Paul uses the word in a sense less removed from the primary in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I punish my body.” In our Lord’s parable the word has departed still further from its primary sense, and in the mouth of the Unjust Judge is clearly “slang.” It is the poor widow who is to “bruise” the lazy judge, not by blows nor by unsparing treatment, but simply by importunity. I know of no English equivalent which at all preserves the metaphor, except the slang word “bore,” and that is founded, apparently, on a different though not very dissimilar analogy. I suppose that a man is “bored” when the sharp pertinacity of another threatens, as it were, to drill a hole into him, as the ceaseless turning of a metal point will bore the hardest rock. The Greek equivalent is the more expressive of the two. It is well known that the constant repetition of a very light stroke upon the body will produce a painful bruise at last. I do not know, however, how the sentence can be better rendered in English than, “lest by her continual coming she bore me.”—R. Winterbotham.
Luke 18:6. “Hear what the unjust judge saith.”—Cf. Luke 16:8, where another lesson is drawn from the conduct of an unrighteous man. “Though the language of the Unjust Judge be revolting, yet take notice of it and observe the lesson that may be drawn from it.”
Luke 18:7. “Shall not God?”—Since
(1) He is not an unjust, but a righteous judge, and
(2) the supplicant is not a stranger, but His own elect.
“Cry day and night.”—The best illustration of this text is to be derived from the prayer of the souls of the elect of God, under the altar (Revelation 6:9-10), which cry with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth”?—i.e., on the powers of this world.
Conditions of Importunate Prayer.
I. Sense of need.
II. Desire to get.
III. Belief that God has in store what we desire.
IV. Belief that, though He withholds awhile, He loves to be asked.
V. Belief that asking will obtain.—Arnot.
“Speedily.”—The relief, which to man’s impatience tarries long, indeed arrives speedily; it could not, according to the far-seeing and loving counsels of God, have arrived a moment earlier. Not while Lazarus is merely sick—not till he has been four days dead—does. Jesus obey the summons of the sisters whom He loved so well (John 11:6). The disciples, labouring in vain against a stormy sea, must have looked often to that mountain where they had left their Lord; but not till the last watch—not till they have toiled through a weary night—does He bring the aid so long desired (Matthew 14:24-25).—Trench.
Luke 18:8. “Nevertheless.”—The fear is not that the judge will delay granting the succour needed, but that the supplicants will cease asking for it.
“Shall He find faith?”—Our Lord spoke these words to show that when faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray, then, we must have faith; and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer; and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer gives steadfastness to faith.—Augustine.
“Find faith.”—Cf. Matthew 24:12 : “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
Luke 18:9. Unto certain.—This parable is not addressed to Pharisees, but to some of His own followers who were Pharisaical at heart. Despised.—Or “set at nought” (R.V.). Others.—Rather, “all others” (R.V.); lit. “the rest.”
Luke 18:10. Went up.—The Temple standing on an elevation. Probably some of Christ’s hearers were now on their way to worship there.
Luke 18:11. The Pharisee stood.—Took up a position apart from others, as the word seems to indicate. With himself.—Secret prayer, or the personal devotions offered apart from those statedly conducted by the priests for the people at large. God.—Rather, “O God.” There seems no reason why the phrase should be abbreviated in our English versions. As other men.—Rather, “as the rest of men” (R.V.); all but himself. Extortioners.—Those who injure others by force. Unjust.—Those who overreach others by fraud.
Luke 18:12. I fast, etc.—His works of supererogation. The Law prescribed only one day of fasting—the great day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). The Oral Law prescribed fasts on Monday and Thursday of each week, in commemoration of Moses’ ascending and descending Mount Sinai. That I possess.—Rather, “that I get”—i.e., one-tenth of his income, not of his property.
Luke 18:13. Afar off.—Perhaps this means from the altar or from the Holy Place. It may however, mean from the Pharisee, as though he felt his unworthiness to be near those whom he regarded, and who regarded themselves, as holy. Smote upon his breast.—A gesture of sorrow (cf. chap. Luke 23:48). Me a sinner.—Perhaps it may be rendered “to me the sinner”—i.e., beyond all others (R.V. margin). It seems, however, to detract from the limplicity of the prayer to think of the publican as comparing himself, even unfavourably, with others.
Luke 18:14. Exalteth himself.—As did the Pharisee. Shall be abased.—Rather “humbled” (R.V.)—i.e., in his failure to obtain justification from God. “The sense is, one returned home in the sight of God with his prayer answered, and that prayer had grasped the true object of prayer—the forgiveness of sins; the other prayed not for it, and obtained it not. Therefore he who would seek justification before God must seek it by humility, and not by self-righteousness” (Alford).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 18:9-14
Self-righteousness and Humility.—This is a parable which sets forth one of the great laws of the kingdom of God, viewed as a kingdom of grace—that enunciated in the closing verse: “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” We shall best study the parable by making our starting-point the judgment of Jesus on the two men whose characters are so graphically depicted in it, and considering, in order, these points: First, the import of the judgment; second, its grounds; third, its uses.
I. It is declared that the publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.—We must assume that it is not intended to call in question the statements of fact made by the two parties. Neither is supposed to have borne false witness for or against himself, whether in ignorance or with intent to deceive. Even the self-laudatory statements of the Pharisee are allowed to pass unquestioned. What is blamed is not his statement of facts, but the spirit in which he makes that statement—the spirit of self-complacency. There is the less reason to doubt this that the Pharisee is not represented as uttering his prayer aloud. He took up his posture and prayed thus with himself. Had his prayer been intended for the public ear, there would probably have been in it less depreciation of others and also less praise of himself. But just on that account there would have been less sincerity, less fidelity to the actual thoughts and feelings of the man. And just because it is a heart-prayer it is a true prayer, reflecting his real belief. It is his self-complacency alone, therefore, not its fact-basis which is liable to question. The publican’s account of himself is also assumed to be correct. Our Lord does not mean to say this publican was mistaken in imagining himself to be so great a sinner. He is a sinner, as he says in words; a great sinner, as he declares by significant gesture. The validity of the judgment pronounced concerning him does not at all rest on the comparative smallness of his guilt. These things being so, it is clear how the judgment must be understood. It means, not that the publican is a just man, and the Pharisee an unjust, but the publican is nearer the approval of God than the other who approves himself. The approval or good-will of God is what both are seeking. Both address God. The one says, “God, I thank Thee”; the other, “God, be gracious unto me.” The one expects God to endorse the good opinion he entertains of himself; the other begs God to be merciful to him, notwithstanding his sin.
