|A Christian Guide to Luke||by R. David Pogge|
Jesus used parables because they were safe. Their meaning was partially hidden. Guilty parties could not object to being portrayed in an unfavorable light without admitting that the shoe fits.
But, since the meaning of a parable is partially hidden, it is easy to miss the point of a parable. So, Jesus sometimes dropped all diplomacy and simply told the cold hard truth. Those are the teachings we will examine in this chapter.
In Matthew’s version of The Sermon on the Mount, he quotes Jesus as saying,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]
Luke omitted that section from his version of The Sermon on the Mount; but Luke did record two different occasions when Jesus taught nearly the same thing using lamps as an example.
“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” [Luke 8:16-18]
“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, 1 your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, 2 your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” [Luke 11:33-36]
The point of this lesson is clear. ”Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Generally, when Christians talk about not putting a light under a bowl, they mean that Christians should not be ashamed of their faith, and let their light shine. That’s certainly true—but wait! There’s more! An entirely different lesson is taught in Luke’s apparently similar versions.
If, in the examples Luke quotes, Jesus is telling Christians to proclaim the Gospel to the world, why does Jesus say, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen?” If we are supposed to be listening, who are we supposed to be listening to? Why does Jesus talk about your ears and eyes instead of your mouth? There must be something more to the story. Let’s examine Jesus’ teachings as recorded by Luke in greater detail.
In the teachings of Jesus that Luke quotes, God is the one who lights the lamp. Concerning what God has said and done, ”there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” God has put it on a stand because He wants everyone to see it. If you don’t open your eyes, you will be filled with darkness. If you don’t listen carefully, even what you think you have will be taken from you.
God isn’t hiding the truth under a bowl. It is plain to see. Woe to those who don’t open their eyes and let the light into their hearts and minds.
It isn’t just what God does that is not hidden.
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” [Luke 12:1-3]
A lesson that politicians never seem to learn is, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” This applies not only to God and politicians. It applies to everyone. You can’t hide what you have done from God, and you probably can’t hide it from others forever. Once you have been exposed, most other people might not forgive you. Fortunately, God will forgive you if you truly repent. That is to say, if you are sorry for what you did, and not just sorry you got caught.
Matthew included The Lord’s Prayer as part of The Sermon on the Mount. Luke elected to present it as the beginning of a longer dissertation on prayer later in His ministry.
|Luke 11:1-13||Matthew 6:9-13|
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
Matthew recorded Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the context of The Sermon on the Mount to the public in general. The Lord’s Prayer was followed by comments on fasting. Luke recorded Jesus’ private teaching on prayer in response to a specific request. It was followed by comments on a different subject, which we will see shortly.
The wording is slightly different because when speaking from the heart (rather than reading from a teleprompter or giving a memorized speech) people choose slightly different words, or make points in slightly different order. When stories are copied over and over, they get changed slightly, so some manuscripts differ slightly. But despite these minor differences, the light is not hidden under a bowl. You can see the light from The Lord’s Prayer, if you want, and it will lighten your whole body.
It is a simple prayer. Acknowledge the authority of God. Look forward to His coming kingdom. Acknowledge our dependence upon Him for our needs. Ask for forgiveness. Forgive others. And pray not to fall victim to temptation.
Luke chose to add some of Jesus’ additional teachings about prayer after The Lord’s Prayer. These teachings are very similar to the parable about the the persistent widow we saw in Section 7.11.
The theme of Jesus' teaching is persistence. Anything worth having is worth working for. You should not expect Jesus to grant every whim of yours immediately. If He did, you would take His generosity for granted. Not only that, God knows what you need better than you do. He is going to give you what you need, whether you ask for it or not—but He wants you to ask so that you will appreciate it when you get it.
