Click here to learn more!
Signs of the times. The Lord continues his solemn warnings. Israel pictured in the parable of the barren fig tree.
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices; better rendered, now there were present at that particular time; namely, when the Master was discoursing of the threatening signs of the times, and urging men to repent and to turn and make their peace with God while there was yet time, for a terrible crisis was impending on that doomed land. Some of those then present, probably Jerusalem Jews, specially told off to watch the great Teacher, struck with his grave foreboding tone, when he spoke of the present aspect of affairs, quoted to him a recent bloody fray which had taken place in the temple courts. "Yes, Master," these seemed to say, "we see there is a fierce hatred which is ever growing more intense between Jew and Roman. You know, for instance, what has just taken place in the city, only the victims in this case were Galilaeans, not scrupulous, righteous Jews. Is it not possible that these bloody deeds are simply punishments of men who are great sinners, as these doubtless were?" Such-like incidents were often now occurring under the Roman rule. This, likely enough, had taken place at some crowded Passover gathering, when a detachment of soldiers came down from the Castle of Antonia and had dealt a red-handed "justice" among the turbulent mob. Josephus relates several of the more formidable of such collisions between the Romans and the Jews. At one Passover he relates how three thousand Jews were butchered, and the temple courts were filled with dead corpses; at another of these feasts two thousand perished in like manner (see ' Ant.,' 17.9. 3; 20.5.3; and ' Bell. Jud.,' 2.5; 5.1). On another occasion disguised legionaries were sent by Pilate the governor with daggers among the Passover crowds (see 'Ant.,' 18.31). These wild and terrible collisions were of frequent occurrence in these sad days.
Luke 13:2, Luke 13:3
And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things! I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. "Yes," answered the Master," these, you are right, are among the dread signs of the times I spoke of; but do not dream that the doom fell on those poor victims because they were special sinners. What happened to them will soon be the doom of the whole nation, unless a great change in the life of Israel takes place."
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? "You remember," goes on the Master, "the catastrophe of the fall of the tower in Siloam; the poor sufferers who were crushed there were not specially wicked men." The Lord used these occasions, we see, for something more than the great national lesson. Men are too ready, now as then, to give way to the unloving error of looking at individual misfortune as the consequence of individual crime. Such human uncharitable judgments the Lord bitterly condemns. Ewald's conjecture in connection with this Siloam accident is ingenious. He supposes that the rigid Jews looked on the catastrophe as a retribution because the workmen who perished were paid by Pilate out of the sacred corban money (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' Luke 2:9. Luke 2:4). The works were no doubt in connection with the aqueduct to the Pool of Siloam.
Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. The words were indeed prophetic to the letter. Thousands of Jews perished in the last terrible war by the swords of the Roman legionaries, like the Galilaeans of Luke 13:1; not a few met their death in the capital among the ruins of the burning fallen houses. We know that Jerusalem in its entirety was destroyed, and the loss of life in the siege, and especially in its dread closing scenes, was simply incalculable. Within forty years all this happened.
He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. And then, without any further prelude, Jesus spoke this parable of the barren fig tree, which contained, in language scarcely veiled at all, warnings to Israel as a nation—the most sombre and threatening he had yet given utterance to. "Hear, O people," said the Master. "In the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is a fig tree, long planted there, but utterly unfruitful. It is now on its last trial; indeed, were it not for the intercession of the Gardener, the Lord of the vineyard had already pronounced its final doom." "The very intercession, though, is ominous; the Vinedresser shows his mercifulness by deprecating immediate cutting down, but the careful specification of conditions, and the limitation of the period within which experiments are to be made, intimate that peril is imminent … The restriction of the intercession of the Vinedresser for a single year's grace indicates Christ's own sympathy with this Divine rigour... The Vinedresser knows that, though God is long-suffering, yet his patience as exhibited in the history of his dealings with men is exhaustible, and that in Israel's case it is now all but worn out. And he sympathizes with the Divine impatience with chronic and incurable sterility" (Professor Bruce). A fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. It is not an uncommon practice to plant fig trees at the corners of vineyards, thus utilizing every available spot of ground. Still the Lord's choice of a fig tree as the symbol of Israel, the chosen people, is at first sight strange. This image was no doubt selected to show those Pharisees and other Jews, proud of what they considered their unassailable position as the elect of the Eternal, that, after all, the position they occupied was but that of a fig tree in the corner of the vineyard of the world—planted there and watched over so long as it promised to serve the Lord of the vineyard's purpose; if it ceased to do that, if it gave no further promise of fruit, then it would be ruthlessly cut down.
Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. Some expositors see in this period of three years an allusion to the storied past of Hebrew life, and in the number 3 discern the three marked epochs, each lasting several centuries, of the high priests, judges, and kings. This, however, is a very doubtful reference, owing to the impossibility of separating the first two periods of the rule of high priests and judges, as these interchange and overlap each other. Another school of interpreters sees a reference to the three years of the public ministry of Jesus. A better reference would be God's successive calls to Israel by the Law, the prophets, and by Christ. It is, however, safer, in this and m many of the Lord's parables, not to press every little detail which was necessary for the completion of the picture. Here the period of three years in which the Lord of the vineyard came seeking fruit, represents by the number 3 the symbol of complete-ness—a period of full opportunity given to the tree to have become fruitful and productive. Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? better rendered, why doth it make the ground useless? It is an unproductive tree, and occupies the place which another and a fertile tree might fill.
And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it. The last year—the year of grace they who listened to him then were living in. It was the last summons to repentance, the final reminder to the old covenant people that to their high privileges as the chosen race there were duties attached. They prided themselves on the privileges, they utterly forgot the duties. The period represented by this last year included the preaching of John the Baptist, the public ministry of Jesus Christ, and the forty years of apostolic teaching which followed the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The last chance was given, but in the Vinedresser's prayer to the Lord of the vineyard there is scarcely a ray of hope. The history of the world supplies the sequel to this parable-story.
A miracle of mercy. The Lord's teaching on certain strict observances of the sabbath day then practised by the more rigid Jews.
And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. We hear little of our Lord's public teaching in the synagogues of the towns and villages through which he was then passing in this his last long journey. In the earlier months of the ministry of Jesus he seems to have taught frequently in these houses of prayer, very possibly every sabbath day. It has been suggested, with considerable probability, that owing to the persistent enmity of the hierarchy and dominant class at Jerusalem, he was excluded from some at least of the synagogues by what was termed the "lesser excommunication."
And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. The description of the sufferer, so accurate in its details, marks the medical training of the compiler here. The malady was evidently a curvature of the spine of a very grave character. Her presence in the synagogue that day gives us a hint, at least, that this poor afflicted one loved communion with her God. Doubtless the faith and trust on her side necessary to the cure were there. Her first act, after she was sensible of the blessed change wrought in her poor diseased frame, was an outpouring of devout thanks to God.
And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day. The people, as usual, were stirred to enthusiasm by this glorious act of power and mercy. Afraid, before the congregation of the synagogue, to attack the Master personally, the "ruler," no doubt influenced by members of the Pharisee party who were present, at. tempted to represent the great Physician as a deliberate scorner of the sacred Law. The sabbath regulations at this time were excessively burdensome and childishly rigorous. The Law, as expounded in the schools of the rabbis, allowed physicians to act in cases of emergency, but not in chronic diseases such as this. How deep an interest must such a memory of the Master's as this sabbath day's healing have had for that beloved physician who has given his name to these memoirs we call the Third Gospel! Often in later years, in Syrian Antioch, in the great cities of Italy and Greece, would he, as he plied his blessed craft among the sick on the sabbath day, be attacked by rigid Jews as one who profaned the day. To such would he relate this incident, and draw his lessons of mercy and of love.
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? The older authorities here read "hypocrites," and thus join the cavilling synagogue ruler with the whole sect of men who taught an elaborate ritual in place of a high, pure life. The Lord, in a few master-touches, exposes the hollowness of such sabbath-keeping. Every possible indulgence was to be shown in cases where their own interests were involved; no mercy or indulgence was to be thought of, though, where the sick poor only were concerned. He vividly draws a contrast between the animal and the human being. The ox and the ass, though, were personal property; the afflicted daughter of Abraham was but a woman, friendless and poor.
The Lord, is two little prophetic parables tells the people how strangely and mightily his religion would spread over the earth.
Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? In the seventeenth verse—after the Lord's words spoken to his enemies, who took exception at his miracle of healing worked for the poor woman who had been bent for eighteen years, because he had done it on the sabbath day—we read how "all his adversaries were ashamed; and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him." This discomfiture of the hypocrites, and the honest joy of the simple folk over a noble and Divine deed of mercy, accompanied by brave, kind words, seem to have suggested to the Master the subject of the two little parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, in which parables the growth of his glorious kingdom was foreshadowed from very small beginnings. The very small beginning he could discern in what then surrounded him.
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. The simile was a well-known one in the Jewish world. "As small as a grain of mustard seed" was a proverb current among the people in those days. In Eastern countries this little seed often becomes a tree, and stories are even told of mustard trees so tall that a man could climb up into their branches or ride beneath them on horseback. Such instances are possibly very rare, but it is a common sight to see a mustard plant, raised from one of these minute grains, grown to the height of a fruit tree, putting forth branches on which birds build their nests. It was with sorrowful irony that the great Teacher compared the kingdom of God in those days to this small grain. The kingdom of God on earth then was composed of Jesus and his few wavering followers. To the eye of sense it seemed impossible that this little movement could ever stir the world, could ever become a society of mighty dimensions, "See," said the Master, taking up a little mustard seed; "does this seem as though it would ever become a tree with spreading branches on which the birds might rest? The kingdom of God is like this seed."
