|A Christian Guide to Luke||by R. David Pogge|
Luke tells stories about what Jesus did, the parables Jesus told, and the lessons Jesus taught. I’ve reorganized them into three chapters. This chapter contains the stories about what Jesus did.
When Jesus raised the son of a woman from Nain,
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John’s disciples told him about all these things. [Luke 7:16-18a]
The fact that Jesus could raise a boy from the dead was not surprising to John. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah; but apparently John’s disciples were confused. They should not have been confused because right from the beginning John told them:
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Matthew 3:11-12]
They [John’s disciples] came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” [John 3:26-30]
There was no doubt in John’s mind, but John's disciples needed to see for themselves.
Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” [Luke 7:18b-23]
The evidence was clear to see. Jesus was working miracles. The messianic prophecies were being fulfilled. That should have convinced John’s disciples—and it should convince us, too. Not only can we see that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies, we can also see that the prophecies about Jesus’ Second Coming are in the process of being fulfilled, too. We are living in the last days of Earth’s history.
After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” [Luke 7:24-35]
Jesus’ last point was simply that people can always find an excuse to criticize you, no matter what you do. John was criticized for fasting, and Jesus was criticized for eating. Despite that, righteousness will eventually be proved through deeds.
With that in mind, let’s go back to the beginning of the passage, where Jesus asked the people what they expected of John. Should someone who is announcing the coming of the Messiah be a reed swayed by the wind? Of course not! A prophet should be firm enough to withstand a hurricane without swaying. John was. John died in prison because he was not afraid to expose sin. (In particular, John wasn’t afraid to tell Herod he should not be sleeping with his brother’s wife 2.) John had great courage and fortitude.
As great as John was, Jesus said, “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” You are even greater than John, if you are in the kingdom of God. The last half of the previous sentence is critical. Many people think they can be greater than John without being in the kingdom of God. That isn’t what Jesus said. John is greater than people “born of women.” To be greater than John, you have to be born again into the kingdom of God. Even if you were once a sinful tax collector, after you become a citizen of the kingdom of God, you won’t be a reed swayed in the wind. You will stand up for what is right, no matter the opposition.
Words take on different connotations over the years. For example, when most people hear the word, “Samaritan,” the first thing they think is, “good.” That’s because everyone has heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ day, it was an insult to be called a Samaritan—but that’s another story. 3
The point is, when most people today hear the word, “Pharisee,” the first thing they think is, “bad.” In Jesus’ day, the first thing someone would have thought was, “upstanding religious leader.” Pharisees weren’t despised the way they are today.
To better understand this parable, mentally substitute “priest” or “pastor” for the word “Pharisee.”
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” [Luke 7:36-39]
If Jesus were a prophet, He would know what the Pharisee was thinking—and He did!
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said. [Luke 7:40]
The Pharisee was respectful. He had invited Jesus to his house for dinner because he was impressed by Jesus and wanted to learn from Him. This was so early in Jesus’ ministry that the Pharisee wasn’t trying to trick Jesus into saying something that would get Jesus in trouble. He was simply confused and surprised that Jesus was letting this woman touch Him. Jesus knew that the Pharisee had questions, and tried to answer those questions using an illustration the Pharisee would understand.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. [Luke 7:41-43]
The more you have been given, the more grateful you will be. At least, the more grateful you should be. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case in today’s society. It seems like the more you give people today, the more they expect, and the less they appreciate it. Ungratefulness is the product of our modern entitlement society. Secular society teaches children that they should have it all, and they should have it now! It is hard to be grateful when you are spoiled.
Fortunately, the Pharisee got the point that the more you are blessed, the more thankful you should be. With this foundation, Jesus could make His point.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” [Luke 7:44-47]
This brings up the question, “Why were her sins forgiven?” There is nothing in the parable to indicate that she had said, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!” There is nothing in the parable to indicate that she had asked for her sins to be forgiven, or had gone to John the Baptist to have her sins washed away. There is no reason to believe that she did penance, or recited the Rosary. The next few verses imply that she had not yet been told her sins were forgiven. As far as we can tell, Jesus had not done anything for her yet.
