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THESE verses describe the conversion of a soul. Like the stories of Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman, the story of Zacchæus should be frequently studied by Christians. The Lord Jesus never changes. What He did for the man before us, He is able and willing to do for any one of ourselves.
We learn, firstly, from these verses, that no one is too bad to be saved, or beyond the power of Christ’s grace. We are told of a wealthy publican becoming a disciple of Christ. A more unlikely event we cannot well imagine! We see the "camel passing through the eye of a needle," and the "rich man entering the kingdom of God." We behold a plain proof that "all things are possible with God." We see a covetous tax-gatherer transformed into a liberal Christian!
The door of hope which the Gospel reveals to sinners, is very wide open. Let us leave it open as we find it. Let us not attempt in narrow-minded ignorance, to shut it. We should never be afraid to maintain that Christ is "able to save to the uttermost," and that the vilest of sinners may be freely forgiven if they will only come to Him. We should offer the Gospel boldly to the worst and wickedest, and say, "There is hope. Only repent and believe. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18.) Such doctrine may seem to worldly people foolishness and licentiousness. But such doctrine is the Gospel of Him who saved Zacchæus at Jericho. Hospitals discharge many cases as incurable. But there are no incurable cases under the Gospel. Any sinner may be healed, if he will only come to Christ.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, how little and insignificant are the things on which a soul’s salvation often turns. We are told that Zacchæus "sought to see who Jesus was; and could not, because he was little of stature." Curiosity, and nothing but curiosity, appears to have been the motive of his mind. That curiosity once roused, Zacchæus was determined to gratify it. Rather than not see Jesus he ran on before along the road, and "climbed up into a tree." Upon that little action, so far as man’s eyes can see, there hinged the salvation of his soul. Our Lord stopped under the tree, and said "Come down, I must abide at thy house." From that very moment Zacchæus was an altered man. That very night he lay down a Christian.
We must never "despise the day of small things." (Zechariah 4:10.) We must never reckon anything little that concerns the soul. The ways by which the Holy Ghost leads men and women to Christ are wonderful and mysterious. He is often beginning in a heart a work which shall stand to eternity, when a looker-on observes nothing remarkable.
In every work there must be a beginning, and in spiritual work that beginning is often very small. Do we see a careless brother beginning to use means of grace, which in time past he neglected? Do we see him coming to Church and listening to the Gospel after a long course of Sabbath-breaking? When we see such things let us remember Zacchæus and be hopeful. Let us not look coldly on him because his motives are at present very poor and questionable. Let us believe that it is far better to hear the Gospel out of mere curiosity, than not to hear it at all. Our brother is with Zacchæus in the tree! For anything we know he may go further. Who can tell but that he may one day receive Christ joyfully?
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, Christ’s free compassion towards sinners, and Christ’s power to change hearts. A more striking instance than that before us it is impossible to conceive. Unasked, our Lord stops and speaks to Zacchæus. Unasked, He offers Himself to be a guest in the house of a sinner. Unasked, He sends into the heart of a publican the renewing grace of the Spirit, and puts him that very day among the children of God. (Jeremiah 3:19.)
It is impossible, with such a passage as this before us, to exalt too highly the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot maintain too strongly that there is in Him an infinite readiness to receive, and an infinite ability to save sinners. Above all, we cannot hold too firmly that salvation is not of works, but of grace. If ever there was a soul sought and saved, without having done anything to deserve it, that soul was the soul of Zacchæus.
Let us grasp these doctrines firmly and never let them go. Their price is above rubies. Grace, free grace, is the only thought which gives men rest in a dying hour.—Let us proclaim these doctrines confidently to every one to whom we speak about spiritual things. Let us bid them come to Jesus Christ, just as they are, and not wait in the vain hope that they can make themselves fit and worthy to come. Not least, let us tell them that Jesus Christ waits for them, and would come and dwell in their poor sinful hearts, if they would only receive Him. "Behold," He says, "I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me." (Revelation 3:20.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that converted sinners will always give evidence of their conversion. We are told that Zacchæus "stood, and said unto the Lord, the half of my goods I give unto the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." There was reality in that speech. There was unmistakable proof that Zacchæus was a new creature. When a wealthy Christian begins to distribute his riches, and an extortioner begins to make restitution, we may well believe that old things have passed away, and all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17.)—There was decision in that speech. "I give," says Zacchæus,—"I restore." He does not speak of future intentions. He does not say, "I will," but "I do." Freely pardoned, and raised from death to life, Zacchæus felt that he could not begin too soon to show whose he was and whom he served.
He that desires to give proof that he is a believer, should walk in the steps of Zacchæus. Like him, let him thoroughly renounce the sins which have formerly most easily beset him. Like him, let him follow the Christian graces which he has formerly most habitually neglected. In any case a believer should so live that all may know that he is a believer. Faith that does not purify the heart and life, is not faith at all. Grace that cannot be seen, like light, and tasted, like salt, is not grace, but hypocrisy. The man who professes to know Christ and trust Him, while he cleaves to sin and the world, is going down to hell with a lie in his right hand. The heart that has really tasted the grace of Christ, will instinctively hate sin.
