Lecture 11: Luke
We are going to look at the Gospel of Luke today. What I want to do is look at some of the unique features in Luke. All of Mark except for about sixty verses or so are in Luke. Some of what we looked at in Matthew already is in Luke, so I tried to pick out some of the what is unique to Luke, because he has certain themes that are very strong and I want to give them their due weight.
Introduction to Luke
By way of introduction let me say a few things in terms of authorship. It’s rarely contested in the academic books that this third gospel is written by Luke. This is the same Greek physician we read about in the Book of Acts. He was Paul’s traveling companion and in fact he also was the author of Acts. Sometimes books will refer to Luke-Acts and hyphenate it because the same author, Luke, wrote both. In terms of audience, he tells us in 1:3 that he’s writing specifically for someone named Theophilus. Theophilus was probably the patron of the man who footed the bill to free up Luke from his physician’s work to be able to research and study and to be able to write out this gospel.
In terms of audience, we think that Luke was writing primarily for a Greek audience. We talked about how Matthew seemed to be focusing on a Jewish audience, and so for example, he was pointing out every time that Jesus fulfilled prophecy because that’s important to a Jew. There’s a lot in the Gospel of Luke that suggests strongly that as a Gentile, he was writing for Gentiles, and we’ll start to see this played out as we go through it. Luke was writing not just to the Greeks, in other words, not just to the non-Jews, but Luke has a heart for the disenfranchised. Jesus had a heart for the disenfranchised and Luke is really strongly going to bring out that emphasis. By the way, when we talk about emphases in gospels, where that comes about is when you line up Matthew, Mark, and Luke side-by-side and read them, you start seeing patterns for the kinds of stories one includes or omits, so you can see what their individual emphases were.
Luke has a real interest in making it clear the gospel was for women, and in that cultural, that was one of the disenfranchised groups. It was also very much was for the poor, that they weren’t to be left out of the proclamation of the gospel. For example, one of the interesting questions in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is, “is this the same as in Matthew or is it different?” In the Beatitudes, Matthew has, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” whereas Luke has, “Blessed are the poor.” It reads differently, but there’s a strong emphasis the gospel is for the poor. There’s a very strong emphasis in Luke that the gospel is also for those who are outside of the religious establishment—the sinners, the tax collators, people who would not follow Jewish religious externals. Luke is wanting to make it very clear that the gospel, while it is for the Jews, isn’t just for the Jews; it’s for all the Gentiles and all social groups.
In terms of the purposes, and I’ve overlapped a little bit here, one of the purposes is the certainty of the gospel. In Luke 1:4, he says he’s telling them why he wrote them: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” There’s a really strong emphasis on historicity in Luke and we’ll see some of that pretty quickly. Secondly, in terms of purpose, is the universal offer of salvation. That probably comes through more clearly than anything else in Luke. The Gospel is for absolutely everyone. As I said, what I’m going to do is pick and chose different topics trying to fill out the gospel message that we have in Mark and Matthew.
You’re going to need to keep your Bibles open because although we’re going to go sequentially, we’ll be popping around. Luke, like Matthew, has a series of birth narratives, which are stories about the prophecies of Jesus’s and John’s birth and then their actual birth. One of the things that Luke has that the others don’t is the presentation at the temple when Jesus is eight days old. This is Luke 2:22. It was Jewish custom that if the first child was a male, he would be consecrated to the Lord and they would take him to the temple on the eighth day, and they would name him and circumcise him. The question is, Luke why did you include this story? The answer may be: because I wanted to, or it was true, or I thought it was important. At other times, when you start reading the stories that are just in Luke and aren’t elsewhere, you start seeing Luke’s themes come out and that’s what I want to point out to you.
They went in to make the offering for Jesus, starting at verse 25, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (25). It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (26).” God had promised Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. Joseph and Mary come, and God evidently pointed them out to Simeon and said, “That’s the Messiah.” Look at verse 29; this is what Simeon says, “LORD, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word (29); for my eyes have seen your salvation (30) that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples (31), a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (32).”
