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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 Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 11, 2022.

My previous entry for this Sunday was for the readings for the Feast of the Holy Cross.

The standard readings for Year C and the exegesis on Luke 15:1-10 follow.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The Lord passes judgement on His people for their sins by way of an invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans.

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

4:11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse–

4:12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

4:22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”

4:23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.

4:24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.

4:25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.

4:26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

4:27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

4:28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David recognises the sin inherent in mankind and prays in joyful expectation that God will deliver Israel.

Psalm 14

14:1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

14:3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?

14:5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

14:6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

14:7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

First reading – alternate

The Lord is exceedingly angry at the calf-worshipping Israelites, but Moses implores Him to relent on a fierce judgement.

Exodus 32:7-14

32:7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;

32:8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”

32:9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.

32:10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

32:11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'”

32:14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm – alternate

This penitential Psalm which David wrote will be familiar to many and confirms the doctrine of Original Sin (verse 5).

Psalm 51:1-10

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Epistle

Paul expresses his gratitude for being saved from his sins by faith through grace in Christ Jesus. Verse 15 is regularly recited in the Anglican 1662 Book of Common prayer Communion liturgy.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service,

1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

1:14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost.

1:16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

Through these short parables, Jesus tells the Pharisees that He came to save sinners, the spiritually lost.

Luke 15:1-10

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

15:7 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.

15:8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Before going into the Gospel, the rest of today’s readings have a common theme of sin and salvation.

Unknowingly, John MacArthur, whose church does not follow the Lectionary, referred to this theme by mentioning Psalm 51, today’s alternate Psalm:

You remember in Psalm 51, David coming out of his terrible sin, asked God to restore to him the joy of his salvation. God rejoices. God experiences joy. And if you ask yourself in one of those moments when you’re musing about why things are the way they are in the world and why there was a Fall and why there is salvation and why God is redeeming people through human history, you could ultimately come to the point: because it gives Him such joy. God delights in the recovery of sinners. And God shares that delight with all the holy angels and all the redeemed and glorified saints. And part of eternal rejoicing in heaven is going to be this endless chorus of hallelujahs because we have been redeemed. God finds His joy in the recovery of lost sinners.

MacArthur also reflects on God’s patience mixed in with judgement over the Israelites, as we see in our reading from Exodus. MacArthur discusses Deuteronomy in the same context:

Go back in the Old Testament to the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of Moses, and the 30th chapter. God has not been reluctant to share with us the source of His joy. In the prior chapters in Deuteronomy, God told the children of Israel, who had now come into the land, that if they were obedient, they would be blessed and if they were disobedient, they would be cursed. And God knew which they would choose. And so in chapter 30 He writes, “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you,” and by the way, these are the writings of Moses, but the words of the Lord God Himself, “so it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you…” He’s saying, some day when you wake up and take a look at the curses that you have endured and, verse 2, “and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity and have compassion on you and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed and you shall possess it and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” And He’s talking about spiritual life and salvation and regeneration and a new creation. Verse 8 says, “And you will again obey the Lord and observe His commandments which I command you this day.” And then listen to verse 9. “Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body…the offspring of your cattle…the produce of your ground.” Why? “For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good just as He rejoiced over your fathers if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in the book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” We’re not talking about external religion, we’re not talking about superficiality, we’re not talking about a reinstitution of ceremony; we’re talking about a transformation and salvation. What brings the Lord joy? It is the recovery of the lost. It is the salvation of sinners.

Now on to today’s reading.

As I have mentioned over the past few weeks, Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teachings appear in Luke 9 and continue through Luke 19. We are now in Luke 15. These teaching accounts represent what Jesus did during the final six months of His ministry.

MacArthur describes the atmosphere that Jesus encountered at this time:

Now, as we come to chapter 15, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem He’s been moving that direction since chapter 9 verse 51.  He is headed toward Jerusalem very soon.  And there the hurricane of hatred will hit Him with its full force.  Its winds are increasing in intensity.  They are being propelled by the breath of the Pharisees and scribes whose hostility continues to increase.  And their hostility is collecting hostility among the people they’re influencing. 

Two weeks ago, on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, we had a story from Luke 14:1, 7-14 about our Lord’s breaking bread with Pharisees who witnessed His healing of a man with dropsy (oedema). Jesus then went on to talk about not grabbing the best seat at the table, lest the host ask one to take a lesser seat.

Today, Luke recounts that Jesus is again involved with a pharisaical controversy about dining, this time with tax collectors and sinners. Pharisees, the self-righteous, do not understand that He came to save lost souls.

Luke tells us that tax collectors and sinners were gathering to hear Jesus teach (verse 1).

Matthew Henry explains the deeply rooted hostility that the Jews had towards their own who became tax collectors, i.e. part of the Roman system. Matthew the Apostle was one such man:

Great multitudes of Jews went with him (ch. 14 25), with such an assurance of admission into the kingdom of God that he found it requisite to say that to them which would shake their vain hopes. Here multitudes of publicans and sinners drew near to him, with a humble modest fear of being rejected by him, and to them he found it requisite to give encouragement, especially because there were some haughty supercilious people that frowned upon them. The publicans, who collected the tribute paid to the Romans, were perhaps some of them bad men, but they were all industriously put into an ill name, because of the prejudices of the Jewish nation against their office. They are sometimes ranked with harlots (Matt 21 32); here and elsewhere with sinners, such as were openly vicious, that traded with harlots, known rakes.

The Pharisees and the scribes, the latter of whom were religious lawyers, grumbled — complained — saying that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (verse 2).

MacArthur explained how the Pharisees viewed a meal, which they took only with their own:

Let me tell you how bad this was.  If a Pharisee…you had to hire…a Pharisee would hire somebody to clean his house or to grind flour.  That would be somebody among the common people, the Am HaAretz.  And the rabbinic law says that if you hire an Am HaAretz to grind your flour, you have a lady in there grinding flour in your house, if she’s in your house grinding flour, as soon as she stops grinding, your house is unclean.  As long as she’s grinding, it’s clean.  As soon as she stops, it’s unclean.  Now, if you have two ladies grinding flour and one stops and the other keeps going, the house is not unclean, but anything the first lady can touch is unclean.  This was developed and actually codified in A.D. 200 in the Mishnah, but was traditional through the years before.  You say, well, where in the world did they get these ideas?  Where did they get this from?  Well, they got it from their own self-righteousness and then they looked in the Scriptures to find verses that they could twist and pervert.  Here’s one, for example, that they loved to use. Psalm 1, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners.”  I mean, they completely perverted that.  They loved to take Proverbs 1, familiar words, where verse 15 says, “My son, do not walk in the way with them.  Keep your feet from their path.”  They do wickedness.  They do evil.  It was just a twisting of Scripture.  They loved to use Isaiah 52:11“Touch nothing unclean.  Go out of the midst…purify yourselves.”  They pushed that to the absolute extreme.  And it showed up everywhere but, in particular, where they ate.  Now, eating for them started out complex.  They had to have all this kind of kosher diet.  And they had taken what the Old Testament indicated was to be a proper Jewish diet and they had expanded it and embellished it.  And it got to the point where — this is an interesting thing — they couldn’t eat food that hadn’t been tithedThey couldn’t eat ten beans; they could only eat nine and one had to be given to the priest at the temple.  I mean, it got down to the…You know, Jesus said, you tithe the mint and the anise and the cumin and all those little herbs.  Sure, because they couldn’t eat anything that didn’t get tithed.  That’s how ridiculously legalistic they were.  The Babylonian Talmud lists things unbecoming to a holy Jew and one is to recline at a table with an Am HaAretz, a lowlife.  Here’s one that just blew my mind.  Pharisees and scribes could not sit on opposite sides of a dining room, you know, at some event or some restaurant or some occasion.  They couldn’t sit on the opposite side of the dining room if anywhere in the dining room, even on the far opposite side, if somebody on the opposite side was eating meat and somebody else was eating cheese.  Now, you remember that in the kosher diet you don’t mix milk and meat.  And that comes from the Old Testament law about not boiling a calf in its own milk.  So one guy could eat all the cheese he wanted.  Another guy could eat all the meat he wanted.  That wasn’t the issue.  You got one guy eating meat and one guy eating cheese.  But a Pharisee would have to get up and leave, because if he saw one guy eating meat and one guy eating cheese, they would mix in his mind and he would be guilty of defilement for having mixed milk with meat.  Now, that’s what they were thinking.  The rabbinic law said you cannot even mix milk and meat in your mind.  You couldn’t touch the clothes of an Am HaAretz.  You couldn’t sell anything to one.  You couldn’t be a guest of one in their homes.  You couldn’t have one for a guest.  They were not ever together.  You say, well, didn’t the Jews give alms?  Didn’t they give money to the poor?  Sure.  They would send food to the poor; they wouldn’t eat with them.  So here comes Jesus.  He doesn’t care about any of that.  He just receives the people who want to hear what He has to say.  He doesn’t care about their stupid legalism.  And they’re just irate.  And so it says in verse 2, “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble.”  That is an onomatopoeic word in Greek.  Diagogguzō, bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl.  You know, an onomatopoeic word is a word that sounds like its meaning.  Mumble, mumble, murmur, murmur, they send this murmur around.  This man receives sinners and eats with them.  He doesn’t just socialize; he eats.  But the operative word there is receives. 

MacArthur elaborates and gives us the Greek word for ‘welcome’ or ‘receive’ in verse 2:

In this text, that hostility again surfaces and it’s in verses 1 and 2.  All the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near to listen to Him.  And “both the Pharisees and the scribes began to murmur” or grumble, “saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'”  That was an outrage to them.  As the self-appointed righteous of Israel they were the final court on everybody.  They were the self-appointed judges of everybody.  They rendered all the verdicts.  It was Jesus condemning them when He said, “Judge not.”  Who made you the judge?  But they were the self-appointed judges of everyone including Jesus.  And their judgment was Jesus was doing what no person who represents God would ever do, hanging around the unrighteous, the wicked.  Their regular criticism was always associated with the fact that He is spending His time with the unscrupulous and despised collaborators with Rome who bought tax franchises and extorted money out of the Jewish people, therefore traitors to their people and their religion and their God, in their view.  They were equally, if not more outraged that He ate with sinners.  “Sinners” is a word used 13 times by Luke, always with the same meaning.  It means moral lawbreakers: adulterers, prostitutes, the scum, the riff-raff.  For them, Jesus’ association with these kinds of people was all they needed to convince everybody else that He was not of God.  And the language in verse 2 is interesting.  “This man receives sinners,” they said.  Not dechomai, the simple word, “to receive,” but prosdechomai, which is the kind of reception that’s intensified that you would have for somebody who’s a member of your family.  In fact, it’s that very word that Paul uses in Romans 16:1, 2, “I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea. Receive her in the Lord.”  Embrace her as a sister in Christ.  Jesus doesn’t just allow them around; He embraces them.  He puts His arms around them.  He pulls them in like they were family.  Ahhh, this is proof-positive whose family He belongs to.  Then He eats with them And this is most outrageous because in the ancient Near East and Middle East, eating with somebody was a sign of approval and affirmation, particularly if you were a rabbi or a Pharisee or a spiritual leader The rabbis used to say they ate with people and whenever they ate with anybody, they conveyed to that person affirmation and spiritual blessing.  So Jesus eating with sinners was a way to give approval to them in their view.  And so here they are again making the same chronic complaint against Jesus completely misunderstanding the heart of God for sinners. 

Knowing what the Pharisees and scribes were saying, Jesus opened with a parable (verse 3), the first of two.

Of the parables Jesus told here and of the Prodigal Son which immediately follows today’s reading, MacArthur says:

And Jesus answers their murmurings with three stories.  The first two are prologue and the main story starts in verse 11, the one that we know as, “The Prodigal Son,” the longest parable Jesus ever taught and really full and rich as we will see.  But He opens up His response to them with a little prologue from verses 4 to 10 in which He tells two simple stories …

In all these parables I think our Lord hits the high point. These are the richest parables. This is the pinnacle. And I will give you this; they are gospel parables. OK? They are invitations to salvation. They really are. They’re about salvation. And just telling a story about salvation, about being lost, being found, being restored and being celebrated by God, the angels and the redeemed, just telling that story in itself is an invitation for others to participate in that great reality.

In telling the first parable, Jesus asked which one of the scribes and Pharisees, having 100 sheep and losing one does not leave the other 99 in the wilderness and search for the lost one until he finds it (verse 4).

Jesus knew that they would find it insulting to have to imagine themselves as shepherds, the lowest of the low.

MacArthur explains:

Shepherds, you remember, were the lowest people. They were the lowest of the Am Ha’Aretz, the people of the earth, the earthy people, the lowlife, the scum, the unacceptable, the outcasts, the unclean in the society of the Jews.  Of all the legitimate labors, they were at the bottom.  That’s what made the appearance of the angels to announce the arrival of Messiah to shepherds so astonishing, rather than to the religious elite.  Jesus was always doing what He needed to do to humble because God gives grace to the humble.  And He was always striking at the self-righteous pride of the false leaders of Israel.  And so what He says to them is so interesting.  “What man among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them…”  This is offensive to them because He speaks to them as if they were the shepherd in the story.  Which one of you?  That in itself was an offense because they would then have to think of themselves as shepherds.  They didn’t want any pollution on their bodies and so they stayed away from these kinds of people.  But they also, as I pointed out last time, didn’t like any pollution in their minds.  And the very thought of putting them in the role of a shepherd would be very offensive to them.  No law-abiding Jew, no Jew of any respectability, no Jew who was a Pharisee or a scribe would ever become a shepherd, nor would any Pharisee or scribe even like to think of himself hypothetically as if he were a shepherd.  That would be demeaning and unclean in their minds.

Even though the Old Testament made reference to shepherds, Moses having been one himself, over time, the occupation was seen as being dirty:

But even though they would still give honor to God and see a connection there and still give honor to Moses, their great leader, they actually despised shepherds, real shepherds who lived with sheep, the dirtiest of all animals. And they had established in Jewish society that anybody who was a shepherd was unclean. According to Jeremias, a historian, they were believed to be dishonest. Basically, as a lot, they were dishonest. They were thieves. They encroached on land that wasn’t theirs to feed their sheep. Because they took a role that put them at the lowest level, they tended to be the lowest level of people who had the least expectation for themselves and they tended to live up to their reputation. And, certainly, no Pharisee would ever, ever be a shepherd, nor would he like to even conceive of himself in a hypothetical sense as a shepherd. But they can’t help that because Jesus has put them in the story by the rhetorical question. And so, now, whether they are offended or not, they’re in the story and they’re going to have to deal with the ethical issue that arises. What man among you, if you were the shepherd, and you had a 100 sheep and lost one of them …

Jesus said that when the sheep is found, the man who found it puts it around his shoulders and rejoices (verse 5).

Even the scribes and Pharisees understood enough about rural life to know that when a sheep goes missing, a shepherd goes out to find it, which was an arduous task, as MacArthur says:

You go and you find that lost sheep. Lost sheep get the attention of the shepherd. Lost sheep, by the way, are in grave danger. Sheep are stupid. They are defenseless. Do you know a sheep has no self-defense mechanism? None, zero. If they fall over on their side, they can’t get up by themselves. They are hopeless and helpless. So the sheep that’s wandered off would be in danger from predators, in danger from a fall, from exhaustion, from dehydration. The land is rugged. It is demanding. Rocks are everywhere. All kinds of potential issues could beset that lost sheep. We’re told by people who work with sheep in the Middle East that when sheep become afraid — and they do, they get very nervous and very fearful — they lie down and die. That’s right. They can’t get up. They become so despondent and discouraged. The Pharisees knew all that. And they knew the shepherd had to go and do whatever was necessary. It wouldn’t be easy. Sheep look a lot like rocks. A dirty sheep is about the same color as rocks in the land of Israel and there are so many of those the rabbi said when God distributed the rocks He made a mistake and dumped them all in Israel. So the Pharisees and the scribes would buy into the story and they would understand the necessity of the action that the shepherd took.

Jesus finished the parable by saying that the man who found his lost sheep would naturally call his friends and neighbours together to rejoice with him (verse 6).

MacArthur elaborates on the value of sheep, managed at that time by a village co-operative and shepherds from that village:

And everybody would understand that, too. He’s found the sheep. The sheep has value. The sheep provides wool. Wool provides clothing. And sheep provide wool year after year after year after year to clothe. And so he finds the sheep helplessly, hopelessly, perhaps, nearly lifelessly, lying somewhere. And he picks it up and puts it on the back of his neck and rejoices, even though he knows the hard part is ahead. It’s one thing to look for the sheep; it’s something else, having found the sheep, to go back over the same track, carrying the sheep. But he’s rejoicing as he starts the hard part, going back home where the rest of the flock has, by now, been taken, which means it’s night. And he has to go back, as it were, in the darkness.

… He has some private joy going on on the way back. But verse 6 says, “When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'” … After an … arduous and demanding journey over the rugged land bearing the full weight of that sheep, he’s finally home. The Pharisees and scribes would, of course, know the scene well. They lived all over the land and the villages and towns. And they would know he did the right thing. And they would also understand his joy and they would also understand the celebration when he came back. The family and the village would have been waiting, wondering if he would find the sheep and in what condition he would find the sheep. The old men in the village, typically, we are told, would sit somewhere in the center of the village at the end of the day and rehearse all the stories and tell all the tales and speak of the things that happened that day as people commonly do even today. These would be people who shared in the ownership of the flock, perhaps. And they wanted to hear that the sheep was found. That was the news they longed to hear. And so it would become a wonderful event of joy in the village when the shepherd showed up with the sheep.