If you ask for something that is not good for you, one of two things will happen:
If you have the assurance that God is watching over you, listening to your prayers, giving you all that you need, there is no need to worry.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Luke 12:22-34]
The fact that God is watching over you does not mean you will not experience opposition and strife. Society has become so corrupt that if you so much as roll your eyes, a liberal snowflake will consider that to be a threatening act of aggression and run to the nearest safe space and report you. If you merely say that the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman, and homosexuality is a sin, you will be accused of being a hateful, intolerant bigot by someone who really is a hateful, intolerant bigot. God knew this time would come, and could not wait for it.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” [Luke 12:49-53]
You have to stand up for God, even if it makes you an outcast from your own family.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” [Luke 14:25-35]
People who don’t want to hear will intentionally misunderstand and quibble with the statement that you can’t be a disciple unless you hate your mother and father. That wasn’t what Jesus meant. Jesus didn’t abolish the commandment to honor your father and mother. Jesus was simply exaggerating to make a point. Your love for God has to be so much greater than your love for your family that, if you have to choose, you will choose God over your family. If you have ears to hear, you will understand what Jesus meant.
There is a cost to being a Christian. You need to recognize that cost, and be willing to pay the price before you get baptized. Otherwise, you will embarrass yourself when you aren’t able to keep your commitment.
If you really are a Christian, you are going to taste like a Christian. You are going to be salty. If you aren’t salty, you aren’t a Christian. A bland faith is worth nothing. Even manure has value as fertilizer; but a salt-free Christian isn’t even good for that.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians who think that by simply claiming Jesus as their savior, they will be saved. They will be dead wrong.
A few years ago a preacher became very popular with his message, “It is hard to be lost.” He claimed that, unless you actively reject Christ, you will be saved because God loves everyone so much. To use computer jargon, he claimed that salvation is the “default option.” If you don’t make a choice, salvation is chosen automatically for you.
When Jesus was asked point-blank how many people will be saved, He gave this unambiguous answer:
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door,because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and westand north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” [Luke 13:22-30]
According to Jesus, salvation is not the default option. In fact, checking the box that says, “I have read and understood the terms of this agreement,” doesn’t count if you haven’t complied with the terms of the agreement. If all you do is go to church, sing praise songs, and claim to have a relationship with Jesus, you are going to be greatly disappointed. That’s not what I say; it’s what Jesus said.
What does Jesus say you have to do to be one of the few people who go through that narrow door?
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. [Luke 12:35-48]
The word “serve” or “servant” is used 11 times in the four paragraphs above. Some people might be afraid that “serving” sounds like “legalism” or “works.” Jesus had no such fear. He unapologetically said, “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.” Furthermore, “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.” You are going to be judged, rewarded, or punished, based on what you do. It is crystal clear. You have to be a servant who actually serves.
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 4
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” [Luke 18:18-29]
Jesus’ answer to his question, “What must I do I have to do inherit eternal life?” was to keep the commandments. Matthew reported the follow-up more clearly than Luke did.
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” [Matthew 19:20-21]
Matthew and Luke don’t disagree. Matthew just stated it more plainly. If you want to be saved, keep the commandments. If you want to be perfect, devote yourself totally to God. Peter and Paul gave up everything to serve God; but not all of the disciples did. The disciples did, however, keep the commandments. The disciples were saved, even though they weren’t perfect.
Jesus promised that Peter would be richly rewarded because he gave up his little fishing business to follow Jesus for the rest of his life. Granted, Peter didn’t follow Jesus perfectly, but on those few occasions when he fell short, he asked for forgiveness and continued to serve. It is hardest for the richest people to give up everything because they have so much more to give up; but it isn’t impossible.
Unfortunately, the truth that “you don’t have to be perfect to be saved” is often perverted to “you don’t have to obey to be saved.” That’s the dangerous heresy. Jesus said over and over that you will be judged on what you do. Even Paul (who some people place above Jesus when it comes to theology) said,
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. [Romans 2:13]
To people who were afraid to disobey man’s laws, but weren’t afraid to disobey God’s laws, Jesus said,
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” [Luke 12:4-12]
Often when you read “fear God” in the Bible, a well-meaning Christian will tell you, “Fear doesn’t mean fear!” They say we are supposed to love God, not fear Him. So, they say, “fear” really means “love” because fear is bad. God doesn’t want you to fear Him (they say).
What these people are doing is projecting their own value system on God. For some reason or other, they believe that fear is bad. They think if you fear God, you must think God is bad; and one must never think anything bad about God. So, one must never say they fear God. You must love God because God is good.
If to fear God really means to love God, then we should be able to substitute “love” for “fear” in Luke 12:4-5. Let’s try that and see how it works.
“I tell you, my friends, do not love those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should love: Love him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, love him.”
That makes no sense at all.