It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. The first of these two little parables of the kingdom, "the mustard seed," portrayed its strangely rapid growth. The second, "the leaven," treats of the mighty inward transformation which the kingdom of God will effect in the hearts of men and women. Chemically speaking, leaven is a lump of sour dough in which putrefaction has begun, and, on being introduced into a far greater mass of fresh dough, produces by contagion a similar condition into the greater bulk with which it comes in contact. The result of the contact, however, is that the mass of dough, acted upon by the little lump of leaven, becomes a wholesome, agreeable food for men. It was a singularly striking and powerful simile, this little commonplace comparison, and exactly imaged the future progress of "the kingdom." Quietly, silently, the doctrine of the Master made its way into the hearts and homes of men. "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets" (Matthew 12:19). None on earth would have dared hint at the future success of the doctrine of the Master during the Master's life, and his death seemed as though it would effectually crush out the last feeble spark of life. The apparent result of his work was the devotion of a few simple hearts, mostly of fishermen, artisans, and the like, and yet, though men suspected it not, the secret and powerful influence was already at work among men. The story of the years succeeding the cross and the Resurrection, on a broader stage and with more actors, was a story of similar silent, quiet working. In a century and a half after the strange leaven-parable had been spoken, the whole civilized world knew something of the Master's history and doctrine. His disciples then were counted by tens of thousands. No city, scarcely a village, but contained some into whose hearts the teaching had sunk, whose lives the teaching had changed. In three measures of meal. Perhaps referring here to the well-known division of man into body, soul, and spirit. More likely, however, the number 3 is used as the symbol of completeness, signifying that the Divine purpose was then influencing the whole mass of mankind. Till the whole was leavened. It would seem as though the Master looked on to a definite time when all nations should come and worship him, and acknowledge his glorious sovereignty. If this be the case, then a very long period still remains to be lived through by the world; many kingdoms must rise and fall, new civilizations spring up, before that day of joy and gladness dawns upon the globe—that is, reasoning on the analogy of the past. Be this, however, as it may, the drift of both these parables of the kingdom distinctly points to a slow yet a progressive development of true religion. Very different, indeed, was the Jewish conception of Messiah's kingdom. They expected a rapid and brilliant metamorphosis of the then unhappy state of things. They never dreamed of the slow and quiet movement Messiah's coming was to inaugurate. One thing is perfectly clear—the Speaker of these two parable-stories never contemplated a speedy return to earth. With strange exactness the last eighteen hundred and fifty years have been fulfilling the conditions of the two similes, and as yet, as far as man can see, they are not nearly complete.
And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. This note of the evangelist simply calls attention that the last solemn progress in the direction of the capital was still going on. The question has been discussed at length above. St. Luke, by these little notes of time and place, wishes to direct attention to the fact that all this part of the Gospel relates to one great division of the public ministry—to that which immediately preceded the last Passover.
Jesus replies to the question of "Are there few that be saved?"
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? The immediate circumstance which called out this question is not recorded, but the general tone of the Master's later teaching, especially on the subject of his kingdom of the future, had disturbed the vision of many in Israel, who loved to dwell on the exclusion of all save the chosen race from the glories of the world to come. The words of the Second Book of Esdras, written perhaps forty or fifty years after this time, well reflect this selfish spirit of harsh exclusiveness, peculiarly a characteristic of the Jew in the days of our Lord. "The Most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few" (2 Esdr. 8:1). "There be many more of them which perish, than of them which shall be saved: like as a wave is greater than a drop" (2 Esdr. 9:15, 16). Other passages breathing a similar spirit might be quoted. What relics we possess of Jewish literature of this period all reflect the same stern, jealous, exclusive spirit. The questioner here either hoped to get from the popular Master some statement which might be construed into an approval of this national spirit of hatred of everything that was not Jewish, or, if Jesus chose to combat these selfish hopes, the Master's words might then be quoted to the people as unpatriotic.
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. The Master, as was frequently his custom, gave no direct answer to his questioner, but his teaching which immediately follows contained the answer to the query. The older authorities, in place of "at the strait gate," read "through the narrow door." The meaning of the image, however, is the same, whichever reading be adopted. The image was not a new one. It had been used before by the Lord, perhaps more than once (see Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14), and not improbably had been suggested by some town or fortress hard by the spot where he was teaching—a fort on a hill with a narrow road winding up to a narrow door. In the rabbinical schools he frequented in his youth, he might, too, have heard some adaptation of the beautiful allegory known as the 'Tablet' of Cebes, the disciple of Socrates: "Dost thou not perceive a narrow door, and a pathway before the door, in no way crowded, but few, very few, go in thereat?" The teaching of the Master here is, that the door of salvation is a narrow one, and, to pass through it, the man must strive in real earnest. "See," he seems to say; "if only few are saved, it will not be because the Jews are few and the Gentile nations many, but because, of the Jews and Gentiles, only a few really strive. Something different from race or national privileges will be the test at that narrow door which leads to life. "Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." The reason for the exclusion of these many is to be sought in themselves. They wished to enter in, but confined themselves to wishes. They made no strong, vigorous efforts. Theirs was no life of stern self-surrender, of painful self-sacrifice. To wish to pass through that narrow door is not enough.
When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and Co knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are. The great Teacher here slightly changes the imagery. The narrow door no longer is the centre of the picture; one, called the "master of the house," becomes the principal figure. The door now shut may still be, most probably is, the narrow fort or hill-city entrance, and the one called the master is the governor of the Place of Arms, into which the door or gate led. It is now too late even for the earnest striver to enter in. Sunset probably—the shades of night, had the Divine Painter furnished the imagery—would have been the signal for the final closing of the door of the fortress. Death is the period when the door of salvation is shut to the children of men. It has been asked—To what time does the Master refer in the words" when once"? It cannot be the epoch of the ruin of Jerusalem and the breaking up of the Jewish nationality, for then there was nothing in the attitude of the doomed people to answer to the standing without, to the knocking at the door, and to the imploring cries, "Lord, Lord, open unto us," portrayed here. It cannot be the second coming of the Lord; surely then his people will not call on him in vain. It refers, without doubt, to the day of judgment, when the dread award will be pronounced upon the unbelieving, the selfish, and the evil-liver.
Luke 13:26, Luke 13:27
Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. A very stern declaration on the part of Jesus that in the day of judgment no special favour would be granted to the souls of the chosen people. It was part of the reply to the question respecting the "fewness of the saved." The inquirer wished to know the opinion of the great Teacher on the exclusive right of Israel to salvation in the world to come, and this statement, describing salvation as something independent of all questions as to race, was the Master's reply.
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. No less than six times is this terrible formula, which expresses the intensest form of anguish, found in St. Matthew's Gospel. St. Luke only gives us the account of one occasion on which they were spoken. They indicate, as far as merely earthly words and symbols can, the utter misery of those unhappy ones who find themselves shut out from the kingdom in the world to come. "Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob." In his revision of St. Luke's Gospel, Marcion, the famous Gnostic heretic, in place of these names, which he strikes out, inserts "all the just." He did this with a view to lower the value of the Old Testament records.
And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. Instead of "shall sit down," a clearer and more accurate rendering would be, shall recline as at a banquet. This image of the heaven-life as a banquet, at which the great Hebrew patriarchs were was a well-known one in popular Hebrew teaching. There is an unmistakable reference to Isaiah 45:6 and Isaiah 49:12 in this announcement of comers to the great banquet of heaven from all the four quarters of the globe. This completes the answer to the question. It forbids any limitation to the numbers of the saved. It distinctly includes in those blessed ranks men from all parts of the far isles of the Gentiles.
And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. This expression, which apparently was more than once used by the Lord, in this place clearly has an historical reference, and sadly predicts the rejection of Israel, not only in this present world.
"There above (on earth)
How many hold themselves for mighty kings,
Who here like swine shall wallow in the mire,
Leaving behind them horrible dispraise!"
The message of Jesus to Herod Antipas, and the lament over the loved city of Jerusalem, the destined place of his own death.
The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. Very many of the older authorities read here, instead of "tile same day," "in that very hour." This incident connected with Herod Antipas, which is only related by St. Luke, not improbably was communicated to Luke and Paul by Manaen, who was intimately connected with that prince, and who was a prominent member of the primitive Church of Antioch in those days when Paul was beginning his work for the cause (see Acts 13:1). This curious message probably emanated from Herod and Herodias. The tetrarch was disturbed and uneasy at the Lord's continued presence in his dominions, and the crowds who thronged to hear the great Teacher occasioned the jealous and timorous prince grave disquietude. Herod shrank from laying hands on him, though, for the memory of the murdered friend of Jesus was a terrible one, we know, to the superstitious tetrarch, and he dreaded being forced into a repetition of the judicial murder of John the Baptist. It is likely enough that the enemies of the Lord were now anxious for him to go to Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, where he would be in the power of the Sadducean hierarchy, and away from the protection of the Galilaean multitudes, with whom his influence was still very great. The Pharisees, who as a party hated the Master, willingly entered into the design, and under the mask of a pretended friendship warned him of Herod's intentions.
And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox; literally, that she-fox. The Lord saw through the shallow device, and, in reply to his false friends, bade them go to that intriguing and false court with a message which he would give them, The epithet "she-fox" is perhaps the bitterest and most contemptuous name ever given by the pitiful Master to any of the sons of men. It is possible it might have been intended for Herodias, the influence of that wicked princess being at that time all-powerful at court. Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. "Tell Herod or Herodias that I have a work still to work here; a few more evil spirits to cast out, a few more sick folk to heal. I am going on as I have begun; no message, friendly or unfriendly, will turn me from my purpose. I have no fears of his royal power, but I shall not trouble him long; just to-day and to-morrow—this was merely (as in Hosea 6:2) a proverbial expression for a short time—and on the third day I complete my work." This completion some have understood by the crowning miracle on dead Lazarus at Bethany, but it is far better to understand it as referring to the Passion, as including the last sufferings, the cross, and the resurrection. The τελειοῦμαι here was supplemented by the utterance with which the blessed life came to its close on the cross—Τετελέσται! Τελείωσις became a recognized term for martyrdom.
