Friday, August 27, 2010

Luke 14, Part Two

The Great Feast (vs. 15-24)--That the previous section on humility is tied with the beginning of the chapter on Sabbath healing is further indicated by verse 15--Jesus is still at the dinner He had been invited to. Before getting further into the current section, let's ponder a moment as to why Jesus would have been invited to that dinner in the first place. He was dealing with suspicious Pharisees (v. 1) who didn't agree with what He said, so part of the reason for the invitation has to be the desire to entrap Him. But also, these Pharisees loved the praises and adoration of men; that was the foundation of verses 7-14. By being seen with Jesus, perhaps some of His popularity would rub off on them. There was no pure motive in the invitation. Jesus was being used by these religious leaders; of course, He turned the situation around and used them for some great teaching.

The attitude of the Jewish people in general was implied in the statement in verse 15 of one of the people at the dinner: "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" There is almost no doubt that the fellow meant only Jews. They had an earthly concept of the kingdom in which they, and their Messiah, would rule over the world. Thus, they would be the chosen in that kingdom. Jesus will, once again, in the parable He speaks, disabuse them of that notion. The man who gave the "great supper" (v. 16) represents God. It is overwhelming to think that Holy God is making a feast for Sinful Man. We ought to be serving Him, not visa-versa, and the fact that we have been invited, by Him, to enjoy the superlative blessings He can offer ought to humble us with a gratitude beyond human words to explain. But that isn't what happens with most people, of course. In the parable, the feast was prepared--the gospel age with its offering of forgiveness and salvation was "spread" before man, "for the Jew first and also for the Greek [Gentile]" (Romans 1:16). The man sent out his servants--probably representing the apostles--to bid those who had invited to "Come, for all things are now ready" (v. 17). But "they all with one accord began to make excuses" (v. 18). One went to inspect a piece of property he had bought (v. 18). A second wanted to tend to a yoke of oxen he had (v. 19). These first two fellows at least had the decency to ask to be excused. The third, in verse 20, simply said "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come," as if the supper were of absolutely no importance to him. Notice that none of these things, in their place, are wrong. They were not sinful, they were simply worldly things that got in the way of serving God. And Jesus said they were "excuses," not valid reasons. Once again, we are dealing with priorities. The master of the house--he who had prepared the feast--was understandably "angry"; how else would God react to man's rejection of the incredible, undeserved blessings He offers? We deserve hell; He freely offers us heaven. How disgusting and vile we are when we reject His offer, and how worthy we thus become of what we truly deserve. The master then bid his servants to go and invite others--"the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind" (v. 21). Harken back to verse 13 where Jesus counseled the religious leaders to do that very thing at the dinners they offered. God is concerned with the lowly; we must be, too. After the servants had done as bidden, "there is still room" (v. 22). So, they were to "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (v. 23). This is almost surely a reference to the Gentiles, because Jesus sums up the parable by having the master say, "For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper" (v. 24). Whether those at the dinner Jesus was attending got the point is not revealed, but they probably understood and weren't very happy about it. But, the Jews could not--and cannot--say that Jesus didn't warn them. He certainly did. And their rejection of Him is totally their own fault.

Priorities once again emphasized (vs. 25-33)--We find in the rest of chapter 14 some of the severest, strictest teaching Jesus ever delivered, and these words were spoken to "great multitudes." Everyone must understand the cost of Christianity. Yes, salvation is freely offered to man; it costs men nothing. But the great paradox of the religion costs men everything. When Jesus says in verse 26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” He is not speaking literally, of course. He is simply saying we can have no higher allegiance than Him. Follow Him—regardless of the cost. Count the cost (vs. 28-32), and if you cannot pay the price, don’t even start. “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (v. 33). We must be willing to give up anything that interferes with our total commitment to the Lord. If our family gets in the way…well, we must not allow them to do so, nor even our own lives. Jesus demands first place; nothing else will do.

But He’s God. He’s got every right to make that demand.