Let us turn from the whole passage with the last verse ringing in our ears,—"The Son of man came to seek and save that which is lost." It is as a Savior, more than as a Judge, that Christ desires to be known. Let us see that we know Him as such. Let us take heed that our souls are saved. Once saved and converted, we shall say, "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits?" (Psalms 116:12.) Once saved, we shall not complain that self-denial, like that of Zacchæus, is a grievous requirement.
v1.—[Entered and passed through.] It is probable that our version does not exactly give the sense of the Greek here. It would be more literally rendered, "was passing through."
v2.—[And behold.] It is worthy of remark that this expression is frequently found in the New Testament, when something wonderful is about to be narrated. Thus it indicates that the conversion of Zacchæus was a peculiarly marvellous thing.
The connection between the story of Zacchæus and the preceding chapter, ought not to be overlooked. The difficulty of a rich man’s salvation had been strongly set forth there. The Holy Ghost now proceeds to show us, by the example of Zacchæus, that nothing is impossible with God.
Whether Zacchæus was by birth a Jew or a Gentile, is a point upon which commentators are not agreed. Cyprian, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Bede, and Maldonatus, think that he was a Gentile.—The more common and probable opinion is that he was a Jew. The publicans were generally Jews. Moreover, his name seems a Hebrew name. Doddridge thinks it was Zaccai.
v3.—[He sought to see Jesus.] Pellican considers that Zacchæus was under the influence of grace already, and compares him to old Simeon in the temple, rejoicing in the sight of the infant Jesus! This seems to me a very improbable opinion. I hold with Poole, Burkitt, and Scott, that Zacchæus only sought to see Jesus out of mere curiosity, although no doubt his curiosity was overruled by God to his conversion.
v4.—[Climbed up into a sycamore tree.] The ridicule that such an action would entail on Zacchæus, ought to be remembered. A wealthy publican climbing up into a tree, after running along a road, in order to see a religious teacher, would doubtless call forth mockery from all who saw him! Yet the circumstance, trifling as it seems, throws light on the character of Zacchæus. He was one who cared not for man’s opinion. If he took up a thing he went through with it. If he wanted to see Christ, he would not be prevented by difficulties.
v5.—[To-day I must abide at thy house.] Let it be noted, that this is the only case in the Gospels, in which we find our Lord offering Himself uninvited to be a man’s guest. In this point of view the expression is a very precious one. Christ sometimes comes to those who seek Him not. (Isaiah 65:1.)
Our Lord’s perfect knowledge is clearly shown in this case. He knew not only the name of the man in the sycamore tree, but the state of his heart. (See John 1:48.)
v6.—[Came down and received Him.] It is precisely at this point that the conversion of Zacchæus seems to have taken place. The unexpected condescension of such a famous teacher of religion in offering to be a publican’s guest, was made the means by which the Spirit changed his heart. Nothing is so frequently found to turn the hearts of great sinners, as the unexpected and undeserved tidings, that Christ loves them and cares for their souls. These tidings have often broken and melted hearts of stone.
v7.—[All murmured.] The "all" here mentioned must doubtless be the Pharisees, and the Pharisaical portion of the crowd which followed our Lord. It cannot of course mean His disciples.
[Murmured.] The Greek word used here is only found in one other place. (Luke 15:2.) It is there used in precisely the same connection, to describe the feeling shown by self-righteous Pharisees, on seeing sinners received by Christ.
[A man that is a sinner.] This expression goes far to indicate that Zacchæus was not a Gentile but a Jew. If he had been a Gentile, that circumstance would surely have been cast in our Lord’s teeth, as well as the fact that he was "a sinner."
v8.—[And Zacchæus stood.] Some have thought that our Lord tarried a day or two at the house of Zacchæus, and that the speech here recorded was made at the end of His stay. There seems, however, no sufficient reason for supposing that this idea is correct. It is far more probable that our Lord accepted the hospitality of Zacchæus for a meal, and then passed on His journey.
[My goods.] We must, in reason, assume that Zacchæus first made restitution to those he had robbed, and afterwards gave half of what was justly and honestly his own to the poor. Otherwise he would have given away what was not his.
[I give to the poor.] The contrast between the readiness of Zacchæus to distribute to the poor, and the unwillingness of the rich ruler described in the last chapter, ought not to be overlooked. Our Lord had required of the ruler nothing but what grace can enable a man to do.
The use of the present tense in the speech of Zacchæus ought to be noted. He says, "I give," and "I restore." There was no deferring and putting off in his conduct.
Ford on this verse quotes a fine passage from Basil, exposing the meanness of those who are only liberal to the poor in their wills, and give away their money in charity when they can no longer keep or enjoy it. Zacchæus gave away during his own lifetime.
[Taken by false accusation.] The word so translated is very peculiar. It is only found in one other place in the New Testament. (Luke 3:14.) It is there applied to the soldiers, and is rendered, "accuse falsely."
The Greek word from which it is formed is the origin of our English word "sycophant." It is said to have been originally applied at Athens, to persons who informed against those who illegally exported figs. Afterwards the word seems to have been applied to every one who wronged another by false, or frivolous, or vexatious information, and finally, to any extortion under pretence of law.
[I restore fourfold.] This expression deserves notice. It shows how thorough and complete was Zacchæus’ repentance for his past life. It was restitution far exceeding what the law of Moses required.