All we know is what she did. She served Jesus to the best of her ability. We might speculate that she had heard Jesus preach, or perhaps she was just moved by the Holy Spirit—we just don’t know. All we know is that she expressed her love through her actions.
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [Luke 7:48-50]
The story ends abruptly there. The next verse begins, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another.” The subsequent parable is separated from this story by time and space. That’s all there is to the story about Jesus at the Pharisee’s house.
Because of our modern prejudice against Pharisees, this parable is generally taken as a “put down” to the Pharisee who hosted the party. Admittedly, Jesus did say, “You did not put oil on my head;” but that might only have been a comparison, not a criticism.
When someone says, “A is better than B,” it could mean “B is good, but A is even better,” or it might mean “A isn’t too bad, but B is horrible.” You have to examine the context to determine if the comparison is meant to exalt A or denigrate B.
When Jesus compared the woman to the Pharisee, was He trying to exalt the woman or criticize the Pharisee? Admittedly it is hard to tell, and perhaps it was a little bit of both. Because of the modern prejudice against Pharisees, most people probably take this as a condemnation of a self-righteous hypocrite. If you substitute “pastor” for “Pharisee” in this parable, your opinion might change (depending upon what you think of pastors).
I like to think that the Pharisee had done a good thing by holding a banquet in Jesus’ honor. Perhaps this Pharisee was one of those many Pharisees who became a follower of Christ. 4 Let’s be charitable and think that the Pharisee sincerely wanted to learn, and Jesus was trying to show him that he was on the right track, but the woman was far ahead of him.
Let’s not forget the reaction of the “other guests” in the parable. They marveled that Jesus was bold enough to claim to be able to forgive sins. They would have considered that blasphemy—or proof that Jesus was the Messiah. In this instance there was no visible evidence that her sins had been forgiven. She wasn’t obviously and miraculously healed. They had to take it on faith that her sins (which were apparently known to be “many”) were forgiven. If “a woman like that” could be forgiven, the other guests should have realized that their sins could be forgiven, too. You should realize that your sins can be forgiven, too.
This is one of those passages that people like to ignore because it could easily be mistaken as evidence that Jesus dishonored His mother.
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” [Luke 8:19-21]
This is another example (like the one in the previous section) of a comparison that could be taken two ways. Was Jesus dishonoring His mother, or exalting his followers? Since it is a sin to dishonor one’s own mother, this must have been a case where Jesus was exalting those who obey God’s commandments above even His own mother.
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” [Luke 8:22-25]
Waves are unruly and hard to control. Isn’t it sadly ironic that even the wind and waves obey Jesus’ commands, but so many people don’t?
This story immediately follows the story about the twelve disciples being sent out to preach and heal. 5
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God,and healed those who needed healing. [Luke 9:10-11]
It seems like a lot of people want to be famous; then when they become famous they complain about the crowds and paparazzi. Jesus didn’t complain about the crowds, but they did sometimes get in his way. He wanted some private time with his apostles to talk to them about what they had learned when they did their missionary exercise; but the crowds found out where He went and followed Him. Rather than complain about the interruption, He ministered to the crowd.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. [Luke 9:12-17]
Jesus asked the twelve apostles to do something impossible—then He gave them the power to do it. If God asks you to do something, He will give you the power to do it, too.
It is usually a mistake to tell someone something you don’t want repeated. In general, if you want to keep a secret, don’t tell anyone else, no matter how much you trust them. Here is a case where Jesus told His closest followers something He didn’t want repeated—but He had a good reason for telling them.
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. [Luke 9:18-21]
Jesus had made quite an impression on the people. They knew He was someone special. There was a buzz about Him. As long as there was some mystery, people would keep talking about Him. Jesus didn’t want that to stop. (Most of you are probably too young to remember how much publicity the Beatles got when the rumor was circulated, “Paul is dead,” so I won’t even mention it.)
Eventually, Jesus wanted everyone to know that He is the Messiah; but that was not the proper time. He was getting enough publicity with the rumor that He was a resurrected prophet. To reveal that He was the Messiah at this time would have just incited opposition and false expectations. The people expected the Messiah to raise an army and kick the Romans out of Judea. That expectation would have caused the Romans to arrest Him, and the Jews to be disappointed.