Jesus’ teaching is really simple. Let me summarize it for you in three bullet points:
That teaching is simple to understand—but it is hard to do, and is unpopular. So, rather than just take the teaching of Jesus at face value, many people try to change the subject and focus on The Unpardonable Sin. What is that one thing that is so bad that it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What is the one thing I must not do? That leads to endless debates which miss the three bullet points above.
I believe that Luke 12:8-12 is just one cohesive thought which can be expressed in one sentence:
If the Holy Spirit impresses you to say or do something, and you don’t do it, you are putting your own judgment above the judgment of the Holy Spirit. That’s blasphemy.
It is really very simple. God has given you the Ten Commandments and the Holy Spirit to guide you. Follow them and live, or disobey and die.
The Jews believed (with good reason) that people who obey God will be blessed, and people who disobey God will be cursed.
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. [Deuteronomy 11:26-28]
They were puzzled when bad things happen to good people, so they asked Jesus about it.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” [Luke 13:1-9]
Jesus began by saying that the Galileans were not worse sinners than everyone else—but they were sinners, and so were the people who asked the question. The message that Jesus repeated twice was, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
That seems clear enough; but Jesus went on to emphasize that point with a parable about a fig tree. The purpose of a fig tree is to bear figs. If it isn’t going to bear figs, it has no right to live, and should be cut down. Jesus doesn’t say what happened to this particular fig tree, but there are only two possibilities. Either it bore figs and was allowed to live, or it didn’t bear figs and was cut down.
Jesus didn’t sugar coat it. You are a fig tree. If you aren't bearing fruit, unless you repent, you too will perish.
Some people might think this is a coincidence—but I believe it was providence. Just a few days after I wrote this section, I saw this on the Internet:
Scripture meditation for
Luke 13:4-5 “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
If someone is doing bad things, it makes sense that bad consequences are likely, such as accidents, retaliation, or punishment, but what about accidents, early death from disease, and other misfortunes that are not the result of bad actions or intentions? What if the victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, made a poor decision on the spur of the moment, or were not at fault at all?
Jesus told his hearers that these unfortunate victims were not specially sinful. Then he warned that if they did not turn away from their sins and turn their lives back to God, their ultimate end might well be worse than that of those who died in the accident.
It’s a warning we all need. Life happens. Death happens. Accidents happen. All that matters is opening our hearts to God’s love, so that we live loving God and loving everyone. That life is eternal.
This Christian writer isn’t entirely wrong—but he seems to be afraid to accept the obvious conclusion.
Nearly every devotional this writer posts contains the word, “love.” He has difficulty reconciling love with judgment. He really wants to believe that those sinners died because of an accident, or natural causes—not judgment. He believes a loving god would not cause a tower to fall on anyone; so he tries to find another explanation for the tragedy. He reaches the same conclusion a secular humanist would: Stuff happens!
The most telling sentence in his devotional is, “Then he warned that if they did not turn away from their sins and turn their lives back to God, their ultimate end MIGHT [emphasis supplied] well be worse than that of those who died in the accident.” That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said, “unless you repent, you WILL [emphasis supplied] all perish just as they did.” There is no question about it.
This devotional writer concludes in this case (as he does in nearly every devotional he writes) that if you a nice guy who appears to love God and other people, you will be saved. Presumably, every Buddhist, every atheist, every disobedient Christian will be saved, if they are nice, generous, and non-judgmental. That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said there are lots of nice people who claimed to be Christians but disobeyed God’s commands (including, but not limited to, eating bacon and ignoring the Sabbath) will be surprised to discover they are lost on Judgment Day.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21]
It is commonly taught in many Christian churches that Jesus replaced the law with grace. Here’s what Jesus had to say about that.
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. [Luke 16:16-18]
The Law and the Prophets proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God sometime in the future. John the Baptist proclaimed that the Messiah had come, and the kingdom of God was near. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was at hand, and told His disciples to preach that message, too. There is no question about that.
The puzzling part is Jesus’ statement that everyone is forcing their way into the kingdom. Apparently, there were (and probably still are) people who were trying to get into the kingdom without obeying the rules. Jesus accused the Pharisees and teachers of the law of doing that (as we saw in Section 6.12). If so, that would explain Jesus’ subsequent sentence about not even the slightest stroke of the pen being removed from the law. He may have been talking about the Pharisees and lawyers. On the other hand, in Section 8.4 above, Jesus spoke of ordinary people who would try to get into the kingdom, but would not be able to. They will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us,” but they won’t get in.
