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The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 23, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:9-14

18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading picks up from where we left off last Sunday. Jesus told a parable about a widow who cried for justice from an ungodly judge. He gave in and granted her justice only because he did not want to be beaten down (the Greek words used) by her wailing anymore. Jesus said how much more merciful God would be to those who cry out to Him:

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Of today’s parable, John MacArthur says:

There is no time indicator here. There is no transitional statement here so we don’t know exactly whether or not Jesus said this on the same occasion He was talking about the kingdom. Perhaps He did, perhaps He didn’t, but certainly in Luke’s inspired order of the text, this is the right discussion because we’ve just been talking about the kingdom and that Jesus is coming and you must be ready for His coming. And when He comes, there’s going to be separation and there’s going to be the death of the ungodly and carcasses are going to be everywhere. You want to be ready for the coming King. You want to be in His kingdom. And so that begs the question: How does one enter the kingdom? Who is in the kingdom and why? And so the parable fits in the flow of thought.

Regular readers of this column over the past few months will know that Jesus was in His final six months of public ministry. Luke 9 through Luke 19 documents His lessons to the disciples and to the Pharisees before He entered Jerusalem for the final time.

Jesus addressed this parable to the self-righteous who regarded others with contempt (verse 9).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

He designed it for the conviction of some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. They were such as had, 1. A great conceit of themselves, and of their own goodness; they thought themselves as holy as they needed to be, and holier than all their neighbours, and such as might serve for examples to them all. But that was not all; 2. They had a confidence in themselves before God, and not only had a high opinion of their own righteousness, but depended upon the merit of it, whenever they addressed God, as their plea: They trusted in themselves as being righteous; they thought they had made God their debtor, and might demand any thing from him; and, 3. They despised others, and looked upon them with contempt, as not worthy to be compared with them. Now Christ by this parable would show such their folly, and that thereby they shut themselves out from acceptance with God. This is called a parable, though there be nothing of similitude in it; but it is rather a description of the different temper and language of those that proudly justify themselves, and those that humbly condemn themselves; and their different standing before God. It is matter of fact every day.

MacArthur says:

… in particular who did He have in mind? Who were the real leaders of this religion in Israel of trusting in yourself that you were righteous? The Pharisees, the scribes. Go back to chapter 16 verse 14. The Pharisees…says Jesus…First of all it says Luke. “The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him and He said to them,” and here are the words of Jesus, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men. You make yourselves righteous in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”

MacArthur would agree with Henry about self-righteouness continuing to be a matter of fact every day:

… the people believed that trusting in yourself to become righteous was the way that you gained a place in the kingdom of God and the way you would eventually get to heaven. The benchmark of their system: self-confidence in one’s ability to achieve righteousness by their own power and works trusting in their own righteousness. These are the Pharisees for sure. These are the people who followed the Pharisees. But these are also all the people of all time who have developed any kind of self-styled approach to God in which they believe they have the power to live a life that satisfies God, that somehow they are good enough to be acceptable to God, into His kingdom, into His goodness and into His heaven. These are all the people in the religion of human achievement. Basically that’s how people think in the world

The Pharisees were sickeningly self-righteous, or as Walter Liefeld says, “They are obnoxiously self-righteous.” And that’s why you have a further description of them at the end of verse 9.  Not only did they trust in themselves that they were righteous, but they viewed others with contempt.  They viewed others with contempt.  Contempt is the worst scorn that you can heap on somebody.  In Luke 23:11 the only two times this word is used in the gospels, once here in 18 and once again in 23:11, Herod with his soldiers after treating Jesus with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Scorn, ridicule, mockery, sarcasm, the lowest form and the most biting form of derision; the Pharisees were that way.  They looked at anybody below them outside their group with contempt.  The word, I think, is interesting enough to kind of break down, exoutheneō.  It comes from two words, as do many Greek terms, many of the verbs combining a preposition at the beginning.  Ek, out of, ouden, not, not even; out of not even anything, the nobodies, the nothings, the non-existents.  They viewed them as if they didn’t exist.  By the way, that same word is used by Peter in Acts 4 when he preached a sermon, and he said this about Jesus, “He is the stone which the builders rejected.” That’s the same verb.  Jesus was treated as if He was nothing, absolutely nothing.  By the way, the word is also used in 1 Corinthians 1 where the Lord has chosen the base things and the despised. The nothings and the nobodies God has chosen.

So, there’s in this self-righteousness, in this pride, a contempt for anybody beneath you.  The Jews, the law keepers were called the habarim and the lawbreakers were called the amharitz, the low-lifes.  And in the eyes of the Pharisee, he couldn’t get near to anybody who was an amharitz.  That was an absolutely unthinkable thing for him to do.  Kenneth Bailey writes, “In the eyes of a strict Pharisee, the most obvious candidate for the classification of amharitz would be a tax collector.  But there was a particular kind of uncleanness that was contracted by sitting, riding, or even leaning against something unclean. This uncleanness was called midras uncleanness. And for Pharisees, he writes, “The clothes of an amharitz count as suffering midras uncleanness.”  They didn’t get near any of the low-lifes and the riff-raffs that they disdained. Remember I told you earlier, not even so much as to teach them the law of God.

And so here we have these two men.  And they are at extreme polesAnd they’re going to be the ones that convey the message Jesus wants to convey to the people who think they can be good enough to get to heaven on their own.  The audience is really universal, a comprehensive audience.

Jesus began the parable by saying that two men went up to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector (verse 10).

In old money, this parable was known as the one of the Pharisee and the publican. Publican in this context means tax collector, not someone who runs a pub.

Henry says that the custom of praying in the temple dated from the time of Solomon:

Two men went up into the temple (for the temple stood upon a hill) to pray. It was not the hour of public prayer, but they went thither to offer up their personal devotions, as was usual with good people at that time, when the temple was not only the place, but the medium of worship, and God had promised, in answer to Solomon’s request, that, whatever prayer was made in a right manner in or towards that house, it should therefore the rather be accepted.

MacArthur says an atonement sacrifice was offered twice a day, dating back to Leviticus:

What’s the scene here?  Two men went up to the temple to pray.  That happened twice a day, basically, every day, 9 A.M., 3 P.M., morning and evening sacrifice prescribed for the burnt offering which was laid out in the 1st chapter of Leviticus.  They were to go up and make an animal sacrifice, a blood sacrifice as a symbol of atonement.  That was a very, very important thing.  They were very, very fastidious people who made sure they showed up at 9 A.M. and at 3 P.M. every day, particularly Pharisees who were in the proximity and could do that.  Now the crowd would go up the steps at the prescribed time.  The sacrifices would be offered on the altar.  Following the sacrifices which would symbolically open the way to God because atonement had been made, incense would be burned symbolizing prayer.  Now because atonement has been made, prayers can be offered. And prayers would be offered.  There would come a priestly benediction upon the people who were faithful enough to be there as well, and that would be the typical scene.  When it says they went up to the temple to pray, “pray” would embody all the worship, all of the activities that went onThe temple, according to Matthew 21:13 by the mouth of Jesus Himself is a house of prayer.  Remember Jesus said, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer,” taking the language from Isaiah 56:7, “and you’ve turned it in to a den of thieves.”  A house of prayer: “Prayer” synonymous with worship, a house where you go to offer yourself and your petitions and your praise to God.  It was that time and the crowd ascended the long, steep steps up to the temple mount.  They went up, anabainō. They ascended up there to worship.  The two men are in the crowd and everybody would understand.  It’s a very familiar scene, every morning, every afternoon the same scene went on.

They’re going up there because an atonement is going to be made for sin.  Some are going up there feeling they need the benefits of that atonement.  Some are going up there to display themselves and they’re just looking for a crowd to gather for that purpose.  There would be a time when all of the people would gather around the altar as the sacrifice was being made, after which the incense being burned, people would then pray.  The Pharisee, very familiar to us, we don’t need to say any more about them, you know all there is to know: self-righteous, self-promoting, self-satisfied purveyors and protectors of the religion of human achievement.  Tax collector, also familiar; we’ve seen tax collectors already in four chapters. This is the fifth time.  We know they were the low-lifes of that society because they had purchased tax franchises from the Romans who were the idolaters, oppressors, thus desecrating themselves.  They then extorted money from their own people using strong-armed thugs and any intimidation, manipulation or criminal activity they could and were surrounded by the low-life, riff-raff of society.  So, they are shown going up together with the crowd, but they separate when they get there.

The Pharisee stood by himself, praying to God with an erroneous thanksgiving that he was not like other people he considered to be unclean and beneath himself: thieves, rogues, adulterers — ‘or even like this tax collector’ (verse 11).

Henry says:

Here is the Pharisee’s address to God (for a prayer I cannot call it) … he was wholly intent upon himself, had nothing in his eye but self, his own praise, and not God’s glory; or, standing in some conspicuous place, where he distinguished himself; or, setting himself with a great deal of state and formality, he prayed thus. 

MacArthur comes to the same conclusion:

Jesus even talks about in Matthew 6:5 standing in a posture of prayer but not doing it to be seen of men.  He says don’t be like the hypocrites who stand in order to be seen by men.  Well here’s one of those hypocrites.  Not wrong to stand but to stand to be seen by men. Again you go back to the issue of the heart.  Very likely he would take his place in a most visible location and nearest to the holy place that he could get to show his proximity to God.  He wants to be wherever God is believed or deemed to be, to give the unwashed around him a good look at a truly righteous man.  He takes his posture there.

The Pharisee said that he fasted twice a week and tithed a tenth of all his income (verse 12).

Henry offers this analysis:

The Pharisees and their disciples fasted twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Thus he glorified God with his body: yet that was not all; he gave tithes of all that he possessed, according to the law, and so glorified God with his worldly estate. Now all this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee: yet he was not accepted; and why was he not? (1.) His giving God thanks for this, though in itself a good thing, yet seems to be a mere formality. He does not say, By the grace of God I am what I am, as Paul did, but turns it off with a slight, God, I thank thee, which is intended but for a plausible introduction to a proud vainglorious ostentation of himself. (2.) He makes his boast of this, and dwells with delight upon this subject, as if all his business to the temple was to tell God Almighty how very good he was; and he is ready to say, with those hypocrites that we read of (Isa 58 3), Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? (3.) He trusted to it as a righteousness, and not only mentioned it, but pleaded it, as if hereby he had merited at the hands of God, and made him his debtor. (4.) Here is not one word of prayer in all he saith. He went up to the temple to pray, but forgot his errand, was so full of himself and his own goodness that he thought he had need of nothing, no, not of the favour and grace of God, which, it would seem, he did not think worth asking.

MacArthur says:

… the construction lends itself better to understand that he was actually directing his prayer in a self-congratulatory fashion. And that is fairly well indicated by the fact that in two verses he refers to himself five times. That’s pretty hard to do. You have to have short sentences and a lot of first person pronouns. This is a self-congratulatory prayer and the translation of the NAS is a good translation. “The Pharisee stood and was thus praying to himself.” He is parading himself. This is no prayer to God. He gives God no praise. He asks nothing from God, no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness, no help. But he does refer to God. “God,” because you’re supposed to, that’s the way all prayers are supposed to begin, “I thank you that I’m not like other people.” Wow. Well, what’s there to thank God for? You’ve done this on your own. This is sheer hypocrisy. This is an unequivocal confession to God of his worthiness, of his righteousness. Thanking God for what you are on your own? This is where self-righteousness leads you. I’m good enough. God, I thank You that I’m good enough. I’m good enough to have a relationship with You. I’m good enough to be here in Your temple. I’m good enough to be standing by this holy place. I’m good enough to be the paragon of religious righteousness and virtue. I’m good enough to stand here so all the low-lifes can see what a really godly man looks like.

MacArthur says that when the prayers began, the notionally unclean were separated and ushered out of the temple:

And he must have kept himself a little bit of distance away.  If he were to brush against any amharitz, he would be unclean.  And physical isolation for a Pharisee was a statement.  They stood aloof from others when they gather around the altar, they stood aloof from others at all time in society, they never had a dinner or a lunch at their house with anybody but another Pharisee, unless they invited somebody in which to trap Jesus.  According to the Mishnah, by the way, the Jewish law, at the time of the incense, after the sacrifice in the morning and evening service, prayers were made. And when the prayers began, according to Mishnah, there was a delegation of Jews that was responsible at the time of the beginning of the prayer, of the praying, to find the unclean people in the crowd and clear them away to the eastern gate, get all the unclean people out.  And maybe a Pharisee like this would wonder why there was even a tax collector in his vision who should have been ushered off and out the eastern gate.

MacArthur also has more on the Monday and Thursday fasting of that era:

Verse 12: “I fast twice a week.”  Impressive, huh?  By the way, the Old Testament only prescribed one fast, Day of Atonement, preparation for the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:31 called for a fast.  There are no other required fasts.  There were times of sorrow, times of penitence, times of mourning when people fasted and that was something you could choose to do.  But there was only one prescribed fast.  But as I said, these self-styled, self-righteous, external legalists like to invent rituals and ceremonies as all false religions do.  And they get more complicated and more complicated and more complicated and more symbolic and more symbolic in direct proportion to the absence of truth and reality.  And so they had developed a scheme of fasting on Monday and Thursday, Monday and Thursday.  Why Monday and Thursday?  Because those were the market days and the crowds were bigger, so you could go into the big crowd and throw a bunch of ashes on your head and look sad, and fast, spiritual impression would be made.  And why Monday and Thursday?  Some other writers say, well because it was a Monday, according to some rabbi, that Moses went up to Sinai and forty days later he came down on a Thursday. So Monday and Thursday.  Some other rabbi offers this explanation, “Because Monday and Thursday are equal distant from the Sabbath while being as far from each other as possible.”

Jesus condemned showy fasting:

Jesus condemned that, remember, in the 6th chapter in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Don’t fast like the hypocrites fast, in the public streets and in the corners, calling attention to yourself.” It’s talking exactly about this. People putting on external spiritual displays by ritualistic, ceremonial behavior by the clothing they wear, the garb, the way they dress as if this is the mark of real holiness.

The Pharisee’s tithes were in addition to the Old Testament tithes, something they invented, therefore, man-made:

Further he says, “I pay tithes of all that I get.”  Sounds like a good Baptist, but not really.  I pay tithes of all that I get.  The Old Testament laid down prescription for tithing, 10 percent of what you get goes to fund the national theocratic government, 10 percent goes to fund the national festivals and feasts on high holy days, and 10 percent every third year for the poor.  So it was three and a third a year, so about a 23 and a third percent tax, that’s what funded the theocratic kingdom of Israel.  Now that’s all the Lord required.  Then there was a half-shekel temple tax and that was it.  But again, they wanted to invent laws to appear righteous, so in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, I think it is, it says that they tithe of mint and anise and cumin.  Those are tiny little spices.  They tithed the tiny little seeds and leaves of the spices as a way to demonstrate their virtue, their holiness, their law-keeping.  They went beyond the law.

MacArthur gives us an actual prayer from the Pharisees’ era:

A Pharisaic prayer dating from about the time of Jesus goes like this, “I thank Thee, Jehovah, my God, that Thou hast assigned my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit in the street corners. I rise early and they rise early. I rise early to study the words of the Torah and they rise early to attend to things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves. I weary myself and gain thereby while they weary themselves without gaining anything. I run and they run. I run toward the life of the age to come. And they run toward the pit of destruction.” That was self-righteousness in the Pharisaic mind.

Jesus said (verse 13) that the tax collector stood far off, would not look upward to heaven, but instead beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Henry discusses the tax collectors stance and gesture:

He expressed his repentance and humility in what he did; and his gesture, when he addressed himself to his devotions, was expressive of great seriousness and humility, and the proper clothing of a broken, penitent, and obedient heart. (1.) He stood afar off. The Pharisee stood, but crowded up as high as he could, to the upper end of the court; the publican kept at a distance under a sense of his unworthiness to draw near to God, and perhaps for fear of offending the Pharisee, whom he observed to look scornfully upon him, and of disturbing his devotions. Hereby he owned that God might justly behold him afar off, and send him into a state of eternal distance from him, and that it was a great favour that God was pleased to admit him thus nigh. (2.) He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, much less his hands, as was usual in prayer. He did lift up his heart to God in the heavens, in holy desires, but, through prevailing shame and humiliation, he did not lift up his eyes in holy confidence and courage. His iniquities are gone over his head, as a heavy burden, so that he is not able to look up, Ps 40 12. The dejection of his looks is an indication of the dejection of his mind at the thought of sin. (3.) He smote upon his breast, in a holy indignation at himself for sin: “Thus would I smite this wicked heart of mine, the poisoned fountain out of which flow all the streams of sin, if I could come at it.” The sinner’s heart first smites him in a penitent rebuke, 2 Sam 24 10. David’s heart smote him. Sinner, what hast thou done? And then he smites his heart with penitent remorse: O wretched man that I am? Ephraim is said to smite upon his thigh, Jer 31 19. Great mourners are represented tabouring upon their breasts, Nah 2 7.

Henry analyses the publican’s prayer:

His prayer was short. Fear and shame hindered him from saying much; sighs and groans swallowed up his words; but what he said was to the purpose: God, be merciful to me a sinner. And blessed be God that we have this prayer upon record as an answered prayer, and that we are sure that he who prayed it went to his house justified; and so shall we, if we pray it, as he did, through Jesus Christ: “God, be merciful to me a sinner; the God of infinite mercy be merciful to me, for, if he be not, I am for ever undone, for ever miserable. God be merciful to me, for I have been cruel to myself.” (1.) He owns himself a sinner by nature, by practice, guilty before God. Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? The Pharisee denies himself to be a sinner; none of his neighbours can charge him, and he sees no reason to charge himself, with any thing amiss; he is clean, he is pure from sin. But the publican gives himself no other character than that of a sinner, a convicted criminal at God’s bar. (2.) He has no dependence but upon the mercy of God, that, and that only, he relies upon. The Pharisee had insisted upon the merit of his fastings and tithes; but the poor publican disclaims all thought of merit, and flies to mercy as his city of refuge, and takes hold of the horn of that altar. “Justice condemns me; nothing will save me but mercy, mercy.” (3.) He earnestly prays for the benefit of that mercy: O God, be merciful, be propitious, to me; forgive my sins; be reconciled to me; take me into thy favour; receive me graciously; love me freely.” He comes as a beggar for an alms, when he is ready to perish for hunger. Probably he repeated this prayer with renewed affections, and perhaps said more to the same purport, made a particular confession of his sins, and mentioned the particular mercies he wanted, and waited upon God for; but still this was the burden of the song: God, be merciful to me a sinner.

MacArthur reminds us that the heart is the centre of evil:

An old Jewish commentary says, and I quote, “Why do the righteous beat on their heart as though to say all is there?  The righteous beat their heart because the heart is the source of all evil longing.”

This is a recognition of what our Lord taught, that it’s out of the heart that all evil comes You remember the words of our Lord Jesus, Mark 7:21 and Matthew 15:19, parallel passages.  Let me read you Matthew 15:19 and 20, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.”  He understands. This is a man who understands his own sinfulness. His location demonstrates it, his posture demonstrates it. His behavior demonstrates it.  He knows what’s in his heart.  He knows that what Jeremiah said is true, that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  He is anguished over his guilt.  He is broken over his shame, his unworthiness.  He is crushed and humbled.  And it comes out in everything about him and even in his words.  He says, “God,” and he is truly talking to God. That’s not just doing what is expected, he is talking to God. “Be merciful to me, the sinner.”  Those are the words of a true penitent.  Start with the sinner, not a sinner; toh hamartōlō, definite article, the sinner.  Like Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, “For I am the chief of sinners.”  This is an unequivocal confession of his extreme and supreme sinfulness and there’s no comparing him with others. He is the worst sinner.  And that is a legitimate response because of all the sinners in the world he knows he knows himself to be the worst because no sinner knows so much about himself as the individual himself.  He knows about other sinners, but he knows his own heart better than he knows anybody else.  “Who knows the spirit of a man but the spirit of the man that is within him?” says the Scripture.  He is the worst sinner in the world, as far as his personal knowledge is concerned.

MacArthur says that the Pharisee thought he himself was a sinner but that, unlike the publican, he had more right to be forgiven. As such, the Pharisee thought God would overlook his sins:

The Pharisee had faith in God. He believed in God. He believed in the true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He believed in the God who was the Savior God. He believed in the sacrificial system. He believed in atonement for sin. He believed in God’s forgiveness.

You say, “You mean he really did believe in God’s forgiveness?” Sure. A Pharisee didn’t believe that he never committed any sin ever in his entire life. He just believed that he had earned the right to be forgiven.

MacArthur cites a modern day example of this type of belief, that of the Mormons:

When I was meeting with some of the leaders of the Mormon church, we were having a conversation, one of the stunning statements they made to me and they wanted to affirm it again and again, is we believe salvation is all of grace, all of grace. And I said, “Okay, well then if I want to be sure to go to heaven, what do I need to do?” And they said, “Well, first of all you have to be baptized in this Mormon ritual, and then you have to join the Mormon church, and then you would have to adhere to…” and they started down this list.

I said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t sound like grace. That sounds like works.” And as I pressed the issue, it came around to this: Isn’t God gracious that He allows us to earn our salvation? … That’s the way religious people think. It isn’t that the world is full of people who don’t think they’ve ever done anything wrong. It’s just that they think they have not done as much wrong as they have done right. And so they’ve tipped the scales in their favor and God is going to forgive the stuff that they’ve done because they’ve earned it.

MacArthur discusses the publican’s prayer for God’s mercy in light of the atonement sacrifice:

The defining distinction here is that the first man has nothing for which to what?  Repent.  He’s like the rich young ruler. He says, “I’ve kept everything since my youth.  I can’t find anything I need to confess or repent of.”  That is the issue.  There is no possibility of salvation apart from this kind of repentance because this is the defining element.

Now notice what he says.  “Be merciful to me.”  The Greek is, very important phrase, hilaskomai, hilaskomai. Hileos tati is not to show mercy. That’s a different word.  If you go down to verse 38, Jesus meets a blind man in verse 38 of this chapter, and the blind man calls out and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” That is a true translation of eleēson me, different word, from the verb eleeō, which means to show mercy.  That’s exactly what that means, to show mercy.  Hilaskoimoi comes from the Greek verb hilaskomai, which means to propitiate, to appease, to make propitiation, to make satisfaction.  And every word attached to that verb root, hilas, whether it’s alasmos, halasterios, hilaos, they all have to do with the same idea.  This is what he said, “God, be propitious to me.  God, be appeased toward me.”