Nevertheless I must walk to. day, and to-morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. He reflects, "Yes, I must go on with my journey for the little space yet left to me;" and then turning to the false Pharisee friends, with the saddest irony bids them not be afraid. Priest and Sanhedrin, the unholy alliance against him of Sadducee and Pharisee, would not be balked of the Victim whose blood they were all thirsting after. Their loved city had ever had one melancholy prerogative. It had ever been the place of death for the prophets of the Lord. That sad privilege would not be taken from it in his case.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee! This exquisite and moving apostrophe was uttered in similar language in the Passion-week, just as Jesus was leaving the temple for the last time. It was spoken here with rare appropriateness in the first instance after the promise of sad irony that the holy city should not be deprived of the spectacle of the Teacher-Prophet's death. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" It was a farewell to the holy city. It was the sorrowful summing-up of the tenderest love of centuries. Never had earthly city been loved like this. There the anointed of the Eternal were to fix their home. There the stately shrine for the service of the invisible King of Israel was to keep watch and ward over the favoured capital of the chosen race. There the visible presence of the Lord God Almighty, the Glory and the Pride of the people, was ever and anon to rest. And in this solemn last farewell, the Master looked back through the vista of the past ages of Jerusalem's history, It was a dark and gloomy contemplation. It had been all along the wicked chief city of a wicked people, of a people who had thrown away the fairest chances ever offered to men—the city of a people whose annals were memorable for deeds of blood, for the most striking ingratitude, for incapacity, for folly shading into crime. Not once nor twice in that dark story of Israel chosen messengers of the invisible King had visited the city he loved so well. These were invested with the high credentials which belong to envoys from the King of kings, with a voice sweeter and more persuasive, with a power grander and more far-reaching than were the common heritage of men; and these envoys, his prophets, they had maltreated, persecuted, murdered. How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings! God's great love to Israel had been imaged in the far back days of the people, when Moses judged them, under a similar metaphor. Then it was the eagle fluttering over her young and bearing them on her wings; now it is slightly altered to one if possible more tender and loving, certainly more homely. How often in bygone days would the almighty wings, indeed, had Israel only wished it, have been spread out over them a sure shelter! Now the time of grace was over, and the almighty wings were folded. And ye would not! Sad privilege, specially mentioned here by the Divine Teacher, this freedom of man's will to resist the grace of God. "Ye would not," says the Master, thus joining the generation who heard his voice to the stiffnecked Israel of the days of the wicked kings.
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. The older authorities omit "desolate." The sentence will then read, "your house is left unto you." Their house from henceforth, not his. Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. "Ye shall not see me." Van Oosterzee comments here: "Their senses are still blinded. The veil of the Talmud that hangs over their eyes is twice as heavy as the veil of Moses." The promise which concludes this saying of the Master can only refer to the far future, to the day of the penitence of Israel. It harmonizes with the voice of the older prophets, and tells us that the day will surely come when the people shall look on him whom they pierced, and shall mourn. But that mourning will be turned speedily into joy.
The barren fig tree.
"At that season," or "at that particular time "-whilst the pleading, warning words which follow from the forty-ninth verse of the previous chapter are ringing in the ears of those around the Lord—some bystanders tell him of judgments which had actually been fulfilled, of Galilaeans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. We have no information as to the particular event referred to. Riots, small insurrections, revolts from Roman authority, were by no means uncommon, and we know that Pilate was cruel in his repression of them. Probably these Galilaeans had been rioting, and the procurator had profaned the holy things of the sanctuary by casting their blood over the offering made by fire. And the thought simmering in the minds of the superstitious speakers was, "These wretched people had not given the diligence which had been spoken of. They died unreconciled and impenitent. They were great offenders, therefore they endured great punishment." It was a prevalent belief among the Jews that signal calamity to individuals was the token of signal Divine displeasure. This was the inference of Job's companions when they saw him in the day of his sore grief. This was the inference of the men near Christ as to the victims of the dark catastrophe. And he who knows what is in man at once finds the place of their thought, rebukes their hasty reasoning, and summons them, instead of reflecting on others, to try their own Ways and remember, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." The parable which follows enforces this appeal to the conscience. It is a short but wonderfully expressive parable. "Everything is involved in it," says Stier, "which a mission of repentance to a people demands."
I. Observe, the truth on which Jesus insists is THE NEED OF PERSONAL REPENTANCE ON THE PART OF ALL. In contrast with his audience, this was the application of the calamities related which he made. These were to him the prophecy of the doom awaiting every one who continued in his sins. Archbishop Trench emphasizes the "likewise." "Ye shall all likewise perish, i.e. in a manner similar to that in which both the Galilaeans and the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell perished. So, in the destruction of Jerusalem years afterwards, multitudes of the inhabitants were crushed beneath the ruins of their temple and their city, and, during the last siege and assault, numbers were pierced through by the Roman darts, or, more miserably yet, by those of their own frantic factions in the courts of the temple, in the very act of preparing their sacrifices. So that, literally, their blood, like that of the Galilaeans, was mingled with their sacrifices, one blood with another." All befallings of judgment which men witness should be, not occasions of criticism or of harsh stricture on others, but voices bidding to humility and self-examination. The sin which I can trace in my neighbour should chiefly remind me of the sin which has dominion over myself. If I have been kept from his transgression, let me thank the grace which has kept me, recall how great perhaps was the difference between his circumstances and mine, and ask whether, in some other form, I may not have been a transgressor as great as he. Reflections such as these will save from all Pharisaic exaltation, will send us to our knees for the erring brother, ay, and send us to our knees for ourselves—the word of the Lord sounding within, "Thinkest thou that he is a sinner above thee, because he suffers such things? I tell thee, Nay: except thou repent, thou shalt likewise perish."
II. Now see in the parable BOTH THE GOODNESS AND THE SEVERITY WHICH LEAD TO REPENTANCE. The details—who owns the vineyard? what the vineyard represents? who is the Dresser or the Gardener? for what the three years and the one year of grace stand?—need not here be discussed. The parable is a picture of Almighty God in his dealings with his Church, Jewish or Gentile, in the desire of his love, in the responsiveness of his heart to the intercession of the Mediator whom he has appointed, in the deferring of his judgment so that a fuller opportunity may be given to men to confess his presence and seek him with their whole heart, and flee from the wrath to come, Notice three of the salient features.
1. The fruit which is sought—sought year by year with increasing disappointment; fruit, the legitimate product of the tree, growing out of its life, marking its use and value. We hear the astonished "What more could I do to my vineyard that I have not done?" And nothing—"nothing but leaves." Herein we recognize the longing of the love of God. He gives to men that men may give of his, one to another. As his own goodness is "a flowing life-fountain," so is the goodness which is the expression of the new heart and the right spirit. The fruitless tree keeps a certain energy to itself. There is a power in it which remains undeveloped. It draws the moisture away from the surrounding soil, it receives the rain and sunshine of heaven; it is all an in-come, there is no out-come. Is it not the type of the kind of person who is a stranger and foreigner to the life of the Eternal—a person who is fed, but does not feed; who claims to be ministered to, but does not seek the bliss of ministering; whose character has no distinct influence for good; who is not what, in his place and according to his opportunity, the Lord of the vineyard expects him to be? God comes to men for his harvest. Is he receiving it from us? "Herein," says Christ, "is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." Remember, "much fruit"—the well-matured, well-ripened godliness of the one in whose heart are God's ways. Resemblances cannot impose on him whose eyes are as a flame of fire. Why did he curse the tree which he beheld on his way to Bethany? Not because it was barren, but because it was false. In the fig tree the fruit should appear before the leaves. He saw leaves where there had been no fruit. Profession is nothing. A routine of religious offices is nothing. Appearance before God is nothing. All this may be only an extra assumed for an occasion, and then taken off. The tree which produces is the tree that is sound at the core. The conscience right produces the life right. Repentance, the way of making the tree good; holiness, the life of repentance—for this God comes to each of us, seeking, expecting.
2. What as to the intercession? There appears on the scene the one who has been charged with the care of the vineyard. The first reference, no doubt, is to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, into whose hand the Father has given all things, and in whom is substantiated the craving of the old patriarch for the Interpreter—"the one among a thousand to whom the Eternal is gracious, and saith, Deliver from going down into the pit: I have found a ransom." it is he who ever liveth, the God-Man, to make intercession. "Yet not," as has been remarked, "as though the Father and the Son had different minds concerning sinners, not as though the counsels of the Father were wrath, and of the Son mercy: for righteousness and love are not qualities in him who is Righteousness and who is Love; they cannot, therefore, be set the one against the other, since they are his essential Being." Yes, "if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." But there is a secondary reference not to be overlooked. Before Jesus left the world to go to the Father, he promised to send the Holy Ghost as another Advocate; not another in the sense that he would be a different Person, but in the sense that he would be his other self—a Divine presence inhabiting the Church which is his body, and revealing and glorifying him. All faithful souls, anointed with the sevenfold gifts of this Paraclete, are joined with him in intercession for the unfaithful and unfruitful. The prayer of the Church is the voice of the Holy Ghost—Christ's voice echoing from human hearts. And the whole Bible is charged with the thought that, for the sake of the elect, because of their life and work and cry to heaven, judgments impending over the earth are stayed. Intercession is not a merely beautiful and becoming function; it is the power which binds "the whole round earth by golden chains about the feet of God." "Cut it down; why mischieveth it the ground?… Lord, let it alone this year also."
3. Finally, God's times and spaces—what are they? "These three years I come." The three years have been supposed to signify the epoch of the natural law, the epoch of the written Law, and, finally, the epoch of grace; Moses, the prophets, the acceptable year of the Lord's coming; the three years of Christ's ministry; childhood, manhood, old age. Whatever may be the value we attach to these explanations, the fact denoted is the long-suffering of God. Notice the two aspects of the waiting: to judge, but be gracious, and to judge and condemn. The latter is the "strange work." In grace, God comes silently; for condemnation, he comes, first crying aloud by his threatenings, "I am coming quickly," that the opportunity for the Intercessor may be given. First, the axe is laid at the root of the tree; there it lies, ready, yet the blow is deferred. "Cut it down;" yet a little longer—"this year also."
The question and the answer.
