How to Inherit Eternal Life (Luke 18:18-30)

We live in a time where hearing of the commission of an atrocity is a rather daily experience. Some time ago, I heard one of my favorite political/cultural commentators talk about the general state of humanity. He was referencing the strikingly larger number of atrocities that are occurring throughout society, as there also seems to be a growing number of people who are soulless and without any beliefs or values system. He said, “In spite of the increasing number of these horrific situations, I continue to believe that the vast majority of humans are inherently good, as we are all God’s children.”

I cringed, at least theologically.

We are all God’s children in the sense that our creation is sourced in Him, whatever view you take of exactly how that happened or how long it took. But we are not all God’s children in terms of relationship with him as our God and heavenly father — not until such time as we have a saving moment of faith and trust ONLY in the substitutionary death of Christ.

And we are not inherently good — quite the opposite is actually true. The heart is deceitfully wicked, says the Scripture. In Psalm 14 we read, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Now there may be good and honorable and worthy things that some people do, even those with no faith component at all. This is the residue of the image of God in mankind. But these deeds do not compensate for or atone for the debt of sin into which we are born and are doomed through our inheritance of original sin.

So how can we be OK with God? How can we know that we have a relationship with him as a heavenly father?  How do we have confidence that we do not stand in jeopardy of God’s wrath and judgment for sin? And though a few prominent people in public life see themselves as rather flawless, none of us are perfect.

But isn’t pretty good, good enough? Doesn’t being in the top several percentage points of goodness amongst human beings surely give enough merit with God for him to say, “You done good son, c’mon into this here heaven!”?

That is a countrified way of saying what essentially was the view of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the time of Christ. And honestly, a great many people today have much the same conception.

A wealthy person who was quite righteous came before Jesus and asked about the inheritance of eternal life – how to be right with God. He could honestly say he was righteous and law-abiding, but when challenged, he could not part with his riches. This signified that his trust was in his possessions.

The disciples note that they have given up all to follow Jesus, and Christ says their reward will be of greater substance than anything they have released.

Faith is about abandoning all to be numbered with Christ, come what may upon this earth.

Luke 18:18 – A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”


Parables: Persistent Widow, Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:1-17)

We actually have three sections of thoughts and verses to cover today in Luke 18:1-17 – two parables about prayer, followed by a brief comment on child-like faith.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow (1-8)

The purpose of this parable is to teach persistence in prayer. It may at times seem like God is not hearing or honoring our prayers, even for very good and genuine needs. I will say that I felt this way today in prayer for a dear friend in the hospital who appears to never be able to quite turn the corner on regaining health and vitality.

But we must keep on praying and trusting. God has ways that are beyond our understanding. Our role is to persistently continue in humble intercession.

The parable is variously called that of the unjust judge, or of the persistent widow. The idea is that if an unjust judge would give justice for a persistent widow who continuously (from his perspective) bothered him, will not the just God hear and honor the persistent prayers of his people? So keep praying.

Right now … is there something you’ve been praying about for a long time?  Right now, bring that before the Lord again.

Luke 18:1 – Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (9-14)

Full disclosure here: I am the son of a tax collector! No, really … literally, I am.  My father was the tax collector in the rural township where we lived in New Jersey, as was his father before him. Together, they did it for 60 consecutive years in Harmony Township, NJ. It was a regular feature of my childhood that practically every day, several people would come to our home, walk through the kitchen to my father’s office and pay their property taxes, often in cash.

People don’t like tax collectors. Just think for a moment about what you feel when you see a letter from the IRS in your mailbox. Even though my father tried to make it clear that he had nothing to do with tax rates and assessments … that he was merely the bookkeeping agent for collection … people would vent to him. I even remember people calling him at 5:00 in the morning to complain that their snowy street was not yet plowed, as if he could do anything about it whatsoever.

But in the Roman world, tax collectors were more than mere accountants. They could set the rates to some extent and were well-known to extort, overcharge, and keep a portion for themselves. All of this carried Roman authority. The Romans didn’t care what a collector skimmed off for himself, so long as they got their portion.

So tax collectors could be rich fellows, but also hated fellows for taking advantage of their fellow citizens and countrymen. If you wanted to pick out the most odious character in the land at the time, the local tax collector was about as low as you could go … probably worse than a slimy congressman or a pimp.

So when Jesus tells a story (to the religious leaders) that contrasts a Pharisee and a tax collector, he is juxtaposing the best person they could think of (someone in their category) to the worst and most vile character in the culture. And then for Jesus to turn the tax man into the winner, well, it was even worse than seeing a Samaritan as the hero of another story on another day.