Henry gives us the spiritual application of this parable:

there is a particular care to be taken of this lost sheep; and though he has a hundred sheep, a considerable flock, yet he will not lose that one, but he goes after it, and shows abundance of care, [1.] In finding it out. He follows it, enquiring after it, and looking about for it, until he finds it. God follows backsliding sinners with the calls of his word and the strivings of his Spirit, until at length they are wrought upon to think of returning. [2.] In bringing it home. Though he finds it weary, and perhaps worried and worn away with its wanderings, and not able to bear being driven home, yet he does not leave it to perish, and say, It is not wroth carrying home; but lays it on his shoulders, and, with a great deal of tenderness and labour, brings it to the fold. This is very applicable to the great work of our redemption. Mankind were gone astray, Isa 53 6. The value of the whole race to God was not so much as that of one sheep to him that had a hundred; what loss would it have been to God if they had all been left to perish? There is a world of holy angels that are as the ninety-nine sheep, a noble flock; yet God sends his Son to seek and save that which was lost, ch. 19 10. Christ is said to gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, denoting his pity and tenderness towards poor sinners; here he is said to bear them upon his shoulders, denoting the power wherewith he supports and bears them up; those can never perish whom he carries upon his shoulders.

Jesus concluded by saying that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance (verse 7).

MacArthur tells us that Jesus was calling out the scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness:

That last line is pure sarcasm. Of course, we couldn’t be talking about you, because you don’t need to repent. The sinner who repents is like the sheep: helpless, understands his helplessness, danger, weakness, need, desperation, and recognizes only a hope for life and a hope for rescue and trusts himself into the arms of the Great Shepherd, and rests fully on His back until He brings him home. That’s in stark contrast to the ninety-nine righteous persons who don’t need to repent. They’re already holy. What a privilege it is for us to participate in the divine recovery process. The Pharisees and the scribes had nothing to do with the purposes of God, nothing to do with the work of God. They were deluded into thinking they needed no repentance. They are the ninety-nine who are the self-righteous, self-made legalists who know nothing of God. They are saying with the Pharisee in Luke 18, I thank you that I am not like these vile lowlifes. On the other hand, there are those who are lost and they know they’re lost. They’re desperate. They’re carried home. And then an amazing thing: They become the tools and the instruments and the means by which the Great Shepherd continues to rescue other lost sheep.

Also:

What hypocrites the scribes and Pharisees were! They know nothing of God. They know nothing of shepherding. Quickly, with that application, the whole story would recycle in their minds. And they would be exposed and indicted and the knife would go in and it would go in deep. Applauding an outcast shepherd for doing what is the rightful duty of a shepherd to save the life of an unclean, stupid animal while condemning the Great Shepherd for rescuing unclean sinners. The sad reality is, of course, in Israel, as everywhere, like people, like priests. They had no shepherds. They had no leaders. They knew nothing of the heart of God, nothing of divine shepherding. In fact, they were so far from God that when He sent His own Great Shepherd, they killed Him.

Jesus then began His second parable, about a woman who, in attempting to find a lost coin among her ten silver coins, lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully for it (verse 8).

MacArthur tells us how offensive it is for the Pharisees and scribes to imagine themselves not only as a woman but a poor one, too:

Jesus loved to assault their foolish pride.  And this, if anything, is worse.  Now He makes them act in their minds as if they are not a shepherd but a…a woman.  Oh, horror of all horrors.  He says to them, “Or what woman.” Yikes!  This would be viewed as an absolute, outright insult to address Pharisees and scribes and ask them to put themselves in a woman’s place to evaluate how a woman would think and how she would behave.  Shepherds were unclean and women were un-respected.  In fact, in the Middle Eastern culture, it was an insult to compare a male audience to a woman Here again, Jesus just sweeps away their foolish pride; does it mercifully since God only gives grace to the humble, and sooner or later they’re going to have to be humbled if they’re ever going to come into His kingdom.  And by the way, while the Pharisees didn’t want to be compared to a woman, for sure, God doesn’t mind being compared to a woman.  We think of God in male terms and, of course, that’s the way He presents Himself, as a Father, the masculine identity, the masculine pronoun.  But there are many times in the Word of God when God presents Himself as analogous to a woman.  And I’ll give you one that just combines both of them.  Listen to Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Well, we understand that.  That’s a male kind of analogy.  But this Psalm also says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Can I tell you something about ancient culture?  The men didn’t set the table and fix the meal.  In Psalm 23, God is both the Shepherd who leads His sheep and God is the woman who prepares the meal.  It shouldn’t surprise us that in the 13th chapter of Luke and the 34th verse, Jesus, speaking as God says, “How often I wanted to gather your children together like a hen gathers her brood.”  That’s a picture of a mother hen.  That’s a picture of a mother hen picturing a mother picturing Jesus.  I wanted to gather you like a mother gathers her children.  And there are numerous other occasions in Scripture where God is represented as analogous to the conduct, the behavior of a woman.  But women, in this period of time, in the time that Jesus was on the earth from about 200 B. C. to 200 A.D., 400 years in there, weren’t even taught the law of God That’s how much disdain there was for women.  The Pharisees led that parade.  They got up every day and several times said, “I thank you, oh God, that I’m not a woman.  They wouldn’t be a shepherd and they certainly wouldn’t be a woman.  So Jesus said to them, “What if you were a shepherd and what if you were a woman?  What would you do?”  And He pushes them into the mental place to have to think like a shepherd and think like a woman and, thus, they are intellectually being defiled.  They…They would be outraged by this but they couldn’t avoid it.  Jesus distressed and disturbed their prejudices greatly.

The woman’s house would have been basic:

… the setting, again, is village life.  Can I just take you back?  You’re in a little Middle Eastern village in the land of Israel, a little dirt road.  And along the little dirt road in a small little village there’s some…some little earth brick houses made out of bricks with mud and straw and the little houses are along the road and the little road down the middle.  That was the little village.  They would know this very, very well.  The picture is of a simple people, a poor people who face a serious matter in the story.  This woman has a big problem.  She loses something of great value.  They didn’t have a lot of money.  In fact, they didn’t use money the way we use money today.  They lived in a bartering society as many people have throughout history and some even do today.  They swapped this or that for what they needed, even their own service and their own labor.  And so money was not distributed and dispensed at the pace that it is for us.  And a little bit of money, relatively, could go a long way

Picture your little village, okay.  A dusty road somewhere in Judea, Israel, a little village, a little home with four walls, a little low doorway, no windows, maybe a slit above eye level to let the smoke out from the fire inside and maybe cause a little ventilation, floors made out of dirt, in some parts of Israel, black basalt dirt and the floor is hard and yet dusty on the surface.  There are cracks, there’s dust, there’s debris.  This woman is in this little house and she’s lost one of her ten silver coins.  These silver coins would be about 4.3 grams of silver.  The Greeks called them a drachma and the Romans called them a denarius and they would be a day’s wage.

Therefore, when the woman finds her lost silver coin, she calls her friends and neighbours over to rejoice with her (verse 9).

MacArthur says these friends and neighbours would have been women:

Here, the word “friend,” philos, and the word “neighbor,” geitnas, are both in the feminine She calls her lady friends.  She calls her lady friends.  That was pretty typical.  Men stayed with men in that culture and women with women.  They were very close in the little village.  They all knew each other.  Everybody’s suffering would be everybody’s suffering and everybody’s joy would be everybody’s joy.  And so she calls her lady friends together and they have this wonderful little party because she has found what she lost And the point to the Pharisees is, you understand that, right.  This is perfectly clear.  Of course they would buy into the story.  They would buy into the ethical response of the woman.  She did exactly what she should have done.  It’s what I would have done if I were a woman, horror of horrors.

Jesus concluded by saying that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (verse 10).

God’s angels, of course, are holy, yet they share in His joy over the repentance of a lost, miserable sinner, as should we.

Henry explains the power of God’s grace in conversion:

Not but that it is best not to go astray; but the grace of God, both in the power and the pity of that grace, is more manifested in the reducing of great sinners than in the conducting of those that never went astray. And many times those that have been great sinners before their conversion prove more eminently and zealously good after, of which Paul is an instance, and therefore in him God was greatly glorified, Gal 1 24. They to whom much is forgiven will love much. It is spoken after the manner of men. We are moved with a more sensible joy for the recovery of what we had lost than for the continuance of what we had always enjoyed, for health out of sickness than for health without sickness. It is as life from the dead. A constant course of religion may in itself be more valuable, and yet a sudden return from an evil course and way of sin may yield a more surprising pleasure. Now if there is such joy in heaven, for the conversion of sinners, then the Pharisees were very much strangers to a heavenly spirit, who did all they could to hinder it and were grieved at it, and who were exasperated at Christ when he was doing a piece of work that was of all others most grateful to Heaven.

In closing, did you know that the cross was not the earliest Christian symbol? It was, in fact, a shepherd with a sheep around his shoulders.

MacArthur gives us the history and says these are still widely available in artisan shops in Israel:

in early Christianity believers didn’t use a cross. Once in awhile they used a sign of a fish but that was more in the Gentile world. Early Christians used the image of a shepherd with a sheep on his neck. That was the earliest Christian symbol, beautiful. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Israel and you’ve gone to all those little stores they take you to where they’ve got all kinds of things carved out of olive wood. You find that one thing appears there perhaps as much or more than anything else and it is little wooden carvings of shepherd…of a shepherd with a sheep around his neck. In fact, as I was thinking this through this week, I looked above me and there’s a little shelf over my little window in my desk where I study and sure enough there was one of those shepherd with an oversized sheep around his neck. People in that day, probably, only weighed about 130 pounds, maybe. That was the early symbol because the early church understood the meaning here of being carried by Christ back to the Father’s presence. And in ancient art…one of the things…if you follow that through a little bit…in ancient art, these were very, very common. Next time, if you get an opportunity to go to Israel, look around and you’ll find them. In fact, we might start a trend. Forget wearing a cross and start wearing a shepherd with a sheep around his neck. People are going to say, what is that? And you’re going to say, He found me when I was lost and He carried me to the Father. But in ancient art they did an interesting thing and I saw some of the imagery of this. Whenever they would do this, very frequently they would make the sheep disproportionately large. And when I first saw things like that through the years I thought, well, that’s kind of out of whack. You know, I’m not into extreme things. I like art to look like reality. And I used to wonder about why…why did they make a sheep almost as large as the man? And the point was they were exaggerating that. They created a disproportionately large sheep deliberately to convey the extraordinary difficulty and effort and sacrifice of the Good Shepherd in bringing us home. Well, that’s pretty magnificent stuff but as magnificent as it is, it’s still not the main point of the story. It doesn’t say, I tell you in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance because of the work of a…He’s not rejoicing because only of the work of Christ. He’s not rejoicing only because a sinner is delivered from sin. The whole joy of heaven is predicated on the fact that God is filled with joy. Sure, it all fits together, but our joy should come from God’s joy. Why do I evangelize? Satisfy the work of Christ, yes, to bring joy to the sinner. But even beyond that, the transcendent motivation for our evangelism is that we can be instruments in the joy of God. You know, that is just such an overwhelming thought to me because, as a Christian, you’re the same way that I am, I know. You spend most of your time grieving, because you disappoint God. Right? I mean, it gets old. And the older you get, the longer is your track record of disappointments. Something to be said for being young, you don’t have as many failures to deal with. You think God must be unhappy with me. I must make God sad every day. But here, I can participate in the joy of God and I can not only make God rejoice, but all of Heaven rejoice if I allow myself to be an instrument through which the Great Shepherd recovers the lost. What a glorious way to view your life. This is the Great Commission.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Incidentally, this is the first Sunday in 70 years that we will not be praying for the Queen as sovereign in church. I will be saying an extra prayer for all clergy in the UK and the Commonwealth who need to remember saying ‘Charles’, the ‘King’ and use all the masculine pronouns. Old habits die hard.

Let us rejoice for the long, quiet and godly tenure we enjoyed under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. God truly blessed us. May she rest in peace with her Lord.

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity is on September 4, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 14:25-33

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,

14:26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?

14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,

14:30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

14:31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?

14:32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are in the middle of Luke’s episodes of our Lord’s teachings. These began in Luke 9 and continue through most of Luke 19.

Last week, we had His lesson on humility to the Pharisee and his guests where He had gone to share a sabbath meal. It was a foresight into the kingdom of God.

Today’s reading is about the gravity of discipleship. It is not to be taken lightly.

Luke tells us that large crowds were travelling with Jesus when He turned around to speak to them (verse 25).

Matthew Henry’s commentary asks us to note the contrast in the lesson taught with last week’s:

See how Christ in his doctrine suited himself to those to whom he spoke, and gave every one his portion of meat. To Pharisees he preached humility and charity. He is in these verses directing his discourse to the multitudes that crowded after him, and seemed zealous in following him; and his exhortation to them is to understand the terms of discipleship, before they undertook the profession of it, and to consider what they did.

John MacArthur calls this lesson ‘extreme’ in its seriousness:

we find ourselves in the 14th chapter of Luke at a time in the life of our Lord when He is moving from town to town and village to village and He is preaching to the people, doing miracles, healing. Always, He is calling people to follow Him, to become His disciples, to come after Him. And in paragraph after paragraph we hear the words of Jesus. In this particular one we have a very strong call to discipleship. And it is an example of how Jesus always called people to follow Him. In fact, the words that He gives here are found in many other places in the four gospels, very similar words or almost exactly the same words, so we know this to be a constant pattern in His teaching. And His calls are extreme by any measure.

Henry says that many people thought Jesus was an earthly Messiah who would bless Israel and give them an easy, prosperous life over the Romans.

However, they were mistaken:

There went great multitudes with him, many for love and more for company, for where there are many there will be more …

He takes it for granted that they had a mind to be his disciples, that they might be qualified for preferment in his kingdom. They expected that he should say, “If any man come to me, and be my disciple, he shall have wealth and honour in abundance; let me alone to make him a great man.” But he tells them quite the contrary.

He said that those who come to Him who do not hate — dislike, not despise — their family members or their own lives in preferment to Him cannot be His disciples (verse 26).

The word for ‘hate’ is not a cruel or hostile one. Students of the Old Testament know that ‘hate’ was used in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis.

MacArthur explains:

Is He talking about emotional hate, psychological hate?  Is He talking about a bitter, angry, hostile attitude? That would be contrary to everything we know about the fact that Jesus said we’re to love one another.  No.  You have to understand that this is a kind of Hebraistic expression.  You remember, Jesus also said this:  “No man can serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other.”  It’s a way to indicate preference or loving one more and loving one less.  And that’s precisely what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37 when He said almost the same thing, only He said there if anyone loves father, mother more than Me or wife or husband more than Me or brother, sister more than Me, he cannot be My disciple.  So when you compare that passage, this is simply a way to speak of preference, loving one more and another less.  It’s what He said as well in the Old Testament repeated in the New, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.”  It does not mean that God literally, emotionally hated and despised Esau.  It meant that His priority, His covenant, His promise, His love in that sense with all of the implications was given to Jacob and not to Esau; Jacob, then being the preferred one.  The Old Testament also says if a man has two wives, he’ll love one and hate the other and all it means is not that he will actually love one and despise the other emotionally but rather one will be preferred over the other.  And that is what Jesus is saying here.  You have to understand this, that while your priority may have been in time past the relationships around you and you did what those around you wanted you to do, your family, those that were intimately in your lifes…in your life, they were the ones who basically charted your course, because those relationships meant so much to you, those are all sublimated…those are all subordinated.  From now on, you love Me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  What honors Me, what pleases Me, what I desire, what I will, what I command as the Lord of your life takes precedent over all other demands and relationships.  He also said at the end of verse 26, this is not just true of the people around you; this is true of your own self viewYou have to hate your own life.  What does that mean?  That you have some kind of morbid, suicidal attitude?  That you’re somewhat masochistic or self-destructive?  No.  What it means is that you consider yourself and your will and your ambition and your desire and your purposes as minor, miniscule, unimportant compared to your desire to do what honors your Lord.  When you come to Me, Jesus says, you’re not just adding Me to your life.  I’m not just decoration.  I’m not just the topping.  I’m going to take over.  You will receive eternal life.  You will receive a place in heaven.  You will receive blessing in time and unlimited and inexplicable blessing throughout eternity.  Your sins will all be forgivenGrace, peace, joy, fulfillment forever will be yoursBut for that gift I want to take control of your life so that I may truly fulfill it, truly satisfy it and truly use it for My glory and your good.  That’s why Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those that love God.”  Why?  Because God is working what is best for time and eternity in and through those who are His own.  You’re willing then to subordinate all relationships to the lordship of Christ.  You’re willing to subordinate your own life.  Literally, it’s a kind of death.  It’s a kind of death.  You lose your life to find it.  You die to live.

It was six months before His death that Jesus delivered this lesson on discipleship. No one, other than He, knew that the Crucifixion was looming. Yet, He told the people that whoever does not carry the cross and follow Him cannot be His disciple (verse 27).

Henry intimates that, even if we are not called to do so, we must be prepared for such an eventuality:

He must bear his cross, and come after Christ; that is, he must bear it in the way of his duty, whenever it lies in that way. He must bear it when Christ calls him to it, and in bearing it he must have an eye to Christ, and fetch encouragements from him, and live in hope of a recompence with him.