What is he saying?  He’s saying this, “God, please apply the atonement to me.”  He understood the theology of atonement.  He understood the wages of sin is death, the soul that sins it shall die.  He understood all the way back to the wonderful story of Abraham and Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice that would satisfy Himself and would satisfy His justice, a substitute.  He understood that the millions of animals that had been offered throughout all of Jewish history were symbolic of the fact that God could be appeased by a sacrifice, though none of those sacrifices ever gave the final appeasement to God. Otherwise they would have ceased.  He’s talking atonement language here.  This is not a general plea for mercy.  And this needs to be expressed clearly because sometimes when we present the gospel, all we want to do is say God loves you and has this wonderful purpose for your life and God wants you to have the joy and happiness and all of this and if you just ask Him, He’ll be merciful to you.

That’s not what he’s saying.  He is saying, “I am a wretched sinner.  I am unworthy to stand near you.  I am unworthy to look up toward you.  I am in profound agony and anguish over my wretchedness.  I need an atonement for my sins to be applied to me.”  That’s what he’s saying.  This is about sin and atonement.

This verb is only used two times in the New Testament, one here and the second use in Hebrews 2:17 where it says, concerning Jesus Christ, that He is a faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of His people, to make satisfaction, to satisfy the wrath of God, to satisfy the justice and holiness and vengeance of God.  And that’s what this man is crying for. Oh God, please apply the atonement to me, make atonement for me.  That very day a sacrifice had been made on that altar. He pleads that it would apply to him.  He understood the theology of substitution, imputation and atonement.  They knew that there would come one day a Son of David, a root out of Jesse, Isaiah 53, and He would bear our iniquities and He would die in our place.  That’s what Isaiah 53 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.  And by His sacrifice we have peace with God.  Please, oh God, please make the atonement apply to me.  May Your anger with me over.”  That’s the plea of a penitent sinner.  “Oh God, cease being justifiably, righteously angry with me.  May Your justice be satisfied through atonement.”

One historian says this, “One can almost smell the pungent incense, hear the loud clash of ceremonial cymbals, see the great cloud of dense smoke rising from the burnt offering.  And the tax collector is there, stands afar off, anxious not to be seen, sensing his unworthiness to stand with the participants.  In brokenness he longs to be a part of it all.  He yearns that he might stand with the righteous.  In deep remorse he pounds his chest and cries out with repentance and hope, ‘Oh God, let it be for me.  Make an atonement for me, a sinner.'”  There in the temple, this humble man aware of his own sin and unworthiness, with no merit of his own to commend him, longs that the great dramatic atonement sacrifice might be applied to him.”

Jesus ended the parable by saying ‘I tell you’ — making it most emphatic on His authority — that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee; those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted (verse 14).

MacArthur explains why Jesus began that ending the way He did:

Jesus says, “I tell you.” Why does He say that? Why begin like that? Because He knows He couldn’t get this anywhere else in Judaism. He can’t quote a rabbi. He speaks with absolute authority, “I tell you.” Here is sound soteriology from incarnate God. “I tell you, this man went down to his house…” That’s not what the rabbis tell you, that’s not what the scribes tell you, that’s not what you have heard. “I tell you, this man went down to his house having been made just,” having been made righteous, having been made acceptable. And speaks of a completed condition, the verb form, a state of having been declared righteous and that’s permanent.

MacArthur says that our Lord’s statement about instantaneous and permanent divine justification of the publican would have shocked the legalists listening to Him:

This would draw gasps from the legalists. Think of it, Jesus, God in human flesh, the holy one, the perfect sinless one says that in one moment an extreme sinner can be pronounced instantly righteous without any works, without any merit, without any worthiness, without any law-keeping, without any moral achievement, religious achievement, spiritual accomplishment or ritual. No time lapse, no penance, no works, no ceremony, no sacrament, no meritorious activity whatsoever, nothing to do, instant declaration of justification on the spot, permanent. Wow! How can that be? Because the only righteousness that God will accept is perfect righteousness and since you can’t earn it, He gives it as a gift to the penitent who put their trust in Him. That’s the gospel. All the sinner ever does is receive the gift, coming in penitent trust, pleading for atonement to be made to satisfy the wrath of God against his sin.

Here is the broken-hearted, self-confessed sinner, humble, unworthy, trusting only in God’s atonement, pleading that God would apply it to him, who is instantaneously made perfect before God, as perfect as God, for the righteousness of God is credited to him. He’s the one who enters the spiritual and will be in the earthly and will live forever in the eternal kingdom, rather than the other. The self-righteous pride of the Pharisee and everybody like him only intensifies the alienation. His soliloquy up there just solidified his self-confidence and he went down even more wretched than when he went up. Atonement is worthless to the self-righteous.

So the listening crowd who heard Jesus say this and anybody who reads it is forced to reassess how a person enters the kingdom of God. It’s not by human morality, goodness, or religion, but by repentance and conviction of sin and a plea for an atoning sacrifice.

MacArthur says this is the only time that Jesus ever spoke of justification:

The work of our Lord is not mentioned because it’s not yet occurred.  But what is clear is this, that righteousness and justification is a gift from God apart from works that is only made possible through the application of an atoning sacrifice.  We leave it to Paul after the cross to teach the rich meaning of the atonement of Jesus Christ being that one and only sacrifice that satisfies God.  But isn’t it interesting that the starting point for Paul, the starting point for the New Testament understanding of righteousness through atonement is traceable back to this story which Jesus told?

When I wrote the book The Gospel According to Jesus and I rewrote a later edition and a newer edition of it, I wanted to include in that the doctrine of justificationThis is the only place in the teaching of Jesus where you have this explicit instruction.  It is here that the foundations for the teaching of Paul are found.  Christ becomes that sacrifice and it’s His death who’s applied… it’s applied to all in the past and all sins.  However, know this, that there is no salvation on this side of the cross apart from recognizing Christ and His work on the cross, for there is no salvation in any other name.

MacArthur then discusses the second half of verse 14, a truth mentioned throughout the Bible:

The Lord ends this amazing story with what I’ll call the central axiom. The audience, the analogy, the answer, the central axiom in verse 14, this is a truism, a proverb, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” “Exalted” here is a synonym for salvation, a synonym for righteousness. It’s used in an Old Testament sense. In the Old Testament, only God is truly exalted and only God can exalt men. Men can’t exalt themselves successfully to His level. So this refers to spiritual salvation, reconciliation, righteousness, justification, being in the kingdom. All efforts to doing that on your own are going to leave you humiliated. Everyone who exalts himself — that is, tries to save himself or make himself righteous — shall be humbled in the severest sense of the word, crushed in eternal loss and punishment. The path of self-exaltation ends up in eternal judgment. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

On the other hand, all who humble themselves, confessing they cannot do anything to save themselves, will be lifted high into eternal glory. The damned think they’re good. The saved know they’re wicked. The damned believe the kingdom of God is for those worthy of it. The saved know the kingdom of God is for those who know they’re unworthy of it. The damned believe eternal life is earned. The saved know it’s a gift. The damned seek God’s commendation. The saved seek His forgiveness.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

18:3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

18:4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,

18:5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are nearing the end of our Lord’s lessons to His disciples and to the Jewish hierarchy, which began in Luke 9 and conclude in Luke 19.

The context for today’s reading is set in light of our Lord’s discourse in Luke 17 about His Second Coming.

This parable illustrates the need for perseverance and patience in God’s justice delivered through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples about the importance of praying always and not losing heart (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

When we are praying for strength against our spiritual enemies, our lusts and corruptions, which are our worst enemies, we must continue instant in prayer, must pray and not faint, for we shall not seek God’s face in vain. So we must likewise in our prayers for the deliverance of the people of God out of the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.

Jesus said that in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected the people (verse 2).

That means he was self-centred and corrupt.

John MacArthur says that this scenario would have been familiar to the disciples. The judge was a civil judge and not a religious one:

This is simply a city that Jesus fabricates in the story. But we can assume that since He’s talking to people in the land of Israel, it would be typical of a city in Israel. And what follows would be all too familiar to the people of Israel, for Israel, frankly, had much experience with widows and much experience with unjust judges. And here we meet such a judge, a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.

And while that seems a rather simple characterization, it is a very well chosen characterization because you find such references to people in literature from ancient times outside the Bible and this kind of description is used to describe the most wicked person, someone who has absolutely no reverence for God and no interest in people, no concerns regarding the law of God, the will of God and completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes.  This man is ultimately and finally wicked.  There is no way to penetrate this man’s wickedness either from the viewpoint of the law of God or from the viewpoint of the need of man.  He is not moved by reverence or worship and he is not moved by compassion or sympathy.  He has no interest in the first commandment, loving God; no interest in the second commandment, loving his neighbor.  He is the most wicked man …

Now the kind of court that a judge like this would be a part of would be a civil court.   In towns and villages, or in large cities, these civil courts were in a lot of locations.  Every little town had to have one and a place like Jerusalem would have many of these civil courts.  This is not a position of national responsibility in a religious court where they were interpreting the religious things, or the traditions, or the law of the Old Testament. This is a civil court, but nonetheless the judge would have a very serious responsibility before God to uphold the law of God and to uphold sympathy and compassion toward people.  Any judge in Israel would be very familiar with Old Testament instruction regarding being a judge.  Second Chronicles chapter 19, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah.  It says in verse 4, “Jehoshaphat lived in Jerusalem, went out again among the people from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.  And he appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city.  And he said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.’  “Now then,” verse 7, 2 Chronicles 19:7, “let the fear of the Lord be upon you.  Be very careful what you do for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or injustice, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”

Everyone who was ever appointed to any judicial responsibility in Israel would know that passage very, very well.  But even in the Old Testament, in spite of the clear instruction of God, judges were corrupt.  Amos the prophet, chapter 5 verse 10, “They hate him who reproves him in the gate.  They abhor him who speaks with integrity.  Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, you will not live in them.  You have planted pleasant vineyards; you will not drink their wine, for I know your transgressions are many, your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.”  The gate is normally where the civil law was adjudicated.  These judges that Amos mentions are corrupt and will know the judgment of God.

But this kind of judicial corruption was not limited just to the Old Testament. It was also true in the time of our Lord Jesus.  Alfred Edersheim, who has written the classic Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the great history of that period of time, describes the judges in Jerusalem as being so corrupt that the people changed their title.  They were known as dayyaney gezeroth. That was the term used to describe a judge and his responsibility to deal with the prohibitions of the law.  The people called them dayyaney gezeloth. They changed one letter in the Hebrew which turned the expression “a judge dealing with the law” to “a judge who is a robber.” “Robber judges” became their title because they were so corrupt.  They did just exactly what the Bible said not to do, what God said not to do.  They showed partiality.  They were unjust and they took bribes.  The Talmud said they were so perverted in some occasions that they would actually pervert justice for one meal, for one meal.  And so, when our Lord says this is an unrighteous judge, adikia, meaning no sense of justice, dishonest and corrupt. He is defining what everybody would know by the description in verse 2, that he didn’t fear God and he didn’t respect man.

Let me look at that word “respect” for just a moment in verse 2, Entrepōmi, interesting verb, it means to be put to shame, to be put to shame.  In other words, this man had no shame.  Now remember the Middle Eastern culture then and even now is a shame-honor culture.  You do what brings you honor at all cost, you avoid all things that produce shame, you avoid shame like the plague.  That was typically the way life was lived.  And so the way to understand that expression “did not respect man” would be to understand it this way: He is not ashamed before people, he has no shame. He cannot be put to shame.  In fact, if you were to study Middle Eastern translations of this verse in Middle Eastern language, New Testament Syriac and Arabic, they never translate it any other way over the centuries than “he was not ashamed before people.”  He had no shame. He could not be shamed no matter what he did.  Good social behavior in those cultures basically was encouraged by an appeal to shame. 

In that city, a widow repeatedly approached him appealing for justice against the person who wronged her (verse 3).

Widows, then and now, were — and are — often in a precarious position if they have no male to help them fight their cause.

Henry says:

Note, Poor widows have often many adversaries, who barbarously take advantage of their weak and helpless state to invade their rights, and defraud them of what little they have; and magistrates are particularly charged, not only not to do violence to the widow (Jer 21 3), but to judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow (Isa 1 17), to be their patrons and protectors; then they are as gods, for God is so, Ps 68 5.

MacArthur tells us that a court of law was a man’s domain and that women were largely ignored. The Old Testament states that God’s people were to protect widows:

“There was a widow in that city and she kept coming to him saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Someone has defrauded her.  In fact, someone has so seriously defrauded her that she is destitute.  Not only is she destitute by virtue of the fact that she keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming, which is our Lord’s way of pointing out that she really was in a situation where she had to have what was rightfully hers, but we know that her destitution goes beyond the financial, she apparently has no man in her life, no man in her family, not a brother, not a brother-in-law, not a father, not a son, not a cousin, not a nephew, not any man who could come to plead her case, because courts belonged to men. They did not belong to women, they belonged exclusively to men.  Men came to court. Women did not come to court.  The courts belonged to the men.  The only time a woman would come to court was when there was no man to plead her case.  This woman is alone. She represents the destitute, the powerless, the helpless, the deprived, the lowly, the unknown, the unloved, the uncared for, the desperate.  And it’s wonderful to use the illustration of a widow because her case is clear-cut, as far as the Old Testament goes, if not on a legal basis, purely on the basis of mercy that he should have done something to care for her.   Exodus 22 verses 22 to 24 talks about the responsibility to show mercy to a widow.  Deuteronomy 24 verses 17 and 18, Isaiah 1:16 and 17, and many other places, widows were to be cared for. Their needs were to be met.  This judge is utterly indifferent to her on a sympathetic side, on the side of compassion, but apparently she had the law on her side as well because she is asking for legal protection.  She has been defrauded.  Property, money which was life to her has been taken from her.

By the way, as a footnote, there are a number of interesting widows that Luke focuses on both in his gospel and in the book of Acts as well.  They were an important part of the ancient world.  Corrupt judges, there were plenty of them; and there were even more needy widows.

The judge refused to entertain her plea for justice but later said to himself that, though he did not fear God or respect man (verse 4), he would grant her justice so that she would not wear him out by continually bothering him (verse 5).

Henry says:

bad as he was, would not suffer him to send her to prison for an affront upon the court.

MacArthur gives us this analysis:

His wickedness is obviously toxic, it is compounded because he is in the role of a judge and he renders his judgments in regard both to the law of God and the needs of people and since he is not moved by either, he is, as Jesus characterizes him, an unrighteous judge.  The word “unrighteous” would mean dishonest, corrupt, unjust.  Not only is he this evil but he knows it and he’s comfortable with it.  In verse 4 he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect men.” This is not simply a definition of the man that has been placed upon him by those that know him, he agrees with it in full.  Here is the worst possible human being in a very, very important position of responsibility whose disregard for God and man has massive implications in regard to all the people who come into his court

Well consistent with his utter disdain for the commandments of God and any sense of justice and his utter disinterest in showing compassion to anyone, even a lowly widow, verse 4 says, “And for a while he was unwilling.”  He was just outright indifferent.  He is the worst kind of human being who is then the worst judge imaginable.  Just as the prodigal son was the worst possible profligate sinner and the older brother was the worst possible hypocrite.  Jesus is into painting these extreme pictures in his stories with just a minimum of language.  But if you can fill in the gaps, the people would understand that.  But it says in verse 4, “Though he for a while was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself…” Now we get a soliloquy like the soliloquy of the prodigal son who came to his senses and talked to himself. So this man speaks to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man.” He’s a self-confessed wretch, he holds nothing back.  He has no noble motive.  He is first to admit he has no noble motive whatsoever. 

The woman’s appeals would have been loud, characteristic of a Middle Eastern culture of powerless women:

But he says, in spite of that, verse 5, “Yet because this woman bothers me.” In the Greek, “She causes me trouble, she is irritating me.”  Every day she’s there.  Every day she’s pleading her case.  It’s becoming very troublesome.  I will give her legal protection “lest by continually coming…” “Continually” is eis telos, sometimes translated in the Bible “forever.”  She will come forever if I don’t get rid of her and “she will wear me out.”

He has no regard for God.  He has no regard for man.  But he has regard for himself.  He cares not for what pleases God.  He cares not for what pleases men.  But he cares a lot for what pleases him and this does not please him.  This is an irritating, troubling harangue that he hears out of this widow every single day that is intrusive and interruptive.  And by the way, I like that little phrase, “She will wear me out.”  But it’s a little more benign than the Greek.  The Greek is a verb hupopiazo, which means it’s a boxing term and it means to strike someone with a full blow in the eye She is punching me silly day after day after day. She is beating me up.  Some translations would be, “to blacken the face,” to indicate the severity and the strength of the blows.  She’s giving me a black eye, she’s beating me.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says, “I buffet my body, I punch my body with a fierce blow to beat it into submission.”  This woman is not just troublesome, this woman is painful.  This is more than I can stand and she’s going to do it eis telos, forever, if I don’t get rid of her.  So the powerful and impervious judge is defeated by the weak widow through her persistence.

Now you need to know something else, a little bit more about the Middle Eastern culture.  Women were really powerless.  I guess that’s a good way to say it.  They were powerless in the male-dominated culture; still largely true in Middle Eastern culture today.  But they were respected and they were honored.  And while they had no power, they did have honor and they could get away with things that men couldn’t get away with.  I was reading one Middle Eastern scholar who said, “A woman could scream and complain at the top of her voice relentlessly and get away with it because women are to be honored and respected.  And if a man did the same thing, he would lose his life.”  And so, even today sometimes you see pictures in the Arabic world of women who are pleading their case by screaming and yelling and this would be the crying day and night kind of relentless approach of this woman that is characterized hereThe crying day and night comes in the explanation in verse 7 So she’s driving this man to destruction in his own mind.  He’s got to get rid of her.  And so he rules in her favor.  Go back to verse 5, “I will give her legal protection.” That simply means I will vindicate her.  I will vindicate her.  It’s got the word dikēo in it, from which we get the word dikaiōs, righteousness, justice.  I will execute justice, righteousness on her behalf.  I will vindicate her.  I will avenge her.  I will do justice to her because I cannot tolerate her…her harangue any longer.  So that’s the story. That’s the illustration.

Jesus called on the disciples to take heed of what the unjust judge said (verse 6).

It is interesting that both commentators use the same expression about this parable.

Henry says:

This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed. Christ spoke it with this intent, to teach us that men ought always to pray and not to faint, v. 1.

MacArthur says:

What’s the intention of this story? Go back to verse 1. Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. So here we find that the key to the parable is hanging on the door. Before you even get inside to the parable, the key is out there. This is a parable designed by our Lord to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.

Then Jesus implied that if the corrupt judge showed justice — left unsaid — how much more will the righteous, all-merciful God grant justice to those who cry out to Him day and night, asking if He will delay helping them (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

This is a “much more than” kind of comparison, this is a “lesser and greater” kind of comparison.  This is extreme.  You have the most wicked, impervious, impenetrable, indifferent human being doing what is right for someone about whom he has no feeling or interest.  And if a judge who is like that will do what is right for someone for whom he has no affection, do you think God will not do what is right for those who are His eternal elect, who are loved by Him before the foundation of the world?  And who cry out to Him day and night pleading for His glory to come and for them to be glorified with Him?

The elect are represented by the widow.  We are, in a sense, helpless.  We are, in a sense, at the mercy of our judge.  But this judge is not like God.  This judge is the opposite of God.  He is as unlike God as you can get.  God always does what is right by His own law.  God is always compassionate, merciful, gracious, tender-hearted, and kind.  And God will do what He says He will do to bring about the glorious manifestation of His own children who are loved by Him from before the foundation of the world.  The wicked, unjust, unloving judge will do what is right. What will a righteous, loving, holy God do?

The answer: verse 7, “Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect?”  Literally, “Make the vindication,” make the vindication.  Again “the vindication” comes from that same verb, dikēo, which is related to the word group “justify.”  Will He not justify?  Will He not vindicate His elect, those whom He has chosen for salvation?  First Peter 2:23 says, “God is the one who judges righteously.”  Romans 12:19 says that, “God has said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’”  Revelation 19:2, “True and righteous are His judgments.”  He will do what He has promised for His elect because His Word is at stake and He’s faithful to His Word, He’s faithful to His law, because He’s merciful, because He’s compassionate, and because He loves those whom He has eternally chosen.

Henry refers to earnest prayer as wrestling with God, which is what Jacob did and was blessed afterwards with the name Israel. That passage from Genesis 32 is one of today’s First Readings:

And herein we must be very urgent; we must cry with earnestness: we must cry day and night, as those that believe prayer will be heard at last; we must wrestle with God, as those that know how to value the blessing, and will have no nay. God’s praying people are told to give him no rest, Isa 62 6, 7.

Jesus concluded by saying that, contrary to the corrupt judge, God will quickly grant justice to the faithful, however, on that day of the Second Coming, will the Son of Man — Jesus — find faith on Earth when He returns (verse 8)?

MacArthur says:

He closes with a question, verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  What does that mean?  Jesus is just pensively asking the question that when He does come, given that it’s going to be a long time, will there be anybody left persistent like this widow?  When He does come, and He will, will He find people praying for His return?  I kind of think that if He were to come now He would find a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians with very little interest in that.  Genuine Christianity never loses its grip on God, never loses its trust in Christ, never loses its hope.  But we get easily distracted, don’t we?  And the Lord is trying to nail this down in a practical way.  When He comes, will He find His people still crying day and night eagerly waiting for His return?  Will we love His appearing?  Will we be crying out “Maranatha”? First Corinthians 16:22, even come, Lord, come, Lord.  Or will it be like in Noah’s day with just a few, or Lot today with just a few?

We live in hope, beloved, we live in hope.  We…We are true Christians and we have been given a tremendous promise.  This is how it’s all going to end.  In the meantime we suffer and we’re rejected and persecuted and alienated and the gospel is resisted and Christ is dishonored and sometimes maybe we think it’s going on too long and too long.  We continue to pray and plead for the glory of Christ, the honor of Christ.  And when you live that way and pray that way and plead that way, it changes everything about your life.  How you view every part of your life.  Yes it’s been 2,000 [years]. But our hope burns shining bright, and our love for Christ is still true and pure and our confidence that He keeps His Word is fast and firm.  And so we pray persistently calling on Him to come, to glorify Himself, to vindicate Himself, to punish sinners, dethrone Satan, establish a righteous kingdom and peace on the earth, reign as King of kings and Lord of lords and create the eternal new heaven and the new earth. We say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” and it ought to be on our lips day after day after day, says our Lord.  Live in that kind of anticipation until He comes.  And watch how it changes your life.