In theological realms, we use a lot of words to describe salvation and systems of belief as to what it is that constitutes being a person who is in an eternally correct relationship with God. We may talk about efficacious grace, soteriological universalism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Amyraldianism, Arminianism, or Calvinism. A couple of these words are good, a couple bad, and a couple somewhere in the middle.

But at the end of it all, it comes down to this: We bring nothing to salvation, and God brings it all. There is no merit that we can bring. We can boast of nothing — not even being smart enough to have the faith to believe, as even that is a gift of God.

So it is better to be a humble tax collector than a proud Pharisee filled with good works.

Luke 18:9 – To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Children Coming to Jesus (15-17)

As many of you know, I do occasional tour groups at the Antietam Battlefieldt. I talk with guests about how the Confederates under A.P. Hill marched 17 miles from Harpers Ferry in seven hours to arrive on the field just in time to save Robert E. Lee from total disaster.

For them to have done this, it also included wading across the Potomac River at a ford just downstream several hundred yards from where the bridge now is that crosses into Shepherdstown.

And when there are kids in the group, I will say to them, “Hey, it is a shallow place and we could probably go down there now and do the same thing; do you want to do that?”

And invariably the kids will answer, “Yes, that would be so cool; let’s go do it!”

And invariably the parents will say, “No, we’re not going to be doing that!”

Kids are great because they are completely trusting when they sense they are in the care of someone who genuinely loves them and cares for them. They fully believe that those adults will only do those things that will help them, not hurt them.

Another example — a toddler is only about one-quarter the size of a typical grown up. So, imagine if a 24-foot tall giant was to come along, pick you up under the armpits and throw you up and down 40 feet into the air, would you welcome that activity and giggle all the way through it like a little child does?

Didn’t think so!

But that is the sort of faith and confidant trust that scores with God.

Luke 18:15 – People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

When the Kingdom Will Come (Luke 17:20-37)

There are more than a couple passages in the Bible where scholars disagree on the exact meaning and timing of events, and this is one of them. To go into alternate options and reasons would require more examination and explanation than we have time for in a devotional. But we may surely glean from this Scripture a general application that is undeniable.

At the time of Christ, there was great anticipation of a coming kingdom; and the Pharisees ask Jesus about this. Of course, Jesus is himself the king, so the kingdom was essentially “in their midst.”  But they wouldn’t see it if hit them in the face, their unbelief being that profound.

We too, on the other side of the cross and the ascension, anticipate a final and spiritual kingdom. I believe this has an aspect of an earthly time, in fulfillment of promises to Israel (known as the millennium); but beyond that we also know there is an eternal kingdom.

This much is for certain: the world will not last forever. Jesus will come again and there will be a restoration of things to the original desires of God for relationship with the people of his creation. But when does this all happen?

At the ascension of Christ, the disciples were thinking of this question, asking Jesus if this was the time. He said it was not for them to know the times and the seasons, but to rather be busy in work and service in the power of the Spirit that would come.

Later, around the time of the writing of Luke’s gospel, there was errant teaching that the Lord had already come (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Beyond that, we also read in 2 Peter 3:3-4 that later yet, some would mockingly question whether the Lord would ever come at all.

The major points to be taken from this passage and others of similarity are that …

  1. This world does not go on forever. There is an end, with judgments to follow and the establishment of a temporary earthly, and then an eternal, spiritual kingdom to follow.
  2. It is impossible to know when these events will take place. For those who are not prepared in terms of belief and relationship with God, it will be as in the times of Noah or the destruction of Sodom – unanticipated and sudden.
  3. Many people, as in those times, are not at all prepared. There is no time to look back and find security or safety in material things. “Remember Lot’s wife” … turned into a pillar of salt!” Yuk!
  4. The admonition for believers is to have an eternal focus rather than a materialistic and earthly focus. And this is a challenge for sure. It would be for the disciples, and it is for us today. But that is the safest place and highest ground to find. The Pharisees would not find it. The disciples would find it, though with difficulty.

So, prudent living is wise and commendable. But we must ever be mindful to hold lightly to things that are only of this world. I find that to be a daily challenge, and I suspect you all do as well.