MacArthur agrees that this is not a figurative expression and that this is the most serious consideration we can ever make in our lives:

The price for following Jesus in those days and in history in many places and even today in parts of the world, you name the name of Jesus Christ, it could cost you your life. The cross here is simply a symbol of death. It was a torture instrument used to execute people. It’s not a mystical idea. It’s a very concrete way to express martyrdom. Are you willing to give your life? Are you willing, not only to give up your desires, your ambitions, your dreams, your hopes, all the things that you think are your well-crafted purposes and plans, abandoning them to My sovereign authority, subordinating them to My will, but even to the point where it could cost you your life? Are you willing to say with the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Are you willing to say that? Are you so eager to have your sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life that if it cost you even your life in this world, that’s a small price to pay?

Jesus then cited two practical examples to illustrate His lesson.

The first was about the building of a tower, probably a manned watchtower to guard farmed fields. Who would not do an estimate first and seriously consider whether he has enough money to complete it (verse 28)?

Henry says that the same holds true of our commitment to Christ, but he begins with a practical material calculation, which was as true then as it is now:

he must be sure to count upon a great deal more than his workmen will tell him it will cost.

[2.] Those that intend to build this tower must sit down and count the cost. Let them consider that it will cost them the mortifying of their sins, even the most beloved lusts; it will cost them a life of self-denial and watchfulness, and a constant course of holy duties; it may, perhaps, cost them their reputation among men, their estates and liberties, and all that is dear to them in this world, even life itself. And if it should cost us all this, what is it in comparison with what it cost Christ to purchase the advantages of religion for us, which come to us without money and without price? [3.] Many that begin to build this tower do not go on with it, nor persevere in it, and it is their folly; they have not courage and resolution, have not a rooted fixed principle, and so bring nothing to pass. It is true, we have none of us in ourselves sufficient to finish this tower, but Christ hath said, My grace is sufficient for thee, and that grace shall not be wanting to any of us, if we seek for it and make use of it. [4.] Nothing is more shameful than for those that have begun well in religion to break off; every one will justly mock him, as having lost all his labour hitherto for want of perseverance. We lose the things we have wrought (2 John 8), and all we have done and suffered is in vain, Gal 3 4.

MacArthur gives us an insight into Middle Eastern culture which would have resonated with our Lord’s audience:

Now, you’ve got to understand, the ancient Near East is an honor-shame culture. You just don’t do things that bring shame on yourself. It’s very important to protect your honor. And the point is, when you’re going to do something as formidable as build a tower…this isn’t the little shack, this isn’t something alongside the house or an addition. We’re talking about a tower. It might have been a watchtower, because in ancient days, enemies attacked by burning fields, sowing tares in the fields and so towers were often built in these great estates from which the people could protect their land. They were used sometimes as great grain storage places like we have silos today. This would be a rather large enterprise, not just a minimal kind of enterprise, but this man is going to build a big tower and everybody in the community is going to know it. And nobody would do that if he was going to wind up with nothing but a foundation and everybody laughing at him … When you’re going to build a tower, he says in verse 28, you’re going to sit down and you’re going to calculate the cost to see if you have enough to complete it. Otherwise you’re left with a half-finished building and a permanent monument to your stupidity. That’s a big issue in an honor-shame environment. You want to make sure…here’s the operative word…that you can finish, that you can complete it.

Otherwise, Jesus said, when the man can afford to lay only a foundation and not finish the tower, all who see it will begin to ridicule him (verse 29); they will say, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’ (verse 30).

MacArthur points out that ‘this fellow’ or ‘this man’ is derogatory in the original Greek:

In fact, in verse 30, the expression “this man” in the original Greek is derogatory. It could be translated “this fellow,” a kind of a scorn or ridiculing approach. Began to build and wasn’t able to finish…That is a huge element of dishonor in the thinking of the ancient Near East.

There is another Greek element to this:

And verse 30, you don’t want people to say you were not able to finish.  The two times the word “finish” is used, verses 29 and 30, it uses the word ekteleō. Teleō is to finish.  Teleō…Jesus said tetelestai, which is a form of that, on the cross: “It is finished.”  It’s a pretty…pretty final word.  But when you add an ek to it, you compound its intensity, to really finish, to finish to the very last component.  You don’t want your life exposed to ridicule.  So what’s Jesus saying?  He’s saying, look don’t come to Me on some emotional level.  Don’t come to Me because you’re feeling some disappointment, you’re feeling some confusion in your life, you have been left in the lurch in some relationship and you’re looking for a skyhook.  Don’t come to Me to pacify you over some temporary matter.  Don’t come to Me with any kind of superficiality.  I’m telling you, you must, first of all, be willing to abandon all the priorities of the past that have dominated your life so that it is a kind of dying in order to live.  And you’ve got to assess the legitimacy and the integrity of the expression that you’re making at this point to be sure you really have what it takes to finish this.  Are you…Are you just responding to a moment’s emotion? 

Henry says:

Begin low, and lay the foundation deep, lay it on the rock, and make sure work, and then aim as high as heaven.

One cannot say fairer than that in either a practical or spiritual sense.

The second practical example Jesus laid before the crowd was that of a king about to wage war. Would he not consider that if he has 10,000 troops he might not wish to go to war with an opponent who has twice as many troops (verse 31)? He will send a delegation to negotiate peace instead (verse 32).

Henry says that this is not unlike the consideration of spiritual warfare in our Christian journey:

Note, [1.] The state of a Christian in this world is a military state. Is not the Christian life a warfare? We have many passes in our way, that must be disputed with dint of sword; nay, we must fight every step we go, so restless are our spiritual enemies in their opposition. [2.] We ought to consider whether we can endure the hardness which a good soldier of Jesus Christ must expect and count upon, before we enlist ourselves under Christ’s banner; whether we are able to encounter the forces of hell and earth, which come against us twenty thousand strong. [3.] Of the two it is better to make the best terms we can with the world than pretend to renounce it and afterwards, when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, to return to it.

MacArthur points out that no ruler will go to war if he thinks he will lose. He will try to negotiate a peace:

… if he comes up with the conclusion that he can’t win, verse 32 says, while the other is still far away, he’s going to send a delegation and ask terms of peace. He’s going to send a delegation and say: “Look, we know you can defeat us so what do you want? There’s no sense in spilling all this blood to get to the same end that we could get to by negotiating. So we lose a little of our freedom. So we have an occupation. At least we’re alive.” No king would go to battle and put himself and all those who were following him in danger if there was a way to negotiate a peace.

Then comes our Lord’s often misunderstood conclusion: no one can be His disciple unless they give up all their possessions (verse 33).

Henry says that, if we love our possessions more than anything else, it is not a good idea to pretend to become a disciple of Jesus:

That young man that could not find in his heart to part with his possessions for Christ did better to go away from Christ sorrowing than to have staid with him dissembling.

MacArthur explains the Greek used in this verse:

“No one of you can be My disciple who will or does not give up all his own possessions.”  In what sense do you give them up?  Well, how do you become a Christian?  By selling everything you have and giving it away and becoming a beggar?  Is that what He’s talking about?  Maybe there’s some help with the Greek here.  The original language in verse 33, “give up,” apotassō, say good-bye to.  That’s exactly what it means, to say good-bye to.  In what sense?  Well, it’s not calling for socialism. It’s not calling for you to sell your house, sell your car, sell all your possessions in your house and go out on the street and beg.  That’s not what it’s saying.  What it’s calling for is thisYou become a steward of everything and an owner of nothing.  What you’re saying is: I don’t have any relationships that aren’t subordinated to your lordship I don’t have any self-interests that aren’t subordinated to your lordship.  It doesn’t mean that I ignore my family, cease loving my family.  I want to love my family and maybe love my family more.  It doesn’t mean that I stop my education; that I stop moving down a path to do whatever I can do and to be the best I can be in whatever field I choose to the honor of the Lord.  It doesn’t mean that I unload everything I have.  It just means that all of that is subordinated to what God wants for me.  I hold to nothing in this world, not the relationships, not my self-interests and not the stuff, not my money and my possessions.  I am a steward of all of it and I want to discharge that stewardship before God.  I want to take care of my relationships.  I want to take care of my family.  I want to love them.  I want to take care of my life.  I want to be disciplined.  I want to be healthy.  I want to be useful to the Lord in a physical sense.  I want to make my mind and my body all that it can be to serve Him.  And I…and I want to use whatever He’s given me, a house and a car and a bank account for the glory of His kingdom.  But all of it is subject to His sovereign design.  That’s all He’s saying.  He’s saying: What would you be willing to give up … And if you had plans and ambitions in certain things and I asked you to do other than that and My Spirit directed you to give your life in some service over here, would you be willing to do that?  And even if I asked you to die in the cause, would you do that?  And if I asked you to take everything you have like He asked the rich young ruler in Luke 18, if I asked you to take everything you have, sell it all and give it to the poor, would you be willing to do that?  It isn’t that you’re going to have to do that.  I don’t know what God’s purposes are.  God hasn’t stripped me of everything and He hasn’t stripped all of us of everything.  But I do understand unequivocally that I am a steward of everything and an owner of nothing.  And my priority is this: to love the Lord my God, to love my Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength beyond any love I have for my family, for myself, or for anything in this world.  This is what Jesus is asking.  He’s not asking you to sort of tack Him onto all your stuff and all your self-interests and all your relationships …  Becoming Christ’s disciple demands an abandonment of past priorities.  Everything changes.  It is a whole new life view.  The apostle Paul, Philippians 3:8, says, I looked at it all.  When I saw Christ, I looked at everything in my past and, boy, there were some wonderful things.  And I counted it manure…that’s what he said…compared to Christ.  And he said I ran to Christ to receive a righteousness not my own.  And now all I want, he said in Philippians 3, is to know Him.

MacArthur concludes in a condemnation of the prayer call and the false prosperity theology:

Jesus doesn’t say, hey, just pray the prayer; don’t worry about it — which would be a typical way to approach it. He says don’t even think of this until you know that what is going on in your heart will carry you to its completion. Step back. So when you evangelize somebody and you give them the gospel, you say, now that you understand the gospel, you understand the objective facts of the gospel, Jesus, God in human flesh, lives a sinless life, virgin-born, lives a sinless life, dies a substitutionary death for sinners, raised…is raised from the dead, ascends to the Father, intercedes for us, comes again, you give them the whole layout of the gospel, salvation by grace alone, faith alone and Christ alone, now you know all that? Yes, yes, I know that. Do you believe that? I think I believe that. Oh, good, pray this prayer. No. Let’s back up a little bit. Now, do you understand that He’s saying you’re going to need to love Him as Lord and He’s going to take the priority over your family, over yourself, and over all your stuff? You become an owner of nothing, even relationships, even your own life, everything you possess. You become a steward of everything. At the discretion that God prompts, it is used for His glory and it may even cost you your life. Step back. Don’t be in a hurry here. And assess whether you really have what it takes to build this tower, whether you’ve really assessed what this is going to cost you. That’s all these little stories are intended to say, that when you come against something that is formidable and has massive implications for you or for all the people around you; for you, in the case of the tower, for everybody that is around you, in the case of the king; this has massive implications. You better back up and make sure you have assessed your present powers. And is this faith the real deal? Is this repentance the real repentance? Jesus is halting people. He’s putting the brakes on … You have nothing to fear in saying to someone, “I want you to think about this, I want you to consider the cost carefully.” You have nothing to fear. What you’re doing is stopping people from superficial, non-saving delusion. You’re backing them off and saying, let’s find out whether this is really the work of the Spirit of God and what is happening in your life is not a momentary, emotional thing, but what is happening in your life is the true, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit producing an unrelenting repentance and an undying faith that will go through every barrier. You do all the important things in life by calculating carefully. This is the most important thing you’ll ever do. This is more important than any tower you’ll ever build, more important than any enemy you’ll ever meet. And so the Lord says, you want to be My disciple, do you? Well, you have to abandon your past priorities and you have to assess your present powers.

Following Christ is a serious commitment and not one to be taken lightly.

God is not our butler, nor is His Son. We serve God through His Son.

It is not about our needs or desires, it is about the divine will working through our lives.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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 Tenth Sunday after Trinity is on August 21, 2002.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

13:14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

13:15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Here we have an account about a bent over woman being made straight and bent theology that Jesus wanted to make straight.

Although neither of our commentators says so about this story, there was nearly always a spiritual element to our Lord’s miracles. For that reason, I think that Jesus healed her not only physically but spiritually, too, especially in light of the fact that a demon had caused her condition.

We are in the middle of Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teaching the Apostles and disciples in the last six months of His ministry. These are in Luke 9 through much of Luke 19.

The Gospel writer does not tell us where this miracle took place other than in a synagogue where Jesus was teaching on the sabbath (verse 10).

Matthew Henry reminds us that Jesus often taught in a synagogue on the sabbath, therefore, we should not neglect public worship on Sundays:

We should make conscience of doing so, as we have opportunity, and not think we can spend the sabbath as well at home reading a good book; for religious assemblies are a divine institution

In our Lord’s era, synagogues were places of worship but, unlike today, they were not led by rabbis.

John MacArthur gives us the background:

A synagogue is not the temple.  It’s simply the word sunagōgēs in Greek.  It means “a meeting place,” a gathering place.  And there were many of them.  Some historians tell us that in the Galilee, which was less populated than the southern part of Israel, Judea, in the Galilee there were as many 240 or 250 different synagoguesAnd in Jesus’ ministry over a year in Galilee, He went all through Galilee preaching and teaching in the synagogue.  It was the perfect place to go to teach.  A synagogue, by the way, was called a house of instruction.  It wasn’t the temple.  That’s where you went for the national ceremonies.  That’s where you went to offer sacrifices.  Synagogues had no sacrifices.  They…They didn’t celebrate the Passover and the other feasts at the synagogue.  It was just a gathering place.

They had no pastor, no preacher, no reigning priest.  They had a lay board of elders and one of them was the ruler or the chairman of that board.  He was responsible to oversee it, but he was the layman.  It was a local gathering place for teaching the word of God, the Old Testament.  They came into existence out of the Babylonian captivity, you remember?  When the Jews were taken captive into Babylon, the time they were in Babylon, of course, they were separated from their house of worship, which was the temple. Before that, there was no such thing as a synagogue.

But while they were in captivity, they first, remember, were gathered together to hear Ezekiel.  Ezekiel came in one of the early deportations.  He gathered the people around and He talked about what was going on.  What God was doing in this time in Israel’s life and Ezekiel spoke to the captives, those who’d been deported and that sort of began the…the gathering of God’s people to hear the meaning of God’s wordAnd synagogues began to develop among the Jews in exileAnd when they went back under Nehemiah to rebuild the city and the temple, they took back the idea of the synagogue and they flourished.  In Jerusalem alone there were about 500 synagogues in just that one city.

And so this was a perfect scenario for the ministry of Jesus, one of God’s timing issues.  And when Jesus came, He could always find the Jewish people, the ones He wanted to reach with the truth of the kingdom gospel gathered on a Sabbath in a synagogue somewhere.  And that’s where He went, but synagogues were getting less and less receptive to Him, even though He was still, as verse 17 indicates, popular with the crowd, who were just kind of stunned by the power that He displayed in His miracles.  The synagogues were getting to be unwelcome and this is the last recorded experience of Jesus in a synagogueWe’re only months before His death.  This is the last recorded opportunity that He has to speak in a synagogue.

Suddenly, a woman appeared, bent over by an evil spirit and unable to stand upright (verse 11).

Matthew Henry describes how undignified and painful this must have been for her. Yet, it did not deter her from going to worship God:

She had an infirmity, which an evil spirit, by divine permission, had brought upon her, which was such that she was bowed together by strong convulsions, and could in no wise lift up herself; and, having been so long thus, the disease was incurable; she could not stand erect, which is reckoned man’s honour above the beasts. Observe, Though she was under this infirmity, by which she was much deformed, and made to look mean, and not only so, but, as is supposed, motion was very painful to her, yet she went to the synagogue on the sabbath day. Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.

MacArthur says that she would have been an outcast, because the Jews believed that a physical malady was a divine judgement:

Believe me, this woman was an outcast. The Jews had the…the theological viewpoint that if this was the condition you were in, you were a bad person.

Remember the blind man in John 9, and who sinned, this man or his parents? Remember Job? All his friends said well, Job, you’ve done something wrong. There’s some sin in your life. You’re not coming clean, buddy. That’s why you got all the suffering. The basic view of theology was if you suffer, you’re being punished by God. So here was a woman, who for eighteen years, had been looked at and scorned. Here was a woman doubled over in a terrible position physically, perhaps a more a terrible position socially. And to boot, she’s a woman. And women belonged out of sight and in the back of the synagogue.

Henry says that she had her crippling condition ‘by divine permission’. MacArthur agrees that Jesus was meant to heal her in front of the people at that synagogue to point out the hypocrisy of the Jewish religion of that era:

Jesus was the master of the moment, the sovereign Lord of every event and He’s going to use this woman to intensify the conflict and to bring it out in bold relief

I don’t know how it was that she exposed herself to this demon or why this demon picked on her or why Satan did this to her at the front. I don’t know what the motive of hell was, but I do know that God allowed that to happen for this day.

