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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Luke 19

 

 

Verses 1-48

Chapter 19

THE GUEST OF THE MAN WHOM ALL MEN DESPISED (Luke 19:1-10)

19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. And--look you--there was a man called Zacchaeus by name, and he was commissioner of taxes, and he was rich. He was seeking to see who Jesus was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was short in height. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree, for he was to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus! Hurry and come down! for this very day I must stay at your house." So he hurried and came down, and welcomed him gladly; and when they saw it they all murmured, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look you--half of my goods, Lord, I hereby give to the poor. If I have taken anything from any man by fraud I give it back to him four times over." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

Jericho was a very wealthy and a very important town. It lay in the Jordan valley and commanded both the approach to Jerusalem and the crossings of the river which gave access to the lands east of the Jordan. It had a great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air for miles around. Its gardens of roses were known far and wide. Men called it "The City of Palms." Josephus called it "a divine region," "the fattest in Palestine." The Romans carried its dates and balsam to world-wide trade and fame.

All this combined to make Jericho one of the greatest taxation centres in Palestine. We have already looked at the taxes which the tax-collectors collected and the wealth they rapaciously acquired (Luke 5:27-32). Zacchaeus was a man who had reached the top of his profession; and he was the most hated man in the district. There are three stages in his story.

(i) Zacchaeus was wealthy but he was not happy. Inevitably he was lonely, for he had chosen a way that made him an outcast. He had heard of this Jesus who welcomed tax-collectors and sinners, and he wondered if he would have any word for him. Despised and hated by men, Zacchaeus was reaching after the love of God.

(ii) Zacchaeus determined to see Jesus, and would let nothing stop him. For Zacchaeus to mingle with the crowd at all was a courageous thing to do, for many a man would take the chance to get a nudge, or kick, or push at the little tax-collector. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Zacchaeus would be black and blue with bruises that day. He could not see--the crowd took an ill delight in making sure of that. So he ran on ahead and climbed a fig-mulberry tree. A traveller describes the tree as being like "the English oak, and its shade is most pleasing. It is consequently a favourite wayside tree . . . It is very easy to climb, with its short trunk and its wide lateral branches forking out in all directions." Things were not easy for Zacchaeus but the little man had the courage of desperation.

(iii) Zacchaeus took steps to show all the community that he was a changed man. When Jesus announced that he would stay that day at his house, and when he discovered that he had found a new and wonderful friend, immediately Zacchaeus took a decision. He decided to give half of his goods to the poor; the other half he did not intend to keep to himself but to use to make restitution for the frauds of which he had been self-confessedly guilty.

In his restitution he went far beyond what was legally necessary. Only if robbery was a deliberate and violent act of destruction was a fourfold restitution necessary (Exodus 22:1). If it had been ordinary robbery and the original goods were not restorable, double the value had to be repaid. (Exodus 22:4; Exodus 22:7). If voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, the value of the original goods had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:7). Zacchaeus was determined to do far more than the law demanded. He showed by his deeds that he was a changed man.

Dr. Boreham has a terrible story. There was a meeting in progress at which several women were giving their testimony. One woman kept grimly silent. She was asked to testify but refused. She was asked why and she answered, "Four of these women who have just given their testimony owe me money, and I and my family are half-starved because we cannot buy food."

A testimony is utterly worthless unless it is backed by deeds which guarantee its sincerity. It is not a mere change of words which Jesus Christ demands, but a change of life.

(iv) The story ends with the great words, the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. We must always be careful how we take the meaning of this word lost. In the New Testament it does not mean damned or doomed. It simply means in the wrong place. A thing is lost when it has got out of its own place into the wrong place; and when we find such a thing, we return it to the place it ought to occupy. A man is lost when he has wandered away from God; and he is found when once again he takes his rightful place as an obedient child in the household and the family of his Father.

THE KING'S TRUST IN HIS SERVANTS (Luke 19:11-27)

19:11-27 As they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell them a parable because he was near Jerusalem, and they were thinking that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So he said, "There was a noble man who went into a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself and then to return. He called ten of his own servants and gave them 5 pounds each and said to them, 'Trade with these until I come.' His citizens hated him, and they despatched an embassy after him, saying, 'We do not wish this man to be king over us.' When he had received the kingdom and had returned, he ordered the servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had made by trading with it. The first came and said, 'Sir, your 5 pounds has produced 50 pounds.' So he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have shown yourself faithful in a little thing, you shall have authority over ten cities.' And the second came and said to him also, 'Sir, your 5 pounds has made 25 pounds.' He said to him also, 'You, too, are to be promoted over five cities.' Another came to him and said, 'Sir, here is your 5 pounds, which I was keeping laid away in a towel, for I was afraid of you, because I know that you are a hard man. You take up what you did not put down and you reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked servant. You knew that I am a hard man, taking up what I did not put down, and reaping what I did not sow. You ought, therefore, to have given my money to the bankers, so that when I came, I would have received it plus interest.' He said to those standing by, 'Take the 5 pounds from him and give it to him who has 50 pounds.' They said to him, 'Sir, he has 50 pounds.' I tell you, that to everyone who has it will be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these my enemies, who did not wish to have me as their king--bring them here and hew them to pieces in my presence."