II. The grounds of the judgment.—Only one reason is expressly referred to by Christ; but there is another reason implied. It is this: The publican’s self-dissatisfaction had more truth or religious sincerity in it than the Pharisee’s self-complacency, and God, as the Psalmist tells us, desires and is pleased with truth in the inward parts. The statements he made did not, even if true, warrant self-complacency. Each act of thanksgiving might have been followed by an act of confession. “I have not been an extortioner, but I have often coveted what was not my own. I have not been unjust, but I have been far from generous. I have not been an adulterer, but my heart has harboured many wicked thoughts.” For all the truly good are conscious that they have confessions to make which exclude all boasting. Another index of the self-complacent Pharisees’ want of truth in the deeper sense is that, while apparently unconscious of any sins of his own, he is very much alive to the sins of others. With a coarse, sweeping indiscriminateness he pronounces all men but himself guilty, and guilty of the grossest sins. He makes himself very good by the cheap method of making all others very bad. Our Lord expressly states a reason in support of His judgment concerning the two men. “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” This statement is valuable, as teaching that self-praise and self-condemnation produce the same effects on the Divine mind as on our own minds. When a man praises himself in our hearing, the act provokes in us the spirit of criticism; when, on the other hand, we hear a man condemn himself, there arises in our bosom a feeling of sympathy towards him. Just the same effects do the same acts, Christ gives us to understand, produce on the mind of God. And with His teaching all Scripture agrees. God forgives sins to such as acknowledge them, and imputes sins to such as deny them, for this among other reasons, because it gives Him pleasure to exalt those who humble themselves, and to humble those who exalt themselves.
III. The uses of the judgment.—We learn from the verdict pronounced on the two worshippers that it is necessary, in order to please God, to be sincere and to be humble; but we may not hence infer that we are saved by our sincerity or by our humility. We are not saved by these virtues, any more than by boasting of our goodness, but by the free grace of God. From the introductory words we learn that the chief purpose of the parable was to rebuke and subdue the spirit of self-righteousness; another purpose, doubtless, was to revive the spirit of the contrite and to embolden them to hope in God’s mercy. This is a service which contrite souls greatly need to have rendered them, for they are slow to believe that they can possibly be the objects of Divine complacency. Such, in all probability, was the publican’s state of mind, not only before but even after he prayed. He went down to his house justified in God’s sight, but not, we think, in his own. Think not, He would say to such as he, that God casts the poor, nervous, desponding penitent out of His sympathies. Nay! the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart. Who can tell how many repentant ones went down to their houses cheered by the words which had fallen from the lips of the sinner’s Friend! Let us use the parable for kindred purposes still; learning from it ourselves to cherish hopeful views concerning such as are more persuaded of their own sinfulness than of Divine mercy, and doing what we can to help such to believe that verily there is forgiveness with God.—Bruce.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 18:9-14
Luke 18:9-14. Two Prayers.
I. The place of prayer.
II. The Pharisee’s prayer.—He forgets the evil he had and the good he had not. He did not see himself as God saw him. He does not ask for anything. He does not pray for the publican. He only thanks God he is not like him.
III. The publican’s prayer.—How short it is! How earnest he is! He feels his great need. He receives the blessing. What a load is lifted off his soul!—Watson.
Two Prayers.—Here we have two kinds of prayer set side by side for our instruction.
I. The first is really no prayer at all, but only a bit of self-felicitation in the presence of God. It has no adoration, no confession, no supplication. This Pharisee has many followers. Many there are whose whole stock of piety consists in not being so bad as some others are. But it is a poor kind of virtue which has nothing better to build on than such imperfect relative goodness.
II. The other man’s prayer was altogether different.—There was no measuring of himself with other people. There was no going over sins he had not committed. There was no mention of his neighbour’s sins, but freedom in speaking of his own. He was burdened with the consciousness of personal guilt, and cried to God for undeserved mercy, to be granted wholly through grace. This is true prayer. The prayer of the penitent reaches heaven. God wants this honesty and humility in our supplications. The particular sinner with whose sins each man ought to be most concerned is himself.—Miller.
Two Men at Prayer.
I. The proud man’s prayer.—
1. It was full of boasting words.
2. It did not speak about his sins.
3. It did not ask God for anything. It was therefore not a real prayer at all.
II. The humble man’s prayer.—
1. He calls himself a sinner.
2. He begs for mercy.
3. His words are few, but they come from the heart. His prayer was answered. It was a true prayer.—W. Taylor.
The Pharisee and the Publican.
I. The wrong religion.—His prayer reveals the man. It is made up of self-trust and scorn of others. Self-praise is not comely. A proud prayer is a prayerless prayer. This man confesses only the sins of other men. This Pharisaic spirit lurks in every heart, and must be starved and killed. Even in true Christians traces of the Pharisee may often be found.
II. The right religion.—His prayer shows a full belief.
1. In man’s great misery. Like the pilgrim, he has one burden, and pardon is his one need.
2. God’s greater mercy. The word he uses means the mercy of propitiation and reconciliation. This man learned God’s mercy in learning his own misery. Sin and salvation are the two foundation-stones of the right religion.—Wells.
Points of Resemblance and of Difference.
I. Points of resemblance.—
1. Both sinful, though their sinfulness took different forms.
2. Both worshippers of God.
3. Both examine their own lives and characters.
II. Points of difference.—
1. The Pharisee plumes himself upon his superiority to others; the Publican is consumed by the thought of his own unworthiness.
2. The Pharisee finds in his life a righteousness beyond even the requirements of God’s law; the Publican has no ground of hope but in the compassion of God.
3. The Pharisee has much to say; the Publican can only ejaculate one sentence.
4. The Publican is accepted with God; the Pharisee is not.
Luke 18:9. “Trusted in themselves.”—Probably these were not Pharisees, for in that case the figure of a Pharisee would not have been held up to them as a similitude. Some of Christ’s own followers evidently had given indications of trust in their own righteousness, or of contempt towards others.
Luke 18:10. The Pharisee and the Publican.—Two extreme types of worshippers. What a contrast!
I. The Pharisee.—
1. His advantages.
2. His drawbacks.
II. The Publican.—
1. His drawbacks.
2. His advantages.—Davies.
Luke 18:11. The Pharisee.—In the Pharisee and the Publican were represented the very poles of religious and social respectability. We are now concerned with the Pharisee.
I. The Pharisees, as the name implies, were, before all things, men who insisted on their separateness from others.—Their duty was to avoid all intercourse with or assimilation to the Gentile world. They multiplied all outward signs which could distinguish them from the heathen, or from those of their countrymen who seemed to have a fancy for heathen ways. In many respects they contrasted favourably with the latitudinarian Sadducees.
II. The Pharisee, as representing the religious world of Judæa, seems to have everything in his favour, as he goes up to the Temple to pray.—What is it in his prayer that our Lord condemns? It was that his religion centred, not in God, but in himself, and was, therefore, no religion at all. He asks God for nothing—no pardon, no mercy, no grace. He feels the need of nothing.