Not fit for the dunghill (vs. 34-35)—And if somebody does begin, but falls short, they are useless to the Lord. What good is savorless salt? (v. 34). It’s not even good enough to cast upon a dunghill (v. 35). Such is what the Lord thinks of a 99% committed Christian—not fit for a dunghill. It’s everything—or it might as well as well be nothing. It isn’t terribly surprising that most people find Christianity much too stringent and insistent for their tastes. But again, total, complete service is what we owe God and nothing less.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Luke 14, Part One

Healing on the Sabbath (vs. 1-6)--This story is very similar to the one in 13:10-17 with Jesus healing on the Sabbath and arguing from helping one's animal on the Sabbath. The fact that the people in attendance were actuated by less than pure motives is indicated in verse 1: "they were watching him," obviously to see if He would do something blameworthy. Jesus knew this, of course, challenged them, and shamed them.

Humility (vs. 7-14)--Verse 7 begins "So" (NKJV), or "And" (KJV, ASV), which indicates this section is tied to the previous one, which makes the whole context different from 13:10-17. Jesus realized that the great problem of the Pharisees was their pride and self-glorification; from thence came their hypocrisy. They opposed Jesus because they could not humble themselves before Him, not because they could answer His arguments or even deny the miracles He did. So Jesus aims at the heart here. Those who exalted themselves needed to be humbled, so Jesus spoke a parable to that effect. If you go into a dinner thinking you are someone of high esteem, yet "one more honorable than you" arrives, you will be humbled in spite of yourself (vs. 8-9). But if you begin with a humble attitude--and you should (v. 10)--then you are in a position to be exalted. And that's the whole point. "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (v. 11). Jesus follows through with the same theme for the rest of this section. He certainly does not mean, in verse 12, that we should never invite our friends or loved ones to eat with us. What He counsels here is charity to the poor, concern for those who are less fortunate, who are not able to repay. Again, with no governmental welfare system to provide for the needy, it was of paramount importance that someone take care of them. That would, of course, be the demesne of the rich--voluntary generosity which, in Old Testament and New, was required by God as a sign of pure religion. Of course, in Jesus' day, very few rich people did this, just as in ours; can you imagine the Kennedys inviting the homeless to eat in their dining room? Well, perhaps they do, I don't know for sure, but it's much easier to pawn such off on the government than to do it ourselves. In Jesus' day, there was no such option, thus the plight of the poor was all the more grave. Payment, Jesus says, will be "at the resurrection of the just" (v. 14). Humble yourself to be concerned with those of lower estate. Indeed, it would take humility to do so.  There is a marvelous example of this "poor and rich" ideal in Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which I will deal with at that point.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Luke 13, Part Two

"Are there few who are saved?" (vs. 22-30)--Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem (v. 22) which will result in His final confrontation with the religious leaders and His death. As He was journeying, someone asked Him an interesting question: "Lord, are there few who are saved?” (v. 23). It was a common idea among the Jews that only a few, indeed, would be saved, and nearly all of them Jews. On the first point—only a few saved--Jesus, in another location (Matt. 7:13-14) agreed; regarding the latter, mostly Jews, He never gave His endorsement. Regardless, in this context, He does not directly answer the question, but explains a far more important point, viz., how to be saved. One must "strive" to enter through the narrow ("strait," KJV, which is a better translation because it implies difficulty as well as narrowness) gate" (v. 24). The word "strive" derives from the Greek word agonidzomai, from which our English word "agonize" comes from. Jesus is saying here that we should "agonize" to get into heaven. He uses the present tense, imperative mood, which means a command to always be doing it. We must never let our guard down, but continue to struggle against sin, to literally agonize over it. And most people won't do that: "for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (v. 24). Jesus then illustrates the teaching with a parable about a householder who had his door open for awhile, but when he shut the door, the seeker will not be able to enter (v. 25). It will be too late. It doesn't matter that they call him "Lord" (v. 25), or claim that they have lived in his presence and accepted him (v. 26, which they had not truly done). They didn't enter the door when it was open, i.e., they did not continually to "strive" to be pleasing to him. Thus, they will hear "'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity'" (v. 27). Jesus then takes a slap at the "mostly Jews will be saved" doctrine in verse 28 when He says that, while Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in heaven, many Jews would be "thrust out" and it will be Gentiles who "sit down in the kingdom of God" (v. 29). If anything, this strongly implies that most Jews will be lost and the majority of the saved will be non-Jews, but God will be the ultimate judge of that, of course. The idea the "there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last" (v. 30) indicates the same idea--the "last" (to be called) were the Gentiles and the "first" were the Jews. The mass rejection of Jesus by His people continues to this day.

