Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luke 16, Part Two

The rich man and Lazarus (vs. 19-31)--This entire chapter relates to money, or more generally, worldly matters, that we simply must not allow these things to come between us and God and thus cost us our eternal soul. The rich man in the story that Jesus relates here did was guilty of that very thing. Whether this is a parable or not--a subject that has been debated, but the text doesn't tell us--is really a side issue to the point Jesus is making. The rich man neglected spiritual things for worldly pursuits and ended up in eternal torment. Lazarus, by implication, was righteous and would dwell forever in "Abraham's bosom." The Jews had no doubt that Abraham was in paradise, and surely that is so. They boasted of being his friend, and thus to be in his "bosom" eternally would be the highest honor they could have. So Jesus is using an illustration they would understand.

In verse 23, the word in the Greek is "hades," from which our English word "hades" comes. The KJV has "hell," while the ASV and NKJV use the term "Hades." This is apparently the realm of the dead as they await the final judgment. There is some reference to this also in II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. When we die, we go either to "paradise"--the realm Lazarus was in or "tartarus," the location of the rich man. "Tartarus" (again, literal Greek) is used in II Peter 2:4 regarding the location of "the angels who sinned." Since we are dealing with spiritual, eternal matters here, I think it behooves us not to be too dogmatic about it, but this seems to be the evidence we have at the moment.

But, we mustn't get distracted by that in this section. The rich man, in torments, wanted just a drop of water (v. 24), and asks Abraham to send Larazus with that blessing. Abraham said it can't be done because of the gulf between the two realms (v. 25). Notice that in his torment, the rich man could see the enjoyment of paradise; that surely made his suffering even worse. But it was his own fault; he had his chance to avoid that place, but he didn't avail himself of the opportunity. His next request was for Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his five brothers because he knew that, in their present spiritual condition, they would join him (vs. 27-28). The message from eternal damnation is "obey the Lord." Abraham was blunt in his response: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (v. 29). The Word of God tells them how to be saved and that's all they needed. That wasn't sufficient for the rich man; his brothers wouldn't believe that, but would believe if someone were raised from the dead (v. 30). And Abraham refutes that with an interesting comment: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (v. 31). The issue is not one of evidence; the Bible provides plenty of proof that it is indeed God's Word and sufficient for our salvation. The problem was the heart. An honest and good heart will receive the word (Luke 8:15). The fact that a resurrection was insufficient for belief was evidenced--is evidenced even to this very day—in Jesus Himself. He was raised from the dead, yet was, and is, rejected by most people. His own case illustrates plainly that people won't believe on that basis alone. We don't need miracles today; we have the all-sufficient word (II Tim. 3:16-17). That is enough, if we will only hear and believe it.

Luke 16, Part One

The parable of the wicked, but wise, steward (vs. 1-13)--Verse 1 tells us the Jesus is now speaking to His disciples, and indeed, this parable is especially for those who follow Him. In sum, a man's steward was "wasting his [master’s] goods" (v. 1). The steward was fired (v. 2), but with no unemployment insurance, figured that he would end up destitute (v. 3). So he came up with a scheme that would put others in his debt (v. 4). He went to his master's creditors and had each of them pay less than he truly owed--in effect, cheating his master (vs. 5-7). Yet, "the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly" (v. 8). Jesus is not condoning what the man did; indeed He calls him "unjust." But His major point is found at the end of verse 8: "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." The man had acted astutely in preparing for his future, and unfortunately, too often the wicked show more care and prudence in providing for the necessities of this life than the righteous do in preparing for the next. This world is not our home, but too often we act like it is and don't demonstrate the proper wisdom in living for the day when we will no longer be on this earth. In verse 9 Jesus is instructing the wise use of the things of this world; we DO exist here, for a season, but the goods, the "unrighteous mammon" of this world is of no eternal value. Use these things only as they will aid us in being received "into an everlasting home" (v. 9). Money is a "little thing," and if we can't use the unimportant faithfully, then how will the Lord ever trust us with the greater, more valuable, spiritual riches of the kingdom? (vs. 10-12). There can be only one Master. Serve Him, rather than the world, and be wise in the use of this world's goods (v. 13). Again, Jesus emphasizes priorities. The things of this world are given to us, by God, for our use; He knows we need them. We must not become attached to them, however, for they will pass away. Prepare for the eternal life to come. That is true wisdom.