From the very beginning in the synagogues, Jesus told the people and their local leaders who He was and that, in turn, enraged many:

And that’s why after they killed Him, the population of Jerusalem then went after the apostles, to stop this message. And what was it they hated about the message? Well, what they hated about the message was the indictment in it because it overturned their whole view. There are only two ways that you can believe you can come to God; either on the merits of Christ or on your own merits. It’s either by grace and grace alone or it’s by works or some mixture of grace and works. It’s only two things. There’s only two kinds of religion in the world. The religion of divine accomplishment, the religion of human achievement, Christianity, the true gospel is the religion of divine accomplishment: God does it all, you simply believe. Every other religious system in the world is a religion of human achievement. They were in human achievement. They had satisfied themselves with their own self-righteousness. They had self-esteem. They had all this pride about their religion, etc., etc., etc., and Jesus literally struck at the very heart of the system

And Jesus went everywhere preaching salvation and that’s synonymous with coming into the kingdom. Come into God’s kingdom. “I am the way, the truth, the life.” But you have to recognize that you’re not there now, that you’re in the devil’s kingdom. Well, that was just more than they could bear. They hated Him for that. And so He was teaching in the synagogue and you know what He was teaching. He was teaching about the kingdom. And it wasn’t a brutal kind of teaching. It was gracious. It was compassionate. It was loving. It was merciful. It offered them salvation, but at the same time, it confronted the phoniness of their system, and the false hopes of their self-righteous, legalistic hearts.

And so this obviously set up conflict. And wherever the truth is taught, it produces conflict if it’s taught in a place where error prevails.

When Jesus saw the lady, He called her over and told her she was ‘set free’ from her ailment (verse 12).

He laid His hands on her and, immediately, she stood up straight and began to praise God (verse 13).

Note the word ‘immediately’. When Jesus healed, it was instantaneous and all-encompassing. It was not gradual. For many years and for whatever reason, I was never sure if the healing was immediate or gradual. And I was going to church all that time.

MacArthur makes it very clear:

He always healed immediately. There’s no such thing as a lingering healing, a multiple phase healing. There’s no such thing as: I was healed and slowly, I’m getting better. He healed everything, everyone He wanted to heal, completely, instantaneously, and permanently. And it says immediately laying His hands upon her and saying what He said, she was made erect again.

Now, we’ll tell you this is more than just the casting out of a demon. Something had to happen to a spine to go up straight after 18 years in a bent position. You say whoa boy, after she was healed, she would need some serious therapy. Nobody healed by Jesus needs therapy, nobody. It’s contained in the deal. You bypass the therapy to the wholeness in the instant of the healing. All His miracles were like that.

MacArthur says of the woman and our Lord’s purpose:

Now all of a sudden she becomes the centerpiece of the whole day. And Jesus puts her front and center and makes her the focal point of everything. And I love this about Him. He… He reveals His utter indifference to their system of rank and status. He reveals His utter indifference to their perception of privilege. He reveals His complete indifference to their sense…sense of achievement. He had no affection for their honor system. He honors the outcast woman and He humiliates the ruler. He has no affection for their perverted Sabbath. And He supersedes their authority with His own. He has no interest in their self-righteousness, seeking to be elevated. And He elevates one they would seek to sweep away.

However, the leader of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had cured someone on the sabbath, calling His merciful miracle ‘work’, telling the congregation that such things should be done on the other six days in the week (verse 14).

It sounds so cruel and so awful.

Henry points out that the leader did not dare to speak directly to Christ, so he addressed the congregation instead:

He had not indeed the impudence to quarrel with Christ; but he said to the people, reflecting upon Christ in what he said, There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. See here how light he made of the miracles Christ wrought, as if they were things of course, and no more than what quacks and mountebanks did every day: “You may come and be healed any day of the week.” Christ’s cures were become, in his eyes, cheap and common things. See also how he stretches the law beyond its intention, or any just construction that could be put upon it, in making either healing or being healed with a touch of the hand, or a word’s speaking, to be that work which is forbidden on the sabbath day. This was evidently the work of God; and, when God tied us out from working that day, did he tie himself out? The same word in Hebrew signifies both godly and merciful (chesed), to intimate that works of mercy and charity are in a manner works of piety (1 Tim 5 4) and therefore very proper on sabbath days.

MacArthur says:

the synagogue official, he was an establishment man and he was going to wield the club and he was going to make it as tough as he couldLegalists do that, you knowThey have little or no compassion for the suffering, and legalistic religion is harsh and brutal and merciless and loveless.  This is sort of the archetypal legalist.  He’s just seen a woman, a woman who needed mercy and compassion and tenderness and kindness, released.  You would have thought he would have joined in on the chorus and said let’s all stand and sing glory to God.  But Luke describes him with one word: synagogue official, indignant, aganakteō in the Greek text, intense displeasure.

They’ve broken the system.  That by the way is exactly how the system felt about Martin Luther and everybody else who violated the system: anger, displeasure. Jesus had already unmasked and confronted error that day.  He’d already unmasked and confronted the demon that day and now He was going to unmask false religion and boy He did. That’s the reaction of a man who has no heart, a man whose heart God has never changed. That’s not a godly reaction, because God is a God of compassion, is He not?  Do you ever ask why did Jesus come and heal?  Jesus could have done a lot of miracles to prove He was God.  He could have done anything, right?  He could have created a house.  He could have created a temple.  He could have created a mountain, could have caused the sea to disappear.  Could have spun up in the air and spun around like a helicopter and flown around and landed.

Could have done a lot of things to prove He was God.  What did He do?  He healed people and He healed and basically banished illness from Israel.  Why?  Because He was not only showing divine power, but He was showing the heart of God as a heart of what?  Compassion.  But this is compassionless legalism.  They make people suffer. 

Jesus rebuked the leader and the congregation, calling them hypocrites and asking them whether they untie their ox or donkey on the sabbath in order for the beasts to get their water (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Well, He got them, because they did that.

In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies!

And by the way, this isn’t the first time He said this or the last. Calling them hypocrites was pretty routine because that’s what they are and all advocates of false religion are hypocrites. They don’t know God. They don’t know the truth. They are really the tools of Satan. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. You’re a phony, He said.

Jesus then asked why the woman, one of their own — ‘a daughter of Abraham’ — should be prevented from being set free from her bondage on the sabbath (verse 16).

MacArthur says that Jesus used a Jewish reasoning method:

Verse 16, “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is,” a Jewess, He says the same thing in Luke 19 about Zaccheus, a son of Abraham. It means a Jew or Jewess. “She’s one of your own people.” This is not a Gentile. “This woman, a daughter of Abraham, as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years,” Jesus says, emphasizing the terrible duration of this suffering, “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

He takes the opposite view. This is the perfect day to do this, set her free. This is the best day to do that. And by what category was this work? What was the work? Jesus saying, “Woman you are freed from this weakness”? Or was the work her standing up? What was the work? It’s a very common way for the Jews to reason all through the New Testament from the lesser to the greater, from the animal to the woman, from bound for eighteen years to being released from being tied up to being freed. This was a great moment in the life of that woman.

When Jesus spoke those words, the leader and those who agreed with him were put to shame and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the marvellous things that Jesus was doing (verse 17).

MacArthur analyses the two responses — shame from one quarter and rejoicing from the other:

Verse 17 sums up the result.  “And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated.”  Boy they hated that.  What could they say?  They were dead in their tracks.  The people knew what could be done on the Sabbath.  Believe me they knew it well and they knew that they…they watered and fed their animals on the Sabbath.  They knew that.  And I’m sure they were trying to figure out where was the work here.  They had been unmasked.  They had been stripped.  Their pretense had been uncovered.  They looked like fools.  They were… They were put to shame.  That’s a compound verb, kataischunō, they were fully shamed, publicly; both that ruler and all who agreed with him, called the opponents of Jesus.  They were all shamed.  They were all humiliated. Now they weren’t humbled in the righteous sense.  They didn’t become penitent and say wow, I am a hypocrite.  I need to deal with this.  I…maybe this is Son of God.  Not that.  All this did was make them more angry and more bent on getting Jesus out of the picture.

But there was another response.  Look at the rest of verse 17, the entire multitude, those left “was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”  They were just absolutely blown away by what was happening.  And I’m sure some of them who were there were already the followers of Jesus.  Some may have been believers in Him.  But this is their typical response.  Back in Chapter 9, verse 43, they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  Everyone was marveling at all that He was doing. I mean, that was pretty much the typical response.  They were just stunned and floored by it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they put their full trust in Christ.  We could wish that that were true.  Some did.  Chapter 16, verse 16, some were pressing into the kingdom.  And it is true in verse 31 of chapter 13, look at that, verse 31 of chapter 13, some of the Pharisees actually came to Jesus and told Him to go away and depart for Herod wants to kill you.  There may have been some among the Pharisees who were beginning to see the light.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus preached only about the kingdom of God, not social or political issues:

He always preached the kingdom. Thirty-one times in the book of Luke the kingdom of God is mentioned. And even after His resurrection, before His ascension and the forty days it says He spoke to them things pertaining to the kingdom of God. It was always about God’s kingdom, how to become a part of His kingdom, by confessing Jesus as Lord, Messiah, Savior.

He also raised — and will continue to raise — the lowly, like this woman:

The Lord passes by the religious and self-righteous, passes by those that say and think they’re good, passes by the religious leaders, and the Lord chooses the lowest of the low. One who would have been deemed to have been a sinner of some massive proportions to have suffered such a fate. He ignores the proud and He chooses the humble. The Lord sovereignly chooses. The Lord sovereignly delivers. The Lord sovereignly straightens up the one who is bent over. The Lord sovereignly produces praise.

This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, hiding in the shadows, aware every moment of suffering the weight and the burden of sin hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over like an animal, the image of God defaced. So is the picture of the sinner shuffling one day into the presence of God to hear the word of God. She is met by the Lord and He out of His sovereign love delivers her, straightens her up. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation. God offers salvation to the outcast, the humbled, those bent over by the weight of sin, who will come and hear Him and He will turn them into true worshipers and He bypasses the curious and the self-righteous.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity is on August 14, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 12:49-56

12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

12:50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

12:52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;

12:53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

12:54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.

12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.

12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 are our Lord’s principal teaching chapters in his Gospel.

Luke 12 has hard-hitting lessons. On the Seventh Sunday after Trinity this year, we had the Parable of the Rich Fool. Last Sunday, we had our Lord’s warning that we know not the day nor the time of His Second Coming.

Today, we read of His telling us to reconcile with God through faith in His Son.

These are the intervening verses between last week’s Gospel reading and this week’s:

41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Many Christians today interpret the last part of verse 48 as one of giving money to the Church. It is often used during stewardship season when congregations are asked to pledge money for the following year.

However, Jesus meant it as saying that we will be punished in eternity depending on how much we turned away from Him and, by extension, from God.

Believers who have a good knowledge of Christianity then fall away from the faith will have the harshest punishment; they are the servants who know the Master’s will and do not obey it. Those who have little to no knowledge of Christ will receive a lighter punishment; they are the ignorant servants.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The knowledge of our duty is an aggravation of our sin: That servant that knew his lord’s will, and yet did his own will, shall be beaten with many stripes. God will justly inflict more upon him for abusing the means of knowledge he afforded him, which others would have made a better use of, because it argues a great degree of wilfulness and contempt to sin against knowledge; of how much sorer punishment then shall they be thought worthy, besides the many stripes that their own consciences will give them! Son, remember. Here is a good reason for this added: To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required, especially when it is committed as a trust he is to account for. Those have greater capacities of mind than others, more knowledge and learning, more acquaintance and converse with the scriptures, to them much is given, and their account will be accordingly.

Jesus then said that He came to bring fire to the earth and how He wished it were already kindled (verse 49).

Some commentators say He spoke of the Holy Spirit, but, as Henry explains, it is more likely He spoke of a fire of judgement for some and a refining fire of persecution for others:

By this some understand the preaching of the gospel, and the pouring out of the Spirit, holy fire; this Christ came to send with a commission to refine the world, to purge away its dross, to burn up its chaff, and it was already kindled. The gospel was begun to be preached; some prefaces there were to the pouring out of the Spirit. Christ baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire; this Spirit descended in fiery tongues. But, by what follows, it seems rather to be understood of the fire of persecution. Christ is not the Author of it, as it is the sin of the incendiaries, the persecutors; but he permits it, nay, he commissions it, as a refining fire for the trial of the persecuted. This fire was already kindled in the enmity of the carnal Jews to Christ and his followers. “What will I that it may presently be kindled? What thou doest, do quickly. If it be already kindled, what will I? Shall I wait the quenching of it? No, for it must fasten upon myself, and upon all, and glory will redound to God from it.”

John MacArthur has more. A fire of judgement is referred to often in the Old Testament:

Fire is a picture of judgment.  I mean it is pretty obviously that.  You have that in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  We’re familiar with statements like that.  “I am come,” He says, “from the Father.  I have come into the world to save but I’ve also come to judge.”  Fire is emphatic in the Greek.  The Greek reads this way, “For fire, I have come upon the earth.”  Fire is the first thing and this is prophesied in the Old Testament.  You know, there were statements about the Messiah’s coming that talked about fire and the Jews knew thatIsaiah 66:15, Joel chapter 2, verse 30; there are number of places that promise fire and they all knew what that meant.  Amos is one that I might just remind you.  Amos 1, “So I sent fire on the wall of Gaza.  It’ll consume her citadels.”  And then it goes on to talk about the fire of God’s judgment all the way down to verse 14.  Chapter 2 of Amos further discusses this fire.  “I will send fire on Moab.  I’ll send fire on Judah.”  Malachi chapter 3, as the Old Testament closes, talks about God coming in fiery judgment, but the Jews believed that the fire would fall on the Gentiles and that the peace would come to themThey never expected that the Messiah would come and the fire of judgment would fall on them and it is the fire of judgment.

Listen to John 9:39, “For judgment I came into this world that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind.”  That’s a very important verse.  “For judgment, I came into this world that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind.”  His judgment is two-way.  It is a judgment that saves and it is a judgment that condemns.  It’s two-sided.  If you go back to Luke chapter 3 for a moment, verse 9, we’ll look at a couple of verses there. Luke 9…Luke 3:9, he says for those who don’t believe, of course, in Israel, “the ax is laid at the root of the tree.  Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Verse 16, John the Baptist says, “The One who is coming is mightier than I.  I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire and He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  So there’s the fire of judgment, the fire of destruction that is unleashed.

But it’s not only a fire of judgment; it’s also a fire of purging.  You see, the gospel is that fire that either purifies or punishes and Paul said it’s life to life or death to death.  In John 3, Jesus said, “If you believe, you have eternal life.  If you don’t believe, your unbelief puts you under judgment.”  Fire consumes what is combustible and does not consume what is noncombustible.  It purifies the noncombustible and it destroys the combustible and so the coming of Jesus is a fire.  It’s a fire cast to the earth.  To those who believe, it purifiesTo those who reject, it consumes.  And so Jesus is saying, “Look, I’ve come as fire,” and then He adds this most interesting statement, “and how I wish it were already kindled.”  He came for fire but the fire’s not started yet.  The fire hasn’t been kindled yet.  What does He mean by that?  Well, He’s talking about starting the fire.  Kindling is used to start the fire and that’s the intent of the language.  What is He saying?  “It has not been kindled.”  What’s the kindling?  What’s going to kindle the fire?  This is an amazing statement.  “I wish it were already kindled.”  What’s He looking at?  He’s looking at His death, because in the next verse, He calls it a baptism that He has to undergo.  The kindling that started the fire, the gospel fire that both purifies and punishes — the kindling was Jesus.  He was judged by God.  Before He judges, He must Himself be judged.  He’s looking at His cross.  It’s an amazing statement.  The kindling of the fire of judgment is the cross, His death, which is a fire of judgment that God puts on HimGod literally consumes Him in wrath, the just for the unjust, and He’s punished for our sins and He says here, look at this, “How I wish it were already kindled.”  He wishes it were over.

He spoke of His impending death as a baptism and the stress He was under knowing it was coming (verse 50).

Baptism in the Greek sense meant full immersion into something.

Henry tells us that Jesus said that to emphasise how much He wanted to bring us the salvific benefits of His death on the Cross:

See here, (1.) Christ’s foresight of his sufferings; he knew what he was to undergo, and the necessity of undergoing it: I am to be baptized with a baptism. He calls his sufferings by a name that mitigates them; it is a baptism, not a deluge; I must be dipped in them, not drowned in them; and by a name that sanctifies them, for baptism is a name that sanctifies them, for baptism is a sacred rite. Christ in his sufferings devoted himself to his Father’s honour, and consecrated himself a priest for evermore, Heb 7 27, 28. (2.) Christ’s forwardness to his sufferings: How am I straitened till it be accomplished! He longed for the time when he should suffer and die, having an eye to the glorious issue of his sufferings. It is an allusion to a woman in travail, that is pained to be delivered, and welcomes her pains, because they hasten the birth of the child, and wishes them sharp and strong, that the work may be cut short. Christ’s sufferings were the travail of his soul, which he cheerfully underwent, in hope that he should by them see his seed, Isa 53 10, 11. So much was his heart set upon the redemption and salvation of man.

MacArthur says:

… “I have a baptism to undergo,” and again He says, “How distressed I am until it’s accomplished.”  A “baptism” was a word the Greeks liked to use to speak about being immersed in something and we use it that way.  It is used in Greek literature to refer to death but Jesus used it as being immersed in pain, immersed in suffering, immersed in judgment, divine wrath, immersed in death.  He knows that’s a baptism that He must undergo.  He understands that this is necessary because He must bear the judgment for all who will believe.