Luke 17:20 – Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” [36] [not in original texts]

37 “Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”


Healing of Ten Men with Leprosy (Luke 17:11-19)

As we have highlighted along the way throughout our march through the gospel of Luke, he writes with certain unique emphases, as do Matthew, Mark and John. Of all passages in this book and arrangement of the highlights of Christ’s life, today’s reading contains the varied elements that make Luke’s account unique.

Here we see the emphasis upon the determination of Jesus to get to Jerusalem. We also note the gracious treatment Jesus extends toward social outcasts, like lepers. Though Christ’s teachings upset the entrenched leadership, he does not fail to conform to the norms of the Jewish faith – here requiring the lepers to present themselves to the priests for a declaration of health. As well, the theme is again emphasized that a miraculous event should elicit faith in who Christ is and trust and praise to him as the Messiah. And finally, Luke especially emphasizes how God’s grace is extending beyond the Jews to such as Samaritans, previewing the expanse of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The general setting for this healing of the 10 lepers is in the region of Samaria bordering Galilee. Here is a mixed group of people who have a new common component – the disease of leprosy that made them social outcasts in both cultures.

There was an element of a faith component for the lepers. Jesus told them to go to the priests, and it was on their way that they were cleansed.

Only one returns, surprisingly a Samaritan. He recognizes Jesus as God, given his experience of healing. The others apparently just went home without any display of gratitude or faith. And this presents a picture of the nation (another theme of Luke’s) as to how the vast majority were not responding appropriately to the words and works of Jesus.

And we may also say that this is a timeless theme. Though all mankind has the provision of spiritual healing in the cross work of Jesus Christ, the vast majority do not accept or believe in its efficacy for them. There is no gratitude, simply because they do not “get” it. And indeed, they have not got it; they do not possess it.

Gratitude for God’s gracious provision in Christ is surely appropriate and is to be a regular part of our experience in the faith. The call to remembrance in the ordinance of communion is especially for this purpose. It is a reminder, and without that reminder, it is our nature to slowly forget or undervalue the great grace we’ve been given – a grace that makes all the difference for both time and eternity.


Faith and Duty (Luke 17:1-10)

The Christian life has responsibilities, both toward God and toward other followers. As we think today through a brief list of four quick teachings, a common theme is to be generously others-oriented. And since we each love ourselves a great deal and have much primary concern for self, this requires a constant challenge to look away from the mirror and to see God and others in the circumstances of life.

Regarding those with a simple faith …

Luke 17:1 – Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

Jesus is speaking again to his disciples, though others are surely nearby. It is inevitable that in a fallen world there are going to be occasions where a person’s faith will be challenged, and they will stumble. The mature follower is able to more successfully roll with these upsets, understanding the nature of the fallout of sin’s consequences. But none should be the causal agent of inciting these episodes of doubt that could draw people of a simple faith from a strong trust in God, leading them to stumble.

Regarding forgiving others …

Luke 17:3b – “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

It is difficult to forgive the habitual offender!  If you get sick of it, just take an introspective moment to consider how much habitual forgiving God has done for you!  So the teaching is to be generous in forgiveness, though also caring enough for others to speak out about sin in their lives. Then forgive when they repent, because, chances are pretty good that they’re going to have to do the same for you someday.

Regarding depth of faith …

Luke 17:5 – The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

The natural response about faith is to quantify its potential effectiveness by the amount of faith possessed. And whereas possessing copious quantities faith is a fine attribute, the Scriptures in various places speak to the content of faith over the weight of faith. The amount of faith that could be measured by that of the smallest seed is more than enough to move a tree with the greatest of roots… out of the ground and into the sea.

The best illustration of this that I know (not sure if I made this up at some point in the past or heard it elsewhere) is that a person with great amounts of faith when walking on thin ice will likely fall through, whereas the one possessing fearfully weak faith on thick ice will be fine. Let us keep our faith in God.

Regarding faithful service and duty …

Luke 17:7 – “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Here is a story for capitalistic Americans. We are very works-focused and rewards-oriented. You work, you do your duty, you get justly compensated. That’s the system. Surely God works this way also, right?  Not exactly, though God can be relied upon as faithful toward us. But like the old one-liner about Christian work – “the rewards are out of this world,” we must remember that, as sinners saved by a magnificent grace (favor extended to us when wrathful judgment would have been appropriate), we are servants who should not be weary of our duties. Nor should we expect special treatment.

So in it all, let us understand that there is a great body of work to be done by serving God and serving others. It does not always go swimmingly well, but let us not be weary in the tasks and opportunities that come to us this day and throughout this week.


