The Sermon on the Plain, part 1

We are now enterning a text commonly referred to as “the Sermon on the Plain.” We are familiar with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; however, not many people rush to memorize and quote Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain which is really a shame because it too is a great word from the Lord concerning the kingdom of God. So we will take our time with this study and see what the Lord is really saying and how that impacts our lives today.

The Place

The NIV says this was a “level place.” Some scholars will argue that this could have been the same address as the Sermon on the Mount based upon the langauge in the Greek. However, one need not be dogmatic about this. Scholars think Jesus had a sermon which he delivered like a “keynote” at the various places he visited. It was the same message but perhaps delivered differently. You can see the similarities between this sermon and the Sermon on the Mount because both open with the beatitudes and ending with a parable about builders. Also, it would not have been uncommon for Jesus to preach the same message or parts of a message repeatedly for the various crowds and to embed his teaching in his disciples minds.

The People

Luke tells us there was a “large crowd” of his disciples that had gathered to hear him preach on this occasion. He also lists the places that these people were from: all over Judea, Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. This is quite the mix of people and yet Jesus, the Master preacher, is able to address each group and hit their particular need perfectly.

In addition to his ability to preach, these people come out to see the Great Physician. They have come to be healed, made whole. Apparently these people were familiar with the power of Jesus and ,like the woman with the issue of blood who will be introduced in later chapters, seek to touch the hem of his garment. They knew he was the source of healing and that he had the power to make them or their loved one well and came to Jesus. Jesus no doubt met their needs and surpassed that need to an even greater need: a spiritual need. Like a good shepherd, he gently and powerfully preached the word to them.

The Point

I believe every Christian can learn from Jesus in this setting. He met their need physically to open a door spiritually. We can do this, but I think too often we simply meet a physical need and miss the spiritual need. This is “soup kitchen” religion – it meets a basic need (food, usually) but then misses the major point. “Soup kitchen” religion is not necessarily a bad thing. The question we must keep coming back is whether this activity I am engaging in is just to appease and silence my conscience, or am I seeking to impact the kingdom and change people lives. We are not just feeding people with bread that lasts for today; we are trying to get them the “bread of life,” which is so much more important.

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Jesus’ Crew

We know Jesus called twelve men to be is disciples and some of can probably still sing the song we learned growing up which names all of them. We see Jesus calling the 12 in Luke 6.12-16 and we probably breeze over it pretty superficially, not really reading what is going on. We know Jesus called the twelve, so let’s move on…

However, Luke draws our attention to a very imiportant fact concerning Jesus: Jesus is up all night praying to God. What is he praying all night? Is it the model prayer he teaches his disciples to pray in Luke 11? Just quoting that prayer again and again all night? We don’t have a detailed record of what Jesus prayed nor do we need one. What we need to learn is that Jesus prays. He is about to take a big step in his ministry by calling these twelve men to follow him for the rest of his earthly life. He is going to spend hours walking from city to city with these men, instructing them in the deep truths of God’s word and will. These are the men he is preparing for the continuation of the ministry of the kingdom of God. And so for Jesus to spend the night in prayer over these matters make sense.

One more note: notice the last name on the list – Judas Iscariot. This is the man who will betray Jesus, in fact, Luke points that out to the reader that he is the traitor. Jesus was still friends with this man; God put him in Jesus’ group. Why? He had a specific purpose in Jesus’ life. Indeed, God is going to put people in our life who will be around for a while but they may betray; they become the traitor, the Judas. But never for an instant that God cannot work his purpose for you in that relationship. Just as God used Judas to make sure Jesus made it to the cross, God will use friends in your life to accomplish his purpose for your life. Even with the bad friends, God is teaching his children a lesson and is working his purpose.