Even though it was not time to reveal the truth to the general public, His apostles needed to know that He is the Messiah, and He was going to be sacrificed as predicted in the Old Testament. They needed to be prepared for His death so they would not be disappointed and lose their faith.
And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” [Luke 9:22]
He could not have said it any more plainly; but even so the disciples were confused and shaken when it happened. Jesus told them He “must be killed;” but He didn’t say anything (yet) about crucifixion. That detail is implied next, along with the unsettling news that they were risking their lives to follow Him.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” [Luke 9:23-26]
It sounds paradoxical that you have to lose your life to save it. The reality is that you have to choose. You can settle for the brief, sometimes miserable life you are living now, or you can trade it for a much better eternal life later. It takes faith to trade the prize you have now for what is hidden behind Door Number 2—but Jesus assures us it is worth it.
The question is, “Are you ashamed of Jesus and His words?” Are you willing to say that you believe God created the world in just six literal days about six thousand years ago? Will you confess that you believe Noah survived on a floating zoo for about a year during a devastating world-wide flood? Are you ashamed to say that Satan is real and actively causing trouble in our world today? Are you ashamed to tell people that Jesus is returning soon? Or do you try to make Jesus’ words more compatible with modern secular beliefs because you are ashamed to admit you believe the Bible is really true? Your answers determine whether or not Jesus will be ashamed of you and whether or not He will take you to Heaven when He returns.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. [Luke 9:27-28]
Peter, John, and James did see the kingdom of Heaven before they died. They saw the Transfiguration just eight days after Jesus made that prediction.
The fact that Jesus just took his three favorite disciples (not all twelve) up the mountain might trouble some Americans because they reject the notion, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 6 In a democracy, everyone should be truly equal; but the kingdom of Heaven is not a democracy—it is a kingdom. We should not be ashamed to say so.
Democracy is the best form of government on Earth because it makes it more difficult for sinful leaders to oppress the citizens. On the other hand, if the leader isn’t sinful, then a kingdom is the best form of government. If Jesus were President of the United States, would you want Congress or the Supreme Court to thwart His agenda? In the kingdom of Heaven, we won’t be voting on representatives to pass laws. By your actions on Earth you vote to accept Jesus as absolute leader or not.
The kingdom of God on Earth isn’t a democracy, either. We don’t vote on what is moral and what is immoral. It doesn’t matter how many people think a homosexual relationship should be recognized as an honorable institution equal to holy matrimony. God has already decided that it isn’t. If you are ashamed of God’s words on the subject, God will be ashamed of you on Judgment Day. God’s word could not be more plain.
As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) [Luke 9:29-33]
Perhaps the mistake Peter made was that Peter apparently thought Moses and Elijah deserved their own tents as much as Jesus did. Moses and Elijah were truly great men—but they weren’t Jesus’ equal. Perhaps Peter thought tents needed to be made because they were all going to stay up on the mountain and abandon their ministry to the people down below. Peter no doubt had the best intentions, but he didn’t understand the situation and didn’t say the right thing. When you don’t know what to say, it is usually best not to say anything at all.
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. [Luke 9:34-36]
Jesus had asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Here the answer is given unequivocally. Jesus is the Son of God. But, as Jesus had just warned them 7, it was not yet time to say so.
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” [Luke 9:46-49]
The disciples recognized that not everyone in the kingdom of Heaven, or in the kingdom of God on Earth, will be equal. Some disciples will be given more responsibilities than others. It isn’t up to us to make those decisions. God will give responsibilities as He sees fit. We are to be God’s obedient children and accept the roles God gives us. Since God values obedience, the most obedient children will be given the highest positions with the most responsibility. If you are willing to do the least prestigious job faithfully, you will receive the most honor.
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” [Luke 18:15-17]
In Jesus’ day, children respected and obeyed their parents. They were innocent and trusting. They knew their place. Jesus’ advice made more sense then than it does now.
For decades, secular society has been teaching children that they are equal to adults. I first noticed this in the 1960’s when the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) became the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association). Children were told they were being given an equal voice in running the school (and in some cases, they might have been). Schools acted as if children were really qualified to decide what and how children should be taught. How can children, who have not yet learned what they need to know, be qualified to determine what they should be taught? It makes no sense—but it makes children feel good about themselves. Outcome-based education values feelings more than truth.