The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

I have sometimes gone years at a time without watching a movie. I just don’t get the fascination with them, and I struggle terribly to sit still long enough to actually watch one. Beyond this, I especially don’t get the interest in horror movies and fictional, fantastical stories that are completely beyond reality … like anything to do with zombies.

But zombie stories have captured the interest of the public in recent years. Explaining this phenomenon is American horror fiction writer Julie Ann Dawson, who says …

There is a universal fascination with the living dead. There is more to a zombie story than a bunch of corpses attacking the living. The real power of such a story lies with the undercurrent of hopelessness compounded by a very real instinct to survive.

Wow, really? I would like to think that feelings of hopelessness and an instinct to survive would particularly draw a person to an interest in spiritual/biblical truths. It would be especially powerful if a person came back from the dead, right? Anyone who saw that would run to embrace the power making such a miracle possible … or would they?

Jesus says in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that such a manifestation would not make the ultimate difference. Mankind now possesses the completed word of God, yet rejects its claims (that Scripture now telling the story of one who rose from the dead and offers life to others). Christ says that if the written testimony is rejected, so too would be someone back from the dead.

It is more than coincidental that it is the raising of an undeniably dead man named Lazarus that becomes the final straw turning point for the Jewish leadership to seek to eliminate Jesus. I am always amazed in that story as to how the religious types of that day simply blow right past this reality before their eyes. But it demonstrates the depth of their disbelief and rebellion, along with their determination to hold onto the system of the world that supported them on the top rung.

Disbelief runs deep in the human heart, along with the aforementioned hopelessness and survival instinct. We are vessels for God to use to point this out to lost people, but this passage along with a myriad of other Scriptures illustrate again that it takes a work of God in a human heart to soften the calluses of sin and turn the internal human lights on to see eternal truth.

Luke 16:19 – “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-18)

This parable is one of the most puzzling of Jesus’ stories, because at first glance it would appear that Jesus is applauding wrongful behavior.

What we have here is a good lesson from a bad example. Let’s look at the story of the gentleman farmer and his financial, money management advisor …

Luke 16: 1 – Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. <That ended the parable… the following is the beginning of applications from it…>  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

The steward had been found to be dishonest in his dealings and was going to lose his job. To set himself up for the future, he wrote off some debts owed to his master – likely eliminating the interest amounts and collecting only the principal. So it was not precisely illegal. And the master had to admit that the action was shrewd on his part.

People of the world work hard to gain the things that are highest on their values system. And we must give them credit for that – even though it is true that once they climb to the top of the ladder of success, they may well discover that is has been leaned against the wrong building!

The first of three applications in the passage is seen here. It may appear that Jesus is commending shady practices. But what he is drawing upon is the energy that people of this world give to using their resources for gain. The follower of Christ should not horde material assets and have their trust in them, but rather to see their wealth as a resource to be used for eternal gain – invested in the lives of people who will end up as fellow citizens in eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:10 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Here is a timeless management principle and a second application. The inference is that the religious leaders were not using their assets in ways that had eternal values and a focus upon others. They were not being faithful with what they had – materially and spiritually. Hence they could not expect to inherit a glorious future.

Luke 16:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Have you ever had two jobs and been in a position where you had two bosses who both wanted you to work at the same time? Did it go well?

Working for both wealth and for God NEVER finds success. It really is possible to work hard and long and gain much, while also serving God beautifully and faithfully. But it takes a strategy to do that. It requires a conscious understanding that your wealth is a tool, a means to an end, and not an end in itself. And that is a challenge to manage.

Luke 16:14 – The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

This entire teaching irritated the Pharisees – not appreciating a penetrating lecture from a poor teacher who was followed by hordes of poor people. If he was truly a vessel of God, he would have the material blessing of God to prove it … in their view of life realities.

In fact, the Pharisees did not value truth; they twisted it for their own benefit. Truth cannot be twisted and changed. Some of them did things like divorce without just cause, just to satisfy their pleasures and desires. And Jesus drops that bomb on them as well.

The passage is a complicated one to interpret. But the big idea to take away is that what we have in the material world is to be used with a view toward the eternal world. This is a basic teaching that really cuts to the center of the core of who we are and what we value. It is essentially the timeless question of what are we doing with what we have, or, how are we using God’s gifts to us of time, talent, and treasure?  And is God increasingly entrusting us with opportunities to use our resources for eternal good?


Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)

Continuing today with the theme of this 15th chapter that we highlighted yesterday – a joy of finding something that is totally out of proportion to what was lost and found – we turn to the parable most often entitled, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  This is really a poor name. Rather is should be rightly called “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.”