"He went through the cities and villages." The circuits into which the ministry of Jesus was divided are most interesting. "He went about doing good." One feature is suggested by the evangelist's sentence. The village is not overlooked. If the desire had been merely to gain influence, he would have limited the teaching to the city. "Win the great centres of the populations; thus you will establish your reputation; thence the light will radiate to the obscurer places; "—this would have described the method of the action. Christ had another method. The small hamlet, no less than the crowded town, was the scene of his labour. It was the passion for souls which inspired him. The human soul, under all outward conditions, was one and the same to him. "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." Note the direction of the face. He is "journeying towards Jerusalem." The shadows of Gethsemane and Golgotha are lengthening. Ever before him, and now pressing on his heart, is the thought of the decease that he should accomplish. It is the occasion at once of the Saviour's sorrow and the Saviour's joy. The teaching would have been little without the forecast of the sacrifice; apart from the sacrifice, it loses its power. Jerusalem and its cross is the reference ever present to the Christian minister, whether in city or in village. In one of the places visited, the Lord is accosted by a person of whom the only notice is, "Then said one unto him." But the incident is instructive. It reminds us of
(1) a kind of question that is to be discountenanced; and
(2) a kind of practical exhortation that is to be enforced.
I. A KIND OF QUESTION THAT IS TO BE DISCOUNTENANCED. There is no reason to doubt the good faith of the interrogator. He is reverent in his inquiry, "Lord." There is nothing captious in his tone. He is the type of many earnest minds, puzzled over the problems of human life and destiny—minds that feel the pressure of the things which circumscribe the opportunity of multitudes, the bars which seem to interpose between men's souls and salvation, the limitations arising from imperfect knowledge and untoward condition; and, looking far and near over the ever-pouring throng, ask, "Lord, what will this man and that man do? What is the extent, to which the purpose to save will be realized?" He answers by not answering. The absence of a direct reply is itself a reply. It intimates that speculations and inquiries in the line of the word addressed to him are not to be encouraged. There was the wisdom which he emphasizes in the response once given by a child of quietness to the question, "What are the decrees of God?" "He knows that best himself," was the response. There are secrets which belong to the Lord our God, and these we must be content to leave with him. The things revealed belong to us; and these are expressed in the assurances that God loved the world, that whosoever believeth in the only begotten Son shall not perish, that he who comes to Christ he will in no way cast out. They forget Christ's silence on the occasion before us who dogmatize either Calvinistically or Arminianistically. What can poor human nature do, in view of all that relates to the ultimate state of men, but simply trust him who is absolute Righteousness and Infinite Love? We may "faintly trust" larger hopes; we can, not faintly, but fully, trust him who will do what is best for all, who "hateth nothing that he hath made."
"Wait till he shall himself disclose
Things now beyond thy reach,
And be not thou meanwhile of those
Who the Lord's secrets teach.
"Who teach thee more than he has taught,
Tell more than he revealed,
Preach tidings which he never brought,
And read what he left sealed."
II. A KIND OF PRACTICAL EXHORTATION THAT IS TO BE ENFORCED, Withdrawing the mind of the inquirer from vague speculations, the matter which the Lord places next before him is this, "Agonize to enter in at the strait gate." How urgent, how solemn is the entreaty! The strait gate! Is it not a wide and ever-open one? Yes, in one sense it is. None who come with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, will be, can be, excluded. There is room for the east, and for the west, and for the north, and for the south; all nations, kindreds, peoples, and tongues. Christ's aim is, a universal religion. He throws his arms wide to all who labour and are heavy laden. But, in another sense, it is a strait gate. It is too narrow to admit any one in his sins. It is too narrow to admit the Pharisee in his Pharisaism, or the Sadducee in his Sadduceeism, or the Herodian in his Herodianism; too narrow to admit any one in his "-ism," in his self-righteousness, in anything on which he rests with satisfaction as a ground of distinction or superiority. All who enter, enter as sinners looking for the mercy of God, and desiring to be cleansed from all unrighteousness.
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling."
The entrance into the strait gate is the first of all interests, is the most pressing of all concerns. Instead of scattering energy over secondary issues, energy is to be concentrated on this. Put your whole strength into the accomplishment of the one end. Christ insists, "Strive [or 'agonize'] to enter." "Faith is a very simple thing." Yet there is a discipline which is not a very simple thing. Evangelical, especially the phase which is called evangelistic, preaching too often overlooks the discipline. It is frequently an exclusive repetition of the cry, "Believe, and you receive; believe, and you shall live." It forgets that the beginning of the gospel of Christ was "Repent!" It has not a distinct enough place for repentance. It is so occupied with the endeavour to make the way easy, that it fails to urge, with the intensity of Jesus' preaching, the necessity of a thorough self-repression, of a real taking of the cross, of the fighting of the good fight of faith. Let none overlook the agonistic side of the Christian life. Let the preacher echo and illustrate the sharp, stern, "Agonize to enter in"—not, indeed, a joyless and weary, but always, to flesh and blood, a real agony. There are three enforcements of the exhortation.
1. Many are unable to enter: unable when the desire becomes active. The door was open when the desire was torpid, when the heart was listless. They might have heard the beseechings of grace, but there was only a feeble response. Perhaps they intended, at some time, to enter; like Augustine, who prayed for his conversion, and added, "But not yet." Anyhow, the hour is coming when the impotence of unfulfilled intentions will be made manifest. Jesus' language passes (Luke 13:25) into the familiar form of parable. He imagines the Master of the house allowing the door to stand open—the invitation to all free and full. But at length he rises and shuts the door, and then those who had thought that any time would do, that there was no call to make haste, rush forward, clamouring for the entrance of which they had thought little—their clamour to be met only with the retort, "I know you not whence ye are." "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them." These had not heard his voice. It is not the attraction of his voice to which they confess; it is only the sense of their danger. And the word goes forth for judgment: "I know you not; you are not mine." The parable is not to be unduly strained; but the point which it tends to illustrate is the necessity of instant, as well as earnest, agonizing. There is a "too late, too late!" From its unutterable darkness may the good Lord deliver us!
2. Enjoyment of privilege will not avail as a plea. (Luke 13:26, Luke 13:27.) To have had the teaching of the Lord in street and house, to have lived in the marvellous light of his gospel, to have realized his fellowship and the influences of his grace,—this is much. But the vital matter is, what is the use which has been made of privilege, of opportunity, of instruction, of means of grace? That the Lord displayed his tokens in our midst may only add to our condemnation. Negligence, hardness of heart, the contempt of his Word and commandments, which is evidenced in the refusal to yield ourselves wholly to him who speaks from heaven, is iniquity; and most solemn is the protestation, "Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity."
3. Grace unavailed of is blessing lost. (Luke 13:28-30.) The Jew assured himself that in the kingdom of God, when declared, he would share the everlasting banquet with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and that part of the zest of this feast would be the consciousness that the hated Gentiles were excluded. The Lord warns his audience that the picture might be, would be, reversed. The grace which they would not use would be transferred to others, coming from the east, and the west, and the north, and the south. And he concludes with the sentence, which at other timer also he utters, "There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last." Verily it may here be added, "He that hath an ear, let him hear."
The composure and the emotion of Jesus.
I. THE COMPOSURE IN THE FACE OF A MESSAGE WHICH MIGHT HAVE AGITATED. The message may have been a concoction of the Pharisees, who, wishing to have him removed from the district, used the name of Herod to alarm him; or it may have been inspired by Herod himself, who, although desiring to see Jesus, was jealous of his popularity, and was fearful lest in some way an uproar might be excited among the people. The latter seems the more likely supposition. The circumstance that Jesus sends his reply to the king, and that in so doing he singles him out as crafty and subtle, trying to do by intrigue what he could not do openly—"that fox"—gives weight to the view that, in saying what is recorded, certain of the Pharisees obeyed the command of the human tyrant. Be that as it may, the message was calculated to disturb the mind with secret terrors. For, of all the persons who pass before us in the life of our Lord, none was more capable of doing "the hellish thing" by mean ways than this petty ruler of Peraea. His character has been thus described: "He was false to his religion, false to his nation, false to his friends, false to his brethren, false to his wife—the meanest thing the world had ever seen." What could not such a man do? Would it not be well at once to take the hint, "Get thee out and depart thence"? But how perfectly calm is Jesus! No word like that could throw his soul off from its centre. The only phrase expressive of sheer scorn and contempt which ever fell from his lips belongs to this occasion (Luke 13:32). "Go tell that fox"—that human embodiment of deceit and cunning—"I shall take my time; he cannot frighten me; he cannot hasten me. My work in his country will be done. I must work to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." Notice some characteristic points in this reply.
1. The three days. Is it a definite space of time that is marked out? If so, does it point to the remaining portion of the Galilaean ministry? or to the time which would elapse before his departure from Herod's territory? I incline to the latter view. But it may be better to accept the saying as an intimation that, deliberately and without hurry, he would accomplish his task—"not to-day nor to-morrow, but on a third day he would be perfected, or finished."
2. The clause, "it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." Ah! there is a sad irony in it. "Herod kill me here? No; I must reach the holy city. That is the slaughter-house of the prophets. It would never do that I, the Prophet of Galilee, should perish elsewhere." Sublime, serene, we have the sentences, "Behold, I cast out devils, and do cures" (Luke 13:32); "I must walk to-day and to-morrow, and the day following" (Luke 13:33). A good man's mission is a concern of God; God will take care of it and of him, so far as he is essential to it. It may be said that no person is indispensable; yet, to a certain extent, persons are indispensable. And every one who is consciously striving after the best and noblest, and who is giving himself to some labour of love, may be sure that there is a Divinity hedging him around through which no fox can break. The Herods of the world, with all their scheming, cannot shorten the times of God. As he wills, and while he wills, we must walk. Until he wills that we walk no longer, we are immortal. Reposing in his heavenly Father's love, straitened until his baptism of blood is accomplished, "journeying towards Jerusalem," the Christ of the Eternal is lifted above the region of selfish fears. Tyrant cannot harm him, threat cannot ruffle him: "Walk and work to-day and to-morrow, and a third day to boot, I must and shall."