When I say that Luke has a strong emphasis that the Gospel is for all people, that is one of the first hints at it in all of the Gospel. The Book of Acts especially the first part of it, shows you how significant this is, because the Jews believed that the Messiah and the Gospel were for Jews only. In the early chapters of Acts when they start preaching to Samaria, the Jewish Christians get upset because thy consider them not to be true Jews. Then Peter goes to Cornelius, to a Gentile, and they are upset again. Then you have in Acts 15 the Jerusalem council where it is finally established that the Gospel is for non-Jews. You have 15 chapters in Acts on this issue of religious bigotry. It’s really significant that from the very beginning, Luke wants to make it clear the Gospel was always for non-Jews as well as Jews. There you have a little piece of it.
The story continues and later on in verse 41, Jesus is now twelve years old and he goes with his family and relatives to the temple to Jerusalem to visit. It’s interesting there’s that something inside us that says, what was he like when he was a baby? Did he wet his diapers? Did he cry at night? Was he a perfect baby? At what point did Jesus know who he fully was? When he was a baby, did he have the consciousness of God? We just don’t know, but we do know because of this story that by the time he was twelve, he fully knew who he was; he understood that God was his father. If you go to the Pseudepigrapha, the made up infancy narratives. You can see that some of the early church wondered what Jesus was like because there is story after story. I read some of them to you: Jesus stretching out the wood that Joseph had cut short, the raising of the boy from the dead to prove that he hadn’t pushed him out of the window, and breathing life into the mud sparrows and they flew away. There are a lot of those crazy stories because people are really curious, but this is just about the only, well this is the only story after his birth that we know about him. I guess we know when he was about two he was taken to Egypt to get away from Herod, but this is the only story.
Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem and they went to go home. About a day after the trip back home, they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them, so they went back and they searched Jerusalem, which can swell to over a million people during the festival so it can take awhile to find a kid. Verse 46: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (46). all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers (47). when his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress (48).’” I think I would have said it a little more strongly. Of course I didn’t have a baby as a virgin either, so she’s always known that something was up with this kid. “He said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (49)?’” I want to ask him, was it really fair to ask your parents to believe that it was okay to stay behind when everyone left and enter theological debates because this is your Father’s house? The answer is, of course it was, Bill. But I’d like to know a little more detail, because he hadn’t sinned in doing this. Certainly by the age of twelve he knows that God is his Father and that he’s not a normal child, but then it says he went back to Nazareth and was submissive to them and increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. I’ve often said in sermons it must have been really hard to be Jesus’s brother or sister: “Why can’t you be like your big brother?” It must have been unbearable, or as I like to say it, “Mom, Jesus is doing it again, he’s out there saying, I am vine you are the branches, make him stop.” It must have been hard; he was the perfect child.
Beginnings of Ministry and Temptation
The years go by and we come to chapter 3, when Jesus was about 30 years old. Look how chapter 3 starts: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (1), during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John (2).” Why is he doing that? He’s really narrowing it down. This is Luke the historian; this is Luke saying this stuff really happened and you need to know exactly when it happened. He’s a medical doctor. Most medical doctors I would assume have a real attention to detail, at least the ones that cut me open have a real attention to detail. This is Luke saying this really happened and I have a real interest in historicity, that’s all.
We have the story of John the Baptist, and Luke tells us basically what Mark tells us. You get down to 3:23 and you have this verse I referred to earlier, “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age.” That’s a really important time designation. It’s very old to go out on your own at thirty in that culture. One of the guesses is that Joseph had died sometime earlier, because we never hear from him again. We hear about his mom and his brothers and sisters coming to get him because they thought he was crazy at one time, but you don’t hear of Joseph again. So it’s guessed that Joseph died and Jesus as a first-born son was responsible to stay around the home a lot longer than normal and take care of the family and help raise his brothers and sisters. He was thirty, and since his public ministry lasted three and a half years because we know of three Passovers that puts his death when he was thirty-three and half years old. Dating wise those are some of the important dates.