It is familiar to us. And tell me you have not felt an empathy for the older brother!  One can really relate to his feelings!  I can remember as a kid when I first heard this story, I felt really bad for the older brother and what seemed an injustice to him. It would appear it could be successfully argued that he had a legitimate complaint!

But before we go too deeply into the feelings of the older brother, let us recall to our own memories that we actually ARE (spiritually speaking) the younger brother…

  1. Following the natural desires of the heart (11-13)
  2. Finding the ways of sin are hard (14-16)
  3. Awakening to a sense of need for repentance (17-19)
  4. Turning to the Father in desperate faith (20-21)
  5. Experiencing pardon and forgiveness (22-24)

But in the story – notice that the father does not disagree with the older son’s faithfulness. It has been commendable. And he reminds the son that he has been already the daily recipient of great good. It is all there for him, and it will all be his to inherit: he’s no worse off … BUT … BUT …

BUT … the bigger item to celebrate at that moment was the return of the younger brother and his restoration to life. He was dead, lost to them presumably forever; but now he was found and is restored. THIS IS THE BIGGER THING.  And the joy of what is FOUND is the big idea in all three stories – not the degree of what was lost.

As John wrote in 1 John 3:1 – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Paul also spoke of this in Ephesians 2:7-8 – And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

There are two takeaway lessons from this story and this 15th chapter …

  1. God is more willing to forgive than man is to repent. (God is not the hard-hearted meanie that he is so often portrayed to be.)
  2. God’s love for and joy in finding the sinner should be a model for us in sharing the gospel.

We should recall our great challenge and status accorded us in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 … that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

Here then again is the Parable of the Forgiving Father…

Luke 15:11 – Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”


Parables of Lost Sheep and Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10)

I have lost one of my credit cards. Though I have no idea exactly where it is, I’m quite sure I’ve lost it somewhere in my own world; it is not in the parking lot at Walmart or something like that. It has likely fallen into a cushion of a seat at home or is lodged in a tight spot in my car (very believable, since I found a credit card of the previous owner there). It has been missing for months. Someday I’m going to stumble across it. But something that won’t happen on that day – I won’t be calling you with an invitation to join me and several hundred other friends at a fine restaurant (it’s a small credit balance).

So as we go to Luke 15 and look at the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the common denominator in each is how the joy that is expressed upon finding what was lost is all out of proportion to what was lost. And the big idea is to see that no matter how big or small the sin of one who is restored to relationship with God, His joy is expansive beyond all comparison.

And the joy of each of these may seem a bit over the top to us also, because it is rare for each of us to completely suppress our inner Pharisee.

Luke 15:1 – Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

To the Pharisees, all of the hanging out that Jesus did with the sinner classes of people was, for them, totally over the line.

When it says here that they were all gathering around to hear Jesus, it actually means that these classes of people were in the habit of swarming around him. This indicates that these parties of people, who did not keep the Law like the Pharisees, saw something very different in the attitude of Jesus than what they saw in the religious, Pharisaic classes in Israel.

Jesus welcomed them – meaning he was willing to be seen with them; he even selected one of them as a disciple.

He even ate with them. Eating with people in that culture signified that you identified with them. In the minds of the Pharisee, they could not grasp why a righteous person – say, like themselves – would do such a thing and yet still think they are godly?!

So, a question even for us today: “Is it right or wrong to associate with unregenerate sinners?”  Jesus essentially answers this with three parables – three stories that illuminate the heart difference between God and the Pharisees. (The third is the Prodigal Son account that we turn to tomorrow.)

Jesus, as always, knows what they are thinking and what is the nature of their hearts’ condition. And whether he heard their murmurings or not, rather than confront it directly, he tells them these stories that have an impact bigger than any frontal rebuke could contain.

Luke 15:3 – Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Jesus is in a region where sheep raising abounded. A person has 100 sheep. By the standards of that day, that would be far from a rich person, yet also well more than a poor family. This would probably represent a sort of middle to upper middle-class person.

So, how many of you would be devastated to lose 1% of your wealth?  Would you be sad?  Yes. But devastated?   No.  And would you put the 99% that remains at risk to seek to recover the 1% that you lost?  Probably not.  So that’s a little weird right there.

And then, when you found it, would you go on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and send a group email and selfie stick picture with you and the sheep – to have everyone come to your house to celebrate with you because you found the 1% that was missing?  No. This doesn’t make sense! But you have to admit that it is joyful!