III. The Pharisees have long disappeared from history; but the spirit of Pharisaism survives, and our Lord’s sentence on it holds good for all time. No one is safe from the infection of the Pharisaic spirit; no precautions, surely, will be thought unnecessary which may help to keep it at bay.—Liddon.
Luke 18:11-12. The Pharisee’s Errors.—
1. He thought of God as satisfied with external conduct and not as requiring purity and humility of heart.
2. He failed to see his shortcomings, and exaggerated his virtues.
3. He despised others.
The Pharisee’s Ground of Confidence.—
1. That he was not so bad as other men.
2. That he was not guilty of gross sins.
3. That he paid attention to external precepts of religion.
The Pharisee’s Prayer.—
1. He shows what he is.
2. What he does.
3. What he gives.
Luke 18:11. “Prayed thus.”—It was less a prayer of thanksgiving to God than a congratulatory address to himself. True thanksgiving is always accompanied by and inspired by humility.
“I thank thee.”—Though in the form of a prayer, the Pharisee boasts of his superiority to others. It is possible to thank God for what we do and become more than others (1 Corinthians 15:9-10), but such a thanksgiving springs out of the most profound humility.
“As other men.”—Or rather, “as the rest of men” (R.V.) He divides mankind into two classes—the evil and the good, and he finds himself standing almost alone in the latter.
Luke 18:12. “This publican.”—His eye alighting on the publican, of whom he may have known nothing but that he was a publican, he drags him into his prayer, making him to furnish the dark background on which the bright colours of his own virtues shall more gloriously be displayed; finding, it may be, in the deep heart-earnestness with which the contrite man beat his breast, in the fixedness of his downcast eyes, proofs in confirmation of the judgment which he passes upon him. He, thank God, has no need to beat his breast in that fashion, nor to cast his eyes in that shame upon the ground.—Trench.
Luke 18:13. “Standing afar off.”—I.e., from the altar of burnt-offering, in contrast with the Pharisee who took up his place near it.
The Publican an Example.—The Publican affords us an example worthy of imitation.
1. In his profound sense of the Divine holiness.
2. In his contrition for sin.
3. In his open and free confession of unworthiness.
4. In his cry for mercy.
The Publican Shows Humility—
1. In his posture.
2. By his action.
3. By the matter and form of his prayer.
“His eyes.”—Fear and shame cause him to keep his eyes upon the ground.
“His breast.”—The seat of conscience.
“A sinner.”—To the Pharisee all are sinners, and he only is righteous; to the Publican all are righteous, and he only the sinner.—Westermeier.
“Me a sinner.”—Or “the sinner” (R.V.). As the Pharisee saw in himself nothing but righteousness, so the Publican saw in himself nothing but sin.
Luke 18:14. The Fate of the Two Prayers.—The Publican’s prayer, like incense, ascended into heaven, a sacrifice of sweet savour, while the prayer of the Pharisee was blown back like smoke into his own eyes; for “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”—Trench.
Something in Both to Be Avoided, Something to Be Copied.—We should avoid the Pharisee’s pride, but not neglect his performances; we should forsake the Publican’s sins and retain his humility.—Chrysostom.
“Justified.”—Accepted by God as righteous. The Pharisee had in form attributed the excellencies he found in his own character and life to the grace of God, but the relish with which he recounts his virtues shows plainly that under the guise of humility pride was lurking. His prayer contained no request, and drew down no blessing. But the Publican’s request, proffered in humility, was granted.
Justification.—In all the passages in St. Luke where the word is used (chaps, Luke 7:29; Luke 7:35, Luke 10:29, Luke 16:15), its plain meaning is to declare righteous and not to make righteous. The Publican prays for mercy; the Pharisee trusts in his own righteousness. God accepts the Publican as righteous, but does not endorse the Pharisee’s judgment on himself. This use of the word “justify” is not peculiar to the Pauline epistles; we find it in the Old Testament (Isaiah 50:8; Isaiah 53:11; Psalms 143:2).
The Two Men.
Two went to pray; or rather say,
One went to brag, the other to pray;
One stands up close, and treads on high,
Where th’ other dare not send his eye.
One nearer to the altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.
Luke 18:15. Also infants.—Rather, “their babes” (R.V.). In Matthew and Mark we read “little children.” Touch them.—Matthew has “that He should put His hands on them and pray.”
Luke 18:16. Jesus called them.—I.e., the babes. The call could only, of course, be obeyed by their parents. The incident supplies a strong argument in favour of the practice of infant baptism. These children were not old enough to be taught or to express faith in Jesus; they are presented by their parents, and are welcomed by the Lord.
Luke 18:17. Verily I say unto you.—“Not only may the little infants be brought to Him, but, in order for us who are mature to come to Him, we must cast away all that wherein our maturity has caused us to differ from them, and we must become like them. Not only is infant baptism justified, but it is the normal pattern of all baptism: none can enter God’s kingdom except as an infant. In adult baptism we strive to secure that state of simplicity and childlikeness which in the infant we have ready and undoubted to our hands” (Alford).
Luke 18:18. A certain ruler.—I.e., ruler of a synagogue. St. Matthew describes him as a young man; and the sequel of the story shows that he was wealthy. He seems to have been ingenuous and lovable, and therefore to have been remarkably different from the majority of others of his class. Master.—I.e., teacher. He evidently regarded Jesus as one of exceptional virtue and wisdom; but our Lord did not accept this as adequate recognition of His nature and claims. What shall I do?—It is doing rather than being that is in his thoughts (cf. Romans 9:32).
Luke 18:19. None is good save one.—I.e., from the ruler’s point of view the epithet of “good” was not applicable to Jesus. The dilemma in which Socinians are placed with regard to Jesus, Stier puts as follows: “Either ‘There is none good but God; Christ is good; therefore Christ is God’; or ‘There is none good but God; Christ is not God; therefore Christ is not good.’ ”
Luke 18:20. Thou knowest the commandments.—Those quoted by Christ are from the second table of the Law, which concern our duties towards our fellow-men.
Luke 18:21. All these have I kept.—In this reply his self-righteous spirit is brought to view, though in him this self-righteousness is not allied with hypocrisy.
Luke 18:22. Yet lackest thou.—Christ does not attempt to show him that he had fallen far short of the requirements of these plain rules of duty; He takes him at his own estimate. “Supposing this statement to be true, one thing is needed to complete the character—obedience to the requirements of the first table of the Law, fulfilment of duties towards God.” Sell all.—This was a special commandment, suited to the case of the ruler. He wished to be a disciple of Christ, but was unprepared for the self-sacrifice involved in becoming a disciple. He had to choose between riches and obedience to Christ—i.e., to the voice of God speaking to him through Christ. His acceptance of Christ as an authoritative Teacher in matters of religion pledged him to receive the statement as to his special duty without demur. In refusing to do that duty he could, therefore, not conceal from himself that he was transgressing against God.