Henry mentioned Jacob’s earnest faith and the blessing he received.

I wrote more about the background of Genesis 32 a few years ago in ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son and brothers in Genesis’.

After he sold his birthright to Jacob for a mass of pottage, Esau wanted to kill him.

In Genesis 32, Jacob prayed fervently in this appeal to God:

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Today’s alternate First Reading tells us of Jacob’s wrestling with God and obtaining an enduring blessing for prevailing — overcoming:

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

My follow-up post discussed God’s blessing to Jacob in his 12 sons, ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son relates to the lost tribes of Israel‘.

One day, Jesus will be seen by God’s people as the Messiah.

For now, we can meditate on the faith and perseverance that Jacob showed.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 25, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 16:19-31

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 is all about our Lord’s teachings in the final six months of His ministry.

We are in the latter part of those lessons.

Today’s post is another long one. It explores why people go to hell and the nature of hell.

Before exploring this parable in detail, please note that this Sunday’s readings, perhaps apart from the one from Jeremiah, all tie together in denouncing the love of riches and luxury.

Today’s parable was our Lord’s warning to the Pharisees about self-righteousness and the need for repentance.

John MacArthur says:

Hell is full of surprised people.  That’s really what this story is about — a man who was shocked to find himself in hell Equally shocking to those who listen to the story was the idea that the other man was in heaven.  This was contrary to all of their expectations.

MacArthur explains about the ancient Jewish tradition of believing in a type of prosperity religion. The Pharisees also subscribed to it. In short, the faithful were blessed with wealth while the poor and infirm were cursed:

This story is about a rich man.  He’s the main character.  He’s a religious man.  He would be understood in the context of this story, as Jesus is telling it, to be a man who had been blessed by God.  They had their own sort of prosperity religion in those days, and…and they saw the poor people as cursed and the rich people as blessed.  That’s the view of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel.  So this is a man who has been singularly blessed by God.  He is a man who lives life to the max, who enjoys the best that life can bring limitlessly, who surely expects to go to heaven but ends up in hell.  And then there is that other man, that despicable, poor man, who, by very evidence of his life is being cursed by God, who ends up when he dies in heaven.  That’s why you could call this story “The Great Reversal.”

And just exactly to whom is this story directed?  Well, it is directed, first of all, at the moment, at the time to the Pharisees again, verse 14“The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things, and He said to them.”  This section is a section of Jesus speaking to the Pharisees; 17:1, he turns to speak to His disciples.  So for the moment, this story is directed at the Pharisees, as have been a number of our Lord’s stories, including the amazing three stories He told in the 15th chapter about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the tale of two sons In fact, the Pharisees are the ones who have declared their loyalty to the law and the prophets, referred to in verse 16.  They had declared their adherence to and obedience to Moses and the prophets.  They were the religious leaders of Israel.  They were the ones who considered themselves blessed and, according to verse 14, they were lovers of money.  They had a convenient theology that accommodated their wealth prosperity view.  The more money you had, the more you were blessed by God.  Loving money, pursuing money, is like loving God and pursuing blessing.  That was their view.  The truth is, verse 15, “They were detestable in the sight of God,” because they did, in fact, love money and did not, in fact, obey Moses and the prophets.

So the story is directed at the Pharisees.  Their hero in the story is the rich man. He’s the symbol of a God-blessed life in Israel.  On the other hand, they would treat the poor man the same way the rich man did, for they were famous for disdaining outcasts And, by the way, the Pharisees also believed in life after death.  The Pharisees believed in judgment, and the Pharisees believed in heaven, and the Pharisees believed in hell.  And none of them expected that they would end up in hell

And so Jesus is really giving them another jolt.  He’s giving another shock to them in this story.  It is directed at those people who are false religionists.  But you have to understand that this kind of jolt and this kind of shock to their system and the system of anybody who comfortably thinks he or she is going to heaven because they are religious, when, in fact, they’re going to hell, is not an outrageous act.  It is, on the other hand, a very compassionate and a very merciful act.  Warning people of reality is the…the most compassionate, loving, gracious, kind thing that you can do.  Warning self-righteous, religious people that they’re going to end up unintentionally in hell is the most important thing we can do. And that’s exactly what Jesus did.  Hell is full of people who went there unintentionally, from their perspective.  The rich man no more expected to find himself in eternal torment than the Pharisees did when they arrived there.  They were among those who gained the world and lost their soul.

MacArthur discusses how Jesus constructed this story:

You have a poor man and a rich man.  The poor man then becomes rich; and the rich man becomes poor; and the poor man becomes richer than the rich man ever was; and the rich man becomes poorer than the poor man ever was.  You have a poor man on the outside of the house, and you have a rich man on the inside.  Then comes death, and you have a poor man on the inside and a rich man on the outside.  You have a poor man with no food, and a rich man with all the food he can possibly need; and then you have a poor man at the great heavenly banquet, and a rich man with absolutely nothing.  You have a poor man with needs and a rich man with no needs; and then you have a poor man with no needs, and a rich man with needs.  You have a poor man who desires everything.  You have a rich man who desires nothing. And then you have a rich man who will never have his desires fulfilled, and a poor man who has all his desires fulfilled.

You have a poor man who suffers and a rich man who is satisfied; and then you have a rich man who suffers, and a poor man who’s satisfied.  You have a poor man who’s tormented, and a rich man who’s happy; and then you have a poor man who’s happy, and a rich man who’s tormented.  You have a poor man who is humiliated, a rich man who’s honored.  Then you have a rich man who is humiliated, and a poor man who is honored.  You have a poor man who wants a crumb, a rich man who feasts; and then you have a poor man who’s at a feast, and a rich man who wants a drop of water.  You have a poor man who seeks help, a rich man who gives none.  Then you have a rich man who seeks help, and a poor man who gives none.  Then you have a poor man who is a nobody, a rich man who is well-known; and then you have a poor man who has a name, and a rich man who has none.  You have a poor man who has no dignity in death, not even a burial.  You have a rich man who has dignity in death.  Then you have a poor man who has dignity after death, and a rich man who has no dignity after death, not even a name.  You have a poor man with no hope, and a rich man with all hope.  Then you have a rich man with no hope, and a poor man who has hope realized.

Jesus began His parable by introducing the rich man as being someone who dressed in purple and fine linen and who dined sumptuously every day (verse 19).

Before I go further, this story is often referred to as ‘Dives and Lazarus’. ‘Dives’ is Latin for ‘rich’. It is not a name, only an adjective.

Matthew Henry points out that it is not a sin to have riches, but it is when those riches consume one’s life:

It is no sin to be rich, no sin to wear purple and fine linen, nor to keep a plentiful table, if a man’s estate will afford it. Not are we told that he got his estate by fraud, oppression, or extortion, no, nor that he was drunk, or made others drunk; but, [1.] Christ would hereby show that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, and pomp, and pleasure of this world, and yet lie and perish for ever under God’s wrath and curse. We cannot infer from men’s living great either that God loves them in giving them so much, or that they love God for giving them so much; happiness consists not in these things. [2.] That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury, and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world. This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments. [3.] That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it. It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us. [4.] That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul. The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.

MacArthur describes the man further:

“There was a rich man.”  How rich?  Extravagantly rich.  Luxuriously rich.  And by the way, again, I remind, he would be respected immediately He would be envied immediately, honored.  He would be viewed as blessed by God.  That’s why he was so rich.  In Israel, his business had been touched by God; and he would be a hero to the money-loving Pharisees.  So he would also be a man who would assume, and everybody would assume, that God had blessed his life; and…and that’s why he was as wealthy as he was.  So it wouldn’t be just the religious leaders who would think that.  Anybody would think that, even in general, even today, would look at him.  He’s a religious man.  He’s in Israel.  He’s a part of the society.  Look what God has done to bless his life.

How rich was he?  Well, “He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen.”  Imperfect tense, “habitually,” it means exactly that.  It is an imperfect verb that means this was his regular way of dressing.  He didn’t have a casual day, apparently. He just put it all on every day. And what did he wear?  It might not sound like a lot to us, but he dressed in purple and fine linen.  Now, let me tell you a little bit about this…this purple, first of all.  The outer garment that the people wore in those days if they were wealthy enough was made out of wool; and wool was, for the elite, fulled.  You’ve heard of fulled, F U L L E D, woolIt was placed into a basin, and then it was mingled with clay, and the process, a very time consuming, laborious, hands-on, manual labor to full that wool in clay, produced a kind of white that was almost blazing, brilliant, shining white.  Very expensive process done for the elite.  They had whiter clothes than everybody else, and it wasn’t because of their detergent.  It was because of this process the wool was put through.

And then if you wanted to really make it luxurious, you had it dyed with a Tyrian purple dye.  That’s from Tyre, which is on the north coast of Israel; and this dye came from a shellfish called a murex Obviously, you had to go get the shellfish, and then extract the dye, and it was the most expensive dye.  You remember Lydia in the book of Acts was a seller of this purple dye; and this dye was used to dye the robe purple, which was considered the highest degree of opulence This is the robe of royalty, the purple robe.

Underneath this robe was fine linen.  The normal tunic would be made of fine linen.  Probably a reference to the finest linen of the day, which is probably still the finest cotton in the day, and that’s Egyptian cotton Linen here referring to something made out of cotton.  Egyptian cotton was the most expensive and the best and the highest thread count, and you ladies know all about that So it signified…It signified that this is the finest clothing that somebody could wear, and he wore it every day.  He came out in splendor every day.

Not only was he dressed that way, but he was euphrain He was joyously living It means to be glad to enjoy oneself.  It is the verb used in Luke 12.  I think it’s verse 19, where it says, the…the man who built the bigger barn said, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”  So he lived a merry life He lived a joyous life.  He lived to the max.  He was the party guy, and it was a very luxurious, opulent kind of party.  It is described as splendor.  Actually an adverb; he lived splendidly; and, again, all the language is over the top here; and he lived like that every day.  I mean, for him, every day would be like the feast that the father in Luke 15 gave to the prodigal who came back Every day would be a killing of a fatted calf kind of event.

Extreme riches, extreme self-indulgence, lavish lifestyle, ostentatious display; he’s got it all.  He is the definition of what it means to be filthy rich, which is a term devised by poor people.

At the rich man’s gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores (verse 20).

Henry and MacArthur both say that, in Hebrew, Lazarus is Eleazar, which means, as Henry says:

the help of God, which they must fly to that are destitute of other helps. This poor man was reduced to the last extremity, as miserable, as to outward things, as you can lightly suppose a man to be in this world.

MacArthur says:

Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Elazar, or Eliazar.  It means “whom the Lord saved, whom the Lord helped.”  Very common name, by the way, in Israel, and a wonderful name for this man; because it tells us how he ended up in heaven.

Anyone familiar with Ohio might remember the Lazarus department stores, which eventually merged with Macy’s. As a child, I had trouble reconciling department stores with the men named Lazarus in the New Testament. It was only later that I found out Lazarus was the family name of the brothers who founded the department store chain.

This brings me to another point. Both men named Lazarus in the New Testament are canonised saints. This Lazarus is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The Lazarus here is not Mary and Martha’s brother from Bethany. The feast day of this Lazarus is June 21 and that of Lazarus of Bethany is December 17.

Henry describes Lazarus further:

(1.) His body was full of sores, like Job. To be sick and weak in body is a great affliction; but sores are more painful to the patient, and more loathsome to those about him.

(2.) He was forced to beg his bread, and to take up with such scraps as he could get at rich people’s doors. He was so sore and lame that he could not go himself, but was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid at the rich man’s gate. Note, Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand; those that have not themselves wherewithal to give to them should either bring them, or go for them, to those that have. Lazarus, in his distress, had nothing of his own to subsist on, no relation to go to, nor did the parish take care of him. It is an instance of the degeneracy of the Jewish church at this time that such a godly man as Lazarus was should be suffered to perish for want of necessary food.

MacArthur takes a less charitable view than Henry and says that Lazarus was practically tossed at the rich man’s gate:

… verse 20, “A certain poor man,” ptchos in the Greek, meaning extreme poverty Galatians 4:9, “beggarly, worthless,” could be translated pitiful Could be translated inferior.  It’s not just he had a little.  He had nothing.  Destitution.  This the absolute 180 extreme.  The man has nothing, and it says, he’s also laid his gate, the gate of the rich man, covered with sores, covered with sores.  This is to have ulcers, oozing, open lesions. This same word is used in the book of Revelation to describe the horrible judgment of God when the angel pours out the first bowl of wrath in the final judgment.  It becomes a loathsome and malignant sore, Revelation 16:2, on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.  Verse 11: “They blaspheme the God of Heaven because of their pain and their sores.”  It is an ugly kind of sore.  Where did the sores come from?  We don’t really have a diagnosis of that, but I can give you a pretty good guess; because, if you go back to the verse, it says, “The poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate.”  That’s not a good translation.  That sounds like come…somebody came and just kind of delicately laid him down.  That is not a delicate word.  That’s the word ball.  It means to throw, throw or throw down.

What happens here is you’ve got a man who is thrown down at the gate to the rich man’s house, which indicates that he probably was paralyzed, couldn’t move.  The sores may well have come from the inability of the man to move, as people who can’t move in a bed or can’t move in a wheelchair develop sores at all points of pressure.

Jesus said that Lazarus wanted only what fell from the rich man’s table — crumbs — yet only the dogs came to lick his sores (verse 21).

Henry points out how patient Lazarus was and how cold-hearted well-fed people are towards hunger:

He desired to be fed with the crumbs, v. 21. He did not look for a mess from off his table, though he ought to have had one, one of the best; but would be thankful for the crumbs from under the table, the broken meat which was the rich man’s leavings; nay, the leavings of his dogs. The poor use entreaties, and must be content with such as they can get. Now this is taken notice of to show, First, What was the distress, and what the disposition, of the poor man. He was poor, but he was poor in spirit, contentedly poor. He did not lie at the rich man’s gate complaining, and bawling, and making a noise, but silently and modestly desiring to be fed with the crumbs. This miserable man was a good man, and in favour with God. Note, It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God’s saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world, while wicked people prosper, and have abundance; see Ps 73 7, 10, 14. Here is a child of wrath and an heir of hell sitting in the house, faring sumptuously; and a child of love and an heir of heaven lying at the gate, perishing for hunger. And is men’s spiritual state to be judged of then by their outward condition? Secondly, What was the temper of the rich man towards him. We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing would be a great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there. Note, It is not enough not to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ, and way that they believe it, can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.

MacArthur explains how a goodly portion of bread ended up on the floor after a meal in that era:

Jaconias Jeremias writes…and he tells us about this. . .a very gifted historian, done a lot of great work around that time of the year…he says…that time of human history: “Guests at a meal used pieces of bread to clean their hands.”  Now, let me tell you what the…how the picture works.  In those days, you might have a little fruit and a little vegetable or whatever, but they ate with their hands.  There weren’t any knives and forks and all that.  So you basically ate with your hands as…as most of the world has done for most of its history; and, typically, you took bread — bread being a staple — and you dipped it in some kind of stew or thick soup or whatever; and you ate that way.  You ate the bread, like at the Last Supper, dipped in a sop, remember?

OK?  So that’s what you did.  Well, I mean it’s a little messy; and they didn’t have paper napkins; and I guess they could’ve used cloth if they had to; but they had a really good method for cleaning up the mess on their hands.  They used the bread that was a little more stale.  Now, there would be some bread on the table that was to be dipped.  Then there would be other bread that was to then be used to mop up your…your hands.  Now, the bread had the capability of absorbing the sop, and you ate it that way; and it also the capability of absorbing what was dripping all over your hands; and so they would use the bread to clean their hands and then throw it under the table.

The dogs who licked the poor man’s sores were not pets of the rich man. They were the scavengers — wild dogs — that roamed the streets then.

MacArthur says:

These dogs are always presented in the Bible as scavengers, mongrels, sort of semi-wild, not domesticated, ugly.  Was just the way it was in the world at that time.  They roamed the cities.  They roamed the periphery of the cities eating the garbage, and they came in, and in these open courtyards where meals would be held, they would clean up the bread that had been thrown there. And so the rich man has this big feast.  The people are eating, taking the bread they needed to, cleaning, throwing it under there.  The dogs were coming and eating it; and the poor man would’ve given anything if he could have moved himself under the table with the dogs, to get some of that dirty bread.  That’s how desperate this man was.

Dogs are always pictured as dirty.  Second Peter 2:22 says, “The dogs lick up their own vomit.” He wanted to get down there with the dogs and eat the dirty bread.  It reminds me of another man in the 15th chapter, the prodigal who wound up eating with what?  Pigs.  Such a humiliated situation.  So destitute.  He’s road kill, really.  He’s being treated as if he’s dead by the rich man. That’s how the Pharisees would treat him, too.

Then, one day, the poor man died and angels carried him off to rest with Abraham; the rich man also died and was buried (verse 22).

Note how Jesus framed that sentence. The poor man was lifted up to glory with Abraham, by angels, no less. The rich man ended up in the ground.

MacArthur says the Pharisees would have found that shocking:

The poor man died; and, immediately, he’s carried away by angels. That’s stunning. That is shocking. That is unthinkable; and then he is taken by the angels to the side of Abraham. The angels take his body from the licking mongrels and they take him and place him beside Abraham. First of all, the fact that angels are doing this is a jolt to the Pharisees who are hearing the story, because they view this man as cursed by God

So the shock is this man is in heaven. The next shock is he’s not just in heaven, he’s taken by the angels to heaven. The next shock is he’s not just taken by the angels to heaven, but he’s not on the periphery. He’s not at the back of the room or the back of the crowd looking over everybody’s head and between their heads to see who’s sitting up at the main table. He’s sitting next to Abraham. Wow. This is just way out there. A…a broadside on their theological assumptions.

Henry reminds us that death comes for the rich and the poor alike. Some rich people believe they are invincible.

This is why our late Queen nurtured her personal faith so carefully and why she took the time to evangelise in her Christmas messages — and, most importantly, in her two televised funeral services, seen by four million people around the globe just this past Monday, September 19, 2022:

Death is the common lot of rich and poor, godly and ungodly; there they meet together. One dieth in his full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul; but they shall lie down alike in the dust, Job 21 26. Death favours not either the rich man for his riches or the poor man for his poverty. Saints die, that they may bring their sorrows to an end, and may enter upon their joys. Sinners die, that they may go to give up their account. It concerns both rich and poor to prepare for death, for it waits for them both. Mors sceptra ligonibus æquat—Death blends the sceptre with the spade.

———æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas, Regumque turres. With equal pace, impartial fate Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.

Jesus purposely took some liberties with this parable as He said that, while being tormented, the rich man saw Abraham from a distance with Lazarus by his side (verse 23). That would not happen in reality.

MacArthur tells us:

Nobody in hell could see into heaven, because nobody in hell would ever know the heavenly experience. Nobody in hell is omniscient, so they wouldn’t be able to see in heaven, look around till they found Abraham. They wouldn’t know who Abraham was. Nobody in hell can have a conversation with somebody in heaven; but for the sake of the story, to make a point, because it does reveal the essence of the suffering in hell

MacArthur says we can be sure the man is in hell, as his translation uses the term Hades:

in the New Testament, Hades clearly refers to hell, with only one exception, and that is Acts chapter 2 verses 27 and 31, which is a quote from Psalm 16; and there it has a vague meaning of just the grave; but that’s because it’s quoting an Old Testament passage. Every other usage of the word Hades in the New Testament refers to the abode of the damned. It is never, in the New Testament, the abode of the redeemed, of believers. And so it is synonymous then with hell.

Some might ask about Gehenna.

MacArthur says:

Gehenna is a word referring to the Valley of Hinnom, the city dump that was burning all the time.  It became a metaphor for hell — the never, ever extinguished fire.  The fiery hell of Matthew 5:22 that Jesus spoke about.  The hell of Matthew 5:29 and Matthew 5:30, and there are many other references to it. 

The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham’, a reference that would not have been lost on the Pharisees, and he asked him to send Lazarus with a fingertip of water to cool his tongue, for he was in agony in the flames (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us something vital about hell:

One thing about hell, you get a fully active conscience. I’m not going to develop all that. You get a fully active conscience, so that the true wretchedness of who you are is completely dominant in your thinking. All that illusion about how good you are, all those illusions about your self-worth and…and your basic, innate goodness gone. There is a full realization of the sinner’s wretchedness in hell. A fully informed, acutely aware and sensitive conscience becomes the tormenter. He doesn’t say, “How did I end up here?” That question’s never asked in hell. He doesn’t say, “Did I really deserve this?” He doesn’t say, “Don’t you think this is a little extreme?” He doesn’t say any of that.

Note that the man still thought so little of Lazarus, as if he were the lowliest servant:

he looks in his own mind at the person he would consider to be the most wretched person who ever got into heaven, and he picks him, and it’s Lazarus. That’ll tell you that hell didn’t remediate him. He viewed Lazarus exactly the way he always did; and he also thought somebody that lowly ought to serve him. He never got heaven’s assessment of Lazarus, because people in hell don’t have heaven’s assessment of anything

He’s tortured.  The metaphor is thirst and water, but the point is relief.  He wouldn’t give Lazarus a crumb, but he wants Lazarus to give him a drip.  “Dip your finger in water, drip it on my tongue.”  Minimal.  Any tiny, small bit of relief dripping off the end of Lazarus’ finger.  He’s not asking for a barrel, not asking for a bucket.  He’s not asking for the heavenly pipeline to be extended to hell, so there’s a constant flow.  The souls of the damned know they’re doomed to suffer.  They know they are suffering justly.  All they ask for in the lips of this man are small moments of relief in this eternal, unending horror.  “I am in agony,” odunaō, to be in great pain.  “I am in great pain.”  Real water’s not going to sooth the eternally tortured soul.  That’s not the point.  The message is the desperation for just the smallest moment of relief.  This is consistent with the image of hell.

You read the New Testament, you read even the Old Testament, Isaiah 66:24 talks about the fires of hell.  You go through the New Testament … The gospels and the writers of the New Testament describe hell as a fiery place, and its fire is the fire of torture and tormentIt’s also described as darkness, outer darkness, like being lost in the most infinite corner of space under horrible torture and pain, a place of weeping, wailing, teeth-grinding agony.

