Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

A Story from Beyond the Grave

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:19-31, “A Story from Beyond the Grave”

Funerals are almost always somber affairs.  Out of all the many traditional things that are said & done at funerals, one of the most common is this: “If so & so were here, they’d love this…  They’d say this…”  Whether or not it’s true is beside the point.  We imagine it on their behalf, and we’re comforted by the thought.

Out of everything the Bible has to say about life beyond the grave, it gives us just a single example of what a person would say to his loved ones, if given one more chance: the story of the rich man & Lazarus.  Here, we do not have to guess what the rich man would or would not like, or would or would not say – Jesus tells us exactly.  And what He tells us might not be what we would expect.  The most pressing message from our departed loved ones to us has nothing to do with funeral arrangements or clothing, the food, etc.  All they want is one thing: for us to believe the testimony of the gospel!  All of the other stuff (with all due respect) is fluff.  The one thing we can know with absolute certainty that each one of our loved ones would tell us is that 100% of what the Bible says is true…so believe it!

That is the basic message of the story of the rich man & Lazarus.  You’ll notice I said “story” and not “parable,” because (although there is disagreement on this), it does not appear that Jesus told this as a parable.  Many of the normal indicators of a parable (apart from the very basic fact that Jesus tells the story) are simply not here.  (1) The story has no introduction identifying it as a parable.  By itself, this isn’t all that unusual, especially in Luke’s gospel – Luke 15 & 16 contain true parables that begin much the same way as this particular story.  Even so, an introduction would solidify the argument either way, but in this case there’s none.  (2) Parables typically put spiritual lessons into commonplace events.  A sower sows his seed…  A vineyard owner inspects his land…  A farmer hires workers throughout the day…  And so forth.  Again, Luke 15-16 show a similar pattern.  A shepherd seeks a lost sheep – a woman seeks a lost coin – a father waits for his lost sons.  A steward tries to get himself out of trouble, etc.  These are all very relatable events for the common person of 1st century Judea.  Yet in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, there is little “common” about it!  Aside from a contrast between a rich & poor man, the bulk of the story takes place in the afterlife, featuring things that 1st century Jews would have had very little knowledge of.  (3) Parables typically deal not only with generic situations, but generic people.  In this story, two characters are actually named: Lazarus & Abraham.  This alone sets it apart from any parable contained in the gospels, and is not a fact to take lightly.

By themselves, each one of these things might be a bit weak, but put these factors together & things tend to add up.  Thus, it seems better to think of this as an actual historical account, rather than a parable.  This is something that only the Son of God would know, and He encountered a situation with the Pharisees when it became necessary to share it.

This being said, many scholars assume this to be a parable, and it certainly is not a major area of doctrine where there needs to be division.  There is room for disagreement here.  No matter what one’s stance on the matter, it does not affect the main point/moral of the story – virtually the same application is going to be reached, either way you interpret Jesus’ words.  However, if we see this as a historical account, it does mean that we’re not looking for symbolism, or attribute some of the details regarding Hades or Paradise as simply background.  If this is a historical (though supernatural) account, then all aspects of the story are to be received literally.  That’s the difference the recognition of genre makes.  It doesn’t change the main idea, but it certainly affects the details we know of the afterlife.

Of course, none of that makes much of a difference if we don’t see the main point – and the main point of this story is completely wrapped up in its context.  Remember that tensions had been rising between Jesus and the Pharisees.  It wasn’t the first time it had happened, nor would it be the last.  These Pharisees were completely lost, alienated from God, and they were too blind to realize it.  What they did see was a bunch of sinners being received by Jesus (not recognizing themselves as just as sinful), and it caused them to grumble and complain.  Of course, the Pharisees had exactly the same opportunity as everyone else to be received by Jesus and to receive the word of God through Him, but they were unwilling to do so.  Thus, they were missing out on the opportunity to prepare for eternity.  They were too focused upon earthly things, like mammon & wealth, and believed themselves to be self-righteous already, never needing the work of a Savior.  (And they were wrong!)  Thus they ignored the witness of the Law of God regarding sin.  They used the Bible to justify themselves, rather than letting it lead them to Christ.  Even while they taught the Scriptures to others, they ignored the warning against themselves.

Jesus’ response?  He tells the tale of another self-righteous wealthy man who ignored the warnings of the Scriptures.  Like in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebenezer Scrooge receives a warning from the grave, Jesus gives the account of a different man who wanted to send a warning to his loved ones.  Only the difference is this: (1) the tale Jesus tells is real, and (2) no such warning was given.  Once the man was in the grave, his warning stayed with him.  He, like his family, had all the warning that was needed: in the pages of the Bible.  We have but one opportunity to believe the testimony of the gospel, and it is while we draw breath in this life.  Don’t waste your opportunity!  Believe, while you have the chance!

Luke 16:19–31

  • Living and Dying (19-23)

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

  • Although it begins like several of the other parables in Luke, it soon becomes clear this is not a parable.  At the very least, it is very different from any other parable ever spoken by Jesus.  But the beginning is fairly normal.  There is a generic “rich man,” who is incredibly wealthy even by the standards of his day.  To be “clothed in purple” is to say that he was clothed in purple garments.  Purple dye was extraordinarily expensive, made from certain fish & mollusks in the region.  It was so expensive that it became associated with royalty.  For a man to be “clothed in purple” was for him to be dressed as a king.  Not that purple cloth was his only fabric – he was also clothed in “fine linen.”  According to Vincent: “Some of the Egyptian linen was so fine that it was called woven air.”  Thus, it was as fine as silk – if not even more luxurious.  This was a man dressed to the nines – and this was how he lived every day.
  • Beyond what he wore was what he ate.  When Jesus said that he “fared sumptuously every day,” the description is basically that of a holiday feast on a daily basis.  Every dinner was a glorious, splendid meal, and those who ate were merry & glad every time they sat down.  Again, this was royal living – the rich man lived every day as a king in his hometown.
  • BTW – Is Jesus condemning wealth?  Not at all.  Certainly this particular man let his wealth blind his eyes to the needs all around him, as he selfishly lived for himself & his own glory.  But overall, Jesus doesn’t say anything critical about money in & of itself.  Throughout the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament), wealthy people were used by God for His glory.  All the patriarchs were rich men, as were Kings David & Solomon, and if it hadn’t been for a rich man donating his own personal tomb, Jesus’ body would have had anywhere to be buried.  Money is not the problem; the love of money is. (1 Tim 6:10)  Problems arise when we mis-prioritize money, and serve it, rather than God. (Lk 16:13)  Of course, this is what the Pharisees had done (16:14), and this was the primary reason Jesus told them this story.
    • How can we tell if we’ve come to a place where we’re serving money instead of God? (1) When money & the things we can buy are the first things we desire, and (2) when our spending is totally selfish.  If there’s one thing the rich man in the story demonstrates, it’s that he spent his great riches on himself, rather than having an open hand to God, allowing God to direct him on how to spend his money.  Anytime it’s “all about me,” we’ve got a problem.
  • This rich man is contrasted with someone else: Lazarus, vs. 20…

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

  • First things first – we have a name: “Lazarus.”  The name is not likely to be symbolic, as it was fairly common in the day, being the Latinized version of the Hebrew “Eleazar.”  It is almost certainly not a reference to Jesus’ friend named Lazarus, whom He did actually raise from the dead.  First of all, that particular Lazarus did not seem to be overly poor, as he had a house & a tomb in which he was buried.  Secondly, that Lazarus did come back from the dead – the very thing the Lazarus in this story was not permitted to do.  That being said, it may not be totally unintentional that both men have the same name.  The Pharisees are first warned of their future through the account of this Lazarus, yet it obviously has little effect on them.  How so?  Because later when they actually do see a Lazarus risen from the dead, they don’t believe his testimony, and the priests conspire against him to kill him. (Jn 12:10)
    • That being said, we don’t need to read too much into the name – but we do need to recognize that an actual name is given.  This is in clear contrast to the rich man, although over time, tradition did give him a variety of names. (Dives, “rich” in Latin; Nineveh, via Sahidic mss; Phinehas, in the 4th century.)  Yet the original text is clear: the only name known was that of the poor man, Lazarus.  Whether or not the Pharisees knew of a poor man named Lazarus is irrelevant.  Jesus knew him, and named him specifically.  (Jesus knows your name!)
    • Simply the name itself provides a contrast between the two men.  The rich man who lived as a king among his neighbors is unidentified & anonymous; the impoverished man who had nothing was named by the Lord Jesus.  Which was more exalted in the eyes of the Lord God?  The community may have exalted the rich man, but God Himself is the One who lifted up Lazarus.
      • The most important thing in life is not how many friends you have, or how many people know your name; it’s whether or not your name is written in the Book of Life.  It’s whether or not Jesus knows you as His own.  There are many well-known people (even pastors!) who will one day stand before the Lord Jesus calling to Him for mercy, and He will reply, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”  Jesus knew Lazarus; does He know you? 
  • Not only is there a contrast in the name, but there is a massive contrast in the way the two men lived their lives.  One lived as a king; the other in abject poverty.  Whereas the rich man was dressed in purple & fine linen, Lazarus was dressed in “sores,” so to speak.  Like ancient Job, his body was covered in open wounds, causing him misery day-after-day.  And like Job, Lazarus was also seen by God as righteous, proven by his reception into Paradise.  Suffering in this life is not necessarily tied to our personal sin.  Disease is not indicative of divine punishment; it is simply one more reason to cling to Jesus.
  • Beyond the sores was Lazarus’ treatment by society.  To say that he “was laid at the gate,” is to say that he was thrown to the gate.  He was driven there, or otherwise placed there.  This was not a place Lazarus chose to be; it was the place he was forced to be.  As to why, we aren’t told.  Although our English translations typically label Lazarus as a “beggar,” (which is obvious from the context), technically the word used only refers to his poverty.  The contrast is between the unnamed rich man, and the named poor man.  But again, as to why he was poor, we don’t know.  Perhaps his disease was the reason people cast him away, but he could have developed the sores simply from years of living on the streets in the dust.  It is virtually certain he was not lazy, not wanting to work – that would have been seen as sin, considering God created us to work, and to take basic responsibility for ourselves. 
  • Finally, Lazarus barely lived as a human among men.  Unlike the rich man who feasted every single night, Lazarus was so hungry that all he wanted were the crumbs that fell from the table mere feet away from him.  He scrounged like a dog, with only dogs to keep him company.  In fact, the dogs were his only friends & medicine, as they licked his wounds, keeping out infection.
  • From the perspective of the Pharisees (and most of the people in that culture at the time), it would have been obvious who the hero was…and it wasn’t Lazarus.  To them, those who were rich were supremely blessed by God, having their righteousness affirmed, while those who were poor were being punished by God, receiving their just desserts.
    • This may have been the common thought, but it certainly is not what the Bible teaches.  Yes, sometimes God does bless people with wealth, but God’s blessing is not tied to wealth.  Again, the book of Job demonstrates this – that is actually one of the primary themes!  Sometimes, people just suffer.  Why?  Because we live in a fallen world.  This life is not what it should be – this world is not what God originally created it to be.  Once sin entered the picture, everything changed.  Work became hard, childbirth became painful, and mankind was sentenced to death.  But this is where the beauty of the gospel comes in.  Because of Jesus, everything changes again!  Although we still suffer in this world, all our suffering is limited to this world.  Those who believe in Christ do not have to expect pain & suffering in the future – that is completely removed for us because of the cross and resurrection.  Does God sometimes physically bless us in this life?  Yes.  But in eternity, we have a guarantee of God’s blessing.  The ultimate blessing is being in Christ Jesus!

22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

  • Both men died, like all men do.  It might seem obvious to us, just as it surely did to the Pharisees, but it’s a fact worth pointing out.  After all, the lives of these men were vastly different, but there is a great leveler in the grave.  All people die.  Riches might delay death, due to surgeries & the best medical care, but riches cannot prevent death.  Apart from those who live to hear the trumpet of Christ & experience the rapture, all people will die.  It is inevitable. 
  • In their death, there is a third contrast: one was honored by men; the other attended to only by the angels.  The rich man “was buried,” meaning that he had a tomb and that his body was attended to by others.  He went through the burial process, just like Jesus would later do after His body was taken down from the cross.  Thus, the rich man’s body would have been packed in spices, wrapped, and carefully laid in a tomb.  As for Lazarus?  Nothing is said.  Most likely, his body was dumped in a common grave.  No human took any care in attending to his body – but he had something far better with the angels!  God cared for Lazarus in a way that none else could, and had him immediately carried away to “Abraham’s bosom.
  • What is “Abraham’s bosom”? This is the only time that the term is used in the Scripture, though the basic concept was likely understood by the Jewish culture at the time to be Paradise.  Recall that Jesus gave a promise of this place to one of the men hanging next to Him on the cross.  Luke 23:42–43, "(42) Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (43) And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”"  This isn’t necessarily what we might typically think of Heaven (a place with streets of gold, etc.), simply because that place is the New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21.  That place does not appear until after Jesus 2nd Coming & the Millennial Kingdom.  However, Paradise is in the presence of God.  A similar phrase is used one other time: John 1:18, "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."  This is where the pre-incarnate Jesus was, and presumably where Abraham, Isaac, and the other Old Testament saints went as well.  The whole concept of being in someone’s “bosom” was that of closeness.  During the Last Supper, the apostle John reclined upon Jesus’ chest (leaned on His bosom), as they sat at the table to eat.  Thus, the idea is of one of peace, comfort, security, relationship, and blessing.
    • Even though this is prior to the resurrection of Jesus, please note that when Lazarus dies, he is immediately in a place of comfort, seemingly right in the presence of God.  Even if our knowledge of Abraham’s bosom/Paradise is a bit sketchy, this is exactly the promise we have as New Testament believers, now that Jesus is risen from the dead.  When we are absent from the body, we are immediately present with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8)  At our deaths, Christians are never alone, made to wait, nor forgotten – we are immediately in the presence of our Lord & Savior.

23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

  • A fourth contrast: one is in comfort, the other in torment.  Whereas Lazarus was apparently finally able to relax at a table for a meal with Abraham, this time it was the rich man who suffered…and he suffered badly!  He was “in torments” (plural!), and it means exactly what the word implies: severe pain, brought on by torture or other punishment.  It wasn’t the single burn of a flame – it was ongoing, never-ending (as implied by the present-tense).
  • Although the KJV & NIV state that the rich man was in “hell,” this is an inaccurate translation.  The word is literally “Hades,” (ᾅδης) and it is virtually interchangeable with the Hebrew concept of Sheol (the grave). Culturally speaking, the Hebrew understanding of Sheol is that this was where everyone went upon death – both the righteous and the unrighteous.  It was simply the grave, and all went there.  Even Peter speaks of Jesus as having gone to Hades (Sheol) when Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:31)  That being said, there is no doubt that the area of Hades to which the rich man went, was one of absolute torment.  It may not be the future lake of fire, but it no doubt feels the same way.
  • Some have objected to this, pointing this out as one reason to interpret this story as a parable, saying that this description of Hades could not be literal, because it is in view of Paradise.  How could it be that the rich man suffered in this way in this place, and still be able to see Abraham, and even speak to him in this story? How could the rich man see Paradise, being where he was?  Remember a couple of things:
    • First, Jesus is describing Hades & Paradise; not what we typically think of Hell & Heaven in their eternal states (the lake of fire vs. the New Jerusalem).  Neither one of those locations will be used until after Jesus 2nd Coming.  Thus, we have to expect a few things to be different.
    • Even with that in mind, even eternal Hell seems to be in view of Heaven.  Speaking of those who take the mark of Antichrist & worship the Beast, Revelation 14:10–11, "(10) he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (11) And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”"  Notice where the torment takes place: “in the presence of the Lamb.”  The Lord Jesus certainly does not reside in Hell, but it will be in His sight.  As the omnipresent & omniscient God, it cannot be otherwise.
    • How can this be, when Hell is so often described as a place of outer darkness?  Darkness in one location does not preclude light in another.  The curses placed upon Egypt during the Hebrew slavery demonstrate this. (Exo 10)  People in Hades/Tarturus/Hell can still be in suffering & darkness, all while being able to see Paradise/Heaven in the distance.  They will be able to glimpse the things that they miss.  Surely that will be one of the worst parts!
    • Keep in mind, no one has to go there!  Jesus died on the cross for the specific reason to save us from Hell.  Hell was created for the devil & his angels; not for human beings. (Mt 25:41)  We aren’t meant to be there…so don’t go!
  • 1st Request and Answer (24-26)

24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

  • Being in agonizing torment, the rich man asks for mercy – he asks for Lazarus.  This demonstrates a couple of things.  (1) He recognized Lazarus, knowing him.  It demonstrates that he knew Lazarus in life, although he did nothing to help him.  (2) He remembered Lazarus’ social status, asking Abraham to “send Lazarus” to him as a servant.  It shows that even in torment, nothing in his heart had changed.  The pain he experienced did nothing to transform his character; it was simply justice for what he had done in life.
  • BTW – “flame” seems to mean exactly what it says.  There’s no indication that this is anything but literal.  The fire was the cause of his torment and thirst.  Although it is understandable why some pastors and scholars want to dismiss the idea of a literal place of hellish torment, we do not have the freedom to change the plain meaning of the Bible.  Jesus repeatedly described hell (this part of Hades being included) with this same type of terminology.  It is a place of outer-darkness, of weeping & gnashing of teeth. (Mt 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30)  It is a place where the worm never dies & the fire is never quenched. (Mk 9:44, 46, 48).  Later, in regards to the lake of fire, it is a place where Satan, Antichrist, the false prophet & presumably all with them “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10)  The torments of hell are not invented to “scare” people into obeying the church; they are real descriptions of a real place.
    • Don’t try to explain the torments of hell away; do what it takes not to experience them! As a Christian, let those things drive & motivate you to share the gospel. Help others avoid going there.
  • One other thing: please note that this was all the rich man had.  He was tormented, and that was it.  There is no Purgatory – no chance to work off his sins.  Even though this part of Hades will eventually be emptied into the lake of fire, there is no indication whatsoever that this rich man had any hope of leaving his torments.  He is resigned to eternal suffering, with this being only the beginning.  The Bible gives no indication of Purgatory – no indication of annihilation – no indication of soul sleep – no indication of any of the imaginations of men to make hell less awful than what it is.  Again, don’t reimagine hell; just help people be saved from it.

25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.

  • A fifth contrast: the lives of the two men had been totally the opposite.  Jesus had given us the description earlier, but Abraham summed it up here.  One had “received good things,” while the other had received “evil things.”  Again – nowhere is wealth condemned.  It was actually a good thing!  What the rich man did with his wealth was the problem.  Lazarus’ poverty, on the other hand, was not considered good.  There was nothing sinful about Lazarus’ condition, but there was certainly sin in how he was treated.  He received nothing but suffering throughout his life – both through the actions of the community, and the inaction of the man in front of whose house he sat.
    • The point: God knew the difference!  None of the rich man’s opulence was unknown, and neither were any of Lazarus’ sufferings ignored.  Abraham knew exactly what each had gone through, which means the he must have learned it from the Lord God. God knows our sufferings! … God also knows our sin. …
  • A sixth contrast: the afterlives of the two men were totally the opposite.  Lazarus was “comforted”; the rich man was “tormented.”  We’ve already looked at this somewhat – but the important point now is that just as the torments were ongoing for the rich man, the comforts were ongoing for Lazarus.  The verb used is one we’re familiar with in regards to the presence of God: παρακαλέω, literally “called alongside,” the noun version being “Paraclete,” a term for the Holy Spirit.  Here, the verb is also in the present tense, showing that it is ongoing, without end.  IOW, Lazarus didn’t only have a nice meal with Abraham & sent on his way; he was continually comforted, always being in the presence of God.  The comforts of heaven last as long as the torments of hell: forever.  As believers, we will always be in the presence of our Lord!
  • Bottom line: what is demonstrated through all of this?  Basically what Jesus had taught earlier: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. (13:28-30) The person who exalted himself was now humbled, while the person who was humbled was exalted by God. (14:11)  It is the glorious paradox of the gospel, where Jesus lifts up the one who was put down and the expectations of earth are reversed.  The key is simply this: where are seeking your glories – on earth or in heaven?  One is temporary; the other is eternal.  Seek first the kingdom of God!

