It’s a Religion! Part 2

As previously mentioned in part one, James is taking his readers toward pure and undefiled religion (1.27) in this section. To get there, he first deals with the word of God – Christians are to receive the word in their life. What does that look like? James’ concern for the body is once more manifested in his use of imperatives (“be doers”), the attachment of a blessing (v.25), and the exposition of what it means to receive “with meekness” the word of God.

Christians are to be hearers of the word, but our duty does not stop with hearing only – “be doers of the word.” This is tied directly to what Jesus taught during His ministry (cf. Matt 7.24-27; Luke 6.46-49). He taught his disciples to hear his word (Luke 8.8, 10-15, 18, 21) and also put it into practice (Luke 11.28). So here is James, half-brother of Jesus, continuing the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as he exhorts his fellow countrymen and brothers in the faith toward not only hearing the word of God but also putting it into practice.

James 1.22-25
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The Injunction (v.22)

James saw it in his day. The Jewish Christians to whom he writes apparently had become lax in doing the word. Or worse yet, they had heard the word, believed it, but had put it to no practical use. They showed up at the synagogue to hear preachers reason with the Jews concerning Jesus as the Christ. They met Sundays with their brothers and sisters and heard bishops and evangelists proclaim the word. Their profession, though, had become an empty form. They were merely hearers only, adopting a downright antinomian worldview. By the end of the second chapter, James will have set this monstrous distortion aright.

So James puts pen to parchment and calls upon his brethren to remind them that the sum of Christian duty is more than hearing only. James is not against hearing; indeed, it is vital to a Christian. However, to be a hearer only is self-deceptive. These Christians have been convinced by false reasoning that hearing only is enough. They have reasoned falsely and been deceived. James sets this straight by explaining that action is necessary – “be doers.” This is an imperative command. Stop being self-deceived and believe the truth: hearing is good but it must be coupled with action. “Do what it says!” (NIV)

This is nearly identical to what Paul says in Romans 2.13: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (ESV). While Paul speaks to a different context concerning the Law of Moses, James makes a similar argument for the greater “law of liberty.” If this were true concerning the Law, much more is it true for those in Christ Jesus!

“Very many hearers of the gospel are not sufficiently upon their guard against the dreadful danger of being ‘hearers only’” (Pulpit Commentary 17). They sit in pews every Sunday. They hear sermons every week. Their talk may even be full of “church talk.” But ultimately their life is void of transformation from having put into practice the word. Thus, they dwell in a state of false, carnal security.

An Illustration (v.23-24)

James next uses a very simple yet profound metaphor to further make his point and wake up these slumbering saints. To illustrate someone who is a hearer only, he uses the image of a person looking into a mirror. While this person looks intently into the mirror at his face and sees its features. Perhaps there are some blemishes, flaws which need to be corrected. Perhaps there is dirt which needs to be cleaned off. Whatever the case may be, it is the careful investigation which is highlighted. Time was spent looking into the mirror to see what he looks like. But as soon as he goes away having looked at himself, he immediately forgets what he saw. Hence, any blemish goes uncorrected, any mar is not cleaned. In addition, the man forgets his entire appearance! What he is like is not remembered. The very face he was born with is forgotten. How absurd!

That’s what it is like when you hear the word only and do not do it. You look into the perfect law and see what you are to be like – you are to be like Christ. Any flaws or character defects are found out. Any moral filth is identified. Your overall character is derived from what you see when you look into the perfect law. But as soon as the hearing is over and the doing should begin, you turn away from the mirror and forget what you are to look like! You forget Christ! A Christian who forgets to look like Christ? How absurd!

The Incentive (v.25)

Here in verse 25 we find the beatitude of the persevering. We have been born of the perfect law of liberty (see v.18), the word of truth. This perfect law is a perfect gift from our perfect God. The one who looks into this law and continues in a state of activity (perseveres) with it; the one who is not a hearer characterized by forgetfulness, but rather is a doer characterized by putting this gospel into action; the one hearing the word and doing it will be blessed. Just as the one who is steadfast under temptations is congratulated, so too the one who is steadfast is doing and keeping the law of liberty is congratulated. In other words, God looks with favor upon those who are doers of the word. In the very doing of the word God there is blessing! Alford says, “The life of obedience is the element wherein the blessedness is found and consists.”

On persevering Matthew Henry puts it this way: “when we are not forgetful of it [God’s word], but practice it as our work and business, set it always before our eyes, and make it the constant rule of our conversation and behaviour (sic), and model the temper of our minds by it.” It should be noted that scholars are careful to distinguish between being blessed for the doing and being blessed in doing the word. As the Psalmist says, in keeping the Law of the Lord “there is great reward” (19.11). Adam Clarke on this passage cites the sayings of the Jewish Fathers: “There are four kinds of men who visit the synagogues, 1. He who enters but does not work; 2. He who works but does not enter. 3. He who enters and works. 4. He who neither enters nor works. The first two are indifferent characters; the third is the righteous man; the fourth is wholly evil.” Perhaps James has this Jewish saying in mind when he writes this passage calling his Christian brethren to the high calling of Christ.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.4

As we approach Luke 21.29-38, we see the final words of Jesus concerning His coming in judgment on Jerusalem. As we have seen in part 1, part 2, and part 3, Jesus is warning his disciples about the impending doom yet to come upon the Jews for their continued rebellion toward God. He concludes His warning with a parable, a favorite tool for teaching of Jesus.

A Fig Tree

The fig tree is a plant indigenous to Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean region. Its blooms appear before the leaves do in the spring. Jesus uses this example from the creation in order to drive his point home: Just as certain as summer follows spring, the season when the fig tree puts forth its leaves, so also you may be certain that “when you see these things taking place” (all the things in v.10-28) you can know the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish world is right at the door. Jesus, in v.31, says the kingdom of God is near. That is, the rule and reign of God, His sovereignty over nations and peoples to bring them up and tear them down. What you see in the destruction of Jerusalem is an exercise of God’s sovereignty in human history.

Jesus reiterates His point in case anyone missed it: this thing is going to happen soon; so soon that the present generation (those people alive in the first century, some of them standing in front of Him) would not die until it had taken place (v.32). Hence, those expositors and commentators who try to shove this passage (and it’s parallel passages) into the future do so erroneously. Jesus is not talking about something millenia in the future; this is something right at the door for the first century disciples. If this has not yet been fulfilled, either Jesus lied (since that generation passed away without this prophecy fulfilled) or we should still have 2000 year old people walking around still waiting for the fulfillment. Neither of these is a reality nor possible – hence, Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled just as he described in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Indeed, Jesus makes this very point in v.33 when in essence he says “No word of mine will ever pass away unfulfilled.”  