Jesus chides the Pharisees (vs. 14-18)--Yet the Pharisees, as always, were hanging around and heard what Jesus said about money. Being "lovers of money" they "derided Him" (v. 14). The spiritual shallowness and worldliness of these people are in evidence here. And they were the religious leaders of the day! No wonder Judaism was in such sad shape. Jesus comes right back at them, however, by denouncing their carnality. What they exalted (worldly things) is an abomination in the sight of God. The new dispensation draws nigh (v. 16), the kingdom of God, and it is worth fighting for. The idea of "everyone pressing into it," or "entereth violently into it" (KJV) is just that--the kingdom is worth every effort we can make to get into it, even if we have to be violent about it. We must not let anything keep us from salvation. The idea of "violence" is a hyperbole; the Lord doesn't want that kind of behavior in His people. But it illustrates just how valuable the kingdom of God is and how urgent our entrance into it is. The message Jesus was preaching was true; it summed up even the Jews’ own law (v. 17). The relation of verse 18 on marriage is a little obscure, but could be an example of how the Pharisees refused to obey important matters of the Law, regardless of their great pretensions to righteousness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep (vs. 1-7)--Jesus, as always, drew a crowd; in this case despised "tax collectors" and "sinners." The latter term describes all of us, of course, but perhaps this a noted group of wicked people. Regardless, another contingent of sinners--who didn't recognize that they were--condemned Jesus for Him improper associations. I speak here of the "Pharisees and scribes" (v. 3). They were so self-righteous in their demeanor that they had no intention of helping anyone. But Jesus came "to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), and thus any human being in that condition came under the purview of His mission. Which means, of course, every human being of accountable age and mind.

Jesus speaks three parables in response to the Pharisaic complaint. The first, in verses 4-7, indicates the deep concern the Lord has for every lost soul. A man who has 100 sheep, if he loses one, will search diligently until he finds it (v. 4). He rejoices when he does (v. 5), and invites his friends to share in his joy (v. 6). The application is found in verse 7: "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." Every single, solitary soul is precious to the Lord. The idea of "sheep" in this parable probably does not refer to those in the church who have wandered away; that will be covered in the last parable. The meaning here is that every helpless sinner is worthy of our exhausting all efforts to find and bring him back. How many of us truly do this? Jesus gave everything He had for the lost. Our efforts are meager indeed in comparison.

The parable of the lost coin (vs. 8-10)--This story has the same point as the previous one. There are those who do not even know they are lost, or at best, have no intention, on their own, of making the attempt required to be saved. We must seek them anyway. Keep in mind the initial context, the annoyance of the Pharisees that Jesus would associate with sinners. The Lord tells them that each soul is worth whatever endeavor is necessary to redeem them.

The lost boy (vs. 11-32)--More popularly, we call this boy the "prodigal son." He is in his father's house, doesn't appreciate it, and wants to leave (v. 12). The father, who represents God, of course, does not attempt to prevent the son from leaving; if we wish to go our own way, we have the freedom of choice to do so. Not surprisingly, back in sin, the son ends up in a pigpen (v. 16). But "he came to himself" (v. 17) and realized how good he had it back home. Not every wandering Christian makes that determination, but some do and this story certainly applies to them. The boy returns home. His father sees him "when he was still a great way off"--He's looking for us, hoping we will return (v. 20)--had compassion on him, and welcomed him home joyfully. The son was contrite, and correctly so (v. 21), but the father, in the story, paid no mind to that (v. 22) and prepared a great feast of rejoicing. Again, the sinner--whether non-Christian or fallen saint--always brings humanly inexplicable joy in heaven when they repent and come back to God.

Yet there were two sons in this story, an elder son who had remained at home, yet not with a proper attitude. When he heard the merriment of the feast, he inquired of its nature and was told that his brother had returned home (vs. 25-27). He was angry and would not attend the banquet that had been prepared for sibling (v. 28). The father came out "and pleaded with him" (v. 28). The eldest son complained that he had continued loyal to his father while his brother had "devoured your livelihood with harlots" (v. 30). The father had never given such a feast for him though he professed his faithfulness "these many years" (v. 29). His accusation was not totally true; he had the blessings of the household all the time--in other words, a "feast" every day. His attitude is indicated in verse 29 where five times he uses either I, me, or my. He wasn't thinking of his brother, he was thinking of himself. The father rightly points out that he should have joy that his lost brother had returned. And note, the younger brother was "dead" and "lost"--those words do not speak of the "impossibility of apostasy."

Some have seen here, in the older son, the Jews in general and in the younger son, the Gentiles. This is extremely problematic; the Gentiles had yet to be in the father's house so they could not have left it. Two points stand out in this parable. In contrast to the first two parables, where the sheep and the coin are sought after, there is no attempt in the third parable to go after the lost son. This indicates, as I noted earlier, that there are lost people who, in effect, do not know they are lost and thus we must seek to find them. But the boy in the third parable had been in God's house, knew of its blessings, and deliberately left. There's not much that can be done for such a soul. Now, the parable is not designed to teach that we should not try to restore the erring; parables do not teach every responsibility we have, and elsewhere in the New Testament, we are given instructions regarding Christians who have forsaken the Lord (cf. Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20). We simply learn from this parable that, if we go, the Lord will not hinder us. We make our own choices.

The second point I'd like to make is that the elder son does not represent the Jewish people as a whole, but Jesus here is taking a slap at the scribes and Pharisees who actuated these stories in the first place. They weren't concerned about the lost, and Jesus' attempts to teach “tax collectors” and “sinners” were met with scorn. The religious leaders of Christ's day had a self-centered attitude just like the elder brother in the parable. Whether they got the point or not is not stated.