26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

  • Literally the “great gulf” = mega chasm.  It was impossible to cross!  Once someone dies, it’s too late.  All kinds of chances are given in this life for people to respond to the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  Once this life is over, all opportunities are gone.
  • 2nd Request and Answer (27-31)

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

  • Most translations say “I beg,” but this is an editorial interpretation rather than a strict translation.  Technically, this could be rendered “I ask/request.”  Translation committees decided on “beg” to the context, but that word is inherently loaded, and might color our view of what the rich man actually said.  There’s no indication that the (formerly) rich man has submitted himself to God or to Abraham – he is still making as many demands in death as he did in life.
  • If he cannot at least receive a drop of water, he asks for a personal warning to be given to his family. Once again, he’s asking that Lazarus be the one to go.  He seems fixated!  Perhaps he was jealous of Lazarus – perhaps he was so stuck in his egotism that he expected Lazarus to serve him.  Either way, it’s interesting that out of all of the people in Paradise, the man could not take his eyes off of Lazarus.  It’s one more demonstration that his heart had not changed.
  • That being said, it was an understandable request.  He wants to warn his family members, so that they don’t suffer the same fate he did.  What he didn’t realize was that a warning had already been given.  Vs. 29…

29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

  • Abraham tells him clearly: they had a warning.  They had the Scriptures.  “Moses and the prophets” is basically shorthand for the entirety of the Old Testament.  What had been given in in the Hebrew Bible was more than enough for people to know how to prepare for eternity.  After all, the whole of the law could be summed up in two commandments: love God, and love others.  This wasn’t just proclaimed by Jesus – this could be known by any of the Jews.  Luke 10:25–28, "(25) And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (26) He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (27) So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”"  The Scriptures testify to the goodness of God & to the value of men & women.  Thus, we are to love our Creator, and those He created.  That is evident throughout the pages of the Bible, from Genesis 1, onward.  Abraham was absolutely correct.  Moses & the prophets were more than enough warning to the man’s brothers.  God had given a warning…He had given 39 books! (We have 66!)
  • The man’s response is telling.  In his mind, the Scriptures weren’t good enough.  Even though what was written down were the very words of God – even though what was written was the clear proclamation of God concerning what He expects of men & women…it wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t enough warning, it wasn’t enough evidence.  In the mind of this man, the things God had provided weren’t enough at all.
    • No matter how much God gives, for some people it’s never enough.
  • There is at least one good thing in the man’s objection (as stubborn as it was): at least he finally understood the need for repentance.  Without a true change of heart & life, his brothers would end up in the same spot he was.  They needed to change their direction in life.  Instead of living for themselves, they needed to live for the glory of God.  Instead of consumption of their lusts, they needed to open their eyes to the people around them that God loved.  But left to their own devices, they were headed straight for eternal torment – just like him – just like the Pharisees – just like all who are self-righteous.
  • In the end, the man’s request & appeal were denied.  Vs. 31…

31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

  • If Moses & the prophets were not heard, what difference would another miracle make?  Someone hardened to God’s word is going to be hardened to other testimony as well.  In ancient Egypt, one could have hardly received more evidence than Pharaoh.  He saw with his own eyes the hand of God, and his advisors pleaded with him to repent & surrender.  But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and it cost him his son.  Someone unwilling to believe, won’t believe – no matter how much evidence is placed in front of him/her.
  • Sadly, this point is proved twice over.  When another Lazarus was raised from the dead (which ought to have been an obvious warning to the Pharisees!), they ignored that message.  And when Jesus rose from the dead, they tried to suppress His news as well.  Their hearts were already hardened to the point of no return…and they condemned themselves.
    • Beware a hardened heart!  Listen to the word of God – know the message of the resurrected Jesus!

Conclusion:
Whatever you believe about the genre of the text (parable or narrative), don’t miss the main point: we have only one life in which to respond to the grace of God through Jesus…don’t waste it!  Listen to the warnings of the Scriptures – know what God has revealed of Himself through His word – pay close attention to the gospel of Christ…and respond!  One life – one chance – that is all that is given to us.  Believe!

If you have, then you can do what was impossible for Lazarus: sound the warning.  Just like we have one opportunity to believe, we also have but one life in which we can tell others about Jesus.  Out of all of the things we do in this life, the one thing in eternity we will never think we did too much is to share the gospel.  If anything, as we gaze around in heaven & think about those in hell, we will think we didn’t do it enough.  Obviously you cannot save anyone – you cannot force anyone to believe…don’t put that level of guilt on yourself.  But we can be a witness to others.  We can tell them of the love of Jesus, and His free offer to save them from the horrors of hell.

So what are you doing with your opportunity?  Use it, for the glory of God!

Listen to the Law

Posted: August 6, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:14-18, “Listen to the Law”

Lawyer jokes are typically underappreciated.  Lawyers don’t think they are funny, and no one else thinks they’re jokes. 🙂  The reason the stereotype works so well is because deep down, there’s a bit of lawyer in all of us.  We all look for ways around the law – we look for our loopholes in which we can find a technicality – we look for ways to get ourselves off the hook, while hanging someone else upon it.  By no means is that limited to a certain profession; that’s simple human nature!

It certainly was the case for the Pharisees.  These were people who taught the law of Moses, lived in the law of Moses – they were people who dove headlong into it, studying every aspect of it alongside every commentary they could find from the rabbis who had gone before them.  Yet for as much as they knew about the law’s requirements, (broadly speaking) they knew nothing of its heart.  They sought out loopholes and technicalities – they used the law to justify themselves in the sight of God, rather than acknowledging that the law doesn’t justify anyone.  They gave themselves assurance of the kingdom (i.e. salvation), without having any real assurance at all.

Sound familiar?  It is not at all unlike what multitudes of people do today.  They label themselves as “Christians,” and engage in all kinds of “churchy” behavior, but they don’t see the word of God for what it truly is.  They use the Scripture to justify themselves, rather than allowing it to continually drive them to the grace of Jesus.  In the process, they miss the point.  They may label themselves as “Christians,” but they know little of Christ.  If they did, they would cling to Him & His word as tightly as they would a life-preserver or a parachute – for it is only in Him & His promises do we find real salvation.

Luke 16:14-18 can seem like a strange little passage, tucked neatly between two far more famous teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy to treat it as “filler”: random saying that simply round out the longer teachings – something we might rush through in order to get to the next section. (And I would be lying if I didn’t admit I almost fell into that temptation!)  But when we consider the doctrine of inspiration, that every word that is written in the Bible is a word intended to be there by God the Holy Spirit, our perspective changes.  (1) There is no such thing as “filler,” although admittedly some Scriptures are more interesting than others.  The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles surely meant much to the clans & families of the ancient Jews, but it is just a bunch of foreign-sounding names to us today.  Even so, those chapters (and this teaching) are inherently valuable because they are given by God.  (2) The Spirit is not random in His teaching.  What He gives has a point, which is usually very clear in a narrative or gospel account such as Luke.  We simply need to discern what that point is, and then we find the key to the entire text.

In this case, we have some pretty diverse topics: the love of money, self-righteousness, the permanency of the law, and divorce.  Is there a main idea?  Is there a common thread that weaves it all together?  Yes.  As is so often the case, the clue to the common thread is found within the surrounding context – both what comes before, and what comes after.  The best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself, and usually you don’t have look far to find the information you need for the correct interpretation.  In this case, it is simply the text on either side of the teaching.

So let’s look at the context.  Chapter 16 began with the Parable of the Unjust Steward, but that itself came on the heels of three other parables told in the presence of the Pharisees & scribes regarding God’s joy in finding lost sinners, and including them in the kingdom.  In fact, the Pharisees were themselves lost (although they didn’t realize it), and the grace of God was just as available to them as it was from the father character to the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Sons.  From that, Jesus turned to His disciples (while still in the presence of the Pharisees), and gave the follow-up teaching of the Parable of the Unjust Steward.  This house-manager had sinned, and was about to be fired, so he used what little opportunity and influence left to him to fervently prepare for his future.  He was cunning, but he was creative, and even his master commended him on his shrewdness, doing what needed to be done.  Jesus told the disciples to learn the lesson, and to be diligent to make plans for the eternal future, using the items & opportunities at their disposal.  They needed to be faithful with what they had, if they were to be entrusted with more later – all the while being mindful of who they truly served.  They could serve God, or they could serve mammon (money/self/life) – but they couldn’t do both.

This was a testimony of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God, but it was rejected by the Pharisees (as we’ll see).  They consistently rejected the testimony of God, as contained in the law, and this was seen in two examples: (1) their own self-righteousness, and (2) their teaching regarding divorce.

This rejection is illustrated in the story Jesus tells next.  What happens to people who reject the testimony of God?  They are doomed to eternal torment outside the kingdom.  The purpose of the Lazarus story is not only to emphasize how the kingdom will be filled with unexpected people, but also as a warning to the Pharisees, who shared the same self-righteous attitude of the rich man.

So put it all together.  In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus testifies of the need not to waste time & opportunity.  In the story of Lazarus & the rich man, Jesus describes what happens to those who ignore the testimony of God.  With that in mind, what’s the main idea of the verses in-between?  This is the warning.  The testimony of God had been given; it shouldn’t be ignored, although they had a habit of doing so.

Thus, it isn’t about money, nor about divorce – those are symptoms of a larger problem.  The problem was that they ignored God’s word.  They didn’t listen to the law.  Listen to the law of God & let it point you to Christ!  That’s the whole reason God gave it in the first place.

Luke 16:14–18

  • The Pharisees scoff (14)

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.

  • Even though Jesus spoke the Parable of the Unjust Steward to His disciples (16:1), the Pharisees were present & listening the whole time.  It’s amazing how often they could listen to His words, and still miss the message.  It goes to demonstrate that people can be around the things of Christ, and still never know Him as Lord.
  • Their response was one of ridicule & scorn.  They “derided” Jesus, sneering at Him, scoffing at Him.  They looked down their noses at this Rabbi, who had the nerve in His poverty, to talk to others about how to handle money.  What did He mean, by saying “No servant can serve two masters” – what exactly was He implying?  Of course, no subtle implication was needed – what Jesus said was absolutely true!  People cannot serve both two masters.  We will always be torn between one and the other.  We will either serve the God of heaven or the god of our belly (i.e. our lusts, represented by mammon/money/things of life).  If we love one, we certainly won’t love the other.
  • And that was the core issue in regards to the Pharisees.  Luke describes them as “lovers of money” – literally, “lovers of silver,” as in silver coins.  Although they were not all considered as the wealthy elite aristocracy class (as were the Sadducees), there were still very wealthy members among them.  Of course, a lot of money is not required in order to have a love of money.  Someone who is poor can still be ruled by money, with every action being based out of covetousness.
    • Beware of the love of money!  Paul warned his protégé Timothy of the dangers of greed, exhorting him to be content with what he had.  1 Timothy 6:9-10, "(9) But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Note: it’s not money itself that is a root of evil (as it is so often misquoted); it’s the love of money.  (Interestingly, it’s the exact same root of the word Luke quoted Jesus as using right here.)  The love of money is greed & covetousness.  The love of money causes us to desire things (1) we don’t have, and (2) we don’t need.  We want what we do not yet possess, and we lust after things we should not have.  When we love money, then our trust is in our bank account; not our God.  When we love money, our priorities get shifted from where they ought to be, as we depend upon what we can get for ourselves, rather in the grace we can only receive from God.
    • The whole contrast between the Pharisees’ love of money, and Jesus’ warning against being ruled by it brings up a point relevant to modern Christianity.  Again, why was Jesus ridiculed?  Seemingly because He was a poor man talking to others about wealth.  Although Jesus wasn’t technically homeless (He obviously had a home-base in Capernaum, and apparently stayed with Peter on occasion), He certainly didn’t have a consistent roof over His head during His three years of travelling ministry.  Apparently the disciples received donations along the way (with Judas carrying the moneybox), but it wasn’t as if Jesus & the 12 were flush with cash. The lifestyle of Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and most other early Christians ought to do away with the heresy of the so-called “prosperity gospel.”  Those who teach that all Christians ought to be rich, living as “King’s Kids,” surely haven’t read the Bible.  That sort of teaching is exactly what both Jesus and Paul warn against.  It encourages a love of money, and teaches that it’s somehow possible to serve two masters.  It puts a focus on stuff, rather than the Savior…and it ought to be abandoned & condemned.
  • The Pharisees mocked Jesus, but they weren’t the only ones.  People still mock Jesus today.  It might not be over the subject of money, but they still deride Him, scorning His teachings.  Ultimately, it is for the same reason as the Pharisees.  Jesus spoke to an issue that cut the Pharisees to the quick, and their insulting attitude was their defense mechanism.  Likewise with people today.  Something about Jesus brings conviction to their hearts, and that’s something they’ve got to deflect.
    • Don’t deflect it; receive it!  The conviction that comes is a good thing, because that is exactly what is going to bring you to the point of repentance & faith.  A sinner under the weight of conviction is mere moments away from salvation.  All that is needed is surrender to Jesus. 
  • Jesus responded to the Pharisees in vs. 15…

 

  • The judgment of Jesus (15)

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

  • The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus because they thought themselves better than Him.  They mocked Him because they thought they could serve both God and their money.  Most likely (if they were like others in the culture), they believed their money (what they had of it) was proof that God loved them & blessed them.  They made up excuses in their own minds – they justified themselves.  They were self-righteous.
    • If there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s self-justification!  After all, we’ve had a long history of practice.  Adam and Eve were not yet ejected from the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed his wife for his own sin in eating of the forbidden fruit.  “It’s not my fault!  It’s that woman You gave me!”  What Adam began, we’ve been doing ever since.  “It’s not my fault; my parents made me this way! … It’s not my fault; I’m stressed out from my job! … It’s the people I’m surrounded with! … It’s simply what everyone else is doing!”  We find all kinds of excuses for ourselves, and we convince ourselves that we’re okay, being justified in our actions & even deserving of blessing & eternal life.
    • Just the fact that we have to “excuse” ourselves is telling.  The word “justification” directly implies that something that is out of balance needs to be justified – it needs to be made right.  That means that something else is wrong.  The very existence of our excuses witness against us that we’ve sinned, and that we’re in need of forgiveness. 
  • No matter what the Pharisees convinced themselves of, or what they convinced others to think about them, God wasn’t fooled.  He knew the true state of their hearts.  What did God think about their self-justification?  It was an abomination!  The Pharisees had their wealth as supposed proof of God’s blessing; it wasn’t.  They had their societal status as religious scholars that was proof that God approved of them; it didn’t.  They had their internal pride in how they observed every religious tradition passed down by their forefathers as their justification; it wasn’t.  All of what the Pharisees held too may have been “highly esteemed among men,” but God held a totally different viewpoint.  The things that impress men are defiled/defiling in the sight of God. To Him, they were abominations.
    • That’s a harsh word!  Yes, and it means exactly what we think it means.  It is a detestable, loathsome thing.  It is something that defiles.  It is the same word used to describe the horrific work of Antichrist during the Great Tribulation, as well as the word used to translate the Hebrew (תּוֹעֵבָה ) that referred to the various abominations & detestable acts listed in the Mosaic Law.  The very thing that the Pharisees believed themselves justified away from, was exactly what they were.
    • Not that this ought to have been a surprise!  Self-righteousness & justification always falls infinitely short of God’s standard.  This picture of defilement was exactly what Isaiah called upon when describing Israel’s need for grace.  Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away."  How defiled are our attempts at self-righteousness?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but Isaiah literally labels them as menstrual cloths.  This is where mere religious tradition leads – this is what self-justification & excuses does.  Our rituals and excuses don’t clean us up in the sight of God; they only make us more dirty.
    • What’s the solution?  Grace!  We cannot clean ourselves; we must be cleansed by God, through the work of Jesus Christ.  Stop making excuses for yourself, listen to the Holy Spirit speak to you through your conscience, and fall upon the grace of God.
  • Question: How could the Pharisees have been so wrong?  They did not know what God esteemed because they did not value His word.  They may have been experts in the law of God, but they habitually ignored it, which Jesus goes on to point out & illustrate…
  • The fullness of the law (16-17)

16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

  • Interestingly, there is no verb in the 1st sentence of vs. 16.  Technically, it says: “The law and the prophets, until John.”  Any verbs in our English Bibles were put there by the various translators to help the sentence make sense.  ESV, HCSB agree with the NKJV; NASB, NIV both say “were proclaimed until John,” with “proclaimed” probably being assumed due to the idea of preaching from the remainder of the verse.  Obviously “the law and the prophets” were indeed preached up till the point of John – but it’s difficult to argue that the Hebrew law was not preached beyond John the Baptist as well.  In fact, Jesus was doing it at that very moment.  It’s probably better to think of the law and the prophets being given up till John the Baptist.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, with a new era beginning with the ministry of Jesus.
  • With all of this time and opportunity to hear & know the law, how much of it did the Pharisees receive?  Little to none.  They picked the parts they liked, and did away with the rest.  They flat-out ignored John the Baptist, all the while acknowledging him as a prophet. Prior to Jesus’ arrival on the scene, the religious rulers (including the Pharisees) sent messengers to John, inquiring whether or not he himself might be the Messiah. (Jn 1:19-28)  The Pharisees clearly understood that John had some sort of heavenly authority, but they were unwilling to listen to him. (Lk 20:5-6)  What they did with John the Baptist, they did to the rest of Scripture.  Technically, the Babylonian Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical commentaries on the Biblical Law – practically, it’s a whole bunch of man’s opinion about what applies where, what loopholes exist, and what traditions are added onto it.  This was the lifestyle of the Pharisees & scribes.  They had the word of God given to them, but they spent their time picking around it; not going to the simple heart of it.
    • The word of God is not a buffet line where we can pick the parts we like, and do away with the rest.  People do this all the time. So-called “red-letter Christians” pay special attention to the words of Jesus, disregarding the rest of the New Testament.  Others read only the New Testament, ignoring the Old.  Others value the five books of Moses & the Psalms, but see the rest as irrelevant.  Still others pick & choose which of the Mosaic Laws are valid for today, and which are not (sometimes being side-by-side!).  The Bible cannot be picked apart in such a fashion!  Why?  It’s not ours; it’s God’s.  Those who pick & choose from the Bible set themselves up as the final authority over it; God gave it as the final rule of authority over us.  It’s not up to us to pick it apart; we simply need to receive what it says.
    • That’s not to say that we have no role in discerning the proper interpretation.  Obviously laws given to the nation-state of Israel need to be interpreted within their proper contexts, rather than simplistically imposing them on Gentile-born believers in Christ.  This is what a literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic (Bible interpretation method) is so important…it keeps the focus on the correct context, rather than changing opinions. That being said, the law is bigger than our attempts at general categorization.  It encompasses the heart of God.  (Thus, it cannot be ignored!)
  • What happened with the conclusion of the law being given?  At that point, the “kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.”  The word for “pressing” is interesting, in that it speaks of force/violence.  Scholars disagree as to the meaning, with some thinking that this could speak of people being strongly urged into the kingdom – others thinking that Jesus encourages people to press into the kingdom – still others thinking it is part of Jesus’ judgment against the Pharisees, how they were trying to force their way into the kingdom.  It’s this last interpretation that seems to take the overall context in mind.  The good news was proclaimed, but ignored.  The law had been given, and the kingdom had been preached.  But what was the response of the Pharisees?  They ignored the teachings of God, justifying themselves saying that they were deserving of the kingdom.  They were trying to force their way in, violently, if need be.  As Jesus said earlier, when John the Baptist was still suffering in prison: Matthew 11:12, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."  It’s the same idea/word in Luke’s gospel.  People do violence against God’s kingdom (by rejecting His word), and try to force their way in.
    • It can’t be done!  There is but one way to enter the kingdom of God: you’ve got to be born into it.  Jesus made this point with a different Pharisee, under far better circumstances.  John 3:3–5, "(3) Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (4) Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (5) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."  There’s no manipulation – there is no self-justification – there is only a spiritual birth.  There is only surrender & grace!  (Have you been born again?)
  • No one enters the kingdom by keeping the law because none can keep it but Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that the law has gone away.  It’s still in effect today, as Jesus went on to say in vs. 17…

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

  • What would happen before the law would fail?  Creation would be dismantled.  “Heaven and earth [would] pass away” before even the smallest aspects of the law of God would be undone.  “One tittle” refers to the smallest stroke of a pen.  In English, a tittle refers to small markings over letters, such as the dot of an “i.”  In Hebrew, the term refers to something even tinier: the simple decorative stroke of a calligrapher’s pen.  Jesus basically says that the universe would be undone before even that small stroke from the written word of God would fail.
  • Has the law passed?  By no means!  Because we are New Testament Christians, we have a tendency of thinking that the law of God has gone away.  It hasn’t.  Jesus is perfectly clear that as long as this world exists, the law is permanent.  And how could it be otherwise?  The Old Testament is just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the New Testament.  It is still given by God, and He is still righteous.  He has not changed – God is the same today, yesterday, and forever.  The law of God has not fallen to the ground or fallen into pieces.  It remains.
  • How so?  After all, we do not wear tassels on our garments, nor are we concerned about wearing two different types of fabrics, or trimming the edges of our beards.  Is every Christian in blatant disobedience against the law of God?  Should we all become good Jews in order to be good Christians?  By no means!  This was the very issue faced by Paul when he was repeatedly confronted by the Judaizers.  Those were people (just like many today) who believed that Christians needed to follow all 613 commandments of the Torah, keep all the feast days, follow all of the Hebrew traditions, etc.  Paul condemned this false doctrine in the strongest of terms: Galatians 3:1–3, "(1) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? (2) This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—(3) Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"  Later, he wrote of these false teachers that he wished that they would “cut themselves off” (Gal 5:12)…that they’d go even further with their circumcision!  Works of the flesh cannot complete the work of Christ within us, for the work of Christ is already complete.  We cannot justify ourselves any more than what Jesus has already done on our behalf.  We are saved by grace through faith, with nothing of ourselves helping it along.  It is truly foolish to think otherwise.
  • The confusion arises with a misunderstanding of the use of the law.  The law is never used to justify; it is only used to condemn.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, the law is good, when it is used lawfully. (1 Tim 1:8)  It is good, when it is used to teach people of sin, to convict us of our rebellion against God, and to bring us to our knees.  The law is good because it is holy, as God is holy, and it shows us what true holiness is.  The law puts the lie to our self-righteousness, truly informing us that our best attempts at proving ourselves perfect are nothing but filthy defiled rags.  The law shows us the perfect heart of God, and shows us how short we fall of it.  The law is gift of God to show us our need for Jesus, and when it is used rightly, it takes us directly to the feet of Jesus that our faith might be in Him.  Galatians 3:24–25, "(24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."  The picture is that of a special servant whose role is to walk his master’s child to class, that the child might receive instruction from the true rabbi or scholar.  The law isn’t the scholar; it’s the servant.  The law is simply what walks us to Jesus.  So yes, the law endures.  The law is in effect for the non-believer; it is fulfilled for the believer.  The law shows us our need for Christ, but once our faith is in Christ, He has already fulfilled the requirements of it on our behalf.
  • Of course the problem for the Pharisees was that they hadn’t experienced this.  They had not used the law lawfully.  That was Jesus’ point to them in stating the permanency of the law.  They thought they could use it to justify themselves, when all it truly brought to them was conviction of their own abominable sin.