And like I said, we can read this and breeze past it without making application. But here is what is being communicated: if Jesus, the unique Son of God, needed to spend an entire night in prayer in order to prepare himself to select his followers and friends, wouldn’t it make sense that we ought to spend just as much if not more time in prayer concerning the people we choose to hang around with us? Shouldn’t we lose a little sleep to pray that God would bless us in our pursuit of friendship and mate selection (for those of you singles)? I think so. I think we need to pray this kind of prayer before we go hanging out with just anyone. There have been too many times that because I did not turn myself over to God, I selected the wrong people to hang around with. I never got in serious trouble with parents or the law, but I could tell that because I chose to be friends with certain people, my relationship with the Lord suffered. Indeed, who we choose to be around and who we choose to be our friends does make an impact upon our relationship with God; either these people will help us draw closer to God, or they will pull us away from the Lord. Jesus knew it and therefore he prayed to the Father about. We too should do likewise.

Going against the grain

Have you ever been called “a pain?” “You are a real pain in the neck.” Ever been called that? I suppose if Jesus had a pain in the neck, it would have been the Pharisees. They just keep bothering him and they will not let up until he is dead on a cross. Talk about being nagged to death! In Luke 6.1-11, we see the the Pharisees once again acting as Jesus’ pain in the neck.

A little grainy

The Pharisees first attack Jesus’ disciples for “doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.” They are picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands to get the kernals within, a light snack on the Sabbath. It seems that the Pharisees see the act of rubbing the heads together as harvesting the grain. But Jesus corrects them through an account from the life of David. Jesus is trying to communicate that there is something greater at work here than lawful and unlawful activity. There is a bigger picture that is grainy and fuzzy to the Pharisees; they don’t see what Jesus sees. The final assesment is that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He is greater than the Sabbath. But Jesus has to affirm this message somehow.

One Armed Bandit

So on another Sabbath, he is teaching the people. Yet again, he has a pain in his neck as the Pharisees are there. Their attitude is sick, though: they are purposefully looking for a reason to accuse Jesus of healing. This is important: they actually want Jesus to work a miracle so that they can use it against him for “working” on the Sabbath. It is sick.

But Jesus gives them what they want: he has a man with a shrivled hand stand up in front of everyone. Then he asks a very pointed question: What is lawful to do on the Sabbath? Its a good question. You Pharisees who know what is right and good to on the Sabbath, you have everything figured out, can we do good or evil on the Sabbath? Should we save a life or kill? No doubt they were dumbfounded.

So Jesus has justified himself and also vindicates his message of being the Lord of the Sabbath by working a miracle – he heals the man’s shrivled hand. The physician Luke records that it was “completely restored.” Not everyone walks away from the story happy, though. In fact, the Pharisees are fuming. Who is this Jesus that tells us which way is up or down? For centuries the Pharisees have had a monopoly upon the correct translation of the law. Yet, Jesus marches onto the scene and goes against the grain (pun intended). How dare him do that good deed to that man!

Here is the lofty picture of Jesus that is grainy to the Pharisees: mercy. The grand picture over both of these accounts is mercy. The disciples are hungry and need food. But they get no mercy from the Pharisees; they are breaking the law, Jesus! How can you let them get away with this atrocity? Because first Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and two because it is the right thing to do. The disciples needed mercy and this man with the shrivled hand needed mercy. That is the key that the Pharisees are missing in these two accounts is mercy. In fact, Jesus will quote from the prophets concerning this very thing – somewhere God has said “I desire mercy.”

Indeed, with us God desires mercy. And the reason he desires mercy is because he first bestowed mercy to us. How can we expect mercy from God when we ourselves refuse to show mercy to others? We must people of mercy, willing to show mercy to those need it, because God first showed us mercy. We don’t deserve the treatment we get from God (love, kindness, forgiveness) and yet he has given poured it out to us. We must in turn do the same thing and pour forth from our very being the same qualities to all men.