He refers to it the same way in the 38th verse of Mark 10 where He says to the sons of Zebedee, “Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  You want prominence in the kingdom.  Can you suffer what I’m going to suffer?  I have a baptism to undergo.  I have an immersion into divine wrath and how distressed I am until it’s accomplished.  The word “distressed,” synechomai.  The verb simply means to seize.  I’m seized.  It’s used for being gripped with fear.  It’s used for being pressed.  It’s used…Paul…Philippians 1:23, I think it is, being hard-pressed from two directions.  It was a…It was an incessant squeezing, just a relentless pressure, until it was finally accomplished. And He uses the word teleō, tetelestai, “until it’s finished,” and, of course, at the end of the cross, He said, “Tetelestai,” same verb, different form, “It is finished,” John 19:30.

So here He’s saying, “I…I wish it was over.”  Our Lord here is anticipating the dividing event.  He is pressed between the suffering and the purpose, between the anticipation of the pain and the plan, between His own will and the Father’s will, but He never wavered when He said in the garden, “Father, if it’s your will, let this cup pass from Me.”  He immediately responded by saying, “Nevertheless, not My will but yours be done.”  “I’ve come to cast fire,” He said, “and it’s going to be kindled by the cross and that’s going to set the fire of judgment.”  That will be the dividing point.  That is where all men are divided.  All men are divided at the cross, both in eternity and in time.

Then He asked the crowd if He was going to bring peace to the earth and said that He was going to bring division (verse 51).

MacArthur puts these verses into context for us:

Now let me just give you a little bit of background in the chapter that we’re in.  If you go back to chapter 12, verse 1, it tells us that Jesus was speaking to many thousands of people, probably tens of thousands of people.  So many people were gathered together they were stepping on each other.  The mass of these people, by the way, already had made up their mind to reject Jesus but He was still the greatest curiosity in existence and the most profound teacher who ever lived and attracted massive crowds, but most of them stood with their leaders.  They had imbibed what their leaders had been giving them to drink in terms of Jesus being satanic, but there were still some who could be classified as disciplesThe word is mathētēs and learners.  It simply means that they were still open to what He was sayingSome of them were apostles.  They had come all the way to faith and been called to ministry.  Some of them were the seventy who also had been sent out to minister for Him because they were true believersSome of them had become believers and there were some who were just still open and the end of verse 1 says He was really talking to them.

And the nature of this message is that it’s a call to salvationIt’s a call to come to Him, to come into the kingdom of salvation, to receive the forgiveness and redemption that He brings.  This is an evangelistic invitation.  It starts in verse 1 and it runs all the way to verse 9 in chapter 13.  There are a couple of interruptions for questions but, in the main, it’s one long discourse.  It is an invitation.  It is a call by our Lord to the crowd and those in the crowd who were still open and still learning and still listening to receive His claims, embrace Him as Messiah, and come into the kingdom of salvation and receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life; and then He delineates what they must do.

MacArthur tells us what Jesus meant about bringing division rather than peace in verse 51:

That’s a mashal.  That’s a paradoxical statement.  “Do you suppose?” is a verb that could be translated “Do you presume?” or “Does it seem right to say?”  That’s the implication of that verb.  It’s sensible for you to assume that I’m bringing peace, right?  Of course, absolutely, based upon all of those Old Testament promises, and His response in the Greek starts with the word “no”, ouchhi, an emphatic “No, I tell you, but rather division,” pretty devastating statementThe promised peace was taken awayThey had rejected the Prince of PeaceThey had therefore forfeited the kingdom of peaceIt could only come through individuals putting faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah Savior and if there was no peace between the sinner and God, there would be no peace among the people.  There would be no kingdom of peace.  There will be no kingdom of peace until salvation comes to the heart, so in place of peace comes divisionIn Matthew chapter 10 verses 34-36 you have a comparative passage to this where Jesus said the same thing.  Only on that occasion, He said He came not to bring peace but a swordJesus, who came as the Prince of Peace, becomes the great divider, becomes the source of disunity and separation.

Nearer to the time of His death, Jesus referred to the destruction of the temple as He wept over Jerusalem:

… as Jesus approaches Jerusalem headed for the cross, He saw the city and He wept over it saying, and here’s the key, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace.” You missed it! “But now they’ve been hidden from your eyes.” Boy! That is one serious condition. When peace is offered and you reject it and then it’s not offered.

what He’s talking about there is the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred. Eventually, nearly 1,000 towns in Israel were sacked by the Romans. The temple was destroyed. It was the end of Judaism. There’s never been a sacrifice offered since then. They thought He was bringing peace. No, as it turned out, because they rejected Him as the Prince of Peace, He brought destructionI brought you peace and you didn’t want it on My terms. So the warnings escalate and they escalate until finally, it’s now hidden. There is a time. There is an opportunity, but God has the right to shut it down whenever He wants, as He did in history, as He does in the life of every individual who rejects that warning.

Jesus emphasised how strong the division would be with regard to faith. He used the example of a family setting rather than, say, a village. He made His message hit home, as it were.

He said that, from now on, a household of five would be divided: three against two and two against three (verse 52), elaborating on the division among family members, especially the women (verse 53).

MacArthur analyses the verses for us, pointing out how relevant they still are today:

Verse 52, “For from now on…”  I want to stop you right there.  That’s another little sort of phrase that Jesus liked to use.  He used it back in chapter 5 verse 10 when He said to James, John and Andrew or James, John and Peter. He said, “From now on, you will be fishers of men.”  “From now on” sort of signifies the way it’s going to be in the future, from now onLuke 22:69, Jesus, anticipating His ascension, said, “From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of God in heaven.”  From now on. “From now on,” He says, “this is how it’s going to be.”  Throughout life here, five members in one household will be divided, three against two, two against three.  They will be divided father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.  We know… We know that the gospel divides, don’t we?  We just saw that.  At the cross, it dividesIt divides in eternity but I’ll tell you also that backs into time and the gospel of Jesus Christ is very divisive even here and now.

John 7 says, “And there arose a division in the crowd because of Him.”  John 9 verse 16, “There was a division among them.”  John 10, “There arose a division again among the Jews.”  He divided everywhere He went.  Not just in eternity are these people divided, but in time they are divided.  The gospel is a serious problem to people who reject it and those who believe it are outcasts.  In the time of Jesus, they were un-synagogued.  They were thrown out of the synagogue, social outcasts, and it goes all the way down to the most intimate point of human unity, the family.  Jesus could have illustrated it by talking about a town or a community or a neighborhood, but He takes it all the way down to the place where the most natural kind of unity exists and says, “This thing is going to be so divisive it’s going to turn a family against itself, three against two or two against three,” depending on how many Christians in the family and that’s hypothetical.  It might be one against four or four against one.  The gospel is divisive.

The family division is a chilling one, especially because many families lived together in that era but also because there was a similar filial division in the Old Testament. Jesus was citing Micah:

Now you notice in verse 52 there are five members in a household and then they are sorted out in 53: a father, a son, mother, daughter, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law. You say, “Wait a minute. That’s six.” You’re right. That’s six. But remember, the mother-in-law is also the mother of the son who has the wife, not that that’s a big issue but the Bible is very precise. The point is that there is going to be division in the family and sometimes that division can be so severe that it can end up even in death. Listen to the words of our Lord. These are somewhat frightening words when you think about it. Matthew chapter 10 verse 21, “Brother will deliver up brother to death, a father his child, children rise up against parents, cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all on account of My name. Whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next,” pretty serious stuff. It goes on in the world; always has gone on. If you’ve been spared that, that’s a blessing, but Jesus said, “I came to bring a sword and that sword not only cuts into eternity but it comes into time.” I understand that.

I understand that the gospel that we believe, the gospel that I preach, cuts me off from people. I understand that it indicts them, that it condemns them by virtue of its message. It is divisive, really nothing new, by the way. The words of Jesus in verse 53, you might not have ever read this, but He borrowed from the prophet Micah because Micah said this very same thing in the 7th chapter and 6th verse, “For son treats father contemptuously. Daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.” So they would know that Jesus was speaking of something that was biblical. It was from the Old Testament.

Jesus then rebuked the crowd, telling them they were good at predicting the weather by looking at rain clouds (verse 54) and judging temperature by the way the wind blew (verse 55).

He called them hypocrites, saying they could interpret the appearance of the wind and the sky yet do not know how to interpret the present time (verse 56), by which He meant the purpose of His ministry among them.

MacArthur tells us that Jesus played on the fact that the Jews took pride in their powers of discernment, especially spiritual discernment:

This, of course, is down in…in Judea. These are warning words and warning sort of becomes the tone of Jesus’ ministry from now on in these remaining months before His death, but not just warning. It’s sort of an indicting warning. It’s a warning that the die is cast and it gets stronger and stronger as the months go on. The nation has made itself the all-time illustration of wasted opportunity and it’s not just Judas. It’s a whole nation of Judases and the consequences are monumental and forever. Here in these two illustrations, our Lord says, “You failed to discern two things, the time and the threat, the time and the threat.” And, of course, the Jews prided themselves on their discernment. They prided themselves on their spiritual insight but they failed with damning, deadly and eternal results to discern the time and the threat

Jesus warned that the invitation to salvation through Him as their Messiah would soon be withdrawn:

here in verse 54, He opens it up to the crowd and it stops being an invitation because they’ve already made up their mind and it becomes an indictment. It becomes a warning directed at them in their unbelief and from here on to the end of this discourse, chapter 13, verse 9; all of it has that same tone of indictment and judgment to fall. Essentially, up to verse 54, He is inviting Jews to believe. Here, He begins condemning unbelieving Jews and we can extend it beyond that because the Bible is intended for all generations. Up to this point, He has been inviting people to believe and now He condemns those who do not. And first of all, let’s look at illustration No. 1, which shows that they failed to discern the time. Verse 54, “When you see a cloud rising in the West, immediately you say a shower is coming and so it turns out.” Now that’s just a simple, unsophisticated way to tell the weather and, as I said, very much like an illustration Jesus used in Matthew 16 verses 1-4 …

verse 56. Listen to this, “You hypocrites!” Now let me stop you there. You say, “What’s the connection? What does telling the weather have to do with hypocrisy?” Well, first of all, let me say that this was our Lord’s favorite term to describe the people of Israel. He called them hypocrites more than He called them anything else and not only the leaders but the people as well. If you just take your little concordance and bounce through, for example, the gospel of Matthew and see how many times He calls them hypocrites, you would be surprised. Well, you say, “I know they were hypocrites. Sure, because of their false religion.” That’s true. To be a hypocrite means to lie about what you really are, right? It means to deceive somebody about the truth and they were hypocrites because their piety was phony. Their spirituality was false. Their allegiance to God was a sham. Their…Their holiness was superficial. Their religion was external and their hearts were wicked and evil. Their whole religion was an hypocrisy. It was all phony, as all false religion is, all of it, because false religion can’t change the heart. Is that what Jesus meant? Well, that would be a little oblique, wouldn’t it? Why after telling two weather stories would you just make a blanket statement like, “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites” unless you had something more specific in mind.

Well, He does and He says what it is. Verse 56: “Here’s your hypocrisy. You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky. Why do you not analyze this present time?” What was their hypocrisy? Their hypocrisy was simply this: You see a cloud and you conclude rain. You feel a wind and you conclude heat. Minimal evidence and you draw a confident and accurate conclusion; and with all the evidence that I have shown you that I am God the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Savior, you reject Me. You hypocrites! You have more than enough. Their hypocrisy was in pretending not to have enough evidence and so they forever said to Jesus, “Show us a sign.” He says, “I’m not giving you any more signs except the sign of Jonah,” resurrection. You phonies!

At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had only six months more of ministry before He was crucified. The people and their leaders had ample evidence that He was their Messiah, yet they wanted more.

MacArthur describes the culmination in Luke 19, when Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

I posted about the destruction of Jerusalem above, but it bears repeating. Jesus tells us what true peace really is — reconciliation to God through faith in Him:

Look at Luke 19.  This is where it all gets kind of summed up.  Luke 19:41, He approached the city, saw it and wept.  And this is what He said, verse 42.  Listen to this statement.  “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace.”  If you had only known that I was offering you peace, if you had only known, but you refused.  “Now they have been hidden from your eyes.”  This is a judicial act on God’s part.  I gave you time.  I gave you opportunity.  It’s gone.  For the most part, for that nation, by now it was over.  And He pronounces the judgment, verse 43, “For the day shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, surround you, hem you in on every side, level you to the ground, and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another.”  That’s the destruction of Jerusalem, began in 66 A.D., finished up in 70 A.D. when the Romans besieged and finally sacked the city of Jerusalem, the horrific event that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of the Jews, many who of course were hearing Jesus even then who were very young, still thirty years away from this occasion. But He says, “If you had only known…if you had only known.”  End of verse 44, “…but because you didn’t recognize the time of your visitation, now it’s hidden from your eyes.”  If only you had known.

Of course, tens of thousands of Jews converted to Christianity after the first Pentecost, but many more did not believe.

On a broader note, how can we evangelise unbelievers?

MacArthur recommends suggesting John’s Gospel as a starting point:

When somebody comes to me and says, “I don’t know if Jesus is really God,” do you know what I tell them to do? Read the gospels. Start with the Gospel of John because it’s written that you might know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that you might believe, and believing, have life. That’s why it was written. That’s the record.

As for finding true peace, he says:

… at the Great White Throne Judgment of God, there are only unbelievers. No believers will ever be there because we’re not under any condemnation. Why? Because we put our trust in Christ. That’s how you settle with God. You put your trust in Christ, the one who bore the penalty for your sin and the justice of the court and the judge is satisfied. God is willing to reconcile. God is willing to reconcile. He’s a reconciling God.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity is on August 7, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 12:32-40

12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

12:33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;

12:36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.

12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.

12:38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

12:39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.

12:40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week, we had the Parable of the Rich Fool, whom God called to his death just as he was contemplating building barns for his harvest and his goods.

Today’s reading is about the Second Coming of Christ.

In between the Parable of the Rich Fool and today’s verses is another instruction from Jesus, which is not to worry.

Here are those verses from Luke 12:

Do Not Worry

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 is all about our Lord’s instructions during the last six months of His life on Earth.

The discourse that Jesus gives in Luke 12 runs all the way through to Luke 13:9.

John MacArthur says:

At this point probably the buzz through the crowd to whom Jesus is speaking… Remember now, 12:1 to 13:9 is one discourse Jesus gave to a crowd, very large crowd, tens of thousands of people. And the buzz through the crowd would be, “Wow, this is pretty amazing stuff here.”

Jesus addressed the crowd as ‘little flock’, telling them not to be afraid, because God would give them His kingdom (verse 32).

Matthew Henry explains the words ‘little flock’:

This comfortable word we had not in Matthew. Note, [1.] Christ’s flock in this world is a little flock; his sheep are but few and feeble. The church is a vineyard, a garden, a small spot, compared with the wilderness of this world; as Israel (1 Kings 20 27), who were like two little flocks of kids, when the Syrians filled the country. [2.] Though it be a little flock, quite over-numbered, and therefore in danger of being overpowered, by its enemies, yet it is the will of Christ that they should not be afraid: “Fear not, little flock, but see yourselves safe under the protection and conduct of the great and good Shepherd, and lie easy.”

God will gladly give the faithful His kingdom as their inheritance:

[3.] God has a kingdom in store for all that belong to Christ’s little flock, a crown of glory (1 Pet 5 4), a throne of power (Rev 3 21), unsearchable riches, far exceeding the peculiar treasures of kings and provinces. The sheep on the right hand are called to come and inherit the kingdom; it is theirs for ever; a kingdom for each. [4.] The kingdom is given according to the good pleasure of the Father; It is your Father’s good pleasure; it is given not of debt, but of grace, free grace, sovereign grace; even so, Father, because it seemed good unto thee. The kingdom is his; and may he not do what he will with his own? [5.] The believing hopes and prospects of the kingdom should silence and suppress the fears of Christ’s little flock in this world. “Fear no trouble; for, though it should come, it shall not come between you and the kingdom, that is sure, it is near.” (That is not an evil worth trembling at the thought of which cannot separate us from the love of God). “Fear not the want of any thing that is good for you; for, if it be your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, you need not question but he will bear your charges thither.”

Jesus told the crowd to sell their possessions and give to charity, to create a spiritual, heavenly ‘purse’ that does not wear out and cannot fall prey to a thief or a moth (verse 33).

Henry says that Jesus did not mean to literally sell everything and leave oneself a pauper but give away whatever prevents us from fully coming to Christ:

Sit loose to this world, and to all your possessions in it: Sell that ye have, and give alms,” that is, “rather than want wherewith to relieve those that are truly necessitous, sell what you have that is superfluous, all that you can spare from the support of yourselves and families, and give it to the poor. Sell what you have, if you find it a hindrance from, or incumbrance in, the service of Christ. Do not think yourselves undone, if by being fined, imprisoned, or banished, for the testimony of Jesus, you be forced to sell your estates, thought they be the inheritance of your fathers. Do not sell to hoard up the money, or because you can make more of it by usury, but sell and give alms; what is given in alms, in a right manner, is put out to the best interest, upon the best security.”