So that is the importance of the law, and that was what the Pharisees had routinely ignored.  Through their self-justification, they saw no problem with their greed – even seeing their wealth as proof of their righteousness.  Through their self-proclaimed expertise in the law, they invented all kinds of loopholes to justify themselves (and others), by twisting what was written away from God’s intent to their own selfish desires.  Jesus goes on to point out an example of this in regards to divorce.

  • Case-example: divorce (18)

18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.

  • To understand what Jesus is saying, we have to understand what the Pharisees taught about this. At one point the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus in a bit of a no-win situation (a Catch-22) when questioning Him in public regarding divorce.  They asked Him if it was “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.” (Mt 19:3)  The issue was based out of a bit of rabbinical controversy in the Talmud.  One scholar (Beth Shammai) insisted that a man not divorce his wife except for unseemly conduct, whereas another (Beth Hillel) said he could divorce her even if she spoiled his food. (Tractate Gittin, Folio 90a)  The whole of the Talmudic teaching left divorce solely in the power of the man, with the woman having very little to say about the matter.  The Talmud went into considerable detail regarding what grounds constituted divorce, what signatures were valid on a divorce paper, how divorces could be rescinded, etc.  The whole mess goes to demonstrate how much the Pharisees (and the rest of the culture) twisted the law to suit themselves.  They used it to justify their own actions, while condemning others.  Jesus calls them out on it, cutting to the very heart of the matter.  All that their various legal technicalities accomplished was to create more than one way to commit adultery.  Although their traditions tried to do an end-run around the law of God, it only convicted them all the more.
  • By muddying the waters surrounding God’s word & law regarding divorce, they ended up missing God’s heart concerning marriage.  In their attempt to justify themselves, they missed the main point.  Marriage isn’t given as a vehicle for man’s pleasure, to be done away with at any time for any reason in divorce; it’s given as a covenant from God.  Ultimately, marriage is a picture of the relationship between God & His people.  Paul explicitly says this regarding the relationship between Jesus & the Church (Eph 5), and the Hebrew prophets often used the analogy between God & Israel. (Isa 54, Jer 3, Hosea 2).  Divorce between God and Israel was due to the harshest of adulteries committed by the nation against Him (their repeated idolatries) – but even then, God still gave the promise of future reconciliation.  In regards to the New Testament, it is unthinkable that Jesus would ever divorce the Church – we are inseparable from Him, Jesus being the head & us, His body.  Just as God did with Adam & Eve in the Garden, He took two & made one – so is the Church one with Jesus.  That being the case with marriage, what does this say about divorce?  It is abhorrent – it is tragic – it is the worst of all circumstances between a husband and wife, and should be avoided at all costs.  For the Talmudic rabbis & Pharisees to make divorce into something relatively easy for the Jews was spiritual malpractice of the first order!  All they did was cause more Jews to commit more adultery.
  • Question: Is this all the Bible has to say about marriage & divorce?  No.  Matthew provides additional teaching from Jesus.  Whereas Luke records only that marriage of a divorced person is adultery, Matthew records that sexual immorality is a justification for divorce. (Mt 19:9)  Paul goes even further (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), stating that abandonment by unbelievers, or unwillingness by an unbeliever to live with a believer, is also a justification for divorce. (1 Cor 7:12-15)  Solid biblical arguments can be made for divorce under extreme circumstances, but the bottom line is that divorce is never desirable.  It might be unavoidable & even Biblically allowed – but it is never the best option.  (The best option is repentance & reconciliation!)
    • Please note: It also needs to be stated that divorce is not the unforgiveable sin.  Even for those who were divorced for the wrong reasons, or perhaps were at fault for their divorce – these things are covered by the blood of Christ.  We receive His grace, do what we can to be reconciled to others, and keep moving forward.  The law brings condemnation, but Jesus gives grace.
  • All in all, Jesus’ teaching on adultery & divorce isn’t the main issue.  This was simply an example of a larger problem.  The Pharisees ignored the word of God in order to justify themselves, and their self-justification led to a whole slew of problems for others.  After all, what they practiced, they taught.  This doctrine was promoted among all the Jews of the day, and still reverberates even in our own culture.
    • Sin is like a splash in a pond…there’s always going to be ripples.  There will always be other people affected.
    • Thankfully, grace works much the same way!

Conclusion:
The Pharisees heard the teaching of Jesus, and it rubbed them the wrong way.  What He said was the truth, but because of their self-justifying ways, it cut them to the quick & they bristled at the idea that they could be wrong.  What they did with Jesus, they did with all the word of God (which makes sense that they did it with Jesus, considering He is the Word of God!).  They brushed it aside, trying to make themselves righteous in their own eyes…and in the process, they were not righteous at all.

Don’t justify your way around the word of God; listen to it!  Be it the Old Testament or the New Testament, God’s word contains God’s heart.  Used properly, the word of God brings us to the feet of Jesus, where we find grace & forgiveness.  Used rightly, the written word exalts the Word incarnate; it glorifies God rather than man.  That is its purpose, and that is our aim in hearing it.

Listen to the word of God!  Does it bring conviction & rebuke?  Praise God!  It means that you have a heart still softened to the discipline of the Father.  That’s not something to run from; that’s something to run towards.  Don’t forget: as much as it brings conviction, it also brings comfort.  It brings edification – it equips us for every good work.  The only way to receive this from the Lord is to listen to His voice, and He speaks through His Scriptures.  We have to get ourselves out of the way, and submit ourselves to the hand of God.

Can Wicked Be Wise?

Posted: July 30, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:1-13, “Can Wicked Be Wise?”

Is it possible to learn something good from something evil?  Is it possible for the wicked to be wise?  Although our gut reaction might be “no,” Jesus gives us an example of the opposite.  In fact, our common experience shows this to be true.  How do most children learn to keep their hands away from the stove?  By burning themselves on it.  How do many drivers learn not to speed?  By receiving a ticket and paying a fine.  Sometimes, good lessons can be learned from bad circumstances.

Such is the case in Luke 16, with what has got to be one of the most perplexing parables from Jesus.  Unlike the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Prodigal Son, each of which have fairly obvious lessons, the parable of the Unjust Steward does not…and Jesus even provides an explanation!  What He teaches seems so unusual – so unlike anything He taught elsewhere.  Does Jesus really commend unscrupulous financial practices?  Is an unrighteous man really praised for his scheming actions?  Did Jesus really tell His disciples to basically do the same thing?

These are all good questions, and fortunately there are good answers…as long as we take the Bible in its proper context.  It is when we rip Scripture from its context that we typically get into trouble, and that is certainly the case here.  It is quite common for this passage to be reduced down to nothing but a tithing message.  It is also common for much of the teaching to be ignored, with focus put only on the “unrighteous” aspect of money, and the warning that it should not be our master.  And to be perfectly clear, there are at least elements of each of those things here…but they aren’t the main point.  As with all parables, we have to interpret it in light of the main point/idea, and we only see it by looking at the entire context.

So what’s the context?  Easy: Chapter 16 comes after Chapter 15.   That may sound simplistic, but it’s easy to forget due to the chapter divisions, which are not original to the text. (These were later editorial decisions.)  Originally, the stories would have flowed seamlessly together, which gives much assistance in our interpretation.

Remember that Chapter 15 contained three parables spoken to the Pharisees, all with one primary lesson: God rejoices in finding lost ones.  The tax collectors & other sinners, of whom the Pharisees were disturbed that they were welcomed by Jesus – these were the very ones over whom the angels rejoiced.  God the Father was overjoyed over every single sinner who repented, because it meant that one who had been lost, was found.  More than that, the Pharisees were themselves lost, though they didn’t realize it.  They had estranged themselves from God the Father, who held out His grace to them…if only they would be willing to receive it.

So it is with all that in mind that Jesus turned to His disciples to teach another parable.  Those who were lost did many things wrong, but there were still some lessons that could be learned from them.  The Pharisees may have missed the main point about the kingdom of God, but at least they were concerned about getting into the kingdom. They may have been trapped in their legalism, but at least it mattered to them how they were seen by God.  They were busy making preparations for the future, even if they went about it the wrong way.

That is the context that cannot be ignored.  Yes, how we handle money is important, but how we prepare for eternity is crucial!  What we do with one goes a long way in demonstrating what we think about the other.

So learn the wisdom from the wicked.  Do what it takes to prepare for the future.  Do what it takes to be ready for eternity.

Luke 16:1–13

  • The parable (1-8)

1 He also said to His disciples:

  • Although it’s not evident in the English, the Greek is pretty clear that this thought it to be connected with the earlier parables.  There are two conjunctions in the original, the first of which is untranslated in the NKJV.  The NASB brings it out by saying, “Now He was also saying to the disciples…”  Although we cannot say with firm conviction that Jesus gave this teaching in the immediate moments following the Parable of the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), there’s no question whatsoever that Luke connected these parables together.  It underscores the need to keep the earlier context in view.
  • Although the general context remains the same, Jesus’ primary audience changes.  Earlier, He spoke the three parables to the Pharisees (although others surely stood around listening).  This time, He spoke this parable to His disciples, even with the Pharisees still present (as seen in vs. 14).  What Jesus was about to teach was not a lesson for unbelievers, but for believers.  The unbeliever needed to repent & come to faith – a person who is lost needs first & foremost to be found.  The believer needs wisdom on how to act now that he/she is in the faith.  That’s what the disciples needed to hear.
  • Although it can sound repetitive, it does need to be emphasized that this is a parable; not a historical account, nor an allegory.  Not every teaching Jesus gives is a parable (something which we’ll see later in Chapter 16 with the account of the rich man & Lazarus), but this one is.  Generic unnamed people are mentioned – a typical earthly scenario is described – and Jesus even follows this particular teaching with (at least a bit of) an interpretation.  Those are all indicators of parables, telling us to look for the main point & not to try to find hidden meanings behind every character & action.
  • Jesus begins by introducing the setting…

“There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’

  • Culturally speaking, a “steward” was a household manager.  In fact, the Greek word says this almost explicitly (“law of the house”).  Just as wealthy people often employ others to help them manage their estates & holdings today, so was the case then.  So far, so good…there’s nothing unusual about any of this.  What happened at this point was that this particular steward had an “accusation” made against him.  The master had heard that his steward was squandering his wealth, and he threatened to fire him.
  • Right off the bat, this seems like an unusual scenario to put forth to the disciples.  After all, those who follow Christ ought to live their lives above reproach.  It’s not that we will never have accusations made against us, but those accusations shouldn’t stick.  Our love for Jesus will be seen in our lives.  In the case of employer/employee relationships, a Christian is to have a solid work ethic, as we do our job as if we’re doing it unto the Lord Himself. (Col 3:23)  That being the case, it’s plain that Jesus does not present the steward as one of His disciples.  So what is there to learn?  It is how the steward handles his predicament that Jesus points out to us.
  • As an aside, the Greek word for “accusation” is interesting.  It is the verb form of the same root that is often used to refer to the devil. (διαβάλλω / διάβολος ~ diablo [Spanish]).  Depending on the context, the word could be translated “slander,” although that’s not the case here as the accusation seems to have been accurate (judging by the steward’s response).  One dictionary notes that the word refers to charges that are made “with hostile intent.” (NIDNTT)  The point?  Whether or not this sort of accusation is true, the people who bring the accusations do so to bring harm. 
    • What an appropriate name for the devil!  He is indeed a slanderer!  Whatever he says against us, he says in order to bring harm.  Keep in mind that it doesn’t meant that what he says is always completely untrue.  Yes, the devil is a liar & the father of lies (Jn 8:44), but the devil doesn’t have to lie in order to bring accusations against us.  We often provide him ample firepower through our sins.  All he needs to do is simply tell parts of the truth to bring condemnation to us.
    • Don’t listen to him!  Yes, the devil accuses, but we have Someone who answers those accusations on our behalf.  The Lord Jesus is our Advocate (1 Jn 2:1) – He comes alongside us in our defense.  Obviously we want to live our lives in such a way that there is no room for accusations, but when there is – when we fall & the devil condemns us and slanderously charges us – remember that you do not stand on your own.  You stand upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will always stand in defense of those who belong to Him!
  • As for the steward, the charges against him were true.  He makes no attempt to defend himself or his actions.  Instead, he starts making plans for the door…

3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.

  • The steward knew he was in trouble, so he starts thinking through his options, only to find that he doesn’t have many.  Although the Temptations sang that they were “ain’t too proud to beg,” that wasn’t the case for the steward! J  He was “ashamed to beg.” We can imagine the irony!  He would have gone from collecting debts for his master to begging money for himself.  Neither did he believe he could “dig.”  Either he was too weak, too lazy, or too proud for that sort of work.
    • Although the point of Jesus’ parable was to show the shrewd plan of the unrighteous steward, what else could the steward have done?  He could have taken responsibility for his actions, attempted to make things right, and done some honest work.  Would it have been difficult?  Yes, and a humbling experience as well…but it would have been the right thing to do.  Too many people look for someone else to bail them out of trouble, rather than just doing the hard work that is necessary.
  • As the steward sat pondering all of this in fear, he had a sudden brainstorm.  Vs. 4…

4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’

  • Although he was certain to get canned, he hadn’t gotten fired yet.  So what does he do?  He comes up with a plan to curry favor while he still has the opportunity.  The steward figured he could ingratiate himself to others, to buy a bit of friendship for himself, so that when he was put out of one house, he could find provision in another house.

5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

  • Much has been said about the types of measures that Jesus described, and there are indeed very specific descriptions in the text.  Both are Greek transliterations of the Hebrew measurements: the liquid “bath” for the olive oil & the grain measurement of “kor” for the wheat.  Yet the type of measurement isn’t really the main issue at the end of the day, nor is the fact that the measurements cut don’t appear to equal out.  One was cut in half, whereas the other was cut by 20%.  According to some scholars, the monetary value of each cut was the same…but again, it misses the point.  What was the point? That the amount was cut at all.  This was the whole plan of the steward.  He took the opportunity he had to make friends with his master’s business partners.  If they saw him as doing them a favor, then they would be more likely to do him a favor when the time was needed.
  • Question: Was it illegal? Probably not.  That’s not to say that what the steward did was ethical, but it whatever the surrounding circumstance, it was probably legal.  Remember that he was commanded to “give an account” of his dealings, and he was already being watched & reported by others in the community.  If the servant had tried to swindle his master out of money, no doubt he would have put himself at risk.
  • So what was he doing?  That much is debated.  Some believe that the steward was knocking off his own commission from the transaction.  Others believe that he was getting rid of illegal usury.  Some theorize that he had already bumped the price illegally, and was getting it back to where it was supposed to be.  Still others suppose that the steward was trying to make his master look generous, and have other people speak well of the steward himself.  In the end, all the guesses are simply that: guesses.  In Jesus’ interpretation, He tells us none of these things.  The only thing we can know for certain is that this was the plan of the steward to be received into the houses of other people – this was his exit strategy as he looked at the very real potential of getting fired.
  • And it worked!  Vs. 8…

8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

  • The master “commended” him!  He praised this servant who had been accused of wasting his wealth & resources.  At best, the steward had been irresponsible with what was not his own – at worst, he had been guilty of embezzlement.  Yet the master praised him, even expressing admiration for him.  Why?  Because he was wise.  “He had dealt shrewdly.”  We don’t use the word “shrewd” too much anymore.  One English dictionary defines it as “1. Having keen insight; astute. 2. Artful; cunning. 3. Sharp; penetrating.” (American Heritage)  The Greek word is directly related to wisdom.  Yet how was this wise or astute?  We typically think of Biblical wisdom as relating to righteousness – and rightly so, for that is what the Bible teaches.  Proverbs 2:6–7, "(6) For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; (7) He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;"  Someone who is truly wise in the Biblical sense is someone who follows after the Lord God.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).  It is when we know God and worship Him rightly that we can start walking in the ways He wants us to walk, i.e., in wisdom.  So how could the actions of the steward be considered wise?  Why would he receive praise?  This is where our English word helps clarify the context.  The steward was not wise in a moral sense, but he showed insight in a financial sense.  He was cunning in his plans.  That was the reason for the master’s praise.  This wasn’t an endorsement of his past, nor was it necessarily an endorsement of his scheming.  It was simply an acknowledgment that the steward had taken the initiative & thought creatively.  The steward had thought ahead to his future, and took decisive action to get there.  That much (at the least) could be admired.
  • What does Jesus say about it all?  He agrees with the shrewdness of it.  People of the world sometimes act with more creativity and wisdom than the people of God.  At least from the perspective of insight and understanding, “the sons of this world” often have more effectiveness “than the sons of light.
    • We don’t want to be like the world, but we can certainly learn from the world.  Why is it that people pack out football and baseball stadiums, but churches are not filled?  Why are the Coca-Cola & Nike logos more recognized than the cross, in regards to its actual meaning?  The corporations of this world have made themselves known – they have actively reached out to every corner of society.  The church?  Not so much.  This wasn’t always the case!  When the church first began, it was so influential that people were getting saved on a daily basis. (Acts 2:41)  When the gospel started to spread beyond Jerusalem, the reputation of the apostles was that they were people who were turning the world upside-down. (Acts 17:6)
    • So what happened?  The church learned the wrong lessons.  Instead of maintaining the insightfulness and fervor of this steward of the world, the church adopted the identity of the world.  At a certain point, the church became indistinguishable from the world.  Once Christianity became the established official religion of the Roman Empire, it was watered down and had become political.  By the time of the Middle Ages, the Catholic church owned an incredible amount of land, and acted just like many of the other European lords: trading titles, favors, and politics.  (In point of fact, the Roman Catholic church is still incredibly wealthy in terms of land.  A 2011 Business Insider article listed the pope as the 3rd in the world in regards to landholdings, having less land only than the king of Saudi Arabia & the queen of England. http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-biggest-landowners-2011-3/#pope-benedict-13 )  The church went from turning the world upside-down to being the world, and thus it lost much of its true influence & purpose.
    • What was needed was a return to the gospel – a return to the foundations of the Christian faith.  That’s exactly what took place during the Protestant Reformation, and (hopefully) is still taking place today.
  • Again, Jesus is not commending the worldliness or wickedness of the steward in the parable, or of the “sons of this world” in general.  He simply makes the point that they have been shrewd in their dealings.  Like the ancient sons of Isaachar, they understood the times & knew what to do. (1 Chr 12:32)  Christians likewise need to have insight as to what needs to be done, and have the zeal to go about doing it.  This is how Jesus sets up the three lessons to be learned from the parable.  Vs. 9…
  • The lessons (9-13)