Luke 18:24.—The R.V. is much briefer: “And Jesus, seeing him, said.” How hardly!—I.e., with what difficulty; not impossible (Luke 18:27), but only to be accomplished by great effort. Riches always bring temptation (see 1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Luke 18:25. Camel.—Some have sought to modify the apparent harshness of this saying by supposing that a word meaning “a rope,” and not the animal, was used. No such word, however, as kamilon, for “a rope,” is to be found, except in a conjectural interpretation of this very passage. Others have supposed “the needle’s eye” to be a small city gate through which a camel could not pass without being unladed. In either case conjecture would only succeed in producing an impossibility quite as great as that of the text. It is something impossible with men that is spoken of. In Matthew 23:24 a camel is similarly spoken of proverbially as equivalent to something very large.
Luke 18:26. Who, then, can be saved?—Not only do all try to become rich, but a temporal kingdom in which all would be well off and prosperous was expected by these disciples.
Luke 18:27. Possible with God.—Divine grace, and nothing but it, can touch the hearts of men who trust in riches.
Luke 18:28. We have left all.—I.e., Have done what this ruler had refused to do. “Treasure in heaven “was promised to him in exchange for earthly possessions. What, then, should be the pre-eminent reward or those who obeyed Christ’s command? The question is implied here; it is expressed plainly in the parallel passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Luke 18:30. Receive manifold more.—I.e., even in this present life enjoy a happiness far exceeding any temporal discomfort undergone in consequence of giving anything up for the sake of Christ, and receive the highest spiritual reward in a life to come.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 18:15-30
How to Enter the Kingdom.—All three evangelists bring together these two incidents of the children in Christ’s arms and the young ruler. Probably they were connected in time as well as in subject. Both set forth the conditions of entering the kingdom, which the one declares to be lowliness and trust, and the other to be self-renunciation.
I. The child-likeness of the subjects of the kingdom.—No doubt there was a dash of superstition in the impulse that moved the parents to bring their children to Jesus, but it was an eminently natural desire to win a good man’s blessing, and one to which every parent’s heart will respond. It was not the superstition, but the intrusive familiarity, that provoked the disciples’ rebuke. The tender age of the children is to be noted. They were “babes,” and had to be brought, being too young to walk, and so having scarcely arrived at conscious voluntary life. It is “of such” that the subjects of the kingdom are composed. What, then, are the qualities which, by this comparison, Jesus requires? Certainly not innocence, which would be to contradict all His teaching and to shut out the prodigals and publicans. Besides, these scarcely conscious infants were not “innocent,” for they had not come to the age of which either innocence or guilt can be predicated. Perhaps Psalms 131:0 puts us best on the track of the answer. It may have been in our Lord’s mind; it certainly corresponds to His thought. The infant’s lowliness is not yet humility, for it is instinct rather than virtue. It makes no claims, thinks no lofty thoughts of self—in fact, has scarcely begun to know that there is a self at all. On the other hand, clinging trust is the infant’s life. It, too, is rudimentary and instinctive, but the impulse which makes the babe nestle in its mother’s bosom may well stand for a picture of the conscious trust which the children of the kingdom must have. The child’s instinct is the man’s virtue. There is no place in the kingdom for those who trust in themselves. We must rely wholly on God manifest in His Son.
II. Self-renunciation as the condition of entering the kingdom.—
1. Its necessity. This is set forth in the conversation with the ruler. The ruler’s question has much blended good and evil. It expresses a true earnestness, a dissatisfaction with self, a consciousness of unattained bliss and a longing for it, a felt readiness to take any pains to secure it, a confidence in Christ’s guidance—in short, much of the child spirit. But it has also a too light estimate of what goodness is, a mistaken notion that eternal life can be won by external deeds, which implies fatal error as to its nature and his own power to do these deeds. This superficial estimate of goodness, and this over-confidence in his ability to do good acts, are the twin mistakes against which Christ’s treatment of him is directed. Jesus does not deny that He has a right to the title “good,” but questions this man’s right to give it Him. He thought of Jesus only as a man, and, so thinking, was too ready with his adjective. He who is so liberal with his ascriptions of goodness needs to have his notions of what it is elevated. Jesus lays down the great truth which this man, in his confidence that he, by his own power, could do any good needed for eternal life, was perilously forgetting. God is the only good, and therefore all human goodness must come from Him; and if the ruler is to do “good,” he must first be good by receiving goodness from God. Christ, having tried to deepen his conceptions and awaken his consciousness of imperfection, meets him on his own ground by referring him to the Law, which abundantly answered his inquiry. The second half of the commandments are alone quoted by Him, for they have especially to do with conduct, and the infractions of them are more easily recognised than those of the first. The ruler protested that he had done all these ever since he was a lad. No doubt he had, and his coming to Jesus confessed that, though he had, the doing had not brought him eternal life. What was lacking? The soul of goodness, without which these other things were “dead works.” And what is that soul? Absolute self-renunciation and following Christ. For this man the former took the shape of parting with his wealth, but that external renunciation in itself was as “dead” and impotent to bring eternal life as all his other good acts had been. It was precious as a means to an end—the entrance into the number of Christ’s disciples—and as an expression of that inward self-surrender which is essential for discipleship. The requirement pierced to the quick. The man loved the world more than eternal life, after all. But though he went away, he went sorrowful, and that was, perhaps, the presage that he would come back.
2. The difficulty of self-renunciation (Luke 18:24-27). The exclamation of Jesus is full of the charity which makes allowance for temptation. It speaks a universal truth, never more needed than in our days. How few of us believe that it gets harder for us to be disciples as we grow richer! What a depth of vulgar admiration of the power of money is in the disciple’s exclamation, “If rich men cannot get into the kingdom, who can get in?” Or it may mean, Who can fulfil such a difficult condition? The answer points us all to the only power by which we can do good and overcome self—viz., by God’s help. God is “good,” and we can be good too if we look to Him. God will fill our souls with such sweetness that earth will not be hard to part with.
3. The reward of self-renunciation. It would have been better if Peter had not boasted of their surrender, but yet it was true that they had given up all. Jesus does not rebuke the almost innocent self-congratulation, but recognises in it an appeal to His faithfulness. It was really a prayer, though it sounded like a vaunt, and it is answered by renewed assurances. To part with outward things for Christ’s sake, or for the kingdom’s sake—which is the same thing—is to win them again with all their sweetness a hundredfold sweeter. Gifts given to Him come back to the giver, enhanced by His touch and hallowed by lying on His altar. The present world yields its full riches only to the man who surrenders all to Jesus.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 18:15-30
Luke 18:15-17. The Children and Christ.