MacArthur says that Jesus is inviting the crowd into His Father’s kingdom:

So here is an invitation then to the kingdom But it appeals only to the desperate, only to the broken, only to the penitent, only for the hungry and thirsty whose desire to be delivered from sin and death and hell into the kingdom of righteousness, joy and peace is so strong that they would pay any cost.  So Jesus is saying what John the Baptist said, “Bring forth fruits unto repentance.”  You say you want to repent, do you?  Are you willing to give up everything?  Are you willing to make for yourself purses which don’t wear out?  In other words, instead of accumulating everything in this world in earthly barns, or earthly purses, are you…are you willing to put them in a heavenly purse, to put your treasure in heaven?  Are you willing to give up everything in a spiritual investment with God, who will return to you eternal dividends?  You will receive in heaven an unfailing treasure where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.

Jesus said that, where our hearts are, there will our treasure also be (verse 34). That is one of my favourite Bible verses.

MacArthur says:

So here is our Lord’s invitation.  It is an invitation to live in His kingdom.  It is an invitation to submit your life to the heavenly King and to invest everything into His careTo set your affections on things above, as verse 34 says, to put your heart in heavenHeart is kardia, cardiacIt means feeling, thought, desire, will, the core of life; everything in that heavenly investment.

Jesus then went into an allegory of a wedding feast, with the bridegroom not yet home and with waiting servants. This is His discussion of His Second Coming.

He said to be dressed appropriately — ‘for action’ — and have enough oil in the lamps, as did servants and slaves in that era (verse 35).

MacArthur explains that the length of time for a wedding feast in those days varied. No one knew when it would begin or end:

… a wedding feast was something that just sort of happened in a general sense at a general time rather than saying, you know, we’re going to have a wedding, it’s going to be Saturday at eight o’clock. They would say you’re all invited to a wedding. They would send out wedding invitations and it would say, like, “In the month of April and we’ll let you know when it starts.” And by the way, they would last … up to seven days or even more, depending on how wealthy they were, how many people came, and how much food there was available. They weren’t sure exactly when it would begin because all of the accumulation of the food and all that needed to be done was somewhat undetermined. And so here’s a perfect illustration. A master goes to a wedding. And he has to tell his people, “I…I don’t know when I’ll be back,” because that’s how weddings were. “So I’m just going to put you in charge of everything.” Now they could take it seriously or not so seriously.

MacArthur explains the attire, being dressed ‘for action’:

The Lord gives four analogies of readiness, OK?  Four analogies of readiness.  Now we’ll go back and look at verses 35 to 39 and it will all just unfold pretty simply.  Four analogies of readiness. Number one, verse 35, first half of the verse, “Be dressed in readiness.”  Literally, let your loins be girded. Let your loins be girded.  Everybody wore dresses in those days, everybody wore wrong…long robes.  They had a couple of holes for the arms and a hole for the head and you just threw on this robe.  You’ve seen all the pictures and film depictions of life in this period and it’s true.  They all wore these flowing robes.  If you were going to go into action that was a very, very inconvenient way to be dressed and so what they would typically do would be take a sash or some kind of belt and pull it around their waist and pull all of that loose material together.  And very often they would take the corners of their robes, pull them up through so that they would shorten them up so that they could move with more facility and more alacrity.  It was very important.  This goes even back to the Exodus, back in Exodus chapter 12 verse 11, the angel of death was going to come and it was moving time. After four centuries in Egypt, they were going.  And Israel was going out of Egypt.  God was going to deliver them.  And you remember what He said?  “You eat the Passover but you eat the Passover fast and you eat the Passover with your loins girded and your sandals on.” We’re moving out.

What is He saying?  He’s saying you’ve got to be ready to be goingIt’s going to happen so fast, it’s going to happen in a nanosecond, you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You better be ready to move.  The New Testament adds to that. There are a number of Old Testament uses of that phrase, 1 Kings 18:46, 2 Kings 4:29. It was a very familiar Jewish metaphor for readiness It also worked in the Roman worldPaul said that a Roman soldier, when he was talking about the armor of the Christian, had on a belt of sincerity or truthfulness, the belt of truth. And what he was saying by that is, look, if you’re going to engage in spiritual war, you’ve…you’ve got to pull the loose ends of your life together.  First Peter 1:13, “Gird up your minds for action.”  Pull in the loose ends of your lifeIt’s a metaphor for spiritual readiness, call to action to be ready to move and move fast.

Now on to the lamps:

Second metaphor is lamps. The first one is clothing. The second one is lamp, lamps. “Keep your lamps alight,” or “keep your lamps lit.” This is not time to be meandering around in the darkness. This is no time to be fumbling and stumbling. Be alert, be aware, be watchful, have everything ready. You remember the story in Matthew chapter 25, the parable that Jesus told about the ten virgins. And the ten virgins, you know, were the bridesmaids to the bride and they were supposed to be ready for whenever the bridegroom came. Weddings were really very hard to nail down in terms of time. They started when they started and they ended when they ended. You know, they started when everything was done and the preparations were made and the food was fixed and they ended when they ran out. And so they were sort of floating as to their beginning and their end. And in the case of Matthew 25, they were waiting and waiting for the bridegroom to come and He didn’t come and He didn’t come and it got to be night and dark and, of course now it’s midnight and some of them let their lamps go out. They weren’t ready when He came. That’s a metaphor of lack of preparation. The bridegroom came, the wedding took place, the door was slammed in the faces of the virgins who had no oil and Jesus is saying by that story…story, “You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming and you better be ready or you’re going to be on the outside. And outside is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Be ready when He comes. You don’t know when He’s coming.

Paul put it this way in Romans 13, “Do this knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.” Wake up. “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” He’s saying that 2,000 years ago. “Let us cast off the works of darkness. Let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lust. It’s time to come to Christ. It’s time to live godly lives.” Jesus is coming, could come at any moment. You need to be alert, have the light on and not be in spiritual darkness.

Jesus told the crowd to be ready for the time the bridegroom returns — His Second Coming — so that they can be ready to open the door as soon as he/He knocks (verse 36).

MacArthur says:

Third picture, third metaphor is of servants. Clothing, lamps, and servants …

And so in verse 36 he’s saying, “You need to be like that. You need to be like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding feast which carries the idea of you don’t know when it’s going to be, so that he may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. You’ve just got to be there waiting so that when he arrives and puts one hand on that door, that door is open and you’re ready to receive him and give a full account of everything.”

Jesus went on to say that those servants or slaves who are ready for the master’s return will be blessed, because he will fasten his belt, call them to table and serve them himself (verse 37).

Now that must have struck the crowd as an amazing thought, because it was unheard of.

MacArthur says:

That’s turning the proverbial tables. When he comes home and he finds you ready, everything is ready, everything is as you know he would want it to be, you are prepared for his arrival. He is going to be so thrilled and so thankful for that that he is going to say, “Folks, sit down, I’ll cook dinner. I’ll feed you. You are now my honored guests.”

Jesus said that the slaves who were ready in the early hours of the morning and near dawn would be blessed indeed (verse 38).

MacArthur says that big households with servants or slaves set up a schedule so that a group of them would be on watch at various times starting in the evening and going into the early morning:

The Romans had divided the night military watch into four parts: six to nine, nine to twelve, twelve to three, three to six. The Jews divided into three parts. Scholars like to debate whether Jesus was thinking of a Jewish watch or a Roman watch and really, who cares? It’s not a critical point. Who knows what Jesus was thinking, we only know what He said, and He didn’t say either. The point is this, the second or the third watch would be late. In a Roman setting, it would be between nine and three A.M. and in a Jewish setting it would span basically the same amount of time. So you’re talking about a very inconvenient time when people would normally be asleep and they had finished their day of work and he said, “But you know what? If you’re ready in that most unexpected time, if you’re ready even if he comes in the third watch of the night, even if he comes in the dark when you should be asleep, and you’re ready, He is going to light everything, He’s going to set a table, He’s going to sit you down and He’s going to feed you.” And there’s another picture of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at which the bridegroom Himself will serve His bride. When He comes and takes us to heaven, He will sit us at His table and He will serve us. That’s one of the great pictures of the love of Christ for His redeemed church. I understand the part that we serve Him. This is over the top, that He serves us. When He comes back and finds us faithful, He will serve us.

Jesus ended with a warning.

He said, ‘Know this’, that, if the owner of the house knew what time a thief would break in, he would have been on guard to prevent it (verse 39).

He ended by saying that we must be ready, at all times, because the Son of Man will return at an unexpected hour (verse 40).

In verse 39, we have our Lord’s fourth and final metaphor, that of the thief and the associated element of shock and surprise that accompanies a break-in.

MacArthur tells us:

one final metaphor here in Luke 12: that of a thief. Clothing, lamps, servants, and a thief, verse 39, “Be sure of this.” This is emphatic, obvious but emphatic, “that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into,” or literally, dug through, because houses were made out of mud and the thieves would dig through as verse 33 says, they would steal.  And so if a man knew when the thief was coming, he would make sure that no thief could do his dastardly work.  A thief’s stock-in-trade is surprise, when you don’t expect it.  I mean no thief is very successful who comes when you expect it.  They thrive on coming when you don’t expect it.  And this is the picture of the coming of the LordHe’s going to come like a thief, not in that he’s going to do damage, not in that he’s going to take something he’s not entitled to, but it’s the element of surprise that is carried in this metaphor.  Listen to 1 Thessalonians 5 verse 2, “You yourselves know full well the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night,” just like a thief in the night.  “But you, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you like a thief, for you are all sons of light and sons of the day.”  You’re ready, you have the lamps on, you have your loins girded and you’ve rendered your service to your Master and you’re ready to go.  He’s coming like a thief. Peter said the same thing in 2 Peter, using that same metaphor.  Once the Lord used it, they all started borrowing it from Him.  Second Peter 3:10, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  Revelation, we even have the same thing and here in chapter 16 and verse 15 says, “Behold,” this is the Lord talking, “I am coming like a thief.  Blessed is the one who stays awake, has the lamp on, keeps his garments,” that is, is dressed and ready to go.  And even back in I think it’s the 3rd chapter of Revelation, and verse 3, “Remember therefore what you have received and heard, keep it and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief” and here it is, “and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.”  That’s the concept of the thief, you don’t know when.  So be ready.

Luke has more quotes from Jesus on spiritual readiness:

How do we get ready?  How do you get ready?  First of all, you need to come to Christ.  We can go back to Luke 9, can’t we, on that one and it says in verse 23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”  Come to Christ, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for My sake is the one who will save it.  What does a man profit it he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes.”  Get ready, He’s coming and you don’t want Him to be ashamed of you when He comes.

Listen to Luke 21:34, “Be on guard that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life and that day suddenly come upon you like a trap.  For it will come on all those who dwell on the face of all the earth, but keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Be ready to stand before the Son of Man when He comes.  This is a call to salvation.

Readiness also implies sanctification:

But there’s also a call to sanctification, a call to sanctification, and Peter gives us that call in 2 Peter 3:14.  He says, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things” I love this “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”  You want to be ready when He comes, not just because you belong to Him but because you are living a godly life.  You’re living a holy life.  Since we are looking for this coming, what kind of persons should we be?  Second Peter 3:11 says: “You are to be holy in your conduct and godly.”  He’s coming. He’s coming when we don’t expect it.  You need to come to Christ and be saved, to be ready when He arrives to be taken to glory and you need to be living a godly life to receive then a full reward when He arrives.

A lot of Christians think that the end of the world will come in our lifetime.

It might, but it might not. However, we will surely pass this mortal coil, and for that, we also need to be ready.

As to when the end of the world will come, I often think of one of the lines of O God, Our Help in Ages Past:

A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone …

MacArthur gives us reason to think the end of the world is coming, but, perhaps not yet. He cites 2 Peter 3:

… you say, “But…but He said He’s coming and it’s 2,000 years.” Verse 8, here’s the key. “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as (what?) a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” You’re talking about the eternal God who is beyond time. You say, “But still, what’s He waiting for?” You know, we want to crawl under the altar with the saints in Revelation, “How long, oh Lord, how long, how long? When are You going to come? When are You going to glorify Yourself? When are You going to judge the ungodly? When are You going to vindicate Your name and manifest the glory of Your people? How long? What’s He waiting for?”

Verse 9 tells you what He’s waiting for. “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness.” Some people accuse God of not…just not getting around to it, maybe, “but is patient toward you.” You? Who are you? The ones He’s writing to. Who are they? Verse 1 chapter 1, “Those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” You believers, what is God waiting for? Listen to me, He’s waiting for you because He does not wish that any of His own who have been chosen perish, but that all come to repentance, and God cannot come, He cannot return, Jesus can’t return until all the elect are redeemed. That’s what He’s waiting for. The reason for His delay is not that He’s negligent. It’s not that He’s careless. It’s not that He’s doing other things. He’ll come when His bride for His Son is complete. He’ll come when redemption is over. The fact that 2,000 years have elapsed is utterly irrelevant to the doctrine of imminence. It’s still imminent. I don’t know when He’s coming, but I’ll tell you this, it’s sooner than it’s ever been. A certain event, an uncertain time.

Until then, MacArthur gives us guidance for readiness:

One other comment from Luke and that is to ask the question. So what are we supposed to do now in the light of this? And that’s how Jesus begins that verse, verse 40. “You too be ready.” Be ready. How do you get ready? Abandon false religion, fear God, confess Christ, trust the Holy Spirit, be rich toward God, leave the world behind, seek His spiritual kingdom. That’s how you get ready. He’s coming and His coming is certain and powerfully and for the purpose of motivation, motivating every generation, its timing is uncertain. And so the message is, you better be ready, you better be ready.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

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 Sixth Sunday of Trinity is on July 24, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 11:1-13

11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.

11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

11:5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;

11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’

11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’

11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?

11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

This is another long post, so please be prepared with refreshment.

Unlike the Jewish hierarchy who prayed aloud in public, reciting the same prayers several times a day, the ordinary Jew in our Lord’s era had forgotten how to pray in a heartfelt way as exemplified by the Psalms.

Jesus never prayed aloud in public. He said that those who did, i.e. the hierarchy, already had their reward. They prayed so that they would be seen and admired by other Jews. Jesus said that God was having nothing of their showy rituals.

Recall that Luke 9 through to Luke 19 documents how Jesus taught His disciples. Here, by request, He teaches them how to pray.

Now, at this point, Jesus was teaching and preaching in Judea. These were the final months of His life.

We are not sure exactly where He was at this point except that He was likely praying away from the crowds in a private place, as He always did. His disciples might have been praying with Him, using their own prayers. Luke does not tell us.

At this place, one of His disciples requested that He teach them to pray in the manner that John the Baptist taught his followers (verse 1).

Matthew Henry explains the request:

Their plea is, “As John also taught his disciples. He took care to instruct his disciples in this necessary duty, and we would be taught as they were, for we have a better Master than they had.” Dr. Lightfoot’s notion of this is, That whereas the Jews’ prayers were generally adorations, and praises of God, and doxologies, John taught his disciples such prayers as were more filled up with petitions and requests; for it is said of them that they did deeseis poiountaimake prayers, ch. 5 33. The word signifies such prayers as are properly petitionary. “Now, Lord, teach us this, to be added to those benedictions of the name of God which we have been accustomed to from our childhood” … This disciple needed not to have urged John Baptist’s example: Christ was more ready to teach than ever John Baptist was, and particularly taught to pray better than John did, or could, teach his disciples.

Students of the Bible know that Jesus had already laid out the Lord’s Prayer earlier in His ministry at the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s account has our Lord’s instructions in his sixth chapter.

Henry lays out the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts:

There are some differences between the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke, by which it appears that it was not the design of Christ that we should be tied up to these very words, for then there would have been no variation. Here is one difference in the translation only, which ought not to have been, when there is none in the original, and that is in the third petition: As in heaven, so in earth; whereas the words are the very same, and in the same order, as in Matthew. But there is a difference in the fourth petition. In Matthew we pray, “Give us daily bread this day:” here, “Give it us day by day“—kath hemeran. Day by day; that is, “Give us each day the bread which our bodies require, as they call for it:” not, “Give us this day bread for many days to come;” but as the Israelites had manna, “Let us have bread to-day for to-day, and to-morrow for to-morrow; for thus we may be kept in a continual dependence upon God, as children upon their parents, and may have our mercies fresh from his hand daily, and may find ourselves under fresh obligations to do the work of every day in the day, according as the duty of the day requires, because we have from God the supplies of every day in the day, according as the necessity of the day requires. Here is likewise some difference in the fifth petition. In Matthew it is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive: here it is, Forgive us our sins; which proves that our sins are our debts. For we forgive; not that our forgiving those that have offended us can merit pardon from God, or be an inducement to him to forgive us (he forgives for his own name’s sake, and his Son’s sake); but this is a very necessary qualification for forgiveness, and, if God have wrought it in us, we may plead that work of his grace for the enforcing of our petitions for the pardon of our sins: “Lord, forgive us, for thou hast thyself inclined us to forgive others.” There is another addition here; we plead not only in general, We forgive our debtors, but in particular, “We profess to forgive every one that is indebted to us, without exception. We so forgive our debtors as not to bear malice or ill-will to any, but true love to all, without any exception whatsoever.” Here also the doxology in the close is wholly omitted, and the Amen; for Christ would leave them at liberty to use that or any other doxology fetched out of David’s psalms; or, rather, he left a vacuum here, to be filled up by a doxology more peculiar to the Christian institutes, ascribing glory to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Some might wonder why this disciple asked again, if he had heard Jesus teach the prayer before.