Burgon remarks, "Zacchæus imposed upon himself the severest measure enjoined by the law concerning any one convcted of theft. ’It is written, he shall restore four sheep for a sheep.’ (Exodus 22:1;) but even this was exacted only of him who had made away with the property he had stolen. ’If the theft be found in his hand alive, he was only to restore double.’ (Exodus 22:4.) But with respect to him who confessed his crime it is only said, ’he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed.’ (Numbers 5:7.) Zacchæus therefore judged himself most severely."—Let us do likewise, when we repent.
v8.—[Salvation come to this house.] Some commentators maintain from this expression that Zacchæus’ family were all converted together with himself. Such an interpretation appears needless and groundless. The simplest idea is, that salvation comes to a "house" when the head and master of it is saved.
[He is a son of Abraham.] This expression was probably used with a reference to the sneers of Pharisees against publicans and sinners, as being unworthy of eternal life. Our Lord declares that however much the self-righteous Pharisees might despise Zacchæus, he was a genuine son of Abraham, if any one was. He was one by natural descent. But better than that, he was a son of Abraham in a way the Pharisees were not. He walked in the steps of Abraham’s faith and works, which they did not do. He was one in heart with Abraham as well as in blood.
v10.—[The Son of man is come, &c.] This sentence seems to be a general reply to the uncharitable remarks of those who had wondered at Jesus, for going to be "guest with a man that was a sinner."
Our Lord declares that such persons had only displayed their ignorance of the great purpose for which He came into the world. He had come into the world to save sinners. He was not ashamed to visit such people as Zacchæus, and to receive them into the number of His disciples. In short, he had come "to seek and save that which was lost."
There is a close resemblance between our Lord’s argument in this place, and that which we find Him using in the 15th chapter of Luke, where the Scribes and Pharisees accused Him of "receiving sinners, and eating with them."
THE occasion of our Lord speaking the parable before us, is clear and plain. It was intended to correct the false expectations of the disciples on the subject of Christ’s kingdom. It was a prophetical sketch of things present and things to come, which ought to raise solemn thoughts in the minds of all professing Christians.
We see, for one thing, in this parable, the present position of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is compared to "a certain nobleman, who went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return."
When the Lord Jesus left the world, He ascended up into heaven as a conqueror, leading captivity captive. He is there sitting at the right hand of God, doing the work of a High Priest for His believing people, and ever making intercession for them. But He will not sit there always. He will come forth from the holy of holies to bless His people. He will come again with power and glory to put down every enemy under His feet, and to set up His universal kingdom on earth. At present "we see not all things put under Him." The devil is the "prince of this world." (Hebrews 2:8; John 14:30.) But the present state of things shall be changed one day. When Christ returns, the kingdoms of the world shall become His.
Let these things sink down into our minds. In all our thoughts about Christ, let us never forget His second advent. It is well to know that He lived for us, and died for us, and rose again for us, and intercedes for us. But it is also well to know that He is soon coming again.
We see, for another thing, in this parable, the present position of all professing Christians. Our Lord compares them to servants who have been left in charge of money by an absent master, with strict directions to use that money well. They are to "occupy till He comes."
The countless privileges which Christians enjoy, compared to the heathen, are "pounds" given to them by Christ, for which they must one day give account. We shall not stand side by side in the judgment day with the African and Chinese, who never heard of the Bible, the Trinity, and the crucifixion. The most of us, it may be feared, have little idea of the extent of our responsibility. To whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required.
Are we "occupying"? Are we living like men who know to whom they are indebted, and to whom they must one day give account? This is the only life which is worthy of a reasonable being. The best answer we can give to those who invite us to plunge into worldliness and frivolity, is the Master’s commandment which is before us. Let us tell them that we cannot consent, because we look for the coming of the Lord. We would fain be found "occupying" when He comes.
We see, for another thing, in this parable, the certain reckoning which awaits all professing Christians. We are told that when the master returned, he "commanded his servants to be called, that he might know how much every man had gained."
There is a day coming when the Lord Jesus Christ shall judge His people, and give to every one according to His works. The course of this world shall not always go on as it does now. Disorder, confusion, false profession, and unpunished sin, shall not always cover the face of the earth. The great white throne shall be set up. The Judge of all shall sit upon it. The dead shall be raised from their graves. The living shall all be summoned to the bar. The books shall be opened. High and low, rich and poor, gentle and simple, all shall at length give account to God, and shall all receive an eternal sentence.
Let the thought of this judgment exercise an influence on our hearts and lives. Let us wait patiently when we see wickedness triumphing in the earth. The time is short. There is one who sees and notes down all that the ungodly are doing. "There be higher than they." (Ecclesiastes 5:8.) Above all, let us live under an abiding sense, that we shall stand one day at the judgment seat of Christ. Let us "judge ourselves," that we be not condemned of the Lord. It is a weighty saying of James, "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." (1 Corinthians 11:31. James 2:12.)
We see, for another thing, in this parable, the certain reward of all true Christians. Our Lord tells us that those who are found to have been faithful servants shall receive honor and dignity. Each shall receive a reward proportioned to his diligence. One shall be placed "over ten cities," and another "over five."
The people of God receive little apparent recompense in this present time. Their names are often cast out as evil. They enter the kingdom of God through much tribulation. Their good things are not in this world. The gain of godliness does not consist in earthly rewards, but in inward peace, and hope, and joy in believing. But they shall have an abundant recompense one day. They shall receive wages far exceeding anything they have done for Christ. They shall find, to their amazement, that for everything they have done and borne for their Master, their Master will pay them a hundred-fold.