Now students demonstrate to demand that changes be made without fully understanding the issues. They don’t realize they are being manipulated by adults.
There was a quiz show on TV called, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” I hope that you are. If so, why take advice from a fifth grader?
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them [some manuscripts add just as Elijah did]?” 8 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. [Luke 9:51-56]
Samaritans hated Jews just as much as Jews hated Samaritans for historical reasons I explained in another book. 9 Jesus and His disciples were obviously Jews on their way to Jerusalem, so they received the cold shoulder from the Samaritans. James and John, nicknamed The Sons of Thunder, wondered if Jesus wanted them to duplicate Elijah’s miracle by calling down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans for being disrespectful.
Jesus didn’t want them to call fire down, but the use of a pronoun makes it unclear exactly what Jesus did. Luke said, “Jesus turned and rebuked them.” Who is “them?” He might have rebuked James and John for proposing such a harsh revenge. On the other hand, Jesus might have rebuked the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality. After all, He had told the seventy-two disciples to wipe the dust off their feet as a warning to any city that did not welcome them. Jesus might simply have been following His own advice by rebuking the Samaritans. Maybe He rebuked James and John and the Samaritains.
How easy is it to follow Jesus?
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:57-62]
Please permit me to tell you why verses like these are important to me. I manage a Christian radio station.10 Occasionally, Christian artists send me unsolicited music to play on the radio. Most of it I can’t play because of the words. Just a few minutes ago I got a song Mark Galasso wanted me to play. I don’t want to pick on Mark in particular. I would not use his song as an example if it were not representative of nearly every song that gets sent to me.
Holy One Of God
Lord I praise you. You shine on me
I’m sorry, but living for Jesus isn’t the easiest thing to do. Living for Jesus requires sacrifice and dedication. The Christian life is not easy and stress-free.
Again, let me stress that I am not picking on any individual. If I had been writing this section a few days ago, I would have used a different song as an example; but I’ve already deleted it. I’m sure that in the next few days I will receive another unsolicited song that would be an equally good example of the cost-free Christianity that is so prevalent today. In fact, that is a main reason for writing this book. The cotton candy Christianity featured in so many songs, and preached from so many pulpits, has little in common with the Gospel of Saint Luke.
If someone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back isn't fit for service in the kingdom of God, how much less fit is someone who doesn’t even plow at all?
Here is one of the passages people love to use to excuse laziness.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:38-42]
This is another one of those A/B comparisons Jesus used that people tend to get backwards. Jesus was teaching that doing good work is necessary and important, but spreading the Gospel is even more important. Instead, Jesus’ words are twisted to imply that good works aren’t as important as sitting around and listening.
A church can get so involved in doing good things that she loses sight of her mission. Doing good things is a necessary part of Christianity—but if all a church does is good work, without preaching the Gospel, she is no different from any other secular service organization.
There is nothing wrong with the Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House, Doctors Without Borders, or any of a number of other wonderful charitable organizations. We need secular groups like these which serve the community. They serve a valuable purpose—but they don’t save souls. Service groups make life on Earth better—but they don’t have eternal benefit.
There are many hospitals, homeless shelters, and so on, which are run by Christian churches. That’s great, as long as they don’t lose sight of what is really important.
I still remember seeing a video about a group of young people from a major Christian denomination who had gone to New York City to do some relief work after the attacks on September 11, 2001. The video told about the repair work they did, and the food, water, and clothing they gave out. Then one girl very proudly told the camera, “… and we didn’t preach to them!” She was proud that they had done so much good work without polluting the work by mentioning the name of Jesus. It broke my heart.
You don’t have to be Mary or Martha. You have to be both.
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. [Luke 11:14-16]
Clearly, they (Jesus, Luke, and the Jews) believed in an actual evil spiritual being named Beelzebub who caused bad things to happen through subordinate evil spiritual beings. To them, Beelzebub was not an abstract personification of evil, who didn’t really exist. Beelzebub really existed, and used demons who really existed to cause pain and suffering.