A Final Tip

Jesus wraps up this discourse with a final warning and exhortation to His disciples. “Watch yourselves” (v.34) and “stay awake” (v.36). First, watch yourselves, especially in regards to their hearts. Something big and bad is coming down the pike…and now is not the time to mess with their Christian walk. Jesus mentions some very specific activities to avoid. “Dissipation” which has to do with drinking (alcohol) and the unrestraint behavior that usually accompanies that activity. How many people know the results and consequences of excessive alcohol consumption? Judgment and morality fly out the window and that is what Jesus is addressing. Avoid this. Next, “drunkeness” which is alcoholic intoxication. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing with abstinence from alcohol. And finally, the “cares of this life” are those things which divide our alligence to Christ and God. They pull us from being worshippers to being worriers. Jesus’ word to His disciples is guard yourself from these things. If you do not, “that day” (the day of destruction reserved for Jerusalem) will come upon them “suddenly like a trap.” I believe the imagry is self-evident.

Jesus further explains why they should watch themselves in verse 35. Many will use this verse in order to shove this whole context into the future. Indeed, it can present some difficulty. “For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Well, this would pretty well point to the scope of this judgment being universal, right? Not necessarily when you consider that the world for “earth” can (and in this context should) be translated “land.” Hence, all those who dwell in the land of Judea will suffer this judgment of God. Young’s Literal Translation provides this translation and Adam Clarke in his commentary makes mention of this point.

The next warning is stay awake at all times. In other words, keep yours eyes open and be on watch. What should a watchful disciple be doing in anticipation of this coming day? Pray. For what? Strength to escape all the horrible, terrible things that are coming which Jesus has just predicted. Indeed, it will get very bad. But also, pray that they would be able to stand before the Son of Man. The coming judgment is upon wicked Jerusalem. They will not be able to stand in judgment. But the disciple ought to be able to stand blameless at the coming of the Son of Man. They would then be free from the coming calamity.

One day He’s coming back. We often talk about the “second coming of Christ;” perhaps it is better called the “final coming of Christ.” One day he come back for the final time for final judgment. Ought we to listen to the words of the Master? He predicted physically judgment to be poured out in human history and told His disciples how they can prepare themselves for that day. Much more should we prepare for the Day when Christ will proclaim spiritual judgment upon all men and women. Ought also to stay awake and watch ourselves lest we fall into dissipation, drunkeness, and/or the cares of life? Our alligence must be wholeheartedly to the Son of Man if we would stand in final judgment.

The Faithful Teacher

Luke gives us a glimpse into the life of Jesus in v.37-38. Every day Jesus is teaching in the temple. We have seen Him sere before (see Luke 19.47). No doubt His message is still the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4.17).  He is still teaching during the day, but at night He’s sleeping on the mountains, the Mount of Olives. Mountains appear to be a special place for Jesus. They seemed to be His place of prayer and renewal (see Luke 6.12; 9.28). What’s Jesus every night before he turns in? Probably praying. His time is drawing ever closer and he needs the strength to carry out the mission. We’ve just seen Him warn His disciples to pray for strength; certainly the teacher is modelling for his students what this looks like. But you know where to find Jesus the next morning. Early in the morning He’s back at it, in the temple teaching all the people who came to hear Him.

Parable of the Ten Minas

When I was little, I enjoyed getting report cards. What?! Yeah, I enjoyed getting report cards. The reason is that my grandma would give me a dollar for every “A” I earned. And since I was a whiz in school, I would usually receive a nice handful of cash for my work. Unfortuantely, by the time I reached Jr. High and High School, the cash flow stopped since grandma expected us to get good marks without incentive.

Our Lord was a master at using something as simple as receiving an amount of money and expounding some heavy heavenly truth. In Luke 19.11-27, the Lord does this very thing in the parable of the ten minas. A mina was a unit of money during Jesus’ time on earth which was worth about three month’s wages. It was not a coin but was rather an amount of silver that was a certain weight. Nelson’s New Bible Dictionary says it was equal to about 50 common shekels in the Old Testament, but when Luke was writing it was probably closer to a pound of money (silver). Wuest says this would have only been about $16-18 apiece. Hmm….

It must be noted that we must not confuse this account with Matt 25.14-30 and the parable of the talents. Why the subject of the parables is clearly not the same (minas v. talents). These are different accounts of different events and while some similarity may be present, we must keep each of these accounts in propercontext and perspective. First, in Luke, Jesus is “near to Jerusalem” (v.11, ESV). He is yet to make his triumphal entry. Also, this follows immediately on the heels of Zacchaeus and the great news Jesus has announced on his house (v.9-10). Jesus tells this parable to them (those present, see comments on v.1-10) “as they heard these things” (v.11). Further, Jesus tells them this parable “because they supposed the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” In other words, they thought at any moment the kingdom would show up. “Therefore, ” he told them the parable of the ten minas.

The Assignment of the Servants

We are introduced to a nobleman (lit. some man of noble birth) was going on a trip to a far away country to receive a kingdom and return. So, before he leaves, he calls together ten servants and gives them ten minas (one mina each, so it would seem). But this isn’t free money for good grades – he has a specific assignment: “Engage in business until I come.” Simple enough.

Now the amount of money should not surpirse us. As mentioned above, this is a completely different parable from the parable of the talents (which a talent was a very large sum of money). But this should not detract from the message: the master is testing the faithfulness of his servants. Hence, a mina in each hand of his ten servants will do nicely.

The Animosity of the Citizens

Not all is well in this scene though. Some citizens (lit. his people) hate this nobleman. For whatever reason, they can’t stand this man and send a delegation after him, making their hearts known to him: “We do not want this man (i.e. you) to reign over us.” Plain and simple – we hope you don’t come back. Good riddence.

Now do not mistake the “servants” (or bondservants) and the “citizens.” These are not the same people. A servant was a slave who was owned by an individual. Citizens were simply subjects who lived under the reign of an individual. This is a key difference.

The Accounting of the Servants

This man does not stay away. He received his kingdom, came back, and now it reckoning time. He wants to see what all has been going on with the money he gave to his servants. In other words, lets see how much of an increase my investment has made. The first servant shows he has made 10 times as much as he was given. What a great return! The master commends this servant: “Well done, good servant.” He turns around and puts him over ten cities (evidently in his new kingdom) since he has been faithful in small things. Again, the second servant comes and shows his master’s mina has gained him 5 more. Yet another remarkable accomplishment. A similar stewardship is given this servant as was given the first: he will be over 5 cities.

Then “another” came. Do not overlook this designation. He is another (Gk. heteros, you can see our English prefix hetero- in it). This is another servant, but of a different kind. He is not like the other servants, some, maybe most if not all, have gone through the line and revealed their investments. The other servants were marked by faithfulness; this one is marked by his unfaithfulness. This servant explains that he hid in a handkerchief his master’s mina, but here it is with no return. He explains he was fearful of his master because he was a “severe man” (lit. harsh. Our English word “austere” comes from this Greek word). He is strict and exacting and this servant did not want to disappoint him. Further, this servant knew that this man takes what he does not deposit and reaps where he does not sow. It would appear this servant is calling this man unjust and a “grasping profiteer.” He takes from other people what is not his. Quite the indictment.