Let us often look forward to the good things which are yet to come. The "sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed." (Romans 8:18.) Let the thought of that glory cheer us in every time of need, and sustain us in every dark hour. Many, no doubt, are "the afflictions of the righteous." One great receipt for bearing them patiently is to "have respect, like Moses, to the recompense of the reward." (Psalms 34:19. Hebrews 11:26.)
We see, lastly, in this parable, the certain exposure of all unfaithful Christians at the last day. We are told of one servant who had done nothing with his lord’s money, but had "laid it up in a napkin."—We are told of his useless arguments in his own defense, and of his final ruin, for not using the knowledge which he confessedly possessed. There can be no mistake as to the persons he represents.—He represents the whole company of the ungodly; and his ruin represents their miserable end in the judgment day.
Let us never forget the end to which all ungodly people are coming. Sooner or later, the unbeliever and the impenitent will be put to shame before the whole world, stripped of the means of grace and hope of glory, and cast down to hell. There will be no escape at the last day. False profession and formality will fail to abide the fire of God’s judgment. Grace, and grace only, shall stand. Men will discover at last, that there is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb." The excuses with which so many content their consciences now, shall prove unavailing at the bar of Christ. The most ignorant shall find that they had knowledge enough to be their condemnation. The possessors of buried talents and misused privileges will discover at last that it would have been good for them never to have been born.
These are solemn things. Who shall stand in the great day when the Master requires an account of "His pounds"? The words of Peter will form a fitting conclusion to the whole parable, "Seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless." (2 Peter 3:14.)
v11.—[As they heard these things.] Our Lord’s hearers had just heard Him speaking of Himself as one who had come into the world for a great end, to seek and to save that which was lost. Their minds were probably full of the idea that He was come to restore the kingdom to Israel, and save the Jews from the power of Rome. He proceeds to check their error.
[Spake a parable.] There is great resemblance between this parable and that of the talents in Matthew. Yet they are not the same. They were evidently spoken at different times, and differ in one important respect, namely, the sums given to the servants. In Matthew the servants receive different sums. In Luke all receive the same.
[Nigh...Jerusalem..Kingdom...appear.] The disciples evidently expected that our Lord was about to be proclaimed king, as soon as He arrived at Jerusalem, and to wind up His miracles by reigning on earth.
Our Lord undeceives them by showing in the parable of the pounds, the true nature of the position He was about to take up, and of the position which His disciples would soon have to fill. As for Himself, He was going away from them, to receive a kingdom, and would not return for a long time. As for them, they would be left behind in charge of great privileges, and upon their faithfulness in the use of them their place in the final glorious kingdom would depend. There would be a kingdom one day in which He would be a King upon earth. But there was much to be done and borne by His people before that time came. He would have them think of their present duty rather than waste time in looking for a kingdom which was yet far distant.
v12.—[A certain nobleman.] This clearly represents Jesus Christ Himself.
[Went into a far country.] Augustine thinks this means that Christ left the Jews and went to the Gentiles. I prefer the opinion of Theophylact and Euthymius, that it means Christ’s ascension into heaven.
[To receive a kingdom.] Most commentators agree in thinking that this part of the parable refers to a well-known custom in Eastern countries, in the time when our Lord was upon earth. The princes and kings of petty territories under the protection and supremacy of Rome, made journeys to Rome, in order to be invested with kingly authority at the hands of the Roman Emperor. Josephus, for example, mentions that Archelaus, one of Herod’s family, did so, and that the Jews sent after him a protest against his receiving the kingdom, to which Augustus would not listen. Alford observes that the place where our Lord spoke this parable, made this circumstance singularly appropriate. It was spoken at Jericho, where this very Archelaus had built himself a royal palace of great magnificence.
v13.—[Ten servants.] Chemnitius and others think that the "servants" in this parable mean only the ministers of the Gospel. I cannot take so narrow a view of the parable. I think that the expression means all who profess and call themselves Christians. By baptism they all profess to be Christ’s soldiers and servants.
[Ten pounds.] The word translated "pound," means a sum much larger than an English pound. It was worth about £4 Isaiah 3:1-26d. of our money. In the kindred parable of the talents in Matthew, it should be noted the servants receive much more. The talent was worth £243 15s.
[Occupy.] The Greek word so translated is only found here. It means literally, "employ in business, or trading." A substantive formed from it is found in 2 Timothy 2:4, and is rendered "the affairs" of this life.
v14.—[His citizens hated him, &c.] There can be no doubt that, this verse describes the conduct of the Jews towards Christ, both while He was among them and after He had ascended into heaven. It is a lively emblem of their bitter hatred and obstinate unbelief.
[We will not have this man, &c.] Theophylact remarks the striking resemblance between this part of the parable and the cry of the Jews when Christ was before Pilate. They were asked, "Shall I crucify your king?" They answered, "We have no king but Cæsar." They said, "Away with Him!" "Crucify him."
v15.—[When he was returned...kingdom.] This part of the parable describes the second advent of Jesus Christ. The kingdom for which we pray in the Lord’s prayer is not yet come.