9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

  • Lesson #1: The best present use of worldly money is for eternal causes.  The steward used the means he had at his disposal to make friends for the future.  He was about to be put out of one household, and so he did what was necessary to prepare for a future one.  Likewise for us.  For now, we are given charge over worldly stuff: “unrighteous mammon” – and Jesus never once tries to whitewash it to make it sound better than it is.  If it’s not of God, then it is not of true righteousness.  If it is of the earth, than it is worldly/unrighteous.  That’s not a judgment so much as it is a plain fact.  But worldly stuff can be used for our eternal futures.
  • Question: Is Jesus saying that the kingdom can be bought?  Is He saying that someone can give so much money (or possessions) that he/she can purchase his/her way into heaven?  Absolutely not!  He’s saying that the stuff of earth can be used with people of the earth in such a way that it opens the way for heavenly things.  Money is not a key into heaven; it’s a tool that can be used by people going to heaven.
    • It’s been often said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”  You can’t take money with you to heaven, but you can invest in heaven while you’re on earth.  To some extent, the thought that we can send our wealth ahead of us is true, but people often get the wrong idea about it.  It’s not that we can build up a heavenly bank account with our name on it – we’re not looking forward to an eternal IRA.  What we can do is use our resources for kingdom purposes.  We cannot purchase ourselves a home in heaven, but it’s possible to use our resources in such a way that it helps someone else go there.  When we support missionaries or give money to evangelistic causes, we’re using unrighteous mammon in a righteous way.  When we use our money to share the love of Christ, helping other people see Jesus, then we’re helping them to receive an “everlasting home.
  • BTW – what on earth is “mammon”?  The first time the Greek word appears is actually in the New Testament, and it seems to have been a loan-word from Aramaic. (ממון )  One dictionary notes that when the Aramaic word appears in the rabbinical writings, it is “not merely money in the strict sense but a man’s possessions, everything that has value equivalent to money, and even all that he possesses apart from his body and life.” (NIDNTT)  So it does refer to money, but it doesn’t only refer to money.  Yes, cash can be used for the kingdom of God, but so can many other things.  How is your home being used for the gospel?  Your car?  Your cell phone?  That’s not to say that everyone is commanded to give everything away and live with nothing.  Granted, if you are ruled by your possessions & your wealth is keeping you from faith in Jesus, then yes – by all means, get rid of your stuff.  That was the lesson Jesus said of the rich young ruler. (Mt 19:21-22)  But if you can serve Jesus with your possessions, then by all means, do it!  Use them to help someone else come to faith.  Use them to help you live your life as a witness of the Lord Jesus.  Money/mammon is a tool; use it for the glory of God.

10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

  • Lesson #2a: Faithfulness is demonstrated.  The servant didn’t have faithfulness in the beginning, neither did he have it in the end.  He was unjust through & through, even though he was cunning in the way he carried out his plans.  If we want to be thought of as faithful by others, then we need to be faithful in the way we act. 
  • You can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she begins a project.  The way someone begins is often the way they finish.  If someone is careful in the beginning, they will likely be careful through the end.  If someone is lazy in the beginning, that isn’t likely to change partway through.  First impressions are often accurate as a whole.
    • It doesn’t have to be this way.  This is the good news of the gospel!  Through Jesus, our lives change.  Though we began as unjust, we do not have to remain unjust.  We can have a new start because we are made new creations.  Just keep in mind, that doesn’t happen without Jesus.  On our own, we most certainly will remain unjust & unfaithful.  It is only in Christ that our outcomes change (both for the present & for eternity).
  • On a purely practical level, there’s something to be said about starting small.  Many people want life to be handed to them on a silver platter.  We want to hit the lottery, and be given massive amounts, with no work going into it beforehand.  That’s not usually the way life works.  Those who want larger responsibilities have to start with smaller ones.  That’s true in business as well as ministry.  It is when we prove ourselves faithful in smaller things that eventually we are given larger things.  When the word of the Lord was given to Zechariah regarding the rebuilding of the temple, he was told not to despise the day of small things. (Zech 4:10)  Yes, the new temple was starting out small, but it would eventually get bigger.  It’s a similar principle here.  Be faithful with the little things, and trust God to give you more as He sees fit.

11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?

  • Lesson #2b: Faithfulness in worldly treasure demonstrates capability with heavenly treasure.  Things go from lesser to greater.  This goes hand-in-hand with vs. 10.  Those who are faithful with little are given the opportunity to be faithful in much – and that directly relates with the “true riches,” the things of God.  Again – this is not a reference to salvation.  Be careful about equating “true riches” only with the promise of eternal salvation.  Salvation is a gift; not a wage.  Salvation is grace; not something that be earned.  We are not looking to prove ourselves worthy of the gospel, because we can never be worthy of it…all we can do is humbly receive it through faith in Christ.  So – if it isn’t the gospel, what are the “true riches”?  Jesus does not tell us directly, but He likely refers to kingdom responsibilities: ministry opportunities, and the like.  Are we faithful to demonstrate the love of Christ to those around us?  If not, why would we expect a larger platform?  Are we faithful to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has entrusted to us?  If not, why would we expect anything beyond what He has already given?  Again – first, we use what we have.  Only after that, can we be trusted with more.  Whatever resources you have, first use those things for the glory of God, and see what happens from there.
  • Question: Does this mean we have to be competent money managers to be competent in the kingdom?  Does this mean that unless a person has made wise investments & has gained worldly wealth, that they will not be granted responsibility from God in the future?  No.  It does mean that we need to be faithful stewards of what we’ve been given.  Not everyone has been entrusted with a skillset for the stock market, or the wealth to invest if he/she wanted to.  But we’ve all been entrusted with something.  God has given us skills, gifts, resources, and abilities.  How have we used those things for His glory?

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

  • Lesson #3: Money cannot be our master.  In all of this teaching about money & the use of it, we have to remember: it’s not about money; it’s about Jesus.  The unjust steward was commended for his ingenuity; not his love of money.  His love of money is seemingly what got him into trouble in the first place!  That’s what caused him to be wasteful and have the accusations come against him.  If he had loved God more than money, he would have avoided all of the other stuff altogether.
  • If there’s one thing we know as American evangelicals, it is that money is constant temptation. This isn’t true only for Americans – this is true the world over.  People in every culture and country throughout history have sought wealth, which is evidenced by the fact that the Bible has so much to say about it!  According to some, money is the subject of nearly half of Jesus’ parables, and the Bible has nearly 2000 verses regarding money (as opposed to 500 verses regarding prayer). (http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/money-and-motives-11581312.html )  Whether or not the statistics are truly accurate or not, it is clear the Bible has a lot to say on the matter, for the plain reason that money is a stumbling block to many.  We look at wealth as an idol, and for many people, that is exactly what it becomes.  And it’s not only the rich that do it; it’s the poor as well!  Anyone who thinks about money from morning till night, who desires all that money can provide, who covets what they do not have, etc., that’s a person who worships money (despite whether or not they personally possess it).  And just like all idolatry, it is something that needs to be eradicated.  Why?  Because as Jesus said, it is impossible to “serve two masters.”  If our master is money, then it is not the Lord.  If our master is our bank account, our job, our possessions, or even our dreams & desires, then we are serving those things, and not God.
    • Question: Is it really that drastic?  Is it really an either/or choice?  Yes.  Think about it: we cannot travel both east and west at the same time – we have to choose a direction.  We cannot follow two different sets of direction at once.  It’s no different with our directions in life.  What we serve dictates what we will do.  What our goals are determine how we will act to achieve them.  Even if you have two goals, one will always be subservient to the other.
  • We have to choose whom we will serve!  This was the question posed by Joshua to the children of Israel when they had entered the Promised Land, and it is the same question that faces us today. Joshua 24:15, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”"  Choose whom/what you will serve!  You can certainly choose to serve wealth, if you want…it wouldn’t be unusual at all if you did.  After all, that’s what many other people in our culture choose to serve.  But there are consequences with that choice.  A choice to love money means that you will come to despise Christ, because no one can serve two masters.  If you choose to serve comfort, you will resent the difficulties you face as a Christian. If you choose to serve your ego, you will rebel against making Jesus first place.  If you choose to serve physical pleasures, you will reject purity and serving the Lord with your body.  Whatever other master you choose, if it is not the Lord God, you will eventually end up hating God.  It’s no different with money.  If you choose to serve wealth, riches, and mammon, then that is what you will love, and any professed love you have for Jesus will take a backseat and eventually turn to resentment.  Thus you cannot serve both.  You must make a choice. Choose to serve Jesus!

Conclusion:
Is there any wisdom in the wicked?  In a sense, yes.  The unjust steward was not wise in the way he got himself into trouble, but he was certainly cunning in the way he dealt with it.  He saw his need for the future, and did what it took to provide for himself.  He took the opportunity he had remaining to him, and he ran with it.

Those are the lessons we need to learn as Christians.  No, we are not to be like the world in their actions.  We aren’t to look like them, nor seek after the things that they seek.  But as far as them trying to provide for themselves and using the opportunities they have at their disposal – yes, we can do likewise.

First, we are to recognize we face an eternal future, and we need to be prepared for it!  Most importantly, this means we need to belong to Christ as one of His own, choosing to follow Him as our Lord & Savior.  Do what it takes to follow Christ, letting nothing hold you back.

Second, once we belong to Christ, we need to be faithful stewards of what He’s given us.  Use what He’s given you for His glory.  Money isn’t to be our master; it’s to be our servant.  It’s a tool that can be used to share Jesus around the world, and around the corner.  God has given us all kinds of opportunities…let’s not let a single one pass us by!

Parable of the Lost Son(s)

Posted: July 23, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 15:11-32, “Parable of the Lost Son(s)”

It is one of the most famous parables of Jesus, and it has inspired countless works of art and other symbols of devotion.  One of which is Rembrandt’s masterpiece, “Return of the Prodigal Son,” which hangs in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  When viewed in person, the painting truly shows the pathos of the moment: the grief of the younger son, and the overwhelming compassion of the father.  Even for those of us who know little about art (myself included!), it is easy to lose yourself in the work, and hear the words of Jesus in your mind as you study the painting.

What is it about this parable that is so captivating?  Perhaps it’s because we cannot help but see ourselves in it.  Maybe we are like the younger son – one who wasted much, and feel as if we have no right to ever approach God.  Maybe we are like the older son, hardhearted & frustrated by others who seemingly take advantage of a free gift of grace.  Whatever our background, it is perhaps impossible not to be overwhelmed and even a bit confused by the love of the father.  How can someone so good love someone so lost?  How can someone forgive others so freely and so readily?  And perhaps most importantly: how can we receive that kind of love & forgiveness?

I believe that Jesus describes the love of the father in a way to purposefully overwhelm us.  He wants us to be blown away with this kind of love and forgiveness.  Why?  Because it’s real.  The sooner we realize the reality of the availability of God’s grace, the sooner we will seek it.  The more we are overwhelmed by His love & grace, the more we will share in it.  After all, the grace that we have received from God is the same grace that anyone can receive from Him.  And that’s something in which we can rejoice.

Before we get to the parable, it is important that we pick up on the context.  It is always important to see any Scripture in context, but especially so here.  This is the third of a series of parables that all teach the same thing.  Remember that tensions had begun to escalate between Jesus and the Pharisees, and that He began warning them that they might not be included in the kingdom of God, despite their self-confidence to the contrary.  The people who would be included would be those that the Pharisees least expected: the blind, the maimed, and those who were generally helpless.  In other words, those included in the kingdom would be those who knew their only hope was the grace of God.  Those would be the people who truly counted the cost of discipleship, surrendering their lives to Jesus to follow Him in sincere faith.

Thus, it was only natural for Jesus to spend time with them, teaching them the things of God.  This made the Pharisees terribly upset.  They couldn’t understand who Jesus as a rabbi (even an informal one) could receive/welcome people like tax collectors and other sinners.  In their minds, these were people in need of punishment; not joy and the grace of God.

That’s when Jesus began this series of parables, telling how God rejoices in recovering things (people) which once were lost.  First, it was the parable of the lost sheep, where the good shepherd was willing to leave ninety-nine behind, if it meant that the one who was lost could be found.  Likewise, heaven rejoices over every individual sinner who repents.  Second, it was the parable of the lost coin, where a woman basically tore her house apart searching for a coin that was lost.  Just as she rejoiced in finding it, so do the angels rejoice over repentant sinners.  There is joy when lost ones are found!

That brings us to the third and final parable in the series.  It is often called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but in keeping with the theme, it is better called “The Parable of the Lost Son,” or better yet, “The Parable of the Lost Sons.”  Why?  Because there are actually two sons which are lost, though their depravity is expressed in different ways.  Two sons lost; one son found.  The love and grace of the father was available to each, but only one son is shown receiving it.

Beloved, there is more than one way to be lost.  Thankfully, God still seeks after and rejoices over lost ones.  We simply need to be available to be found.

Luke 15:11–32

  • Sin of the younger son (11-16)

11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

  • Jesus provides the setting, telling of something shocking.  Out of a father’s two sons, the younger son asked his father directly for his portion of his future inheritance.  Legal?  Yes. Loving? No. Normally, an inheritance is received upon the death of another.  Basically, the younger son was treating his father as if he was dead. Already, the son is in sin (in heart, if not in legal technicalities), breaking the 5th Commandment by dishonoring his father.
  • How much was the portion? Probably one-third.  As the father had two sons, the older often received a double portion.  How much this works out to monetarily is unknown and irrelevant.  The bottom line is that whatever the younger son had coming to him later, that was what he requested and received.
    • Although it’s not the main point of the parable, there’s something to be said here regarding patience.  Had the young man been willing to wait a few years, his entire life would have been different.  As it was, his whole future changed on the basis of his impatience and lust for fleeting pleasures.  It may not be a Biblical proverb, but the phrase “patience is a virtue,” is nonetheless true!
  • Interestingly, the word translated “livelihood,” could also be translated “life.” (βιος) The father gave of his wealth – but more than that, he gave of himself.  Whatever he had, and whatever consisted his daily living, that was what he gave to his son.  Contextually, the meaning of “wealth” is clear, but considering the love of this father, the deeper meaning is surely hinted at as well.

13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.

  • It took time to gather everything together, sell off things he couldn’t take with him, etc., but as soon as he got the opportunity, the younger son was out the door.  Many young people have been impatient to leave home; this particular son couldn’t get out fast enough.  What was the rush?  Jesus never says.  All kinds of scenarios might be imagined, but there’s no hint of anything but a loving home life, based on the father’s later reaction.  This son simply wanted to leave, and start his life of debauchery.  In doing so, he added further insult to injury: not only did he wish his father dead, but he indicated that he never wanted to see him again.  He went to a “far country.” Perhaps he wanted as few ties as possible to his former home?  Where he was, there would be no friend of the family to report back as to what he was doing.  There would be no colleague or business partner to relay news.  The young man left, and apparently he attempted to leave no trace behind.
  • Once there, he wasted it all.  Everything he had demanded from his father was eventually gone.  We rarely use the word “prodigal” apart from a reference to this parable – what does the word mean?  “Prodigal living” = irredeemable living.  The word for “prodigal” is the negated form of the word meaning “to save.”  Whatever lifestyle is the opposite of salvation, health, deliverance, etc., that was what the younger son did in his sin.
    • Again, the son’s childhood is not described for us, but from the characteristics of the father & the complaint of the older son, it seems obvious that this was not the way the younger son had been raised. He had fallen far! He abandoned everything of what he knew to go off and live the way he wanted…to terrible results.
    • Many young people go through periods of rebellion – and some take longer to grow out of them than others.  Know this: there may not be anything redeemable about your way of life, but there is something redeemable about you.  The Lord Jesus is our grand Redeemer.  There is no person so lost that He cannot save.  There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive.  You might have a past of which you can do nothing about, but the present & future can most definitely change.  Receive the redemption of Christ, and start anew!
  • Once the money ran out, that’s when the consequences came.  Vs. 14…

14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

  • How much did the son waste?  Everything.  He “spent all,” leaving nothing left to feed himself. He ended up putting himself into indentured servitude, “[joining] himself to a citizen of that country.”  Basically, this young man went from living like a king to that of a slave. The only employment he could find was the most degrading thing possible for a Jew: serving swine.  He had to handle defiled flesh day-in and day-out, ever reminded of how far he had fallen.  This was humiliating to the extreme!
  • The “pod” referred to was most likely the seed pod from the carob tree. Carob trees grow wild all over the Eastern Mediterranean lands, and the seed pods were often used to feed livestock, which saved the more valuable cultivated crops for humans.  The ripe pods are actually quite nutritious, but the thought of eating the same dinner as the pigs was revolting to the son.  This only added to his humiliation.
  • Repentance of the younger son (17-21)

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!   

  • Finally, he experienced a moment of clarity.  He “came into himself.”  This was the moment he woke up & wised up!  He realized (1) what he had done, and (2) who he was supposed to be.  Even the “hired servants” ate better than he did.  The hired servants were the day laborers – the lowest on the hierarchy among the people working his father’s land.  Some servants lived on the property, and were treated almost as family & other members of the household.  These were people in & out through the course of a day.  Even so, they still ate better than he did.  This was the instant the son realized how low he had sunk.
  • Ever have a moment when you wake up & realize the state in which your actions have put you?  Looking around at your life, you think: “What have I done?  This isn’t what I thought I wanted at all!  I wish I could do it all over again, and differently!”  It’s good (and necessary) to get to that point of clarity, though it would have been far better for it never to have been needed in the first place.  Keep in mind that no one hits bottom overnight – it takes a series of steps to take us there.  Little decisions stacked up on one another leads to big consequences.  The key is to change the little decisions early on, before things get worse.  How to do it?  By always remembering your dependency upon Jesus. More often than not, we end up making sinful decisions because we believe we’re not going to sin when we do it – or, at least, we can moderate the amount of sin in which we can engage.  Reality check: we can never moderate sin.  We are sinful beings, living in a world infected by sin.  Even as born-again Christians, this is a struggle.  Yes, we have new natures able to say “no” to sin (something we were unable to do prior to believing upon Jesus) – but we still have the old man within us, battling against us.  If we give that old nature a taste, we will inevitably go further than what we intended.  This is why we have to daily crucify our flesh, always counting ourselves dead to our former selves.  Romans 6:11, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Give your flesh no quarter, so that the opportunity is not given for small decisions to lead to terrible consequences.
    • And when/if you do…fall upon the grace of Jesus!  The ability to walk apart from sin is 100% dependent on Jesus.  We are dependent upon Him for the little decisions, and we are dependent upon Him for forgiveness in our failings.  The moment we believe we can do it on our own is when we will fail.  Thankfully, Jesus’ forgiveness is bigger than our failures!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’

  • Realizing the depths to which he had fallen, the younger son made a decision.  He committed himself to repentance.  Repentance (as we know) is far more than words & intents, but it starts there. If we never make a decision to repent, we won’t.  He did.
  • First, there was an admission of sin.  His sin was vertical (“against heaven”) and horizontal (“before you”).  Important realization!  The son’s sin was not only against his father – in fact, it was not primarily against his father; it was against God.  David affirmed this same concept in his confession to God regarding his sin with Bathsheba.  Psalm 51:4, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge."  Question: Were there other people against whom David sinned?  Surely Uriah the Hittite tops the list, having been killed upon David’s command!  Yet David is not discounting the murder; he is acknowledging the truth of his sin.  All sin is sin against God.  Sin is primarily an offense against our Creator, and it needs to be acknowledged as such.
  • Second, there was an understanding of his consequence.  He was “no longer worthy to be called your son.”  People today have a difficult time taking responsibility for themselves.  There’s almost always someone else to be blamed, and demands to be made.  In true repentance, there are no demands.  Forgiveness is not a right to be demanded.  When we have sinned, all of the “rights” belong to the other party, i.e. God. 
  • Third, there was a plea/request.  He wasn’t asking to be made part of the household; to be a day-laborer was more than enough.  Again, the son wasn’t demanding anything; this was a heartfelt plea for mercy.  If he could simply have permission to come on his father’s land during the day and work for minimum wage, that would be far more than what he currently have – and infinitely more than what he deserved.  In his plea, he had the right perspective of humility.
  • Although many people have prayed one, the “sinner’s prayer” is nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Yet if someone wants a good pattern as to how he/she might pray to God, asking for forgiveness, the intended speech of the younger son is a good example!
    • Admit your sin against God.
    • Understand the judgment you deserve, knowing that it has already been received by Jesus.
    • Request God’s forgiveness – not for your sake, but for Jesus’.