The Action against the Servant and Citizens

The man’s reply is interesting. He uses the servant’s words against him to condemn him. In addition, he labels this servant (who’s actions seem prudent) as “wicked.” He interrogates his servant with a question: “You knew that I was servere man” and do the things you say I do? You should have been even more faithful! At least put the money in the bank so I could collect the interest!

The master demands his mina be striped from him and given to the one who has ten. Why? “Everyone who has, more will be given.” While there is objection, it makes sense; he made the most of the man’s money – he will be faithful with even this extra mina. Good business? Sure. The man concludes that “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” What’s left to take? Remember, this servant is a servant. His position as a servant will be removed.

There is still one loose end to tie up: the citizens. These who did not want nor acknowledged the rule of this man are finally dealt with. The man with the authority, the reign calls them forward and they are slaughtered. The man gives full vent of his wrath, exercising his authority over these people.

The Application to the Christian

Great story! So what? Keep in mind that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Further, keep in mind that not of all parts necessarily have a physical counterpart (otherwise it would be an alegory). What is Jesus trying to get across to his people?

First, it would seem that the “ten servants” are representative of all Christ’s servants. “So does that mean the ‘nobleman’ is Christ?” Perhaps. He could represent God. Nevertheless, each servant is given a “mina.” I think this means every servant of Christ is given a spiritual gift. But there is assignment that goes along with that gift: use it! Use that spiritual gift until Christ comes. We know Christ has gifted every Christian (Eph 4.7-11) and we know he expects us to use that gift for the maturation of ourselves and other Christians (Eph 4.12-16). We also know that one day Christ will deliver his kingdom to the Father (1 Cor 15.24) and everyone will be judged for their deeds (John 5.28-29). So here is Christ teaching us in parable the necessity of putting our gift to work for the body before it everlasting to late.

Second, who are these citizens? Clearly, they have a hatred for the “nobleman” who receives his kingdom and also they despise his rule over them. It should be noted that although they hate this man and his rule over them, they are inescapably under his sovereign rule since they are his citizens. They could be representative of the Jews of Jesus’ time who rebelled against God and His Messiah. They refused the kingship of Christ and proclaimed, “We have no king bu Caesar!” Another option are the unbelievers who will one day stand in judgment before Christ and God but currently stand in open rebellion of God and His Word. They despise God and his Church and his Christ. One final option my be that these represent the member of the church who will not submit to Christ’s rule for their life, work, or service. However, this view would seem remote to the context of the parable. Either the Jews or the pagan of the world are both acceptable options as to whom the citizens represent. Sadly, we see the fate of remaining in stubborn rebellion to the “nobleman;” once the kingdom is received and he takes account of his kingdom, there is severe price to pay for continued defiance to the king. The frightening reality this parable confronts us with is that Christ and God demand a choice be made and that choice is between life and death.

Perhaps the most significant point of application of this parable is the contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness that is seen in the servants and the word spoken of them by the nobleman. Should a Christian choose to discover and use their giftedness in the apporiate manner, God will bless their efforts and bless them on the final day with the sweet words of “Well done, good servant.” However, should a Christian choose to neglect their gift(s) and bury them in a handkerchief, the consequences are dire. I don’t think we get this message in the church today. Too many are sitting on their gifts. Too many make excuses why they can’t use their gift. I believe the outcome for the Christian who does not use their gift is just as severe as those in open rebellion. I say this because “even what he has will be taken away.” Our identity and position as a servant will be stripped from us with our “mina” if we are unfaithful. If we are not servants, we become like the citizens. We are no better than the world because of our refusal to use the grace given us to produce fruit for our God. If this is the case, should we not be even more faithful.

Sin, Faith, Duty

 I remember as a kid growing up that there used to be several shows that would come on Nickelodeon that had obstacle courses. Usually kids were split into teams and competed against each other. One show had families compete against each other and the losing family would get “slimed.” Ah, what wouldn’t entertain a child. Jesus spoke of obstacle courses, also. He condemned any obstacle course that caused “little ones” to sin. He condemned obstacle courses that kept people from coming to him by faith. In Luke 17.1-10, we have Jesus teaching us about deadly obstacle courses and how we can keep ourselves from becoming one ourselves.

Unforgiving Servants

Jesus tells us that “stumbling blocks” (Greek) are sure to come. That is, it is impossible to keep some people from putting obstacle courses on the pathway to life. Surely, since the time of Jesus, men have been doing this. Why in the first century the apostles were combating obstacle course artists. That’s why they had the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. That’s why Paul had to write to the Galatians. That’s why Jude wrote his little letter. Jesus tells us the fate of these obstacle course artists: they have been found lacking (“woe”). In fact, it would be better to have a giant “millstone” tied around that persons neck and for them to be hurled into the sea. That’s how grave their offense is. The cause “little ones” to stumble, to sin. Now, who are these “little ones”? Most jump to the conclusion that they are children. While these would be included in this phrase, the words used here points to simply one who is “small.” Thayer’s Lexicon says this is someone who is inferior to other citizens of the kingdom because of their small knowledge about the kingdom. This could be a grown adult kingdom citizen who is put into an obstacle course and stumbles. The person who leading new Christians and young Christians down the obstalce course has a lot to answer for.

So Jesus says “watch yourselves!” To whom is Jesus speaking? Verse 1 says he is speaking to his disciples, i.e. the twelve. He is telling them, “You have been with me this whole time; don’t mess this up!” Don’t veil the entrance to the kingdom so people stumble or sin. Now they know how terrible the fate is for the obstacle course artists – don’t become a stumbling block or put one in the path for kingdom citizens. Hold onto what you know to be true and don’t mingle it with the erroneous! But suppose one of these obstacle course artists gets a hold of your brother and he sins? What then? “Rebuke him,” Jesus says. That is, express strong disapproval of what he has done. Show him his sin that he might repent. What if he repents? “Forgive him,” Jesus says. Here is the hard part: we don’t have any problem telling others their wrong – we struggle with forgiveness. Especially when Jesus portrays the sinner’s inability to stop sinning. He sins and repents. Forgive him. He sins again. Forgive. Surely there must be an end to this forgiving business. Surely eventually, we are permitted to stop forgiving him. Jesus says, “you must forgive him.” Why? Think about it. Our life is liek a vapor. To God, 1000 years is like a day. We come to him several times, hundreds of times in our “day” in this life and ask and beg for forgiveness. Does he forgive us? Absolutely. Totally forgiven with the blood of Christ, even before we ask. Then why in the world would he expect less from us. If your brother repents, forgive him.