[Commanded...servants...called.] These words describe the judgment of all professing Christians, when Christ comes the second time. He will take account of every man’s works.
v16.—[Thy pound.] The humility of a true Christian is indicated in this expression. The servant does not say, "By my skill I have gained," but, "thy pound hath gained." We have nothing to boast of. All that we have we have received.
v17.—[Faithful in a very little.] The sum given to each servant was undoubtedly very small. But our Lord would have us learn that however small a man’s gifts and opportunities, he is as much accountable for using them rightly as if they were very great. And he would have us know that the poorest and the humblest Christian, if he uses his one pound well, shall be as carefully noticed and rewarded as the mightiest king. Faithfulness in the use of what we have, however little, is what Christ requires at our hands.
[Over ten cities.] Let it be noted, that the servant who had turned one pound into ten, was set over ten cities, and the servant who had turned one into five, was set over five cities. Each was rewarded according to his diligence. The doctrine of reward according to works seems to stand out here as well as in other places of Scripture. Our title to heaven is all of grace. Our degree of glory in heaven will be proportioned to our works. "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor."
Henry remarks, "There are degrees of glory in heaven. Every vessel will be alike full, but not alike large. And the degree of glory there will be according to the degrees of usefulness here." (1 Corinthians 3:8.)
v20.—[I have kept...napkin.] The ingenuity of commentators has discovered allegorical meanings here. Some have thought that as napkins were used for tying round the faces of dead persons, the whole expression represents a sleeping conscience and a dead soul. I am unable to see that there is anything more in the expression than a circumstance of the parable.
v21.—[I feared thee...austere man.] The heart of the unconverted man is figured in a very striking manner in this expression. Like Adam and Eve, when they had eaten the forbidden fruit, he is afraid of his Master in heaven, and does not love Him. Like the murmuring Israelites in the wilderness, he finds fault with God’s appointments and dealings, and charges Him with hardness and injustice.
Hard thoughts of God are a common mark of all unconverted people. They first misrepresent Him, and then try to excuse themselves for not loving and serving Him.
v22, v23.—[Out of thine own mouth &c.] The particular expressions in the concluding portion of the parable must not be pressed too closely. We are reading a story of an earthly lord’s dealings with his servants, which illustrates Christ’s dealings with men, and justifies His final condemnation of the wicked. We are not reading an exact account of what will be said and done in the day of judgment.
The turning point of the king’s address to the unfaithful servant is the expression "Thou knewest." It is meant to teach us that those who are condemned at the last day will be found to have "known" enough to guide them to salvation if they would have used their knowledge.
v24.—[Take from him...give it.] It should be observed, that we have no mention here of any positive punishment inflicted on the unfaithful servant, such as we find inflicted on the man who buried his talent. But we may not therefore suppose that unfaithful Christians will not be condemned to punishment at the last day. The privation of all privileges, and taking away of all gifts, described in the parable before us, evidently implies that unfaithful Christians will be cast out forever from Christ’s presence. We must once more remember that we are reading a parable, and not a history of the last day. The punishment of unfaithful Christians will doubtless answer to the punishment which a king will inflict on unfaithful servants.
v25.—[They said unto him, &c.] This parenthetical expression is remarkable. It was either spoken by those at Jericho, who heard our Lord deliver this parable. (Such an interruption by interested hearers, would not be extraordinary in Eastern countries.) Or else it forms part of the parable itself, and was spoken by our Lord’s own mouth. In either case, the lesson is the same. It shows that the honor placed on faithful Christians, at the last day, will be so great as to surprise and amaze all who behold it.
Some have thought that it means the angels, who will be the standers-by and ministering agents in all the proceedings of the last day. This, however, seems very improbable.
v26.—[Hath...hath not.] It is evident that these two expressions are elliptical. "Every one which hath," signifies every Christian who not only has privileges, but improves them and turns them to good account. "He that hath not," signifies the professing Christian who is content with the idle possession of Christianity, and makes no effort to use it for his soul’s good, or the glory of God.
The Gentile Christians who have not made a good use of the Gospel, are very probably included prophetically in the latter part of the verse.
v27.—[Those mine enemies...slay...before me.] The meaning of this verse appears to be, that the Jews, who persisted in unbelief when Christ came among them, and died in unbelief, will be fearfully punished in the last day. They will be raised and brought before the bar of Christ, and receive a punishment proportioned to their enormous sin, in killing the Lord of glory. Though triumphing apparently in the day of our Lord’s crucifixion, Christ foretells in this parable, that there will be a reckoning day. Annas and Caiaphas and their companions will yet be brought before Jesus of Nazareth and punished.
In leaving the parable, let us not forget that it shows us three sorts of people.
Firstly, there are open opposers of Christ and the Gospel. Such were the Jews who refused to receive our Lord. Such are all infidels in the present day.
Secondly, there are faithful Christians. Such are all they who make a good use of the Gospel, for their own good and for God’s glory.
Thirdly, there are unfaithful, formal Christians, who have Christianity, but make no real use of it. Of these it should be always noted, that the parable does not charge them with being open enemies of Christ, or open breakers of God’s commandments. But they "hide their pound in a napkin." They have a mighty gift from God, and make no use of it. This will prove at last their eternal ruin.
LET us mark, for one thing, in these verses, the perfect knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see Him sending two of His disciples to a village, and telling them that they would find at the entrance of it, "a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat." We see Him describing what they would see and hear, with as much confidence as if the whole transaction had been previously arranged. In short, He speaks like one to whom all things were naked and open,—like one whose eyes were in every place,—like one who knew things unseen as well as things seen.