20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

  • Up to this point, the son’s repentance had been theoretical.  He had the right words & (apparently) the right attitude, but nothing else.  The only way to discern whether or not his heart was real was to look at his actions.  And his actions followed through: “he arose and came to his father.”  He left where he was & what he was doing, and went home.
    • Remember that Biblical repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change of direction.  That is exemplified through the son.
    • Question: Does this mean that someone has to completely change his/her life before he/she can receive the forgiveness of God?  After all, the son had to walk a long way home before he ever saw his father.  No.  Remember that this is a parable; not an allegory.  We need to be careful not to push the symbolism beyond what is actually being taught.  Yes, sincere repentance goes hand-in-hand with true faith, but the fruits that accompany repentance are not the things that save us.  If they were, that would turn salvation into something earned by works, rather than a gift of grace.  The Biblical model is that we believe Jesus, repenting towards Him in our hearts, and it is after that that the sincerity of our repentance is demonstrated through our actions.  We are saved by grace through faith. (Eph 2:8-9)  That always comes first.
  • In fact, that principle is demonstrated through the father’s actions.  Yes, the son acted in his walk home, but it was the father who took the initiative in actually receiving him home.
    • The father “saw him” a “great way off.”  He was watching.  Whether or not the father was daily scanning the horizon for a hoped-for glimpse of his son is unknown (despite many well-preached sermons along this line!) – but what Jesus does say is that the boy’s father was watching that day.  For whatever reason the father had looked up at that moment, he did, and he sprang into action.
    • The father “had compassion” upon his son.  He was moved in the deepest way.  The same word is used of Jesus when the gospels say how He had compassion upon the crowds.  This father was filled with pity for his younger son; the very opposite of what others might have expected.  The Pharisees would have expected anger, or at least indifference.  Not so – this loving father was filled with compassion.
    • The father “ran” – something a rich landowner would not normally do, especially when dressed in long robes.  Yet this father was so overcome with joy that decorum flew out the window.  At this point, Jesus’ description (purposefully) goes into extravagance.  This would have been almost as shocking to Jesus’ audience as the initial description of the boy’s decadence.
    • The father “fell on his neck and kissed him,” treating him as exactly who he was: a long-lost son.  The son hadn’t had a chance yet to say anything, and the father already received him as family.  The father was overjoyed at the mere presence of his younger son.
  • How this reflects the actions of God the Father towards repentant sinners!  He watches for us, has compassion upon us, takes the initiative in our salvation by reaching (and racing) out to us, and treats us as His children – long before we are able to do anything for Him.  To those who believe they can never be forgiven – to those who think they can never turn back to God – listen to the words of Jesus regarding the prodigal son!  The heart of this boy’s father is magnified many times over in the heart of our Heavenly Father!  God does not turn away repentant sinners; He runs for them!

21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

  • The son’s confession…or at least, part of it.  This was the first part of the speech the son had prepared, but he wasn’t able to get too far into it.  This was all the son was able to say before his father cut him off and showered him with grace upon grace.
  • Before we look at the father’s response – was what the son said true?  Absolutely.  He denied nothing, assuming full responsibility for his actions.  That’s how confession works.  Confession isn’t our opportunity to make excuses for ourselves & blame others.  It’s not even really the process of detailing every act of sin we’ve ever committed.  Notice that the son doesn’t list out the various ways he lived as a prodigal; he just confessed his total sin against God and his father.  If confession was detailing out everything, none of us would be able to confess fully, because none of us would remember everything!  No – confession is simply this: agreeing with God that sin is sin.  Confession is honest acceptance and admission of our actions, thoughts, and words.  We’re not blaming anyone or any circumstances; we’re taking the blame because we were the ones who did the sin.
    • Too often, people (even born-again Christians) don’t confess; they make excuses.  They do whatever they can to avoid true confession…and then they wonder why they still deal with guilt and unresolved sin.
    • Christian: confession brings cleansing!  1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  There is only one way for a Christian to be done with sin: confess it…so do it!
  • Response of the father #1 (22-24)

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.

  • Did the father chastise the son for all the things he did wrong?  No.  Did he lay into his son for leaving the way he had?  No.  Did he even agree with his son about the son’s unworthiness, and treat the young man as a hired hand?  No.  The father treated him as he was: a son.  And just to make sure the son (and everyone else knew it), he even ensured the boy was dressed as a son.  No rags, but a robe.  Slaves might be barefoot, but sons wore sandals.  Best of all was the ring, giving him the seal that belonged only to family.  This was grace on top of grace.
  • This is how God treats us!  He clothes us in the righteousness of Christ (i.e., the robe).  He cleanses us from the shamefulness of our sin (i.e., the sandals). Sealed with the guarantee of the Spirit (i.e, the ring).  We don’t want to turn a parable into an allegory, but the parallels are fairly clear.  The bottom line is that just as the father treated his son like family, so does our Heavenly Father do with us.  Before we believed upon Jesus by faith, we were the enemies of God, but once we believed, we became family.  God treats us as His children, for that is what we are. (Jn 1:12)
  • And if all that wasn’t enough, the father threw a party!  Vs. 23…

23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

  • This is what was mirrored in the earlier two parables.  The shepherd called his friends and neighbors regarding his recovered sheep, and the woman did the same with her recovered coin.  Now the father celebrates with others with his recovered son.  This was not a private dinner with the father and the boy; this was a public celebration.  All people would know the extent of the father’s forgiveness, thus the son would be fully restored.
  • There is one slight addition from the first two parables, but extremely important.  This son was not simply lost & found; he was dead and then made alive.  Physically?  No – but figuratively speaking, it was true.  Although it was the son who treated his father as if he was dead, in actuality it was the son who “died.”  He was the one who left home, behaving as if he had never been a part of the family.  The son had died to everything he had previously known, but now he was back.  In seeking (and most importantly, in receiving) forgiveness, the son who was once dead was now alive.
  • That’s the reason for celebration!  When a sinner repents and puts his/her faith in Jesus, that person isn’t merely found & included in the kingdom of God (which is wonderful enough) – that person moves from death to life.  For us, that isn’t simply a figure of speech; it’s reality.  Spiritually speaking, all people are dead in their transgressions & sins. It is only by faith in Jesus that we are made alive. (Eph 2:1)  When we receive forgiveness, we receive life: abundant for the present, and eternal for the future.

If this final parable was to completely parallel the first two, then Jesus would have stopped the lesson at verse 24…but He doesn’t.  There’s more to say, because there was more than just the one son.  Remember that this was all told in the context of the Pharisees’ disapproval of those whom Jesus welcomed.  The first two parables (along with the third) drove home the point of joy in recovering those who were lost – but Jesus also has something to say about those who disapprove.  If the Pharisees couldn’t see themselves in any of the earlier categories, they would surely see themselves in the final description.

  • Sin of the older son (25-30)

25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’

  • So far, so good.  The older son appears to have been doing what would have been expected of him, and even at the time of celebration, was working “in the field.”  He was far enough away from home not to know what was happening, so he had to ask one of the “servants” what was going on.  The servant filled him in on the details, telling him (without bias) what had happened.  That’s when things began to go wrong…

28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.

  • Instead of rejoicing over the reception of his brother, he was “angry.”  At first glance, that might be understandable (though there’s foundational issue behind it that soon becomes clear), but notice what his anger led him to do: stay away from the house.  He “would not go in.”  Thus there were two sons who went away from home; only one went back.
    • Objection: but the elder son didn’t go far!  He didn’t have to.  The end result was the same: he still removed himself from fellowship with his father.  He didn’t want to be in the house with his family, and thus his relationship was broken.
  • Yet notice what the father did.  Just as the father sought out the younger son, so did the father seek out the older son.  Just as the father took the first steps with the younger, so did he with the older.  He “came out and pleaded with him.
    • God always takes the first steps.  He always takes the initiative.  He comes to us, and woos us, and reasons with us, and convicts our hearts, all to help awaken us to our need for grace.
  • At this point, the older son does not receive the grace of his father, and his true colors come out with four main problems.  Vs. 29…

29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

  • Problem #1: the older son saw himself as a slave, rather than a son.  This speaks to a lack of relationship.  Apparently, he did not stay at home out of love for his father, but out of obligation.
  • Problem #2: the older son was self-righteous.  Granted, in his bitterness the son might be prone to exaggeration, but even so, it is a stretch to say that he “never transgressed…at any time.”  Never once?  Doubtful.  On our best days, we still sin against God.  This older son did not see himself as he truly was.
  • Problem #3: the older son was selfish.  He wanted to celebrate himself; not rejoice in repentance.  He doesn’t say anything here about rejoicing with his family, not even including his father.  He just wants to “make merry with [his] friends.”  How different is that from his younger brother?  This older brother wanted the same wasteful life; he just stopped himself from leaving home to find it.
  • Problem #4: the older son was separated from family.  He hadn’t referred to himself as a son (thinking of himself as a slave), but he dismissively called his brother “this son of yours.”  This underscores a broken relationship with his father.
  • Question: what in all of that diatribe indicates a saving relationship with God?  Nothing.  The elder brother had all the outward trappings of a true son of the father, but his attitude made it clear that he saw himself as anything but.  He may have remained at home, but he was just as lost as his brother ever was.
    • That would have been quite the warning to the Pharisees!  Were they as outwardly as bad as the tax-collectors?  Not according to their traditions and customs.  Outwardly, they were upstanding members of the community, fully “righteous” in the ways of their religion.  But the reality was quite different.  Regarding their relationship with God, they were just as lost as anyone else, fully in need of forgiveness and reconciliation.
    • That should be quite the warning to a lot of other people today!  There are a lot of people in middle-class suburbia that may not look like other “sinners,” but are still just as lost.  They may not have the tattoos, the criminal record, obvious sexual sin, or whatever (name your sin of choice), but they are lost nonetheless.  Pornography separates someone from God just as much as homosexuality.  Self-righteousness has the same spiritual end-result as drug addiction.  All sin leaves us lost, separated from God, doomed for hell.  Jesus came to save us from that, but we need to wake up to our need!
  • Response of the father #2 (31-32)

31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”

  • Just as the father did with the younger son, he gave his older son grace.  Or at least, he gave his older son the opportunity to receive grace.  Grace cannot be forced upon anyone (otherwise, it’s a burden; not a gift), and it wasn’t forced upon the son.  Everything that remained the father’s was already the inheritance of the older son – it was there as soon as he was ready to receive it.  What was missing was something that the younger son had already learned: a heart of humility and repentance.  This son could enjoy joyful fellowship with his father, just as his younger brother did…but he needed to be willing to accept the grace of his father.
  • Why celebrate the repentance of his younger brother?  Because it was “right.” More than that, it was necessary.  The word could be translated “needful.”  Rejoicing over sincere repentance is the right thing to do.  How so?  Because it’s what God does.  Those who share God’s heart celebrate the things that God celebrates.  Those who don’t, demonstrate that they don’t have a heart like God’s.
  • So what happens after this?  How does the elder brother respond to the grace of his father?  Jesus doesn’t say…and that was probably His point.  The Pharisees still had the opportunity to respond to the grace of God – to be themselves forgiven by God, and to rejoice in the things that the Father rejoiced in.  God had already taken the initial steps towards them…but they needed to respond.  The choice was up to them.

Conclusion:
Two sons were lost; one son was found…so far.  Jesus left the end of the story hanging, giving the Pharisees (and others) the opportunity to find the grace of God that was freely available.  God was willing to receive them, just like God is willing to receive any sinner who repents.  He rejoices when lost ones are found!  And those who belong to God rejoice with God.

Where are you in the parable?  All of us are somewhere, because all of us have sinned.  Apart from Jesus, none of us is truly righteous before God, despite what we might otherwise believe about ourselves.  What was the difference between the two brothers?  Both sinned; one admitted it.

Sin doesn’t have to be obvious for it to be deadly.  There’s more than one way to be lost.  For some people, it is truly obvious, and so is their need for forgiveness.  For others, sin might be more subtle or hidden – but the need for forgiveness and restoration with God is the same.  In a sense, perhaps the subtle sins are the more dangerous ones.  Like a person who dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, they don’t realize their need for help until it’s too late.

Recognize your need!  If you have never believed upon Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, turn to Him today.  Don’t fall back on the “I’m not as bad as others” excuse, because newsflash: you are.  I am – we all are.  All of us are equally lost, and all of us need to be found by Him – given life by Him – made into a child of God.  So respond to His offer of grace today, and be saved.

If you know you’re already saved, then remember why you’re saved: because you were shown grace you did not deserve by a God whom you previously did not love.  All we have is because of the love of and grace of Jesus.  So stay in Him!  Don’t get cocky – don’t become hypocritical – don’t be stingy with the grace that we so freely received.  It’s when we forget our own dependence upon Christ that we engage in our own sin, starting down the road of the older brother.  Beloved, our Heavenly Father loves us…rejoice in that love!

Joy Over Lost Ones

Posted: July 16, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 15:1-10, “Joy Over Lost Ones”

Everyone wants to go to heaven, but not everyone is thrilled with who else will be there.  It’s often been observed that those who do go to heaven will likely be surprised to see some folks there…and they will be just as surprised to see us!

Is there anyone you believe is impossible to be saved?  Is there anyone you don’t want to be saved?  If we are honest, many of us can probably think of a few people with whom we are less than thrilled will be sharing eternity with us.

That’s the way the Pharisees were.  They believed (wrongly) without question that they were going to be in the kingdom of God, and they were going to be a pretty exclusive group.  Some people were so lost that the Pharisees could not (or were unwilling to) imagine them there.  Thankfully, God doesn’t think like Pharisees…neither the Pharisees of ancient Judea, nor the Pharisees of today.  There is no one so lost that cannot be found by God, and God rejoices over them when they are found!

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables to illustrate this concept: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (which is commonly called the Prodigal Son).  In many respects, the ideas behind the parables are identical, even though the details vary.  The first two set the scene, and prepare the way for the third.  The first two also have a focus upon the joy of the finder, whereas the third adds an additional component of the complainers. 

God rejoices over lost ones!  Not because they are lost, but because they were lost.  It is they who have the privilege of experiencing the amazing grace of God, just as John Newton famously wrote: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me / I once was lost, but now am found / was blind, but now I see.”  If anyone knew what it was to be lost, it was Newton.  John Newton was a sailor and slave-trader who had trouble getting along with people, and was eventually himself sold into slavery.  He was eventually freed, and in 1748, had a spiritual awakening.  It wasn’t until 1754 that he left slave-trading, and ended up becoming a strong force for the Abolitionist cause. Looking back, Newton did not consider himself a full Christian believer during the time he still worked as a slave-trader, but certainly did afterwards.  Newton had been completely lost, blinded by his culture and his own wickedness.  That is who Newton was, but that is not how he is remembered, for that is not what he became.  This most wicked of men was found and gloriously saved by God, and God used him to minister to countless numbers of Christians over the past 250 years.  Heaven rejoiced over the salvation of Newton, because someone who was lost, was found.

God rejoices over lost ones.  He rejoices over you

Luke 15:1–10

  • The Pharisee’s complaint (1-2)

1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.

  • This may seem like minor details, but this is actually crucial for what’s to come.  Leading up to this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus had been among the religious elite.  It may not have been the best of circumstances (considering that it was a setup from one of the rulers of the Pharisees), but it was still among the scholars and lawyers – the Pharisees and the scribes.  It was them that Jesus warned were not included among those answering God’s invitation to the kingdom, no matter what they might have believed about their automatic entry.  Next, Jesus had been seen among the multitudes, preaching the need for them to count the cost of discipleship.  Many of the Jews hanging around Jesus would not be able to be His disciple because they were not willing to surrender everything else for His sake.  So if the kingdom would not include the religious elite…if the Jewish multitudes weren’t among Jesus’ disciples…who is left?  The cast offs: “the tax collectors and the sinners.”  The ones that the Pharisees deemed not only unworthy of the kingdom, but absolutely deserving of judgment.  Those were the ones drawing near to Jesus now.  They were coming “to hear Him.
  • Every testimony is unique, but ultimately every testimony is the same.  At some point, we all draw near to Jesus to hear Him.  Every Christian started out as a non-Christian (even if he/she was born into a Christian home), and at some point along the way, our interest in Jesus was piqued, and we gave Him special attention.  And guess what?  Not a single one of us deserved to hear Him.  We may not have included ourselves among the tax collectors & sinners, but that’s who we were.  Even the most “innocent” among us is still guilty of treasonous sin against God.  How many lies does it take to become a liar?  How much anger or how many lustful thoughts do we need to admit a lack of self-control?  How much pride?  Any sin is rebellion against God, and our lives have been full of it.  None of us is worthy to hear Jesus, as there is “none righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10)  Yet we still have the opportunity to draw near to Him & to hear Him.  In fact, that’s what He invites us to do.  He invites the unworthy ones, the cast-offs, the unexpected to hear Him & to be found by Him.
    • This might include some of you here today.  Be listening for the voice of Jesus – the call of the Holy Spirit to your heart.  Hear what He says to you, and then respond.