… A fire that burns forever, but never purifies. A fire that burns forever in an everlasting darkness that only punishes.

Abraham replied, addressing him as ‘Child’ — some translations say ‘Son’ — and not in a good way. This is the way a parent addresses a poorly behaved child or a law enforcement officer addresses a criminal.

Abraham reminded the rich man that he received his reward with good things on earth, whereas Lazarus received evil things. In the afterlife, Lazarus was in comfort and the rich man in agony (verse 25).

Henry says that Abraham represents Christ in this parable:

Abraham in this description represents Christ, for to him all judgment is committed, and it is his mind that Abraham here speaks. Those that now slight Christ will shortly make their court to him, Lord, Lord …

He puts him in mind of what had been both his own condition and the condition of Lazarus, in their life-time: Son, remember; this is a cutting word. The memories of damned souls will be their tormentors, and conscience will then be awakened and stirred up to do its office, which here they would not suffer it to do. Nothing will bring more oil to the flames of hell than Son, remember.

Abraham went on to say that a great chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell and that no one in one place can reach the other (verse 26).

Still considering Lazarus to be the lowest of the low, the rich man asked Abraham to send him to his father’s house (verse 27), to his five brothers to warn them so that they do not end up in the same place of torment (verse 28).

Abraham denied that request, too, telling him that his brothers have Moses and the prophets: ‘they should listen to them’ (verse 29).

MacArthur gives us a brief set of Old Testament verses to illustrate that point:

Psalm 3:8, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”  Isaiah 43:3, “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  God says, “I am your Savior.  I am your only Savior.”  “Truly,” says Isaiah 45:15, “Truly Thou art a God who hides Himself.  Oh God of Israel, Savior.  Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”  God is the Savior.  “Turn to Me.  Turn to Me,” verse 22, “all ends of the earth and be saved.  I am God, and there is no other.  There is no other God besides Me, a righteous God, and a Savior.”  There’s none except Me.  This is total abandonment to God who alone is the Savior; no one else, and you give up everything.

Listen to Isaiah 55:6“Seek the Lord while He may be found.  Call upon Him while He’s near.  Let the wicked forsake His way, the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” It’s about forsaking everything and embracing the God who is the Savior.

Now, in conclusion, does that sound any different than the New Testament?  It’s not one bit different.  All those components are components of New Testament salvation.  The only difference is we’ve seen the reality of the coming King and Sacrifice. If they believed Moses and the prophets, that would’ve been enough.

The rich man went on with a third request, asking for a sign sent to his brothers — someone from the dead — who will cause them to repent (verse 30).

That request is very much in line with those from the Pharisees. They saw miracles but wanted to kill Jesus. They wanted Him to perform a sign just for them. Our Lord did not grant it.

Abraham replied to the request in the negative, saying that if the five brothers do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone rises from the dead (verse 31).

The man ended up in hell because he did not repent (verse 30).

MacArthur tells us how that man and his brothers could have found the way to repentance:

You must recognize your sinfulness, and the Old Testament commands that you repent. That is, you turn from your sin and turn toward God, realizing that God is gracious and offers grace to those who repent, that God is willing to forgive sin. He is a God of forgiveness by nature, who has no pleasure in the damnation of the wicked; and how do you appropriate that gift? Not by works, not by religious ceremony, but by faith. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness; and that God will justify you. That is, He will declare you righteous, not because you are righteous; but He will credit His righteousness to you, the great doctrine of justification. Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. It was his faith, even though he was unrighteous, that God accepted; and then gave Abraham, credited to his account, God’s own righteousness.

In closing, MacArthur discusses the differing notions of hell between our society and in the Bible:

it is critical for us to understand the literal reality of hell, and to accept the warning of Scripture. Hell has really disappeared from the vocabulary of many preachers.  Hell is denied by many in favor of universal salvation or everlasting nonexistence called soul sleep where people die and just go out of existence forever.  That’s a popular view among those who call themselves Christians.  Hell is denied by many.  It is preached by few, because it makes people uncomfortable.  That is true.  Hell has been reduced to a swear word, used by unbelievers not believers.  It has been reduced to a trivial verbal epithet that we sling around when wanting to express our anger.  Unbelievers flippantly and frequently tell people to go to hell. And while unbelievers don’t seem to have any hesitation to talk about hell and to verbally threaten people with it, at the same time the church is reluctant to warn people not to go to hell, supposedly out of love and compassion and concern and a desire to be acceptable.

So while unbelievers have the word “hell” on their lips frequently, believers have it on theirs rarely; and that is certainly what Satan would want.  Trivialize and make nothing but an epithet out of hell, words that you sling around that have no meaning, and silence the church about the truth of it. But it is the fearfulness of hell; it is the horror of hell that is exactly the point of its revelation.  The purpose of telling us about hell and describing it with such detail and so repeatedly in the Scripture is to produce in sinners fear, terror, and panicThat’s what it’s for.  It’s to contribute to the way in which they anticipate their eternity.  It is to frighten them, to horrify them so as to produce a terror of spending forever there that drives them in the direction of repentance and faith in the gospel.

Now, the leading preacher of hell of all people, the leading preacher of hell ever is the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus ChristThe most references to hell are in the four gospels and they come out of His mouth.  It is Jesus who teaches us about hell.  Clearly, the epistles are the…the ground in which we will find the clearest foundation for our understanding of hell.  Not just there.  The writer of Hebrews refers to it.  The apostle Peter refers to it.  The apostle John refers to it.  The apostle Paul refers to it.  Even Jude refers to it.  All the writers of the New Testament pick up on the issue of hell.

This punishment is defined by the word aiōnios, which is the word eternal or everlasting; and there are people who would like to redefine that word aiōnios and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean forever.”  But if you do that with hell, you’ve just done it with heaven, because the same word is used to describe that.  If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven; and I’ll go one beyond that.  The same word is used to describe God. And so, if there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, nor is there an everlasting God.

It is clear that God is eternal; and, therefore, that heaven is eternal, and so is hell.  This is what is on the heart of the Lord Jesus when He talks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, and tells them the story in Luke 16:19 to 31.  He makes it up as He did His parables.  He invents the story.  The only difference between this and any other parable is He has a name for one of the characters; and there’s a reason for that; but the story really has one purpose.  It is to warn of hell. It’s a story about a man who was surprised to end up in hell.

If you know someone who needs a discussion about hell, do not wait. It is essential in order for them to be saved. Teach them what Jesus says about hell. My prayers go with you in that effort.

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity is on August 28, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 14:1, 7-14

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;

14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This post is long; as last week’s explained how synagogues developed, this week’s discusses how the Pharisees came to be so powerful.

We are in the middle of Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teaching the disciples and others with whom He came in contact. These lessons began in Luke 9 and extend to Luke 19. We are in the last six months of His ministry.

Luke 14 begins with an account of Jesus going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath; He was being watched closely (verse 1).

The King James Version and other translations say ‘eat bread’ rather than ‘eat a meal’.

John MacArthur explains:

It says “to eat bread” and the reason they ate bread on the Sabbath is because you couldn’t cook anything and so the bread would have to be made the day before Couldn’t do any work on the Sabbath.  That meant you couldn’t cook anything and they would probably have something you could dip the bread in and it was pretty much what the meal was all about.

Even today, some devout Jews ensure that cooking, normally a stew that can stay warm, is done before the sabbath. Some Jews employ a shabbos goy, a Gentile who serves them and takes care of basic needs on the Sabbath, like turning on the lights when it gets dark. It is said that this custom is falling out of use, thanks to electronic timers. A number of famous men were shabbos goys, including Harry S Truman and Barack Obama.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Pharisee did not have good intentions in inviting Jesus to his home:

The Pharisee that invited him, it should seem, did it with a design to pick some quarrel with him; if it were so, Christ knew it, and yet went, for he knew himself a match for the most subtle of them, and knew how to order his steps with an eye to his observers. Those that are watched had need to be wary. It is, as Dr. Hammond observes, contrary to all laws of hospitality to seek advantage against one that you invited to be your guest, for such a one you have taken under your protection. These lawyers and Pharisees, like the fowler that lies in wait to ensnare the birds, held their peace, and acted very silently.

In last week’s reading from Luke 13, Jesus healed the bent over woman in the synagogue on the sabbath, so they knew He performed miracles which they considered to be work. Jesus rightly accused His critics of hypocrisy and turned their man-made rules on them, saying that they had no problem untying their ox or donkey on the sabbath to give them water.

Our Lord’s opponents were put to shame as the congregation rejoiced at His healing the woman, who had been suffering for 18 years from an evil spirit that caused her to be bent over.

MacArthur recaps the end of Luke 13, which provides further context for today’s reading:

He is moving, although not in a direct line, from town and village around the area of Judea, ultimately headed to that final Passover in Jerusalem …

Chapter 13 ends with a judgment pronunciation Verse 34, Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I wanted to gather your children together just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you would not have it.  Behold your house is left to you, desolate.  And I say to you, you shall not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  It’s over for you, He says.  I tried to gather you often.  You would not. You are the city that kills the prophets, stones the messengers of God and, of course, they would kill Him as well.

Regular readers of these exegeses and Forbidden Bible Verses know how spiritually blind the Jewish leaders were and how determined they were to kill Jesus.

MacArthur explains how the Pharisees came to be so powerful and why most Jews obeyed them:

They were, of course, sinful and they loved their sin.  And they were in darkness and they chose their darkness, but they were confirmed in this condition by their religion, which made the bondage so strong And the ones who wrapped them in this bondage were none other than their religious leaders.  The Bible warns from front to back about false teachers and the deadly, eternally destructive impact they have on people.  Satan, himself, is disguised as an angel of light, purveying false religion in order to capture men’s souls.  All his messengers are angels of light says the Bible.  They come offering light; they bring only darkness and death.

Hosea put it this way, “Like people, like priest.”  People are like their leaders The Jews had rejected the Messiah.  They had rejected their Lord, their Redeemer, their Savior, the Son of God and consequently they forfeited salvation and they forfeited an entrance into the kingdom of heaven and they forfeited eternal life, missing forever what they had for centuries waited for.  Now how did they get so deep into a religious system that they could come to the conclusion that their very Messiah, Redeemer and the Son of God was an agent of Satan meant to distract them away from the truth and thus they needed to eliminate Him?

How could they be so wrong?  The answer is they were led astray by their trusted leaders, who had wrapped them up in the chains of a system of religion that doomed them to hell.  And who were these leaders?  Well, they’re Pharisees … 

They were good.  They were moral.  They were fastidious about God’s law.  They were religious, extremely religious, extremely moral, extremely on the outside righteous The people were sure they were the favorites of God and knew the way to heaven This is very informational historically, but it’s much more than that.  It’s very applicational in terms of our world today because the assumption today is that it’s the good people who can be sure they’re going to heaven You hear this all the time.  The good people are going to go to heaven, particularly the good religious people.  I mean, if you’re good you’ll probably get there, but if you’re good and religious you’re a shoe-in

These people were well intentioned. They were driven by their religious beliefs.  And the Son of God came into conflict with them.  They were the fastidious architects of popular Judaism, which dominated the thinking of the people at the time of Jesus and before and after.  And when Jesus came and told them that the system was not of God and that it would not usher them into the kingdom of God, he became their archenemy.  The truth of the matter is that those religious leaders, as zealous as they were, as passionate, as loyal to their system as they were, as careful as they were, were driving people away from the kingdom of God

… You have to understand this was a very, very compelling system Let me give you a little background.  Pharisees were devout.  They were religious.  If you saw one in the street, you hailed him.  They loved to be called father and teacher and rabbi and master.  And they cultivated that.  They cultivated it everywhere they went.  They expected people to revere them and honor them And they were easily identifiable, for they enlarged all the apparatus that they wore, whether it was the phylacteries on their arms or their heads or the tassels on their garments, they were clearly Pharisees and when people came across a Pharisee, they were expected to revere them.

And when there was an occasion to have a meal, they wanted the top seats.  They put themselves in places of prominence and demanded that people recognize their devotion and their extreme righteousness They are a classic illustration of how damning the most serious kind of religion can be, even Judaism.  And they illustrate for us why our Lord Jesus turned from Israel to the Gentiles

The Pharisees might have had good intentions in mind centuries before, as they championed a religious revival in opposition to paganism from the Greeks and then the Romans. However, they became too powerful in all the wrong ways:

As Greek and Roman culture began to seep into the land of Israel, they became concerned that the people were buying into these idolatrous fashions, these pagan superstitions, these ideas, these philosophies that were very seductive.  And so at a time in the history of Judaism when the Jews were being most influenced by the Greeks, first of all, and then by the Romans, the Pharisees began to collect themselves.  The term simply means separatists.

They were separatists. They wanted to separate from the culture, the world that was encroaching upon them and pull back into the purity of Judaism They became especially prominent in the period between the Old and the New Testament around 160 B.C. that we know as Maccabean Period This was at a time when the Greeks were dominating the land and Greek culture and Greek immorality and Greek thought and Greek religion was seeping in.  It was at that time that this movement began.  They were really a return to the…to the Old Testament.  It was a back to the Bible movement.  It was a fundamentalist movement.  It was a restoration movement.  It was a recovery.  Perhaps the two most notable of them would be Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai Both lived in the decades just prior to ChristThey had a great influence.

So that their particular legacy shows up in some of the discussions and debates that Jesus has. And when He’s debating with some of these Pharisees, He knows that some of them are Hillelites and some of them are Shammaiites because of how they view the Old Testament These men had an immense effect.  So you have it about 160 B.C. right through the time of Christ.  These two rabbis being the dominant ones and their influence continued in two schools of thought that lasted for a couple of centuries after Christ.  But during the time of Jesus, these Pharisees were the recognized leaders of religion among the people.  They were a middle class movement, and they were laymen.

Whereas the Sadducees ran the temple in Jerusalem, the Pharisees ensured they were among the people in local synagogues:

They were not those that ran the temple, the Sadducees.  They were the religious liberals They were the elite They were the ones who denied angels, denied the resurrection, denied the spiritual realm And so they had cut themselves off.  They…the Sadducees were the religious elite, they compromised with Rome They were the politicians.  They went to bed with the Romans which caused them to be disrespected by the people And they basically ran the temple operation, the ritual, the sacrifices, the great festivals that occurred there, but the Pharisees were a grass-roots movement They were a middle class movement.  They were lay people, they were not priests, and they had a strategy.  If we want to bring the people back to the word of God, if we want to bring the people back to the law of God, if we want to separate from the world, the only way to do it is to have influence at every local point.

And they did.  They basically dominated the synagogues.  There’s one temple in Jerusalem The Sadducees oversee that That’s ritual and ceremony, but in every city and village and town all throughout the land of Israel, there were synagogues.  There were synagogues and in every community and neighborhood there was a synagogue, synagogues, a gathering place.  They were born really out of the Babylonian captivity when they didn’t have a temple and they gathered and when they came back to the land, they still had that idea of gathering together in smaller groups.  And so the Pharisees began to take over at the local level and to communicate their teachings at that level in every community Some of them rose to very prominent positions and became members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel

This is how they influenced the ordinary Jew of the day:

As Jewish society had moved toward worldliness and secularism and paganism and materialism and idolatry, these were the fighting fundamentalists who called the people to be faithful to Scripture and in order to help them be faithful to Scripture, they created all kinds of additional laws and rules and regulations to put big fences and insulation around them In other words, worrying that you might break a law that God gave, they made five other laws so you couldn’t even get close to breaking that law.

But everything they taught centered on their revering the law of God.  Synagogues, as I said, really invented religious education on a local level.  They took Judaism to the people and the people bought it They were the influencers of Judaism at the time of the Lord.  They took Judaism out of the hands of the priests, who were just the ritualists in one sense.  Although the scattered priests certainly did function in the synagogue, the Pharisees were the dominant force.  They made the law accessible to the people.  You know, they did in a sense what the Reformation did They moved…They moved the religion from being sacerdotal, sacramental, ritual, and ceremony into the hands of the people.

They took the Scriptures to the people and taught and explained it.  And they were against any corrupted form for Judaism such as Sadducees, and Zealots and even the Essenes Summing it up, they were characterized by strong doctrine; strong doctrine.  When they engaged in questions with Jesus, they were questions about doctrine Which is the greatest commandment?  Their questions were doctrinal questions.  In fact, they were so committed to the teaching of the law of God and its doctrine, that in Matthew 23, where Jesus denounces them, He begins by saying, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.”

They’ve taken the posture, the authoritative posture regarding the law; they are strong on the law. Therefore all they tell you, do and observe.  When they tell you what Moses said, when they tell you the law of Moses, you observe it You do it.  Their doctrine was strong and Jesus’ theology was closer to theirs than anybody else’s Not only were they strong in doctrine, but committed to scriptural authority They didn’t equivocate on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  In fact, every time a synagogue meeting occurred, somebody read the word of God.  It was taken out, it was unrolled, it was handed to someone, it was read and then the teacher sat down, the rabbi sat down, and explained it.  That’s what they did.  It was about the authority of the word of God.  They were also committed to moral living.  Strong doctrine, scriptural authority and moral living; they had a righteousness They had a level of morality Paul says according to his own life measuring it against the law of God, he was blameless, at least externally.

… They prayed, they prayed daily, they prayed routinely through the day many times They were engaged in evangelism: According to Matthew 23:15, they went across land and across sea to find one convert. In the end they made him more a son of hell than themselves But they were aggressive in evangelism.  They were fasting as the one in Luke 18 claimsThey were charitable That same Pharisee said he gives a tithe of everything he possesses away So here you have the good people; the good religious people; the good, religious people worshiping the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the creator God of Israel They are rejecting paganism They are rejecting superstition.  They are rejecting false religion, immorality.  They’re strong on the family They are the guardians of the faith They see themselves as the protectors of the truth. 

And this gets very visceral I mean this gets right down into your soul.  When you see yourself as a protector of the truth and along comes someone assaulting what you think is the truth That’s why, like the apostle Paul, you go out and you catch these Christians who you think are assaulting your truth and you throw them in prison and you kill them if need be to protect the honor of God and the law of God and the true religion.

A few Pharisees believed Jesus was the Messiah, men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but most despised Jesus because He was pouring ice cold water on all their strongly held rules and beliefs. They were false teachers, and Jesus called them out as such:

For the most part, they despised Jesus.  Back in chapter 11 of Luke and verse 53, when He left there the scribes and the Pharisees — scribes again are their scholars who undermine their system — the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects plotting against Him, to catch Him in something He might say.  They were hostile, they were hateful, and they were after Him.  Jesus called them blind, Matthew 23He called them snakes He called them sons of hell and He calls them hypocrites But they were religious and devout and zealous and moral and studious and serious and vigilant and protecting Scripture They were charitable.  They were righteous.  All those things; and it meant absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing.

As for the Pharisee who hosted the sabbath meal, we know nothing more, but MacArthur gives us a few possibilities:

The word “leader” or “ruler” means a prominent Pharisee, maybe the ruler of a synagogue maybe even more prominent than that, higher than that, maybe a member of the Sanhedrin, we don’t know.  But they loved to have meals.  They loved to have dinners and that was a part of life in the ancient Near East and they did it all the time and they were times of hospitality and times of fellowship and of course, for these guys it was a time for them to get with their cronies and to re-enforce and reaffirm themselves in the eyes of the people So they would only invite those people that would elevate them.  So this would be a meeting of the rich and the elite scribes and Pharisees.

For whatever reason, the Lectionary excludes Luke 14:2-6, which I wrote about a few years ago in Forbidden Bible Verses:

Luke 14:2-6 – Jesus, miracle, man with dropsy, oedema, Pharisees

Whilst being a guest at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, Jesus healed a man of dropsy — oedema.

Once again, He questions the Jewish hierarchy on the validity of healing — working — on the Sabbath. They have no answer.

I do not know what harm it would have done churchgoers to hear five more verses from Luke, but that’s the Lectionary for you.

We do not know what relationship the man with oedema had with the Pharisee.

Henry says that they could have been relatives:

probably he was some relation of the Pharisee’s, that now lodged in his house, which is more likely than that he should be an invited guest at the table.

MacArthur thinks that the Pharisee purposely brought the man in to see if Jesus would heal him, which would have constituted work on the sabbath, in his eyes:

It’s pretty clear what the set-up was Drop him right in front of Jesus.  Why?  So Jesus could heal him.  Isn’t it amazing?  Do a miracle so we can for sure not believe in you.  This is like counter intuitive.  This is like backwards.  But there he is right in front of Jesus.  They know exactly how Jesus feels about their ridiculous laws.  They know exactly what He is capable of doing and they want Him to break their law.  Therein lies something of their duplicity and hypocrisy.  They’re supposed to try to keep people from breaking the law.  They want Jesus to break the law by healing the man.

MacArthur says that the man with dropsy was unlikely to have been a guest at the meal because everyone would have considered him unclean and suffering from divine judgement:

Dropsy is edema Dropsy was water retention.  Accumulation of serous fluids in a tissue and in the body cavity, bloatingIn itself it’s not a disease, but a symptom of a disease It could be a number of things, serious compromises in the liver or the kidneys or the heart or all three.  It’s kind of a bloating, indicates perhaps congestive heart failure It could be liver disease Alcoholism was a reality in ancient days and alcoholism can fill the abdomen with gallons of fluid.  When pumped out they will return.

But the point I think you need to know is that in Jewish rabbinical view somebody who had this condition was seen as a vile sinner and they thought that this was related to sexual sin, that this betrayed the judgment of God upon a person for their immorality, or that it was a serious uncleanness because it was related to the body’s failure to eliminate In either case, this is either a wicked, immoral man or a very unclean man.  Serious uncleanness related to this condition …

Verse 4: “He took hold of him and healed him and sent him away.”  That verb took hold of him really strong, very, very strong verb, [???] epilombano. It’s used in Acts, I think it’s chapter 19 or chapter 16, verse 19 and in that particular passage it says, “They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to jail.”  Very strong word, it’s used in the gospels of Jesus taking hold of a child and setting them in the midst.  He literally wrapped this man up, this bloated man with sick organs manifest in this edemic condition.  Why did He do that?  He did it without hesitation.  He did it forcefully.  He did it unmistakably.  He did it defiantly.  Instead of keeping His distance in healing the man out of compassion in such a way as it might not be clear what had happened, He just grabs the man, seizes him, crushes him in His arms as if to squeeze the fluid out and gives him a new heart, and a new liver, and a new anything else he needed, and creates in the man a whole new set of internal organs.