An attentive reader will observe the same thing in other parts of the Gospel. We are told in one place that "He knew the thoughts" of His enemies. We are told in another, that "He knew what was in man." We are told in another, that "He knew from the beginning who they were that believed not and who should betray Him." (Matthew 12:25; John 2:25; John 6:64.) Knowledge like this is the peculiar attribute of God. Passages like these are meant to remind us, that "the man Christ Jesus" is not only man. He is also "God blessed for ever." (Romans 9:5.)
The thought of Christ’s perfect knowledge should alarm sinners and awaken them to repentance. The great Head of the Church knows them and all their doings. The Judge of all sees them continually, and marks down all their ways. There is "no darkness where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves." (Job 34:22.) If they go into the secret chamber the eyes of Christ are there. If they privately scheme villainy and plot wickedness, Christ knows it and observes it. If they speak secretly against the righteous, Christ hears. They may deceive men all their life long, but they cannot deceive Christ. A day comes when God "will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to the Gospel." (Romans 2:16.)
The thought of Christ’s perfect knowledge should comfort all true-hearted Christians, and quicken them to increased diligence in good works. The Master’s eye is always upon them. He knows where they dwell, and what are their daily trials, and who are their companions. There is not a word in their mouths, or a thought in their hearts, but Jesus knows it altogether. Let them take courage when they are slandered, misunderstood, and misrepresented by the world. It matters nothing so long as they can say, "Thou, Lord, who knowest all things, knowest that I love thee." (John 21:17.) Let them walk on steadily in the narrow way, and not turn aside to the right hand or the left. When sinners entice them, and weak brethren say, "Spare thyself," let them reply, "My Master is looking at me. I desire to live and move as in the sight of Christ."
Let us mark, for another thing, in this passage, the publicity of our Lord’s last entry into Jerusalem. We are told of His riding in on an ass, like a king visiting his capital, or a conqueror returning in triumph to his native land. We read of a "multitude of disciples" surrounding Him as He rode into the city, "rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice." The whole history is strikingly unlike the general tenor of our Lord’s life. On other occasions, we see Him withdrawing from public observation, retiring into the wilderness, charging those whom He healed to tell no man what was done. On the present occasion all is changed. Reserve is completely thrown aside. He seems to court public notice. He appears desirous that all should see Him, and should mark, note, and observe what He did.
The reasons of our Lord’s conduct at this crisis of His ministry, at first sight, may appear hard to discover. On calm reflection they are clear and plain. He knew that the time had come when He was to die for sinners on the cross. His work as the great Prophet, so far as His earthly ministry was concerned, was almost finished and completed. His work as the sacrifice for sin and substitute for sinners, remained to be accomplished. Before giving Himself up as a sacrifice, He desired to draw the attention of the whole Jewish nation to Himself. The Lamb of God was about to be slain. The great sin-offering was about to be killed. It was meet that the eyes of all Israel should be fixed upon Him. This great thing was not to be done in a corner.
For ever let us bless God that the death of our Lord Jesus Christ was so widely known and so public an event. Had He been suddenly stoned in some popular tumult,—or privately beheaded like John the Baptist in prison, there never would have been wanting Jewish and Gentile unbelievers, who would have denied that the Son of God had died at all. The wisdom of God so ordered events that such a denial was rendered impossible. Whatever men may think of the doctrine of Christ’s atoning death, they can never deny the fact that Christ died. Publicly He rode into Jerusalem a few days before His death. Publicly He was seen and heard in the city until the day that He was betrayed. Publicly He was brought before the High Priests and Pilate, and condemned. Publicly He was led forth to Calvary, and nailed to the cross. The corner-stone and crowning-event in our Lord’s ministry was His death for sinners. Of all the events of His ministry, that death was the one most public, and the one witnessed by the greatest number of Jews. And that death was the "life of the world." (John 6:51.)
Let us leave the whole passage with the cheering reflection, that the joy of Christ’s disciples at His entry into Jerusalem, when He came to be crucified, will prove as nothing compared to the joy of His people when He comes again to reign.—That first joy was soon broken off and exchanged for sorrow and bitter tears. The second joy shall be a joy for evermore.—That first joy was often interrupted by the bitter sneers of enemies, who were plotting mischief. The second joy shall be liable to no such rude interruptions. Not a word shall be said against the King when He comes to Jerusalem the second time. "Before Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord." (Philippians 2:11.)
v30.—[Ye shall find a colt tied, &c.] Let it be noted, that the public entry into Jerusalem which we read of here, is one of the few events in our Lord’s history which all four Gospel writers relate. There is evidently an importance about it as a step in our Lord’s earthly ministry, which we should not overlook.
The allegorical meanings which many commentators attach to the whole transaction, appear to me, to say the least, very questionable. I am unable to see that "the colt" is a type of the Gentile Church, and our Lord’s riding on it a type of the Gentiles becoming obedient to the Gospel. Those who wish to see instances of allegorical views of the subject, will find them in the commentaries of Pellican and Brentius, and in Luther’s Exposition of the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent.