Jesus' coming death in Jerusalem (vs. 31-35)--Exactly why Herod wanted to kill Jesus is not stated, but Christ's popularity, His resemblance to John (whom Herod had executed), and Jesus' claim to be a king (which would threaten the Herod family) would all be justifiable reasons, at least in Herod's mind. Jesus wasn't terribly afraid of Antipas: "And He said to them, 'Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected'" (v. 32). Whether the "third day" was literal or not--and it probably only refers to a short period of time--it's not a reference to Jesus' resurrection three days after His death. Jesus would continue His ministry for a short time yet, then be killed in Jerusalem (v. 33). Jesus then expresses grief over the City of David's obstinacy at the word of God. The people of Jerusalem had killed God's prophets, and though Jesus "wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings," they "were not willing!" (v. 34). Thus, the Lord God would depart from His temple ("your house," now, not God's, v. 35), but they would see Him again at some point in the future, of which the text is not clear. "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'” (v. 35) is probably not the final judgment, because the lost are not going to be happy to see Him on that day. The reference is probably His "coming" to establish His church, which would truly be a blessing for all men, including those of Jesus' audience who accept Him.

Matthew has Jesus' statements in verses 34 and 35 in the context of His strong denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23). Whether He made these statements twice to different audiences, or whether Luke is simply extracting the Lord's teaching to fit his own plan for his book, is unknown and not especially of great concern. As I've noted before, preachers do preach the same sermons in more than one location, though in this case, I tend to the latter view that Luke is simply fulfilling his own purposes.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Luke 13, Part One

The necessity of repentance (vs. 1-5)--It was a common belief in the ancient world that, if something bad happened to a person, it was because they were wicked. The man born blind in John 9, for example; Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). All the way back to Job (perhaps 2,000 B.C.) the idea that tribulation was caused by wickedness was the accepted theology. Jesus debunks that theory on several occasions, and this section of Luke is one of them.

He uses two examples. We have no other historical reference to either event, though the first could have referred to a Judas of Galilee, who 20 years before had taught that the Jews should not pay tribute to the Romans. Rome certainly would not have tolerated such a teaching, and Pilate took harsh measures in response. But again, the reference to Judas is only speculation. Of the second example, the fall of the tower of Siloam, again we have no other historical reference to that event. The point Jesus is making here--and He makes it twice--is that sin is not the result of misfortune, but of individual action and accountability, and as a result, everyone must repent. No one is righteous before God on his own merit. We must all humble ourselves before Him and turn away from our iniquities. He commands no less (Acts 17:30).

The parable of the barren fig tree (vs. 6-9)--This parable illustrates the above principle, but apparently on a national level. The owner of the fig tree (God) had planted a tree (the Jewish nation), but had received no fruit from it in its first years of existence and demands it be cut down. Of what use is a barren tree? The vinedresser (Jesus) pleads for one more year, "'And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down'" (v. 9). There was, of course, no fruit, no repentance on the part of the Jews, and thus their previous relationship with God was not going to help them.

Healing on the Sabbath (vs. 10-17)--Jesus runs into this conundrum again. He healed a woman "who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years" (v. 11), but He did it on the Sabbath. The ruler of the synagogue (see the historical note on a synagogue's "ruler" at the end of this post) was indignant about what Jesus had done. I find his statement in verse 14 very interesting: "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." He didn't deny that a miracle had taken place! But so obstinate, so prejudiced was he in his religion that he completely missed the significance of the event. Jesus, having put up with this attitude before, was incensed and called the man a "hypocrite." The hypocrisy is evident from the fact that a Jew would "loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?" (v. 15). So, wasn't it right to "loose" a woman of her 18 year infirmity? Aren't humans more important to God than animals? Of course they are. It's noteworthy that Jesus attributes the woman's illness to Satan. Ultimately, all disease can be traced back to sin (see Genesis 3), and Satan being the author of iniquity means he can be rightly accused of being the source of all human ailments, physical and spiritual. Luke closes this section by indicating that Jesus' adversaries were "put to shame," but the "multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him" (v. 17).