And then He says, “You can go.”  That’s an interesting little note.  “And sent him away.”  We know that if He sent him away, He knew he wasn’t supposed to be there He wasn’t one of the guests The purpose for which you came is done, now go home.  And truthfully that was the kind thing to do, right?  Because if He said, “Stay for lunch,” the guy’s going to be sitting there saying I need to tell my wife what happened.  Can I get out of here?  Right?  I’ve got to tell my family what happened.  I don’t want any lunch, let me out of here.  So it’s as if Jesus says I understand you want to go.  Go.

And that’s betraying the fact that the man was never a guest for any purpose other than this.  And so He healed him, instantly, completely.  Miracles, by the way, are rare in this section of Luke.  Jesus spends most of His time teaching and preaching.  There’s just a few…Just a couple of miracles really from here on out.  The simplicity of the text is staggering.  The ease with which He creates, no effort, no fanfare, this is the power of God.  And at that moment Pharisees had what they wanted, they thought.  A healing violating the Sabbath, forget the healing idea, He violated the Sabbath.  And He did it to an unclean, sinful man under divine judgment.  What a law breaker He is.  What a law breaker.

When Jesus noted how the guests chose their places at table, He told them a parable (verse 7).

Naturally, they would have been scrambling for the best seats.

MacArthur tells us about dining at table in that era:

Now, if I can just give you a little bit of a background in terms of Jewish history.

In later years, they wrote a lot about this.  Typically the table would be in the middle.  It would be a long table And around the table would be people seated in a U-shaped fashion There was only one head of the table and then down both sides to the far end It could be a long table or a series of tables so that it could be a long way.  The host would sit in the middle at the head of the table and then in importance the guests would sit on his right and his left and then it would begin to flow all the way down to the least important people being way down at the other end.

That’s pretty much how it still is at important events.  The places of honor were not marked with a sign.  They were determined by the host.  But the nearer you were to the host, the more honor you had … 

By the way, they had interesting seats in those days…a little reading about that…called triclinium; it seated three people It was a couch and it seated three people on each couch.  So there’d be one couch at the head with the host in the middle and the most important dignitaries on either said And then those couches would go along.  They reclined on their elbow and ate at leisure as you know.

Eating in a partially propped up position was thought to aid digestion.

In His parable Jesus used the example of a wedding banquet, possibly out of courtesy, so that it did hit not home too much for those assembled; He advised them not to sit too close to the host in case someone more deserving came along (verse 8) and the host asked them to move down in disgrace to the lowest place (verse 9).

Jesus said that a guest should take the lowest place so that, when the host comes along, he might be moved up to a better place and be honoured in front of everyone (verse 10).

He ended by saying that those who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who are humble will be exalted (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Jesus was not giving etiquette lessons but reminding them of Scripture and, more importantly, talking about the kingdom of God:

These guys were experts in the Old Testament They were experts in the law of God.  They probably remember Proverbs 25:7.  “It is better for it to be said to you come up here than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince whom your eyes have seen.”  Just built on that Proverbs 25:6-7.  It’s a lot better to be told to come to the front than to be told to go to the back.  Is that all it’s about?  No, it’s way more than that.  This is all about the kingdom of God.  This is all about clamoring for the chief place in the kingdom of God, rushing in a display of pride and arrogance to the front only to be told by God, get out of that seat.

Then Jesus addressed his host, the Pharisee, by saying that, when he gives a luncheon or a dinner, he should not always invite those who can repay the favour (verse 12).

Henry explains:

This does not prohibit the entertaining of such; there may be occasion for it, for the cultivating of friendship among relations and neighbours. But, (1.) “Do not make a common custom of it; spend as little as thou canst that way, that thou mayest not disable thyself to lay out in a much better way, in almsgiving. Thou wilt find it very expensive and troublesome; one feast for the rich will make a great many meals for the poor.” Solomon saith, He that giveth to the rich shall surely come to want, Prov 22 16. “Give” (saith Pliny, Epist.) “to thy friends, but let it be to thy poor friends, not to those that need thee not.” (2.) “Be not proud of it.” Many make feasts only to make a show, as Ahasuerus did (Esth 1 3, 4), and it is no reputation to them, they think, if they have not persons of quality to dine with them, and thus rob their families, to please their fancies. (3.) “Aim not at being paid again in your own coin.” This is that which our Saviour blames in making such entertainments: “You commonly do it in hopes that you will be invited by them, and so a recompence will be made you; you will be gratified with such dainties and varieties as you treat your friends with, and this will feed your sensuality and luxury, and you will be no real gainer at last.”

This happens all the time. Whom do we entertain? People who can return the favour.

Jesus told the Pharisee to invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (verse 13).

The Pharisee must have found that shocking, because they did not associate with whom they would have considered as the ‘lower orders’, even able-bodied people.

Yet, we see at the end of this story that the penny began to drop, that at least one guest understood what Jesus was saying.

Jesus ended by saying that inviting those less well off to table expressly because they cannot return the favour will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (verse 14).

Henry has a marvellous analysis:

There will be a resurrection of the just, a future state of the just. There is a state of happiness reserved for them in the other world; and we may be sure that the charitable will be remembered in the resurrection of the just, for alms are righteousness. Works of charity perhaps may not be rewarded in this world, for the things of this world are not the best things, and therefore God does not pay the best men in those things; but they shall in no wise lose their reward; they shall be recompensed in the resurrection. It will be found that the longest voyages make the richest returns, and that the charitable will be no losers, but unspeakable gainers, by having their recompense adjourned till the resurrection.

I do wish that the Lectionary compilers had included verse 15, which ties everything together and shows that Jesus succeeded in getting His point across:

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

That’s important, especially as a lot of churchgoers don’t really bother to listen to the readings that closely.

MacArthur tells us how the meal ended:

I don’t think it was what they had planned. It’s what they got.  And it doesn’t get any better.  Doesn’t get any better.  While they’re having lunch over in verse 15, the statement is made, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”  But down in verse 24, Jesus says, “I tell you none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”  By the time this lunch is over, they’ve been told they aren’t coming to the big banquet in the kingdom of God You can be devout, you can be dutiful, you can be outwardly good, you can be serious about God, you can be a defender of your religion, you can be a fundamentalist.  You can be a protector of God’s will.  You can be the best of the best of people and you can reject Jesus Christ and your life is a blasphemy to God It is a slander to His name and you are left in spiritual death and eternal judgment.

And they are the great illustration of that.  They had no signs of the life of God in them They lacked compassion.  They lacked mercy.  They lacked kindness.  They loved money.  They were spiritually proud.  They were hypocrites.  They were self-righteous.  And they sought to kill the very Son of the living God Folks, there’s only one way to heaven and that’s through faith in Jesus Christ No other religion will get you there, but they will all keep you from getting there Reject Jesus Christ and there never will be a place for you among the forgiven in God’s eternal heaven. 

And, after the destruction of the temple in AD 70, MacArthur tells us what happened:

With the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and the destruction of the city, the Sadducees disappeared from history, because they basically were concentrated in the temple They were concentrated in the leadership of the nation and when the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was destroyed it was the end for them.  That left one other somewhat well-known group called the Zealots They were the terroristsThey went around stabbing Romans as we know.

They had a revolt in the year 135 A.D., and it was called the Bar Kokhba revolt It was crushed and the Zealots were eliminatedThe Pharisees then, in the second century, became the dominant Jewish leadership. The dominant viewpoint of Judaism was a Pharisaic viewpoint.  They codified that in writings called the Mishnah You may have heard of the Mishnah.  It is the written compilation of the oral law, the oral rituals and the oral tradition.  They finally wrote it all down.  The Mishnah when it was all written down in that second century sealed their leadership.

Sadducees were gone, Pharisees were gone, the Essenes [ascetics] were gone and Pharisaism is synonymous with historic Judaism From the second century on, Pharisaism is Judaism, and today Orthodox Judaism is the vestiges of Pharisaism

It is a cautionary history, one that bears thinking about when contemplating the consequences of self-righteous unbelief.

Let us therefore pray for more faith and more humility.

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity is on July 31, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 12:13-21

12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

12:14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

12:15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

12:16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.

12:17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’

12:18 Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

12:19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

12:21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

For those who have not been following the Year C Gospel readings from Luke, we are now in the final six months of our Lord’s temporal life.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 give us the bulk of His lessons to the disciples and to the people who heard Him.

By now, Jesus has sadly accumulated many detractors, some of whom want to end His life.

John MacArthur tells us more about the composition of the crowds who saw and heard Him, particularly with relation to Luke 12:

Jesus, of course, attracted people in huge crowds with His message and His miracles. But as the three years of His ministry progressed, it became apparent that the people were rejecting Him and His message. In fact, they were increasingly moving from being interested, to being curious, to being hostile.

The crowds are still huge. Verse 1 says there were many thousands. It really means tens of thousands who were following Him – huge crowds. The majority of those crowds had drunk deeply of the Pharisees’ and scribes’ propaganda. In spite of the miracle power, in spite of the clarity of His teaching, in spite of the winsomeness of His person, they had bought into the spin that the Pharisees and scribes had put on Jesus, that He was of Satan, not God.

More and more people are now buying into that. He must be of Satan, they think, because He contradicts their Jewish religion; and their Jewish religion must be of God, for they’re the people of God. And so the idea is to surface everywhere that Jesus disagrees with them and therefore point out that He must be satanic. They are, however, still curious. Jesus is still the best show in town – stunning, riveting, compelling – and they follow Him if only to trap Him in some opposition to their law.

But inside this increasingly hostile crowd, inside these tens of thousands, inside this mass of curious rejecters, there are still some who haven’t made up their mind, and they are described in verse 1 as disciples. That’s not a technical term for the twelve, that’s a nontechnical word in the Greek, mathētēs, that simply means “learners.” There are some still studying Jesus, still learning, still trying to come to a conclusion; and it is to them that He directs this sermon, this discourse that starts there in verse 1 and runs all the way to verse 9 of chapter 13. It’s a long sermon and discourse directed, heard by all, but directed at those still trying to decide concerning Jesus. That’s why verse 1 says, “He began saying to His disciples, first of all.”

Jesus had two themes here:

Beware of hypocrisy and beware of greed

These are not randomly selected sample sins among many. Rather, these are the two essential realms which exist.

There are only two realms which exist: one is the material realm, and the other is the immaterial; one is the spiritual, the other is the physical; one is the natural, the other is the supernatural. There are only those two realms. Hypocrisy relates to the spiritual realm, and greed relates to the material world. Both the material and the immaterial world threaten to damn eternal souls

And by the way, though they can be separately described and separately defined, they don’t exist separately. That is to say, they are blended together in the lives of the unregenerate. And that is true even of those who are most involved in the religious world. Religious hypocrites, the architects of and the perpetrators of false religion are invariably motivated by money …

In fact, if you look at the world of false religion today, you will see the purveyors and the architects of those false religions inevitably become fat cats, inordinately wealthy, as all false teachers do what they do for money. That’s what’s behind this discussion because it’s a warning. You can be seduced right into hell from the immaterial or the material, from the spiritual or the physical, from the world above or the world below. And that’s why Jesus gives this double warning of bewares. Let’s turn to the text, verse 13; and the story flows fairly quickly.

Luke 12 begins with Jesus giving the crowd powerful lessons about this world and the next:

Warnings and Encouragements

12 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: Be[a] on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

With all those powerful teachings, it seems incongruous that a man in the crowd would interrupt and demand that Jesus tell his brother to share his inheritance with him (verse 13).

While not defending the man, MacArthur explains that this was not such an odd demand, because rabbis were seen to be arbiters of the law:

the word “teacher” informs us – didaskale in the Greek – he identifies Jesus as a rabbi. And rabbis did this as a routine in their villages and their regions. Rabbis were approached by people to bring the law to bear upon civil issues. This is pretty routine stuff. They often did this. And so his request is within the framework of cultural expectation: “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance to me.” He probably pointed to his brother who had to be there, or Jesus couldn’t have told him. He feels like he’s not getting what he deserves.

Now it’s useless to speculate the facts, you know, whether who’s the older brother, who’s the younger brother, you know, did he have a right to this. He didn’t want any discussion about the facts, he just said, “Tell him.” We don’t know whether he had a legitimate claim on it or not, but I would find it hard to believe that he had any legitimate claim. This was just a manifestation of his greed.

Matthew Henry’s commentary goes through the possible family situations prompting the man’s demand and concludes:

whereas the law gave the elder brother a double portion of the estate, and the father himself could not dispose of what he had but by that rule (Deut 21 16, 17), he would have Christ to alter that law, and oblige his brother, who perhaps was a follower of Christ at large, to divide the inheritance equally with him, in gavel-kind, share and share alike, and to allot him as much as his elder brother. I suspect that this was the case, because Christ takes occasion from it to warn against covetousness, pleonexiaa desire of having more, more than God in his providence has allotted us. It was not a lawful desire of getting his own, but a sinful desire of getting more than his own.

MacArthur says that some of the Old Testament laws had been in abeyance in our Lord’s era. In addition, the rabbis found or created loopholes to exploit in terms of everyday religious law:

There were ancient laws in Israel about the inheritance, Deuteronomy 21, the book of Numbers. The estate was left to the oldest son. The estate therefore was kept intact and the oldest son would manage the estate, and use all of its wealth and all of its products and all of its possessions for the benefit of the whole family. He sort of became the new father of the family. He didn’t waste it all on himself, he simply managed it. That’s what the law of primogenitor was intended to do, not to divest certain members of the family of the care they needed, but rather to pass on the responsibility of headship and leadership to the father, the next generation.

But changes have come so much in the intervening centuries since those laws. There were laws in the early years of the theocracy that said if a teenager is disobedient, kill him. That was a real quick way to stamp out juvenile delinquency. But that had long since gone by the way, as the theocratic kingdom was no longer really ruled by God at all. And many of these things that were established early on had changed; and the culture less agrarian at this point, long moved away from the Old Testament laws, although they certainly kept the ones they wanted to keep.

The man is a materialist. He’s greedy, he’s covetous, and he wants Jesus to tell his brother with some kind of authority, because it was obvious Jesus had great power and authority to give him his money.

So Jesus replied, addressing the man as ‘friend’ — some translations use ‘man’, indicating an insult — asking who appointed Him to be judge and arbiter (verse 14).

Henry says that Jesus responded in that way because He was solely concerned with health and the spiritual world:

He could have done the judge’s part, and the lawyer’s, as well as he did the physician’s, and have ended suits at law as happily as he did diseases; but he would not, for it was not in his commission: Who made me a judge? Probably he refers to the indignity done to Moses by his brethren in Egypt, with which Stephen upbraided the Jews, Acts 7 27, 35. “If I should offer to do this, you would taunt me as you did Moses, Who made thee a judge or a divider?He corrects the man’s mistake, will not admit his appeal (it was coram non judice—not before the proper judge), and so dismisses his bill. If he had come to him to desire him to assist his pursuit of the heavenly inheritance, Christ would have given him his best help; but as to this matter he has nothing to do: Who made me a judge? Note, Jesus Christ was no usurper; he took no honour, no power, to himself, but what was given him, Heb 5 5. Whatever he did, he could tell by what authority he did it, and who gave him that authority. Now this shows us what is the nature and constitution of Christ’s kingdom. It is a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world.

Jesus then gave the man and the crowd a sharp warning, beginning with ‘beware’, a word that demands attention and awareness. He said that they — and we — should be on our guard against all kinds of greed, because the purpose of life is not about piling up possessions (verse 15).

Our commentators explain the words from the Greek manuscript.

Henry says:

Take heed and beware of covetousness; horate—”Observe yourselves, keep a jealous eye upon your own hearts, lest covetous principles steal into them; and phylassesthepreserve yourselves, keep a strict band upon your own hearts, lest covetous principles rule and give law in them.” Covetousness is a sin which we have need constantly to watch against, and therefore frequently to be warned against.

MacArthur tells us:

Beware, horate, look – present imperative – behold, mark, observe, and then guard. Phulassō is a military term: “Provide protective vigilance against every form of greed, all covetousness, pleonexias,” – strong word – “all covetousness.” And the word basically means “an inordinate desire for riches,” “grasping,” “extorting.” “Scheming” is included in this kind of thing. This is as damning as false religion. This is the thirst. Pleonexias is the thirst for more. It’s like drinking salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you get.

In Ecclesiastes it is wisdom. What Solomon says in chapter 5, verse 10, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.” People who worship money and who love money and who love abundance and love possessions are never satisfied when they get it; it’s just like drinking salt water.

It is not wrong to be blessed with material things. The sin comes in wanting more of them:

The sin is not in having more, the sin is being discontent. The sin is not in having wealth, the sin is in what you do with it. It’s not the amount, it’s the attitude. Abraham was wealthy. Job was wealthy. Solomon was wealthy. Even in the New Testament, no doubt Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. And there were wealthy people in the New Testament who had the church in their home because they had a large enough home to have a church. It’s not about what you have, it’s about how you feel about what you have. And that’s what the Scripture warns about. It warns about greed and covetousness and the lust for more, so as to consume it on your own desires.

Then Jesus related a parable about a man whose land produced crops in abundance (verse 16).

He thought about what he should do because he had no place to store his abundant crops (verse 17).

So, he decided on a plan: tearing down his existing barns and building larger ones for his grain — and his goods (verse 18).

Note that the pronoun ‘I’ appears five times in total in verses 17 and 18. It was all about him.

MacArthur analyses the parable thus far:

To define life as an acquisition of material possessions is to commit the deadly sin of serving the creature rather than the Creator, Romans 1:25. “Beware of this,” – Jesus says, back to verse 15, and here’s why – “for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” Not even when you have – and the word “abundance” means “more than enough,” “more than sufficient.” It could be “excess.” It could be “surplus.” That’s the way it’s used three other times in Luke: Luke 9:17, Luke 15:17, Luke 21:4.

Even if you have more than enough, it still doesn’t provide real life. By the way, the word “life” in Greek can be one of two words: bios, which is simply life as opposed to being dead, biological life. You might translate it existence. Then the word for life which is used here, zōē, encompasses all that makes life worth living, all that is real life: satisfaction, fulfillment, enjoyment, meaning, purpose. And he says, “Even when you have surplus and you have excess, that doesn’t make really living, that doesn’t take care of giving you real life.” In fact, the life He’s referring to here is eternal life, because that’s the only kind of life that is fulfilling, satisfying, meaningful, purposeful, producing peace and joy and hope and blessing. You’re never going to get that real life from the material world even if you have more than enough …

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I’ve come that they might have life, the real life, and have it more abundantly.” He wants to give you the life that truly is abundant, and it’s that eternal life. That’s the admonition.

Look at the anecdote; story’s simple. He told them a parable, parabolē. The second part of that word, bole from ballō, “to place,” para, “alongside.” “To place alongside.” That’s what a parable is, it’s a story placed alongside a principle to illustrate the principle.

So He said the land of a certain rich man was very productive. Now that’s good. No dishonesty here, no extortion, no crime, nothing; he just had a great crop. By the way, I love that verb where it says “very productive.” That is the verb euphoreō, and it means “to yield a good crop.” And we get an English word out of it, “euphoria.” Now for us, euphoria has nothing to do with a crop. Euphoria is “elation,” “being filled with joy,” kind of “over the top satisfaction,” “fulfillment,” “feelings of happiness,” “feelings of well-being.” But how interesting that that came in an agrarian culture from having a good crop, being successful.

And he had this crop, it was just absolutely huge. No dishonesty, no ill-gotten gain, no extortion, no evil, no immorality, no illegality; he came to honest wealth. That’s fine. And you know what? If you’re a farmer, of all things that human beings do, that one is most dependent upon circumstances and factors that are outside your control, right? If ever you should thank God, you should thank God for a good crop, since providentially He controls all the elements in the factors. And so, verse 17, “This man began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’” …

You know what strikes me about that, two verses: eight “I’s” and four “my’s”: “I, I, I, I. My, my, my, my.” And here you get the insight into the materialist. This is an imaginary story. But I mean, wouldn’t there be in the minds of the people standing there listening to this – an imaginary group of people who went out and pulled in the harvest. And maybe you might say to those hard-working people, “I’ll share some with them”? And wouldn’t there be an imaginary village with some widows and some orphans? And wouldn’t there be an imaginary village with some poor people? And isn’t there a temple, and isn’t there a synagogue, and isn’t there the work of God? And wouldn’t He be up for consideration for some of this stuff? “I, I, I, I, I. My, my, my, my, my.”

What’s wrong with this picture? No, he’s a smart guy. He is crafty. You say, “Well, he could just sell it all and make some money.” Nah, nah, nah, you don’t want to do that. You flood the market with too much stuff and the price goes down. So what do you do? You restrict what? Supply. So you build bigger barns on the same pad, higher ones so you don’t take up any more of your fields, and you store it all, and then you let it out at whatever pace you want. And then you become the fat cat, you become the Middle Eastern local guru. You’re going to control the prices.

By the way, he didn’t just store his grain there, he stored his goods there, “and my goods.” What’s that? This is the only biblical storage unit I know of. This guy’s got other stuff he’s storing up.

The greedy gentleman farmer was consumed by the abundance of his crop which impressed him. He did not consider that the new, larger barns might catch fire or that someone might steal his grain or that the grain might spoil.

He thought of none of that. Instead, he told himself that he would have ‘ample goods’ laid up for years to come, so he could ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (verse 19).

Henry has this observation:

It is the great absurdity which the children of this world are guilty of that they portion their souls in the wealth of the world and the pleasures of sense.

But God intervened, addressing him as ‘you fool’, telling him that his life was now demanded of him, meaning he was going to die. God asked him who would then possess what he now has (verse 20).

MacArthur explains the phrasing in that verse:

“This night your soul is required of you,” and the actual Greek says, “This night they demand your soul.” That’s an old rabbinic expression, a common plural construction used by the rabbis to refer to an act of God, because God is plural: Elohim. “They” – God, the Trinity, the very Trinity He had been referring to a few minutes before this – “are going to require your soul.”

How foolish to make all your grandiose plans – forget God, forget others, forget your own mortality.

Jesus concluded by saying that this is the fate of those who store up treasure on Earth for themselves but are stingy towards God (verse 21), from whom all blessings come.