I do want to talk about the temptation a bit. The order is different in Luke than in Matthew, we talked about that. Jesus goes out to the desert. He’s driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by Satan. In Luke 4:3, Satan comes and says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone (4).’" The devil takes him up and shows him all the world in an instance and says, “If you’ll worship me then I will give all this to you (7).” Jesus says, “No, I’m only going to worship God. ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve (8).’” Then the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem; we don’t know if this was real or visionary or what, it probably doesn’t matter. “He took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here (9).’ And the devil quotes Scripture right back, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you (10),’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone (11).’” Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (12).”’
My question on the temptation is, what was it? I mean the second and third are pretty obvious, a temptation to worship Satan instead of worship God. As far as the jumping off the temple is, I can see a temptation to do something that is out of character, that is spectacular, that will awe people so they will believe you. But for years, I taught this and I wondered what was so wrong about turning a stone to bread. The whole point of a temptation is that if you do it you sin, right? What would be the sin of Jesus using divine power to feed himself. Well, there are two basic answers that commentaries give as to the temptation. The first one is a literary symbolic answer. Most commentators feel that there is a tremendous amount of symbolism in how Jesus lived his life as the Son of God with how Israel as a nation had lived their lives. They too, are called the son of God, with a small “s” in the Old Testament. Jesus, the Son of God, succeeds in his wilderness testing in contrast to the nation of Israel, who is also the son of God, but who failed its wilderness test. Some people feel that there’s a lot of symbolism going on and just as the nation Israel failed and ended up getting punished for forty years in the wilderness and everyone dying off except for Joshua and Caleb, Jesus is the leader of the new Israel. He is not going to fail the test; this time is going to be different. It’s a pretty good argument. I’m not a real symbolic guy and these things don’t do much for me, but it seems to be the answer that is given in most of the commentaries.
Student: Couldn’t it be as simple as he was in the desert for forty days, and he’s really hungry, and even though he’s God, by turning the stone into bread he’s taking things into his own hands instead of trusting his Father?
Response: That’s the second answer and it’s the one that I’m more persuaded by. Whenever I take a position that’s not mainstream in the commentaries I want you to know that. Most of the commentaries see a tremendous amount of symbolism going on. For me, I think the the temptation is about what Son of God you are going to be. One of the answers is that it’s a temptation so if you do anything that Satan recommends you do it’s going to be wrong. What I’m a little more comfortable in saying is that Satan knows who Jesus is; all the demons know who he is, that’s not a question. I think the temptation is, “What Son of God are you going to be?” Are you going to be the Son of God that your Father sent you to be or are you going to take the quick and easy way out? There are several ways you can take the quick and easy way out. You can use your power to meet your own needs and not trust God, are you going to do that? You going to turn the stones to bread? No. Are you going to violate God’s laws to achieve a quick victory—you worship me and I’ll give you all of this? No, I’m not going to. Well, why don’t you do something spectacular, something that won’t require anyone to believe anything, but they’ll see you float down from the pinnacle of the temple and obviously you are the Messiah. Jesus says, No, that’s not the Son of God I’m going to be. I’m going to be obedient to my Father and do things as he wants me to do. I’m going to follow God’s plans of serving, suffering and dying. That’s my best guess at what’s going on in the temptation. There are a lot of applications you can do out of this. How do you handle temptation? You quote Scripture. How do you handle temptation? You make sure you’ve understood Scripture even when it gets twisted.
Rejection in Nazareth
Well, he gets through the temptation and he starts his ministry. He goes to Nazareth. Jesus just likes to pick fights. He wakes up Saturday morning and he looks especially hard for someone to heal to tick off the Pharisees. Many of the healings are on Saturday (Sabbath). Look what he does here, he goes to Nazareth and, as was typical, they had different segments in this synagogue service. One of them was that if there was a famous person there, they would be asked to come and explain or to read or to do something. They ask Jesus to come and he reads this passage out of Isaiah. Then, Luke 4:21, “He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (21).’ All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth (22)” You know, I wish I could say today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing and have people marvel at my gracious words. We obviously only have a snippet of what Jesus said and it started with verse 21 and they responded in 22. He has them in the palm of his hand; they are very happy.