Clothing and Alcohol

My wife will tell you that I used to have a favorite pair of shorts. They were black, light-weight, very comfortable, and were my favorite pair of shorts. However, there came a time when they had been washed too much or I put on too much weight, but I ripped them pretty bad. Fortunately, Kim is very good with a needle and thread and sewed them back up for me. However, this sew job was a short lived victory; it was not very long before I ripped them again and Kim made me get rid of them. So that is the story of my favorite pair of black cargo shorts.

Jesus, in Luke 5.33ff, talks about sort of the same thing. Pharisees make a statement about Jesus’ lack of fasting; apparently Jesus is not religious enough for them. He goes around eating and drinking, and that with tax collectors and “sinners.” Indeed, Jesus will ultimately point out their hypocrisy when he compares John the Baptist and himself in Luke 7.33-34. John fasted and “looked religious” but they said he had a demon; Jesus came eating and drinking and they call him a “wine-bibber” (KJV). It is lose-lose with the Pharisees.

Parable of the Wedding

In this first encounter with the Pharisees about fasting, Jesus utilizes parabolic teaching. He tells a parable about a wedding and in it, he predicts his rejection and death by the hands of the Jews. The point he is making is that so long as he is around, his disciples do not have a reason to fast and do not have to fast to make a show for the religious elites. Jesus does not devalue fasting; he merely points out that for now, they do not fast for the bridegroom is with them. But there will come a time when he (Jesus) will be gone and then they fast.

Parable of the New Garment/New Wine

Now Jesus shifts the parable to a new patch sewn on old garments. In this parable, Jesus is making a comparison between the new covenant that he came to establish (see 22.20) and the old covenant which the Pharisees clung to so fervently. Jesus says he did not come to do a patch job; instead he came with an entirely new garment. Second, he says that he is bringing new wine which cannot be contained within the old system – the new system with burst the old asunder if made to fit in the old. No Jesus is bringing new wine in new wineskins.

Well, what about the last verse in ch.5 about the old being better? Is Jesus saying that the old is better? Not at all. Rather, he is pointing out to the elitists that they wrongly reject the new wine Jesus is bring. As one commentator wrote: “Jesus is not reversing himself and saying that his teaching is not as good as the old it replaces. The point emphasized is that people tend to want the old and reject the new, assuming (wrongly in this case) that the old is better.” Hence, Jesus condemns them for their rejection of the new covenant he is establishing.

One final word: Jesus does not condemn the Law. He is merely pointing to the fact that what he has come to establish is far greater and better than the old covenant. Indeed, this is the point argued by the Hebrew writer throughout the entire epistle: Jesus and his covenant are far greater than the old system. By Jesus’ own admission, he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5.17).

A Friend to Sinners?

In Luke 5.27-32, Luke introduces us to the personal Jesus, the Jesus that every Christian longs to be like but in the darkest recesses of their souls knows what it would entail and it makes them second guess where to plant their next step as they follow Jesus. Do you want to take that step? Do I want to take that step? Because what will follow is something makes a lot churches of Christ cringe. But imagine a world where the church did just what Jesus did in these short verses. Let’s dig in…

The Set-up

First, Jesus calls a tax collector (or if you have a bible written by the Democratic National Convention, a “republican.” That’s a joke, so laugh). And we read that and think, “of course, Matthew!” But think about who and what Matthew is: he is a tax collector, one of the most hated professionals in all of Judaism. This man works for the Romans to exact taxes from the Jews and because he probably pockets some of that, over taxes them. This man is hated. No one wants to be in his fellowship circle and no one has them on their “five” (for you techies who know what I am talking about). No one, that is, except for Jesus. Jesus invites him to become a disciple.

Now imagine the most hated person in the world in your view. I know Christians don’t hate, so let’s pretend. There is a person who just makes your skin crawl every time you think about them. There are times when you wish you could tell them off, driving them up one wall and down the other. We would never do that of course because we are Christians. But this is the person Jesus called to be his disciple.  I don’t know about you, but that stings me. That hurts to know that Jesus woudl call this person who drives me crazy, I can’t hardly stand them…and he would call them to follow in his footsteps.