I. By whom were they brought to Christ?—We infer that they were brought by their own parents. Who else were likely to be so interested in them? Who were so likely to solicit for them the Saviour’s benediction? Ought it not to be so still?
II. Of what age were they?—Of various ages, but all of tender years, some being mere infants. Some step by their parents’ sides, some are led by the father’s hand, some are gently borne in the maternal arms.
III. The purpose for which they were brought to Jesus.—That He might pray for them. In response to this request He took them up in His arms and blessed them. Good higher than merely temporal welfare was sought, health better than that of the body. All through after life their faith would be helped and their hearts cheered by remembrance of the fact.
IV. What reception was given to them by the disciples?—They interposed to prevent the parents’ nearer approach with their children. The prohibition was harsh and blind. How little they knew Christ’s heart! Was there a father among them?
V. What reception was given to them by Jesus Himself?—He was displeased at the disciples’ rebuke. He called the little ones near. He directly addressed and blessed them. For His gracious words countless parents all the world over and in every age have blessed His gracious name.—Edmond.
Christ’s Welcome to Children.
I. The bringing.
II. The hindrance.
III. The rebuke.
IV. The lessons.—W. Taylor.
Christ’s words imply—
I. That children, even mere babes, may be regenerated and truly holy.
II. That infants may become members of the visible Church.
III. That children are very early capable of receiving benefit from religious instruction.
IV. That the true Church on earth actually consists, in a great measure, of those who have been called in early life, or at least have been very early instructed in the way of salvation.
V. That the kingdom of God above consists, in a large degree, of those who have died in infancy and childhood.
Luke 18:15. “Also infants.”—The phrase used by St. Luke, which might be translated “even infants,” is meant to indicate the reverential feelings of those now about Jesus. Even their children they desired to be touched and blessed by Him.
Luke 18:16. Children Examples to Us.—Children are examples to us
(1) in their humility, and
(2) in their trustfulness. What they are naturally we should strive to become.
Luke 18:17. Humility of Children, a Pattern.—It is the humility of children to which our Lord represents it as necessary that men should be converted, and this humility as exemplified in the mode of receiving the kingdom. There are three senses in which this humility may be understood.
I. As opposed to the pride of intellectual self-sufficiency.—In receiving the doctrine of the kingdom in a spirit of docility, without doubting or disputation; as when the child shall receive his father’s word with implicit faith.
II. As opposed to the pride of self-righteousness.—In receiving the blessings of the kingdom without any consciousness of desert; as when the child shall expect and take favours at his father’s hand, without the faintest sentiment of any merits of his own.
III. As opposed to ambitious pride.—In receiving the kingdom in a spirit of love for the brethren, without contention for pre-eminence; as when the nobleman’s child shall, if permitted, make a companion of the beggar’s, on a footing of the most perfect equality.—Anderson.
Resemblance to Children.—Disciples should resemble children
(1) in teachableness, and
(2) in freedom from worldly desires.
The disciples thought it was necessary for the children to become like them before the interest of the Saviour in them would be excited, and are taught that they themselves must become like children before they could enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Luke 18:18-30. Entering the Kingdom.—Dante calls this incident “the great refusal.” It is one to arrest the attention of the most careless. But it should be linked on with the previous incident of the blessing of the children. This ruler could not enter the kingdom, because he would not receive it as a little child. His spirit was far removed from the obedient, trustful disposition of the little child. Jesus deals very gently, not harshly, with him. He took him on his own ground, and led him by a very simple test to realise that he hardly knew what keeping the commandments meant. Was not the sum of the commandments, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”? Tried by the lesser table of the Law he failed utterly. He would not part with his wealth for the poor. Christ did not need to test him by the greater table of the Law. Thus he was led to see how it was impossible for him to inherit eternal life by keeping the commandments. Even if he had stood the test, there was still the summons, “Come, follow Me.” Not even by selling all we have, but by following Jesus, is the way to inherit eternal life.—Hastings.
Christ’s Word to the Wealthy Ruler.
I. The earnest question.
II. The willing answer.
III. The simple but sufficient test.
IV. The sad failure.—W. Taylor.
A Young Man Seeking Jesus.
I. His worthy aim.
II. His consistent life.
III. His lack of self-knowledge.
IV. His darling sin.
V. His great refusal.—Ibid.
I. The conversation with the young ruler (Luke 18:18-23).
II. The conversation on the subject of riches suggested by his conduct (Luke 18:24-27).
III. The conversation with the disciples concerning their having obeyed the summons which the young ruler refused to obey.
Luke 18:18-27. A Warning.—We have here—
1. Another warning against self-righteousness and boasting, or thinking highly of our own deeds.
2. Against the sin and danger of an undue attachment to the things of this world.
Luke 18:18. Favourable Circumstances.—This man appears here in a very favourable light.
I. Though young and wealthy, he was of irreproachable moral character.
II. He had spiritual cravings which he was anxious to satisfy.
III. Unlike many of his class, he believed that Jesus could give him authoritative direction as to the way to attain eternal life.
IV. He came openly to proffer his request.
Luke 18:19. “None is good, save One.”—The declaration is the expression of the same humble subordination to God, penetrated by which Jesus also, although knowing Himself one with the Father, yet designates the Father as the One sending Him, teaching Him, sanctifying Him, glorifying Him—in one word, as the greater. Ever, indeed, is the Father the original source, as of all being, so of all goodness—the absolutely Good, in His holiness ever the same, while in contrast with Him, even the Son, as man, is one developing in goodness and holiness, perfecting Himself through prayers, conflicts, sorrows, and suffering, unto Divine glory.—Ullman.
Luke 18:20. The Law and The Gospel.—Jesus refers the self-righteous to the Law, to convict them of sin; to the humble He preaches the gospel.
Luke 18:21. “All these have I kept.”—This reply testifies, no doubt, to great moral ignorance on the part of the speaker, but it is also proof of a noble sincerity. He has never known the spiritual significance of the commandments, and therefore believes that he has fully kept them.”—Godet.
Luke 18:22. “One thing thou lackest.”—
1. A gracious acknowledgment of an attractive character—one thing only lacking.
2. An earnest warning, since this one thing was the one thing needful.
Luke 18:23. “Very sorrowful.”—The Gospel of the Hebrews amplifies this incident as follows: “Then the rich man began to scratch his head, for he was displeased by that saying; and the Lord said to him, How, then, canst thou say, I have accomplished the Law; since it is written in the Law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; and here are many of thy brethren, children of Abraham, who live in misery, and are perishing with hunger, while thy table is loaded with good things, and nothing goes from it to them!”