Regardless of exactly who Jesus was saying would try to force their way into the kingdom, this is clear: The law is still binding, and people who violate the law won’t be admitted into the kingdom under any circumstances.
Some people would like to take the statement, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John” out of context so they can claim the law ended with John. If that is true, then adultery is no longer against the law. But Jesus expanded the definition of adultery to extend to remarriage. He didn’t abolish the commandment against adultery, or any other commandment.
It is a human tendency to substitute human traditions for God’s laws because human traditions can be made to be easier to keep. The Jews had made up lots of human traditions about how to keep the Sabbath in an effort to achieve righteousness without actually being righteous.
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14:1-14]
The Pharisee thought it would be righteous to not heal someone on the Sabbath because the Pharisees had made up many artificial restrictions regarding what could not be done on Sabbath. He thought healing was too much like work, and therefore should not be done.
God never intended the Sabbath to be used as an excuse not to do a good deed.
Because the Pharisee observed so many restrictions on Sabbath, he thought he was better than everyone else. Therefore, he picked a place of honor for himself at the table. Furthermore, the Pharisee had invited his friends to come and eat with a noted celebrity (Jesus, by name) so that his friends would invite him to their special banquets. The “prominent Pharisee” (Luke’s description) must have thought himself to be someone really special.
Jesus put him down a peg or two by using a parable to tell him he should not think more highly of himself than he deserved. The Pharisee could not take offense without admitting that he did think he deserved to be seated at a place of honor, and the parable was about him.
Then, Jesus made the same point as He did in the Parable of the Lost Job. If the Pharisee simply invited people to his banquets who could repay him by inviting them to their banquets, that is all the reward he would get. But if the Pharisee took the longer view, and was truly generous by inviting people who could not repay him in this life, he was storing up treasures in heaven which could be enjoyed for eternity.
Perhaps you have been surprised at how many times Jesus said that doing good on Earth will result in getting rewards in Heaven. Most Christians will tell you that if you do good things here on Earth just to get rewarded in Heaven, it won’t count because you are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and motive is more important than performance. They condemn good deeds as “legalism.” Perhaps you have noticed that in this instance, and every other instance, Jesus never says that. He simply says, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus told this parable about a son who did the right thing for the wrong reason, and a son who had good intentions, but didn’t do what his father asked.
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” [Matthew 21:28-32]
If motive is all that counts, the son who said he would work, but didn’t actually do the job, is the better son. But Jesus’ teaching is clear. The sinners who grudgingly obey will be saved, and the people with good intentions who do not obey will not be saved.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. [Luke 17:1-3a]
You have probably heard stories about mothers who keep praying for their wayward sons. If the son is lost, it isn’t the mother’s fault if the son makes a fatal mistake. Everyone is responsible for his own salvation. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help someone recognize his sins and encourage him to repent. Remember, Jesus said,
… first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. [Luke 6:42]
We really are, to some extent, our brother’s keeper. We have an obligation to try to save our brothers; but it isn’t our fault if we try and fail. As Jesus said, things that cause people to stumble are bound to come. You can’t prevent them all from coming. We also should be careful not to set a bad example, or do anything that might cause a brother to fall; but it isn’t our fault if we try and fail.
I suspect that Jesus was primarily addressing the church leaders when He warned them not to cause little children to fall because Jesus said this on another occasion:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” [Matthew 23:15]
Over the years, I have attended several seminars dealing with the subject of why people leave the church, and what to do about it. Many reasons were suggested. People were offended because someone sat in “their pew.” Someone criticized what they wore to church, and so on. The list of reasons why people leave the church is long, and every item on the list had this one thing in common: It is the members’ fault. Never once was it suggested that it is the minister’s fault, or the fault of someone higher up in the church’s organization. In fact, anyone who suggests that the blame might lie somehow with the leadership is a troublemaker who needs to be expelled quickly before the cancer spreads.
Jesus certainly did tell ordinary people that they needed to repent and reform—but the church leadership did not escape criticism.