MacArthur says:

You never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul. You can’t take it with you, it doesn’t go. And if you haven’t sent it on ahead somehow, you’re a fool. If you haven’t used what God does give you for His glory and for the benefit of others, and if you haven’t dealt with your own mortality and prepared for eternity, you’re a fool.

If you give it to God, it’ll be there to welcome you. If you’ve invested in His kingdom, Jesus said, “Lay not up treasure for yourselves on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and where thieves don’t break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” You can reverse that. “If your heart’s there, that’s where your treasure will go, It’ll go.” It’ll invest in your family, it’ll invest in the kingdom work, it’ll invest in the needs of others, because that’s where your heart is.

How foolish to be a materialist – to be greedy, covetous, self-indulgent, to horde what you have and leave it all behind. So is the man who lays up treasure for himself. It’s not about how much you have, it’s what you do with it.

No doubt there will be many more sermons on this denouncing wealth, but as MacArthur says, it’s what one does with one’s wealth that counts. This is how Christendom developed the ethos of charity and philanthropy over the centuries. Some today would use the expression ‘give back’. It’s the same concept.

As for the materialist’s nightmare of losing all that he has to someone else after his death, Henry points out:

If many a man could have foreseen to whom his house would have come after his death, he would rather have burned it than beautified it.

How true, how true.

Henry also lays out tenets of Christianity that we have long forgotten. Remembering that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, please note that our faith is not a socio-political construct:

It is a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world. 1. It does not interfere with civil powers, nor take the authority of princes out of their hands. Christianity leaves the matter as it found it, as to civil power. 2. It does not intermeddle with civil rights; it obliges all to do justly, according to the settled rules of equity, but dominion is not founded in grace. 3. It does not encourage our expectations of worldly advantages by our religion. If this man will be a disciple of Christ, and expects that in consideration of this Christ should give him his brother’s estate, he is mistaken; the rewards of Christ’s disciples are of another nature. 4. It does not encourage our contests with our brethren, and our being rigorous and high in our demands, but rather, for peace’ sake, to recede from our right. 5. It does not allow ministers to entangle themselves in the affairs of this life (2 Tim 2 4), to leave the word of God to serve tables. There are those whose business it is, let it be left to them, Tractent fabrilia fabriEach workman to his proper craft.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity is on July 10, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:25-37

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

10:27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan follows on from last week’s reading whereby Jesus sent the 70 disciples out to evangelise and perform miracles in order to save people’s souls. My exegesis, with quotes from our commentators, is a long read but is necessary background for evangelising in a biblical manner.

Before going into today’s reading, it is important to understand that everyone in our Lord’s era believed in eternal life.

John MacArthur looks at the Jewish preoccupation with eternal life. They had it right because they knew the Old Testament:

They knew the reality of the condition of their hearts.  They had painted themselves white on the surface.  But that nagging question was there because they knew they weren’t right with God, because they knew they weren’t in control of their lives.  They knew they couldn’t live righteously on the inside There was the fear that they were going to miss that eternal life And the fact that they came and asked the question points up how this question existed and it was everywhere.

They believed in eternal life They wanted to be there.  And when Jesus started preaching, what did He preach about?  “For God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life,” everlasting life His message was about eternal life all through the preaching of Jesus.  I…I’m amazed how many, many times He talked about eternal life. At least fifty times eternal life is referred to in the New Testament The Jews looked at the Scripture and they searched Why?  They wanted to find the way to eternal life.  That’s what they were looking for.

You know, they were a lot further ahead of many evangelicals today, at least on the surface.  At least they knew that the issue was eternal life, not a better life here … 

Also:

The promise of the Old Testament was that God would send His Anointed who would establish an eternal kingdom. The Jews anticipated that eternal kingdom where God would rule through His anointed Messiah, where righteousness would prevail and peace, where all that was ever promised to Abraham and to David and all that was promised in the New Covenant to Jeremiah and Ezekiel would come to fruition and fulfillment. There would be a realm of perfect righteousness, perfect joy, perfect peace, perfect fulfillment, perfect satisfaction, perfect relationships. They wanted to be there. Their preoccupation was with eternal life. And by that, they were referring to the next world, the next life, God’s eternal kingdom of heaven, not the current world and not the current life.

This question was so much on their minds that it surfaces numerous times in Jesus’ encounters in His ministry. As I pointed out last time, there are several such incidents recorded in the New Testament. Each gospel refers to it; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Different occasions when people came and essentially asked the same question: What do we do to receive eternal life? What do we do to make sure that we do the works that are going to bring us into Your eternal kingdom? They had that forward look. They had that perspective about the life to come and thus they asked the most critical question.

The pagan Gentiles also believed in eternal life.

MacArthur tells us:

All the Greeks were believers in eternal life All the Romans were believers in eternal life.

Atheism, he says, is a relatively recent invention:

All that other materialism, humanism and atheism is a modern invention of man and it’s not a rational invention It didn’t come out of his understanding of the universe, it is a moral invention, or if you like, an immoral invention. 

Now on to today’s reading.

While Jesus was preaching, a lawyer stood up to test Him, asking what must he do to inherit eternal life (verse 25).

Jewish lawyers were theological, not civil, lawyers. Any lawyer then judged a case through theology. There was no civil Jewish law. It was all religious, based not only on Scripture but also on their own traditions.

Jewish lawyers were the scribes mentioned in the New Testament. The Pharisees liked the scribes to come to hear Jesus teach so that they could come up with legalistic ways of trapping Him. Jesus won the debates every time.

Our commentators differ as to whether this scribe — lawyer — had good intentions. MacArthur says he did, but Matthew Henry says that he did not, even if he asked the right question. That is probably because Luke says that the man tested Jesus:

A question to this purport was proposed to our Saviour by a certain lawyer, or scribe, only with a design to try him, not with a desire to be instructed by him, v. 25This was a good question: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? But it lost all its goodness when it was proposed with an ill design, or a very mean one. Note, It is not enough to speak of the things of God, and to enquire about them, but we must do it with a suitable concern. If we speak of eternal life, and the way to it, in a careless manner, merely as matter of discourse, especially as matter of dispute, we do but take the name of God in vain, as the lawyer here did.

MacArthur sets out our Lord’s model for evangelisation, setting it against what many churches mistakenly do today:

I reminded you last week that Jesus doesn’t promise you health, wealth, prosperity, a better career, a perfect marriage, a great family, freedom from problems, not at all. Those are not guarantees in the gospel. Those are not attendant blessings to salvation. The ability to endure difficulty is in salvation. The ability to see God work good out of the bad things that come in life is part of the guarantee but there is no guarantee that you’re going to be free from pain and suffering and trouble, etc. That’s not what salvation is designed to do. Salvation is about the next life, not this life. And so, if you’re going to evangelize somebody, instead of focusing on this life you have to get them to the next life. Instead of saying, “We’re here with our gospel to make your marriage better, or your family better, or your life better,” or whatever, we’re here to talk about the next life, forget this life. It’s eternity that you need to deal with. And we went into detail last time on how the Bible indicates that all people are going to live forever, either in heaven or in hell. And the first task of every evangelist, of every witness, of every Christian who goes out to present the gospel is to show someone that what matters is the next life because it is forever and it is either forever in the bliss of heaven or in the horrors of conscious punishment away from God in hell. The message of the gospel is about eternal life, life in the next world

The man in the story, the scribe, the lawyer, he comes, he asks the right question. And here we are living in our culture. People aren’t asking the right question. Instead of cultivating their minds in the direction of the right question, we reinvent Christianity as some kind of a message to change your current circumstances. That is not what it is. We’ve got to get back to the fact that our message is a message of deliverance from eternal damnation and punishment in hell into eternal life. And so, we started last time with the recognition of eternal life.

We come to the second pointAfter there’s a recognition of eternal life, there needs to be a motivation for eternal life.  If the person will come to the place where they recognize that the gospel is not about here and now, it’s about then and there, it’s about eternity, not time, if we can get them to understand that they’re going to live forever, that there are two places where they will possibly live, either heaven or hell, then we move to the motivation.  And obviously as we come to the text now, this particular man was motivated for eternal life.

How do you get somebody motivated for eternal life?  The only thing you can do is explain the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell.  You explain to them that everybody is immortal. Everybody lives forever in one of those two placesTake the time to lay that outDon’t give the gospel on the basis…do you have trouble in your life, do you have pain, do you feel bad about things?  Let Jesus fix you upThat is superficial and maybe not even saving.  That isn’t the issue because as soon as you start talking about heaven and hell, you have to inject into the discussion sin because somebody is going to say, “Well, I’m not going to hell, am I?”  And then you’re into the issue aren’t you?  You’re into the issue of sin, why you’re going to hell and why God justly condemned you to hell because of your violation of His Law and what you did and what you said, what you thought and what you are.  That is where you start effective evangelism.  You get their attention off this world onto the next.

And if you present the joys of heaven, the glories of heaven, the horrors of hell, the reality of sin, the desperate need for forgiveness, the provision of God in Christ to provide that forgiveness and to deliver the sinner from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, you’ve now at least put them in a position to be motivated toward eternal life.

This lawyer that came to Jesus must have known that there was some place that he definitely wanted to be, and that was in the kingdom of God.  He wanted eternal life.  He did not want what Daniel 12:2 said. He did not want a resurrection that would bring him to eternal disgrace and contempt and shame.  He wanted eternal life.  He had the motivation for eternal life.  That is the first necessary attitude in bringing a person to Christ.  You’ve got to get them away from wanting something in this world to desperately wanting eternal life in the world to comeThat raises the stakes very highly

MacArthur explains why he thinks the man approached Jesus honestly:

And so, this man comes whether or not on behalf of the Pharisees on or his own, we don’t knowBut since it doesn’t say the Pharisees were behind him, let’s just assume that this was an issue for him, for him.  He may have come at the behest of Pharisees to question Jesus.  He may have been in a meeting and arisen to ask the question because he was prompted or even paid to do it.  But we don’t know that.  So let’s just take it at face value and as Jesus was teaching, perhaps about the kingdom of God as that was always His subject — even after His resurrection, for forty days He spoke of things pertaining to the kingdom — this man stood upThis is not a disrespectful interruption because it says that he stood up and addressed Jesus as teacher, didaskale, very respectful, very appropriate, something that would normally be done in a teaching context.

But that interesting phrase between those two indications is he stood up and put Him to the testThis doesn’t necessarily ascribe to this man some evil intent, nor does it sort of open the veil a little bit on a plot.  It’s just really a test as any question is a test when you want to know the answerYou’re testing the person’s knowledge and ability to give you the answer.  This word can be used for a temptation as it is in Luke 4:12 when it says Satan put Jesus to the test, same Greek word.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a temptation It’s just an effort to find out if Jesus knows the answer.

You say, “Well how would he know if Jesus knew the answer?”  Because he knew the answer.  And he was just going to find out if Jesus knew the right answer to the question And maybe he wanted to sort of reinforce the answer that he knew to be the right answer.

The question was fair, the question was important.  The lawyer appears to be genuinely interested.  I don’t think we can read anything else into it.  We know from the fact that this question was asked so often that it was a general question on the minds of Jews under the surface and so there’s a certain level of honesty here for him to jump up and ask this question.

Whatever his motivation was is less important than what he — and we — learned from our Lord’s response.

Jesus asked the lawyer what was written in Mosaic law (verse 26).

The man answered, reciting the Scripture that comprises the daily Jewish prayer, the Shema: loving the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind as well as loving our neighbour as ourselves (verse 27).

MacArthur gives us the words of the Shema:

Twice every day, two times every single day, the Jew said this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself,” twice every single day … That was part of the recitation of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, that most notable portion of Scripture in the book of Deuteronomy, the second law.  “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.  And these words which I’m commanding you today shall be on your heart.”  And then they added from Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Leviticus 19:18

Now you come into the issues of eternal life here.  You want eternal life?  Here’s how: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  The emphasis is so…is so strong here. “With all your” is repeated four times, four times.  What’s the point of that?  Well, the point of that is to emphasize the extremity, the perfection, the completeness of this kind of love.  “With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind,” so that nobody would think that He meant, “Well, with all your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength,” and somehow diminish the latter three.  No, this is a call for perfect love of all human faculties.

You want to go to God’s kingdom?  Then love Him with all your kardia, you know, the cardiac area.  That’s… To the Jew, that’s the place of thought and mind, with all the psuchē, all the fleshly part of you, all the soulish part of you, all the human part of you with your…your ischus, your will, your volition. Love Him with all your dianoia, all your intelligence, your intellect, with all your human faculties, love Him completely.  And it’s the word agapaō in the Greek, translating the old Hebrew ahab or aheb in Deuteronomy 6:5 which refers to the love of the mind, the love of the will, the love of the emotion, the love of the affection, the highest kind of love.

Jesus commended the man for giving the correct answer, adding that, if he obeys those commandments he will live (verse 28) in glory.

MacArthur explains why our Lord’s asking a question instead of giving an answer was important:

by asking the question He does, what is written in the law, Jesus affirms His commitment to the law. And when He said, “The law,” the man knew exactly what He’s referring to and He was referring to the Mosaic Law. The first five books of the Old Testament summarized in the Ten Commandments and further summarized in the answer the man gives. This is wise in response. He shows His affirmation of God’s Word, forces the lawyer to answer his own question, and he could answer it. “What is written in the law?” Jesus said. You’re the expert. And here Jesus also affirms that what God has written is the authority. Jesus is affirming the Scripture.

Luke says that the man wanted to justify himself, to proclaim his own righteousness, by asking Jesus to identify his neighbour (verse 29) in a scriptural way.

Henry says the man didn’t want to discuss his own frailties in loving God completely, so he went on to ask who his neighbour was in order that he might gain leverage on that point:

His care to avoid the conviction which was now ready to fasten upon him. When Christ said, This do, and thou shalt live, he began to be aware that Christ intended to draw from him an acknowledgment that he had not done this, and therefore an enquiry what he should do, which way he should look, to get his sins pardoned; an acknowledgment also that he could not do this perfectly for the future by any strength of his own, and therefore an enquiry which way he might fetch in strength to enable him to do it: but he was willing to justify himself, and therefore cared not for carrying on that discourse, but saith, in effect, as another did (Matt 19 20), All these things have I kept from my youth up. Note, Many ask good questions with a design rather to justify themselves than to inform themselves, rather proudly to show what is good in them than humbly to see what is bad in them.

… This [asking about his neighbour] is another of this lawyer’s queries, which he started only that he might drop the former, lest Christ should have forced him, in the prosecution of it, to condemn himself, when he was resolved to justify himself. As to loving God, he was willing to say no more of it; but, as to his neighbour, he was sure that there he had come up to the rule, for he had always been very kind and respectful to all about him.

The Jews believed that only they were each other’s neighbours. Gentiles and half-Jews, e.g. Samaritans, were not included:

They would not put an Israelite to death for killing a Gentile, for he was not his neighbour: they indeed say that they ought not to kill a Gentile whom they were not at war with; but, if they saw a Gentile in danger of death, they thought themselves under no obligation to help to save his life. Such wicked inferences did they draw from that holy covenant of peculiarity by which God had distinguished them, and by abusing it thus they had forfeited it; God justly took the forfeiture, and transferred covenant-favours to the Gentile world, to whom they brutishly denied common favours.

MacArthur says of our Lord’s answer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

Immediately Jesus has turned the question on its head.  He asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus turned it around and said, “Let’s talk about who is neighborly.”  Instead of talking about who qualifies to be your neighbor, let’s talk about the quality with which you love.  If you’re even asking the question, “Who qualifies for me to love?” you can’t fulfill that commandment.  It’s not about who qualifies, it’s about the character of your love So, Jesus has already turned this upside down and now He’s talking about the love of the individual toward someone in need, not whether the person in need qualifies to be loved.

Did this incident actually happen or is it a true parable?

Henry says it did happen:

The mentioning of those places intimates that it was matter of fact, and not a parable; probably it happened lately, just as it is here related.

MacArthur disagrees with that assessment as we will see.

Jesus said that a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was set upon by highwaymen — bandits — who robbed him and beat him until he was half dead, at which point they left him (verse 30).

A priest happened to be walking along the same road but when he saw the man, he went to the other side (verse 31).

A Levite also saw him and passed to the other side of the road (verse 32).

However, a Samaritan who was travelling saw the poor man and was moved with pity for him (verse 33).

MacArthur says:

It’s a storyThe point is simple: You expect the priest, who knew the law, knew what was required to go help the man You would expect the priest, of all people, who made sure that all the people recited twice every day that you’re to love your neighbor as yourself, would do that which he required the rest of the people to recite, and himself also.  You would expect a priest to go and help.  Was this an indictment of the priesthood in general?

I think it would be safe to say that the priests in Israel lacked compassion wouldn’t you?  In Matthew 23 Jesus says they bind heavy burdens on people and don’t so much as lift a finger to relieve the burden.  Jesus … sort of casts the priests in Israel like wolves who come in and tear up the sheep and put heavy burdens on people. That’s why He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for my yoke is easy, My burden is light.”  I think it would be safe to say that the priests were externally legalistic and hypocritical but lacked compassion They certainly lacked compassion toward Jesus and the apostles.  But I don’t think this is an indictment of the priesthood. This is just a story about a man you would expect to help because he knew the Law but he didn’t help. He didn’t help.

And then Jesus goes on in verse 32, “Likewise a Levite also,” a Levite because of the tribe of Levi.  The priests were from the tribe of Levi also, but anybody who was in the twenty-four courses of the priest was not just the son of Levi who was son of Jacob, but anybody who was in the priesthood was a son of Aaron Levites came from Levi, but not from Aaron and they were given priestly duties. They were the lowest people on the ladder, the priestly service ladder They were assistants to the priests, they were the temple police They saw to the issues of the liturgy and they aided the priests They had to know something about the law.  They were close.  They were intimately acquainted with the function of Judaism with the studies of the lawyers and the scribes and so forth.  And so, they should have known what the priests knew as well.

And so, at the top of the sort of religious ladder is the priest, at the bottom is the Levite. He comes to the place, he saw him, verse 32, pass by the other side.  Same verb: went the other direction, opposite direction.  And you have again an illustration of a man who had no love.

You could say that these religious … elite were the ones called in verse 21 “the wise and intelligent who didn’t know the things of God.”  But we have to say at least this, neither of these men, if they were real people, would be qualified for eternal life They didn’t love God, first of all, because if you love God you keep His what?  His commandments.  So they didn’t love God to start with and also, they didn’t love their neighbor because there’s one right there and they have a perfect opportunity to demonstrate it and they don’t.  So being religious, doing all the ceremonies, being Jewish, being circumcised, being a part of the whole system, being as tightly connected to the religious system as you can get, being a priest and a Levite isn’t going to get you in the kingdom of God.  And when you look at the character of these men, they don’t pass the test.  The test is to love your neighbor as yourself.  They went the other direction, wanted nothing to do with it.  This is the attitude we see in human life, human nature today even with ourselves, “I don’t want to get what? Involved.  I don’t know what they might do to me.”

Verse 34 says that the Samaritan took some of his own travelling supplies — wine and oil — to treat the man’s wounds. The alcohol in the wine was a primitive disinfectant. The oil served as a soothing balm, such as it was in that era. Then he put the man on his beast of burden — leaving the Samaritan to walk alongside — and took him to an inn where he cared for him throughout the night.

Henry says:

See how friendly this good Samaritan was. First, He went to the poor man, whom the priest and Levite kept at a distance from; he enquired, no doubt, how he came into this deplorable condition, and condoled with him. Secondly, He did the surgeon’s part, for want of a better. He bound up his wounds, making use of his own linen, it is likely, for that purpose; and poured in oil and wine, which perhaps he had with him; wine to wash the wound, and oil to mollify it, and close it up. He did all he could to ease the pain, and prevent the peril, of his wounds, as one whose heart bled with him. Thirdly, He set him on his own beast, and went on foot himself, and brought him to an inn. A great mercy it is to have inns upon the road, where we may be furnished for our money with all the conveniences for food and rest. Perhaps the Samaritan, if he had not met with this hindrance, would have got that night to his journey’s end; but, in compassion to that poor man, he takes up short at an inn. Some think that the priest and Levite pretended they could not stay to help the poor man, because they were in haste to go and attend the temple-service at Jerusalem. We suppose the Samaritan went upon business; but he understood that both his own business and God’s sacrifice too must give place to such an act of mercy as this. Fourthly, He took care of him in the inn, got him to bed, had food for him that was proper, and due attendance, and, it may be, prayed with him.

The next day, the Samaritan paid the innkeeper two denarii and asked him to take care of the man, saying that he (the Samaritan) would pay the balance upon his return (verse 35).

MacArthur explains the import of this gesture:

Now he has now exposed himself to serious extortion He’s left an open account And he’s saying, “I’m going to where I need to go, and you spend whatever you need to spend, give him whatever he needs for a full recovery.  And when I come back, I’ll pay you for that.”

Now what comes across in this?  Generosity, would you say?  More than generosity?  This is sort of over the top, would you say?  You say, “Well, I saw a stranger one time in need and I gave him five bucks.”  Think that deserves applause?  Did you ever see a stranger in need, somebody you didn’t know, better yet somebody who was your arch-enemy and you went over, ministered to all his needs, gave him everything he needed, stayed with him, took him somewhere, put him to bed, fed him, stayed all night to make sure that he was recovering appropriately, then paid for his care for up to two months and said if it’s more than this, when I come back I’ll give you all the rest?  Have you ever done that for anybody?

I’ll tell you, there’s somebody you’ve done that for and it’s you That’s how we care for ourselves, isn’t it?  Give me whatever I need.  Whatever I need, get me to the best doctor; get me to the best place. Get me the best care I can get.  Take care of me as long as I need it.  We buy insurance policies, we get in HMOs. We do whatever we need to assure ourselves the best care.  This is over the top for a stranger, over the top for an enemy.  You might somewhere get close to this with a friend or a family member because you love them in the family.  But we’re not talking about family; we’re talking about somebody outside of that This is just not done.

Jesus then asked the scribe who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers (verse 36).

MacArthur interprets the verse as follows:

Forget who is your neighbor and let’s talk about who’s neighborly. Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?  You’ve been following Me through the story, who was the neighbor?

The lawyer answered that the Samaritan, the one who showed the man mercy, was the true neighbour. Jesus told the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise’ (verse 37).

Henry concludes:

This lawyer valued himself much upon his learning and his knowledge of the laws, and in that he thought to have puzzled Christ himself; but Christ sends him to school to a Samaritan, to learn his duty: “Go, and do like him.”