Skip down to verses 28 and 29, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this (28). They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff (29).” What happened? How can he tick off people that quickly, and turn them to wanting to kill him? You have to understand that something is going to happen here, and I say that because when you and I read this it’s going to seem not to be a big deal, but to them evidently this was a big deal to the Jews, something really made them mad. In verse 23, “he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Physician, heal yourself.”’ It’s like saying, “Now you’re probably going to want me to do a miracle aren’t you. Well, I’m not going to do it.” Then he tells them why, verse 25: “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah,” (one of the Old Testament prophets), “when the Heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land and Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Now you can hear God’s people going to the disenfranchised; “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian (27).”
What is the problem? What did he say that made them so mad? He talked about non-Jews. Both of these areas, Sidon and Syria, are outside of Israel. He’s just quoting Old Testament stories, and these Jews know these stories, but he’s saying, “You probably want me to do a miracle, but no prophet is accepted in his own country, and the implication is that just like Elijah and Elisha, I’m going to non-Jews.” Their religious bigotry was so intense that they were going to kill him for it. I don’t think we can understand the offense that some Jews felt, but when you see stuff like that you get a taste for it. It was intense.
We moved to Kentucky in 1967, and I grew up in Minnesota so we had moved into a southern state. It was a huge cultural conflict. In 1957 in Bowling Green there were still black and white bathrooms and still black and white fountains downtown. This was way later; they were supposed to have been taken out by now, but we got there on the tail end of that. After being there three or four years, Dad started preaching at a small church in a little town called Smiths Grove outside of Bowling Green. The people there were great; we enjoyed the time with them immensely: tobacco farmers and other kinds of farmers. My sister was in Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) at the time, and she and their team had been down in Florida and they were on their way back to Michigan. One of the Cru’s people was an African-American. They stayed at our home for a couple of days, and we decided to all go to church together. We got in a couple of cars and went to Smiths Grove. Mom and Dad had been in that church for a couple of years, and the thought crossed their minds, “I wonder about having a black in this church, but these are people. They have given their lives to cold-turkey witnessing in the University of Michigan. They are good Christians; this is an amazing group of people.” We went to church and had the service and everything was normal. The next morning, we started getting phone calls, and they were vile and they were nasty, because she wasn’t acceptable in their culture.
That’s the best example I know to give of what’s going on here. It’s this intense, hatred of someone simply because they weren’t like you. That was the ethnocentrism that Jesus had to work with and the ethnocentrism that wanted to limit the Kingdom of God only to the Jews. Jesus is saying, “No, the Gospel is for all people.” I would encourage you to think through this issue, because I wonder if we have learned the lesson of Luke adequately. I wonder if we’re really offering the Gospel to all people, regardless of social economic level, of color, of political party, of whatever. I just think it’s an interesting question because I believe ethnocentrism is in everyone’s heart. I don’t believe any of us are ever free of it, and we work at different levels to get rid of it, but I think it’s in most everyone.
You can imagine, for example, if someone went through World War II and lost everyone. At one point in time my grandpa and my dad and my uncle were in the war at the same time and there were families that lost all the men. I wonder how grandma would have felt if my dad and his brother and his dad had all been killed in the WWII. Would grandma have preached to the Japanese? My grandma would have, because but she was an amazing person, but you can start to feel the hatred that can happen. Luke is asking us, are you preaching the Gospel to everyone?
Jesus then goes down to Capernaum, at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It is the biggest city in the area it is a major city, a major trade route runs through it. Jesus is going to the biggest city he can find in Galilee. That became the center of his ministry. There are exorcisms, healings, calling of his disciples, and more miracles and healings. There are a series of conflict stories, with the religious leaders, and many other different stories that are interesting to read.
Luke’s Version of The Beatitudes
In Luke 6 we have something that feels like the Sermon on the Mount, and yet and there is quite a bit of discussion about it. You can see the difference right away in verse 20-21: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” It has a different emphasis than The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I’m pretty convinced that chapter 6 in Luke is different from the Sermon on the Mount, so I don’t try to make them say the same thing. It was rabbinic teaching method to repeat yourself a lot, and you can repeat things with different emphases and with variations. I think Jesus found out that beatitudes were a good way to start a sermon and so he probably started quite a few sermons that way. So this is Luke’s version of them.