This is unique among the parables of Jesus, because it is the only one whose story is in part based on an actual historical event. It tells about a king who went away to receive a kingdom and whose subjects did their best to stop him receiving it. When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. he left his kingdom divided between Herod Antipas, Herod Philip and Archelaus. That division had to be ratified by the Romans, who were the overlords of Palestine, before it became effective. Archelaus, to whom Judaea had been left, went to Rome to persuade Augustus to allow him to enter into his inheritance, whereupon the Jews sent an embassy of fifty men to Rome to inform Augustus that they did not wish to have him as king. In point of fact, Augustus confirmed him in his inheritance, though without the actual title of king. Anyone in Judaea, on hearing the parable, would immediately remember the historical circumstances on which it was based.

The parable of the king and his servants illustrates certain great facts of the Christian life.

(i) It tells of the king's trust. He gave his servants the money and then went away and left them to use it as they could and as they thought best. He did not in any way interfere with them, or stand over them. He left them entirely to their own devices. That is the way in which God trusts us. Someone has said, "The nicest thing about God is that he trusts us to do so much by ourselves."

(ii) It tells of the king's test. As always, this trust was a test, of whether or not a man was faithful and reliable in little things. Sometimes a man justifies a certain large inefficiency in the ordinary routine affairs of life by claiming that "he has a mind above trifles." God has not. It is precisely in these routine duties that God is testing men. There is no example of this like Jesus himself. Of his thirty-three years of life Jesus spent thirty in Nazareth. Had he not discharged with absolute fidelity the tasks of the carpenter's shop in Nazareth and the obligation of being the breadwinner of the family, God could never have given him the supreme task of being the Saviour of the world.

(iii) It tells us of the king's reward. The reward that the faithful servants received was not one which they could enjoy by sitting down and folding their hands and doing nothing. One was put over ten cities and the other over five. The reward of work well done was more work to do. The greatest compliment we can pay a man is to give him ever greater and harder tasks to do. The great reward of God to the man who has satisfied the test is more trust.

(iv) The parable concludes with one of the inexorable laws of life. To him who has, more will be given; from him who has not, what he has will be taken away. If a man plays a game and goes on practising at it, he will play it with ever greater efficiency; if he does not practise, he will lose much of whatever knack and ability he has. If we discipline and train our bodies, they will grow ever fitter and stronger; if we do not, they will grow flabby and lose much of the strength we have. If a schoolboy learns Latin, and goes on with his learning, the wealth of Latin literature will open wider and wider to him; if he does not go on learning, he will forget much of the Latin he knows. If we really strive after goodness and master this and that temptation, new vistas and new heights of goodness will open to us; if we give up the battle and take the easy way, much of the resistance power we once possessed will be lost and we will slip from whatever height we had attained.

There is no such thing as standing still in the Christian life. We either get more or lose what we have. We either advance to greater heights or slip back.

THE ENTRY OF THE KING (Luke 19:28-40)

19:28-40 When Jesus had said these things, he went on ahead on the way up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, which is near the mount called the Mount of Olives, he despatched two of his disciples. "Go to the village opposite," he said. "As you come into it, you will find tethered a colt upon which no man has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if any one asks you, 'Why are you loosing this colt?' you will say, 'The Lord needs it.'" Those who had been despatched went off, and found everything exactly as he had told them. And as they were loosing the colt, its owners told them, "Why are you loosing the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it"; and they brought it to Jesus. They flung their garments on the colt, and mounted Jesus on it. As he went they strewed their garments on the road. When he was now drawing near, at the descent from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to rejoice, and to praise God with shouts for all the deeds of power they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the heights!" Some of the Pharisees who were in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." "I tell you," he answered, "if these keep silent, the stones will cry out."

From Jerusalem to Jericho was only seventeen miles, and now Jesus had almost reached his goal. Jerusalem, journey's end, lay just ahead. The prophets had a regular custom of which they made use again and again. When words were of no effect, when people refused to take in and understand the spoken message, they resorted to some dramatic action which put their message into a picture which none could fail to see. We get examples of such dramatic actions in 1 Kings 11:29-31; Jeremiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 27:1-11; Ezekiel 4:1-3; Ezekiel 5:1-4. It was just such a dramatic action which Jesus planned now. He proposed to ride into Jerusalem in a way that would be an unmistakable claim to be the Messiah, God's Anointed King. We have to note certain things about this entry into Jerusalem.

(i) It was carefully planned. It was no sudden, impulsive action. Jesus did not leave things until the last moment. He had his arrangement with the owners of the colt. The Lord needs it was a pass-word chosen long ago.