These days we call the prince of demons “Lucifer” or “Satan” because we have the New Testament to help us understand the Old Testament. We use these two names to distinguish between two different phases of Beelzebub’s existence.
Beelzebub was originally named Lucifer because he was the “light bearer.” He was the highest ranking angel, lower only than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But being the most important angel was not good enough for Lucifer. He was not content to be second banana. He wanted to rule supreme. He made this clear when he asked Jesus to worship him in the wilderness. 11
There is a hint of this in the Old Testament, the meaning of which is revealed in the New Testament. In Revelation, Babylon represents the false religion headed by Satan. This helps us to understand the spiritual application of Isaiah’s prophecy against "the king of Babylon." Yes, Isaiah was predicting the fall of literal Babylon—but he was predicting the fall of spiritual Babylon, too. Here is what Isaiah said:
On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
How you have fallen from heaven,
Nebuchadnezzar, the actual king of Babylon, was ambitious and did fall from power; but Nebuchadnezzar was not actually cast down from Heaven to Earth. He did not seek to ascend above the "stars of God" (the angels). Lucifer actually did. This prophecy is more about Lucifer than the king of Babylon. God used the comparison between Nebuchadnezzar and Lucifer to help us understand Lucifer’s ambition and fall.
John explained the meaning of Isaiah’s vision.
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. …
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. [Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9]
In vision, John saw the great dragon lose the fight against Michael. "Michael" means, “One who is like God” in Hebrew. Jesus is "like" (that is, the same as) God. Michael is simply another name for Jesus. One third of the stars (angels) fought on the side of the dragon and were cast down to the earth. Those fallen angels are the demons who do Satan’s bidding.
The war that began in Heaven is still going on here on Earth. We can’t be neutral. We have to choose one side or the other. Not to choose is to choose to be on Satan’s side.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” [Luke 11:17-28]
For Jesus’ words to make sense, the followers of some Jewish leaders must have been performing exorcisms. Furthermore, if they had the power to cast out demons, they had to get that power from somewhere. Since they must have had that power, it is reasonable to wonder about the source of that power. Did they get their power from God or Satan? Let’s consider the options.
Suppose those Jews received the power to drive out demons from God. What does that tell us? First of all, it tells us that God can give human beings power over demons. Human beings don’t naturally have power over demons—but God can give humans that power. That’s encouraging. If you are tormented by demons, there is hope for you. Jesus’ disciples were ordinary people who were able to cast out demons. If God gave that power to Jesus’ followers then, there is no reason to believe He cannot do it today. You don’t need to be a slave to sin. You can be freed.
On the other hand, suppose those Jews got their power to cast out demons from Satan. That’s possible because the Jewish leaders in those days were corrupt, and Jesus knew it. He knew they were going to murder Him. If murdering the Messiah isn’t the result of demonic possession, what is? Satan could have allowed the Jewish leaders under his control to cast out demons to make it appear that they were serving God. Yes, that is a twisted, fiendish plot—but Satan is twisted and fiendish.
Jesus’ accusers were in a tough spot. They could not admit that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of God, nor could they admit they were casting out demons by the power of Satan. So, they were stuck.
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” [Luke 11:21-22]
The war that began in Heaven is still going on here on Earth. Jesus was more powerful than Satan in Heaven, and Jesus is still more powerful than Satan here on Earth, as is evidenced by God’s power to thwart Satan’s schemes. He allows Satan to have some minor victories in order to remind us of Satan’s intentions—but God limit’s Satan’s power and gives strength to the children of God.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” [Luke 11:23]
This can be confusing because just two chapters earlier Luke said,
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Luke 9:49-50]
John apparently was jealous because other people were casting out demons, too. Of course, it is wrong to be jealous that other people are doing good things, too. The more people doing good things, the better. John should not have let his pride stop other people from doing good. That’s an important point; but it doesn’t really address the apparent contradiction.
If someone is sitting on the sidelines not doing anything, is that person for you, or against you? It depends upon the situation. If there is someone who could stop you from doing something, and they don’t stop you, they are effectively for you. If there is someone who could help you do something, and they don’t help you, they are effectively against you.