But it makes sense in heaven!  Really?  Don’t the angels have better stuff to do than get together around the throne and high-five one another when someone trusts in Christ?  Apparently, it’s a big deal … every time!

Maybe the next parable will seem more reasonably measured to us …

Luke 15:8 – “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Can any of you relate to losing something in your house? I do this – like several times a day – especially keys, sometimes my phone, etc. Just imagine how bad it would be if you had a dirt floor!

The word used here in the text for a silver coin would seem to signify that it was a day’s wage value that was lost. So, a decent sum of money, but not a fortune. And the lady was working on Dave Ramsey’s plan (at least I think she was) of seeking to save two months of wages for a time of crisis. And so far, she had two week’s worth in her 10 coins. So, for us, losing one coin might be the equivalent of say, $250-300.

Therefore, if she is going to have a party to celebrate, and she’s going to invite what appears to be more than a few neighbors and friends, she’s going to end up spending more money than she just recovered by finding the coin. She’s going to be worse off than if she had never found the coin again at all! This doesn’t make sense! But you have to admit that it is joyful!

God gave mankind a perfect place to live, having also a perfect relationship with Himself. There were few restrictions, only one really. But man rebelled, and over the years he rebelled more and more. The sin required the sacrificial death of God’s only son. And even with this ultimate provision, the majority of mankind rebelled more and more and refused the free gift of eternal life. Here and there, some single one of them turns to God by faith in Christ, and the party begins in heaven. This doesn’t make sense! But you have to admit that it is joyful!


The Cost of Following Jesus (Luke 14:25-35)       

Between my own high-level interest in worldwide missions and the support we give as a church to a variety of international endeavors, I receive a lot of related mail in my box at church on a regular basis. Some of it comes from organizations particularly dedicated to the cause of suffering for Christ around the world.

Just last week, one booklet sent to me listed the 50 most difficult countries in which to live as a Christian. There was no difficulty in finding so many nations where there is a significant price to pay for identification with Christ and the church. (And some of our own supported people are in these countries.)

A magazine arrived this weekend from Barnabas Aid – a ministry focused upon the persecuted church around the world. The pictures alone are enough to bring you to tears, let alone reading the articles of the severe challenges and atrocities that millions of our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis somewhere on this planet.

Without doubt, Christians are the most persecuted group of people in the world. Martyrs are added every day. But this is not surprising; Jesus said it would be this way. The surprise is how, by God’s grace, we have been able to find our lives stationed at a place of such unusual peace … so long as it lasts, which it surely will not indefinitely. We sense the erosion within our culture.

In today’s reading, Jesus turns to the large crowd following him and speaks to this issue of the cost of discipleship. He knew that they did not understand the realities that would lie ahead if they truly followed him. Instead, they saw only the current good times – the miracles, etc.

Luke 14:25 – Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

We need to understand the Middle Eastern sort of expression here of juxtaposing things. To translate it for us, it might be something like this… “Your commitment to being my disciple must be of such magnitude that your feelings for your family members would be, in comparison, like hating them.”

As we’ve written before about the idea of carrying a cross, this is an expression that would not be foreign to them, though it is also one that would have more meaning and impact after the crucifixion.

Luke 14:28 – “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

There is a nuclear power plant in Indiana named Marble Hill, begun in 1977 but never completed. It was to become a fully functioning, power-generating cornerstone of the nuclear power industry. Then, in 1984, after sinking $2.5 billion into getting the reactors to about the halfway point, the company behind the project abandoned it—they simply couldn’t afford to continue. They ended up selling some of the equipment to recover a few million in lost costs.

Unfinished and underfunded construction projects are memorials to foolishness, and so is a life that does not count the cost of discipleship.

Luke 14:31 – Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

After the success of the surprise Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was famously quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  Indeed, it did not end well for the Rising Sun. Likewise, a disciple must understand that conflict will be inevitable with an unbelieving world under the authority of the Evil One.

Luke 14:33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

A final word on this subject is that of another relative comparison. The follower of Christ does not have to sell and give away all that he owns (as some have errantly taught), but the disciple must give up his rights of ownership. It all came from God, and it all belongs to God… the disciple is a steward.

The overall principle of this passage is for the follower of Christ to have a timeless realization that (to quote a commentary on this passage) “Christian discipleship is not some theoretical abstract ideal, but is indeed a hard reality.”  Do we think of it correctly?  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”