II. BUT OBSERVE HOW AND WHY THE EMOTION OF "THAT SAME HOUR" BURSTS FORTH. These Pharisees could not scare him from his purpose, but they touched the fountain of a Divine sensibility in his breast. And now, as at a later stage, a cry of intense sorrow escapes him—the sorrow of wounded, but agonizing love. The feeling of patriotism combines with the tenderness of Saviour-longing in the wail, more than wail, which begins (Luke 13:34, Luke 13:35), "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent to thee!" The cry naturally follows the sadly ironical reference to Jerusalem as the slaughter-house of tile prophets! What are the thoughts which fill the mind of Christ as he utters it?
1. The conscious opposition between a love that would save and an obstinate dulness that will not be saved. Note the figure, so often employed in the Psalms and prophetical books of the Old Testamerit—the wings stretched out for the shelter and warmth, the peace and safety, of the brood (see Deuteronomy 32:11, Deuteronomy 32:12). "How often," says the Lord Jesus (verse 34), "would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" Is this, "How often would I!" merely a reference to previous visits to the capital and ministrations in it? Nay, it is the Lord of the prophets who is speaking; the allusion, in its full meaning, is to the often-made effort to gather the children together through the prophets whom Jerusalem killed, the messengers whom Jerusalem stoned. It is the truth afterwards brought out in the parable of the wicked husbandmen (see Psalms 20:1-9). The protest is wrung from the patient, seeking, yet often baffled will to save and bless. It is the protest which reverberates through infinite space concerning men—the protest whose subject-matter is, slighted overtures, unheeded calls, grace resisted, gifts sent away, knocks heard yet doors unopened; the "I would" of God defied by the "I will not" of men.
2. The knowledge of opportunity for ever gone. "If thou hadst known even in this thy day the things that belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." This is spoken on the same day, at the same hour, as that in which the warnings connected with the entering in at the strait gate were uttered. Observe the connection with verse 25. Solemn, awful words] The things were open to the eyes during the day, the time of Divine visitation; then the eye would not regard them. It was fixed on other things—the black dust of earthly care, or the glittering dust of earthly vanity. Now the story is reversed. The eye would fain behold. Oh for a day of the Son of man! Oh for the moments that have been thrown away! But the Master of the house has risen up, and has shut to the door. The vision now (verse 35) is a desolate house—a house left to itself, God-forsaken. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, all thy palaces swallowed up, thy strongholds destroyed, thy solemn feasts and sabbaths forgotten, thine altar cast off, thy sanctuary abhorred, thy gates sunk, thy bars broken; thou that wast called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth, abandoned, as it might seem, by him who sought to gather thee, and thou wouldst not l O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, bleak, bare, stripped! dost thou not sit in thy lonely place among the silent lonely hills, spreading forth thy hands, but there is none to comfort thee; yet ever in thy desolation witnessing, ' The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandments '?" Jesus weeps! My soul, are these tears wept over thee? Dost thou know the things that belong to thy peace? Hast thou received the One who seeks to gather thee, and whose goodness and severity urge thee to repentance? O my soul, remember that he who shed tears, from the same fountain of love and mercy shed blood also. Let the tears of compassion and remonstrance send thee to the blood of cleansing.
"Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The significance of suffering.
What does it mean, that all men suffer? and what is signified by the great calamities which some men endure? The Jews of our Lord's time were drawing inferences which were common and natural enough; but they were not the safest nor the wisest that might have been drawn. In the light of the Master's teaching, we conclude—
I. THAT SUFFERING IS ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT OF SIN. Whenever we see any kind of suffering, whether it be ordinary sickness and pain, or whether it be of such an extraordinary character as that referred to here (Luke 13:1-4), we safely conclude that there has been sin. And this for two reasons.
1. That all sin tends toward suffering; it has the seeds of weakness, of decline, of dissolution, in it. Give time enough, and sin is certain, "when it is finished, to bring forth death." It carries an appropriate penalty in its own nature, and, except there be some merciful and mighty interposition to prevent it, the consequences will be felt in due time.
2. That it is certain there would have been no suffering had there been no sin. A good and holy man may be experiencing the results of other men's iniquity, and his troubles not be directly traceable to any wrong or even any imprudence in himself. Yet were he not a sinful man, to whom some penalty for some guilt is due, he would not have been allowed to be the victim of the wrong-doing of others. We bear the burden of one another's penalty; and there is no injustice in this, because, though we all suffer on account of other men's actions, we suffer no more than is due to our own delinquency. The fact that a man is suffering some evil thing is therefore a proof that, whether or not he brought this particular trial on himself, he has offended, he has broken Divine law, he has come under righteous condemnation.
II. THAT GREAT CALAMITY IS SUGGESTIVE OF GREAT GUILT. There are two considerations which suggest this conclusion.
1. One is a logical inference. We argue that if sinners suffer on account of their guilt, the greater sinners will be the greater sufferers.
2. The other is the result of observation. We do often see that men who have been guilty of flagitious crimes are compelled to endure signal sorrows; the tempest of human indignation bursts upon them, or the fires of a terrible remorse consume them, or the retribution of a righteous Providence overtakes and overwhelms them.
III. THAT WE ARE BOUND TO TAKE CARE LEST WE DO OUR NEIGHBOUR WRONG in this conclusion of ours.
1. For the heinousness of individual guilt and the measurable magnitude of present punishment do not always correspond with one another. We do not always know how much men are suffering; they may be experiencing inward miseries we know not of; and it is most likely that they are undergoing inward and spiritual deterioration which we cannot estimate—a consequence of sin which is immeasurably more pitiful than any loss of property or of health.
2. And the calamities that have overtaken a man may be due to the fault of others, and they may be disciplinary rather than punitive in their bearing upon him. They may rather indicate that God is cleansing his heart and preparing his spirit for higher work, than that God is visiting him with penalty for past iniquity. We must therefore be slow to act on the principle on which the Jews based the conclusion of the text. There is one thing which it is always right to do. We may be sure—
IV. THAT THE WISE THING IS TO MAKE HONEST INQUIRY ABOUT OURSELVES. What about our own sin? It is certain that we have sinned. Biblical statements, our own consciences, the testimony of our neighbours,—all affirm this. We have sinned against the Lord, and deserve his condemnation and retribution. Is it certain that we have repented? Have we turned away from the attitude and the actions of selfishness, of ungodliness, of insubmissiveness, of disobedience? And are we resting and rejoicing in the mercy of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord? If not, we shall perish; for impenitence means death.—C.
We have to consider—
I. THE PRIMARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PARABLE. What did the great Teacher intend his hearers to understand by his words? It was this (as I read it):
1. The vineyard is the kingdom of God—that realm of truth and righteousness which he has been, from the beginning, establishing on the earth.
2. Israel is the fig tree which God planted in his vineyard—a fig tree in a vineyard; there not by any natural right, but at the option and discretion of the Divine Owner; there "only so long as it served the purpose of him who planted it."
3. Sufficient time was given to Israel to show whether it would prove fruitful or fruitless, the "three years" standing for its day of probation, perhaps for the three periods represented by the judges, the kings, and the high priests.
4. Israel is found to be barren; to be without true loyalty, real piety, solid worth.
5. Thus fruitless, it is only in the way; it is failing to render the service which another "people of God," another Church, would render; it is thwarting the holy and beneficent purpose of its Creator. Not only is it useless, therefore; it is positively noxious and hurtful to the world; it is a tree that must be cut down, for it cumbers the ground.
6. Jesus Christ, the Vinedresser, intercedes for it and obtains a merciful reprieve; he will expend upon it the faithful toil of a gracious ministry.
7. But he recognizes the fact that persistent barrenness must meet its appropriate fate—banishment from the kingdom of God.
II. ITS APPLICATION TO OURSELVES.
1. God is founding a broad and blessed kingdom here—a kingdom wherein dwelleth righteousness and peace; a spiritual, universal, benignant empire.
2. In it he places us, as the children and heirs of the most precious privileges, seeing and hearing (as we do) what kings and prophets saw not, nor heard; enlightened as to some most valuable points, in regard to which the disciples themselves were necessarily in the dark (see homily on Luke 10:23, Luke 10:24).
3. From us, thus advantaged, the Divine Husbandman demands good fruit. He may well expect that we should "yield much fruit" (John 15:8), much reverence, purity, love, joy, service, usefulness. He as correspondingly disappointed and grieved when he finds but little, or even none at all.
4. The unfruitful are not only the guilty, but they are the intolerably wasteful; they receive without returning, whilst others in their place would receive and return.
(1) As those who are wrought upon by Christian truth and influence, they remain unblessed, where others in their place would hearken and heed, would obey and live.
(2) As those who are professing to work on and for others, they are holding some post uselessly, where others would be scattering benefit and blessing on every hand. They cause a deplorable and unendurable waste in the kingdom of God.
5. Christ offers us a merciful reprieve. Under his patient rule we are allowed another year, another period for repentance, for reformation, for renewal of heart and life. It is a sacred and a solemn time, an opportunity which we must not by any means neglect. For if we do, the word of Divine condemnation will be spoken, and we shall lose our place in the kingdom of our Lord.—C,
The opportunity of love.
Jesus found himself, on the sabbath day, in the synagogue; and being in the right place, he found something more than he presumably went to seek (see next homily). We have our minds directed to—
I. OUR LORD'S OPPORTUNITY, and the use he made of it.
1. He found this in the presence of human infirmity. There he saw a woman who had been afflicted in body for eighteen years; she was "bowed together," etc. Not only was she subject to very considerable privation, but, as one whose figure was uncomely, she was exposed to the ridicule of the flippant and the heartless; and this without break for a very large proportion of human life. Here was a most fitting object of tender pity and, if the way were clear, of Divine help.
2. We mark the ready manifestation of his sympathy. lie instantly spoke to her words of cheer and kindliness, awakening such hopes as she had not cherished for many a long year; and then he laid upon her a healing touch: "he laid his hands on her." It means much when God "lays his hand upon us." It meant everything to this woman with the new hope in her heart, that this kind, strong Prophet laid his hand of love and power upon her person; then she felt how near he had come to her, how close at hand was the delivering hour.
3. Then came the exercise of his benignant power. A great as well as a good work was wrought.
(1) The injury by long disease was undone in a single moment; the rigidity of eighteen years was "immediately" relaxed (see Acts 4:22).