Unfaithful Servants

What I mean by “unfaithful” is simply that the disciples are not “full of faith.” This is seen in their exclamation, “Increase our faith!” They are admitted to their own weakness, their lack of faith. They admitted they need help on this one. How difficult it is to forgive like God requires of us! So hard, the apostles knew they needed help. Are we any different? Is it not a challenge to forgive everyone who sins, especially if they sin against us? We must cry out with the disciples, “Increase our faith!” We need help, Jesus!

And he does. Jesus helps the disciples put things in pespective. It seems he is saying, “You have all the faith you need with a faith like that of a mustard seed. What you need to focus on is whom your faith is in.” Faith always has an object. You can’t have faith in nothing; you must have faith in something. Most people’s faith is in themselves. Perhaps that is whom the disciple’s faith is in when they say, “Increase our faith!” They are saying by themselves, they cannot do what Jesus asking them to do and Jesus is saying “You’re exactly right! But with faith in me, no matter how small it may be, you can do this.” It is Christ who lives within us, through us. And we need help with forgiving and stumbling blocks. But if we understand we are dead to ourselves but alive to Christ, we can do this “through Christ who gives us strength.” Jesus is calling his disciples to put their faith and trust in him to accomplish this lofty ideal of forgiveness.

Unworthy Servants

Jesus wraps up this teaching with a parable. He gives us the mindset of a true servant of God. Just as a servant does what he is commanded and performs his duties without thanks, so should also the servant’s in the kingdom perform their duties. It is a thankless job to be a Christian. Sure, we have our fellow servants, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who encourage us. But when we boil things down and strip away the layers, at the core, the Christian walk is a thankless duty. And why wouldn’t it be? It is hard work to be a Christian. It requires round-the-clock devotion to the Master. It requires work in the field during the hottest part of the day and labor in house in the evening. It is praiseless, thankless, arduous, dirty work. And I believe too often we are ungrateful for the work God has given us.

We live in an entitlement society which believes everything should be handed to them on a silver platter and they shouldn’t have to work to get it. Our society thinks they deserve special treatment for no reason. And when they get what they don’t deserve, there is no thanksgiving, no gratitude; just more of the same selfish desires. Unfortunately this mentality has spilled over into the church. So many Christians think they are entitled to something from God, as if he owes them something. God doesn’t owe us anything! We are entitled to none of the benefits of heaven and if he left us to wallow in our own sins so that we had to endure eternal punishment for all eternity it would be no less than wee deserved.

God has given us to work to do, a service to render, a ministry to perform. And the unworthy servant says, “I have only done what I must do.” That is the key. We shouldn’t even be servants for the Master, yet he loved us so greatly he gave us what we needed: Jesus. And now we serve him as unworthy servants. How can we not be thankful for the opportunity and ability to serve him? How can we look at our Christian walk as anything less than performing the duty we owe our Master? Our indebtedness to God prompts us to do what we ought.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

It should be noted that there are some scholars who do not think that this account in Luke 16.19-31 of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. In fact, I have written a paper over this very subject and have concluded this is in fact a parable of Jesus. I will post this is in the comments section of this post if you are interested. Perhaps for you, there is no debate: this is a parable or is not a parable, period. Whatever the case, there are several learning points and interesting facts we glean from this account.

Now we must keep this in its proper context: Remember that Jesus has just spoken three parables in ch.15 and one at the beginning of this chapter (pointing to the fact that this may be a parable in a context of parables). At the end of ch.15, Jesus spoke of an older brother who refuses to go and we are left with a cliffhanger, so to speak – did the brother go in? Some have said Jesus is here pointing the “older brothers” who may be listening (i.e. Pharisees) toward their fate should they continue to ignore the call of God. Others point to this being a teaching over money; after all, Jesus just spoke another parable on money and had some words for the Pharisees about money. Here is yet another parable over the wise use of money. You, constant reader, can be the judge of this.

Their Daily Lives

The story opens up with a bit of a character sketch of two men. There is the rich man. Some think that perhaps Jesus has Herod Antipas in mind here. It could be his short quip on divorce may have triggered his mind to go to Herod, since Herod was an adulterer. Whatever the case, this rich man was dressed in purple, the color of royalty and very expensive. Along with this, he was robed in fine linen, which scholars say was worth double its weight in gold and was also strikingly beautiful material. He has the finest foods, the choicest wines at his disposal. This is the picture of luxuary Jesus paints for us.

Contrast this with the beggar. He had to be carried to the place outside the rich man’s house to beg. He was Eleazar (in the Hebrew), “him whom only God can help.” He is afflicted with a sickness that covers his body in sores. It is a miserable life. He is desiring just crumbs from the table of the rich man, probably getting nothing. And the sad state is even worse: dogs, unclean vagrants, come and lick his open sores. No bandages for Lazarus; his festering sores are open game for the dogs.

Their Deaths

Their deaths are reported in striking contrast as well. The beggar, Lazarus, dies and is taken by angelic escort to the bosom of Abraham. What a picture! Taken, at death, to a place of comfort. What about the rich man? Simply, he dies and is buried. Perhaps his friends show up to pay respect. But for him there is no angelic escort to the unseen world of disembodied spirits.

Their Destinations

The rich man, upon waking in the realm of the dead, finds himself in torment. Elsewhere Jesus points out hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom. Here this rich man illustrates the truth of that teaching. He is in torment. The idea of torment is that of precious metal being tested on a black stone. It is a scraping, grating, scratching type of torture. In addition, this also was a word used for the torture of a slave on a rack in order to obtain information from them. Here is the pain the rich man is in. Acute pain to get answers to questions no one is asking. The only question is the one asked of self: why did I live my life to end up here? There is no doubt the rich man should be there, no question of the justice of God. He has only himself to blame for his final destination.

The beggar, though, is in a place of comfort (v.25). This is the same word Jesus used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles when he was gone (John 14.26; 15.26). Lazarus is comforted, encouraged, consoled in this place. A life of pain and agony is eclipsed by a new life of peace and ease.

The Discussion

Abraham is with Lazarus in the abode of the righteous of God. Apparently the rich man can see them and he cries out for water (v.24). Just the tip of Lazarus’ finger in cool water would help the rich man. Again, the agony and pain he is in is evident. But then we see the true man behind this request: he had no mercy on Lazarus while on earth, but now he begs for mercy in the next life. It is interesting that the rich man says it is the flame of hades that is hurting him. Several other places Jesus mentions that hell is a place of fire. Some say this is Jesus using a human pain to try to get across the severe “burning” of the real hell. However, the pain of hell is more intense than pen or tongue could ever tell.

“Son,” is how Abraham replies, having been addressed as Father by the rich man, not because this man is indeed a son of Abraham and therefore heir of salvation. Abraham gives a reasoned response for why the request cannot be met: first, the rich man chose in his life to enjoy the good things – purple, fine linen, choice foods. But Lazarus had to suffer through life, not choosing the “bad things,” but rather they came upon him. Now the opposite is in effect: Lazarus, a true child of Abraham, is comforted while the rich man gets exactly what is deserved of a life lived caught up in the things of men and not the things of God. Second, Abraham explains that there is a great chasm between the two places and no one can go from one side to the other.