Four Stories about “Others”
After the sermon, we have an interesting series of four stories. This is titled Four Stores about “Others.” “Others” is in quotation marks because it means people who are outside the veil of normal Jewish religious activity. This is Luke saying that the Gospel is for everyone.
The Centurion’s Servant
In chapter 7, the first person we mean is this centurion, and the important part here is that he is a Roman Soldier so he’s certainly not Jewish. The Centurion has a servant who must have been very close to him and who was sick. He wants Jesus to heal his servant, and Jesus is on the way in verse 6. “When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7Therefore I did not presume to come to you, but say the word, and let my servant be healed.’” It goes on for a while and Jesus responds in verse 9, “…not even in Israel have I found such faith.” It’s a great statement of faith just in and of itself that this centurion believed so deeply in Jesus’s ability to heal that he said, don’t even come to my house you can just say the word and my servant will be healed. In Luke’s overall scheme, it’s very important because you have a non-Jew exhibiting more faith than any Jew has. You start seeing these models of faith outside of your normal parameters. In my Bowling Green context, it would be like giving an example where a black person had great faith in a church full of white people.
The Widow’s Son
You have the story of the centurion’s servant, and then you have the story of the raising of the widow’s son in a public place. Jesus brings him back to life again the operative word is that she was a widow. She was at the bottom of the social ladder, she was helpless without her son and Jesus takes pity on her and brings her son back to life.
The Sinful Woman
Then starting at verse 36, skipping the story of John the Baptist, you have the story of a “sinful” woman. One of the Pharisees asks Jesus over. They do not anoint his head; they do not wash his feet; they do not do those very basic polite things to do in that culture. Yet this woman of ill repute, as we say, comes in. There’s an awkward idiom in verse 37, “when she learned that he was reclining at the table.” The tables were low, so you would sit on an arm with your head towards the table and your feet going out, so there would be a circle of feet all the way around the outside. She comes weeping, her tears wet his feet and she wipes them with her hair and she kisses his feet and anoints them with ointment.
This is not Mary; Mary did somewhat the same thing recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John, but most likely it was a different event. The point of all of this is that Jesus is willing to associate with social outcasts. He was willing to let her do this to him when a Pharisee would never let her get near him because of her reputation. Jesus is willing to not only associate with social outcasts, but he’s also willing to offer them forgiveness, and they show a willingness to respond to his message. It’s the people who don’t think they need God that are impervious to the Gospel, but it’s often those who, because of social pressures, have nothing to rely on, that are more open to the proclamation of the Gospel. Again, understand, she was a woman, near the bottom of the social ladder, and she was well notorious for her sin; most likely she was a prostitute. Jesus allowed a prostitute to touch him, and to weep on his feet and dry his feet with her hair. I love this story.
The Pharisees says, “Well, if he were really a prophet, he’d know who she was and he wouldn’t let her touch him.” Again you can see the Jewish exclusiveness about the offer of salvation. He says, verse 40, “‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii,’” (a denarii was a one day’s wage, so a year and a half worth of money) “‘and the other fifty (41). When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more (42)?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ He said to him, ‘You have judged rightly (43).’” He points out that he didn’t do anything to make him feel welcome, yet the woman has done everything for him. Verse 47, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Now easy to misunderstand this: “Forgiven little” doesn’t mean that there are some people who only have a little sin that needs to be forgiven. Rather, there are some people who think they only have a little sin to be forgiven of. Jesus is saying, if you don’t think you’re that bad, then Jesus’s forgiveness is not that big of a deal, and you’ll only have a little joy because it wasn’t that big of a deal. But if I truly understand how sinful I am and that God has canceled my debt, then I will respond with joy. That’s why evangelism has to include sin, because we have to understand how far we are from God and how heinous our sin is. I’ve always argued that it is only when you really understand how sinful you are that you then become a Christian, and that you’re going to be an evangelist. If you don’t think that sin is that big of a deal, then why share the Gospel with other people? It’s those people who understand how sinful they are that when they’re saved they just share like mad. They understand in a much deeper sense what they were saved from, and so it naturally extends into evangelism and sharing that “you too can be freed from your horrible sins just as Jesus did it for me.” The other thing people misunderstand, evident by the commentaries’ arguments about this, is that she’s not earning her salvation. The weeping and the drying and the ointment are an expression of the fact that her sins have been forgiven and she’s been saved.