Two parables on the kingdom (vs. 18-21)--These two parables are also found in Matthew 13:31-33, and I've already commented on them. Here's what I wrote in that location:

"Both of these parables make the same point: the kingdom of heaven will start small, but grow mightily. The parable of the leaven indicates the subtle way the kingdom grows—we do not know how the seed works within which human heart. But, according to the mustard tree parable, the expansion of the kingdom will be visible."

A note on "the ruler of the synagogue" from Smith's Bible Dictionary: "Officers.—In smaller towns there was often but one rabbi. Where a fuller organization was possible, there was a college of elders, Luke 7:3 presided over by one who was "the chief [ruler] of the synagogue." Luke 8:41, 49; 13:14; Acts 18:8, 17 The most prominent functionary in a large synagogue was known as the sheliach (legatus), the officiating minister who acted as the delegate of the congregation and was therefore the chief reader of prayers, etc., in their name. The chazzan or "minister" of the synagogue, Luke 4:20 had duties of a lower kind, resembling those of the Christian deacon or sub-deacon. He was to open the doors and to prepare the building for service. Besides these there were ten men attached to every synagogue, known as the ballanim, (otiosi). They were supposed to be men of leisure not obliged to labor for their livelihood able therefore to attend the week-day as well as the Sabbath services. The legatus of the synagogues appears in the angel, Reve 1:20; 2:1 perhaps also in the apostle of the Christian Church." That last sentence borders on the absurd, but the rest of the material is valuable.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Luke 12, Part Two

Be ready for His coming (vs. 35-48)—Proper priorities—which was largely the subject Jesus had just been discussing—certainly means a proper mindset when it comes to the Second Coming of Christ. Always be prepared so that, when He comes, you’ll be ready (vs. 35-36). Jesus uses the figure, all through this section, of a master and servants. If the servants are waiting (working) when the master arrives, they will be “blessed” (v. 37), and he will even “serve them,” an allusion to the wonderful joys that God has prepared for those who have honored Him in this life. Whenever he comes, “in the second watch, or…in the third watch,” they will be “blessed” if they are found diligent (v. 38). The idea, of course, is that we don’t know when He will return. The same idea is found in verse 39 of the householder knowing what hour a thief might come. He doesn’t know, so “you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (v. 40). Peter was a bit confused. “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?" (v. 41). The Lord doesn’t directly answer him, but largely repeats what He has just said. “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (v. 43). The implication would be anyone, not just the apostles, who were servants of the master. Verses 45-46 have a warning against the “servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming’” (v. 45). Such a servant will be found wanting when the master comes, “on a day when he is not looking for him” (v. 46), and “will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” Always be ready is the message, for we simply do not know when the Lord will return. Verses 47 and 48 have long been used to indicate degrees of punishment, and I think rightly so. The servant who knows the master’s will but doesn’t do it “shall be beaten with many stripes,” (v. 47), but those who “who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.” With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility (v. 48). I’m not so sure that this indicates different “levels” of hell, as in Dante’s Inferno. Those who knew they had a chance at heaven but rejected it are going to suffer more because of that knowledge. And indeed, I think there will be people who will enjoy heaven more than others simply because they have a greater appreciation of what the Lord has done for them. These are matters of which we cannot know with certainty and we should let God work them out as He sees fit. Let us be ready for eternity; that should be our main goal.

Christ brings division (vs. 49-53)—“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (v. 51). There is, of course, a sense in which Christ does bring peace. Those who live in harmony with God’s word will truly have peace in their hearts and with Him. But Jesus’ teaching is opposed by many, many people, and will divide households right down the middle (vs. 52-53). This is sad, but is certainly evident in many places. Because of this opposition, yea, because of it, Jesus Himself would suffer (v. 50). But He was certainly ready for His word to spread, even though it would bring “fire on the earth” (v 49).

Signs of the times (vs. 54-59)—Those of His day should have known Who He was. The Old Testament is replete with references to Him, plenty of “signs” of His first coming. Yet most in His day were ignorant. They could read the weather, but they couldn’t read their own book! (vs. 54-56). Make the proper decision, judge what is right, or suffer the consequences (vs. 57-59).