(2) The great Healer raised to the full stature and to the dignity and capacity of perfect womanhood one who had been helplessly and hopelessly disfigured and crippled.
(3) And he called forth from her, and from all who witnessed his work, reverent and grateful joy; she and they rejoiced and glorified God.
II. OUR OWN OPPORTUNITY.
1. The presence of human wrong, and its manifold consequences. Around us are ignorance, unbelief, vice, crime, sin; around us, therefore, are poverty, want, suffering, shame, degradation, death. No man who has an open eye for the condition of his kind can fail to see, day by day, some pitiful object that may well excite his deepest and tenderest compassion—men and women, all too many, whom sin has "bowed down," and who can "in no wise lift themselves up."
2. The manifestation of our sympathy. And how shall we show our feeling of regret and of desire?
(1) By our voice; by speaking the kind, true, enlightening, hope-giving word.
(2) By our touch; we shall not succeed without this. To take a man by the hand, or to lay a brotherly hand upon his shoulder, is to come into healing contact with him. It is to "come near" to the one we are seeking to bless; it is to give him the sense that, instead of "standing aloof," we feel and own and claim our brotherhood with him; it is to stand on the same level with him—the level of our common humanity, our erring, striving, suffering, aspiring humanity; it is to be where the healing and restoring power can be exercised and received.
3. The result of our healing touch. We exert the influence that elevates. The first result is enlightenment concerning himself; then faith in a Divine Saviour; then uprightness of character and erectness of spirit. The man is "made straight." He is no longer bowed down in spiritual bondage, with eyes directed to the earth; he stands erect in spiritual freedom, in purity of heart, in a large and blessed hopefulness; he has attained, through the influence of Christian love, a noble elevation; henceforth he will walk in the way of life, with all true dignity, in all gladness of soul, giving glory to the great Healer.—C.
Suggestions from the synagogue.
The fact that this work of our Lord (see previous homily) was wrought in a synagogue on the sabbath day, and that it led to an outburst of fanaticism on the part of the ruler, which was followed by the severe rebuke of Christ, may suggest to us—
I. THAT EARNEST SEEKERS AT THE SANCTUARY MAY FIND MORE THAN THEY SEEK. We may class this woman amongst the earnest seekers; for the fact that, with such a bodily infirmity as hers, she was found in her place in the house of God is evidence of her devotion. She went there, we may assume, to seek the ordinary spiritual refreshment and strength which are to be found in worship, in drawing near to God and in learning his will. She found this as usual, and a great deal more; she found immediate and complete restoration from her old complaint; she found a new life before her; she found a new Teacher, a Lord of love and power, in whose Person and in whose ministry God was most graciously manifesting himself to her. If we go to the sanctuary in an entirely unspiritual mood, with no hunger of soul in us, we shall probably come empty away; but if we go there to worship God and to inquire of his will, desirous of offering to him the service he can accept, and to gain from him the blessing he is willing to impart, then is it not only possible, but likely, that we may secure more than we seek. God will manifest himself to us in ways we did not anticipate; will show us the path we had never seen before; will take away the burden we thought we should bring home on our heart; will fill us with the peace or the hope that passes all our understanding; will open to us gates of wisdom or joy we never thought to enter.
II. THAT NOTHING BETTER BEFITS THE DAY OF THE LORD than doing the distinctive work of the Lord. Jesus Christ completely disposed of the carping and censorious criticism of the ruler. If it was right, on the sabbath day, to discharge a kindly office of no very great value and at some considerable trouble to a brute beast, how much more must it be right to render an invaluable service, by the momentary exercise of a strong will, to a poor suffering sister-woman who was one of the children of Abraham, and one of the people of God? And how can we better spend the hours which are sacred, not only to bodily rest, but to spiritual advancement, than by doing work which is peculiarly and emphatically Divine—by helping the helpless; by relieving the suffering; by enriching the poor; by enlightening those who are in darkness; by extricating those who are in trouble; by lifting up them that are bowed down? When, on the sabbath day, we forget our own exertions in our earnest desire to comfort, or to relieve, or to deliver, we may be quite sure that the Lord of the sabbath will not remember them against us, but only to say to us, "Well done."
III. THAT A FORMAL PIETY WILL NOT PRESERVE US FROM THE SADDEST SINS. This ruler was probably regarded as a very devout man, because his ceremonialism was complete. But his routine observances did not save him from making a cowardly, because indirect, attack upon a beneficent Healer; nor from committing an act of gross inhumanity—assailing the woman he should have been the first to rejoice with; nor from falling into an utter misconception of the mind of God, thinking that evil which was divinely good. We may hold high positions in the Church of Christ, may habitually take very sacred words into our lips, may flash out into great indignation against supposed religious enormities, and yet may be obnoxious to the severe rebuke of the final Judge, and may stand quite outside and even far off the kingdom of heaven. Let us be sure of our own position before we undertake the office of the accuser; let us beware lest over our outward righteousness Divine Truth will at last inscribe that terrible word "hypocrisy." Formal piety proves nothing; the only thing we can he sure about is the love of God in the heart manifesting itself in the love of men.—C.
Luke 13:18, Luke 13:19
The growth of the kingdom of God.
When we think of it we cannot fail to be impressed with the confidence, amounting even to the sublime, which Jesus Christ cherished in the triumph of his sacred cause. For consider—
I. THE UTTER INSIGNIFICANCE of "the kingdom" at its commencement. At first it was represented by one Jewish Carpenter, a young Man born of very humble parents, unlearned and untravelled, without any pecuniary resources whatever, regarded with disfavour by the social and the ecclesiastical authorities of his time, teaching doctrines that were either above popular apprehension or that ran counter to popular prejudices, unable to find a single man who thoroughly sympathized with him in his great design, moving steadily and fearlessly on toward persecution, betrayal, an ignominious and early death. Here was a grain indeed, something which, to the eye of man, was utterly insignificant and destined to perish in a very short time. Had we lived then and exercised our judgment upon the prospects of the nascent faith called by its Founder "the kingdom of God," we should certainly have concluded that in fifty years at the utmost it would have disappeared as a living power, and would only have remained, if it survived in any form at all, as a tradition of the past. But let us glance at—
II. ITS MARVELLOUS GROWTH. Truly the least of all seeds has become the greatest of all herbs; the grain has grown and become a "great tree." In spite of
(1) the determined opposition of other faiths, which resented and resisted its claim to supplant them;
(2) the sanguinary violence of the civil power, which almost everywhere strove to drown it in the blood of its adherents;
(3) the hostility of the human heart, which has opposed itself continually to its purity, its spirituality, its unselfishness;
(4) the deadly injury done to it by the inconsistency, the unfaithfulness, the dissensions of its own disciples;—it spread with wonderful rapidity. In three centuries it triumphed over the paganism of the known world; it has become the accepted faith of Europe and of (the greater part of) America, and of many "islands of the sea;" it has gained a firm foothold in the other continents, in the midst of the most venerable systems of religious error. Since the purification of its creed and the awakening of its members to their high privileges, it has made an immense advance toward the goal of a complete triumph; it has proved itself to be a benign and elevating power wherever it has been planted; it is the refuge, the strength, the hope, of the human world. What are—
III. ITS PROSPECTS?
1. It has numerous enemies who predict that it will decline and die. They regard it as a spent force that must give place to other powers. But this prediction has been often made before, and it has been falsified by the event.
2. Its friends are more numerous, and they are more intelligent, and they are more energetic and self-denying than they ever were at any former period in its history.
3. It holds truth which ministers to the wants of the human world—its sorrows, its sins, its aspirations—such as no other doctrine can pretend to. There is but one Jesus Christ in the history of the human race; but one Saviour from sin, one unfailing Refuge and Friend in life and in death.
4. God is with us in our work of faith and our labour of love. The crucified Lord will "draw all men unto him," and his salvation shall cover the earth, because the power which prevails against all finite forces is on its side. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations," etc. (Matthew 28:18, Matthew 28:19).—C.
Luke 13:20, Luke 13:21
The peaceableness and diffusiveness of Christian truth.
The words of Christ may properly suggest to us—
I. THE QUIET PEACEABLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN METHOD. The starting and the spreading of "the kingdom of God" is like a woman taking and hiding leaven in some meal. How impossible to imagine any of the founders of the kingdoms or empires of this world thus describing the course of their procedure! The forces they employed were forces that shone, dazzled, smote, shattered; that excited wonder and struck terror; that crushed and clanged and conquered. Those which the Son of man employed were such as fittingly reminded of a woman hiding leaven in some meal—silently but effectually penetrating to the depth; quietly, peaceably spreading on every hand. He did not "strive nor cry," etc.; his gospel "came not with observation," with beat of drum, with dramatic display; shunning rather than seeking celebrity, he lived, taught, suffered, witnessed, died, leaving behind a penetrating power for good that should renew and regenerate the race. There may be occasion, now and then, to say and do that which astonishes or alarms or otherwise arouses; but that is not the Christian method. The influence which steals into the soul, which insinuates itself into the whole body, which noiselessly communicates a right spirit and diffuses itself without ostentation or pretence from centre to circumference,—that is the method of the Master.
IX. THE DIFFUSIVENESS OF DIVINE TRUTH FROM WITHIN OUTWARDS. "Leaven, which a woman … hid;" not spread over the surface, but put into, placed in the heart of it, there to spread, to permeate, working from the centre towards the surface. This is the method of the gospel as distinguished from that of the Law. The Law exerts its power in the opposite direction—from without inwards; it acts directly on behaviour, leaving behaviour to become habit and habit to become principle.
1. Jesus Christ places the leaven of Divine truth in the mind, in the understanding, teaching us how to think of God and of ourselves, of sin and of righteousness, of the present and the future.