It may be well to remark that there was nothing ignominious or unworthy of a great person in riding on an ass. In eastern countries asses have in every age been used by persons of high rank. (See Judges 5:10.)
v31.—[The Lord hath need of him.] It is not quite clear whether these words were meant to have a miraculous constraining influence on the mind of the master of the colt, or whether he would simply regard it as a case of borrowing for some eminent person’s use. The former of the two opinions seems the more probable. It is clear that throughout the whole transaction of this last entry into Jerusalem, a constraining miraculous influence was exercised over the minds of many persons, showing plainly what our Lord might have easily done, if He had been minded to take to Himself a temporal dominion.
v32.—[Found as he had said.] It is interesting to note here how many various minute circumstances were mentioned by our Lord when He sent His disciples for the colt, and how accurate His description proved.
v37.—[Multitude of the disciples.] We must necessarily suppose that many of the disciples here mentioned were not really disciples in heart. They followed our Lord probably in much ignorance, and under very mistaken expectations.
v38.—[Peace in heaven.] We can only conjecture what the multitude meant by this expression. It is possible that they intended to declare their belief that Messiah’s reign of universal "peace" and His advent in "glory," was on the point of beginning. In the ’ mouths of many it was probably a scriptural phrase used at any period of great religious rejoicing, without any distinct application to Messiah’s times.
v39.—[Rebuke thy disciples.] This expression seems to show clearly that the Pharisees considered the multitude to be treating Jesus as the Messiah, and considered Jesus to be claiming the Messiahship by His not checking the language His attendants used. His riding on the colt would doubtless bring to their recollection the famous prophecy of Zechariah, which all Jews applied to the Messiah, and would add to their displeasure.
v40.—[The stones would cry out.] This expression must evidently be regarded as a proverbial and figurative one. If men did not rejoice at Christ’s advent, even inanimate nature would cry shame.
In leaving this passage, it is fair to remark, that the view I have set forth in the Exposition, of our Lord’s design in making His public entry into Jerusalem, is not that which is commonly given by commentators. It seems generally thought that our Lord’s principal object was to manifest His kingly power, and His dominion, when He thought fit to exercise it, over the wills of men.
I cannot help thinking that this theory falls short of the true meaning of the event. I have a firm conviction that our Lord did what He did in anticipation of His approaching death on the cross. Before dying for our sins, He called public attention to Himself, and filled Jerusalem with the report of His arrival. The consequence was, that when He was crucified a few days after, the attention of the whole multitude assembled at Jerusalem for the passover, was directed to Him. He was offered up as a sacrifice with the greatest possible publicity, and with the eyes of the whole nation upon Him. One of the greatest helps to this publicity, beyond doubt, was His remarkable entry into Jerusalem. Myriads of Jews from foreign parts came up to the holy city at the feast of the passover. There was probably not one among them who did not hear that a wonderful teacher had arrived, who claimed to be the Messiah, and rode into the city in the manner predicted by Zechariah. His death on the cross a few days after, would doubtless raise many thoughts in their minds, and in many cases would never be forgotten.
WE learn, firstly, from these verses, how great is the tenderness and compassion of Christ towards sinners. We are told that when He came near Jerusalem for the last time, "He beheld the city and wept over it." He knew well the character of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Their cruelty, their self-righteousness, their stubbornness, their obstinate prejudice against the truth, their pride of heart were not hidden from Him. He knew well what they were going to do to Himself within a very few days. His unjust judgment, His delivery to the Gentiles, His sufferings, His crucifixion, were all spread out distinctly before His mind’s eye. And yet knowing all this, our Lord pitied Jerusalem! "He beheld the city and wept over it."
We err greatly if we suppose that Christ cares for none but His own believing people. He cares for all. His heart is wide enough to take an interest in all mankind. His compassion extends to every man, woman, and child on earth. He has a love of general pity for the man who is going on still in wickedness, as well as a love of special affection for the sheep who hear His voice and follow Him. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Hardened sinners are fond of making excuses for their conduct. But they will never be able to say that Christ was not merciful, and was not ready to save.
We know but little of true Christianity, if we do not feel a deep concern about the souls of unconverted people. A lazy indifference about the spiritual state of others, may doubtless save us much trouble. To care nothing whether our neighbors are going to heaven or hell, is no doubt the way of the world. But a man of this spirit is very unlike David, who said, "rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because men keep not thy law." He is very unlike Paul, who said, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for my brethren." (Psalms 119:136; Romans 9:2.) Above all, he is very unlike Christ. If Christ felt tenderly about wicked people, the disciples of Christ ought to feel likewise.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there is a religious ignorance which is sinful and blameworthy. We read that our Lord denounced judgments on Jerusalem, "because she knew not the time of her visitation." She might have known that the times of Messiah had fully come, and that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. But she would not know. Her rulers were wilfully ignorant. They would not calmly examine evidences, and impartially consider great plain facts. Her people would not see "the signs of the times." Therefore judgment was soon to come upon Jerusalem to the uttermost. Her willful ignorance left her without excuse.
The principle laid down by our Lord in this place is deeply important. It contradicts an opinion which is very common in the world. It teaches distinctly that all ignorance is not excusable, and that when men might know truth, but refuse to know it, their guilt is very great in the sight of God. There is a degree of knowledge for which all are responsible, and if from indolence or prejudice we do not attain that knowledge, the want of it will ruin our souls.
Let us impress this great principle deeply on our own hearts. Let us urge it diligently on others, when we speak to them about religion. Let us not flatter ourselves that ignorance will excuse every one who dies in ignorance, and that he will be pardoned because he knew no better!—Did he live up to the light he had? Did he use every means for attaining knowledge? Did he honestly employ every help within his reach, and search industriously after wisdom? These are grave questions. If a man cannot answer them, he will certainly be condemned in the judgment day. A willful ignorance will never be allowed as a plea in a man’s favor. On the contrary, it will rather add to his guilt.