Luke 18:24. “How hardly!” etc.—It is not the mere fact of possessing wealth which hinders the soul from rising to spiritual things, but the sense of security which wealth is liable to bring with it. Hence, according to St. Mark, Jesus explains this statement by describing the persons alluded to as those “who trust in riches.”
Luke 18:25. The Temptation of The Rich.—In other words, a rich man is, so far as his riches are concerned, in a more difficult position for the attainment of heavenly-mindedness, and, therefore, for that humility of spirit and disengagement from the cares and snares of life, which are essential to all who would enter God’s kingdom, than a poor man is. Poverty also has its own temptations, and God either equalises the lots of men, or, at any rate, sends no severer temptation without also sending “more grace” whereby to resist it (James 4:6). Along with the temptation He provides also the way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). And, since men have always loved and always will love, riches, the Lord desired to force upon us the conviction that if we would increase our wealth we run a terrible risk of also increasing our worldliness. From this inordinate love of riches, simply, we cannot be saved by our own power. Left to ourselves we should fail utterly in the attempt to combine the love of God with the deceitfulness of earthly mammon. But we are not left to ourselves. The salvation of the soul, in the midst of earthly riches, requires a spiritual miracle, a miracle of the grace of God. But, so far from miracles being rare, we live in the midst of them. Without them no man could be saved at all, least of all any man who has so much about him as the rich have to make this world sweet and easy. Souls are saved, men enter into the heavenly kingdom, in spite of difficulties humanly insuperable, and only because nothing is impossible with God.—Farrar.
Luke 18:26. “Who, then, can be saved?”—I.e., because all are striving to be rich. We must remember, too, that the disciples yet looked for a temporal kingdom, and therefore would naturally be dismayed at hearing that it was so difficult for any rich man to enter it.
Luke 18:27. “Possible with God.”—Thus, in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus raises the mind of His hearers from human endeavours, of which alone the young ruler was thinking, to that Divine work of radical reformation which proceeds from Him who only is Good, and of which Jesus is the instrument. Cf. John 3:2-5 for a similar rapid change of idea.—Godet.
Luke 18:28. “We have left all.”—They had stood the test which had proved too hard for the young ruler; to them, as to him, the alternative had been given of cleaving to the world or of cleaving to Christ. What, then, should be their reward?
Luke 18:29-30. Two Aspects of Piety.
I. The gospel a present blessing.—
1. To the person.
2. To our associations.
3. To our circumstances.
4. To mankind at large.
II. The Gospel a future expectation.—
1. Every present blessing is an earnest of the future.
2. Every present effort is a preparation for the future.
3. Every present experience creates a desire for endless life.
Luke 18:29. “Left house or parents,” etc.—The gain is a hundredfold the sacrifice, and is received at once; it comes “in the form of a re-construction of all human relationships and affections, on a Christian basis and amongst Christians, after they have been sacrificed in their natural form on the altar of love to Christ.”
Luke 18:30. “Manifold more.”—The reward, disproportionate to the sacrifices made,
(1) illustrates the generosity of the Master;
(2) is humbling to the disciple, for he still remains a debtor to Divine grace.
Luke 18:31. Then took He unto Him.—I.e., took the twelve apart. The parallel passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel says that this disclosure was made on the last journey up to Jerusalem. Between Luke 18:30 and Luke 18:31 should probably come the journey from Bethany in Peræa to Bethany in Judæa, the raising of Lazarus, and Christ’s retirement to Ephraim (John 11:54). From this retreat He now comes to keep His last Passover in Jerusalem. On more than one former occasion Christ had foretold His rejection and sufferings (see Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22-23). Each prediction is more full of details than the last. All things, etc.—The passage is a peculiar one, and is thus given in the R.V: “All the things that are written by the prophets shall be accomplished unto the Son of Man.”
Luke 18:32. Unto the Gentiles.—This circumstance had not yet been foretold. It implies His crucifixion, that being a Roman and not a Jewish form of capital punishment. All the details of His passion here foretold found fulfilment.
Luke 18:34. And they understood none, etc.—Peculiar to St. Luke, though the other two Synoptists record the request proffered by James and John and their mother, which indicated a state of mind like that described here. The prophecy ran so completely counter to the fixed ideas of the disciples concerning the nature of Christ’s kingdom that they could not understand it in the least.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 18:31-34
The Third Announcement of The Passion.—Jesus and the twelve were now on their way up to Jerusalem to be present at the celebration of the feast of the Passover. But though He was surrounded by disciples, and accompanied by crowds of pilgrims, He was isolated in thought from all who journeyed with Him. The multitude anticipated the coming of the kingdom of God in connection with His arrival in the holy city (chap. Luke 19:11); the disciples were intent upon ambitious schemes for securing places of honour in that kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28); while He mused upon the sufferings and death which were now so near Him.
I. The prediction.—Special solemnity marked the manner in which Jesus communicated His thoughts to the disciples. He took them apart, probably in order to isolate them from the multitude, whose ignorant enthusiasm might have been set on fire by the announcement of the dangers which threatened Him, and to impress upon His disciples the deep significance of the communication He was now making to them. The minuteness and accuracy of the prediction are very remarkable. Vague forebodings of disaster are all that any mere man, placed in similar circumstances to those in which Jesus now was, would experience. But Jesus has special knowledge of all that awaits Him. His enemies are the chief priests and scribes and elders; but with them will be allied the Gentiles, as the actual inflictors of death. He foresees the mocking, and scourging, and all the brutal ill-treatment of which He will be the victim. And as plainly as the details of His suffering are foreseen by Him is the certainty of His resurrection from the dead after three days present to His thoughts. No less remarkable is the calmness with which He makes this announcement. He utters no lamentation or complaint, He manifests no reluctance, but, with unfaltering resolution, journeys up to the city where sufferings and death awaited Him. He names some of His enemies, but He is silent about His betrayer, who now, with the other apostles, stood by His side and listened to His words.
II. The purpose for which the prediction was given.—The primary object Jesus had in view was, doubtless, to prepare His disciples for the events which would so sorely try their faith in Him. Their belief in His Messiahship and Divine commission would be subjected to a severe strain by seeing Him apparently a helpless victim in the hands of His enemies. And when the time of trial came, it should have strengthened the disciples to remember that he had foreseen the sufferings which were inflicted upon Him, and had voluntarily accepted them. But we can easily believe that He desired also to find some relief for His own feelings by unburdening His mind to those who were His dearest and most trusted friends. Sorrow is lightened by the sympathy of those we love. And as Jesus afterwards, in the garden of Gethsemane, sought to have the advantage of the presence and sympathy of the three apostles who were in most intimate communion with Him, so now, doubtless, a similar feeling moved Him to take the twelve into His confidence.