2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

  • The tax collectors & sinners came, and how did the Pharisees & scribes respond?  They “grumbled / complained.”  The word used by Luke refers to murmuring & whispering.  Most likely, this wasn’t out in the open with the Pharisees confronting Jesus.  The picture is more that of complainers hanging out in the background, talking to one another with disapproval as to what they saw.  Not that their disdain wouldn’t have been obvious – people whose hearts are filled with hatred have difficulty concealing it, and they usually don’t care whether or not they hide it anyway.
  • What was the problem?  Jesus welcomed people they didn’t want welcomed.  For the Pharisees, the message of God’s kingdom was for worthy people, deserving people…people like them. (Or so they thought!)  People who were outright sinners didn’t deserve to hear the message of the kingdom; all they needed to hear was judgment & damnation.  More than that, people like that needed to be pushed aside & punished by general society, in addition to the punishment they would receive from God.  Certainly, they shouldn’t be welcomed & received by rabbis or other supposedly-respectful people in society.  Jesus was breaking all of their rules!  “This Man” welcomed the traitorous tax collectors, and everyone else publicly known as sinners.  This Jesus went so far as to share meals with them, even after He got done dining with the leaders of the Pharisees.  How dare He! … Thankfully, that is exactly what Jesus does!  If Jesus never received sinners, none of us would be saved!  If He received people like us, then who else should be denied?  No one. 
  • The reaction of the Pharisees seems a bit ridiculous to us at first, but people still struggle with this idea today.  What does it mean for Jesus to welcome sinners & spend time with them?  Did He not care about their sin, or did He join them in the midst of their sin?  Don’t those lost in sin need to hear about judgment, rather than a promise of heaven?  We need to be careful not to let the prejudices of the Pharisees force us into an either/or position.
    • Yes, those in sin need to hear the law of God.  The last thing they need is a false promise of a salvation they have not yet received, and the law is the very tool that God uses to bring us to the feet of Jesus. It is our tutor/schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. (Gal 3:24-25)  Even so, that does not mean there is no place to share the love and grace of God.  After all, it is the goodness of God that draws us to repentance. (Rom 2:4)  The law awakens us to our need, and God’s goodness reveals to us the cure.  Jesus never once abandoned this principle; He just used it in a way that the Pharisees didn’t expect.  It was the Pharisees who were the proud & hard-hearted sinners, and Jesus consistently used the law to show them their need for salvation.  As to the publicly-known sinners, these were people who already knew their sad condition, thus they were given the gospel.
    • No, Jesus never approved of, nor engaged in the sin of those He welcomed.  Just because He received tax collectors doesn’t mean He collected taxes.  Just because He received adulterers doesn’t mean He gave permission to commit adultery.  People sometimes get the idea that because Jesus ate with sinners, that He just hung out with them, not caring about their sin while He just had common conversation with them.  Thus, we can go to the bar & get drunk with everyone else, because Jesus hung out with sinners, so we should too.  Right?  Wrong.  Jesus consistently called people out of their sin.  When He called Matthew to be a disciple, He didn’t tell Matthew to keep engaging in his tax collecting along the way.  When Jesus dined at Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus didn’t approve of Zacchaeus’ past sins, and Zacchaeus was so impacted by Jesus’ presence that he gave it all up immediately.  If we are to welcome sinners as Jesus did, it means we need to be ready & willing to be among them, but unwilling to be like them.  You cannot win people to Christ whom you’ve never met; Christians absolutely must engage unbelievers in real, authentic relationships.  At the same time, we cannot (and dare not!) compromise our own actions in the process.
  • The Pharisees may have grumbled amongst themselves, but Jesus knew exactly what was in their hearts, and He responded appropriately.  Vs. 3…
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep (3-7)

3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

  • As we’ve done at other times in the gospel of Luke, it needs to be emphasized this is a parable; not a straightforward teaching, nor an allegory.  Jesus does not relate a historical event, nor does He provide so much symbolism that parallels need to be found for every single aspect.  It is a parable, which means we are to look for a primary point…and Jesus is going to be make it obvious.
  • If the parable sounds familiar, it’s because the same parable is taught in Matthew, though a different context.  Matthew 18:12–14, "(12) “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? (13) And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. (14) Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."  At that time, Jesus taught this to His disciples, in regards to the need for their own humility, and their need to be like little children in their faith. (Mt 18:3-4)  God has His eyes on the humble, caring for them deeply.  He wants them to be saved.  In Luke, the audience isn’t the group of disciples struggling with pride and humility in the midst of their faith; it is the group of Pharisees struggling with pride outside of faith.  They had pride and hardheartedness towards other people coming to faith.  The Pharisees already saw themselves as “saved;” but they believed they were the only ones.  Jesus tells them otherwise.  He tells them of a shepherd who sought out others.  He tells of a shepherd willing to leave 99 behind, all for the sake of finding one that strayed.
  • Question: Is the shepherd irresponsible with the 99?  Not at all.  Again, this is a parable, told to make a singular point, specifically in response to the complaints of the Pharisees and scribes.  They weren’t concerned about the salvation of tax collectors; they were concerned that Jesus was receiving tax collectors.  They didn’t want tax collectors & other sinners to be saved; they believed those people deserved the judgment they were to receive.  What they missed was their own hypocrisy.  All of us deserve the judgment that we would receive without salvation!  Not a single one of us deserves the grace of God, or to be included in the heavenly kingdom.  If we treasure it so much for ourselves, that’s not something we can hold back from others.
    • This gets to the heart of evangelism.  We, as born-again Christians, have been entrusted with the wonderfully good news of Jesus.  We have the news of how (literally) anyone can be saved & transformed for all eternity.  This is truth to which we cling; but it’s not truth that is to be horded & hidden away.  No one loses his/her salvation by sharing it; we only experience more joy when we do!  How can we hold it back?  How can we not share the good news of Jesus with others?  To do so is to engage in the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: wanting the best for us, desiring nothing for others.  Share the news!  Tell your testimony – demonstrate the love of Jesus – invite people to church – hand out a gospel tract.  Do something (anything!) to let people know of the Jesus who seeks them and offers to save them.  You might be the only Christian they encounter all day, all week, or even all their lives.
  • Notice the love of this shepherd.  This is a shepherd concerned about all of his sheep.  He knows each one, and is immediately concerned when one is missing.  He himself goes off, being willing to personally endure hardship to ensure that his lost sheep is safely found.
    • This is the gospel!  Jesus personally left the glories of heaven to seek out sinners and to save them.  He personally endured hardships on our behalf.  Did He have to leave?  No.  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have been perfectly content on their own without any of us.  But God wanted us.  He wants humanity reconciled with us, so the Father sent Jesus to seek us out, and He seeks us out individually.  Jesus died for all humanity at the cross, but we aren’t saved corporately.  Jesus died for all, but all are not automatically saved.  Individually, one by one, we come to faith in Jesus.  Each of us at some point has been the “one sheep” that was lost, and Jesus came to find us and bring us home.
    • This might be you.  Today might be your day that you hear the voice of Jesus calling you, searching you out.  When the Shepherd calls, you need to respond.  You have no idea how long you will hear His voice, or if you will hear it again.  When Jesus comes to seek you, be willing to be found by Him!
  • What happens when he finds it?  Joy!  Vs. 5…

5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

  • The key word: “rejoice/rejoicing.”  There is joy when the sheep which was lost is found.  The shepherd was happy that he found his lost sheep, and he was so overjoyed by it that he had to share it with his friends.  Grammatically speaking, there’s nothing special about the word used for “rejoicing;” it is the typical word found throughout the Scriptures.  Theologically speaking, it is profound.  God rejoices over lost ones who are found – which is exactly what Jesus is leading up to in the parable.
  • BTW – notice what the shepherd does with the sheep: “he lays it on his shoulders.”  Typical action for a shepherd with a lost/injured sheep.  Although it’s not the main point of the parable, this is exactly what Jesus does with us: He carries us.  When people are saved, we are saved by grace through faith, with our own works contributing nothing. (Eph 2:8-9)  Thus when we say we “come to faith” in Jesus, our language breaks down a bit because we aren’t doing anything; we’re passively responding to the work of Jesus for us.  He does the work – He carries us by His grace.  In responding to Jesus, we simply do not struggle against the work He does.  If He didn’t carry us, we wouldn’t go anywhere.  Our faith is merely our reliance upon Him to carry us in the first place.
    • FYI – Regarding the oft-told illustration of a shepherd breaking the leg of a sheep that wanders, then carrying it on his shoulders while the leg heals…it’s a myth.  It might make for a nice sermon illustration, but there’s no basis for it in practice or history.  In the parable, the shepherd carries the sheep back to the rest of the flock, bringing it home…nowhere is it mentioned that the leg is broken.  Even Psalm 23 says nothing about broken legs; just the disciplinary staff of the Lord our Shepherd.
  • Again, the main point is that of joy…and the fictional joy expressed in the parable is literal joy expressed in heaven.  Vs. 7…

7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

  • Heaven rejoices over repentant sinners!  There is joy among the heavenly beings when people respond to Jesus in faith.  Heaven rejoiced over you!  Think of it: as a born-again Christian, the very moment you put your faith in Christ, heaven threw a party.  That’s not said to put the focus on you, but upon the grace of God.  After all, how amazing is God’s grace if He could rejoice over someone like me?  This rotten, no-good sinner – this depraved person – even someone like me (and like you) was extended the grace of God.  God sought us out, and we were found.  That’s a reason for rejoicing! 
  • Reminder: what is repentance?  Repentance is a turning – it is a change of mind and direction.  We so much change the way we think about something, that our actions follow as a result. It’s not being sorry; it’s more.  It is contrition combined with change.  People can say they are sorry about their sin all day long, but if they’ve done nothing to change, then how sorry are they?  Think of it in terms of disease.  Someone can say, “I’m sorry about smoking – it’s hurting me & making me ill.”  But if they never take any steps to change, how sorry are they?  Obviously their thinking hasn’t really changed – deep down, they still believe they can do it without consequence. (Not to pick on smoking.  The same analogy could be used with drinking, poor nutrition, or any other habitual action.)  Real repentance involves a change. To the context here, a person changes by turning to Jesus in faith.  A person turns away from sin, and turns to Christ.  Someone hears the call of the shepherd, and responds.  They turn away from self-reliance, and turn to dependence upon Jesus.  They turn away from themselves, and turn to Jesus as Savior.  They repent.
  • In the parable, nothing was said about the repentance of the sheep.  Why?  It wouldn’t make sense.  Literal sheep have no reason to repent.  Again, this is part of the reason we need to interpret it within the proper literary context of a parable.  The parable teaches two main points: (1) lost things are searched out, (2) there is joy in finding that which was lost.  A lost sheep is found by a seeking shepherd, and the shepherd rejoices.  Lost sinners are found by a seeking Savior, and He rejoices when they are found.  But how are they found?  Though repentance.
  • Repentance is crucial to salvation!  Without repentance and faith in Jesus, no one will see the kingdom of God.  But not everyone believes they need to repent. They believe in their own self-righteousness, that they’ve done enough good works in themselves for inclusion in the kingdom of God. That was the problem of the Pharisees, and what Jesus referred to as the parable ended: “ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”  Obviously, no one is just/righteous on their own.  Again, none are righteous apart from the grace of God (no, not one – Rom 3:10).  But some people believe that they are.  In comparison with others, they aren’t so bad…they’re downright saints!  They’ve never committed a felony, they gave money to charity, they helped people when they could – they’ve been truly good people, so if anyone deserves to go to heaven, they do.  But that’s the problem: no one deserves to go to heaven.  What we deserve is hell.  Even the best among us have still sinned against God at some point.  If nothing else, the person who claims to have never sinned has committed the sin of pride…and pride leads to a host of other problems.  The people who don’t believe they need to be saved, won’t be.  And this is why heaven rejoices over the sinners who repent, rather than the 99 who don’t.  Those 99 are 99 people who need to repent, but never see the need.  Those 99 are doomed.  No matter how they lived their lives, if they lived it without turning to Jesus, they will suffer eternity without Him.

That was parable #1.  The 2nd parable changes the characters & objects, but the action is absolutely identical.  Jesus had a point to make, and it was so important to Him that it was worth repeating.

  • The Parable of the Lost Coin (8-10)

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

  • The setting changes from that of a shepherd to a woman, which was not in itself unusual, but we want to be careful not to miss the description, or we’ll miss the picture painted by Jesus.  The “ten silver coins” refer to the drachma, each coin worth only 18-19 cents, but those 18-19 cents had far more purchasing power in that culture & economy!  According to one dictionary, it was the price of a sheep, or 1/5 the price of an ox. (BDAG)  This woman had ten of this silver coins, and yet she apparently lived very modestly in a one-room house that could be completely swept in her search.  Thus, this money was likely all the woman had – it was her whole livelihood.
  • With that in mind, it’s no wonder she searched the way she did!  One coin was a lot of money, and she was going to search out every nook & cranny to find it.   If an object is valuable enough to you, you’re going to do whatever you can to seek it out.  You aren’t guaranteed to find it, but you’re going to ensure that you tried your hardest.
  • That’s how Jesus describes this woman regarding her coin, and that’s what Jesus says about God regarding us.  He does what it takes to seek us out.  He went to extreme extents.  How else would you describe the incarnation and the cross?  John writes that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:14)  Isaiah wrote that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquity. (Isa 53:5)  Paul wrote of both aspects, that Jesus: Philippians 2:7–8, "(7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."  This is the very definition of extreme!  What can top the Infinite God leaving heaven in order to serve – than the Creator making Himself as one of His creations – than the Author of life allowing Himself to experience death?  Jesus held nothing back in His quest for you & me!  He could have done nothing more in His search than what He has already done.

9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’

  • As with the earlier parable, there is joy upon recovering what was once lost.  How much joy?  Enough for this woman to throw a block party!  She called together everyone she knew, in order that they could share in her joy of finding what was lost.
  • Christian musician Andrew Peterson wrote a song loosely based on this parable, written from the perspective of a modern-day penny.  Some of the nuances of the parable are missed, but Peterson truly captures the joy: “But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch / By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change. / Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town / Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved. / And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine / Like all the gold a king and queen could measure / You see even a penny is a treasure.” (“Loose Change,” Clear to Venus, 2001) 
  • Question: Why did the woman rejoice over the found silver coin?  She valued it.  Why does God rejoice over us?  He values us.  You matter to God.  Yes, even people like you & me matter to Jesus.  This is one of the things that makes His grace so amazing!

10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

  • Once again, Jesus makes the parallel to heaven.  Just as the shepherd rejoiced with his friends & neighbors, and the woman rejoiced with her friends & neighbors, so does God rejoice with others besides Himself.  His joy is shared by the heavenly “angels.”  Why do the angels rejoice?  Because this is an aspect of God’s character of which they can never share.  Salvation is foreign to them, as the work of Jesus does not appear to be extended to them. Jesus came as an incarnate human when He went to the cross, thus He died as a substitute for humans; not angels.  The angels who fell with Satan seem to be fallen for all eternity, and hell was specifically created for them. (Mt 25:41) Thus, salvation is something that the angels cannot know.  They either belong to God, or they don’t.  This is why they angels that do serve God rejoice when humans are saved.  We experience an aspect of God they can never truly know: redemption.
  • How many repentant sinners does it take for the angels to throw a party?  Just one.  Each individual person who puts his/her faith in Christ is a person over whom the angels rejoice.  Better yet, it’s a person over whom God rejoices! 
    • It may seem strange to have so much focus on our value to God, and His joy over us, yet these are the words of Jesus.  Sometimes we get the idea that because our culture focuses far too much on self-esteem, that the proper view of ourselves is self-hatred.  That’s not the case, and isn’t what the Bible teaches at all.  Are we sinners?  Yes – but Christians are sinners saved by grace.  We are sinners beloved by God.  We are sinners who are so valued by God that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us at the cross.  We matter to Him.  That’s not something for us to get a big head about, but it does mean that God has a purpose for us as His people.  You mattered enough for God to save you; you matter enough for God to use you.
    • Rant alert, re: the “one” sinner.  Sometimes this is used to justify massive financial expense in evangelism.  “If only one person repents, it was worth it!”  Praise God for the one repentant sinner, but was there a better way to reach that one person?  Perhaps for the same amount of money, there could have been 3-4, or even 10-12.  Granted, it may take a bit more hands-on work, with a much smaller profile “event,” but wouldn’t the same reasoning be applicable?  Those who repent are worth it.  We need to stop using this as an excuse to throw the biggest events, and start using it as it was intended: as motivation to go reach the lost with the gospel.
    • The bottom line: Almighty God, along with all heaven rejoices over sinners who are found.  God’s great desire for us is to repent, and place our faith in Jesus.  Will we do it?  You can make heaven smile today.  Repent & believe!
  • That brings us back around to the initial setting that provided the impetus for Jesus to teach these parables.  The Pharisees and scribes were not rejoicing in the many people who were turning from their ways to hear from Jesus & potentially put their faith in Him to be saved.  If the angels rejoiced, why wouldn’t they?  What stops them from rejoicing?  Pride…  Legalism… Lack of love…  Lack of faith/worship/knowledge of God… Those who truly know God rejoice when others get to know God.  That’s simply the natural response.
    • Do you rejoice when people believe?  Do you rejoice when sinners repent?  If not, you’d do well to ask yourself why.  Is it prejudice against certain people?  Is it a lack of love in general?  Perhaps it’s an indication that you need to examine your own faith.  Perhaps you’re the one who needs to repent.  Repentant people rejoice over repentant people.  Christians rejoice over other people becoming Christian.  They don’t have to look exactly like us, nor worship exactly the way we do.  But if they have truly put their faith & trust in Jesus as Lord, then we ought to rejoice.  We want our church to grow, but ultimately that matters nothing in comparison with God’s Kingdom.  We want the Church to grow; that’s something to rejoice over!

Conclusion:
God rejoices over lost ones who repent.  He has sought you out, found you, and carried you back to Himself.  He, along with all His angels, rejoiced the moment you were saved.  He did whatever was necessary to bring you to faith, and you responded through repentance.  Praise God!  If that’s you, be sure you join the rejoicing. Help others experience that same joy.

If that’s not you, then join the repentant!  God is seeking you, and has called you.  He offers to freely save you, but He isn’t going to make the decision for you.  You’re the one who needs to repent…so do it!

Who Cannot Be A Disciple

Posted: July 9, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 14:25-35, “Who Cannot Be A Disciple”

Sometimes we learn more of what something is, by looking at what something is not.  How do we describe “dryness”?  In terms of water, or lack thereof.  How do we generally describe world peace?  With the lack of war.  Even if we already know the concept (ex: cut and polished diamonds are incredibly beautiful gemstones), the comparison with opposites generally helps us learn more (ex: the black velvet setting upon which the gems are placed).

In Luke 14, Jesus used this teaching method with the concept of discipleship.  He described what discipleship is, in terms of what it is not.  Many people might say they want to be a disciple of Jesus; not everyone really wants to do it.  At least, not when they see what it actually involved.  People hear the news of heaven & say, “Awesome…sign me up!”  But when they hear that they need to forsake sin and surrender their lives to Christ, quite a few people change their minds. 

Part of the problem we have with false converts in the Bible Belt is probably due to this.  People are told that to go to heaven, all they need to do is repeat a prayer & ask Jesus to “come into their heart,” without knowing what the phrase even means.  They’re promised a wonderful life, and they’re thrilled…all up to the point that their life doesn’t turn out so wonderful.  They find they still have problems, that their lives haven’t really changed, and they end up deciding that church doesn’t really do anything for them & Jesus doesn’t matter.  They might still claim to be Christian, because they “prayed the prayer,” but they don’t really give Jesus a second thought.  In the end, that’s our fault.  As the church, we sold them a false bill of goods by not telling them what was involved.  We asked them to convert for the promise of heaven, but we didn’t tell them anything about being a disciple.  They were told of a guaranteed assurance of eternal life, without being told of what it cost.

That’s not a mistake Jesus made, and it is crystal-clear in passages such as this.  Can eternal life be assured?  Yes, absolutely!  Do true born-again Christians have a guaranteed promise of heaven?  Yes, 100%.  But there is a massive difference between cultural Christians and born-again disciples of Jesus.  Jesus never once told someone to simple “pray a prayer;” He told them to surrender their lives.  He told them to sincerely believe.  He told them to count the cost.

Jesus never once restricted the offer of His salvation from any group of people.  The Pharisees who (falsely) believed they were automatically saved were still invited to come to faith in Jesus, as was any of the people that might be more unexpected: the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and the Gentiles.  Even so, there were still some who would never be able to be saved: those unwilling to surrender all – those unwilling to count the cost.

Don’t be among them!  The choice is yours.