In the abstract, that’s comfortable reasoning. It gets uncomfortable when personally applied. If you aren’t doing anything, are you for God or against Him? If you happen to be in a position where you could seriously damage the cause of Christ, and you aren’t doing it, may God bless you.
Sadly, the more likely situation is that you could be doing something for God, and aren’t doing it. If so, Jesus considers you to be on Satan’s side.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” [Luke 11:24-26]
It isn’t enough to simply get rid of all your bad habits. You have to replace them with good habits, or else the bad habits will come back again, and you will probably develop even more bad habits, too. You no doubt have heard that said many times before. It is a common philosophical maxim—but there is more to it.
In context, it takes on greater meaning. Jesus had just said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” If you just stop doing bad things, but don’t do any good things, you are still “scattering.” You are still working against Jesus. This is apparent from the next two verses.
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” [Luke 11:27-28]
Jesus’ reply seems to have nothing to do with what the woman in the crowd said—unless you connect them with “these things” Jesus was saying in the previous verses. Here they are again, without my commentary interruptions, so you can see the connection.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” [Luke 9:23-28]
The woman in the crowd is just giving Jesus lip service. What Jesus demands is real service. If you want to be blessed, you have to obey God’s commands; not just say nice things about Jesus. If you aren’t actively working for Jesus, you are “scattering.” If you are baptized, but don’t live according to God’s word, your final condition is “worse than the first.”
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” [Luke 11:37-41]
Jesus always obeyed God’s laws, but He ignored men’s foolish traditions. The Pharisees had a traditional way of washing things before they eat to avoid being ceremonially defiled. It was a silly ritual they made up. Jesus did not do it. Some little boys might want to use this passage as an excuse not to have to wash their hands before dinner, but that wasn’t what Jesus was saying. Jesus did not encourage eating with dirty hands. He was talking about ceremonial washing—not hygienic washing.
Mark tells a similar story, which is so often misunderstood that it is necessary to address it.
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’14 and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’15 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [Some manuscripts include “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”]
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” [Mark 7:1-20]
Many of the newer translations, including the New International Version quoted above, insert Mark’s editorial comment, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” It is the only verse in the entire Bible which can be construed to mean that Jesus eliminated the kosher food laws. The King James Version translates it this way:
And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught [toilet], purging all meats? [Mark 7:18-19, KJV]
Jesus is simply trying to make the point that what comes out of your mouth defiles you more than what goes into your mouth.
For a more complete discussion of Bible texts showing that Jesus did not repeal the kosher food laws, please see Appendix D of A Christian Guide to Acts (http://krsf.net/Acts/AppendixD.htm).
Now, let’s get back to Jesus’ diatribe against the Pharisees.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” [Luke 11:42]
The Pharisees were very particular about observing even the tiniest law. God commanded men to tithe their crops. The Pharisees went so far as to tithe even a few teaspoons of herbs from their gardens. But when it came to more important things, like settling disputes fairly, they weren’t so picky.
Some Christians take this text as justification for not tithing, saying Jesus abolished tithing just like He abolished the kosher food laws. After all, we aren’t under the law but under grace.
The fallacy in this argument is that although Jesus ignored the Pharisaical tradition of ceremonial washing, He never ignored God’s commands. Tithing is not a human tradition. Tithing is a command of God.
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. [Leviticus 27:30]
Furthermore, the last part of Jesus’ statement was, “You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former [that is, tithing of garden herbs] undone.” They were right to tithe their garden herbs! For a thorough discussion of tithing, please see Appendix D.2, “The Tithe,” of A Christian Guide to Acts, http://krsf.net/Acts/AppendixD.htm#2
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” [Luke 11:43-44]
First, Jesus criticized them for being prideful and thinking they were better than other people. Then, because Jews are defiled by touching a dead body, tomb, or grave, He implied they were unclean themselves. On another occasion Jesus said,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” [Matthew 23:27]
Apparently, the teachers of the law didn’t know not to poke the bear, because one of them said,
One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible 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. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” [Luke 11:45-52]
Of all people, the teachers of the law should have understood the Messianic prophecies, and known that Jesus had already fulfilled some of them. Of course, He had not yet fulfilled the prophecies about His death and resurrection; but through His teachings and miracles they should have been able to recognize Him.