It could be that some among them needed reminding of how to pray, as John MacArthur explains:

… they had been raised in a Judaistic environment of apostate religion.  They had been raised with heresy.  They had been raised under the leadership of rabbis and scribes and priests and Pharisees and Sadducees who didn’t know God.  They thought they did but they did not, and so they had invented a false kind of praying; a ritualistic, vainly repetitious kind of praying. It was external, ceremonial that was used for hypocritical purposes to demonstrate one’s supposed self-righteousness publiclyThey had been cheated out of the examples of what it really is to pray.  And as we saw, listening to Jesus pray here in verse 1, waiting till He was finished they were hearing a kind of prayer that was very different from what they were experiencing in the Judaism in which they were raised.  And so one of them says, “Teach us to pray like You pray. Teach us to pray the way John the Baptist taught his followers to pray,” which gives us a wonderful insight. John the Baptist, of course, was a true man of God, a true servant of God, a true saint of God, a true believer in God and so in the midst of apostate Judaism there were those true believers, John being one, who did know how to pray.  And John’s disciples had the same problem Jesus’ disciples had, they had been raised in that apostate environment, they had been raised in the environment of false and hypocritical prayers and they also needed to know how to pray the right way.  And John the Baptist had instructed them. Even the Pharisees comment on that in Luke 5:33, they say, “John’s disciples always fast and pray.” And so here the disciples of Jesus bring up the question: How are we to pray?

He had already taught His apostles to pray.  He had already given this prayer in the Sermon on the Mount so we might conclude that this was a different group of disciples this timeCertainly there were some who had departed from Him and there were others who had been attracted to Him.  We don’t know specifically who these people were, but it may well have been as well that the others who knew the prayer when it was given in Galilee needed to hear it again here in Judea many months later.  It’s really important to know how to pray the right way.  If we have access to all of the supply of heaven, if we have entrance given to us, if the gates to the treasure house of heaven have been kicked wide open and God has invited us to come and put no constraints or limits on our coming, we certainly know then how to access that is critical for us.  They understood it and I think they heard the way Jesus prayed and it was different than the way they were used to hearing people pray.  And they needed Him to teach them.

Note that the Lord’s Prayer begins first by acknowledging God’s power and glory and ends with personal petitions for sustenance and forgiveness.

Jesus told the disciples to first say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come’ (verse 2).

‘Hallowed be your name’ means ‘Holy is your name’.

MacArthur has more on the word ‘hallowed’, which has two meanings:

First, to hallow, to make holy, to set apart as holy, can mean to make an ordinary thing holy by bringing it into contact with something that is holy, to make an ordinary thing holy by bringing it into contact to something that is holy. Now that’s biblical because that’s what happened to us. I’m not holy and you’re not holy but God views us as holy because He’s united us to whom? To Christ. So in our union with Christ, that which is unholy has been made holy. So we are now called holy ones. We are called saints. That’s what the word “saint” is. So we are holy in the sense that we have been made holy by being brought into contact with one who is holy.

That’s not the usage here because God doesn’t need to be made holy by being brought into contact with someone else who is holy. It simply means here to treat as holy, to hold as holy. That is to say, to recognize that God is different, separated, separated, separated, separated, holy, holy, holy, a different sphere, a different quality of being, a different power, a different knowledge, a different wisdom way beyond us. God is supremely separate from us. He absolutely belongs to a different sphere of life and being. And we come acknowledging that. He is vastly beyond us and above us.

MacArthur advises us on how to consider the words ‘Thy kingdom come’:

When you come to Christ and you’re sick of yourself and sick of your sin and your selfish ways and you bow the knee to the lordship of Jesus Christ and receive from Him eternal salvation, from then on the objective is expressed in this praise and prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Confessing Jesus as Lord and King is to say, “Take over my life, fit me into Your purpose, put me somewhere in Your objectives and agenda and program.” When I say, “Thy kingdom come,” I am affirming that I have relinquished the rule over my own life. And I allow You to do whatever it is that You want to do. It’s very like the next phrase, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Now this petition is based on one great assumption and that is that God is sovereign and Jesus is Lord and at salvation we are submitting to that glorious reality

“Thy kingdom come.” This puts His interest first. Do whatever advances Your kingdom

First: the logical flow. You know He cares, He’s your Father, you have access, He has wisdom; He has resources. At the same time you know He’s holy and only does what is right. And then, thirdly, you concern yourself with His kingdom and not your own. There are only really two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of God, and there is the kingdom of Satan. There is the kingdom of darkness, as Paul called it, or the kingdom of God’s dear Son, just those two. And everybody is in one or the other. We are either the children of God in His kingdom, or the children of the devil in his kingdom. We either serve God, or we serve Satan. Jesus said, “You’re either for Me or against Me.” There really is no middle ground. And as believers, it shouldn’t be any stretch for us to understand that all of our desires and longings and hopes would be toward the kingdom of which we are a part and in honor and affirmation of the King whom we love and serve.

Then Jesus prayed, ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ (verse 3).

He used ‘bread’ as an all-encompassing word symbolising what we need to survive this life.

MacArthur says:

Now let’s break this request in verse 3 down into several little features.  OK?  Just break it down a little bit.  Number one, the substance, what is it that we’re praying for?  Bread, see it there.  “Give us each day our daily bread.”  What do we mean by bread?  Well we mean more than cooked or baked wheat or flour.  Don’t we?  What do we mean by bread?  Well basically that simply stands for all the temporal issues of life, physical care; food, clothing, housing, basics to survive, to stay alive Martin Luther wrote that bread was the symbol for everything necessary for the preservation of this life Luther said, “Like food, health, good weather, a house, a home, wife, children, good government and peace.”  It’s a way of saying, Lord, if I’m to survive physically You have to be the source of my survival And again, it’s not the necessities of life, it doesn’t talk about what kind of house or what kind of food, or what quality of life.  It just says, “Lord, sustain my life because I cannot advance Your kingdom, I cannot do Your will, I cannot honor Your name, I cannot bring You glory unless I am alive.”

Finally, Jesus said to petition God to ‘forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial’ (verse 4).

Henry explains that we cannot expect God to forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us. We also pray that we are not tempted to sin:

(9.) That we have no reason to expect, nor can with any confidence pray, that God would forgive our sins against him, if we do not sincerely, and from a truly Christian principle of charity, forgive those that have at any time affronted us or been injurious to us. Though the words of our mouth be even this prayer to God, if the meditation of our heart at the same time be, as often it is, malice and revenge to our brethren, we are not accepted, nor can we expect an answer of peace.

(10.) That temptations to sin should be as much dreaded and deprecated by us as ruin by sin; and it should be as much our care and prayer to get the power of sin broken in us as to get the guilt of sin removed from us; and though temptation may be a charming, fawning, flattering thing, we must be as earnest with God that we may not be led into it as that we may not be led by that to sin, and by sin to ruin.

Jesus then illustrates God’s infinite love for them — and us — by giving them a hypothetical situation of a disciple who goes to a friend in the middle of the night to ask for three loaves of bread (verse 5) because he has an unexpected houseguest and nothing to give him to eat (verse 6).

The friend doesn’t want to give him anything because it is the middle of the night, he is drowsy from being awakened and his wife and children are asleep (verse 7).

Yet, persistence, Jesus said, will cause the friend to relent in the end and give the man what he needs, if only to get rid of him and go back to bed (verse 8).

Jesus was saying that God is different to that friend. We have only to ask and if it be His will, He will give us what we request; if we knock, He will open His door to us (verses 9, 10).

MacArthur explains our Lord’s illustration leading into His Father’s response:

What happened here was this guy finally got out of bed and gave the man what he wanted because he was annoyingly persistent He was overly persistent.  He was troublesomely urgent.  It’s the word in the Greek anaideian, it’s hapax legomena, that is, once said in the New Testament, the only place it ever appears And really what it means – and you might see this in your marginal reading in the NAS – is “shamelessness, somebody who just sets aside all sense of shame.”  It’s, one lexicon said, “overly bold.”  Another one said, “utter shamelessness.”  Somebody who is just brash, and bold, somebody who has a lot of nerve.  Are we supposed to pray like that?

That’s what Jesus is going to teach us here to pray like that, and thus to participate in the means by which God achieves His ends … 

“Lend me three loaves.”  Now he doesn’t mean three great big bakery loaves, like we’re used to.  A loaf would be basically one piece of flat bread He wants three pieces of flat bread, which would be a normal meal dipped in perhaps some kind of olive oil, or spread with some kind of fruit, or whatever.  This would be sufficient for an evening meal.

Now this is not an emergency He isn’t saying, “My wife is having a baby.  My wife is dying.  My kid broke his leg.  We’ve got a robber in the house.”  He’s in the middle of the night and he says, “I want these three loaves.”  And the guy is probably thinking, “What in the world?  He is waking me up for a midnight snack.  This is ridiculous.”  Actually, it’s a very generous and unselfish act on his part because he’s been awakened himself.

Because verse 6 says, “For a friend of mine has come.”  I’m just passing on the joy here.  “Friend of mine has come to me from a journey and I have nothing to set before him.”  People often traveled at night in that hot part of the world, and his friend came at midnight, and he had to get up and host him.  He arrived unexpectedly. 

Hospitality, by the way, was expected in the ancient world, very much expected among the Jewish people.  They majored on hospitality.  It was part of their social duty, more a part of their religious duty.  Part of their duty to God to care for the stranger, right?  I mean, that’s Old Testament stuff.  They knew what they had to do.  And so this poor man who had this guest arrive at midnight at his house, he had sort of a difficult dilemma: I can be a poor host or a poor neighbor, right? 

Being a poor host was not an option because hospitality was at the high level of priorities in cultural considerations And he knew his neighbor knew it, as wellSo both of then would really be doing what’s right, even though it was a bit inconvenient for both of them So he says, “It’s really not for me.  I don’t want a midnight snack.  It’s a friend of mine that’s come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.”  He’s obviously hungry, hasn’t had anything to eat, no shops, restaurants, no stockpile of food, nothing.  Very different, by the way, from our world, isn’t it?  When you just make it every day with the bread you have …

“The door has already been shut.”  It wasn’t a door like we have that you shut it easily Sometimes doors actually dropped through rings, a combination of metal and iron, and removing it was not just a simple thing to do, and opening would make a lot of racket And there was a whole family there And he says, “My children and I are in bed.”  Usually the same bed.  They had a big mat, one-room houses, right?  One-room houses The kitchen in one corner, living space over here, and bedroom in the same place.  Just roll out the mat and everybody goes down on the mat with some pillows, or whatever.  And the colder it got, the closer they all got together.  That’s how they all kept themselves warm. 

So if he gets up, everybody’s up, all the kids are up, everybody’s up.  And probably by now the people living close next door are up because they’re listening to the conversation, as well.  The whole thing seems very presumptuous, very bothersome.  It really isn’t a big emergency.  I mean, couldn’t he – would he die if he waited till breakfast?  Isn’t he – aren’t you a little bit overdoing this hospitality thing?  Tell the guy to go to bed.  You’ll forget it when you fall asleep.  You know, give him a speech.  You’ve been on a long journey.  You’re probably tired.  Just lay down.  You’ll fall asleep and you’ll forget.  The man says, “I’m not going to get up and give you anything.  This is too much trouble.”

And then Jesus, skipping any prolonged narrative, jumps to the point of the story in verse 8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence – his importunity, his brashness, his boldness “ – he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”  There’s really no sense in not getting up because he’s not going away.  And you’ve already awakened me, and you’ve already awaken the kids. 

I tell you, he’s going to get what he asks for because of his shamelessness That’s the word, anaideian, because of his shamelessness, his brashness, his gall.  The emphasis here is on this boldness.  It isn’t so much on persistence and much asking, it’s just the boldness of asking at such an inopportune time, just took a lot of gall to do this. 

Well, it’s a perfect illustration.  It’s just a perfect illustration of us going to God and saying, “I know it’s inappropriate to interrupt You because You’re running a universe and You’ve got all these things going But I just need You to sit down and listen to me, and look at this, and don’t be distracted.  I’ve got some things I need to – ”  That is just – that’s over the top.

But it isn’t.  The picture here is of shameless nerve, boldness, importunity, things that seem almost ludicrous to us going into the presence of the God of the universe.  But our Lord is teaching us how to be invasive, how to be bold in our prayers This man responded not for friendship, but for irritation.  He is in contrast to God who, by the way, the Old Testament says, “Never sleeps and never – ” what? “ – slumbers.”  So you’re not waking Him up.  And if this man would give this man what he wanted not for friendship, but just because of his shameless boldness, what will God who loves you perfectly give you when you come into His presence?

Here’s how you pray.  “Father, hallowed be – ” what? “ – Your name, Your kingdom come – ” and then we add, of course, from Matthew 6, “Your will be done.”  So it’s always according to God’s name, according to God’s kingdom, and according to God’s will that we ask.  It’s not a blank check.

The generosity of the statement in verses 9 and 10 is absolutely amazing And because verse 9 is so shocking, verse 10 repeats the same thing It’s not necessary to say the same thing twice, especially when you don’t really change anything.  But he does because of the first verse, verse 9, just sort of leaves you stunned.  “Come on,” God says, “you can start whispering if you want through the wall, and you can raise your voice and begin to make demands, and you can even bang on the door, if you want, and I’ll tell you this.  When you ask, you’ll find; and when you knock you will receive what you desire.  I will open the door.”  What a great statement

And what comes out of this?  I’ll tell you what comes out of this, an experience of the goodness of God.  An experience of communion with God This is the richness of what we enjoy in this life and in the life to come, the eternal reward for being eager participants in the purposes of God.  Next time you pray, be bold.  Next time you pray, which should be at all times, praying without ceasing, be shamelessNext time you pray, go into the presence of God eager to pour out your heart Next time you pray, ask God to listen and to see, and not to turn away, and to hear the cry of your heart.  And as you pray and God unfolds His purpose, you will be enjoying the experience of having been a part of what He accomplishes and enjoy His goodness

This concept, this great truth, this great promise is built on a sort of axiom, an obvious principle, and that is built on a divine foundation. 

Then Jesus spoke of a father’s innate goodness.

I realise that with all the horrible news stories we read, some will think that few fathers have innate goodness, but most of them do — and that’s why we do not read about them in the newspapers. They get on with providing well for and loving their children.

Jesus asked the disciples, a number of whom must have been fathers themselves, if their child asks for a fish, will these men give them a snake instead (verse 11).

Or, if their child asks for an egg, would they give them a scorpion (verse 12).

MacArthur says that Jesus was asking them to follow His logic by moving on from friendship to fatherhood:

Friendship is one thing and friendship goes so far. Fatherhood is something else, isn’t it? This again is a typical common Jewish pattern of reasoning from the lesser to the greater. If a friend will respond to your boldness, what will a father do?

My children certainly didn’t hesitate to ask me for what they wanted.  Do yours?  They certainly have never hesitated to ask their mother what they wanted.  And the expectation is that if it’s something they need and we know they need it, they’re going to receive it, because they understand the relationship that we have is one of love, and care, and responsibility, and affection.  And that’s the point here. 

So Jesus is then saying this promise.  You can ask, and seek, and knock, and you will receive, and you will find, and the door will be opened, is based on the fact that you’re coming to a father.  This is the analogy.  This is the principle here.  And it’s very interesting how he lays it out.  He says one of you fathers, one of you of the disciples that are listening to this – it says back in verse 1 that He was speaking to His disciples.  “One of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish.  Your son’s hungry.  He wants a fish.  He wants fish.”  That was kind of the staple meat. 

And so what are you going to give him?  You’re going to give him a snake instead of a fish?  I mean, if he wants to eat and he’s hungry, you’re not going to mock his hunger and you’re certainly not going to give him a snake.  Some suggest that this is also the word for eel, I think it’s best to see it as a snake.  You wouldn’t give him an animal that could poison him.  When he wants food and he wants to be fed, you’re not going to give him something that could kill him.

And then He gives another simple analogy. “If he asks for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?”  Why that comparison?  Because scorpions were kind of a yellowy color.  There are different breeds that are different kinds of scorpions.  But historians tell us the kinds in those days were of a sort of a yellow color, not unlike the color of an egg, and they would curl up, and when they curled up in a little ball, they looked like a small egg.  So there was some kind of a similarity there to make the analogy work.  He says, “If your son wants an egg because he’s hungry, you’re not going to give him a deadly scorpion.”

Now when Jesus taught this elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:9, He added a third analogy.  He said, “If your son asks for bread, you’re not going to give him – ” what?  “ – a stone.”  You’re not going to mock your son’s hunger.  You’re not going to mock your son’s need.  And you’re not going to give him something that he can’t eat.  You’re not going to give him something that will kill him.  That’s the principle.  The principle is that fathers take care of their childrenAnd when children come and they have needs, the father meets the needs.

And so we see the parable which illustrates that we are to come at any time, no matter how simple the need, and to be overly bold in our asking.  The promise that underlies our coming is that whatever it is that we seek, if it’s within the framework of His will, we’ll receive it.  That is based upon the principle that God is a father.

Jesus ended by saying that if the disciples, who are evil — inherently sinful — know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will God the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (verse 13).