Luke 14:25–35

  • The conditions of discipleship (25-27)

25 Now great multitudes went with Him. …  

  • The first thing we see is that the setting has changed.  To this point in Chapter 14 (not that Luke numbered his chapter divisions, or even made chapter divisions), the setting has been a Sabbath day supper.  A ruler among the Pharisees in a town through which Jesus was travelling had invited Jesus and many others to his home for a meal/feast on the Sabbath day.  Just as a group of people might go out together after church for a meal together (or even invite them home), so did this group gather after their synagogue meeting on the Sabbath day.  Yet this was no ordinary meal; this was a set-up.  Luke tells us that the Pharisees and religious lawyers watched Jesus closely, looking to see what His reaction would be when a man with a physical disease (dropsy/edema/swelling) entered the room.  This man had been brought as a test.  Jesus was known to perform healings on the Sabbath, and due to the escalating tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees, they wanted a reason to accuse Him.  Of course, Jesus never once broke the Sabbath law, even with His healings, and did it again here, knowing that the heart of God (even on the Sabbath) was to have compassion on those who needed it.
  • It was compassion & humility that the Pharisees lacked, and Jesus pointed it out as He began to teach at the supper.  The religious elite had tried to exalt themselves at the expense of others, and Jesus told a parable of how they were to humble themselves & wait to be exalted by God.  In addition, they weren’t to try to make themselves look good in front of their friends & family, but they were to have compassion and generosity towards the kinds of people who would never be able to repay them.
  • All of this teaching was lost upon some who attended, who still assumed themselves to be included in the kingdom of God.  That’s when Jesus told the final parable recorded at that supper, describing a future supper of the kingdom.  The people who were originally invited refused to come, and in response the Master invited others – the same sorts of people that the original invitees would have despised.  Because the original guests didn’t come, other guests were urgently persuaded (compelled) to come in.  The Master had plenty of room, even if the original guests never saw the need.
  • It was quite a supper!  One might imagine the conversation dropping off quite a bit after Jesus was done teaching. J (Awkward!)  At some point the dinner ended, and Jesus was once again among the crowds – “the great multitudes.”  It’s to them that Jesus continued teaching, and it’s telling that the first subject that is recorded by Luke is who cannot be a disciple.  There were many religious people in that banquet hall with Jesus, but few (if any) of them were willing to count the cost of discipleship.  The Pharisees and religious lawyers had refused to answer the invitation of Jesus to follow Him in sincerity.  Would the crowds?  The masses might physically follow Jesus through the countryside, but would they follow Him in terms that really mattered?  Would they be willing to do what the Pharisees were not, in terms of true discipleship?
  • Jesus starts out by giving them two conditions of discipleship…

… And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

  • First things first: what is a disciple?  If we’re going to understand what Jesus means with His conditions of discipleship, we ought to know what a disciple is.  The Greek word is uniformly translated this way.  Out of the 269 times it’s used in the NT, the NKJV always translates it as “disciple,” so we know that it’s pretty consistent…we just need to know what it means.  A disciple is a learner or pupil, but this is far more than simply being a student in a classroom.  Students listen to their teachers, but they aren’t particularly attached to them.  They might not even care about the subject matter, being required to take a class.  That’s not a disciple.  One dictionary says of the classical Greek use of the word: “A man is called [a disciple] when he binds himself to someone else in order to acquire his practical and theoretical knowledge.” (NIDNTT)  In other words, a disciple is best thought of as an apprentice.  A student might listen to his/her teacher for an hour at a time; an apprentice follows his/her master teacher all through the day.  Disciples learn to duplicate the ways of the one who instruct them.  Jesus’ use of the word in the NT takes things up a notch.  Christian disciples are not just learning a trade; they’re learning a life.  Christians don’t bind themselves to just anyone; they completely attach themselves to Christ Jesus.  We are to follow every aspect of the Lord Jesus, in total devotion to Him.
    • If we’re being honest, that doesn’t sound like much of the church today, does it?  Many people have an idea of a part-time Christianity.  Sure, they might go to church, but the stuff they do there stays there.  It doesn’t come into their workplace or recreational time.  They might pray at the dinner table, but the rest of their faith doesn’t bleed over into the rest of their lives. – There might be all kinds of ways of describing that sort of behavior, but it isn’t “discipleship.”  Can you imagine Peter or John or Andrew doing that with Jesus?  Of course not.  They lived with Him, ate with Him, walked next to Him, spent every waking moment next to Him.  Granted, that was easy to do while Jesus physically walked the earth, but it’s not like that kind of devotion to Jesus stopped after Jesus ascended to heaven.  The New Testament shows people like Peter, John, and Paul still totally dedicated to Jesus, devoted & bound to Him.  They had a full-time (not part-time) Christianity.
    • Objection: “But of course they did.  They were called by God into full-time ministry; that’s not for the rest of us.”  Not so!  Yes, they (mostly) had a full-time occupation of ministry (though sometimes Paul made tents to financially support himself), but even Christians who didn’t still had total dedication to Jesus.  Before Barnabas ever started travelling on missions with Paul, he was first had a ministry of encouragement among the church & donated the proceeds from his land sale to the apostles. (Acts 4:36-37)  In Philippi, a woman named Lydia was a seller of purple dye, and she insisted that Paul & those who travelled with him stay at her house within the city as he did the work of church-planting there. (Acts 16:14-16)  These were men & women willing to do anything for Jesus, whatever their vocation/career might have been.
    • Keep in mind that this is what we are called to do & to be.  When the Bible speaks of making Christians, it speaks of making disciples.  Matthew 28:19–20, "(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  It would have very easy for Jesus to command the disciples to go out and just get a lot of people to pray a prayer of conversion.  He could have told the apostles just to convince people to believe in Jesus for salvation, and left it at that.  But that’s not what He did.  He told them to “make disciples.”  In fact, that’s the primary verb in His command, with the rest of it simply being the description of how to go about it.  Disciples make other disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.  Is conversion important?  Absolutely!  It’s foundational.  Without conversion, no one gets baptized – no one receives teaching.  But conversion isn’t the equivalent to discipleship; it’s only the beginning of it.  Conversion takes a moment; discipleship takes a lifetime.  Jesus called us to make disciples…that is who we are to be.
  • Condition #1: Hate your life.  Given the book titles that fill the “Christian” section at many bookstores, one can imagine what the reaction of some publishers might have been to Jesus, if they had heard Him at the time.  Jesus purposefully used shocking language to speak of discipleship.  It’s shocking today, and it was shocking then.  Just look at the list: Jesus basically tells people to think of every family relationship they have & then “hate” them. “You want to follow Me?  Great!  Hate everyone else first.”  Does it sound extreme?  It is!  Of course, it’s meant to be, as Jesus was speaking in hyperbole and comparison.  Does Jesus want His followers to literally hate “father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters”?  Of course not.  The 5th Commandment is to honor our parents, and Jesus isn’t commanding law-breaking.  Jesus summarized the entire law by the two commands to love God and to love our neighbors.  On the night of His arrest, He commanded His disciples to love one another.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus even commanded people to love their enemies. (Mt 5:44)  Surely our families are included somewhere in all of that!  Thus, what Jesus says here in Luke 14:26 has to be understood in light of what He said elsewhere.  He speaks figuratively, in hyperbole – speaking extremely about one concept in order to highlight something else.  If a person want to follow Jesus as a disciple, then something else needs to happen: other relationships needs to pale in comparison.  Next to Jesus, our love for our families need to seem like hate.  Next to Jesus, our love even for our own lives need to seem like hate.  As His disciples, we are to place every other priority in our lives under Jesus.  He is first – He is foremost – He is supreme.  Do you love your husband or wife?  Good!  But in comparison with Jesus, your love for your spouse needs to seem like you barely know them at all.  For a disciple of Jesus, all of life is to center on Him – everything else proceeds outward.
    • “But that still sounds extreme!”  It is.  Where in the Bible did Jesus ask for anything less than extreme devotion?  Where did the idea of an easy, cheap Christianity originate?  Not in the pages of the Bible!  The Bible speaks of a God who went through great extremes for us, so we respond in great extremes for Him.  Think of it: what could be more extreme than God clothing Himself in flesh, walking among us as a Man, allowing Himself to be rejected, humiliated, tortured, crucified, and made into a sin-sacrifice for people who hated Him and committed treason against Him?  That is extreme!  Yet that is what Jesus did for us.  In response, the Bible calls us to believe & have faith, yes – but it also calls us to something more.  It calls us to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called. (Eph 4:1)  It calls us to become living sacrifices for Him (Rom 12:1).  It calls us to be disciples.  We are called to whole-hearted, full-on, total devotion to the Lord Jesus, being both His slaves (bond-servants) and friends.  He deserves nothing less.
    • And if you thought that was extreme, just wait for what Jesus says next…

27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

  • Condition #2: Embrace your death.  First was to let everything beloved in your life be like it is hated, in comparison with Jesus.  If Jesus takes first place, everything else takes a far distant second.  This second condition takes it a step further.  Don’t just ‘hate’ your life; embrace death.  Again, is this extreme?  Without question.  But so were Jesus’ actions for us.  This is what He personally did on our behalf, and disciples follow in the footsteps of their Master.  Disciples duplicate the things their Master does.  Jesus bore His cross for us; we bear our cross for Him.
  • Keep in mind that to “bear our cross” is far more than what is often thought today.  People use the phrase to refer to any sort of inconvenience.  Whatever our complaints may be, that is assuredly not what Jesus meant when He spoke of bearing His cross.  For Jesus, His cross was literal.  It was a giant piece of wood digging splinters into His back, which was already thrashed from a brutal scourging, and lugging the timber to the place where He would be crucified upon it.  For Jesus, bearing His cross was to load on His shoulders the very thing upon which He would be killed.  That’s what it meant for Jesus, so we can be sure that He meant something similar for us when He instructed us to do the same.
  • Question: Does this mean He wants us to literally die?  No.  Literal death was something Jesus came to abolish.  He is the resurrection and the life; those who die in Him will yet live, and the person who believes in Him will never die. (Jn 11:25-26)  We all face physical death, but as believing Christians we will never face eternal death.  That is something completely removed by Jesus.  Even so, in the here & now, Jesus still does not call us to literally die.  After all, we’re to be living sacrifices (Rom 12:1); dead people cannot do good works for Jesus.  Dead disciples cannot make more disciples.  So yes, we are to literally live, but we are to live for a different purpose.  Most people live for themselves; we are to live for Jesus.  Most people want to glorify themselves; we are to glorify Christ.  We are to so much put ourselves aside that it is as if we have truly died to ourselves & we live with a new identity: that of a true disciple.
  • Note that this is not the first time Jesus gave such a command.  Luke 9:23–24, "(23) Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (24) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."  At first, this might seem foolish, as a trip bearing one’s cross is a one-way ticket.  It’s not something that can be done on a daily basis.  But that’s the point of the hyperbole.  We don’t literally physically die, but we do put our own desires and priorities to death.  We certainly put the lusts of our flesh to death in order that we might serve Christ Jesus wholeheartedly. We reckon ourselves dead to sin & alive to Christ. (Rom 6:11)  As disciples, our lives are to be wholly spent on Jesus.
    • Objection: “But won’t that mean I have nothing?”  Yes…and no.  Sometimes we fear that if we wholeheartedly surrender everything in life to Jesus that we will lose our identity in Him.  There won’t be anything left of ourselves in us.  But consider for a moment if that’s really a bad thing.  If you surrender all of yourself to Jesus, what will remain at the end?  A life transformed by Jesus.  That’s what we claim to want, is it not?  The Bible promises that disciples of Jesus are new creations – we have new lives, and hearts completely cleansed by Him.  If that means it requires that the “old us” go away, then praise God!  That’s what we want!
    • To be totally surrendered to Jesus doesn’t mean we all become robots, zombies, or Stepford wives (depending on your cultural frame of reference).  It doesn’t mean that we have no desires or dreams.  It means that His desires for us become our desires.  It means the things we used to want for ourselves, we no longer want.  Instead, our hearts are transformed by Him to desire the things He wants for us.  Considering that He’s the God who created us, we can trust Him to know what is best!
  • So this sort of discipleship is what Jesus calls us to.  That’s something that ought to be carefully considered, which Jesus goes on to illustrate…
  • Counting the cost (28-32)

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

  • Example #1: Building budget.  Someone doesn’t start a construction project without proper funding.  The last thing a person wants to do is have a half-built building sitting around, never able to be used.  As a church, we have first-hand experience with this.  We’ve got land, but no building as of yet.  We simply don’t have funding to get started.  That’s not a complaint; just a reality.  Any person, organization, or church body goes through the same thing in any project they undertake.  Do they have the budget to proceed?  If so, great!  If not, then it’s time to wait.
  • In regards to discipleship, have you counted the cost?  Not everyone is willing to surrender his/her entire life to Jesus.  Again, many people want to pray a prayer to be assured of eternity, but not nearly as many want to give what is required to be a disciple of Jesus.  Question: Is Jesus trying to talk people out of discipleship?  Yes & no.  Jesus certainly wants to cut down on the number of false converts.  Far better for someone never to make an insincere commitment to Christ, than for that person to have a false assurance of salvation.  Probably the worst words a person could ever hear from Jesus are “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” (Mt 7:23)  That said, Jesus does want people to believe & to follow Him as His disciples.  He never puts a legalistic burden upon anyone, giving a list of rules & rituals for us to follow.  He never demands slavish service, holding out the false carrot that salvation must somehow be earned.  But He does show that discipleship is true commitment.  And that’s not something that everyone is willing to give.

31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.

  • Example #2: Battle budget.  We don’t have to be great military strategists to know that armies never willingly enter battles they don’t believe they can win.  Situations like the Battle of the Alamo were forced, and undesired by the Texans who were there.  If nations can avoid losing battles by entering diplomatic negotiations, then that’s in their best interest to do.  Better to end up with a bad trade deal, than to lose 10,000 soldiers in battle.  The idea with this example is little different than that of the tower construction (though the stakes are higher!).  Count the cost.  Be sure you’re willing and able to see something through to completion before you begin.
  • Bottom line: this is basic wisdom!  If these things are considered for physical things, how much more should the cost be considered regarding eternal things?  It’s interesting that more people give more thought to their choice of career than to how they want to spend their eternity.  People will carefully consider trade school, college, the military, etc., spending many hours figuring out what they want to do with their lives.  Yet when it comes to eternity, it’s often decided on a whim.  “Do I want to give my heart to Jesus? I guess so.”  Don’t misunderstand: people can decide in a single moment that yes, they want to surrender their lives to Christ.  But however your discipleship begins, it’s more than just a moment.  A commitment to Christ is life-change.  Jesus calls us to nothing less.
    • Know this: it’s worth it!  If you haven’t yet surrendered your life to Jesus – if you’re still counting the cost – know that it is all worth it.  What you lose is nothing compared to what you gain.  What you lose is your sin, your shame, your selfish desires; what you gain is the love of God, life in the Spirit, and the knowledge of your Creator.  It is most certainly worth it to surrender everything to Jesus!
  • Summary: Surrender everything (33)

33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

  • This gets back to the first two conditions: hate your life – embrace your death – leave everything behind.  To “forsake” is to renounce, to take leave of everything that was once ordered & appointed to you.  Turn away from it & leave it all behind.  We might say it another way: burn your bridges.  Burning your bridges is a bad thing, until it isn’t.  In business, you rarely want to burn bridges with customers, because you never know when you might encounter them again.  Likewise with how you generally treat people in a public setting.  But in other contexts, burning bridges is downright necessary.  Sinful lifestyles of the past need to have all ties severed – every bridge burned.  Some personal relationships need to be totally cut off, in order to ensure we don’t fall into the same traps of past sin.  This is the idea in regards to discipleship.  We are to burn our bridges with the past.  We don’t simply give up the way we used to live; we cut off all ways of returning to it.  When we surrender our lives to Jesus as His disciples, we leave ourselves no escape hatch.  There’s no turning back.
    • What’s the difference between a disciple of Jesus & a surface-level convert with an escape hatch?  Two people go up in a plane for skydiving.  Both put on parachutes, but only one jumps.  The person who jumped renounced everything of the past, being wholeheartedly committed to the dive.  In conversion, we might put on the parachute, but it is in discipleship that we jump.  Jesus calls us to jump.
    • Have you taken the jump?  Maybe you’re one who has believed upon Jesus, but you’ve hesitated truly committing to Him.  You’ve tried to live with one foot in Christianity and one foot in the world…and you’ve found that it hasn’t worked out so well.  Your priorities are always torn – you struggle often with temptations and guilt – you don’t really experience freedom & the abundant life that the Bible speaks of.  What do you do?  Count the cost, and truly commit yourself to Jesus.  Take the leap of faith, and jump into wholehearted discipleship.  Surrender everything to Him, totally entrusting yourself to Jesus.
  • Notice something about the two conditions & summary of discipleship: everything is in the present tense.  14:26, “hate” – 14:27, “bear…come” – 14:33, “forsake” – all of these verbs are present tense.  They describe an ongoing state of things.  In other words, it’s not something you do once & then forget.  These are things we do constantly.  Life ebbs & flows.  Some days this comes easy & sometimes it doesn’t.  Even the apostle Paul struggled with his own walk of discipleship with Jesus from time to time.  Did he forsake his life of the past?  Absolutely!  He went from being a Pharisee persecuting Christians, to being a missionary church planter.  But even for Paul there were days he found himself doing things he hated to do, and not doing the things he wanted to do. (Rom 7:15)  By external standards, it might have seemed as if some days he was a “better” disciple than other days.  Thankfully, that’s not the standard by which we are judged.  God sees us through eyes of grace!  God sees us clothed in the righteousness of His Son!  Even so, we need to be mindful & not become complacent in how we follow Christ.  An initial commitment to follow Him is necessary, but it’s not the end; it’s only the beginning.  Every day is a new day to walk as a disciple (and to be reminded of the grace of Jesus!).
  • Worthwhile disciples (34-35)

34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

  • All of the previous discussion perhaps made sense in terms of discipleship, but what about all of this talk about salt?  What does salt have to do with anything?  Actually, it has quite a bit.  Jesus taught the need to count the cost – to forsake everything in order to follow Him as His disciple.  What does it look like when a person does not?  What happens with the person who outwardly looks like he/she is following Christ, but inwardly is not His disciple at all?  That person is like savorless salt.
  • To understand the illustration, we need to understand how salt was used in that particular culture.  We hear “salt” and think of cooking (table salt).  Or perhaps we think of warfare, where lands might be overly salted, in order to prevent future farm growth (which historically speaking, was a far rarer practice than we might imagine).  Yet in this case, we need to think not as cooks, nor as historians, but as ancient farmers.  In the right doses, salt was actually used as ancient fertilizer.  The Roman historians Cato, Virgil, and Pliny all write of how salt was used to improve farmland, rather than destroying it.  All life requires at least some salt to survive (which is why wars have been fought over it), and that includes plant life.  Sea salt has a variety of minerals within it, beyond pure sodium chloride, which makes it beneficial for certain crops & soils.  Thus it can be good for land, and for manure piles (“dunghills”), increasing the efficiency of each.  With that in mind, Jesus’ statement goes from making little-to-no sense in terms of discipleship, to being extremely relevant!  Disciples of Jesus are supposed to be salt of the earth, in terms of our influence within the world.  Actually, that phrase could be translated “salt for the earth,” which perhaps makes Jesus’ teaching within the Sermon on the Mount make a bit more sense.  Matthew 5:13–15, "(13) “You are the salt of/for the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."  Jesus has a purpose for us as His disciples, as we impact our world around us for His glory & gospel.  We are to fertilize the world with the gospel of Christ, taking His message and love with us everywhere we go.  We are the vessels through which God spreads His message, helping His kingdom grow.
  • So what happens when we don’t do it? Nothing…and that’s the problem.  When we aren’t salt, then we don’t fulfill our purpose.  When disciples aren’t acting as disciples, then other disciples aren’t made.  The kingdom does not expand – the love of Christ is not experienced – the gospel is not proclaimed.  Nothing happens, and it’s not a good thing.  Salt is supposed to be salty.  When it’s not, it’s worthless.
    • Does that mean that we are worthless?  God still loves us – Jesus still died for us – He still showers us with grace.  Someone doesn’t lose his/her salvation depending on their failure as salt within the world.  Our worth is always found in Christ; never in our actions.
    • That said, if salt has absolutely no characteristics of being salt, is it right to identify it as salt in the first place?  If someone claims to be a Christian, but has no characteristics identifying himself/herself with Jesus, can he/she truly be called a disciple?  Failure doesn’t determine our worth, but a complete absence of salty discipleship is a worthwhile wake-up call! 
  • BTW – how might salt lose its flavor?  As a mineral, it has the properties of that mineral, no matter what.  Again, think of sea salt rather than table salt.  This wasn’t a “pure” mineral, and it could disintegrate or sometimes be mixed with gypsum dust.  How might a disciple lost his/her saltiness?  Impurity – getting mixed with stuff of the world.  There’s a reason Jesus calls us to wholehearted discipleship.  Anything else makes us less fit for use.

Conclusion:
What does it take to be a disciple?  Everything.  The person who cannot be a disciple is the person who loves his/her life more than Jesus.  The person who cannot be a disciple is the person seeking to promote himself.  The person who cannot be a disciple is the person unwilling to leave everything else behind.

Jesus calls us to something different.  He calls us to jump.  He calls us to profound dedication, where everything else gets left behind as we follow Him in His footsteps to the cross.  It is a commitment, so count the cost!  Half-hearted decisions to follow Jesus leave us wholly worthless in the Great Commission.  So consider it carefully – but follow through!  Jesus may give us an extreme invitation, but it’s worth it!  We may surrender our current desires, but He gives us better ones in return.  We may forsake some temporary pleasures, but He gives us eternal joy.  There are many who hesitate to follow Jesus in full-throated discipleship, but not a single person who does regrets it.  Do you want to experience abundance of life?  This is the way.  This is how you will know your Creator in the relationship He has always intended for you.

Luke 14:15-24, “Don’t Miss Your Opportunity!”

One of the worst things my daughter could hear when she was little was that she had lost an opportunity.  It didn’t matter what the item/activity was, if she lost her opportunity, it was as if her world came tumbling down.  As for myself, I wasn’t much different.  As a child, I hated missing out on something, especially when I knew it was my fault that the opportunity passed me by.  As an adult, I realize that it’s impossible to take advantage of every opportunity, but there are still some you don’t want to miss: time spent with family, enjoying simple pleasures, etc.

Of course, the best opportunities come from the Lord.  Each day is a new chance to walk with Him in faithfulness & worship.  It’s a chance to know our Creator & Savior, and to walk in the Spirit-filled abundant life that He promises.  Those are opportunities we don’t want to miss!  Although for Christians, all of eternity will be spent in Jesus’ presence, this life is our one opportunity to be introduced to Him and know Him as our Savior.  If we let this chance pass us by, we won’t get another one.  So we want to know Him!  We want to respond to His invitation!

So why don’t more people do it?  Even as born-again Christians, why don’t more people desire to walk in closer intimacy with the Lord, getting to know Him better?  Why don’t we take advantage of the opportunities we have?  We procrastinate & make excuses.  Because the Lord is available every day, we push Him off to another day, always thinking that we can start tomorrow.  And as the cliché states: tomorrow never comes.  Sooner or later, opportunities stop coming around, and we wake up one day realizing what we’ve missed.  And when it comes to our relationship with God, that’s something that can have eternal consequences.