2. Then Divine truth affects our feelings, producing awe, reverence, fear, hope, trust, love.
3. Thence it determines the desires and convictions, leading to choice, decision, full and final determination.
4. And thence, moving towards the surface, it decides behaviour and ends in rectitude of action, excellency of life; so "the whole man," the complete nature, is leavened. Similarly, Divine truth is placed in the heart of the community, and, once there, it communicates itself from man to man, from home to home, from circle to circle, until "the whole" nation is leavened. But a man may ask, How is my entire nature to be thoroughly leavened with Christian principle—perfectly sweetened, purified, renovated, as it is not now? Have we enough of the sacred leaven hidden within us? It is true that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," but there is a quantity, less than which is insufficient for the work. Have we enough of the truth of Christ lodged in our minds for this great and high purpose? Are we thinking, as Christ meant us to think, of our Divine Father, of our human spirit, of our human life, of the needs and claims of our neighbour, about giving and about forgiving, and about eternal life? Is our Master's thought on these great, decisive, determining themes hidden in our hearts, doing its sweetening and renewing work within us? Christ says, "Come to me;" he also says, "Learn of me." Are we diligently, meekly, devoutly learning of Christ, receiving more and more of his hallowing and transforming truth into our mind, to stir our feeling, to regulate our choice, to beautify and to ennoble our life?—C.
Luke 13:23, Luke 13:24
Vain inquiry and spiritual strenuousness.
There is all the difference m the world between the question that is general and speculative and that which is personal and practical; between asking," "Are there few that be saved?" and asking, "What must I do to be saved?" A great many unspiritual people show no small concern respecting matters that pertain to religion. It may be that they are curious, or that they are imaginative, or that they are visionary, and that religion provides a wide field for investigation, or for romance, or for mysticism. This speculative and unpractical piety may be:
1. A vain and unrewarded curiosity. It was so in this instance; the applicant was moved by nothing more than a mere passing whim and he received no gratification from Christ (see Luke 23:8, Luke 23:9; John 21:21, John 21:22)] It will be found that, on the one hand, Jesus always answered the questions of those who were in earnest, however humble might be the applicant; and, on the other hand, that he never answered the questions of the irreverent, however distinguished the inquirer might be. And it is found now by us that if we go to his Word or to his sanctuary to inquire his will, we shall not go away unblessed; but that if we go to either for mere gratification, we shall be unrewarded.
2. The retreat of irreligion and unworthiness (see John 4:18-20). It is convenient to pass from personal and practical considerations to those of theological controversy.
3. The act of mistaken religiousness (see John 14:8). We act thus when we want to see the Divine side of God's dealings with us, or are anxious to know "the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Our Lord's reply suggests—
I. THE SUPREME IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL RELIGION. "Are there few that be saved?… Strive to enter in," etc.; i.e. the question for you to be concerned to answer is, whether you yourself are in the kingdom of God; that is preliminary to all others; that is the thing of primary importance; that is worth your caring for, your seeking after, your diligent searching, your strenuous pursuit. Surely the most inconsistent, self-condemning, contradictory thing of all is for men to be thinking, planning, discussing, expending, in order to put other people into the right way when they themselves are taking the downward road. Shall we not say to such, "Go and learn what this meaneth, 'Let every man prove his own work, then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another; for every man shall bear his own burden' of responsibility to God"? The first duty a man owes to God and to his neighbour is the duty he owes to himself—to become right with the living God by faith in Jesus Christ his Saviour.
II. The fact that ENTRANCE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD DEMANDS GREAT STRENUOUSNESS OF SOUL.
1. It is the great crisis of a man's career, and may well be attended with much spiritual disturbance. When a human soul first hears and heeds his Father's call and rises to return to his true spiritual home, he may well be affected with profound spiritual solicitude, and may well count that the goal he is seeking is worth all the labour and all the patience he expends to reach it.
2. There are occasions when special strenuousness of soul is demanded. Such are these:
(1) When a man by long neglect has lost nearly all his sensibility.
(2) When the earnest seeker cannot find the consciousness of acceptance which he yearns to attain.
(3) When a man finds himself opposed by adverse forces; when "a man's foes are they of his own household;" when he has to act as if he positively" hated" father and mother, in order to be loyal to his Lord; when downright earnestness and unflinching fidelity bring him into serious conflict with the prejudices and the practices of the home, or the mart, or the social circle; and when to follow the lead of his convictions means to suffer, to lose, to endure much at the hands of man. Then comes the message of the Master—Strive, wrestle, agonize to enter in; put forth the effort, however arduous; make the sacrifice, however great; go through the struggle, however severe it may prove to be. Strive to enter in; it will not be long before you will have your reward in a pure and priceless peace, in a profound and abiding joy, in a heritage which no man and no time can take from you.—C.
First and last.
There are many beside those to whom these words were first applied by Jesus Christ to whom they are applicable enough. They were originally intended to denote the positions of—
I. THE JEW AND THE GENTILE. The Jew, who prided himself on being the first favourite of Heaven, was to become the very last in God's esteem; he was to bear the penalty due to the guilty race that "knew not the day of its visitation," but imbrued its hands in the blood of its own Messiah. The scenes witnessed in the destruction of Jerusalem are commentary enough on these words of Christ. But this truth has a far wider meaning; it is continually receiving illumination and illustration. It applies to—
II. THE OUTWARDLY CORRECT AND THE ILL-BEHAVED. The Pharisee of every age and land is first in his own esteem, but he stands, in sullen refusal, far off the kingdom, while "the publican and the sinner" are found at the feet of Christ, asking for the way of life, for the waters of cleansing, for the mercy of God,
III. THE LEARNED AND THE IGNORANT; the astute and the simple-minded. Still we ask, "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?" Still may we, after the Master himself, give God thanks that he has "hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." Human learning, in its unholy and foolish pride, still closes its ear to the voice that speaks from heaven. Lowly minded simplicity still listens to the truth and enters the open gate of the kingdom of God.
IV. THE PRIVILEGED AND THE UNPRIVILEGED. The children of privilege may be said to be among "the first." We congratulate them sincerely and rightly enough; yet are they too often found among the last to serve and to shine. For they build upon their privileges, or they reckon confidently on turning them some day to account, and they fail to use them as they should; and the end of their presumption is indifference, hardness of heart, insensibility, death. The first has become the last, On the other hand, the ear that never before heard "the music of the gospel" is ravished by the sound of it; the heart that never knew of the grace of God in ,Jesus Christ is touched by the sweet story of a Saviour's dying love, and is won to penitence and faith and purity; the last is first. Let presumption everywhere tremble; it stands on perilous ground. Again and again is it made to humble itself in the dust, while simplicity of spirit is lifted up by the hand of God.—C.
Divine emotion, etc.
These words are full of—
I. DIVINE EMOTION. They are charged with sacred feeling, The heart of Jesus Christ was evidently filled with a profound and tender regret as he contemplated the guilt and the doom of the sacred city. Strong emotion breathes in every word of this pathetic and powerful lament, And manifesting to us the Divine Father as Jesus did, we gather therefrom that our God is not one who is unaffected by what he witnesses in his universe, by what he sees in his human children. The infinite Spirit is one in whom is not only that which answers to our intelligence, but that also which answers to our emotion; and this, of course, in a manner answering to his Divinity. He rejoices in our return to his side and his service; he is gladdened by our spiritual growth, by our obedience and activity; he is pleased with our silence and submissiveness when we do not understand his way but bow to his holy will; and he is pained by our spiritual distance from him, is grieved by our slackness and our lukewarmness and our withdrawal, is saddened by our sin. He looks with a deep, Divine regret on a Church or on a child of his that is rejecting his grace as Jerusalem did, and over whom, as over it, there impends a lamentable doom.
II. DIVINE PERSISTENCY. "How often would I have gathered," etc.! The Saviour desired and endeavoured to gather the children of Jerusalem under his gracious guardianship, not once, nor twice, nor thrice; his effort was a frequent act of mercy; it was repeated and prolonged. God "bears long" with us, forbearing to strike though the stroke be due and overdue; he is "slow to anger and of great mercy." But he does more than that, and is more than that; he continues to seek us that he may save us. He follows us, in his Divine patience, through childhood, through youth, through early manhood, through the days of prime, or unto declining years, with his teaching and his influence. He speaks to us by his Word, by his ministry, by his providence, by his Spirit. He seeks to win us, to warn us, to alarm us, to humble, and thus to save us. At how many times and in how many ways does our Saviour seek us! How often does he endeavour to gather us under the shadow of his love!
III. HUMAN FREEDOM. "How often would I!" "Ye would not!" It is quite vain for us to attempt to reconcile God's omnipotence with our freedom, his right and power over us with our power to act according to our own will. The subject is beyond our comprehension, and it is true wisdom to leave it alone, as an inaccessible mountain peak which we cannot climb; there is danger, if not death, in the attempt. But the facts are before us, visible as the mountain itself. God has power over us, and exercises that power benignantly and patiently. But he does not interfere with our freedom; that, indeed, would be to unman us, to put us down from the level of children into that of irresponsible creaturedom. He leaves us free; and we are free to oppose his sovereign will, to resist his Divine grace, to be deaf to his pleading voice, to shake off his arresting hand. He "would" that we should be reclaimed, be raised, be enlarged, be ennobled; and too often we "will not." A solemn, awful thing it is to share a human heritage, to live a human life, to incur human responsibility.
IV. HUMAN OBDURACY. Jerusalem "often" refused to be drawn to its Redeemer. Not only can we and do we resist the grace of God; we can continue to do so; and we do continue. We can spend our life in a long contest with redeeming love; we can repel the overtures of mercy and go on rejecting our Father's offer of eternal life through all the years and periods of a long life of privilege. Men do this, and to them the words of Jesus are applicable in all their force; over them, also, his lament has to be uttered.
1. It is well for those to whom it may apply to awake and to return before he says to them, "Your house is left unto you desolate."
2. It is better, for it is safer for us all to heed his inviting voice and place ourselves under the wings of his blessed friendship long before such words as those of our text are anywise applicable to us.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The grace and progress of God's kingdom.
We saw at the close of last chapter how urgent a matter it is to get reconciled to God. Luke, in constructing his Gospel, introduces us next to a cognate thought—the necessity of repentance if judgment is to be escaped. Let us take up the orderly thoughts as they are laid before us in this passage.
