In speaking the parable, with which this chapter opens, the Lord was
continuing the same line of thought, as is shown by His application of
the parable in verses 7 and 8. When the kingdom arrives it will mean
judgment for the evil-doers, but the days just before its arrival will
mean tribulation for saints. Their resource will be prayer. Even an
unjust judge will be moved to right the wrongs of a widow, if she is
sufficiently importunate; so the saint may continue waiting upon God
with the assurance of being heard in due season.
There is not the smallest doubt about the coming of the Son of Man
to answer the cries of His elect. The only doubt is as to faith being
found in lively exercise amongst them. The Lord asked the question,
"Shall He find faith on the earth?" but He did not answer it. The
inference seems to be that faith will be at a low ebb, which agrees
with His own plain statement elsewhere that, "the love of many shall
wax cold." If we are right in believing that the end of the age draws
very near, we shall do well to take this very much to heart, and stir
ourselves up to faith and prayer. Only if we always pray shall we not
The man who prays trusts in God. The trouble with so many is that
they trust in themselves and in their own righteousness. To these the
next parable is addressed. The Pharisee and the publican are typical
men. The Lord takes for granted that God's grace, which brings
justification for men, was available, but shows that all depends on the
attitude of the one who needs it. The Pharisee exactly represents the
elder son of chapter 15, the rich man of chapter 16, the unrepentant
thief of chapter 23. The publican represents the younger son, Lazarus,
and the repentant thief.
With the Pharisee it was himself, his character, his deeds. With the
publican, the confession of sin, and of his need of propitiation-the
word translated, "be merciful," is literally, "be propitious." How full
of significance is verse 13! His position: "afar off," indicating he
knew he had no right to draw near. His attitude: not lifting "his eyes
unto heaven,"-heaven was no place for such a man as he. His action:
"smote upon his breast," thus confessing that he was the man who
deserved to be smitten. His words: "me, the sinner," for it is the
rather than a here. The Pharisee had said, "I am not as other men,"
smiting other men rather than himself. The publican hit the right man,
and humbling himself was blessed.
How strikingly all this fits in with the special theme of this
Gospel. Grace was there in abundance in the perfect Son of Man, but
except there be on our side the humble and repentant spirit, we miss
all that it offers.
The next incident, which Luke relates briefly in verses 15-17,
enforces just the same thing. Mere babes do not count in the world's
scheme of things, but of such the kingdom is composed. It is not, as we
should have thought, that the babe must reach up to full-grown estate
to enter, but that the full-grown man must reach down to the babe's
estate to enter. The former might have suited the law of Moses, but
grace is in question here.
Again the next incident, concerning the rich young ruler, lays its
emphasis on the same point. The Lord had just spoken of receiving the
kingdom as a little child, when the ruler asks, "What shall I do to
inherit eternal life?" His mind swung back to the works of the law, not
knowing what Paul tells us in Romans 4: 4, "To him that worketh is the
reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." Approaching on this basis,
the Lord referred him to the Law, as regards his duty to his neighbour,
and on his claiming to have complied from his youth up, He tested him
further as to his relation to Himself. "Come, follow Me." Who is this
Me? That was the supreme question, on which everything hinged, whether
for the ruler or for ourselves.
The ruler had addressed Him as "Good Master," and this complimentary
epithet the Lord had refused apart from the acknowledgment that He was
God. In truth He was God, and He was good, and He presented Himself to
the young man, bidding him relinquish what he possessed and follow
Him-just as Levi had done some time before. Even the law demanded that
God should be loved with all the heart. Did the ruler love God thus?
Did he recognize God in the lowly Jesus? Alas, he did not. He might
claim to have kept commandments relating to his neighbour; he utterly
broke down when the first of all the commandments was in question. In
his eyes his riches had in them greater value than Jesus.
With great difficulty does a rich man enter into the kingdom of God,
since it is so difficult to have riches without the heart becoming
absorbed by them to the exclusion of God. To those who thought of
riches as tokens of God's favour all this seemed very disturbing, but
the truth is that salvation is impossible to man, yet possible to God.
This brings us back to the point which is in question. The kingdom
cannot be earned, much less eternal life. All must be received as gifts
from God. And if, in receiving the gift, other things are surrendered,
there is an abundant recompense both now and in the world to come.
This saying of our Lord, recorded in verses 29 and 30, is a very
sweeping one. In the present time there is manifold more for everyone
who has given up good things of earth for the sake of the kingdom. Any
difficulty we may have in understanding this is based upon our failure
to appraise rightly the spiritual favours which make up the "manifold
more." Paul illustrates that saying for us. Read Philippians 3, and see
how he reckoned up the spiritual wealth poured into his bosom after he
had "suffered the loss of all things." Like a camel stripped of every
rag it had carried, he had passed through the needle gate, only to find
himself loaded with favours on the other side.
All this would sound very strange to the Jewish mind, but the fact,
which explained it all, was that the Son of Man was not at this time
going to take the kingdom, but rather to go up to Jerusalem to die. So
again at this point Jesus spoke of the death which was just before Him.
The prophets had indicated that this was the way in which He would
enter into His glory, though the disciples failed to understand it. And
even though He thus again instructed them, they failed to take it in.
Such is the power that preconceived notions can attain over the mind.
The Lord was now on His final journey to Jerusalem, and He
approached Jericho for the last time. The blind man intercepted Him in
faith. The crowd told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, yet he
at once addressed Him as the Son of David, and asked for mercy. The
rich ruler had asked what he should do, when the Lord had just spoken
of the kingdom being received. The blind beggar said that he would
receive when the Lord enquired what He should do to him. No transaction
came to pass in the case of the ruler: a transaction was completed on
the spot in the case of the beggar. The contrast between the two cases
is very decisive.
The beggar received his sight, and, said the Lord, "Thy faith hath
saved thee." This shows that the transaction went deeper than the
opening of the eyes of his head. He became a follower of the Jesus, who
was going up to Jerusalem and to the cross; and there was glory to God,
both on his part and on the part of all the beholders. An equally
distinct case of spiritual blessing met the Lord when He entered and
passed through Jericho.
If, at this point, Luke's Gospel be compared with Matthew 20: 29-34,
and Mark 10: 46-52, a serious discrepancy becomes evident. Luke most
definitely places the cure of the blind man as Jesus approached
Jericho, and the other two Evangelists as definitely place it as He
left Jericho. With our limited knowledge it seemed impossible on this
point to reconcile the different accounts. But during the last few
years the archaeologists have been digging in the Jericho area, and
have laid bare the foundations of two Jerichos; one, the old original
city, the other, the Roman Jericho, a short distance off. The blind man
understood the begging business and planted himself between the two!
Luke writing for Gentiles, naturally has the Roman Jericho in his mind.
The other Evangelists very naturally are thinking of the original city.
We mention this to show how very simply what looks like an insuperable
objection vanishes, when we know all the facts.