Once again we find the Lord in prayer, and this awakened in His
disciples a desire to be taught to pray. As yet they did not possess
the Spirit as we do today, and hence "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude
20), and the help and intercession of the Spirit, of which Romans 8:
26, 27, speaks, could not be known by them as we may know it. At this
period the Lord was their "Comforter" and Guide from without: we have
"another Comforter," who is within. In response, the Lord gave them the
pattern prayer, and added to it an illustration to enforce the need for
importunity. If a man will rise at the midnight hour at the earnest
solicitation of a friend, we may well come with confidence to God.
The Lord had instructed His disciples to address God as Father and
the assurances He gave in verse 10 fit in with this, as also the
statements of verses 11-13. The Father in heaven is not to be conceived
of as less interested and considerate than an earthly father. He will
not give that which is useless or harmful in answer to requests for
necessary food. Nor, we may add, will He give what is useless or
harmful if we foolishly desire it and ask for it. Many an unanswered
prayer is, no doubt, accounted for by this.
Man in his evil condition knows how to give good gifts to his
children; the heavenly Father will give to those who ask Him the
greatest of all gifts - the Holy Spirit. Here we see the Lord in His
teaching leading on to the developments that were soon to come. The
Holy Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified, as we know from
John 7: 39; but when He was given, He came upon a band of men and women
who were continuing in prayer and supplication, as Acts 1: 14 records.
We live in the day when the Spirit has been given; and so we may
rejoice in the fruit of His presence, as well as in the power of the
Word of God and of prayer.
In the next paragraph (14-28) we get the definite rejection of the
grace displayed, and of the Lord Himself who displayed it; which leads
the Lord to unfold the fearful result of this rejection and also to
further emphasize the importance of obedience to the Word.
The dumb demon being cast out, the change in the man who had been
his victim was impressive and undeniable. Many of the people however
adopted the plan of vilifying what they could not deny. The remark
about Beelzebub is not attributed to the Pharisees, as it is in
Matthew. Doubtless they instigated it, but the common people supported
them in it, as Luke records here. Others, shutting their eyes to the
many signs already given, had the effrontery to demand a sign from
heaven. In His reply, Jesus firstly showed that their accusation was
wholly unreasonable: it involved the absurdity of Satan acting against
himself. Secondly, He showed that, if true, their accusation would
recoil on the head of their sons, if not on their own.
But thirdly, and this most important of all, He gave the true
explanation of what He was doing. He had arrived on the scene stronger
than Satan. Before His coming Satan had held his captives in an
undisturbed peace. Now the stronger One was releasing these captives.
His coming presented a test to all of them: they were either with Him
or against Him. Not to be with Him was tantamount to being against Him,
for there could be no neutrality. Men might appear to be gathering
together, but if not with Him it would prove to be but scattering. This
is a point we do well to note. There is a great urge today for
gathering men together in all kinds of associations and groups; but if
not with Christ, central and dominant, it is a process of scattering,
and will ultimately be manifested as such.
Verses 24-26 are evidently prophetic. At that moment the unclean
spirit of their ancient idolatry had gone out of Israel, but though
they were "swept and garnished" in an outward way, they were engaged in
refusing the One sent of God to occupy the house. As a result the old
unclean spirit would return with others worse than himself, and so
their state be worse than at the beginning. This word of Jesus will be
fulfilled when unbelieving Israel receives Antichrist in the last days.
Not all were refusing Him however. A woman of the company perceived
something of His excellence, and pronounced His mother to be blessed.
This He accepted, for the first word of His reply was, "Yea." Yet He
indicated something more blessed still. The truest blessedness for us
lies in the receiving and keeping of the Word of God. The spiritual
link formed by the Word is more intimate and enduring than any link
formed in the flesh. The Lord was leading the thoughts of His disciples
to these spiritual verities, and the hearing of the Word is that good
part, as we have just seen in the case of Mary.
The Lord now proceeded to speak of the insensibility that
characterized the people of His day. They were asking for a sign as
though no signs had been given to them. Only one sign remained for
them, which He speaks of as "the sign of the prophet Jonas." Jonah
preached to the Ninevites but he was also a sign to them, inasmuch as
he appeared among them as one who had come up out of what looked like
certain death. The Son of Man was about to go into actual death and
come forth in resurrection, and that was the greatest of all signs:
moreover He was displaying among them wisdom far greater than Solomon's
and His preaching went far beyond that of Jonah. Why was it that the
people were not moved?
It was not because there was no light shining. Men do not light a
candle in order to hide it, as verse 33 says. The Lord had come into
the world as the great Light and His beams were shining upon men. What
was wrong was wrong, not with the light but with the eyes of men. This
is emphasized in verses 34-36. The sun is the light of our bodies
objectively: but our eyes are light to us subjectively. If the sun went
out, there would be universal darkness, but if my eye went out, there
would be absolute darkness for me. If my spiritual seeing faculty be
evil, my mind is full of darkness: if single, all is light. In other
words, the state of the one upon whom the light shines is of great
importance. The state of the people was wrong, hence their
insensibility to the light that shone in Christ.
But, if the people did not receive the light to their blessing, the
Lord at least would turn the searchlight of truth on their state. He
began with the Pharisees, and the rest of the chapter gives us His
indictment of them. The Pharisee who invited Him was true to type; a
critic, and obsessed with ceremonial details. The hour had struck for
the critic to be criticized and exposed. Nothing could be more
trenchant than the Lord's words. As we read them we may form some
conception of how men will be searched in the day of judgment.
Their hypocrisy is the point of verses 39-41. Ostentatious
cleanliness where the eyes of men reach, filthiness where they do not.
And further, rabid self-seeking lay under their apparent piety. They
were full of "ravening" or "plunder." The word, "give," in verse 41, is
in contrast with this. If only they became givers, rather than
plundering other people, all things would be clean to them, inside as
well as outside. Such a radical change as that would imply true
Verse 42 points out their perverted judgment. They specialized on
things that were neither important nor costly and ignored things of
utmost weight. Verse 43 shows that love of notoriety and the adulation
of men consumed them. Hence they became unsuspected centres of
defilement for others, as verse 44 indicates. They damaged others as
well as themselves. A terrible indictment indeed, but one that sadly
applies in varying measures at all times to those who are exponents of
a merely outward and ceremonial religion.
At this point one of the doctors of the law protested that these
words were also an insult to such as himself. This only led to the
indictment being more closely pressed home against himself. These
teachers of the law busied themselves with laying burdens on others.
They legislated for others, and coolly ignored the law for themselves.
Moreover they were marked by the rejection of God's word and of the
prophets who brought it, though after the prophets had been killed they
honoured them in building their tombs, thus hoping to gain the prestige
of their names now that they were no longer tested by their words. A
cunning device, that! But one not unknown even in our day. It is easy
to laud to the skies a century after his death a man that would be
fiercely opposed during his life of testimony. The Lord's words imply
that what their fathers had done would be done again by the sons. The
generation to whom He spoke were guilty not only of the blood of the
former prophets, but of the Son of God Himself.
Finally, in verse 52 we find that just as the Pharisees defiled
other people (verse 44) so the lawyers took away the key of knowledge,
and so did Satan's work in hindering others from entering into the true
knowledge of God. They slew the prophets, and blocked the way of life.
The Lord evidently uttered these tremendous denunciations with
calmness of spirit. The best of men would have spoken differently.
Hence to us comes the injunction, "Be ye angry, and sin not" (Eph. 4:
26). We easily sin in being angry against sin. He needed no such
command. His opponents thought they had but to provoke Him further and
He would easily succumb. He did no such thing as they anticipated, as
the next chapter shows.