We have the centurion’s servant (a non-Jew), the raising of a widow’s son (the widow), a prostitute, and now in 8:1, we have a bunch of women who followed Jesus and it names them there. There were the twelve disciples, and then there was a much larger group, and part of that larger group were woman. There’s Mary Magdalene, who had been demon possessed; Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager; and Susanna. These are evidently well-known people in the gospel story, probably well known in the early church. Hollywood has made a lot of this fact that Jesus had a group of women following him. It is true that those who are more desperate in the social status of things are more open to the Gospel, and historically women have always been more open to the Gospel than men. Here you have a group of women who are actually accompanying Jesus.
The conclusion of these 4 stories is that Jesus shows a phenomenal amount of compassion on the outcast and the helpless of society. In James 1:27, this is true religion: visiting orphans and widows and then keeping yourself unstained of this world. That verse reads like a title to Jesus’s life, especially in Luke, where it is really to the social outcasts that Jesus went. The American church is far from the biblical model—we are a highly segregated church, not just racially, but monetarily and in many other ways. I think we have to look at passages like that and ask ourselves, “Are we extending ourselves to the orphans and widows of this world, to the outcast, to those who are outside the reach of normal religious circles?” It’s one of those things that you just have to chew on for a while, I think.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
There are some more stories, and I’m going to skip up to 10:25 to talk about the parable of the good Samaritan, partly because it’s just one of the best known stories if not the best known story in all the Bible. You just say good Samaritan, and people who have never seen a Bible will know something of what you’re talking about. It’s a very famous story. Luke 10:25: “Behold, a lawyer” (this is someone who is a specialist in Jewish law of how you obey the Sabbath and kosher laws and that stuff) “stood up to put him to the test,” these are not honest questions in other words, “saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Eternal life in Judaism was something that I earn by doing certain things. “He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it (26)?’ He answered,” (and his answer is great isn’t it?) “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (27).’” He quotes the Shema, Deut. 6:4. He’s quoting what is going to become called the greatest commandment, but Jesus is going to say, Love God, and that means you must love your neighbor. “He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’” But then the story continues (28), “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus,” and if I can be interpretive I think he said it like this, “‘Well who is my neighbor (29)?’” You start seeing the essence of the problem. When he says that he was wanting to justify himself, it means he was wanting to vindicate himself. The man is making the assumption that he and Jesus are going to differ on this question, and he wants to prove that he is right and Jesus is wrong. Now that’s between the lines, but it’s the only way I know to understand the phrase “he wanted to justify himself.”
In Judaism, you only have to love other Jews; you only have to be a neighbor to other Jews. That’s not what the Old Testament says, but it’s what Judaism said. Judaism had narrowed the scope of the Shema, or the commands to care for your neighbors and show love for them. When he says, “Who is my neighbor?” he’s intending to limit the concept. He wants to know the minimum he has to do. What Jesus of course does is he opens it wide up. Jesus’s point is, “I want everything; I don’t want just the minimum I want absolutely everything.”
So he tells the story of the good Samaritan: A man went from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s a very dangerous road; it’s eighteen miles long and it’s very steep. It was a notorious place for robbers. A man was going from a very safe place to a very dangerous place. He fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him. A priest was going down that road and when he saw him he passed by on the other side not wanting to defile himself by getting near a beat-up body. Likewise, a Levite, another official Jewish position, when he came to place, he passed by on the other side, but then a Samaritan came. We talked about this when we talked about parables. When I taught at Azusa I’d retell it about the parable of the good Biola student (the rivals of Azusa)—there once was a student who went to go surfing, and he fell among the gangs, and an Azusa Professor walked by on one side, but he was late for professional meetings so he couldn’t help, and then a Free Methodist minister went by, but he was late for choir practice, but then a Biola student, the rival, helped him. Here, the Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews, stopped. He had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, and poured oil and wine on him. He set him on his own donkey and brought him to an inn. He gave them two denarii and said to take care of him, and if it’s more expensive, when I come back I’ll pay for the rest. That’s the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan who did the right thing for the man who needed him.