The rich man makes a final plea: he has five brothers who are apparently living the same kind of life as he did. Perhaps they each have their Lazarus laying at their gate whom they could show mercy. This rich man does not want his fate to be their fate. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them. Surely they will believe a ghost! But Abraham once more gives him a reasoned explanation: they have all they need to stay out of that place. Moses and the Prophets is sufficient to lead them far away from the place of torment. “Let them hear them.”

The rich man believes this will not be enough to keep his brothers away from this place. He had Moses and the Prophets, but that wasn’t enough. If only a person who is dead could go and visit them, then that would make a difference. They will believe that. They will repent and turn to God

The Decision

Abraham once more must explain the situation. God has made the decision for all man. They have what they need to avoid the same fate as this rich man. In fact, every person has more than Moses and the Prophets now. One has been raised from the dead. Notice the parallel here. The Pharisees have Moses and the Prophets, but they loved money and therefore were not true sons of Abraham. They had no place at the table of God; they had only their tables at home. One day they will have someone come back from the dead, but they will not believe. Instead, they will continue to wallow in disbelief. Every person on planet earth has all they need for salvation from the place of torment: Jesus Christ the resurrected Lord. Otherwise, all we have to look forward to is a place of eternal conscious punishment, remembering the “good things” we had and how we missed the best things. Once more Jesus leaves the door ajar and Luke leaves us with a cliffhanger. Did they walk through the door into belief of Jesus as the Christ? Did the elder brother finally go into the Father’s house? Would they finally listen to Moses and the Prophets which testify to Jesus?

The Lost Son, pt. 2

I wish I could tell you that Luke 15 ended at v.24 with the lost son back in the house of blessing with the father enjoying the feast of a lifetime. I wish I could tell you that all was well in the father’s house and everyone accepted the son back into the family even as the father did. But sadly, all is not well in the father’s house and Jesus gives us the rest of the story. Again, keep this in context: v.2 tells us that some of the opponents of Jesus, Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners. So Jesus told them some parables and is saying in each one of these parables “this is what God is like.” Clearly, the picture of God in the Pharisees and scribes heads was not right; God is a God who extends grace to sinners. And so Jesus is helping these men (and even us) identify with someone in the story in case they were missing the point.

Quiet Questioning

There is a party going on. But not everyone is at the party. The older son of the father is out in the field, toiling under the blazing sun, engaged in his father’s business. And as he is coming near the house he can hear the party: music being played, probably laughter and loud talking, the sound of people dancing, even rejoicing. Why all the ruckus? What’s going on? Why wasn’t I told about this? All these questions he voices to a servant; he keeps it private, not going to the house or his father. And that is how this resentment begins: it begins in the soul, internally. And like the Pharisees of Jesus day, that is how it began – they would say to themselves (5.21, NIV). It begins internally. But, like this son, they did not go straight to the source (the father). They kept it somewhat quiet, asking a servant. Note the Pharisees did the same thing when they would ask Jesus’ disciples (5.30).

The report is given to the older son: “Your brother is alive and found, safe and sound.” Note that the father “recieved” (ESV) the younger son. The word means to receive something (in this case someone) back that you previously possessed. The idea then is that the father took back his possession as his own possession. I suppose it would be like getting a Christmas present containing something that was already yours, that you owned. So overjoyed by this gift, the father killed the fattened calf.

Obdurate Outrage

Alas, the older son is furious. Livid. Wroth. And rather than go to the father and express his feelings, he pouts. He stands outside and refuses to go in. But here is the picture of the Father: not only does he run to returning sons, he will go to and meet with the raging ones also. See the father wants all his children at the feast, in the house of blessing. It is a beautiful picture here because the father is “entreating” (ESV) or literally calling out to this son, pleading with him, even as he probably would have pleaded with the son if he had run into him in the big city, to come home.

This son will have none of it. Let’s note the older son’s character for a second. First, he is performance driven (v.29). He marks time, keeps a log of all his work. But that is just it – his work is nothing more than punching the clock. “All these years…” he says. Certainly the Pharisees, who devoted so much time to God and his work, could hear these words from their own mouth. “All these years we have served you deligently; you mean to tell me these ‘sinners’ get to eat from the same table as I?” Not only that, he tracks behavior. “I have served you, I have never disobeyed…you never gave me a young goat.” The self-righteous voice clearly rings out its performance as though it truly amounts to anything. Accusations fly at the father. How often are we guilty of accusing God of injustice! “Why have you not given me this?” We might cry. “I have served you; why do the wicked excel but I languish?” Also, this son is feels entitled to something. He is saying to his father, “you owe me.” For all the work I have done, you owe me something. Certainly all my good works deserve some small reward. But the Father owes us nothing! We are not entitled to a better house, better car, anything. Our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God. And if we depend upon our track record, we are in dire straights!

This son is relationally distant. That is, he cannot identify with his father. He cannot understand the nature of his father and how he can accept back into his presence this terrible younger son. He does not share in his father’s joy over the return of the lost son. Nor does he identify with the father’s heart and the love he has for this younger son. But over all this, he absolutely refuses to identify himself with his brother. In fact, this brother is still dead to him, though alive to the father.

Finally he is possessions focused. All he sees is the squandering of the father’s property. He sees the father wasting the good calf on this no-good son. Can you hear the voice of Judas: “why this waste?” Here is the character of this son. But take note: despite this massive fault in character, the father still loves him just the same as he loves the returning son.

Soft Solution

When I say “soft,” I do not mean the father was soft on the son nor that our Father is soft on sin. I mean this in the sense of Proverbs 15.1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (NIV). Here is the father giving a gentle response to the enraged son. “Son…” this is emphatic in the Greek. He is reminding this older son of his identity. He is also reminding that “…all that is mine is yours.” It was not that his father had held anything back; he has always had access to the house of blessing. Here is the indictment of Jesus on the Pharisees of his day: they had the privileges of being God’s chosen people, with all the blessings God could give from heaven. They had the covenants and the Law (Rom 9.4) and all the privileges and prerogatives that go along with that position. They were sons! Instead of standing out in the cold, enraged at the grace of the Father, they should be in the house, rejoicing that the manifold wisdom of God included others in the house of blessing. Even the vilest of sinners can find grace in the house of God.

Again, I wish I could tell you this story ends “happily ever after” with the father in his house rejoicing with both of his sons, their voices ringing together in rejoicing. But verse 32 ends abruptly with the father’s final words about his returned son: “he was lost, and is found” (ESV). I wish I could tell you that the story ends with the son falling in the arms of the father, sobbing over his poor attitude. I wish I could tell you about any ending Jesus gives this story, but he doesn’t. We are left with the question: did the son repent? And perhaps this was the point of ending it like this. Jesus is leaving the Pharisees to end the story with their repentance of their attitude toward ‘sinners’ and realize the Father’s house is large enough for all returning sinners.