MacArthur has more and, no, none of us will ever be able to consistently love a stranger the way the Samaritan did. This is why we require God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is why Jesus died for our sins:

If this is what it requires for me to get in heaven, I’m not getting there I not only couldn’t earn my salvation by loving like that, even as a Christian in whom the love of Christ has been shed abroad, who has a capacity to love like an unconverted person doesn’t have, I still don’t love like this.  So we were saved by grace and we are kept by grace, are we not?  The Lord not only forgave me for my lack of love toward God and love toward others when He saved me, He continues to forgive me for my lack of perfect love toward God and others, which is a part of my fallen life I’ll never be able to love God perfectly until I’m in His presence and I’ll never be able to love others perfectly until I’m in His presence either and then they won’t have any needs.  So it will be a different kind of expression of love.

See, what Jesus was doing here with this man was driving the same sword right back into his heart to convict him of his total inability to deserve the kingdom of God and eternal life on his own If he thought his Jewishness, his circumcision, his law-keeping, his sacrificing, and all of that was enough, Jesus ended that by his own admission that it was: loving God and loving others.  If he thought he qualified there, then he’s going to have to say that I’ve always loved everyone in my path the way the Good Samaritan loved that man with that same kind of limitless, open-ended, lavish, generous, sacrificial care and he knew as we all know we don’t love like that.

By the way, that’s how God loves us This is not an allegory about that But that is how God loves us And there stood Jesus before him, ready to offer him mercy, ready to offer him grace, ready to offer him forgiveness if he only would repent and admit what he knew was true.  But as we move through the life of Christ toward the cross, the hearts get harder and harder and harder.

The end of the story, the end of the encounter is Jesus saying, “Go and do the same.”  Did he?  No.  Could he?  No.  Would he repent?  Apparently not.  Will he inherit the kingdom of God?  Of course not.  Who will?  Those who repent of their lack of love toward God and others, cry out for mercy and forgiveness from the Christ who has paid the penalty for that forgiveness through His death on the cross.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Anyone wishing to do so may leave a comment on the sermons they heard on this parable.

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 18:10-14

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.[a] 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my[b] Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

——————————————————————————————–

From Matthew 18:1 through to today’s verses, Jesus spoke of ‘little ones’ — childlike believers, not children — and avoiding temptation.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say in Matthew 18:7-9 that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

He gave them the Parable of the Lost Sheep as an example to follow once they become evangelists and leaders of the fledgling Church. They did not understand it as such as they had no comprehension of what would happen to Jesus.

Jesus warned them not to ‘despise’ the believers who would soon be in their care (verse 10). Clergy and lay leaders can also draw something from that. They are not to laugh at believers, nor are they to treat their flock with condescension. They are not to ignore them or to debase them. They are not to behave towards those in their spiritual care as the Jewish leaders did with the devout Jews of modest means.

Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine):

We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them we must not say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against, Romans 14:3,10,15,20,21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men’s souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.

Jesus’s warning also includes leading innocent believers into temptation and sin.

Jesus said that the believers’ angels ‘always’ see the face of God the Father in heaven (verse 11). These angels are guards for the faithful.

That said, both our commentators say that this does not mean each person has a specific guardian angel. Henry explains:

Some have imagined that every particular saint has a guardian angel but why should we suppose this, when we are sure that every particular saint [believer], when there is occasion, has a guard of angels? This is particularly applied here to the little ones, because they are most despised and most exposed. They have but little that they can call their own, but they can look by faith on the heavenly hosts, and call them theirs. While the great ones of the world have honourable men for their retinue and guards, the little ones of the church are attended with glorious angels which bespeaks not only their dignity, but the danger those run themselves upon, who despise and abuse them. It is bad being enemies to those who are so guarded and it is good having God for our God, for then we have his angels for our angels.

John MacArthur says:

It doesn’t mean that every little baby has a guardian angel for two reasons. First of which, it doesn’t say that. Second of which, it isn’t talking about physical babies. It also does not mean that every single Christian has his own personal angel. Doesn’t say that either. It just says their angels, collectively, are in Heaven standing in the very presence of God. They are the angels of His presence. They are the holy angels who have access to His throne. They behold His face, and those angels have as their special assignment the care of God’s little ones. That’s all it’s saying. You can’t conclude from that text that every single baby has his own angel, every single Christian has his own angel. That…that theory grew up, but it’s silly, because angels wasting their time when we were asleep just sitting around twiddling their celestial thumbs. I mean it wouldn’t make any sense at all. Plus there are times when some of us need a whole bunch of ’em, and we’d have to borrow them from somebody else. That’s not taught in the Scripture.

It did become believed in Judaism, however. The Jewish tradition and superstition, it appears in the beautiful story called Tobit, where everybody, every little child has his own angel. In fact, the Jews did believe this in the time of our Lord, and that’s why, in Acts 12:15, you remember when they were praying for Peter to get outta prison? And the Lord delivered Peter, and he banged on the door, and the little girl came to the door and came back and said, “It’s Peter.” They said, “No, no, he’s in prison.” They were praying for him to get out. They just believe he would. And so somebody says, “Oh, it is his angel.” Now, that wasn’t necessarily theologically correct. What it did was articulate a superstition at the time, and the superstition was that everybody had an angel, and that, when you died, it was very likely that your angel would then appear to the people who loved you after your death to let them know that you had gone. And so they’re saying, “Oh, this means Peter’s dead.” So they articulate that common superstition that is not taught in Scripture at all. All it’s saying in that verse is that God has all these angels standing in His presence, indicating their infinite holiness, and they are dispatched for the care of His little ones.

The eagle-eyed reader might wonder what happened to verse 11, which is in some Bible manuscripts but not in others. It is this beautiful verse:

For the Son of Man came to save the lost.

The parable which follows has its parallel passage in Luke 15:4-7:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

MacArthur says that Luke’s passage relates to unbelievers. Matthew’s concerns the faithful.

As I mentioned above, Jesus gave the disciples this parable in order that they would care for the converts and not neglect them like the Jewish leaders did. MacArthur tells us:

The Pharisees and the scribes, when they found somebody that was lowly or somebody that was insignificant or uneducated, untrained, not intellectual, not well-born, no influence, no money, they despised. They crushed. They stomped on those kinds of people.

However, this is not Jesus’s way, nor the way He wanted His disciples to treat the faithful:

… it is said of the Messiah in Matthew 12:20, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench.” A bruised reed trying to stay up in the wind, but bruised and about to bend and fall over, smoking flax trying to stay lit. The fire trying to be alive, but all that’s left is a small, little indication of light, and the smoke is coming that indicates its flickering out. When Jesus finds one who is broken and one whose life light is flickering, He doesn’t break it further and stomp out the flame that is remaining as the Pharisees did. He doesn’t break the bruised reed, and He doesn’t quench the smoking flax. Rather, He strengthens the bruised reed, and He fans to flame the smoking flax. The weak and the helpless, the powerless, those destroyed by sin and suffering, those bent with care, those lacking resources, those that the world pushes aside and tramples and despises and crushes and treated…and treats with contempt, the Lord loves and gathers the broken people to His heart. He heals the sick. He raises the outcasts. He cheers the fearful. He strengthens the doubters. He feeds the hungry; forgives the sinners. Not only that, He takes on their sorrow, takes on their woes, takes on their pain and exchanges His love.

Therefore, He gave them the parable of the shepherd — ‘the man’ — who owns one hundred sheep and goes to find the one that strays (verse 12). When the man finds his lost sheep, he rejoices and treasures it more than the ninety-nine which are together (verse 13).

Jesus concluded by linking that to God’s will for those who believe in His Son (verse 14) — let no believer go astray.

The Jewish leaders did not go looking for Jews who were not going to temple or for those who were broken spiritually or emotionally. They did not care. Jesus wanted the disciples to know their flock and minister to them as individuals. They were to know the faithful and their circumstances.

Of the shepherd, MacArthur says:

I think the idea here is very, very beautiful. I think a shepherd was so well acquainted with his sheep that he missed the presence of one because of its uniqueness, not because it didn’t add up when it was mathematically charted. It wasn’t a question of counting all day long. It was a question of missing one, because you didn’t see the inimitable characteristics of that one sheep that you knew well being acted out on the stage of the field. The shepherd really knew every sheep. In fact, most of the shepherds would know every little idiosyncrasy about every sheep, every little quirk, every little thing that the sheep did that was unique to that sheep, because they would inspect them every night as they were taking into the fold for the night; and so the shepherd would miss the one sheep.

He points out that the Bible has several verses about God’s love of the humble believer, among them:

1 Peter 5:7, “He careth for you.” And He cares for every single one of them. The Bible says repeatedly, “There is no respect of persons with God.” He doesn’t play any favorites. He doesn’t say anything about the sheep. He doesn’t say His fattest sheep, His best sheep, His most valuable sheep, His pet sheep. Didn’t matter. It was just one of the sheep; but every one of them was equally important to the Lord; because there’s no specific valuation given to one over another.

I love what it says in Job 34:19. Talks about God, and it says, “How much less to Him that accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor! For they are all the work of His hands.” God is not particularly fancied by princes, nor does He fancy them to be better than paupers; and even in Matthew 25, when men are judged, sent into eternal hell for what they have done, He says, “Because you have not done it unto the least of these, My brethren.” There is no respect of persons with God.

This divine approach towards all believers is something which should reassure us. God loves us in our humble circumstances, our infirmity, our brokenness. May we show others the same generosity of spirit.

In closing, the remainder of Matthew 18 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. I wanted to call attention to the verses on forgiveness. The first concerns what to do if someone sins against us (verses 15 to 20). Verse 18 says:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven.

Whatever we hold against someone in this life will be held against us in the next unless we mend our fences with that person.

Verses 21 to 35 relate the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It begins with this exchange:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The parable concerns a merciful master who forgave his servant’s debt. The servant, however, did not forgive someone who owed him. Not only did he choke the man, he had him put in prison. When the master found out, he became angry with the servant for not showing mercy to his debtor:

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Let us not bear grudges. Let us make up with those who have wronged us in the past. Let’s put away our family feuds. Let’s do this as soon as we can. Any day could be our last on this earth. We do not want to die only to find that our grudges will be held against us in the world to come.

Next time: Matthew 19:1-2

This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment. Wednesday’s entry addressed the way Jesus’s audience would have understood the story. Thursday’s discussed the parable in light of the examples of conflict, forgiveness and blessing in the Book of Genesis among brothers.

Today’s post posits that this parable’s overall theme is Jesus’s ministry to reconcile the lost tribes of Israel to God, uniting them with Judah.

This is not to say that Christians should disregard the message of forgiveness in the parable. The examples from Genesis on brotherly forgiveness and paternal — God’s — blessings — as well as those throughout Scripture — indicate that we are to copy their example in our own lives.

However, Jesus coming as the Shepherd to find lost sheep of Israel is foretold in Hosea and Ezekiel.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Yesterday’s post outlined the story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. The high point in his life occurred when God wrestled with him one night and had to stop the struggle at dawn the following day by dislocating his hip joint. Afterwards, God gave Jacob a new name: Israel. This was because he prevailed over both God and man.

Israel’s twelve sons each presided over large families, or tribes. Hence, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Book of Exodus begins with all the tribes living in Egypt. Joseph, who managed grain stores and advised Pharaoh, had been there for years. Pharaoh invited Joseph to reunite his brothers, their families and patriarch Israel and gave them the finest land, which was in Goshen.

Genesis 50 records the death of Joseph. He had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Even though he died, there were still twelve tribes, to be explained below.

These are the first seven verses of Exodus wherein all of Israel’s — Jacob’s — sons are named:

Israel Increases Greatly in Egypt

1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Exodus 1 explains that a new Pharaoh came to power, one who had not known Joseph. He feared that the Israelites would have so many more children that they would outnumber the Egyptians and possibly go to war with them. Therefore, to prevent this from happening, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites.

Jewish Virtual Library’s useful entry on the Twelve Tribes of Israel also has a map of each of the tribes’ territories once they reached the Promised Land. A summary and excerpts follow. Emphases mine below.

First, despite Joseph’s death and subsequent merging or absorption of other tribes, the number twelve remained constant:

The number twelve is neither fictitious nor the result of an actual genealogical development in patriarchal history. It is an institutionalized and conventionalized figure which is found among other tribes as well, such as the sons of Ishmael, of Nahor, of Joktan, and Esau. Similar organizational patterns built about groups of twelve, or even six, tribes, are known from Asia Minor, Greece and Italy.

Also:

there can be little doubt that this pattern of twelve attributed to the Hebrew tribes is very real and historically rooted. Thus, if one tribe were to withdraw from the union or to be absorbed into another, the number twelve would be preserved, either by splitting one of the remaining tribes into two or by accepting a new tribe into the union. For example, when the tribe of Levi is considered among the twelve tribes, the Joseph tribes are counted as one. However, when Levi is not mentioned, the Joseph tribes are counted separately as Manasseh and Ephraim. For the same duodecimal considerations, Simeon is counted as a tribe even after having been absorbed into Judah, and Manasseh even after having split in two, is considered one.

Secondly, once in the Promised Land, each tribe had its own territory and was self-governing, although they shared several common holy places, such as the Ark of the Covenant and Penuel (where God wrestled with Jacob and renamed him Israel).

The Old Testament recounts the stories of the twelve tribes which, many generations after Israel’s sons died, were often in conflict or refused to support each other. Jacob foretold what would happen to his sons in Genesis 49. Some tribes fared better than others. Ultimately:

It was only toward the end of the period of the Judges when the Philistine pressure on the Israelite tribes increased in the west and that of the Transjordanian peoples in the east, that the religionational tribal confederation assumed political and military dimensions. The Israelite tribes then consolidated as a crystallized national-territorial entity within the framework of a monarchical regime. David, Solomon, and afterward the kings of Israel and Judah tended to weaken tribal consciousness in favor of the territorial and monarchical organization. It is apparent, however, from Ezekiel’s eschatological [end times] vision that the awareness of Israel as a people composed of twelve tribes had not, even then, become effaced.

This brings us to the prophecies of Ezekiel, Hosea and onward to the main objective of Jesus’s ministry.

The Bible and the lost tribes of Israel

The other day I excerpted a sermon (or essay) by Pastor David B Curtis from the Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is called ‘The Father’s Two Sons’ and puts forward the case that the larger meaning is Jesus’s attempt to find the lost sheep of Israel and bring them back into the fold.

In this context, Pastor Curtis says the Prodigal Son represents the lost tribes, those who were cut off from the rest through sin and disobedience.

The tribes aligned as follows:

There were the 12 tribes, and they previously split into two separate nations. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were considered the Southern Kingdom, and together they were referred to as Judah.

The other ten tribes made up the Northern Kingdom, and they were designated by the name Israel.

This was Israel’s status:

These ten northern tribes were:

1. In a covenant relationship with the Father – just as the younger son was

2. Cut off from the Father – just as the younger son was

3. Considered dead to the Father – just as the younger son was

4. Intermingled with the pagan nations – just as the younger son was

5. Being restored to the Father through the Messiah – just as the younger son was

6. Causing the existing tribes to recoil and rebel against the Messiah

Hosea 1 recounts the Lord’s instructions that Hosea should take ‘a wife of whoredom’ and have ‘children of whoredom’ because they disobeyed Him. The three children were a son named Jezreel (‘sowing of seeds’), a daughter called No Mercy (God’s absence of mercy towards Israel) and another son named Not My People (God had left them to their own devices).

However, the end of the chapter foretells that Israel would one day return to the Lord. Furthermore (Hosea 1:11):

And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

That head is the Messiah — Jesus Christ.

Curtis then takes us to Ezekiel 37, the ‘dry bones’ chapter:

The prophet is taken to a valley, shown old dry bones, and they are given flesh and brought back to life with the Spirit of God. This is understood as resurrection imagery looking to the day when the people are restored to life in the land of promise.

The next instruction from the Lord to Ezekiel involved two sticks, representing Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 37:18-19, 22-24):

18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah,[e] and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand.

22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings[f] in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.

David also refers to Jesus, David’s descendant.

As we read the New Testament we also see a narrative of Jesus as the Shepherd who came to find His lost sheep.

In the gospels, John 10:16 mentions ‘one flock, one shepherd’. In Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus instructed the disciples to go only to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’. In Matthew 15:24, Jesus said He was sent ‘only’ to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’. His primary purpose was to unite the tribes and reconcile them to God. After their rejection, He turned to the Gentiles.

The letters of 1 Peter are addressed to former Jews in the diaspora of Asia Minor. 1 Peter 1 and 2 have several references to straying sheep, a Shepherd as well as the reminder that they were not always one people but are once again ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood’ because they believed that Christ Jesus is their promised Messiah.

Another word often used in the New Testament, particularly the gospels, is ‘children’, meaning the lost tribes. Luke 1:1 speaks of John the Baptist turning ‘many of the children of Israel’ to ‘the Lord their God’. Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:27 record Jesus’s words of ‘children’s bread’ (His ministry to Israel).

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Jewish leaders

Once we take all of these biblical references into account, we come to a clearer understanding of the primary lesson of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: restoring Israel to sonship with God the Father and brotherly relationship with Judah.

Recall that in the first two verses of Luke 15, the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about Jesus’s associating and eating with sinners.

As I wrote the other day, His response to them is contained in three parables: the Lost Sheep (Israel), the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son (Israel).

When we view the Prodigal Son as the lost tribes of Israel, it is easy to see that the father in the story is God the Father, who wants to welcome them back into His family.

Curtis tells us:

The two sons represent the two houses, Israel and Judah. Israel, the youngest son, starts in covenant, but is broken off, dispersed among the pagan nations, and then later, as a lost sheep, some are brought back in love and mercy from the Father.

Curtis explains the parable’s open ending in this context:

For some reason, the current religious regime was not seeing that as the plan and were not accepting it, and that is why the story has an open ending – because they were being told what was happening, and were to decide their response.

As we know, the Jewish leaders — the elder brother — were unswayed by Jesus’s appeal. They were angry with Him from the beginning.

In light of the Old Testament prophecies, Curtis’s interpretation of the Prodigal Son makes more sense than the ones we usually hear or read. His advice to us when reading the New Testament is:

knowing his main task is to the lost house of Israel, and we understand that in Hosea they will be restored and called “Children of the Living God”[,] we should start picking up on that language coming about in his work …

And of course, to make sure you do not misunderstand this as to say only those of the houses of Israel and Judah would be called children of God, we know from the opening remarks in John, that after [Jesus] came to his own, and was rejected in the end, that this grace was granted to others.

I hope this interpretation enriches your understanding of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It has added a profound and new dimension to my appreciation of it.

This and other posts on the parable can be found on my Christianity / Apologetics page under Parable of the Prodigal Son.

End of series

This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment. Yesterday’s entry addressed the way Jesus’s audience would have understood the story. Today’s discusses the parable in light of the examples of conflict, forgiveness and blessing in the Book of Genesis among brothers.

Brothers in Genesis

Some of the most dramatic Bible stories concern relationships between brothers in the Book of Genesis.

The Revd James Crampsey SJ, superior of the Jesuits in Edinburgh, wrote a considered analysis of three sets of brothers in Genesis in light of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In anticipation of the reading of this parable on Laetare Sunday in Lent 2013, he wrote ‘The Transformation of Esau and the Parable of the Prodigal Son’:

I would like to suggest that there are stories about brotherly relationships in the book of Genesis that may provide a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the well-known stories of Cain and Abel, and of Joseph and his brothers; and the perhaps less familiar one of Jacob and his brother, Esau. In this article I will give a close reading of the latter story, and suggest how the reconciliation between the two brothers points forwards and backwards in the Book of Genesis, and also evokes the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It is a thought-provoking essay and I highly recommend it. Excerpts aid my exposition below, emphases mine.

Cain and Abel

Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain was consumed by raging jealousy when God rejected his sacrifice but accepted Abel’s. Cain tilled the soil and offered God some of his crops (verse 3). Abel was a shepherd and offered the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions (verse 4).

God spoke to Cain afterward:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”

As we know, Cain did not rule over sinful desire but succumbed to it by murdering Abel (verse 8). When the Lord asked him where Abel was, Cain lied (verse 9):

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Although God deprived Cain from continuing to grow productive crops (verse 11), He did prevent Cain from being killed in revenge. Cain expected to die at another man’s hand:

15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.

Nod means ‘wandering’. Once there, his wife gave birth to Enoch (verse 17), who later began his own family (verses 18-24). Meanwhile, Eve gave birth to Seth, God’s gift to fill the absence of Abel (verse 25). Seth’s wife gave birth to Enosh and (verse 26):

At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25 begins the story of Jacob and Esau, twins born to Isaac’s wife Rebekah in a difficult pregnancy (verses 22, 23). They were Abraham’s grandsons.

Esau was red and hairy (verse 25). Jacob was holding onto his heel when they were born (verse 26). Jacob means ‘take by the heel’, which means ‘to cheat or to trick’. The Lord later changed Jacob’s name to Israel and Esau’s was later changed to Edom. In verse 23 the Lord told Rebekah that her pregnancy was difficult because:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you[c] shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.”

These people were the Israelites and the Edomites.

Isaac favoured Esau because he hunted game which provided tasty meat and Rebekah preferred Jacob who dwelled in tents (verses 27, 28).

Esau lived by his appetites and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew because he was dying of hunger one day (verses 29-34). The rest of their story continues through Genesis 33. It involves deception, when, as Isaac was going blind and nearing death, Rebekah put animal skins and Esau’s clothes on Jacob to fool her husband into giving Jacob the blessing owed his elder son (Genesis 27:18-29). By the time Esau entered for his blessing, Isaac said, essentially, that he had nothing left for him except to say that he would serve Jacob until he tired of it and broke away (verse 40).

Esau vowed to kill his brother after Isaac’s death (verse 41), but word got to Rebekah (verse 42). She told Jacob to go to her brother Laban’s house and stay there until Esau calmed down (verses 43-45).

From there, Crampsey tells us:

Jacob is tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, to serve for fourteen years to secure the hand of his true love, Rachel, the younger sister of his first wife, Leah. The unloved Leah gives birth to four sons, but Rachel is barren. The sisters’ servants provide Jacob with another four sons; Leah then has two more sons and a daughter. With strong echoes of Sarah, Rachel remains childless. And despite all these births, is there still a threat to the promise? Surely God’s faithfulness to the promise must be bound up with Jacob and Rachel.