(ii) It was an act of glorious defiance and of superlative courage. By this time there was a price on Jesus' head. (John 11:57.) It would have been natural that, if he must go into Jerusalem at all, he should have slipped in unseen and hidden away in some secret place in the back streets. But he entered in such a way as to focus the whole lime-light upon himself and to occupy the centre of the stage. It is a breath-taking thing to think of a man with a price upon his head, an outlaw, deliberately riding into a city in such a way that every eye was fixed upon him. It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer courage of Jesus.

(iii) It was a deliberate claim to be king, a deliberate fulfilling of the picture in Zechariah 9:9. But even in this Jesus underlined the kind of kingship which he claimed. The ass in Palestine was not the lowly beast that it is in this country. It was noble. Only in war did kings ride upon a horse; when they came in peace they came upon an ass. So Jesus by this action came as a king of love and peace, and not as the conquering military hero whom the mob expected and awaited.

(iv) It was one last appeal. In this action Jesus came, as it were, with pleading hands outstretched, saying, "Even now, will you not take me as your king?" Before the hatred of men engulfed him, once again he confronted them with love's invitation.

THE PITY AND THE ANGER OF JESUS (Luke 19:41-48)

19:41-48 When Jesus had come near, and when he saw the city, he wept over it. "Would that, even today," he said, "you recognised the things which would give you peace! But as it is, they are hidden from your eyes; for days will come upon you when your enemies will cast a rampart around you, and will surround you, and will hem you in on every side, and they will dash you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you, because you did not recognise the day when God visited you."

And he entered into the Temple and began to cast out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, "My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a brigands' cave."

And he taught daily in the Temple. The chief priests and the scribes sought to kill him, as did the chief men of the nation; and they could not discover anything they could do to him, for all the people, as they listened to him, hung upon his words.

In this passage there are three separate incidents.

(i) There is Jesus' lament over Jerusalem. From the descent of the Mount of Olives there is a magnificent view of Jerusalem with the whole city fully displayed. As Jesus came to a turn in the road he stopped and wept over Jerusalem. He knew what was going to happen to the city. The Jews were even then embarking upon that career of political manoeuvre and intrigue which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when the city was so devastated that a plough was drawn across the midst of it. The tragedy was that if only they had abandoned their dreams of political power and taken the way of Christ it need never have happened.

The tears of Jesus are the tears of God when he sees the needless pain and suffering in which men involve themselves through foolish rebelling against his will.

(ii) There is the cleansing of the Temple. Luke's account is very summary; Matthew's is a little fuller (Matthew 21:12-13). Why did Jesus, who was the very incarnation of love, act with such violence to the money changers and the sellers of animals in the Temple courts?

First, let us look at the money changers. Every male Jew had to pay a Temple tax every year of half a shekel. That was equal to about 6 pence, but, in evaluating it, it must be remembered that it was equal to nearly two days' pay for a working man. A month before the Passover, booths were set up in all the towns and villages and it could be paid there; but by far the greater part was actually paid by the pilgrims in Jerusalem when they came to the Passover Feast. In Palestine all kinds of currencies were in circulation, and, for ordinary purposes, they were all--Greek, Roman Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian--equally valid. But this tax had to be paid either in exact half shekels of the sanctuary or in ordinary Galilaean shekels. That is where the money changers came in. To change a coin of exact value they charged one maah, which was equal to 1 pence. If a larger coin was tendered a charge of one maah was made for the requisite half shekel and of another maah for the giving of change. It has been computed that these money changers made a profit of between 28,000 and 9,000 British pounds per anum. It was a deliberate ramp, and an imposition on poor people who could least of all afford it.

Second, let us look at the sellers of animals. Almost every visit to the Temple involved its sacrifice. Victims could be bought outside at very reasonable prices; but the Temple authorities had appointed inspectors, for a victim must be without spot or blemish. It was, therefore, far safer to buy victims from the booths officially set up in the Temple. But there were times when a pair of doves would cost as much as 75 pence inside the Temple and considerably less than 5 pence outside. Again it was a deliberately planned victimization of the poor pilgrims, nothing more or less than legalized robbery. Worse, these Temple shops were known as the Booths of Annas and were the property of the family of the High Priest. That is why Jesus was brought first before Annas when he was arrested (John 18:13). Annas was delighted to gloat over this man who had struck such a blow at his evil monopoly. Jesus cleansed the Temple with such violence because its traffic was being used to exploit helpless men and women. It was not simply that the buying and selling interfered with the dignity and solemnity of worship; it was that the very worship of the house of God was being used to exploit the worshippers. It was the passion for social justice which burned in Jesus' heart when he took this drastic step.

(iii) There is something almost incredibly audacious in the action of Jesus in teaching in the Temple courts when there was a price on his head. This was sheer defiance. At the moment the authorities could not arrest him, for the people hung upon his every word. But every time he spoke he took his life in his hands and he knew well that it was only a matter of time until the end should come. The courage of the Christian should match the courage of his Lord. He left us an example that we should never be ashamed to show whose we are and whom we serve.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 19:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/luke-19.html. 1956-1959.

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