But I do suppose the Pharisees finish the story: God extends the invitation through his Son Jesus and they execute him. The lifeline to God stands before them, giving them the words of life and they refuse to listen and so be saved. Jesus shows them the Father, and they don’t like the picture he paints. Thus, they refuse the invitation and will not enter the house of blessing.

The Lost Son, pt. 1

It is with some trepidation that I tread into the midst of ch.15 of Luke. The reason for this is that this text (v.11-24) has been so often preached, taught, commented on, and written about that I believe there is little to say or add to the bulk of scholarship available to us. Nevertheless, we press on in our study of Luke. Remember, this is spoken in a context of people seeking to hear Jesus (v.1). Jesus is critiqued by the religious elites of his day and so he speaks parables to them, one about a lost sheep, another about a lost coin, and still another concerning a lost son.

The Son’s Sin

We pick up in v.11 where Jesus explains very simply “a man had two sons.” Probably both good boys who always listened to their father. But one day his younger son, perhaps more naive and thoughtless, begins to wonder about the outside world, the world outside the father’s house. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance. Note this, first, that the son’s sin does not begin when he is in the pig pen. It doesn’t even begin when he is in the big city living it up with all kinds of sinful activities. The son’s sin begins with this daft discontent. It begins with discontent to dwell in the father’s house. It begins with a desire to leave the father’s house. And this kind of discontent does not make sense; why would you want to leave when you have all the blessings of the father’s house. How terrible that too many of God’s children grow weary of living with the Father. They are no longer content to be under the care and control of God and therefore seek their independance from him. Indeed, like this young man, they wish their Father were dead. No that is what this son and those who leave the Father wish! By asking for his share of his inheritance, the son is really seeking his father dead. But the father is willing to oblige even so ridiculous a request as this. And though it breaks the heavenly Father’s heart, he knows his children too have their free will.

And so the daft discontent of the son leads to a deliberate departure from the father’s house. He gathered up all his goods and monies and leaves the father’s house. The first step outside the father’s house was sin and a departure from the house of blessing. And note this, the father does not go with him. No the father can have no part with the things of the world and sin city. He remains in house with all his blessings but with one less son to shower them on. Once in the big city, the son “squanders” his livlihood in prodigal or reckless living. This is nothing short of decadent dissipation. He blew his dough on junk, trash, sin. The older brother points out that it was harlots he spent his money on (v.30).  And he spent everything! Every dime. No longer is he driven by the will of his father, but he is lost in the alluring sound of sin. And then trouble came….

The Son’s Shame

One cannot live in sin for long before they begin to feel pressure and brokenness sin brings with it. Eventually sin catches up with them. And this young man was not exempt from it. A severe famine broke loose over the land. The son found himself in profound poverty. The young man who had needed nothing for all his wealth now foud himself in the lowest of circumstances. The “friends” and harlots who had been there to spend the money up and vanished at the sign that the flow of cash had dried up. Only the lowest of work could be found during this recession period: feeding pigs. Here is the son’s deep degradation, even working among the unclean animals. Here is the unimaginable: a Jew in the pig pen. It is the most distasteful and despicable activities any Jew could partake in. But even the basest of work is performed by the poorest of men. He hires himself out, or literally glues himself to this pig farmer. And note the woeful want found in v.16: he desired even to eat the pig’s food. How deep is this young man’s shame all because he sought to leave the house of blessing! How many of God’s children can avoid the pig pen of sin simply by turning back to the Father’s house of blessing! Turn back! Repent!

The Son’s Repentance

Jesus does not leave us to wallow in the pig pen for long. He paints the picture of a young man who has a rude awakening. “And he came to his senses…” (NIV, v.17). That is, he woke up, he roused himself from his sinful slumber. It is as if he had been as far away from himself as he was from home. He snaps back to reality and truly feels the gravity of his situation. He is poor, smelly, bedraggled, starving (to death?). He has probably lost some weight. Awake thou that sleepest and rise from the dead. And here is the first of the slumbering soul sunk in sin: wake up. Look around you and realize you are hopelessly lost. God is calling, as he was in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” He knows where you are, he is seeking your response, you acknowledgement of your predicament.

Immediately this son has a remoseful attitude. He knows the score and knows where he can find victory: only back home with dear old dad. His servants eat better than this son. So this young man devises his earnest plea for the father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you” (v.18). In fact, because of his terrible attitude before and because of his deep decent into darkness, he believes he is no longer worthy to be called a son. If nothing else, he would be glad to be servant. But here is thing: the best of intentions mean nothing with resolved actions that go along wih them. In order for the son’s situation to improve, he has to get out of the pig pen of sin. Too often, those in the pig pen want to change and even devise the best of speeches for the father but there is no follow through action. Jesus shows us, if we want entrance back into the house of blessing, we actually have to go to the Father’s house. This son got up and left.

The Son’s Restoration

How many times on that long journey home did this son repeat that same speech in his head? Were there any changes as he ran over it again and again? Were there moments of doubt and fear where he almost didn’t go through with it? You ever been in those shoes? Unsure of whether or not your prayer for forgiveness was heard, whether the Father truly accepted you back. And so we identify with this son. But what a picture of our Father! Verse 20 paints a picture of our God watching the horizon for us to return. Even while he was a long way off, the father saw his son. I picture a rut formed on the porch of the home. I picture a father who, out in the fields with his workers, would lift his eyes to the horizon and sigh with longing. And then one day…could it be? He knows that gait. And even in the distance he knows that figure. I believe the father had been waiting for this day. The day his son came back. Not only was he waiting and watching, but not we see a loving father, filled to the brim and overflowing with compassion for this lost son. But it had always there; he never stopped loving his son. But also we see a running father. Here is an undignified gesture for a man his age; older men do not run! They stroll, each step calculated and dignified. But here is aged father, runnning to meet his son. And finally, here is the kissing father. He is all over the smelly bedraggled boy. He throws his arms around his son and kisses him again and again. I picture eyes filled with tears, even as his heart is filled with compassion.

Imagine a primarily Jewish audience listening to this account and knowing Jesus is speaking of Jehovah. How radical! We are talking about the same God who descended upon Mt. Sinai with thunder and lightning so terrible the earth shook and so terrifying the people asked Moses to intercede lest they die. Can it be that he is waiting, watching, loving, running, and (dare we say it) kissing sinners when they return? Yes, says Jesus. Here is your God, your heavenly Father face to face with his returning child. It must be this way, because all of our meager efforts to try and rectify the situation will not work. Indeed, when the son trys to explain to his father the situation, the father will have none of it. Here is grace: our explanations will not work, only God giving us what we do not deserve is the explanation.