III. The effect of this communication.—So far as we know the only impression the words of Christ made upon those that heard them was that of mere bewilderment. No words of sorrow or sympathy seem to have been spoken by them in reply. Their minds were still possessed by expectations of earthly sovereignty to be exercised by the Messiah, and the announcement of an ignominious death perplexed and stupified them. The allusion to the resurrection from the dead fell upon deaf ears—it was unintelligible; and any suggestion of superhuman dignity and power which might be latent in it was overborne by the disastrous character of the rest of His communication. No words could convey more vividly the utter loneliness of Christ than those which describe the effect upon the disciples of His sorrowful prediction; those who were most firmly attached to Him, and knew Him best, could not understand Him, and stood silent and perplexed as they listened to His disclosure of the sufferings He was so shortly to undergo.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 18:31-34
Luke 18:31-33.—Christ Strengthens the Faith of His Disciples
(1) by preparing them for His humiliation, and sufferings, and death; and
(2) by assuring them of His victory over death.
Two Grounds of Comfort:—
I. The sufferings of Christ belonged to the Divine purpose in sending Him, as indicated by the prophets.
II. His ignominious death would be followed by a glorious resurrection.
Sufferings Willingly Met.
I. Our Lord clearly foresaw and foretold all the sufferings which lay before Him.
II. He willingly and eagerly went forward to meet them.
III. Our hope for acceptance with God should rest upon that obedience unto death to which Christ was now going forward.
Luke 18:31. “Written by the prophets.”—I.e., their predictions of the sufferings of the Christ (cf. Psalms 22:0; Isaiah 53:0; Zechariah 11:0; Zechariah 12:10.
Luke 18:32. “Delivered unto the Gentiles.”—The prophecy grows clearer as the event approaches. At first it had been, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19); “The days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken” (Matthew 9:15). These words of Christ have rather the air of historic record than of prophetic anticipation.
Luke 18:33. “The third day.”—His death and His rising show His two natures, human and Divine—His human nature and weakness in dying; His Divine nature and power, in rising again. These show His two offices—His priesthood and His kingdom: His priesthood in the sacrifice of His death; His kingdom in the glory of His resurrection. They set before us His two main benefits—His death, the death of death; His rising, the reviving of life again: the one, what He had ransomed us from; the other, what He had purchased for us.—Andrewes.
Luke 18:34. “Understood none.”—One must know human things in order to love them, but one must love Divine things if he would rightly know them.”—Pascal.
Luke 18:35. As he drew nigh to Jericho.—St. Matthew speaks of two blind men cured as Jesus departed from Jericho (Luke 20:29 ff.); St. Mark of one blind man named Bartimæus (evidently the man here mentioned) healed as Jesus went out of Jericho. So far as the numbers are concerned, no special difficulty need be felt. The second and third evangelists simply record one case of healing in which there were details of exceptional interest. But, so far as the place of healing is concerned, there is a discrepancy which no harmonist can solve. If, however, we knew all the circumstances of the case, the discrepancy might disappear. It might turn out that there was an old and a new town at Jericho, and that departing from the one corresponded to entering the other. This conjecture is highly improbable, but is possible. Meantime the discrepancy exists, and is a testimony to the fact that the narratives of the evangelists are independent of each other.
Luke 18:39. Rebuked him.—Not because he addressed Jesus as “Son of David,” but because they thought his cries would be wearisome and annoying to our Lord.
Luke 18:41. What wilt thou?—The question seems a strange one. What else could the blind man wish for in preference to the gift of sight? We need to remember that with sight would come the call to work for his livelihood—a prospect which did not, however, deter Bartimæus from asking the boon.
Luke 18:43. Gave praise to God.—St. Luke frequently concludes narratives of miracles in this way (cf. chaps. Luke 13:17, Luke 9:43, Luke 5:26). “He, of the three evangelists, takes most notice of the glory given to God on account of the miraculous acts of the Lord Jesus” (Alford).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 18:35-43
Bartimæus.—The blind man, Bartimæus (Mark), is seated by the wayside. That is his usual place—begging his usual occupation. But another idea fills his mind to-day. He has heard much of Jesus of Nazareth. The country is filled with the rumour that He is on His way to Jerusalem to be crowned King of the Jews. To the blind man it has, somehow, become clear that this is the Christ promised to the Fathers. He is prepared to confess his faith in Him, for he has a great boon to ask of Him. He has taken up his usual place since early morn, and is watching anxiously for the first sign of Christ’s coming, when he hears the sound of a multitude approaching. He asks the bystanders, or the first comers, “what it meant.” They answer and tell him, “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” Now, then, his great opportunity has come. He lifts up his voice, in the words of that most eloquent and simple prayer he has prepared, and he repeats the prayer till the time of answer came: “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Note what obstacles this man’s faith overcame.
I. His circumstances.—He was but a poor blind man, a customary object of charity. He who was passing by was a great Teacher, a Prophet of the people, reputed to be the Messiah, and probably the future King of Israel. Moreover, He was in the heart of a procession, engaged in teaching, and much engrossed in this momentous crisis of His public life. But Bartimæus was not to be hindered by any of these things. As to the difference in rank between himself and Jesus, he made nothing of it, or rather he made an encouragement of it. When He heard the name, Jesus of Nazareth! his heart leaped up within him. “This is the very person I want to meet. I am poor; He is the friend of the poor. I am blind; He is the healer of the blind. I am a despised and forgotten waif by the roadside; He is the King of Israel, the gatherer of outcasts—the Healer of the broken-hearted, the One who remembers the forgotten.” If, then, any one is hindered from coming to Christ by considerations of environment, be this the answer of faith. The worse your circumstances, the more need you have of Christ, the more evident is it that you are of those to whom He is offered, and for whom He is intended. When He is nigh, let no argument find place in your heart that the time is unsuitable, or that there may be a more convenient season.
II. The desire of worldly advantage.—Here was a great procession coming. In an ordinary case Bartimæus would, doubtless, have laid himself out to make a harvest of the passing caravan. On this occasion he made up his mind to forego that altogether. He weighed the two things, and he said to himself, “No, no alms to-day; I will direct my whole efforts to getting a cure from Jesus of Nazareth.” He did not attempt both things, but deliberately sacrificed the alms-getting for the eyesight. Doubtless he would have been a fool to do otherwise. Yet that is the folly men are committing every day, and not the thoughtless alone among men. Those who have some glimpse of the priceless value of spiritual light and peace, yet let year after year leave them as it found them, because they are too busy in the world to seek salvation, or too much afraid of losing present advantage to set aside its claims, even for a season, and “count their cost” of their immortal nature. Jesus and his multitudes are passing by while some of us are busy gathering pennies by the wayside. A soul in earnest, a soul prepared for the Master’s grace, will hold it of such urgent moment that everything must stand aside till this great question is settled.