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, that God is sometimes pleased to give men special opportunities and invitations. We are told by our Lord, that Jerusalem "knew not the day of her visitation." Jerusalem had a special season of mercy and privilege. The Son of God Himself visited her. The mightiest miracles that man had ever seen were wrought around her. The most wonderful preaching that ever was heard was preached within her walls. The days of our Lord’s ministry were days of the clearest calls to repentance and faith that ever any city received. They were calls so marked, peculiar, and unlike any previous calls Jerusalem had received, that it seemed impossible they should be disregarded. But they were disregarded! And our Lord declares that this disregard was one of Jerusalem’s principal sins.
The subject before us is a deep and mysterious one. It requires careful stating and delicate handling, lest we should make one scripture contradict another. There seems no doubt that churches, nations, and even individuals are sometimes visited with special manifestations of God’s presence, and that their neglect of such manifestations is the turning point in their spiritual ruin. Why this should take place in some cases and not in others we cannot tell. Facts, plain facts in history and biography, appear to prove that it is so. The last day will probably show the world, that there were seasons in the lives of many who died in sin, when God drew very near to them, when conscience was peculiarly alive, when there seemed but a step between them and salvation. Those seasons will probably prove to have been what our Lord calls their "day of visitation." The neglect of such seasons will probably be at last one of the heaviest charges against their souls.
Deep as the subject is, it should teach men one practical lesson. That lesson is the immense importance of not stifling convictions, and not quenching the workings of conscience. He that resists the voice of conscience may be throwing away his last chance of salvation. That warning voice may be God’s "day of visitation." The neglect of it may fill up the measure of a man’s iniquity, and provoke God to let him alone forever.
We learn, lastly, from these verses, how much Christ disapproves of the profanation of holy things. We read that He cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and told them that they had made God’s house "a den of thieves." He knew how formal and ignorant the ministers of the temple were. He knew how soon the temple and its services were to be destroyed, the veil to be rent, and the priesthood to be ended. But He would have us know that a reverence is due to every place where God is worshiped. The reverence He claimed for the temple, was not for the temple as the house of sacrifice, but as "the house of prayer."
Let us remember this conduct and language of our Lord, whenever we go to a place of public worship. Christian churches no doubt are not like the Jewish temples. They have neither altars, priesthood, sacrifices, nor symbolical furniture. But they are places where God’s word is read, where Christ is present, and where the Holy Ghost works on souls. These facts ought to make us grave, reverent, solemn and decorous, whenever we enter them. The man who behaves as carelessly in a church as he would in an inn, or a private dwelling, has yet much to learn. He has not the "mind of Christ."
v41.—[Wept over it.] This is a remarkable expression. Gualter and Gerhard call attention to it, as a conclusive argument against the doctrine of reprobation. Christ loves and pities all, even those who are His open enemies. None are hated, though none but believers are finally saved.
Wordsworth remarks, "Christ here proves His twofold nature by shedding tears as man, for what He foretold as God."
v42.—[If thou hadst known.] The Greek expression so translated is equivalent to saying, "I wish that thou hadst known."—"Oh that thou hadst known." It is like Isaiah 48:18.
[Now they are hid.] Poole remarks, "God will not allow His Spirit always to strive with man, because he is but flesh, not fit to be always waited on by the Majesty of heaven. First, men shut their eyes against the things belonging to their peace, and then God hideth them from them."
v43.—[The days shall come, &c.] The predictions of this and the following verse were fulfilled with most literal completeness at the siege of Jerusalem under Titus. Not one word failed.
v44.—[The time of thy visitation.] Poole remarks, "God’s visitations are either of wrath, or mercy;—of wrath, Exodus 32:34, of mercy, Jeremiah 29:10. It is plain that our Saviour useth the term here in its latter, not its former sense; and that by God’s visitation is meant His visiting them by the prophets, John the Baptist, and Himself."
v45.—[He went into the temple.] Let it be noted, that our Lord purified the temple from profane uses twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once at the end. Jerome considers it the greatest miracle that Christ ever wrought.
[Them that sold...and bought.] To account for the presence of those buyers and sellers, we must remember that Jews came to Jerusalem at the passover from every part of the world, and required animals to offer as sacrifices. The buying and selling of these sacrifices, in the outward court of the temple, was doubtless the proceeding which called forth our Lord’s righteous indignation.
We can hardly question that a mighty divine influence must have accompanied our Lord’s action on this occasion. Otherwise it is difficult to understand the apparent ease with which one person succeeded in producing so great an effect on a multitude without resistance.
v46.—[Saying unto them, It is written.] The remark has been made that even in purifying the temple from profane uses, our Lord supports His conduct by a text of Scripture. All reformation of abuses in Churches should be built upon God’s Word.
v47.—[He taught daily in the temple.] The connection between this verse and the preceding one ought not to be overlooked. Our Lord had just called the temple "the house of prayer." Yet He proceeds to show, by His own example, that it is to be the house of "teaching" as well as praying.
v48.—[Were very attentive.] The Greek word so rendered is remarkable. It is only used in this place in the New Testament. The marginal reading is more literal. They "hanged on him."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 19". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent