Lecture 7: Journey to Jerusalem (Part 2)
Course: Life of Christ
Lecture: Journey to Jerusalem Part 2
This is the 7th lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.
The Sign of Jonah and Exhortations to the Pharisees
We pick up our story in Luke 11:14 in a key location as we have discussed this passage already. It is a reverse of a normal miracle account in which the miracle is told in one verse with the remainder of the passage being the reaction. The key verse in this passage is verse 20, ‘But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.’ We have talked about the ‘not yet’ make-up of the kingdom and that Jesus is coming is the center of the kingdom which represents the arrival of that kingdom. This will be the background as we move through this section. Jesus is giving an opportunity for people to respond and how they respond becomes very important. We get this parable that we also have in Matthew about the unclean spirit being cast out of a person and the person left empty and doesn’t fill it with anything so the spirit comes back with seven more spirits like himself and enters the person. So the situation is worse than before. We then look at the Sign of Jonah in 11:29. This is a good example of a parallel passage between two Gospels that’s doing something slightly different. In Matthew, we are concerned with the image of the three days and three nights in the belly of the whale and the sign representing the resurrection. ‘As the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to teach, this generation is a wicked generation; it looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ Most Christians know that this is dealing with the resurrection. ‘For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh; so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the Wisdom of Solomon – and now, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!’ So what is the sign of Jonah in this passage? It is the preaching and the message and the call to repentance. This is the only sign that will be given.
Theirs is no mention of Jonah in the belly of the whale. This fits the movement of what’s in the passage. We have Jesus performing certain acts that are an affirmation of his teaching. We’ve got the call to respond to his word; don’t leave a cleaned out vessel empty, fill it with something. Then we get this exhortation about the sign of Jonah and look what comes after it. ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness. Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness. If your whole body is full of light, with no part in the dark, it will be as full of light as when the light of a lamp shines on you.’ Here, we have another call to respond. This entire section is dealing with what Jesus offers and how you are supposed to respond to it. In contrast, we get the inner action with the Pharisees and experts in the Law. This is like the passage coming later in Matthew 23. ‘As he spoke, a Pharisee invited Jesus to have a meal with him, so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was astonished when he saw that Jesus did not first wash his hands before the meal. But the Lord said to him, how you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside as well? But give from your heart to those in need, and then everything will be clean for you.’ The first exhortation is the hypocrisy of those who are watching over Jesus.
Woe to the Pharisees
The second exhortation, ‘woe to you Pharisees, you give a tenth of your mint, rue, and every herb, yet you neglect justice and love for God!’ Now, about what it takes to tithe this stuff. It takes a lot to do it properly. When he says, ‘you give a tenth of your mint, rue, and every herb; even down to the smallest amount, even the spices. ‘Yet you neglect the justice and love for God. But you should have done these things without neglecting the others.’ The third exhortation, ‘woe to you Pharisees, you love the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplace!’ They had special greetings for those who were teachers, marking the teachers out as being separate. ‘Woe to you, you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it!’ Note that an unmarked grave in Judaism means a lack of cleanliness. So the Pharisees think that they are a source of cleanliness, you think you are a source of righteousness, but in fact, you are a source of uncleanliness. When someone is unclean, they can’t worship nor go into the temple. It produces a separation from God. They can’t enter into the presence of God. So Jesus is saying, here you think you are a cause of righteousness, but you are creating uncleanliness all around and unconsciously for people. You are completely misleading everybody. This was very challenging to them. So ‘one of the experts in religious law answered him, teacher, when you say these things you insult us too.’ This is the Scribe speaking showing a bit of nerve. Jesus responds, ‘woe to you experts in religious law as well! You load people down with burdens difficult to bear, yet you yourselves refuse to touch the burdens with even one of your fingers!’ So basically, you give them burdens that you don’t keep yourselves or you give them burdens you don’t help them to keep. The point is they don’t follow through on helping people to meet the burdens that they lay before the people. These burdens indicate a weight that they put on people’s backs that Jesus is suggesting isn’t necessary. Then it goes on, ‘woe to you, you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you testify that you approve of the deeds of your ancestors, because they killed the prophets and you build their tombs! For this reason also the wisdom of God says that I will send them the prophets and apostles, some whom they will kill and persecute.’ This is both a prediction and warning. Jesus is saying that they are so committed to this path that God is going to send more messengers and you are going to remove them as well.
'This generation may be held accountable for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the Blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary.’ Jesus is saying that they are responsible for it all because they are acting in the same way. You remove God’s messengers all the way back to the very beginning; from Abel to Zechariah. ‘Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge!’ This is the exact opposite to what they thought they were doing. ‘You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in!’ They were a big road block to access God. There is nothing more fundamentally challenging that Jesus could have said to them than this. This is what in American culture would be, in your face. This was incredibly provocative. So their response was, ‘when he went out from there, the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to oppose him bitterly, and to ask him hostile questions about many things, plotting against him, to catch him in something he might say.’ The ‘catch him’ phrase in Greek represents a hunting term. It’s the word used to hunt animals. The reaction is, they have been warned about what they’ve been and they absolutely reject Jesus’ warning.
This causes Jesus to talk about fearing God verses fearing people. The exhortation is to be aware of the leaven; they produce hypocrisy because hypocrisy is something that God will hold you accountable for. The call is to fear God and to acknowledge the Son of Man and not blaspheme the Spirit. We have already discussed these passages as they were in other locations of the other Gospels. Don’t worry; the Spirit will teach you in the face of rejection. If you meet up with rejection the Spirit will supply what you need to say.
The Rich Landowner
And now we come to the parable of the Rich Landowner. ‘Then someone from the crowd said to him, teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ We’ve talked about this principle, someone has asked Jesus to fix a problem between two people. Jesus refuses to do this as he did with Martha and Mary. The point, Jesus is trying to tell them that they should be able to work this out themselves. So Jesus replied, ‘man, who made me a judge or arbitrator between you two? Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And Jesus then told them a parable, ‘the land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, so he thought to himself; what should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. And I will say to myself, you have plenty of goods stored up for years; relax, eat, drink and celebrate!’ This person’s focus was on himself. This is a self-focus on one’s own possessions, and as a result, he is very misdirected. Notice that the issue is not the fact he has abundance. God blessed him with an abundant crop; the issue is what he did with it. How he viewed it. He didn’t look at it as a stewardship to manage, but as his own possessions. This is one of the great dangers of wealth and riches; it turns everything into an object which I own and control. But God say to him, ‘you fool, this very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is an interesting question for us all to consider, who will get what is prepared for you? It will not be you. ‘So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.’ That’s a warning not to be distracted by the material possessions of the world that not only over take the energy and consumption of a person but cause him to turn both what they receive and other people into objects for one’s own control. You must store up treasures toward God and not be covetous which undercuts relationships. At the start of the parable, the person is more interested in making sure he gets his, not his relationship to his brother. That’s part of what going on in Jesus’ review and if anyone who has been involved in a tasty divorce case as a pastoral councilor or has seen the way which inheritance can sometimes tear apart families. So you can understand what’s going on in this passage.
A Call to Faithful Stewardship
The next passage introduces some interesting features. Luke 12:35 ‘get dressed for service and keep your lamps burning; be like people waiting for their master to come back from the wedding celebration, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.’ This is an image of stewardship and the absence of their master. There are certain responsibilities that are to be carried out. ‘Blessed are those slaves whom their master finds alert when he returns! I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, have them take their place at the table, and will come and wait on them!’ This is an interesting picture where the master serves the servants. Even if he comes in the 2nd or 3rd watch in the night, so be ready because you don’t know when the return is going to happen. If the owner of the house knew what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You must be ready because the Son of Man will come in an hour you least expect it. One of the things that happened in the early church was that they anticipated the possibility that Jesus could return at any time. And as the period got longer and longer and longer and he hadn’t come back, the tendency was cease to pay attention and cease to be tentative to the accountabilities that they have. And there is no different to that today, the Lord may come for us at any time but the longer it goes, the less we tend to pay attention to it, or at least that is the risk. So he tells this parable in response to a question Peter asked. ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ Again Jesus takes the answer in a completely different direction, so the question is never clearly answered. Peter wanted to know which it was. Instead Jesus gives them another parable that simply emphasizes the call to be faithful. Don’t worry about who it’s for, just do this. By the say, we do this all the time. We take exhortations of Scripture and wonder if it applies to us or someone else. But Jesus is saying, don’t worry about who it is for, just respond to it.
The issue is your response. So Jesus replied to Peter, ‘who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his household servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds at work when he returns. I tell you the truth, the master will put him charge of all his possessions. But if that slave should say to himself, my master is delayed in returning, and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat, and get drunk, then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful.’ Here, he dichotomizes him, the actual word in Greek. This is not a place you want to end up, in a parable describing the judgement. This is not a good place and not something you will survive. You may have an association with the Lord and a stewardship with the Lord but you don’t know the Lord. ‘And we will assign him a place with the unfaithful.’ This is not being on the edge of light. This is being out. Here, Zahn Hoggans is mentioned here as saying that all you have to do is begin in faith in what Jesus has done and that is the only requirement and discipleship is a completely separate step. They read this passage and see this dichotomized slave because he as a steward is barely being safe. But that is not the image here; this guy is put with the unfaithful. The other categories in the parable are people who survive, they’re different and here’s what it goes on to say, ‘that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating.’ We have three penalties in this parable. We have the guy who will be thrown in with the unfaithful, he doesn’t survive. We have the guy who knows but doesn’t do what he was required to do. He doesn’t do anything destructive but neither is he obedient. He receives a survive beating. Then we have the person who never knew it and never did it. He receives a light beating. So there are three different levels, and then the fourth one, the one we should be is to do what the master’s tell him. That person will have the master serving at the banquet table. And it goes on to say, ‘from everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.’ So you are accountable. Jesus never actually answered Peter’s question. Jesus simply says, ‘be this.’ This is the same as in the Good Samaritan. ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The answer in the parable ‘be a neighbor.’ So the point here is to be a faithful steward.
In the next two passages, one is about division and the other is about signs, ‘I have come to bring fire on the earth – and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is finished! Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! For from now on, there will be five in one household divided, three against two and two against three. 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.’ So in the context Jesus is saying that there will be divisions within the family of Jews. This will be between people who embrace him and people who don’t. In regards to reading signs, ‘Jesus also says to the crowds, when you see a cloud coming in the west, you say at once, a rainstorm is coming, and it does.’ (In understanding the geography of Israel, it’s on the Mediterranean coast. So what is to the west, the Med Sea; so when the wind blows in from the west, it brings moisture from the sea and so you get rain?) So he goes on to say, ‘and when you see the south wind blowing, you say, there will be scorching heat, and there is.’ It’s because the desert is south of Israel. ‘You hypocrites, you know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how can you not know how to interpret the present time?’ In other words, look at what is going on around you! Look at the winds blowing all around me. Look at what I’m doing; how is it possible that you can’t be responding? Of course we know that spiritual blindness is the answer. But it’s strange on one hand, humans have the sensitive ability to understand the physical world, but yet they are insensitive in obeying the spiritual world. It seems that the natural order would be the other way around.
This idea seems to continue in 12:57 where it says, ‘And why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, so that he will not drag you before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throws you into prison! I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last cent!’ Everything about this section is about accountability to the will of God. This passage, even though it is similar to that of the Sermon of the Mount, it’s about relationships between people. In this context in Luke, you had better settle with the magistrate and with the judge. You accountability to God or else you will end up in jail. We can see as Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem, he is revealing himself more and more through his preaching and actions. He is confronting others more and more by challenging them to respond and he continued to call them to repentance. You need to be ready for his return and appreciate the reward for the faithful and there is discipline for the disobedient and judgement for those who reject him. Jesus will bring division, a picture of fire and you are to watch the signs and reconcile with those around you. And at the beginning of chapter 13, we get two more calls for repentance. There are two illustrations of happenings that have caused death and the question presented, were they worse sinners than the other Galileans? Jesus tells them to repent or this will happen to you.
Then we see the fig tree that doesn’t yield fruit. The exhortation is to leave it to bear fruit and if it doesn’t cut it down. This is laid out with two consecutive ‘if clauses’ where the possibility of not bearing fruit is stated with more certainty than the possibility that fruit will come. This entire section is looking toward the end and toward judgement, accountability and faithfulness to set up a call to repent. That’s why the challenge has a hard edge to it. And the question becomes, given this confrontation, how will they respond?
Odd Man Out
Note that there are a series of parables that Jesus teaches what I call the odd man out parables. This is someone that is described in the parable as being in, but in the end the persons is actually out. They have an association with Jesus but they don’t know Jesus so they end up being judged. In their view they are probably in. They think they are part of the kingdom but they don’t actually know him. Think with me for a second, if you had gone to the twelve while Jesus was ministering, before we get to Jerusalem in the last week and you had asked the twelve, ‘is Judas a believer?’ What would they have told you? They would have said, ‘yes’ because he’s with us. The Lord picked him and he’s one of the twelve. He even keeps the money. But what does Scripture tell us about Judas? That he was the son of perdition; he’s the son of the devil. So here is someone who has the appearance of being in but really isn’t. Judas is a picture of the odd man out. And these parables are calling for faithfulness and in part are designed to push a person like this out. This is difficult to understand especially when it comes to understanding God’s grace because it suggests that judgement in part is based on works, and by the way, Jesus teaches this and so does Paul; look at Romans 2:5, Jesus is talking to the Jews here, ‘but because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgement is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works.’ This is Paul, the apostle of grace, not by works that anyone should boast, not by works of the law. ‘There is eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness.’ This couldn’t be any clearer. A lot of people say that Roman 2:5 is a hypothetical situation; this is not so. In putting this whole thing together, if someone comes to the Lord in faith by God’s grace, what do they get? They not only get forgiveness of sins, they get the Holy Spirit.
So having the Holy Spirit is the reestablishment of the relationship with God. So what is the Holy Spirit designed to do? It is to generate Christ likeness, thus fruits of the Spirit, righteousness, sanctification and good works. This is the product of God’s grace because you get the Spirit by God’s grace but there’s a product on the other end. James tells us this; this is what James 2 is all about. So you don’t need to fear good works as a product of the Spirit of God that is rooted in the Grace of God. You don’t need to fear that at all. What you do need to fear is the works of the law that demand that God save us which makes salvation to be no longer by grace. In fact, that is the thrust of what Romans is about. Think about how Romans works; you are dead in your trespasses in sin. So there is no power in a dead body. The Book of Romans says, ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation.’ Before salvation, you are a dead body, and then the grace of God appears apart from the law. At this point, your sins are forgiven and you become dead to your sin and become new in Christ. In this action, a powerless body is raised. And in Romans 8:2, ‘For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.’ The Holy Spirit produces someone who walks in the way of God. So many think that the central part of the Gospel is that Christ died for sin; this is not the whole Gospel in and of itself. The Gospel is not about avoiding something; it is about receiving something positive. It is the power of God unto salvation; it is coming into a relationship with God. It is living and breathing in fellowship with God. That’s positive; the Gospel is not about missing hell but being face to face with the living God as a member of his family. When we preach a Gospel about only dealing with sin, we miss a key part of the Gospel. Sadly, in the end, the church gets what it pays for in its Gospel offer. So to change this, people need to understand what they get by being saved from a positive way, not a negative way and to realize that they are accountable to the Living God. The ability to relate properly to God upsets the entire table for a walk of discipleship. But if it is just for sin, I haven’t done that.
Let me refer back to the state of uncleanliness in Judaism. We have talked about one of the unusual features about Judaism being uncleanliness, so when you are unclean, what happens? You can’t come into the presence of God. So if you are in an unclean state in Judaism, what do you do? You wash! And what is the washing of yourself designed to do? It is to make you clean. When you are clean, you can go to the temple and approach God. Think about this in relation to the Gospel. If we put the Gospel in a Jewish frame, we will help people understand it. If I have sinned and I’m separated from God and if I have a washing or a cleansing that comes through an image of a sacrifice, then what have I done? I have put this vessel in the position of being clean which means I am now able to approach God. But here’s the key point. In contrast to the old era where I go and walk into the presence to God, in the Gospel, God takes the initiative and fills this unclean vessel with his presence, the Spirit and seals me in cleanliness by his declaration and then brings me into a permanent relationship with God. That’s the Gospel. Paul was not excited about the Gospel just because sins were forgiven, he was excited because relationships with God were restored, which assumes the forgiveness of sins.
So Jesus has set up his teaching and an opportunity for the nation in a call to respond in repentance. This is what happens next. Jesus now preforms a series of what I call mirror miracles. They are simply similar versions of things that he has already done. They are repetitive miracles, things that he did earlier with the warning that you need to turn and repent. So he is going to repeat some of things that he’s done already to see if anything has changed. First we get some Sabbath miracles, starting in Luke 13:10, to answer the question, has anything been learned? Have the challenges worked? Have people reflected on the things that he’s already taught? ‘Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, woman you are freed from your infirmity.’ So Jesus just performed a miracle on the Sabbath. Interestingly today in Israel, you have elevators that work automatically. These are called Sabbath elevators because you don’t have to push any buttons since this is considered work; the elevator starts to move after thirty seconds and it stops at every floor. So the idea of working on the Sabbath is interesting when it’s pushed to its limits. In one sense, it’s well motivated since they are trying not to break the law. But it creates craziness. The section continues in 13:13, ‘then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, there are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day. Then the Lord answered him, you hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and head it to water?’
Note that there are two competing theologies here, the leader of the synagogue has a theology that says on any day but the Sabbath, mercy is okay. Jesus’ theology says what better way than on the Sabbath to celebrate what God has done and to free someone from the devil. ‘Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?’ When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.’ So had the mirror miracle revealed any changes in their lives? No, not really. Satan was defeated on the Sabbath and that was a wonderful thing and yet there was a complaint. By the way, notice something else that Jesus is doing here. We have two options in the Gospel for what Jesus is doing and where his power is coming from? If Jesus is defeating Satan on the Sabbath, where does that leave us? This is from God which is a dilemma for the leader of the synagogue. He wonders how we got this healing. If Satan is defeated, if Satan’s work is being reversed, you mean God is working through Jesus on the Sabbath?
The Kingdom of God
‘What is the kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.’ We have talked about this passage already. This is the Ezekiel 17 background where a sprig of David grows into a tree. Normally, a mustard seed doesn’t grow into a tree, which makes this comment somewhat unusual. So we are getting unusual growth. ‘To what should I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of the dough had risen.’ So this is a lot of bread. A measure was sixteen pounds, so there was fifty pounds of dough.
‘Jesus then traveled throughout the towns and villages, teaching and making his way toward Jerusalem. Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?’ Note, like in other places, Jesus doesn’t answer this question. So he said to them, ‘exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, Lord, let us in! But he will answer I don’t know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. But he will reply that he doesn’t know where you came from! Go away from me, all you evildoers! Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. The people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ Jesus takes the question of whether the saved be few and turns it into, will the saved be you? This is exactly what he does with these kinds of questions. Someone asked who is my neighbor? Jesus tells us to be a neighbor. Someone asked is this for us or everyone? Respond and be faithful to what you hear. Will the saved be few? No, the question is, will the saved be you? Concentrate on your own accountability for God and his will. That is what Jesus is doing with these passages.
‘Some of the Pharisees came to Jesus and said, get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you. Jesus said, go and tell that fox, I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ And then there is a lament over Jerusalem, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem; you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! Look, your house is forsaken! And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The first part of verse 35 is an exilic condemnation coming out of the language from the Book of Jeremiah. It is a judgement on the nation as if she is going into exile, but it is not permanent. It will be the case until they say, ‘blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This can reverse the exile.
The next scene is another mirror miracle. Thus, in this miracle, they are given yet another chance. ‘Now one Sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely. There right in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. So Jesus asked the experts in religious law and the Pharisees, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? But they remained silent. So Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. Then Jesus said to them, which of you, if you have a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull it out?’ They still haven’t learned anything. And the same thing happens in churches week after week. Pastors preach the Gospel again and again and people listen again and again; they are in a mirror declaration situation.
So we have worked our way through a significant amount of the journey section. We have come to another mirror miracle where nothing is learned. Their leering eyes are watching Jesus. The problem that the Jews have is they believe that God would not work through a sinner on the Sabbath. There is tradition that says this. So they have a dilemma, because healing is taking place on the Sabbath, just like before and God doesn’t work through a sinner on the Sabbath, Jesus is doing things that reverse the work of Satan on the Sabbath. Jesus is giving all kinds of signs and indications of who he is, but what is being done with it? Nothing!
In Luke 14:7, we have the paragraph in regards to seeking seats of Honor. This is a major scene and Luke usually places these scenes during a dinner or a banquet. This is another case of Jesus teaching about having sensitivity toward people on the fringe. The passage is very well known and talks about how guests chose places of honor. It can be very embarrassing if you are told to move further away if someone really important shows up. It’s better to take the furthest seat and have the host to move you up to the important seat. ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’ Jesus goes on to tell us not to invite important people necessarily so we can be invited back by them but instead invite the needy and the poor, then you’ll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. In the Jewish culture there was a tradition of invited people and they would invite you back. Even today we invite those friends of ours who usually invite us back. The focus here is to be generous, not with just those who can pay you back with those who can’t pay you back. In this sense the generosity is genuine generosity. ‘When one of those at the meal with Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!’ This person may be sensing a bit of tension with what Jesus has said. So he suggests, isn’t it going to be great in the future when we are all at the banquet table of God. Jesus replies by telling a story of a person inviting different people to a banquet but they all gave excuses why they couldn’t come.
So the master told the slave to go out and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. So this happened and the master said that one of the other people who didn’t come will never taste his banquet. Of course today, one sends out an invitation with RSVP which asks those invited to say whether they are coming or not. A similar situation is assumed in the above banquet. So those who were invited and said that they would come all gave excuses why they couldn’t come. So everybody knew the time and place of the banquet and had said that they would come, but when the time came, other things were more important to them. You will see that verse 21 matches that of verse 13 in regards to inviting the poor, the crippled, and lame and the blind. So here the people that were included were people that most others would not think about including. Still having room to spare, others were invited from the highways and country roads. This could refer to the gentiles. Interestingly, the one who said, ‘blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God’ is assuming he will be there. The parable is a warning, maybe not! Jesus was at a dinner held by the leader of the Pharisees and the people there was probably his friends and they assume because they’re righteous, they are included. But Jesus is saying that it is not so automatic.
In the following discipleship teaching, there were large crowds following Jesus, he instructs them that they have to leave everything and everyone and even give up their own lives to follow him. Here, the warning that they have to carry their own cross again, which we have already explained was a cruel Roman death. Jesus says that they had better count the cost in following him; otherwise they will be surprised at what might happen. Jesus is saying this to the crowds, not the disciples. So everyone knows what they are getting into in following Jesus. There is another discipleship passage but not quite the same. ‘Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. ‘So in verse 32, think about who you are accountable to. If he has more power than you do, you should sue for terms of peace. Within his message is the opportunity to sue for peace. I think that this second illustration is about the accountability running through the section that one has with God and here the idea is that Jesus is giving them an opportunity to reconcile with God. God is more powerful than you are, so you ought to sue for peace and you ought to embrace the terms he gives you. And your possessions cannot do that for you.
The following verses in regards to salt and its flavor is in the context of people who think they have the right to the access of God by default. And this is also being taught to the crowds around Jesus. So we have a picture of inviting those who cannot pay you back, God will repay you. There is an image of the great banquet with Jesus and those who were invited decided not to come and so others, the poor and the needy and the lame were invited and they came instead. Notice here that the banquet was not put off but other people came. This parable is against the idea of the kingdom being postponed. The kingdom is coming with Jesus and when he issues the invitation, that’s your opportunity to participate. Even though the kingdom of God is coming with Jesus, it has already come with Jesus, so the kingdom actually exists now. There will even be a time when Israel actually ops in and became part of this kingdom. What Jesus brought was coming all along and in the form in which he was presenting it. In Romans, Israel will be graphed out and will eventually be graphed back in. And to restate, the Jews believe they are the people of God and their ethnicity and in some cases their piety qualifies them to enter into the kingdom. We have a picture of discipleship, the call to hate the family and carry your cross, otherwise you can’t be a disciple, to count the cost and understand what the commitment involves and understand the accountability you have and know that useless salt is cast out.
What we see in contrast to this, Jesus turns now talking about fellowshipping with sinners and seeking the lost. That is where we get the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. In the beginning of chapter 15, the first two parables talk about the joy and initiative to seek the lost and the joy that heaven experiences when a lost person is found. The third parable is much more complicated. It’s often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son but it is really the Parable of the Compassionate Father. The father is the subject and how he reacts to the prodigal is the key. Of course you know the story; the man had two sons and one wants to take his inheritance and leaves and eventually finds himself eating the corn that is being fed to the pigs. For a Jewish person, this is about the lowest you can be. So not only is he feeding pigs, he wants to eat their food. He then decides to return home and the Father accepts him with open arms, but yet the other son is upset because he has never been treated that way. (Interestingly, it’s found in the apocrypha warning of not giving his children the inheritance too early as that is irresponsible. The expectation is they may not be older enough to deal with it.) This also pictures the fact that God does let us go our own way. He didn’t lose his ethical core and he acknowledges that he has sinned against heaven and his father. The father is so excited to see his son return with his son immediately confessing his sins. The father doesn’t let him finish and orders a celebration for his returning son. The father has returned the status to the son, which he had before he left. Up to this point, this parable mirrors the other parable but now we get an additional feature of his brother becoming angry and refusing to attend the party. But his father appealed to him.
Note the use of space in this parable. When we come to the end of the scene, who is in and who is out? The returned prodigal son is in and the other son is out, looking in. The older son represents someone who thinks of himself as righteous and questions why this person is getting the grace he is receiving. Basically, the older son is saying, ‘that’s not fair.’ This is a very human story. Here you are, giving the younger brother top level attention and I’ve never got anything. The older son seems to speak disrespectfully to his father; look, these many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands, yet you have never even given me a goat to celebrate with my friends! ‘But when this son of yours comes back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes; you killed the fattened calf for him! The two interesting features of verse 30 concerns the lack of acknowledgement that the younger man was his brother, instead the older brother says, ‘your son.’ The older brother has disowned his younger brother. What about the point, ‘he has devoured your assets with prostitutes.’ How does he know that? He doesn’t know how the younger brother wasted his assets. He’s not just saying, ‘this is your son,’ but also, ‘how irresponsible and unfair of you.’ Then the father said to him, ‘son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for you brother was dead, and is alive now; he was lost and is now found.’ The father isn’t going to break the relationship between him and his young brother. He has reminded the older brother of their relationship. We don’t find out how the older brother responded in this opened ended parable. He is left to decide the next step in the story just as you the reader is left to decide the next step in your story. Of course, the older brother should go back inside and join the party. So when someone comes in by God’s grace, no matter how disgraceful or wasteful their life has been up until this point; they should be welcomed in. That’s why we pursue sinners, not because they have sinned, it’s because of what God can do with them. One looks back and the other looks forward. So in contrast with the Pharisees who worry about what the state of the person is; just leave them alone, they are unrighteous, don’t take any initiative, just live as righteously as you can in your own world. Jesus says that we are to take the initiative. As the church turns more inward today, it risks losing the sense of mission that Jesus has called us to have. Do we think the world is stronger than God’s grace or do we think our allegiance to God’s grace is stronger than the world? Often we think that the world is a far more dangerous place than the power of the provision that God give his saints.
Possessions and Values
In chapter 16, we have a rich man who has fired his manager from his job. There were accusations that his manger was wasting his assets. Interestingly at this point the manager does go out and reduces the bills owing to his master. The man realized that he wasn’t capable of begging and he wants to be taken care of afterwards. ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.’ This parable is about using the resources God gives you generously and responsibly. The one who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much and the one who is dishonest in very little is dishonest in much. If you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth then who will trust you with riches; if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property who will give you your own. No servant can serve two masters; he will be devoted to one and not the other. You cannot serve God and money. Another warning from Jesus and from Luke about money and riches and the way it deflects attention from discipleship. These passages are not easy in a western context because western context runs on materialism. It’s a deeply embedded value in the culture and it is death to spirituality if you are not careful. ‘The Pharisees who loved money heard all this and ridiculed him. But Jesus said to them, you are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.’
‘The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void.’ The warnings about the Pharisees continues; ‘everyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.’ In other words, we see that the standards of the kingdom are not changing. They are still high even though they are operating differently and your word is still your word and this example with marriage is an example of that point. The kingdom of God is coming but it isn’t changing the fundamental ethics of what God requires. Then we come to the Rich Man and Lazarus which is worded like a parable.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
‘There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.’ Purple was a sign of wealth and fine linen in those days. ‘But at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus whose body was covered with sores, who longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. In addition, the dogs came and licked his sores.’ This means that he was unclean. There is a passage in Jewish tradition that says a man who cannot eat, a man who is licked by the dogs and a man who is nagged by his wife has no life. So Lazarus is two out of three. In calling this a parable, some are afraid that they will lose the teaching about the afterlife. There is teaching about the afterlife wrapped up in this parable, but the answer often given why it is not a parable is the idea that Lazarus has a name. And the claim is made that this is the only parable where a character has a name, if this is a parable. By the way that is true. But there is a reason why he has a name in the narrative. ‘Now the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. And in hell, as he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far off with Lazarus at his side.’ One aspect in believing this is a parable is the communication that takes place between the below and the above. I don’t think there is a heavenly internet. ‘So he called out, father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in this fire.’ There are two points here: how does the rich man use the poor man, the poor man is still below him; he needs to serve me. He can even serve me even though he is in heaven and I’m down here in hell. So what is the danger of riches? It views people as objects. Another point, why is the poor man in this parable named? The rich man knew who he was because he saw him out there, but did not help Lazarus in any way, even though it would not have cost him anything. This parable is in a chapter about money. ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ So the rich realizes that his fate is sealed so he tries to help his family. ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house for I have five brothers to warn them so that they don’t come into this place of torment.’ He still thinks that Lazarus is anyone’s servant. ‘But Abraham said they have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.’ Moses and prophets would have taught the brothers to take care of the poor.
The irony here in this is what is being denied in the story. Abraham refuses to send anyone from the dead to the brothers but what’s the narrative of the parable. Someone speaking beyond the grave to the living; so what is denied in the story? The rich man becomes a voice from beyond death, speaking to the living saying, watch how you live. ‘Then the rich man said, no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. He replied to him, if they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ If they aren’t open to what the Scriptures are already saying, they will not respond to a sign when it appears right in front of their eyes. This is actually in the story of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has been providing signs right in front of them, on the Sabbath, not on the Sabbath and what was the response? They haven’t embraced it, even if someone has spoken from the beyond. So if you send someone from the dead, they will still miss it, which of course is what happens. If you are not open to the Word of God in the world, you will not see the Word of God when it happens, even if it happens in an amazing way. People will find some way to explain it away. Being a parable doesn’t undercut the theological point that is being taught here. Once you are dead, there is no opting out, there is no purgatory. Your fate is sealed and as well as the responsibility you have to respond to Moses and the prophets, the implications about caring for the poor and being sensitive. This was the state of discussion during the time of Jesus when he invokes the afterlife. This is the image that is presented, he doesn’t cite 1st Enoch. Remember that in Judaism, there is an intermediate state until the final judgement takes place. This passage is leaping over the intermediate state idea. You have the righteousness in one place and the unrighteous in another. In a world of cleanliness you cannot mix the clean and the unclean. The unclean here is represented by the rich man in hell and the clean is represented by Lazarus in heaven. The gulf is there between the two which cannot approach each other. In addition, this parable is told from the view point; we know where people have ended up. Lazarus has ended up on the side of Abraham and the rich man has ended up in hell, a place so dreadful that he was in anguish in the non-consuming fire. Of course, this is told in a very Jewish context being with Abraham and being in hell.
This story is not framed by early church theology; this is Jesus speaking to his Jewish audience. Hell here is shoal and in Jewish thinking, it is where the dead gather. With this, there is a distinction and a distance and the unrighteous do not end up in the same place as the righteous in the afterlife. In Judaism also, there was the common thought that if a person was rich, they were blessed. We will see this later when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and he is told to sell all he has but he goes away sadly. Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through a head of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. So in human terms, it’s impossible. So the disciples asked, ‘then who can be saved?’ If it’s hard for the blessed to get in then who can get saved. The disciples said that they had left everything to follow Jesus and Jesus affirms them at that point. So here, again in Jewish thought, riches means blessings, means salvation. Not so. Jesus is undercutting this idea radically. So if riches means salvation, then what does poverty mean? It would mean condemnation. But who is Jesus telling his disciples to pay attention to? They are to be sensitive to the poor! In the chapters of Acts, thousands of Jews are coming to the Lord but the leadership is not. And the leadership directs where the nation as a whole is going. They become representative to some degree of the nation.