Just scroll back to the beginning of this chapter and review it. It began with Jesus telling people to be on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. The salt that had lost its saltiness applied more to the leadership than the congregation. The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants is certainly a condemnation of the failure of the church leadership. Jesus’ advice about what to do when you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, would not be necessary if the authorities were the “good guys.” For three years Jesus had been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and hadn’t found any because the leaders were not properly teaching and leading the people. One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched because they were looking for an excuse to discredit Him.
We haven’t gotten to this yet, but (spoiler alert) the church leaders falsely accused Jesus and had Him crucified!
Even after the crucifixion, when the Jewish leaders lost their place at the banquet table, and were replaced by elders appointed by Paul and the other apostles, Paul wrote angry letters to the churches telling the leaders to get their acts together. Jesus even appeared to John in vision telling him to write letters to the “angels” (that is, leaders) of seven churches which were largely critical of the church leadership. 5
Now, are we supposed to believe that church leaders are infallible?
People generally blame TV, music, drugs, alcohol, gangs, gambling, fake news and corrupt politicians for all the trouble in America. Would these things have any effect if church leaders were doing their job? Church leaders aren’t causing all the sin in our society—but they aren’t doing much to stop it. They have lost their saltiness, and preach bland, politically-correct sermons about love, while ignoring the danger we are facing. Satan and his demons are attacking us, and many (maybe most) church leaders don’t even acknowledge their existence.
In the previous section, it might have sounded like I was warning you against modern religious leaders. If that’s what you think, you heard me loud and clear. But what I say doesn’t matter. It’s Jesus you have to listen to.
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” [Luke 20:45-47]
Jesus wasn’t condemning all the religious leaders of His day, nor is He condemning all the religious leaders of our day. There always have been, and always will be, some righteous religious leaders. Despite the existence of some righteous leaders, there is no question that there have been many really bad religious leaders in the past. The Protestant Reformation began because the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church had strayed so far from God that they thought they could sell indulgences for sin. Why would you expect all the modern religious leaders to be righteous?
If a denomination performs same-sex marriages, and ordains lesbian priests, would Jesus criticize them? Absolutely, in the strongest terms! Would Jesus praise that denomination for its cultural sensitivity and political correctness? Not a chance!
Tolerance of sin is not a virtue. Tolerance of sin just leads to more sin. If religious leaders don’t stand up against sin, what good are they? If they aren’t salty, Jesus said they are good for nothing but to be trampled into the ground.
The notion that you should, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” protects corrupt religious leaders from criticism. How dare you criticize a pastor or higher ranking church official? They have been ordained by God, and you are just a lowly sinner! In many cases, that tactic works. Rather than oppose corrupt leaders, and be branded as a troublemaker, people simply stop going to church. That’s why so many churches in America have declining membership.
To bring people back into the church, many denominations have adopted worldly customs to make people feel more comfortable in church. Nothing is said in a sermon that might offend anyone because offended church members don’t come back and (more importantly) no longer contribute to the church. What corrupt church leaders need to realize is that, “These men will be punished most severely.”
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” [Luke 17:3b-4]
I titled this section “forgiveness” because that is what most people probably think that is a good summary of the quoted verse. Even if someone sins against you seven times in a day, you must forgive them. Yes, that’s what the verse says—but that’s not all it says. Read it again. What did you miss the first time?
Jesus said, if your brother or sister sins against you, you should rebuke them. When was the last time you heard that from the pulpit? You probably heard, “Judge not lest ye be judged” instead. The common, salt-free advice is to ignore sin. Just be the bigger man, forgive the sinner, and move on. That’s not what Jesus said to do.
Jesus said you must rebuke a sinner with the goal of making him see his sin and repent of it. It isn’t surprising that Christians don’t do this very often because their leaders don’t do it very often.
Yes, you might be able to name one or two Christian leaders who stand up against abortion and same-sex marriage, but the fact that those few names stand out is because there are so few of them. Most people have come to believe that “it isn’t very Christian” to deny a woman her “right to choose.” “It isn’t very Christian” to fail to accept that “it doesn’t matter who you love.” The reason they say “it isn’t very Christian” because they don’t know Jesus. They have been taught that Jesus is loving, accepting, and non-judgmental. Yes, Jesus is loving; but He isn’t accepting, He doesn’t tolerate sin, and He is coming back to judge the world.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. [Luke 17:5-6]
If being a Christian were easy, you would not need to have any faith. The reason you need faith is because Satan is constantly tempting you to disobey, and you need faith to access the power to resist the temptation.