Remember, the question is, who is my neighbor? In other words, who do I have to love? Jesus asks in verse 36, which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Jesus twists the question around, and that’s the whole point. The question is who can I serve, who can I help, who can I treat as a neighbor? The answer is anyone in need. The question is not who do I have to be nice to, the question is, who can I be nice to, and the answer is anyone who is in need.
The interesting little twist on this is the word for neighbor. It doesn’t really mean neighbor, it means someone who is close by. At least in American culture, a neighbor is someone who lives next door; it’s a restrictive term. The Greek word means whoever there is; whoever is nearby; whoever it is within your reach to help; that’s your neighbor. For example, then the question is, are the orphans in Ukraine our neighbor? The answer is yes. They are just as much as neighbor as the people who live on the other side of the parking lot because they are in need and they are within our ability to help. When you think of the parable of the good Samaritan you think of the neighbor. If you feel in a sense that it’s restrictive only to your block or the lots adjacent, it’s not. Here’s a Samaritan helping someone he doesn’t know—they’re not even in Samaria, they are in Jericho—and he helps him in a way that is costly to him. The parable of the good Samarian a powerful parable.
The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer begins in verse 11, and there’s a paragraph that follows it that is different in Luke. We use the word impudence; I’m not sure that’s the best word, but the paragraph that follows is talking about our shameless boldness—that’s what the word means. There was a man that had guests and he didn’t have food for them, and hospitality was paramount in that culture so he goes next door, way too late. He knocks on the door and the man says, “We’re all in bed, and I don’t want to get up, but because of your shameless boldness, I will get up and give you food.” It’s a little difficult to interpret, but at a bare minimum what it is saying is that you and I, when we go to God, we can be absolutely bold in coming to God and asking him for things. That’s the point of the following paragraph, that we should be thinking about what we’re doing when we pray. We are in the Spirit, walking into the presence of God and we’re saying, “I want this.” It really takes nerve, doesn’t it? Jesus says, “That’s what you’re supposed to have, you’re supposed to be bold, almost shamelessly bold in coming into the presence of God and asking him, because he wants you to ask and he wants to give.” It’s a pretty powerful passage.
We move on. There are some pretty strong woe sayings beginning in 11:37: “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.” This isn’t about hygiene, this is religious ritual (38). “The Lord said to him,” remember, he’s in the guy’s house, he’s eating his food and he says, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness (39).” Verse 42: “You tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” Verse 43: “You love the best seats in the marketplaces.” Verse 44: “You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” That’s not a nice thing to say to a Jew, if you touch a tomb, you’re ritually defiled for seven days. Jesus is calling them walking defilements. I love verse 45, “One of the lawyers” (not the Pharisees) “answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’” Jesus said, let me make myself perfectly clear, “‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear,’” and if you’ve ever had any interaction with a super legalistic church you know exactly what he’s talking about, “‘and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (46).’” Verse 52, “‘Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge.’” They were teachers. “‘You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’” My nephew went to a “Christian school” where the Old Testament teacher did everything he could to destroy my nephew’s faith and it took him three or so years to get his head screwed back on straight. He went to Regent, and he’s now a pastor in Southern California, so it worked out fine. These lawyers who take away the keys of knowledge, who make it impossible to really learn and hinder others, have a special woe.
Jesus reserved his strongest rebuke for the religious hypocrites. Now apparently there was nothing that made him more angry than religious hypocrisy, because he doesn’t talk to anyone like this. He didn’t talk to the Gentiles this way, he doesn’t talk to the prostitutes this way, and he doesn’t talk to Pontius Pilate this way. He only talks to one group of people this way, and that’s the people who are religiously hypocritical—people who make a show of external religion, but whose heart is far from God.