As Chapter 14 began, Jesus had been invited to a Sabbath meal that the home of a ruler of the Pharisees.  Where, we don’t know, but at the end of Chapter 13, Jesus was still mindful of His mission ahead of Him in Jerusalem, so surely this was in some town along the road.  The supper was actually a set-up, as the Pharisees and lawyers closely watched Jesus as a man with dropsy (edema/swelling) entered the room.  They wanted to see if Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath, and this man was simply a tool to get Jesus to act – he was bait for the trap.  Of course, Jesus healed the man, not breaking the Sabbath law, but not caring about the legalistic traditions of men.  The lack of love among the Pharisees was evident, and Jesus gave some teaching to illustrate it.  What God desired from these men was humility and sincerity.  Exaltation would come in due time, if God gave it, but humility was needed in the present.  So was love.  God wanted them to care about those who were least & forgotten.  If the Pharisees served the least & the lost, then God would reward them in due time.  God would reward all of His people at the resurrection of the just – it would be a magnificent blessing.

All of that happened at one dinner.  So what happened during the rest of the time?  Another man spoke up, saying things that he may or may not have understood, and that gave Jesus the platform for some clarifying (and sobering!) teaching.  Everyone in the room was already participating in a great feast, but there was a better one coming: the banquet in the kingdom of God.  And just as Jesus had done on other occasions, He made it clear that not everyone will be there.  This time, Jesus gives a bit more insight as to why.  Many would be invited, but few would come.  If people missed out on God’s kingdom, it’s not because God didn’t invite them.  God gives the opportunity; they don’t take it.

Don’t miss your opportunity to be included in the kingdom of God!  Stop making excuses for yourself, and respond to the invitation of Christ!

Luke 14:15–24
15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

  • Jesus had given a sobering & convicting teaching about the need to show compassion to the least & forgotten among them (the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind), which was something the host of the supper had not done when he brought in the man with dropsy as bait for Jesus.  But if humble, sincere worshippers of God did so, inviting people like this to their feasts, demonstrating the compassion of God among them, then they could have the assurance that God would reward them with blessing at the future resurrection of the just.  It was in response to this that one of the other men at dinner spoke up with this exclamation of blessing. 
  • Who this person was, we aren’t told.  It’s possible that he was one of the Pharisees & lawyers in attendance, but Luke never says that those were the only other people invited to the dinner that day.  It could have been a local townsperson or a layman – we simply don’t know.  The possibility that it might have been a Pharisee or a lawyer is intriguing, considering the context.  Luke has shown increasing conflict between Jesus & the Pharisees, and it had come to light once more at this very dinner.  Their treatment of the man with dropsy demonstrated the fact that they were not humble, and that they had not invited people like the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind for the purpose of showing them compassion.  Thus the future blessing promised by God was not for the current people in the room!  Yet all of that was lost on this one man.  Apparently he believed he would be included in the future resurrection of the just.  He believed that he would be in the kingdom.  Even with all of the warnings that Jesus gave to the Pharisees, they still believed themselves assured of eternity, never once questioning their inclusion in the kingdom.  Jesus gave them all kinds of reason to question themselves, and they never did.
    • As Christians, we are called to examine ourselves to see if we are truly saved.  2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”  Take the test: do you believe in Jesus?  Is He in you, i.e., in your life as your Lord & King?  If so, praise God!  If you pass the test, then you have assurance of life.  A born-again Christian (someone who trusts Jesus alone for eternal life, believing Him to be God who died for our sins at the cross and rose from the grave) has every reason to be assured of eternal life.  The apostle John wrote one of his letters to local Christians specifically that they might know that they had eternal life. (1 Jn 5:13)  A believing Christian as solid assurance of his/her salvation!  That said, there are many people who claim assurance that shouldn’t. Their faith isn’t in Jesus; it’s in a prayer they repeated when they were a kid.  Their faith isn’t in Jesus; it’s in a baptism they received as a baby.  Or their faith is in their church membership – their tithing record – their (false) belief that God would never allow anyone to go to hell, etc.  People like this might claim assurance, but God hasn’t promised them any.  Assurance is only promised to people who have current, abiding faith in Jesus.
    • Do you believe Jesus?  Are you clinging to Him for forgiveness & eternity?  Good!  Be assured of your salvation & eternal life, knowing that God will never let you go.  But if Jesus is an afterthought to you – if He has no place in your life, much as your God & king – then you have every reason to question your eternity.  And you should!  That questioning & examination may be the very thing that leads you to eternal life!
  • The man at the table didn’t question his faith, but apparently Jesus did.  That’s what led Jesus to respond with the following parable.  What the man said about the future kingdom was correct: the people who “eat bread” there (those who participated in the kingdom) would indeed be “blessed”!  They would be happy beyond measure!  But they needed to be there in the first place.  That’s something that needs to be made certain today, while we have the chance.
  • A supper prepared (16-17)

16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’

  • This sets up the entire event.  It would have sounded familiar to the people in the room at the time, for this was exactly what they were currently experiencing.  Someone had given a “great supper and invited many”…and they were all at the table!  They had each responded, and come.  That’s how they were all able to listen to Jesus at the moment.  So Jesus takes this very relatable concept and speaks of another supper – the best supper: the supper in the kingdom of God.  Luke doesn’t record Jesus coming right out and describing it that way, but considering the context that Jesus spoke this in response to the man’s exclamation, there’s little doubt that the kingdom of God was in view.  That was Jesus’ intent, and that’s how everyone else in the room would have interpreted it.
  • So a supper was prepared, people had been previously invited, and things were ready.  What was left to be done?  All anyone needed to do was show up.  Ancient feasts were little different than our own dinner parties today, in this regard.  If you invite people over for barbecue, you would have sent out invitations in advance, cooked all day (and likely all the previous night), and then expect people to show up at the invited time.  Today, we say “Dinner at 6,” but in ancient times, messengers were sent out to let people know when the time was ready.  Those invited would have known the day, if not the exact hour.  The point?  They should have been ready.  There was nothing unusual about the feast or the invitation – everything was proceeding exactly according to custom.
  • That’s when everything went wrong.  Vs. 18…
  • Excuses of the invited (18-20)

18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. …

  • How many “began to make excuses”?  “All.”  Keep in mind that all of them would have originally accepted the invitation to come.  Their RSVP would have been yes.  The servant of the master was going to the people who had previously committed to come to the feast, and it was only now that they refused.  And it was a 100% refusal rate!  This would have been incredibly insulting.
  • Be careful not to read the word “excuse” with a modern American context.  Today, we sometimes distinguish between “reasons” and “excuses.”  If someone misses work or school, we look for a good reason why they didn’t show; not a bunch of flimsy excuses.  We look for “I was in the hospital with a kidney stone,” vs. “The dog ate my homework.”  That’s not the idea here.  The word for “make excuses” is a verb that simply means “to ask to be released from an obligation.” (NIDNTT)  The word used in the parable has nothing to do with value/importance of the excuse; it refers to the request itself.  So when Jesus says that the people made excuses, He’s simply saying that they asked to decline the invitation, no matter what their reasoning was.  These people had previously said yes, but now they say no.
  • That being said, none of the reasons are good…

… The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’

  • Excuse #1: the lazy landowner.  What kind of person buys a piece of property without seeing it first?  As a church, we recently purchased land, and you bet we looked really hard at that real estate before signing papers!  Yet this man didn’t.  He waited until after the transaction was done before he went to go walk the property.  And of course, it’s not as if this was even urgent.  If it waited this long, surely it could wait until the next day.  He may have been polite in his request to be excused, but it was a terrible reason not to come.
  • Excuse #2: the foolish farmer.  This guy was little different than the first.  Who would purchase livestock without first examining them?  Especially when speaking about this many!  A “yoke” would pair two animals together for the purpose of plowing, so this was a purchase of ten oxen.  That speaks of the wealth of this man.  Money can’t buy everything, including manners, and this person also refused to come.
  • Excuse #3: the rude groom.  The last example didn’t use the courtesies of the first two, but at least he’s a bit more honest.  He just doesn’t want to come, so he doesn’t.  Culturally speaking, a newlywed would have been excused from warfare, but not from social events.  Besides, the whole community would have recently celebrated the wedding of this man, and no doubt his bride would have been welcome (and even expected) at this new feast.
  • The parable only includes three refusals, but this sampling was enough to typify the rest.  All had refused to come to the dinner (that they had previously accepted!), and none of the excuses had any validity to them whatsoever.  There was no emergency – no urgency.  There was just a lack of grace, and an insulting indifference to the host who had made these preparations.  It’s no wonder he responds the way he does…
  • Response of the Master (21-24)

21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’

  • Was the master right to be angry?  You bet!  He had been profoundly insulted by his so-called friends & neighbors.  If he had been a king (as was the case in a similar parable spoken by Jesus in Mt 22), he would have been furious!  In that particular parable, the people who refused to come actually seized the king’s servants & killed them, and the king responded with the full wrath of his army. (Mt 22:7)  In the current parable, this seemed to be wealthy homeowner, but no different from the rest of the people currently in the house of the Pharisee ruler.  But it was insulting, nonetheless.  The master of the house was angry, and had every right to be.
  • So what did he do?  Did he throw away the food he originally prepared for his friends & neighbors?  Of course not!  He invited others to come.  Who did he invite?  The same list of people Jesus said to invite in vs. 13: “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind.”  All the ones who originally had not received an invitation – the ones whom the rest of society forgot – those were the ones included by the master.  Those would now be his honored guests for the banquet.
  • And they weren’t all…

22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

  • Apparently the master had quite a large home!  The meal was huge, with no lack of food.  There was plenty of provision for all, and even when the servant gathered up all of the poor, etc., there was still room.  So what did the master do?  He invited even more.  This time, the invitation was given to complete strangers.  If the people who knew the homeowner wouldn’t come, then the invitation would be given to those who didn’t know him at all.
    • Without question, this parallels the gospel going out to the Gentiles.  Jesus was first sent to the Jews, being Himself a Jew.  He is the Son of David, the Hebrew Messiah, the fulfillment of all of the promises made to Abraham, Moses, and more.  All the original apostles were Jewish, and the church began in Jerusalem among the Jews.  Yet it didn’t stay there.  Why?  Because by & large the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, and they rejected those who came to believe in Him as the Messiah.  Thus the gospel proceeded out to the rest of the world, and came to people just like us.  We are the strangers in “the highways and hedges,” blessed to hear the good news of the Lord Jesus.  We have been invited to the wedding feast in the kingdom of God, and praise God for it!
    • Jesus knew the Jews would reject Him – that was foretold long ago in the Scriptures.  But thankfully, the Scriptures also speak of a day when the Hebrews finally respond to the invitation of God, and come to faith in Jesus as Messiah.  There will come a day when all Israel will be saved. (Rom 11:26)
  • How were the strangers on the highways and hedges to be brought?  The servant was told to “compel them to come in.”  The word translated “compel” can be misunderstood, either from it being too forceful, or too light-handed.  NKJV, ESV, NASB all render it “compel;” NIV, HCSB translate it as “make them.”  The NET & NLT renders it “urge,” which seems to fit this particular context far better.  One dictionary says of this word, that it means “to cause or compel someone in all the varying degrees from friendly pressure to forceful compulsion.” (TDNT)  IOW, it ranges from “please” to the point of a sword.  Context is absolutely key.  The context here is one of persuasion. (1) In this parable, the host is not a king, but a homeowner.  He doesn’t have the authority to send armies out with weapons for forced compulsion. (2) If the homeowner was prone to use force, he would have forced the original invited guests.  There was no reason to force strangers into his home, if he didn’t want to use force on his neighbors.  Thus, when the servant was told to “compel” the strangers, it meant that he was to go out & strongly urge & persuade people to come.
    • One theological aspect of this is that it demonstrates the manner in which the gospel goes forth.  God does not force anyone to become a Christian.  Not a single person will be in heaven who does not want to be there.  The invitation has gone out to the entire world, but if someone chooses to reject it, God has given them the freedom to do so.  With due respect to Calvinist theologians, the doctrine of Irresistable Grace is not easily defended, partly based on teaching such as this.  People can and do resist and reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace of God.
    • That being said, it’s foolish to do so!  The gift offered by Jesus is so amazing & is priceless in its worth!  To be completely forgiven of every sin – to be given a new heart & new nature – to be set free from sin – to live in the power of God the Holy Spirit – to have the very person and presence of God within you – to have the guarantee of eternal life – to share in the everlasting inheritance of Christ Jesus, being made a child of the Living God – these things are wonderful!  There is nothing better that can be freely offered to anyone anywhere on the planet!  This is something that not only changes your life today, but changes your life for the next 10,000 years (and more!).  This is not something to refuse or to dismiss; this is something to gratefully receive & embrace.  So embrace it!
  • Embrace it while you have the opportunity, for the opportunity doesn’t last forever, as the men in the parable found out…

24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ”

  • How many had rejected the homeowner?  All.  How many would be forever refused by the homeowner?  All.  “None of those men” would eat the meal that had been originally prepared for them.  They had their opportunity, and they lost it.
  • Question: Does the opportunity to receive the gospel ever really pass us by?  It can.  Thankfully, anyone who still draws breath and has a beating heart still has the opportunity to be saved.  As the thief on the cross next to Jesus demonstrates, it is still possible for someone to have the assurance of eternal life even mere moments before death.  But, it takes ears that are willing to hear, and a heart ready to receive the truth.  And that’s something that isn’t guaranteed.  Hearts can easily grow hard to the invitation of God.  Ancient Pharaoh of Egypt had multiple face-to-face conversations with the premier prophet of the Hebrews, and saw with his own eyes the tangible manifestations of the power of Almighty God, and he still hardened his heart.  Even the Hebrew nation, newly freed from Egyptian slavery by incredible visible miracles, and was personally cared for by God in the wilderness with supernatural miracles taking place literally every morning – they still hardened their hearts and refused to walk in the grace of God, answering His invitation.  So yes, it’s possible for our opportunities to pass us by.  Just because we hear the gospel today and have our hearts soft to God’s invitation does not mean that it will be that way tomorrow, or next month, or next year, etc. You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow; you only have today & this moment.  What work is God doing in your heart right now?  This is your opportunity to respond.  2 Corinthians 6:2b, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  This is the day.  If you know that God the Holy Spirit is calling you to Himself, today is the day you need to respond. 
  • What about for those who have already received Jesus as Lord & Savior?  What about those who are already assured of eating at the banquet table in the kingdom of God – is there anything here for us?  Absolutely!  Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have with God right now, today?  We’ve been invited to know our Creator God, and we’ve been given the free opportunity to do so on a daily basis.  Do you do it?  When was the last time you prayed, other than a mealtime or church service?  When was the last time you read your Bible other than a Sunday morning?  Have you even read your Bible all the way through?  It’s God’s very word, given to us so that we would know Him better.  You hold an opportunity to know God in your hand…are you using it?  Or, put it in terms of service.  If you truly want to know the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, start serving God in some way.  Share the gospel, teach a class, break a sweat in physical service.  Those are opportunities God gives us to know Him…and those are all opportunities that easily pass us by.

Extra: How are we to compel?
Before we close, let’s take a few moments to look at the servant’s call to compel the people on the highways and in the hedges.  Out of the many applications that come out of this parable to born-again Christians, this one is probably the most obvious.  After all, we are the servants of King Jesus, and He has given us a command much like the homeowner gave to his servant.  In fact, our command has a name: the Great Commission.  Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Jesus, being raised from the dead, was given all authority in heaven & on earth, and this is what He commanded His disciples (and thus, all His future disciples) to do.  As disciples, we are to make disciples.  We are to reproduce.  How do we do it?  We are to go, to baptize, and to teach.  Jesus presumes the going, though we are not to neglect it under the assumption that someone else will do it.  The teaching is what happens in times like these, when we’ve gathered together as a body to learn what God says in His word – it takes place in small groups – it takes place during one-on-one discipleship, etc.  The baptism takes place upon conversion, as people identify with Jesus in their newfound faith in Him.  But it’s what leads up to that conversion that is a challenge for many Christians: sharing the gospel.  This is the “compelling” part – this is the part where we go out to persuade others of the good news of Jesus Christ.

How do we compel others with the gospel?  For many Christians, we treat it the same way as the “going” – simply assuming that someone else will do it.  Yes, we may be saved & we believe in Jesus, but we don’t think we’re actually qualified to share Jesus with anyone else, so we just leave it to someone else to do.  Guess what?  If you’re born-again, you’re qualified.  If you’re saved, you’re that “someone else.”  You’re even already equipped, though perhaps you didn’t know it.  Think about it: how were you saved?  That’s your testimony.  Simply share that.  Paul’s testimony is recorded three times in the book of Acts: once as a narration, and twice in the process of Paul sharing his faith.  Apparently it was something he consistently returned to when he taught people about Christ.  We can do the same.  Think on how you came to faith.  There are three aspects: (1) Who you were before you met Jesus, (2) How you met Jesus, and (3) Who you became after you met Jesus.  It doesn’t need to be long & complicated – it certainly doesn’t need to glorify the past, building you up to be a “big” sinner.  It can be simple & to the point.  For example:

  • Before I met Christ, I didn’t have any real belief in God at all.  I didn’t care who He was or if He existed; I just wanted to live my own life.  I was apathetic to the whole thing.
  • One day I was unexpectedly confronted with the gospel, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was all real.  I knew that Jesus is alive, that He is God, and that I needed to surrender my life to Him.  I went from not caring, to caring deeply in the blink of an eye, and I desperately wanted to be saved.
  • I surrendered my life to the Lord, was forgiven of my sins, and God called me that night to the ministry.  I haven’t walked perfectly with the Lord, but I’ve always had the assurance that He is with me, and that I will be with Him in eternity. He has given me my purpose, my family, and my future promise.
  • Would you like to know how you can have that too? 

At that point, just follow it up with the gospel.  The outline provided by Evangelism Explosion is fairly simple to remember:

  • Heaven is a free gift.  It cannot be earned or deserved.
  • Man is a sinner.  He cannot save himself.
  • God is merciful & loving.  God is just & righteous.
  • Jesus is both God & Man.  He died on the cross & rose from the grave to pay the penalty for our sin & to purchase us a place in heaven.
  • Faith is needed to be saved.  (a) Not temporary faith or head-knowledge.  (2) Saving faith: trusting in Jesus alone for eternal life.

What happens next?  Give them the opportunity to respond.  Keep in mind we are supposed to persuade & compel; not sell.  You can’t make the decision for someone else to respond to the gospel, nor can we push it on someone who doesn’t want it.  It’s not your job to bring someone else to faith; we are only witnesses of Jesus, giving people the opportunity to hear of Him & know Him.

Conclusion:
This same opportunity was given to the people attending that supper with Jesus.  The people in the room were convinced that they were already bound for the kingdom of God, though they shouldn’t have been.  There was much reason for them to question their assumptions, and to examine their own relationship with God.  But it wasn’t too late…at least not for all of them.  They had all been invited to the kingdom, and many of them were refusing to come.  Soon they would miss out on their last opportunity, and it would be too late.  Whatever excuses they made, they were insufficient, and they would suffer the consequences in eternity.

But it wasn’t too late for everyone.  There was still time to respond, but they needed to do it while they still had the chance.

So do we.  We still have the opportunity to respond, so we need to do it!  For those of us who know that we are born-again Christians – for those of us who have examined our faith and have the steadfast assurance that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ – we have two things before us.

  • We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to walk with our Lord & get to know Him better.  We need to stop putting off until tomorrow that which we can do today.  Today, you can pray.  Today, you can worship.  Today, you can read your Bible.  Today, you can share your faith – serve – pray with someone – help out the least & the forgotten – be the hands & feet of Jesus.  All of that you can do as God gives you the opportunity, so do it.  Don’t wait until the end of your life & say “I wish I would have ____.”  Serve the Lord now, while you have the chance.
  • Most pressing to the parable, go out with the gospel.  We are the ones to urge others to put their faith in Jesus.  We have been entrusted with the greatest news in the history of the world, and other people won’t know unless we tell them.  For as many churches that exist in Tyler, the vast majority of the people living here won’t walk through the doors.  For all the radio ministry that broadcasts over the airwaves, the vast majority of non-Christians won’t tune in at the right time.  We (the church) are the most effective evangelism force for the Lord Jesus, and yet we (by & large) aren’t doing it.  It’s estimated that less than 2% of Christians ever share their faith.  Let’s start bumping up that number!