What is to be done for the found son? First, put on him the best robe. Slaves do not wear robes, but sons do. Indeed, we wear a robe of righteousness not our own in order to cover our spiritual nakedness. Second, put a ring on his finger. It carried the family sign. Hence, this is symbolic of family relationship. Third, put sandals on his feet. Slaves do not wear shoes and indeed the slavery to sin for us has ended just as the son’s did. Finally, let us feast at the banquet table of the father. In chapter 14 Jesus described a great banquet which is spread for those who will come to eat from. Here the father brings out the best calf to be slaughtered and eat in a feast to acknowledge the lost son is found, yes more than that, he was dead and is alive.

A couple of application points to wrap up this section: first, what’s wrong with this picture? The answer is…well, everything. The son gets exactly what he does not deserve. But therein is grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve especially when we don’t deserve it. Second, what is God like? Well, he is a God who regrets when we rebel. He is a God who runs when we return. And he is a God who restores when we repent. Thank you, Jesus for showing us the Father! Finally, what is missing from this picture? Jesus. But truly he is present every sentence of the story. You see the one telling the story is the key to how the story ends. His whole existence is to ensure this story has the happy ending that it has.

The Lost Coin

My wife and I were going home for Christmas. I was mid-way through my internship with Northside church of Christ is Wichita, KS and we were leaving (for a few weeks anyway) the bleak and snowy winter of Kansas to enjoy a Fresno, CA Christmas at home. We decided that driving would take too long and we were not up for a long car trip, so we booked our flight witha layover in Dallas. Everything went…well, they went.

We were late leaving Wichita because the plane was having some issues. It is a little unsettling stepping onto a plane that is having problems, but somehow we did it. But because we were late leaving Wichita, it meant we would miss our connecting flight. So we were able to arrange a later flight (same day fortunately). We made it to Dallas (finally) and had some extra time on our hands. We walked around the airport in no particular hurry, watching everyone bustle around. We found the gate our plane would be departing from and decided it was lunch time. We found a Whataburger (which they do not have in Wichita) and ate there. I remember it was warm in the terminal. And when we had left Wichita it was bitter cold. We were expecting it to be cold in California, so I had my jacket with me. But in the tropical climate which is the Dallas airport, I was roasting so I took it off during the meal.

After lunch, we collected our things and went back to the gate. I check with the people at the desk to make sure things were OK (since we had to be bumped) and lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, we had been bumped to First Class!! Oh yeah. Kim and I were exuberant over this news. First Class! La De Da. Neither of us had ever flown First Class before so this was a treat. We were excited and could bearly contain ourselves as they began boarding. We marched triumphantly, noses high as we walked past the lowly folk who had to fly coach. Oh brother, right. Well, I suppose it was not quite that grand, but it was pretty awesome. We found our seats on the plane, stowed away our carry-ons and sat back in those oversized chairs, waiting for take off.

I was mentally checking off the things I carried on. Laptop…check. Backpack…check. Jacket…and literally as the flight attendant was closing the door, it hit my like a sack of bricks. My jacket. I had left my jacket in the terminal at our seats. By the way, this was no ordinary jacket. This was my favorite jacket: black corduroy with a wool collar, not too think or thin, I had had since high school, my wife had a matching coat that I had gotten her one year for Christmas…just a good coat which I loved. And I had left in the terminal in Dallas.

I very calmly informed my wife what I had done. She called a flight attendant over and we explained the situation. Of course there was no way I could get off the plane to go try to find my coat. She called the people at the gate desk to search for it. They looked but told her it was gone already. Just moments previous I was elated to be in First Class; now I was absolutely deflated, disheartened that my jacket was gone.

For the entire we were in California, I was inconsolable. Every day I called the Dallas airport lost and found. Every day I was told my jacket was not there. For three weeks I agonized over my coat, certain it was lost. I did get a fleece pullover for Christmas, black and white just like my coat…but it was not the same. I contemplated buying a new coat, but they were too expensive. All I could do was wait.

The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.8-10) is a twin to the preceding parable. It has the same context and much of the same imagry. A woman has ten coins (Gk. drachma). This is equivalent to ten days wages. Some infer that this is the image of a very poor women and these ten coins are her life’s savings. So naturally, if this is so, when she loses one, that is a big part of her livelihood, she would sweep the house, light lamps, trying to find that one coin. Picture a frantic search, a search where perhaps there are tears. Her hands and knees become bloody from scraping the floor. Persperation beads on her forehead. Her eyes are ablaze with intensity. Where is the coin?

So also is God pictured here: he is involved in a frantic search for every soul of every person. There are no lengths he will not go to, not lamp he will not light, no corner left unswept, no furniture left unturned until he finds his lost child. It is a frantic search for our God seeks a creature that is created in his image, much more valuable that any coin. It is intense because our God knows what lay beyond death for the soul not saved. He is searching and is not far from each on of us.

Finally, the frantic search is over; the coin is found. Picture a woman with tears welling up, streaming down her face. She has found her prize. But she will not keep this to herself; calling her friends over, she invites them to rejoice with her. In the same way, heaven erupts in celebration over the sinner who repents. Angels break out in glorious praise of God and rejoice even with God himself over the return of the lost one.

On our return flight to Wichita, we had a layover in Dallas. The frantic search was on! Kim and I raced around the airport (no small feat in the Dallas airport), hurriedly making our way to the lost and found department. I was going to make sure that my coat was gone. I had little hope of getting it back. Nevertheless, I found the lost and found department and made my request as I had so many times before during the last three weeks. Black corduroy, white wool collar, Burnside brand name, pocket contents. The lady made her way back to the racks and looked around.

“Black jacket, you said?” she asked. I nodded.

“Wool collar?” A glimmer of hope as I nodded again.

Wouldn’t you know it, she pulled it off the rack. My jacket!! My lost jacket…was found. My jaw dropped. My wife’s jaw dropped. We couldn’t believe it, but there it was. She handed it over to me, and we went on our rejoicing, calling family and letting them know what happened so they could rejoice with us. And I know what your thinking…it’s just a jacket. But to me it is so much more; it is memories and connections, it is a hundred cold days, it is mine. Surely you have something of sentimental value. Lose that one thing and you hurt. But the feeling of finding it…there are no words for that feeling.

It is that feeling I carry with me when I read Luke 15. Lost things that are found. I imagine God has those same feelings, only magnified a billion times because of how big he is and how much more precious a lost sinner is to God. Our God is a God who rejoices over the return of lost people. It is this God Jesus pictures for us in these parables.