Modern Christians have both the Old and New Testaments, and should be able to see the difference between false representations of Jesus’ teachings and what Jesus really taught. Unfortunately, they don’t. They worship a false Jesus in vain, just like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who didn’t recognize the Messiah when He was right there before them in the flesh.
When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say. [Luke 11:53-54]
They didn’t want to admit they were wrong. They didn’t want to learn the truth. So, they attacked Jesus. Some things never change.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:1-10]
This is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. Children are taught a song about Zacchaeus because it is so simple. Let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. We don’t know why. Maybe he was curious and just wanted to see the famous teacher. Maybe realized his spiritual need. We don’t know—but Jesus did. Jesus also knew He needed to visit with Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus knew he needed to repent, and he did so publicly. Jesus recognized his sincerity and forgave him.
The last sentence is important, and must not be misunderstood. Jesus came because He wanted to save people, not to punish them. Jesus said this very clearly to Nicodemus, who apparently listened to everything Jesus said. Unfortunately, many people don’t listen to the whole discussion. They read John 3:16 and stop there. The next three verses are just as important.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. [John 3:16-19]
The phrase, “whoever does not believe stands condemned” is often overlooked. Yes, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost;” but not everyone will be saved. The verdict is, “Guilty! Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” [Luke 20:1-8]
“Who gave you this authority?” is an excellent question—if asked sincerely. Who do you think gave Jesus His authority? Did it come from God, Beelzebub, or nobody? If you think it came from God, then you should obey it.
They weren’t asking sincerely. They were trying to get Jesus into a trap. If Jesus said He got His authority from God, they could portray Jesus as a crazed lunatic with delusions of grandeur. If He didn’t say He got his authority from God, they could say there was no reason to listen to Him.
Jesus escaped the trap by turning the tables on them, which gave Jesus an excuse not to answer the question.
But, to repeat, it is a good question that you must answer for yourself.
This story takes place at the end of Jesus’ ministry. The timing is important because when the story of the widow’s mite takes place, the true color of the Jewish leaders was already apparent. They were not good servants of God.
|As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” [Luke 21:1-4]|
Jesus praised the widow for trusting completely in God to take care of her. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to the widow after that, but we can presume she was richly blessed because her situation is so similar to that of the widow who fed Elijah during the famine. 16
Bad church leaders are quick to point out that the leaders of the church in Jesus’ day were corrupt. In fact, they were plotting to murder Jesus—but that didn’t stop Jesus from praising the widow for giving everything she had to them. Then they say that it isn’t your fault if the money you give to the church is misused. Your responsibility is to give without asking questions. If the money is misused, that’s their fault, not yours. Don’t worry about how your donations are spent.
The fact that they even make this argument is an acknowledgement that they know they aren’t doing a good job. They probably tell themselves (and perhaps you, too) that it is your fault for not appreciating the good job they are doing. The only aspect of their argument that is partially correct is the fact that after you give them the money it is God’s money, not yours. If they misuse God’s money, it is their fault, not yours.
The difference is that in Jesus’ day, the temple was the only game in town. That is, there was no other way to give money to God than to give it to the temple treasury. Today, there are many different Christian ministries. You have a choice as to which one to support. Not only do you have a choice, you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to give to a ministry that is really doing God’s work, and not to give God’s money to a ministry that will waste it, or, worse yet, use that money to promote a false gospel.
There is surprisingly little said in the New Testament about giving. We know that believers pooled their resources,17 and that deacons distributed it to the poor.18 We know that Paul collected offerings and brought them back to Jerusalem, not to the temple, but for famine relief.19 Paul might have received some support from the churches he founded, but made it a point to say that he did not get rich off his followers,20 and worked as a tentmaker to support himself.21
We still have a responsibility to support the work to the best of our ability. Values are most clearly shown by how we spend our money. On Judgment Day, an accurate picture of our faith will be drawn by our checking account statements (and our daily appointment calendar). The widow didn’t give much—but she gave all she had. In that respect, she probably has us all beat.
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Footnotes:1 Malachi 3:1