Finally, after a long, heart-rending wait for Rachel, who had to live through the experience of Leah and female servants giving birth to Jacob’s children (Genesis 30:22-24):

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph,[j] saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

That is the Joseph of the ‘Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. His story is below.

Once Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob asked Laban to release him from service. He had fulfilled his commitment to his uncle and wanted to return home (verses 25, 26):

Laban is not enthusiastic, but Jacob (whose name means ‘tricky’) out-foxes his wily father-in-law, having acquired Laban’s daughters, and true to character steals what is due to Laban’s sons. It is time to get out of town (again!).

Genesis 31 describes Laban’s coldness towards Jacob as well as his own daughters Rachel and Leah. It’s understandable. Rachel then stole her father’s household goods (verse 19). Afterwards, they all left. Laban was furious and left with his kinsmen in hot pursuit. On the third day after their departure, God appeared to Laban in a dream and told him to say nothing at all to Jacob (verse 24). When Laban finally caught up with Jacob and his daughters, the two men reconciled (verses 43-54). Before leaving the next day to return home, Laban kissed and blessed Rachel, Leah and their children (verse 55).

The next chapter in Jacob’s story, told in Genesis 32, was to reconcile with Esau:

When we remember the last words of Esau, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob’, God’s promise of presence and protection needs to take concrete shape, and it does:

Jacob went on his way and the angels [malachim] of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ (32:1-2)

(Remember Psalm 34: ‘the angel of the Lord is encamped around those who revere him to rescue them.’)

This encourages Jacob to send his own messengers (malachim) to Esau to announce his arrival with a hint that he is now rich, and that it might be in Esau’s interests to receive him. The messengers return, and strike fear into Jacob’s heart: Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. With his brain working overtime (what would someone need four hundred men for?), Jacob first splits his caravan into two in the hope that one of the two of them might escape.

In fear and humility, Jacob prayed for God’s continued blessings, especially safety for him and his family (verses 9-12).

After splitting his caravan up, Jacob and his family crossed the stream of Jabbok. From there, he sent them on ahead and camped out alone. That night, a man wrestled with him until dawn (verse 24). Jacob prevailed throughout. Finally, to stop the struggle, the man touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint (verse 25). The man told him that from henceforth his name would be Israel, as he had prevailed against God and man (verse 27). It was at that point that Jacob — Israel — realised he had been wrestling with God. After God blessed him, Jacob named that piece of land Peniel — ‘the face of God’ (verse 30).

Now we understand how and why the tribes were called the tribes of Israel, Jacob’s descendants.

Genesis 33 recounts the meeting and reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Instead of the violence Jacob expected, his elder brother rejoiced:

 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Yesterday’s post on the actions of the father towards the Prodigal Son mentioned what the embrace and kiss on the neck meant to the Jews; not only was it a loving greeting but, where there had been separation or discord, it also signified forgiveness.

Jacob brought with him servants and livestock whom he planned to give to Esau as a gift of reconciliation. He had sent messengers ahead to give Esau the message, after which Esau set off to journey to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:3-6).

Once the brothers were face to face, Esau initially graciously declined the offer, saying he had his full share already (Genesis 33:9). Esau was so godly at that moment that:

10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

In return, Esau offered Jacob some of his servants, but Jacob declined, equally graciously (verse 15).

The brothers left each other’s company and each group returned to their respective homes, with Jacob journeying on, ultimately to the city of  Shechem in Canaan (verse 18).

Joseph and his brothers

Thanks to the superb musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, most of us are familiar with his story, told in Genesis 37-50.

Crampsey reminds us:

The spectre of fraternal murder hovers over the Joseph section of the book of Genesis. The coat of many colours has been interpreted as Jacob’s public declaration of Joseph as his heir, even though he is the youngest of eleven brothers. The brothers’ seething animosity towards Joseph increases as the dreamer, rather naively, tells them of his dream about the sheaves of corn. Then he has a second dream in which the sun and moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him. Jacob rebukes him for this but keeps it in his mind; the brothers are consumed by envy. Their chance comes when Joseph is sent out to them as they pasture their sheep.

They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another,

‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ (Genesis 37:18-20)

Reuben persuades them to put him in a pit but not kill him, as he intends to rescue him later. But while Reuben is out of the picture, the other brothers sell him to the Midianites. Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave, while his brothers return with the blood-dipped garment to a distraught Jacob.

I wrote last month about Joseph’s amazing success in Egypt managing grain stores for the Pharaoh (as well as advising him) and how this gave rise centuries later to the pyramid-as-grain-silo theory.

As Joseph was stockpiling grain for the people of Egypt to keep the people fed during the famine, it spread to Canaan. Jacob sent his sons to buy grain from Egypt twice (Genesis 42 and Genesis 43). On the second occasion, Joseph and his brothers were reconciled (Genesis 45). Pharaoh was so delighted that he invited all of them and Jacob (Israel) to move from Canaan to Egypt so they could all be together (verses 16-20). This is how the Israelites came to be in Egypt.

They settled in the land of Goshen (Genesis 46:28). Joseph was finally able to see his father once again:

29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Joseph took Jacob to meet Pharaoh. Israel blessed him (Genesis 47:7). Pharaoh told Joseph to settle Israel, his sons and their families in the land of Rameses — Goshen — the best area in Egypt (verse 11). Israel lived there for 17 years (verse 48).

Before he died at the age of 147, Israel asked Joseph to take him back home to be buried with his ancestors (verse 30). He also blessed Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48). Finally, he gathered all his sons to give them his final blessing and foretelling of their futures, some of which were less than favourable (Genesis 49). He left his most fulsome blessing for his favourite son, Joseph.

Genesis 50 records the burial of Israel and the fear Joseph’s brothers had that he might seek revenge. They asked for his forgiveness:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Crampsey explains:

As Esau had promised himself revenge when Isaac died, so the brothers think that Joseph will do. They manufacture a word of Jacob to persuade Joseph to re-write his narrative. But like Esau, Joseph has already freed himself from the need for vengeance. And despite his disclaimer about being in the place of God, Joseph aligns himself with God’s plan ‘to preserve a numerous people’, and says, ‘I myself will provide for you and your little ones’.

God’s promise is fulfilled by Joseph’s refusal to take vengeance on his brothers, by Esau’s magnanimity toward Jacob. The curse of Cain is not inexorably written into the script of the people of Israel.

When Joseph died, his sons embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt (verse 26).

Isaac and Ishmael

Crampsey does not go into their story, but Genesis 16 tells us that Abram’s wife Sarai was infertile and that, in order to have a son, he slept with her servant Hagar, an Egyptian. When Hagar conceived, she lorded it over Sarai, who threw her out of the house.

An angel of the Lord told Hagar to return to Sarai and Abram, adding that the boy would be called Ishmael and that:

12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Genesis 17 relates the circumcision of Abram and Ishmael, then aged 13, and God’s covenant with Abram, whereby his name is changed to Abraham. God also promised Sarai — now Sarah — would bear Abraham’s son Isaac.

Genesis 21 tells us that, once Isaac was born, Hagar laughed at Sarah. Not surprisingly, she told Abraham to throw Hagar out of the house. He was reluctant to do so but God spoke to him and told him to follow his wife’s wishes. There was more:

13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”

When Abraham died (Genesis 25), Isaac and Ishmael buried him together:

Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Until this week, I had considered the Prodigal Son rather a stand-alone parable.

Now — and particularly with today’s day-long research and writing of this post — I have come to see it as a continuation of God’s infinite love and forgiveness.

I have an old post or a comment from a few years ago which explains that when the word ‘hate’ is used in the Old Testament, in ancient Hebrew it means ‘less loved’, therefore, not ‘loathed to the point of wishing death’, the way it is understood in many languages today.

We see this in the examples above. God loved everyone in different degrees.

God allowed Cain to stay alive and have his own family. He blessed him with life and told him that if anyone tried to kill him, that person would meet with His vengeance ‘sevenfold’. He also blessed him with a wife and a son, Enoch (a different Enoch to Noah’s ancestor).

With Ishmael and Isaac, God sent blessings of descendants and foreign lands to the former. So, although He loved and blessed Isaac more because he was Abraham’s son with Sarah, Ishmael did not want for anything. On a brotherly note, the Bible records that when Abraham died, the two sons buried him together.

Esau was impetuous. Through Rebekah, God punished him for selling his birthright for a plate of stew and for marrying the wrong women. Esau also married Hittites, who caused no end of grief for Isaac and Rebekah.

We have an example of the context of ‘hate’ in Esau’s — later Edom’s — life. Got Questions has a great explanation of how it unfolded. In Malachi 1:3, the Lord told the prophet (Malachi 1:2-3)):

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

St Paul refers to this verse in Romans 9:10-13.

Got Questions explains:

God chose Jacob (whom He later renamed “Israel”) to be the father of His chosen people, the Israelites. God rejected Esau (who was also called “Edom”) and did not choose him to be the father of His chosen people. Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, were in many ways blessed by God (Genesis 33:9; Genesis chapter 36).

So, considering the context, God loving Jacob and hating Esau has nothing to do with the human emotions of love and hate. It has everything to do with God choosing one man and his descendants and rejecting another man and his descendants. God chose Abraham out of all the men in the world. The Bible very well could say, “Abraham I loved, and every other man I hated.” God chose Abraham’s son Isaac instead of Abraham’s son Ishmael. The Bible very well could say, “Isaac I loved, and Ishmael I hated.” Romans chapter 9 makes it abundantly clear that loving Jacob and hating Esau was entirely related to which of them God chose. Hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau had died, the Israelites and Edomites became bitter enemies. The Edomites often aided Israel’s enemies in attacks on Israel. Esau’s descendants brought God’s curse upon themselves.

Therefore, what the Edomites did long after Esau’s death was less to do with him and more a result of their own sin.

Also remember how Esau embraced and kissed Jacob so warmly when they finally met up years later before going their own ways. Esau also offered Jacob the gift of servants by way of return for Jacob’s gift of servants and livestock.

And then we have Joseph who took care of his brothers and their families after Jacob’s — Israel’s — death. He bore no ill-will towards them. He loved them and their families.

Crampsey ties Cain’s, Esau’s and Joseph’s stories in this way with the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

I would suggest that the murder of Abel is redeemed by the transformation of Esau and his reconciliation with Jacob. This allows the sons of Jacob to grow up in the land of the promise, and even if they mimic the fratricide of Abel with what they plan for Joseph, the spectre of retaliatory homicide at the death of Jacob is removed by the magnanimity of Joseph. It is in refusing the temptation to fratricide that Esau and Joseph are god-like, are in the image and likeness of God, and allow God’s plan to take root. It is almost as though the first verses of the book of Exodus are the conclusion to the book of Genesis:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:1-7)

I would also suggest that these stories of brothers in the book of Genesis may be a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Prodigal Son. And is there anything to think about soteriologically [in terms of salvation through Christ] when reconciliation with the brother is more challenging than reconciliation with the father?

It is very rare for me to praise a Jesuit, but this time I will. Today, the Revd James Crampsey SJ has taught me about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Far from being an outlier parable, it ties together the loving-kindness and mercy of God to brothers in the Old Testament, their many blessings, their reconciliation and to redemption through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do keep in mind those first seven verses of Exodus. Those are the subject of tomorrow’s post. I meant to post on it today, but today’s topic needed more exposition than expected. If you have read this far, many thanks.

Tomorrow: The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Twelve Tribes of Israel

This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment.

Today’s takes us back to Jesus’s time and to how inheritance issues and father-son relationships were handled. Much of what follows is not mentioned in most sermons on the subject, which focus on the need for forgiveness and lack of selfishness.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is found only in the Gospel according to St Luke (Luke 15:11-32):

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[b] 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

In Jesus’s era …

One of the best expositions from a Jewish perspective comes from Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. The essay (or sermon) was published in 2013. Excerpts and summaries follow, emphases mine. Whilst it seems that this church is Hebraic, given their use of Yeshua and Yahweh, the traditions explained add new insight to this powerful parable.

Imagine that we listened to this when Jesus told it. In response to the complaint from Pharisees and scribes that He associated with sinners (Luke 15:1-2), He related three parables about finding what had been lost and rejoicing over it, i.e. He came to save the lost. To this end, He gave us the Parable of the Lost Sheep, then the Parable of the Lost Coin before concluding with the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The Prodigal — Wasteful — Son had the audacity to ask his father for his share of the property (verse 12). This was highly uncommon in those days. In fact, the younger brother might as well have said, ‘Father, I wish you were dead’, because an inheritance of this nature was distributed only upon death.

For whatever reason, the father agreed with his younger son. How much did he give him?

… according to the laws in Deuteronomy, the first born would receive a double portion, and so therefore, in this case, the younger son’s portion would only have been a third.

In verse 13, we read that ‘the son gathered all he had’. The verb had a deeper meaning then than it does today. It meant more than ‘picking up’ or ‘putting together’:

according to some scholars, the original language that is translated as “gathered all” literally means he “turned everything into cash.”

This makes more sense in the story, as it would be difficult for the son to have packed up all of the physical possessions and property that would have been bestowed to him.  Plus, the verse goes on to say that he spent everything, implying that what he had was in the form of money.

Imagine the father and elder son’s grief as they saw heirlooms and, even more importantly, portions of their land sold so thoughtlessly:

he most likely would have sold things at a low price in order to liquidate them as quickly as he wanted in order to leave.

This would take a big toll on the family overall too, because now, a big chunk of what was family property, and was most likely tied to the family income, was gone.

Not only would the family have suffered financially due to this, but the father’s reputation would surely have been in question. Living in community like they did at the time, the news of something like this would have quickly spread. Everyone would have heard what was going on, especially as the father or son was going around liquidating things.

So for the father, he was not only losing out financially, but the destructive relationship would have brought about public humiliation in town and to the father’s name in general.

The son frittered away every last coin on reckless living when a famine hit (verse 14). Because he was penniless, he had no means of feeding himself. He was so desperate that he did what no self-respecting Jew would do: hired himself to a Gentile pig farmer (verse 15). There, he fed the pigs but received no food himself (verse 16):

Chances are the speech and dress of the son would have given him away as being a Hebrew, and in an effort to rid himself of this man, the person assigns him a job he suspects will cause the man to leave. It can be hard for us to fully grasp how this is would be for someone from a culture that loathes pigs …

Some say that the pods spoken of here were not something that could even be digested by humans, and thus he was unable to even eat them, but truly and strongly desired to be able to.

He couldn’t eat what the pigs were eating, and asking others was not working, as no one gave him anything. He was finally at the end of his rope, unable to provide anything for himself.

Why had he not returned home earlier? Why had he stooped to such depths?

… something we may miss here is that according to Jewish custom, he was almost unable to go home. There was the ceremony known as the Kezazah – which means literally – “the cutting off.”

If a Jewish boy lost his family inheritance among the Gentiles and sought to return home, the community would perform the ceremony by breaking a large pot in front of him and declare – “so-in-so is cut off from his people.” Once performed, he would be an outcast and no one would have anything to do with him. So going home would not be putting himself in a very favorable situation anyway.

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls gives this example of a fatherly warning that relates here:

And now, my sons, be watchful of your inheritance that has been bequeathed to you, which your fathers gave you. Do not give your inheritance to the Gentiles…lest you be humiliated in their eyes and foolish, and they trample upon you…and become your masters.

This is what the son has done; he has squandered his inheritance among the Gentiles. So, he was now literally a man without a home, and had no way to return to his family or any of the rights he previously held as a member of his community. When it says in the verse that he took a journey, the Greek word used only here by Luke literally means that he “traveled away from his own people.”

So, he has left his people, cut all ties and rights to them, took everything he owned and lived recklessly and lost everything. He had nothing left, nowhere to go and of course could not simply call his parents to come and pick him up.  

He knows going home would mean dealing with the ridicule of the rest of the village, as well as that of his brother who now has the rights of the rest of the father’s possessions.

In his brokenness, the younger son decided he had no option but to return home and face the consequences from his family and the village. In his desperation, humility struck. He was satisfied to be a servant as he had relinquished his status as son (verse 19).

The father saw him coming from a long distance (verse 20). Is that not what a parent does when a missing child returns? He or she instinctively knows his own children from afar.

The father could hardly wait to embrace his son and ran to meet him. I have an image of a long, dusty road leading to the family estate, with the father near the house and his son at the end of the road in the distance. Without reading too much into what Jesus left unstated, I do wonder whether the father might have been doing paperwork and had a strange premonition which caused him to leave the house and look down the road.

The father’s running would have been deeply undignified. A Jewish man did not show his legs in public. He would have had to gather up his robe and expose them in order to run, lest he stumble. Even worse, he was running towards a son who brought him grave dishonour:

The Jews considered this highly undignified in their culture. The patriarch never ran or never made the first move in such a situation.

Not only did the man hug and kiss his son, welcoming him back into the fold but, equally crucially, he probably did not want the son going into the village where angry people might have performed the aforementioned Kezazah ceremony on him.

Interestingly, the Berean Bible Church exposition doubts whether the son is actually repentant, which goes against most interpretations of this parable. The son only wanted to eat to survive:

One thing we should notice here is that the son was not repentant. Many over the years have understood that when it says “he came to himself” that it implies a repentant attitude, but others point out that there is nothing in the language to really reveal that at all. He does not mention being sorry for anything he had done, he simply realizes that he was truly starving and decided enough is enough. He reasons that even his father’s servants have food, and that is what he desires to have so he won’t perish.

He will acknowledge his sin against the father, but only because it is a means to an end – he desires to eat, even if it is as a servant.

What the Prodigal Son said is close to what Pharoah said to Moses (Bible verse emphasis in the original):

The words he chooses to say to his father may have some significance too …

When the son says “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,” The words used here are a paraphrased version of the words of Pharaoh to Moses after the plagues. Pharaoh says:

I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. (Exodus 10:16 ESV)

Some commentators say that the Aramaic version of this verse is worded even more closely to the way it is stated in our text in Luke. If that is indeed a legitimate link, we all know Pharaoh was not repentant. He simply wanted to manipulate Moses and get away from the bad situation, and that seems a similar attitude that the son in our story has.

Note that what the son says (verse 21) to his father differs somewhat from what he planned to say originally (verses 18, 19). He might have had second thoughts when he saw his father running towards him. Was it in anger? He didn’t know, but it is a good assumption. The father could have given him a good beating, not unknown in those times. According to the mores of the day, the son would also have thought that he deserved it.

Instead, before the son can say anything, the father restores him to his former status with an embrace and a kiss (verse 20).

As the lost was now found (verse 24), the father set out to treat him like a prince with the best robe a ring and sandals (verses 22, 23). The fatted calf was very much a part of this reconciliation.

An exposition on HubPages explains the significance of the father’s actions (bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine):

Custom #4 The father kisses his son on the neck as a custom of greeting and an expression of forgiveness.

Custom #5 The father gives the younger son the best robe, a ring and sandals. These gifts are public indications that this son was no longer a servant but a son who has been welcomed back into his house.

Collectively, the items represented the father’s best for his son. The ROBE belonged to his father, so this was symbolic of the father honoring the son and treating him like royalty and giving him the clothes off his own back.

The RING represents the father’s authority and a symbol of reinstatement to sonship.

The SHOES or SANDALS illustrate that the son is not considered a slave or a servant any longer. Slaves and servants didn’t wear shoes but would go barefooted. The prodigal son returned home as a slave.

Slaves carried and tied their masters’ sandals. (Remember John the Baptist said he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ shoes). The father was indicating to his son that he was receiving him back not as a servant but as a beloved son.

Custom #6 A fatted calf was killed to celebrate. Meat was not a part of the daily diet. It was normally reserved for special celebrations.

Overall meaning of the parable

The message is that God the Father forgives sinners their sins, no matter how atrocious, for which Jesus suffered and died on the cross.

The elder brother embodies the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, scribes and others in the Jewish hierarchy who did not deign to associate with little people and sinners, whom the younger brother represents. The religious elite were far too holy. Sounds a bit like some high-ranking clergy today cloistered within their walls except for the scheduled church service, television programme or photo op.

Jesus also intended for this parable to signal the end of works righteousness. He, the Messiah, was now among them ushering in the New Covenant. From that point, the Jews could continue to adhere to the Law of the Old Testament (older brother), but it would not bring them salvation. As What Christians Want to Know explains:

The religious leaders saw their rewards due for their works.  They didn’t understand that they can bring nothing to the plan of salvation and if they try to earn it, they do not understand how God saves and that it is Jesus’ righteousness alone that accounts them worthy.  No human works can ever earn salvation. The youngest son had nothing to bring, no good works, and came back with barely the shabby clothes on his back. This may be why the father provided a robe for him and sandals for his feet.

The father’s pursuit of his son parallels Our Father’s pursuit of sinners to bring them back to Him:

it is with great intensity that God the Father seeks those to whom will be His children for now and for eternity.  And God never gives up this pursuit. The Bible emphasizes:

    • there is no one who seeks God (Romans 3:11);
    • that our “Salvation does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16);
    • that Jesus tells them plainly that, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:29); and
    • as stated by Paul that, “… he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and willto the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

A note for those evangelising

These days it is highly likely that those clergy and laypeople engaging in local mission or evangelism work will encounter Muslims. The Berean Bible Church exposition says that many Muslims believe the Parable of the Prodigal Son means that anyone can be forgiven without repentance and belief in Jesus Christ.

It is hard to understand their reasoning. Perhaps they are reading the story too literally: loving human father forgives desperate human son. The End.

In such a case, the mission worker must explain that this parable (among others) is an allegory. It is a story that explains the great divine truth, namely:

the Father in heaven, sending the son, who is God incarnate, who assumes the humiliating position as a human in order to passionately go out and seek and save those who were lost, and bring them into reconciliation and sonship once again.

The Koran is more history and instruction rather than genre. Today, much of Islam involves the book’s literal interpretation. Reading philosophy and literature from the ancient Muslim world has been discouraged in recent decades, and, with it, the ability to think critically and abstractly. In Europe, at any rate, there are very few Muslim philosophers. Many Muslim secondary students here are dissuaded at home or by imams from studying philosophy or literature.

In any event, the conclusion about the Prodigal Son remains the same. What Christians Want to Know puts it like this:

Perhaps He is pursuing you now.  If you are reading this, He has either sought you and bought you or He is seeking you now, you who are lost.  It is time to come to the Father through Jesus Christ today, as John 14:6 says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Will you come today?

Let us pray the answer is yes.

Tomorrow: the Prodigal Son and the lost tribes of Israel

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