The Lost Sheep

Once again we have a decent break in the chapter division for ch.15; I believe this is one unit of Scripture that is meant to be taken as a whole as Jesus shows us through vivid parable the grace of God, the pursuit of God, the gentleness of God, and the love of God. This is one of the most loved and (perhaps) oft preached chapters of the Bible. In fact, most unchurched people know about the prodigal son (v.11-24). I will do my best, in the treatment of this text, to maintain the structural integrity of this teaching of Jesus in ch.15.

But we must realize that this context is tied to the foregoing context. Notice Luke 14.35: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. That is how ch.14 ends; notice how ch. 15 begins: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. Did you see the connection? Jesus finishes his discourse on discipleship with an admonition to hear his words and the tax collectors and sinners heed that admonishment. The lowest of society are doing what says while the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders of the day, are grumbling (v.2). What a shocking contrast! Tax collectors were hated by the society – they were seen as helpers of the evil empire, the Romans. As Leon Morris puts it, “They were ostracized by many and regarded as outcasts by the religious.” Sinners were not much better; they lived immoral lives and were publically recognized for their lives which were contrary to the Law.

It is these kinds of people, the despised and disobedient, that Jesus received and ate with (v.2). To eat with someone was not merely to associate yourself with them, but also pointed to welcome and recognition of that person as worthy of fellowship. And so there is contempt in the words of the Pharisees and scribes as they comment on the situation before them: This man, Jesus, who is supposed to be some kind of religious leader, eats with this kind of riff raff! But remember, these people had gathered for a purpose: to hear Him. That is, to hear the voice of the one who speaks and the storms are calmed, demons flee, even dead bodies come back to life (see ch.8). There is life in these words, freedom and peace. No wonder it is these kind of people, tax collectors and sinners, those in social bondage, troubled by their past, dead in their transgressions and sins, who flock to hear Him.

Urged by the contempt of the religious leaders and perhaps burdened to vindicate his audience (for Jesus’ vidication will be found in an empty tomb), he speaks a parable to “them.” Them could be specifically the Pharisees and scribes (very likely) or it could be to the audience in general. Nevertheless, the parable is addressed to “them”: What man of you…. It is a rhetorical question; any one of them would do what Jesus proposes. The picture is painted of a flock of one hundred sheep. One goes missing. The good shepherd will not leave it to die in the wilderness; instead he will go and search until he has found that one lost sheep. Why? The ninety-nine are safe and sound; that one lost sheep is in danger in the open. This was customary.

And finding the sheep, the shepherd does not begrudingly grab the stubborn sheep and grumble all the way back to the flock. He does not beat the stupid animal for going astray. He does not even raise his voice to the animal. If he raises his voice, it is to rejoice over finding this one lost sheep. He gladly hoists this blessed beast onto his shoulder, smiling from ear to ear, as he lovingly takes it back to the flock. He rejoices with his neighbors for it is a happy occasion (v.6).

And here is the application in v.7: heaven rejoices over the repentant sinner even more than over the righteous who need not repent. To be sure, there is rejoicing for the faithful; but there is more joy over the returning sinner. And who was Jesus with? Those who needed a clearer picture of God. The Jews had muddied the water when it came to God. They believed God rejoiced over a returning sinner; but they did not picture God actively seeking out the sinner. And that is the revolutionary picture painted by our Savior. God is a seeking God, he is in pursuit of the straying sinner, doing everything in his power to track down and restore that straying sheep. A Jewish saying was, “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.” Do you see the burden these religious teachers had bound on the lost? But Jesus comes and presents a very different idea about God. He is God who lovingly searches every high and low, every peak and valley, seeking out his one lost sheep. What grand and marvelous news this must have been to the ears of those who came to hear him! They found themselves in the parable and identified with the sheep. God had come to seek and save them and sitting before was the incarnate reality of this truth.

Lunch with Jesus, pt.3

In Luke 14.12-24, we are still having lunch with Jesus. He is dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (v.1). He has taught about the Sabbath and having mercy for human life. This rolled right into a parable about a wedding feast, culminating in a teaching on humility. That parable was directed at all those present (v.7) at the luncheon. Now in v.12-14, Jesus addresses the host of the meal.

A Word to the Host

He advises this man about who to invite to his lunches in the future. Jesus tells him not to invite those close to him (friends, brothers, relatives, etc.) because then he will be repaid. Instead, invite those whom cannot repay him: the poor, crippled, blind, etc. There is a blessing attached to this. The reason there is a blessing is because you are acting like God when you help those who cannot help themselves. This is God-like compassion that is to be extended. And when we exhibit this kind of godliness, there is a reward attached to it. We are not rewarded by men; Jesus advices we seek the opposite. Instead it is reward from God at the resurrection. We let God recognize and reward us for the good deeds we have done. This is a promise.

A Word from a Guest

Perhaps it was excitement at this amazing proposition that stimulated a guest at the lunch to exclaim the blessing found in v.15. He had heard these things and for joy he shouted out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” I wonder if it caught the Lord off guard. Or maybe there was a slow smile that crept across his face as he saw an opportunity to teach. Simply speculation. But the Lord did, it would seem, use this exclamation to teach the people about the kingdom of God.

A Word about the Kingdom

This parable is sort of divided into three guest lists: those invited who refuse, those invited who were collected, those invited who should not have been there. First, there are those who are invited but refuse their invitiation. Jesus details the various excuses they use. One says he has a field he has to go look at. Another has some oxen to examine. Still another has a wife he just married. It is a dismal report this servant brings back to his master: no one is coming.

Furious because of this development, the master sends the servant into the streets and alleys to find anyone and everyone who will come to the banquet. Now these are people were the social outcasts. The street walkers, prostitutes, “sinners” were invited and tookl their seats at the banquet. Actually, I suppose they take the empty seats of those who should have been there but for earthly cares decided not to come. These are gathered and there are still seats to fill. Now the servant is to go to the “highways and hedges” and collect those who will come. Now we are at the lowest rung of the social ladder. These are the vile Gentiles (for these are the roads outside the city, pointing to the invitation that would be extended to the Gentile who was outside the Jewish system). But this is a theme running throughout the gospel of Luke: it is the emarginated, those pushed to the edge of society who are pictured as recipients of the good things the master has prepared. It is this group who receive with gladness the invitation and take the place of the Jew who was to be at the banquet.

And notice the final words of Jesus in this section: “For I tell you (plural), none of those men who were invited will taste my banquet.” I think this is the lesson of this parable for the people sitting around the table eating lunch with Jesus. And surely the lesson is for us also as we sup with the Lord. Currently we have an invitation to the banquet of the Master if we are Christians. But if we allow the cares of the world to bog us down, if we lose focus on that grand feast, we will lose our spot. But God’s table will be filled that day. Just as the Jew could refuse to take his proper at the table, so can we. And just as the “vile” Gentile would take the place of the Jew who refused, so also will our spot be filled should we deem ourselves unfaithful. Jesus is showing the true blessing of eating at the banquet: there is room for all. The sad truth that goes with this teaching, though, is that the table feast can be refused.