But it gets better than that: Jesus expects us to make them a disciple. If we are truly followers of Jesus, then we would make disciples of those people who we don’t really prefer (to put it nicely). If we are to walk step-in-step with Jesus, then this is what it means. But there is more…

The Setting

Levi apparently so enthralled that someone likes him, especially Jesus, holds a great banquet and invites everyone, including his tax collector buddies and some other degenerates from society. That is when the complaints start. The Pharisees ask the question of the disciples, “why do you (that includes Jesus) eat and drink with ‘sinners’?”

Let’s do some defining: a tax collector, as stated above, is the most hated person in the Jewish mindset. But there is someone lower than even him: the sinner. What is a “sinner?” I know instantly your minds may have gone to Romans 3.23: everyone is a sinner. Right, that’s a great “churchy” answer. But think about this: the Jews had a class of people they designated as “sinners.” These were the bad people, the people of society who were terrible sinners. They were prostitutes, criminals, and drunkards. They are the dregs of society. And so when we reexamine the question of the Pharisees, we see their dilemma. It’s a good question.

The Settling

Jesus settles the matter for us: he explains that his mission was for these people he was eating with. And we read that and make the application that we should evangelize the poor and needy. But does this really happen? There are few churches with lines full of these kind of people at our potlucks. Certainly there are churches which open soup kitchens and feed the homeless – but what about the rest. Ask yourself this: have you (personally) ever been called a friend of sinners? Has your church ever been asked why they eat with sinners? If not, why not? These are very pointed and poignant questions that demand answers from Christians everywhere. How are we viewed in regards to the poor and needy?

But even from this brief commentary on Luke 5.27-32, we begin to draw some lines. What would this entail if I really were to take this passage of Scripture seriously? I believe it would require of us time and money and energy that is all exerted for the glory of the kingdom. However, just looking around we don’t see many people doing this. Hence, they either are too busy or too poor or too tired to do the work. I think there is one thing we can all commit to beginning now – we can commit to never allowing another television show or entertaining expense or excuse keep us from doing what we know is right and that is mimicking our Lord, reaching out to the tax collectors and “sinners.”

Enter the Antagonists

Every good drama has a bad guy. He is the antagonist, the one who either does give the good guy fits or at least tries to give him fits. And the story of Jesus is no different. Luke 5.17 introduces the bad guys that Jesus will sturggle with from now until the end of his life. They are the Pharisees and the scribes. Even as far as Jerusalem these men came to see about this man who had the new teaching and with authority.

Now change the focus: here is a group of men carrying a paralytic to Jesus. See their great faith and they look for any possible way into the place where Jesus. If they can just get him to Jesus, everything will be ok. Jesus will make him well. Faced with no other option, they take their friend to the roof and starting digging through.

I suppose after the first big chunk of roof fell inside there was a ruckus as the people began to wonder what was going on. But Jesus knows and sees the faith of these men with the paralytic and, perhaps even knowing the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes who were present, utters the words in v.20: “your sins are forgiven.” What good news to hear from the lips of the Savior your sins are forgiven. And though we cannot raise the lame to walk again, we can communicate love and compassion to the spiritually lame who have been crippled by a fall and introduce them to the healing power of Jesus’ blood.

Filled with self-righteous indignation, the relgious leaders voice their disapproval…to themselves. Their assessment is correct that only God can forgive sins. But they fail to recognize that God is in their midst. The power of the Lord is present and it is manifest by the healing of the sick. Jesus does not need to hear their disapproval for he knows it already and will not back up not only his teaching but also his authority as the Son of God and the Christ by causing the paralytic to be healed.