I. JUDGMENT EXECUTED UPON OTHERS IS A CALL TO REPENTANCE ADDRESSED TO US. (Verses 1-5.) There was a disposition then, as there is still, to set down special judgment as the consequence of some special sin. Job's comforters simply expressed the fallacy to be found in every heart. When Christ's attention was, therefore, directed to the Galilaean émeute, and to the bloody way in which Pilate had put it down, he directed his hearers to discern in it a providential warning and call to repentance. The accident at the tower of Siloam had the same significance. It was a call to survivors to repent lest a judgment as severe should overtake them. The fate of the dead was no proof of special sin, but it was a clear call to repentance addressed to the survivors, £ The warning was singularly appropriate. The cruelty of Pilate and the overturning of the tower of Siloam had their counterparts in the siege of Jerusalem forty years after, when the people had demonstrated their impenitence. Hence we should learn the practical lesson from every judgment of the imperative necessity of personal repentance. These terrible calamities are allowed to occur, not that we may uncharitably criticize the conduct of the dead, but that we may carefully review the conduct of ourselves who survive, and repent before God. £
II. BEFORE MEN BECOME FINALLY IMPENITENT AND INCORRIGIBLE THEY GET A LAST CHANCE OF AMENDMENT AND REFORM, (Verses 6-9.) The siege of Jerusalem has been before the prophetic eye of Christ, and, to impress the necessity of personal amendment and reform upon the people, he tells the parable of the fig tree. It is a history of care without any return. Orientals dig about their fruit-trees, and manure the roots, and encourage fruitfulness in every way. £ Fruitless trees they burn, after a three-years' probation. Now, the Jews were as a nation represented by this fig tree. Through long years the heavenly Husbandman had given it every chance of bearing fruit. His long-suffering is nearly exhausted, and but for the dresser of the vineyard—by whom Jesus means himself—it would have been cut down as a cumberer of the ground. His intercessions saved the nation for other forty years. And what tender care was expended on it in the closing ministry of Christ, and in the ministry of the apostles! Truly the tears of our Lord over Jerusalem, the self-sacrificing zeal of Paul and Peter and the rest for the conversion of their own countrymen, and the series of significant providences with which the forty years were filled, unite to show that the national annihilation was deserved. A fruitless nation must make way for others. Let this last chance of the Jewish nation, the forty years of respite between Christ's death and Jerusalem's doom, admonish sinners of their solemn responsibility amid similar respites still. The Lord's long-suffering, though great, is not infinite; upon it sinners need not eternally presume; a day comes round in every case, when he who will be filthy and unholy is allowed to be so still (Revelation 22:11).
III. THE SABBATH SHOULD BE THE SEASON OF SPECIAL UPLIFTING TO INFIRM SOULS. (Verses 10-17.) How should a Divine day be spent? This was the controversy Christ had with the chief priests and Jewish rulers. The rabbinical idea was that it should be a day of purely physical rest, and that even healing should be postponed to the succeeding and secular days. Our Lord, on the contrary, held that the sabbath was a day for special philanthropies, a day of opportunities such as the other days, with their secular routine, cannot afford. Hence the sabbaths were days of special miracle. Meeting a poor woman whose infirmities had been of eighteen years' standing, he took her, laid his hands upon her, and healed her. It was a glorious uplifting which the poor bent woman received. But the ruler of the synagogue, where this happened, indignantly objected to such a work being done on the sabbath day; only to draw upon him, however, the rebuke of Jesus, "Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman," etc.? (Revised Version). His argument is unanswerable. They were accustomed to deal mercifully with their own beasts, but were ready most inconsistently to deal unmercifully with human beings, who should have been more valued, but are often, alas! less cared for than dumb animals. Such hypocrisy found in Jesus a constant foe. His adversaries were thus put to shame, and the common people rejoiced and praised God for the glorious sabbath services which Jesus rendered to the poor and needy. Ought we not, then, to look for special upliftings of our infirm souls on the holy days? Jesus is waiting to heal us, and to raise us up to spiritual power. £ As Gerok daintily puts it, we should expect to pass from work-day worry to sabbath rest; from earthly grief to heavenly joy; from the yoke of sin to the service of the Lord. We do not utilize our Lord's days aright, if such experiences are not enjoyed.
IV. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A WIDENING PHILANTHROPY. (Verses 18, 19.) After the philanthropy extended to the infirm woman, it was natural for our Lord to pass to the parable of the mustard seed. This represents an insignificant beginning, followed by growth to such an extent, that under the branches of the mustard tree the birds of heaven find fitting shelter. In the same way the kingdom of God began around Jesus, apparently an insignificant Person, and eventually passed on to afford shade to many. In a word, the kingdom of God is an extending philanthropy. It widens its arms and embraces more and more in its shadow. In the same way, we may be sure that it has no true lodgment within us, unless it is making our philanthropy a growing and extending power. We are not Christ's unless we have his beautiful and philanthropic spirit.
V. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A THOROUGHLY TRANSFORMING POWER. (Verses 20, 21.) From mustard seed and its growth, Christ proceeds to speak of leaven. It is hid in the three measures of meal, and works its way onwards until the whole mass is leavened. There is thus indicated how thorough and gradual the work of Christianity is. We are not true Christians unless every portion of our nature feels its transforming power; nor will Christianity pause until it has penetrated to the utmost extent the population of the world. The great idea of the parable is thoroughness. Let this characterize us always in our connection with the kingdom.—R.M.E.
Christ's farewell words to the theocracy.
As Jesus was journeying steadily towards Jerusalem, the people saw that a crisis was at hand. Hence their anxiety to know how many would be saved in the new kingdom. They consequently inquire if the number of the saved shall be few. To this speculation the Lord returns a very significant answer; he tells them that many shall strive to enter in on false grounds, and that they should strive to enter in on true ones.
I. THOSE WHO SPECULATE ABOUT NUMBERS ARE USUALLY PEOPLE WHO PLUME THEMSELVES UPON THEIR PRIVILEGES, (Luke 13:26.) It is wonderful how men deceive themselves. Here we find our Saviour asserting that at the last people shall come maintaining that because they have eaten and drunk in his presence, and because he has taught in their streets, they should be accepted and saved. We should naturally imagine that these privileges should lead souls to inquire anxiously and how they have profited by them, whereas they are made the ground of claim and the hope of salvation. The Jews thought that, because they were possessed of privileges beyond other nations, they should be accepted before God; and self-righteous people to-day think that, because they have regularly gone to church and sacrament, and the various privileges of the sanctuary, they should for this reason be accepted and saved at last. So far from privileges constituting a ground of salvation, they are certain to prove a ground of increasing condemnation, if not faithfully used. People may be sinners all the time that they are associating with saints, They may be sitting at groaning tables provided by God, they may be listening to the lessons which he has furnished in his holy gospel, and yet their hearts may be homes of vanity, waywardness, and sin.
II. OUR LORD DIRECTS THEM TO STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE INSTEAD OF SPECULATING ABOUT NUMBERS. (Luke 13:24.) Many are more addicted to speculation and religious controversy than to decision of character. They would rather argue a point than make sure of their personal salvation. Now, what was the strait gate in our Lord's time? It was attachment to himself as the humiliated Messiah, just as the wide gate and broad way were the expectation of a glorious and worldly Messiah (cf. Godet, in loc.). It is easy to attach one's self to a winning, worldly cause; it needs no spiritual preparation. But it was not easy, but took an effort of self-denial, to stick to the despised Saviour through all his sad and humiliating experience. And the same struggle is still needed, The cause of Christ is not a winning, worldly cause. You might do better in a worldly sense without identifying yourself with Jesus. But no man will ever have reason to regret identifying himself with the Saviour. No matter what self-denial it entails, it is worth all the struggle.
III. THE LAST JUDGMENT SHALL BE A REVERSAL OF HUMAN JUDGMENTS. (Luke 13:25-30.) The current notions of Christ's time accorded to the Pharisees and religious formalists the chief seats in the new order of things which Messiah was to introduce. But Christ showed plainly that the Pharisaism and formalism of sinners will not save them or their sins in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The first shall then be last; while the last in the world's estimation shall be the first in God's. £ Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have received scanty recognition from the Pharisees of Christ's time; the patriarchs were men of a meek and quiet spirit, who did not seek to exalt themselves. Hence our Lord represents the despised ones getting to their bosom at the last, while the bustling Pharisees shall find themselves cast out.
IV. WE HAVE NEXT TO NOTICE CHRIST'S CONTEMPT FOR HEROD, (Luke 13:31, Luke 13:32.) It was thought by some of the poor spirits in the crowd that Christ would quail before the murderous king Herod, and that the sooner he got out of his jurisdiction the better. But no sooner do they suggest this to Christ, than he bursts into contemptuous terms about the cunning king. He calls him fox, and tells them to tell him, if they like, "Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." The perfection of which he speaks is that which is reached through experience. Christ was sinless, but he had to go through the whole gamut of human trial, including death itself. He had to experience all the" undertones" of human experience before he could be perfect. Hence he was "made perfect through suffering." Contempt of others may be the very finest proof of our healthy moral state. It is the antipodes of that despicable flattery which is generally extended to kings.
V. LASTLY, WE MUST NOTICE HIS LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM, BECAUSE THE MURDERER OF THE PROPHETS. (Luke 13:33-35.) Our Lord was going to perish at Jerusalem. The reason was that there the policy of the nation was carried out, and all the prophets had found there their fate, and yet Christ had offered his protection to the doomed city. As easily as ever hen gathered her tiny brood beneath her wings could he gather the whole cityful under his wings. It is a beautiful and indirect proof of his Divinity. No mere man would have expressed himself thus. £ But Jerusalem would not accept his protection. Instead thereof, it resolved to murder him, as the last in the line of the prophets. No wonder, therefore, that their house was left desolate, and that the murdered Messiah would withdraw himself until better times! He takes his "adieu of the theocracy," to use the words of Godet, and speaks of a welcome being his when the new views of a better time shall prevail. How important that we all should accept the proffered protection of the Saviour, and not imitate Jerusalem in her obstinacy and her doom!—R.M.E.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30