The disciples realized this, so they asked for more faith. What they did not realize is that faith is so powerful, you don’t really need very much of it. If you have just a tiny bit, no more than the size of a seed, you have enough to overcome any temptation. So, don’t be afraid that you don’t have enough faith. You do have enough faith. The Holy Spirit is living in you, giving you the power to overcome the devil and all his wiles. Just use the power that God has already given you.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” [Luke 17:7-10]
Why did Jesus teach this? He must have had a reason. There must have been some misconception that Jesus felt He had to address. What could it have been?
Perhaps some people felt God owed them salvation. The Jews knew they were the Chosen People, so perhaps they felt they deserved salvation because of their special relationship with God.
Perhaps some people felt they had earned salvation. The Jews had all sorts of rituals and traditions, and if they obeyed all of them, God had to reward them with salvation.
If the people believed either of these things, they were wrong. Although we may or may not correctly guess why Jesus said this, we don’t have to guess what He said.
To be perfectly blunt, Jesus said you must obey God because He is God, and you aren’t. As Tennyson said,
Theirs not to reason why,
When I stress the necessity of obeying God’s laws, I am usually accused of being a “legalist” who is “trying to earn salvation.” This is a false accusation because I would still obey God’s laws even if life ended at death and there were no future resurrection. When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, “I have only done my duty.” Don’t expect any special reward for doing what you were told.
Yes, God does reward His faithful servants; but He does it out of love, not obligation. When you think about it, He has already given you more than you deserve. He didn’t have to give you life in the first place; and even if there were no resurrection in the future, the life He has given you already is a gift you did nothing to earn.
Immediately after telling His disciples that obedience to God is obligatory, He used paying taxes as an example to reinforce what He had just said.
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. [Luke 20:20-26]
Not only do you have an obligation to obey God’s laws, you must also obey man’s laws (so long as they don’t conflict with God’s laws).
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 7 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions. [Luke 20:27-40]
Pharisees were the conservatives. They believed what the Bible teaches about death. They were looking forward to the Second Coming and the future resurrections of the righteous and the wicked.
Sadducees were the “enlightened” liberals who did not believe in life after death. They thought they could logically disprove the notion of life after death, and therefore disprove the coming judgment at the Day of the Lord.
Most Christians today are neither Pharisees nor Sadducees. They believe the pagan Roman myth that you go to Heaven or Hell immediately when you die. This makes it easy for atheists to “disprove” the Bible by asking, “If everybody is already in Heaven or Hell, why does Jesus need to come back to resurrect people?” The fallacy in the atheists’ argument is that the Bible doesn’t say people are resurrected immediately after they die. All the atheists’ argument proves is that most Christians really don’t know what the Bible says about death. 8
Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees believed that anybody was already in Heaven (except Enoch, Elijah, and Moses). That’s why the Sadducees asked, “at the resurrection whose wife will she be?” That’s why Jesus said, “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die.” The “age to come” is obviously future. The “dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” They aren’t married or single now because they have not been resurrected yet.
Here is the passage the Sadducees were questioning Jesus about:
If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his faceand say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. [Deuteronomy 25:5-10]
The purpose of this law was to assure that there would be a son to inherit the dead man’s property, and that the widow would have a man to take care of her. Feminists probably find that offensive; but that’s the way it was back then.
After the Second Coming and the recreation of Earth, nobody is going to inherit land after someone dies because nobody is going to die. Women won’t need men to take care of them because God will take care of everyone. Love will still exist on the New Earth, so men and women who were married will still love each other; but there won’t be any need for couples to file income tax returns jointly even if only one had income.
Besides procreation, the other reason for marriage was to serve as an example of the relationship between God and man. After the Second Coming, when we are living with Jesus and experience that relationship first-hand, there is no need for marriage to teach us anything about God.
The Sadducees didn’t really want to know the answer to their question. They just wanted to try to outwit Jesus. We, on the other hand, are curious about what life will be like on the New Earth. We can take comfort in Jesus’ explanation that we will still love each other, but we won’t need marriage to determine who will inherit our property when we die because we won’t die.
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Footnotes:1 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.