I once had a conversation with a doctor I knew and he was explaining to me just how incredible the miracles are. This man has not walked for some time, perhaps his whole life. His legs have no doubt atrophied, his legs probably resembling sticks rather than legs. He is probably malnurished. And yet when Jesus merely speaks the word, his legs are stengthened, muscles that were not there are instantly developed and functioning, blood vessels that were not functioning as they should open up and bring blood to these new muscles, and his strength is restored to him so that stands up immediately. It is, in every sense of the word, a miracle.

I wonder what you are thinking right now. Everyone that saw the great work of the Lord praised God. What about us? We were once spiritual paralytics, held in bondage to the kingdom of darkness, unable to walk in the paths of rigtheousness. But when the Lord spoke word and forgave us all our sins, he made us well and caused us to walk. We ought to be praising God everyday for healing he has given. Do not be like the antagonists and harden your heart. Instead, rejoice with the crowds and declare, “we have seen remarkable things today.”

He Touched Him

The courteous thing to do in our culture when you are sick is to cover you mouth when you cough, not shake hands with folks, and keep your distance from people, perhaps even staying home from work or school. This is a mild form of the quarantine a leper in first century Palestine endured for the rest of their life. As stipulated in the Law, a leper could not enter the camp, they had to go about shouting “Unclean,” and therefore could not have contact with family, friends, or kinsmen. Because of the severity of the quarantine, they could not even participate in fellowship not only with countrymen, they could not engage in worship of God. It was a lonely existence with not only social and physical effects, but also psychological effects.

The leper was the type of what sin does to an individual. Sin cuts a person off from the camp. They are out of fellowship with God’s people and God himself. Left alone over time, it will consume the individual and, if left within the church, will damage other members of the body. Hence, it must be dwelt with in a drastic manner, i.e. cut off from the camp.

The Great Physician…

We come across Jesus in Luke 5.12ff in a certain city. Luke did not deem it necessary to record the city’s name. What is important to doctor Luke is the case of the leper: the leper is “covered” or “full” of leprosy. This disease has just eaten up this poor man. Apparently, though, he has some prior knowledge of the healing capablities of Jesus because he falls prostrate before the Lord (a position of worship) and begs Jesus to heal him. He believes Jesus can heal him but does not know if Jesus is willing to do what the leper believes he can do. After all, no one associates with lepers – you don’t even talk with a leper. They are unclean, cut off from the camp.

Jesus is willing not just to heal him but to offer something no one else would do – he touched the leper. This was a social “no, no.” Surely, Jesus knows you are not supposed to do that. Yes, but what this man needs is more important than what is socially acceptable; he needs compassion. He needs to know someone, anyone cares. And Jesus does care. Before the lepers can come experience the healing of the Master, they need to know he cares, they need to know we care. Everyday we see spiritual lepers around us, but do they know that Jesus cares. The only way they know this is if his hands are reaching out these social outcasts who are pushed to the edge of society. I am talking about the church.

Jesus came for the disenfranchised, the emarginated, those scorned by society. By reaching out and touching this social outcast, the leper, he is demonstrating his mission. He came specifically for this man, this leper. Jesus came to help him. And so when Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man, he is fulfilling a part of his mission.

…Healing…

Jesus tells this former leper what to do: he is still required to do something under tha Law, namely presentation before the priest. So with us, once we show compassion to the spiritual lepers around us, we do not leave them in that state; we point them toward healing and follow up by pointing them to the requirements of the high priest. We “teach them to observe everything Jesus has commanded.” Do not leave the leper to “drip dry in the pew;” they will need direction and guidance, just as this leper Jesus contacted did.

…And Praying

The more Jesus heals, the more popular he becomes. Everywhere the good news of the Great Physician spreads to those in need of healing. But notice that Jesus does not lose focus. He still has alone time with God to meditate, clear away the distractions, and focus on God. It can be a draining thing to be in contact with the social outcasts all day. It takes time and energy. But never lose focus on the power source of our ministry: God. He is the one who gives the increase and provides healing for the lepers. Always allow time for alone time with God and prayer time with him.