MacArthur explains ‘how much more’, a longstanding Jewish comparison used to emphasise the greater of two things:

You, being evil.  However, have the residual imago dei, you have left in you the residue of the image of God that was defiled in the fall, but it’s still there, because even though you are at heart evil, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” Jeremiah 17:9; “there is none good, no not one,” Romans chapter 3.  We are evil. “Yet know how to give good gifts to your children.”  That’s the residual of the image of God

Whenever you see what we call “the milk of human kindness,” whenever you see people who don’t know God parent well, love their children, show kindness, give their children what they need, be philanthropic; you’re seeing the residual of the image of God, so warped and scarred in the fall, but still there.  And so He says, “You, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children – ” and here comes the key “ – how much more – ”

This is an old rabbinical way to argue, an old Jewish way to argue, the “how much more” argument, the “how much more” approach.  “How much more than you who are evil shall your heavenly Father – ” implied, who is not evil, who is perfectly holy “ – give?”  I mean, if you who are at heart evil give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father who is holy give to His children?  If you who can only love imperfectly give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father who loves perfectly give to His children?  If you who are limited in your wisdom give to your children what you think is best, how much more will your Father who is perfectly wise give the best to His children?

The whole thing sets a huge gulf in our understanding.  You can go to God because He’s a loving Father.  But He’s a loving Father far beyond the most loving father in this world who is by nature evil and who does his best to give good gifts out of a corrupt and fallen heart.  How much more will your heavenly Father love you with a perfect love?  How much more with perfect wisdom, and perfect compassion, and perfect mercy and grace, and perfect understanding of your situation, and perfect goodness give to you?

So when you go to God, and you go with boldness, and you go with persistence, and you rush in and you unload what’s on your heart, and first you ask, and then you start pleading, and then you start banging, know this, that God is delighted with that – delighted with that – because He, with His perfect love, and perfect wisdom, and perfect power, and perfect provision is able to give the best to His children.  In fact, Psalm 84:11 says, “He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly,” His children.  He holds nothing back.  So how much more shall your heavenly Father give than any earthly father? 

I must confess that I have been praying boldly for something in the distant future for some time now.

I do end my petition by asking if it be His will. I have no idea if it is His will and, just by praying that, I accept that it might not be.

But I most certainly know one thing: if what I ask for is not His will, then He will grant me something far better than I had ever imagined.

Therefore, I pray boldly.

MacArthur summarises the Lord’s Prayer as follows, which will help put us in the right mind when we recite it. Note that this great prayer ends just as it started with an affirmation of God’s supreme nature:

… as you look back at the prayer, this is a pattern, a framework for praying.  It gives us what it is that God expects to be the character of our prayers.  It is a marvelously simple, memorable little framework.  And as I’ve been saying each week, you learn to pray your way through this framework.  It’s sequential. It’s designed that way, and if you blend together the Luke passage with the Matthew passage, you get the full prayer in terms of our Lord’s instruction and we’re doing that, importing what we need to from Matthew to get the whole thing.  It sets the record straight once and for all as to how we are to pray, how we are to access the throne of God for the glory of God.  You remember our little verse, John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  In the end, all our prayers are for the glory of the Father through the Son.  And this prayer points that out.  When you say, “Father,” you acknowledge God as source.  When you say “Hallowed be Thy name,” you acknowledge God as sacred.  When you say, “Thy kingdom come,” you acknowledge God as sovereign.  When you say, “Thy will be done,” you acknowledge Him as superior.  When you say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” you acknowledge Him as supporter.  When you say, “Forgive us our sins,” you acknowledge Him as Savior.  When you say, “Lead us not into temptation,” you acknowledge Him as shelter.  And when you say, “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever, amen,” you acknowledge Him as supreme.  It really is praying to the end that God is glorified.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fifth Sunday of Trinity is on July 17, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:38-42

10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ever since I first paid attention to this reading in my early teens, part of my heart goes out to Martha.

Martha was a pragmatist. Even when Jesus appeared after hers and Mary’s brother Lazarus died and He asked to see the body, she said:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

She did not want to expose Jesus to any unpleasantness. She wanted everything to be just right.

Moving on to Luke’s Gospel, John MacArthur explains the narrative that has been unfolding since Luke 9 and which will extend into Luke 19:38:

that whole section is primarily going to focus on His teaching ministry. It’s a teaching time. Miracles will take a backseat. They are only occasionally mentioned. The emphasis is going to be on the Lord’s teaching. And the students, through this whole six months, are primarily His apostles and disciples. This is their final semester in preparation for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is their final preparation to proclaim the will of God, to ready them to be inspired by the Spirit, some of them to write the New Testament. And what dominates this section is teaching. Luke isn’t even interested in where Jesus goes. Here we read in verse 38 He entered a certain village. In chapter 11 verse 1 He was praying in a certain place. And it’s going to be like that until chapter 18 verse 35 and we finally get a town mentioned. And it’s Jericho, Jericho down at the Dead Sea, from which Jesus starts up to Jerusalem. Luke is not concerned about where Jesus is. And as I said, miracles are only occasionally discussed. The focus here is on the content of His teaching, not on where. And we’re not even sure that this is necessarily in chronological sequence. We can’t hold Luke to that. This is not necessarily in the order that Jesus taught all of this. In fact, He crisscrossed in Judea even into the border areas of Galilee into Perea, moving north and south and east and west all over that area throughout this time. But what is important is that we learn what He taught. This is private instruction from the incarnate God of the universe, nothing like it. It is in many ways the richest time in this whole gospel of Luke

Now the Lord’s teaching is radical. The Lord’s teaching calls for a departure from Jewish conventional wisdom. It is cogent. It is powerful. It is urgent. It is and is and will be life changing. For us this could be the greatest adventure of our Christian life. It will all sort of culminate when we come into chapter 19 verse 28, Jesus will enter Jerusalem, start the last week of His life, which runs to the end of chapter 23 and then chapter 24 is the resurrection. So we’re going to be in school with Jesus for the last months of His life. And He prepares us for this with this wonderful little story of Martha and Mary.

Matthew Henry calls to our attention the fact that Jesus spent much of His time in villages and the countryside:

Christ honoured the country-villages with his presence and favour, and not the great and populous cities only; for, as he chose privacy, so he countenanced poverty.

That is something to keep in mind, especially as history shows us that people have often scorned the countryside and those they consider to be ‘country bumpkins’. Jesus thought — and acted — differently in this regard.

Luke tells us that as ‘they’ — Jesus and His disciples — went on their way, He entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home (verse 38).

Henry says:

This village was Bethany, nigh to Jerusalem, whither Christ was now going up, and he took this in his way.

MacArthur has more on Bethany, the village that would become so pivotal for Jesus:

The name of the village was Bethany. How do we know that? Because we find out from John in John 11 and 12 that that’s where Mary and Martha lived with their brother Lazarus. And so we know this village, Bethany. Been there many, many times. It’s just a little under two miles east of the eastern wall of Jerusalem, just over the top of the Mount of Olives and down the backside … Bethany was so near to Jerusalem as just to be a brief walk. And that’s where He was, indicating again His crisscrossing. This isn’t at the end, this is many months before He’ll finally go back to Bethany, stay with Mary and Martha, raise Lazarus from the dead, then enter the city when the buzz has hit the whole city that He raised him from the dead. And that is the thing that finally precipitates His crucifixion because the leaders realize He’s completely taken over the people. That comes later.

This may have been the first visit, may have been the first time they met. But between this time and the last time when Lazarus was raised from the dead, there may have been other visits in between because by the time you get to the account of Lazarus, He knows them very well, very intimate and perhaps had stayed there on a number of occasions. But for now, He comes to this village of Bethany. And it says there in verse 38, “A woman named Martha,” and the language here indicates that He probably didn’t know her. It doesn’t say a friend, it doesn’t say Martha. It says a woman named Martha.

We know from the past few weeks in the Year C readings, specifically those from the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity, that Jesus and His disciples did not always receive a welcome when they entered a village.

Here, they did.

MacArthur shows us that Martha gave Jesus and His disciples a warm welcome:

“Martha” is an Aramaic word meaning “mistress.”  That is rather than the master of the house, the mistress of the house.  It suits her since obviously she appears to be the hostess and it is her houseShe is likely the oldest because she’s usually named first when Martha and Mary are namedAnd also likely she was a widow since no husband is named.  Well she welcomed Him.  That’s a grand word. Dechomai is to receive. Hupodechomai is to embrace and entertain as a guest.  They were happy to have Him.  They were excited to have HimThey believed in Him.

How do you know that?  Verse 40, Martha says to Him, “Lord,” Kurios. They had at some point embraced the truth that He was Lord.  And here He was coming to their town, they having heard the gospel perhaps from the seventy. Perhaps they had been some who had been delivered from demons when the seventy went out. We don’t know.  But she rushed to take the initiative.  And here was a receptive house.  And you remember the instruction for the seventy, when you go into a house and they’ll take you there, stay there. Remember?  Stay there.  Her goal was to take Jesus in, serve Him with hospitalityThis is only equaled by Abraham and Sarah having God and two angels come for dinner.  Here comes God and the apostles and whoever else and she makes extensive preparations, of course.

Luke tells us that Martha had a sister Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He was saying (verse 39).

It appears that this was a spontaneous and natural act for Mary.

She was also the lady who anointed Jesus with nard, a very expensive perfume used in embalming, a short time before He was crucified.

That also appeared to be a spontaneous reaction. She was, it would seem, a woman for whom still waters — emotion — ran deep.

Here is Matthew’s account (Matthew 26:6-13). Those nearby criticised Mary for her heartfelt act of love for the Lord. He, in turn, rebuked them:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Returning to today’s reading, MacArthur tells us that it was highly unusual for a woman to sit at a man’s feet. Only a man could do that:

The rabbis didn’t allow that.  A woman could learn in the back, or in the woman’s section.  But to come up and be at His feet, actually parakathezomai, para, alongside, she was as close as she could get, as near as she could be.  Her position indicated her intense interest in His teaching.  She got as close as she could get not to miss a wordShe was literally riveted to the most powerful, clear, truthful teacher who ever spoke.  There she is right alongside Jesus, sitting at His feet.  That’s a term we use today.  When you say you go to school, you sit at the feet of a certain scholar. It’s borrowed from the ancient world But women didn’t have that privilege.  Some rabbis said it’s useless to teach a woman.  It wasn’t. It isn’t.  She didn’t care about conventional wisdom. She was there listening to the Lord’s words, the closer the betterAnd she demonstrates the attitude of a true believer.

We can see from that there was but a short step in her mind to anointing Jesus with precious perfume some time later.

Meanwhile, Martha was elsewhere in the house, ‘distracted by her many tasks’; in her frustration, she went up to Jesus and asked if He did not care that she was left with all the work, wanting Him to tell Mary to go and help her (verse 40).

Henry points out the good and the bad side of Martha in that verse:

1. Something commendable, which must not be overlooked. (1.) Here was a commendable respect to our Lord Jesus; for we have reason to think it was not for ostentation, but purely to testify her good-will to him, that she made this entertainment. Note, Those who truly love Christ will think that well bestowed that is laid out for his honour. (2.) Here was a commendable care of her household affairs. It appears, from the respect shown to this family among the Jews (John 11 19), that they were persons of some quality and distinction; and yet Martha herself did not think it a disparagement to her to lay her hand even to the service of the family, when there was occasion for it. Note, It is the duty of those who have the charge of families to look well to the ways of their household. The affectation of state and the love of ease make many families neglected.

2. Here was something culpable, which we must take notice of too. (1.) She was for much serving. Her heart was upon it, to have a very sumptuous and splendid entertainment; great plenty, great variety, and great exactness, according to the fashion of the place. She was in care, peri pollen diakonianconcerning much attendance. Note, It does not become the disciples of Christ to affect much serving, to affect varieties, dainties, and superfluities in eating and drinking; what need is there of much serving, when much less will serve? (2.) She was cumbered about it; periespato—she was just distracted with it. Note, Whatever cares the providence of God casts upon us we must not be cumbered with them, nor be disquieted and perplexed by them. Care is good and duty; but cumber is sin and folly. (2.) She was then cumbered about much serving when she should have been with her sister, sitting at Christ’s feet to hear his word. Note, Worldly business is then a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting good to our souls.

Martha made a bold, possibly impertinent, request of our Lord.

In response, Jesus gently rebuked Martha, addressing her by her first name, to make it all the more pertinent, telling her that she was worried and distracted by many things (verse 41) — too many things.

Henry says:

He repeated her name, Martha, Martha; he speaks as one in earnest, and deeply concerned for her welfare. Those that are entangled in the cares of this life are not easily disentangled. To them we must call again and again, O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.

Jesus said that there is only one thing which is important and Mary chose the better part, which will not be taken away from her (verse 42).

MacArthur gives us this analysis about Martha and our Lord’s response to her:

she was doing it for the Lord, the guest of all guests. But in the process she just had her priorities completely twisted. Forget that. You’ve got God in there speaking divine truth, Martha. She’s fussing around all over the place trying to get done what she wants done the way she wants it done and loses sight completely of a rare privilege, to hear the Lord of the universe teach privately and personally she and her sister; could have learned from His lips. Her sister took the privilege; she got it. Furthermore, it wasn’t bad enough that Martha’s priorities were messed up, but once your priorities get messed up your attitude does too. So she starts losing the joy of this service. She becomes agitated. She becomes frustrated. And then she gets mad. That is not the right attitude by which to dispense your hospitality. At the apex of her exasperation, she acted in a way that shows how twisted she was, how easy it is to start out doing something good but because you don’t understand what is best, even what is good, creates selfishness, frustration, and then you do something that’s outrageous. Because you can’t contain your attitude, it comes out.

Look at this. “She came up to Him.” I mean just that. “Lord, could You just hold it there for a minute? And I know these are important things. Could You…” She came up to Him. What she should have done, especially when she was frustrated and angry and full of anxiety, irritated, she should have just gone in there and sat down next to Mary and listened. The Lord didn’t care about the stuff. He didn’t care about the meal. He came to teach the truth. If He ate or didn’t eat, it wouldn’t matter to Him or the rest. She comes up to Jesus and she says this, “Lord, do You not care?” That’s unbelievable. What an indictment. “Do You not care?” I mean, that is one of the most graceless statements ever made by a human being to Jesus. Do you mean the One on whom you cast all your care because He cares for you? Do you not care? That is a sad attack. That is an unthinking indictment. She’s out of control, she’s over the top. This is what we call, “She’s lost it.” It’s like saying, “Well, are You just going to stand there or sit there, whatever posture Jesus was in, and just keep talking about divine life-changing, soul-transforming, sin-shattering, heavenly blessing-producing joy, giving peace, bringing glorious truth, and ignore the fact that the table isn’t set?”

I mean, she could have come up behind Jesus, you know, and got Mary’s attention and gone… But to come up to Jesus and say what she said? Specifically she says, “Do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?” I know You know all the secrets of time and eternity. I know You know all that needs to be known about life and death, righteousness and iniquity, and all the glories of heaven. But do You know the bread is burning? And Mary is just sitting there doing nothing.

Now Martha was all caught up in the bread that perishes, wasn’t she? She was worried about the bread that feeds the body and Mary was into the bread that feeds the soul. What a skewed view. And finally she says, well it’s kind of hidden in there, “I assume You do understand that so tell her to help me.” She’s gone all the way to commanding God. Tell her to help me. Staggering, frankly, to me; this is a very bossy lady. And it all comes because she has a twisted priority. She doesn’t get it …

Now, you know, the Lord could have said to her, “Whoa, back off, Martha,” like we might.  But He didn’t, so gracious.  Verse 41, “The Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha…'” There’s tenderness in that, isn’t there?  “Martha, Martha.”  It’s a rebuke but it’s a sympathetic rebuke.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried,” merimnaō, to be unduly concerned, “and bothered,” thorubazō, to be troubled.  You are all messed up, worried, bothered about so many things, but only a few things are necessary, really only one.  This is corrective, but it’s sympatheticIt was good to do what she did, but not then, not when it was time to hear the Word of God.  And He says this amazing statement, “Only a few things are necessary, really only one.”  You can boil it down, a few things. David said, “I…I just seek Your face, I just want to see Your beauty.”  Paul said, “I want to be like You, I want to see Your beauty, I want to be like You, I want to love You.”  Well all that boils down to one, doesn’t it?  You have to know Me. And how you going to know Me?  You’ve got to know My mind.  How you going to know My mind?  Hear My Word.

The lesson of the story, MacArthur tells us, is this:

How can you tell a true believer? They hear the Word of God and they do itShe had a desire to hear the Word of God. She grasped the amazing opportunity. Here was the Lord in of all places in her little village, of all places her house, in her little room and she was sitting at His feet and hearing the very truth of God from the lips of the Lord of heaven Himself. And her priority was to hear, to listen, to love that truth, to believe that truth, to act on that truth.

The single priority for all Christians is to hear the revealed Word of God because that is prior to every other spiritual duty, which is motivated by, informed by, and defined by Scripture. The story makes it so clear. Number one priority, hear what God has said. Now if that’s your responsibility, what is mine? Pretty obvious. To tell you what God has said. Is that not true? Talk about basic and simple, that’s it. And how rare is that? How many times every week of my life do I hear from people, “We cannot find a church anywhere in our place where the pastor will tell us what is in the Bible,” unthinkable

Nothing is as important as divine truth. It is the priority. And the Lord takes Mary’s side. This rare opportunity is too rich and too critical to turn to anything else.

May all reading this have a blessed and beautiful Sunday.

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