III. The opposition of Others.—We are not told what were the motives of the crowd in trying to silence Bartimæus. Perhaps the vulgar notion that it was improper for a common beggar like him to take up the time and attention of Jesus; perhaps that, with all their popular enthusiasm for Jesus, they were not pleased at the blind man for the boldness of his expression that Jesus was the Christ. It is not easy to conceive any obstacle in the way of the spiritually anxious more stumbling than this, when the professed, and sometimes even the real followers of Christ, object to the ardour of their expressions, or the evident feeling they show. “This is going too far. It is extravagance. It disturbs the Church.” The real meaning is, it puts us about, it suggests an uncomfortable suspicion that we are not in earnest, when we see some spirit-stirred ones counting all things loss to win Christ, and overturning the cold, formal decency of the Church with their new-born fervour. As soon as the cry, with its unusual title and its imploring tones, meets the Saviour’s ears, He comes to a standstill, and commands the blind man to be brought to Him. This is how Christ finds those that inquire after Him. We know that He is found of those who seek Him not, surprises those that look not for Him, singles out for search those that had forgotten Him. How certainly then, as this story shows, is He the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. It was a moment of rare triumph for Jesus. He is attended by a joyful crowd. But He turns—how characteristically!—from the happy throng to the one miserable man who needs His help. The pertinacious vitality of faith had proved itself in this instance, and it met, according to Christ’s method, with an instant and abundant reward. It was proved, not only by the blind man’s firm conviction of Jesus’ Messiahship, but by his irrepressible expression of it, by his conquest of the obstacles put in his way, by his joyous alacrity when Jesus called him, by his prompt application of Christ’s offered grace to his most particular need. And now, as all the Evangelists add, the proof was crowned by the first use he made of the new gift of sight. “He followed Jesus in the way.” From this conduct the Lord received honour, both direct and indirect, for all the people, when they saw it, swelled His praises. These two forms of service to Christ re-act upon each other. If all who know about Him were to profess Him, there would be much increase of spiritual life in the Church. If all who profess Christ were to experience what they profess, there would be much increase of spiritual heat. If all who have experienced Christ were to live up to their experience of His mercy, the Church would be like a mass of molten metal in the midst of a cold world—the world, indeed, would be set on fire, and the whole earth would be filled with His glory.—Laidlaw.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 18:35-43
Luke 18:35-43. Bartimæus.—The story of Bartimæus shows us a man in difficulties, and exhibits his conduct when face to face with the three powers of life:
2. The world.
3. God. We shall see what the world did for him, what he did for himself, and what Divine love did for him.
I. The world.—The world gave him pity and alms, but it could not give him sight. He wanted power; it could only give compassion. He wanted eyes; it could only give a dole. Its gifts made him feel his dependence most keenly.
II. What Bartimæus did for himself.—He was self-reliant. He would not be silenced. He is heedless of the crowd. The more opposition, the more endeavour. But he is also single-minded. He must run no risk of failure in reaching Christ. He throws aside his long robe. It might impede his progress. What was raiment, compared with the dowry of eyesight?
III. What Christ did for him.—The best human efforts cannot achieve everything. Man and the world are not the only factors of life. Before Christ the demeanour of Bartimæus is changed. He stands as one who waits. What he needs must be waited for. The man of independence is to learn dependence. And Christ acts towards him with love—love that shows sensibility, decision, judgment, and capability. He is quick to discern need, decisive in His command, deliberate in His dealing, and powerful in His gift.—Carpenter.
I. The situation (Luke 18:35-39).
II. The cure (Luke 18:40-42).
III. The effect produced (Luke 18:43).
A Wayside Miracle.
I. The beggar’s need.
II. The beggar’s cry.
III. The beggar’s urgency.
IV. Jesus’ response.—
1. The same cry can reach Him still.
2. He will listen, and help us.—Watson.
A Confession of Faith.
I. A confession of faith in Jesus as able to give sight.
II. A confession of faith in Him as Messiah, at whose coming the eyes of the blind should be opened.
Luke 18:39. “Rebuked him.”—The blind man saw Jesus with the eye of faith, and prayed to Him as his Saviour; while the world, who could see His person, saw Him not. And yet the blind world, which did not see Jesus, rebuked the blind man, who saw and worshipped Him; but he was nothing daunted by the rebuke, but cried to Him the more earnestly. Thus the blind recovered sight, and they who saw were blind.
Luke 18:41. Vague Prayers.—Poor Bartimæus had no difficulty in answering Christ’s question. He could not for an instant mistake or forget the nature of his want. He cried to Jesus for mercy, when he heard that He was passing by, because he felt a particular want, and believed that Jesus only could supply it. He felt that this was his only chance, and a fastly fleeting one. And so, on Christ’s approach and direct inquiry, he was ready with a direct and unhesitating answer. Faith was supplemented here by an accurate knowledge of the heart’s plague and sorrow; and He who waited for this avowal said at once in reply, “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.” We often kneel in the Divine Presence, as this man did, and call to the Saviour for mercy. Were He to cross-examine us as to the meaning of our words, would our answer be ready? Does each heart know its own bitterness so well as to be able at once to ask for the boon we specially need? Or is there unreality, is there vagueness in our language, when we pray?
I. In our confession of sin, do we use vague and unreal words, not meaning them? Let us practice ourselves in meaning something by our confessions of sin. This exercise, and its accompaniment of seeking forgiveness, are an indispensable part of all worship. It has respect to time past, the ineffaceable, irretrievable past.
II. But the other part of prayer has respect rather to the future.—“To obtain mercy” that is one thing: “to find grace to help in time of need”—that is the other. Even more in the latter case is there the risk of vagueness and unreality in our prayers. The petitions which we seem to bring to the throne of grace may be neutralised by our inability to answer the searching inquiry of our Lord, “What wilt thou that I shall do for thee?” The very endeavour to bring something definite, something real, something learned by experience and examination, whenever we profess to approach God’s mercy-seat with words of prayer on our lips, will help to give point and meaning to our worship. Then will the question of the text sound in our ears with less of reproof than of encouragement.—Vaughan.
Luke 18:42. “Thy faith.”—In replying to the request of the blind man, Jesus says, “Thy faith,” and not “My power,” in order to impress upon him the value of that moral act, and that certainly in view of the still more important spiritual miracle yet to be wrought in him.
Luke 18:43. “Followed Him.”—All that he cared for was seeing; all that he cared to see was Christ.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29