I found myself wondering if we do the same thing. I’ve said some very strong things from the pulpit about abortion, infidelity, and churches that don’t preach the Gospel. I’ve said some very strong things about certain sins, but where is our condemnation of the churchmen? I’m using the word “churchmen” to mean those who are always at church and are praised with the highest praise possible, yet are devoid of God internally. I knew one man who was a churchman—he was praised; he was the center of everything in the church. I was at his house one night, and it came out that he was extremely racist. That’s the kind of person that Jesus saved his strongest condemnations for. I wonder if we really condemn that sufficiently. I don’t suspect that we do.
There’s no better example of religious hypocrisy than in Luke 18:9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt (9): ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (10). The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (11). I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get (12).” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner (13)!’” Then Jesus says, ‘I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (14).’” Is there not a more powerful picture of religious hypocrisy than, as we saw the other day, sounding your trumpet so that everyone will see you pray? Praying is good, right? Tithing is a good thing. But not being an extortioner, not being unjust, not being an adulterer. The Pharisee is doing all good things, but he was wearing them as an external badge of honor and his heart was far from God. That’s the person that evidently made Jesus angrier than anyone else. It’s interesting to reflect on. Do we still have the same hatred for the same things that Jesus did?
Stories that Define Discipleship
Let me close with this, and I would really encourage you to read this carefully. From Luke 12:49 all the way through 18:7, there is a series of stories. It is interrupted by a few other topics, but this long series of stories helps to define what discipleship is. It’s really interesting to read all the way through and observe all the things that are taught about discipleship.
Let me give you a taste of some of this teaching. It starts with this radical call of discipleship: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished (50)! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division (51). For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three (52). They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (53).” This is not Jesus being anti-family, this is Jesus saying that the call of discipleship is radical and that it breaks through and supersedes all normal social relationships because he demands everything. He doesn’t demand some pieces, he demands everything. There are times in which it will set father against son.
Radical Christianity isn’t peaceful. A biblical church doesn’t get along in its neighborhood, it can’t, not ultimately because he didn’t come to bring peace on the earth, division—to divide the sheep from the goats, those who are the left side of the judgment to the right side. He talks about how few there are who are actually going to become Christians. In 13:22, “He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem (22). And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few (23)?’” This is a very interesting question; I can only assume it was prompted by the nature of Jesus’s teaching. He was listening to Jesus’s teaching, and saying, “If we really believe what Jesus is saying, there aren’t many people who are going to want to make this radical commitment.” Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (24).” There are simply not going to be that many people who respond to Jesus. I don’t get that—that’s one of those other questions that I have for God.
He talks about the cost of discipleship in 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Verse 33: “Therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Jesus demands primacy in the life of his disciples over everything. You must be willing to renounce everything you have to be his disciple. He demands preeminence. Maybe to you, like he did to the rich young ruler, will say, “Go sell everything that you have and come follow me.” He may say something else, but he wants the willingness to say I am fully devoted to you Jesus as your disciple.
God Seeks the Lost
I close with this: please read chapter 15. It is one of the greatest chapters in the Book of Luke. It’s about the joy of discipleship—the joy there is when something that is lost is now found. A woman has ten coins and loses one, so she sweeps and sweeps until she finds the one and rejoices over that and calls her friends in and they celebrate. The coin is equivalent to a denarius, so it’s only worth one day’s wage—it wasn’t a huge coin; it wasn’t a million-dollar coin, but it was the joy of just a coin being found. Just before that is the joy of finding the lost sheep: you have a 100 sheep, one strays, and there’s joy of finding the lost sheep. Then there’s the prodigal son: it’s a story of the joy that there is when a son who has left is now back. This is one of those parables where some of the details are significant, because they are related to the main point. The brother who won’t come in and celebrate represents Judaism. It’s a critique of the lack of joy in Judaism when a non-Jew is saved. There should be tremendous joy when that which was lost is now found.
In these stories, he’s saying that there is one who seeks the lost, that’s God. There’s joy when the lost is found. The implication is that that’s exactly how you and I should be as well. We should be people who seek not just those who are the same as us or easy to talk to, but those who are lost. Then when those lost are saved, there is great joy and rejoicing. Luke 15 is a great chapter. Why do you and I share the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Because we once were lost and now are found. How could we not act like our Heavenly Father and seek those who are lost and rejoice when they are found? We are supposed to act just like Jesus acted.