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.”

Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24)    

Awkward moments! Jesus had created one! His remarks in the home of the prominent Pharisee had rather obviously been directed to both the host and his guests. They stung. They hit home. Awkward!

How do you break the silence? Well, one of the guests blurts out (14:15) a pious remark, 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.”

Who is going to argue with that? Everyone there would agree with this blessing; everyone there was destined for the Kingdom of God, right? But inadvertently he simply gives Jesus another launching pad into even more convicting rhetoric.

The ensuing parable involves a man who prepares a great banquet and invites many guests through his servant. This was a sort of RSVP system, alerting the guests that a feast was in preparation. Soon after would come the word that it was ready, so there were two invitations.

God is the host of the banquet = the Kingdom. The invitation first went out through the prophets, and now with the presence of Jesus, the time had arrived.

But all of the expected guests began to make excuses.

The first excuse was needing to go look at a field just purchased. Really? You buy something like this without seeing it first? Even so, it could be done another day. This was a person possessed by possessions.

The second excuse was of a person buying five yoke of oxen that needed to be tested. Really? This couldn’t wait for another time? Anyone with this number of oxen was surely a big-time farmer. Here was a person of busyness with business.

The third excuse was of a person who just got married. Really? Didn’t he previously RSVP and know of the probable date conflict? The generous host would have surely welcomed the wife as well. This was a person prioritizing personal pleasures.

The bottom line is that none of the three truly wanted to give up their own agendas for that of the host. This pictured the religious leaders in Israel.

So the host says to invite the lower classes of people in the city – the poor, crippled, blind and lame. This had indeed been done and yet there was more room at the feast. These invitees would represent the nation of Israel.

Finally, the call is sent out to the far reaches of the countryside, the host desiring his house to be full. This predicted the mission that was to soon go out to the Gentiles and the nations. And again, as we see so frequently in the gospels (especially in Luke), there is an emphasis on the message of truth going out to all peoples in accordance with God’s heart for the lost.

So where are we in the story? Well, we’re the country bumpkins coming into the house near the time of the great feast beginning. And until it begins, we also are servants tasked with telling others of their invitation. Who can you tell today?  No excuses!

Luke 14:16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

At the Home of a Pharisee (Luke 14:1-14)

Google search has failed me. It hardly ever happens. I was searching for the lyrics of a song that I remember from my youth. It would have been a very, very early song in the contemporary Christian movement, and I have no idea now who might have done it.

The words that have stuck with me are these: “When the house is burning to the ground, there ain’t no time to stand around arranging all the pictures on the wall.”  The song was talking about the passing away of this world and the coming of Christ, promoting the urgency toward the pressing Christian work that we should feel as God’s people.

Well, in years of church ministry, I’ve often felt like I was arranging pictures on walls when it just really wasn’t the biggest priority in light of God’s grand plan. The “pictures” were too often related to “worship wars” about styles of music and instrumentation. Sometimes it was about which Bible version to use. There were “pictures” about dress codes. Other times it was what sort of Bible studies to offer … church gathered, home groups, topical classes verses age-group-related structures. If you could fight about it, Christians could make a “picture” of it and then argue about where it should hang on the wall … all the while ignoring the smell of smoke from the flames just outside.

These issues I fear too often replicated what Jesus saw in the Pharisees. In three sections of our reading today in Luke 14, we see them concerned about strictures related to law, achieving personal honor, and being too narrowly focused about personal wealth and associations.

First, as Jesus is in the home of a prominent Pharisee on a Sabbath, in front of him was a man with physical suffering. Perhaps he was a plant, to see if Jesus would heal on that day and thereby be accused of breaking the Sabbath. Christ heals the man, then asking the dinner crowd if they would rescue a son or donkey that fell into a well on this day of the week. Haha! Would they actually say to a son, “Sorry dude, hang on until tomorrow when I can go to work on getting you out”?  Well, of course not!  Some things are bigger than legalistic rule-keeping… like compassion.

Secondly, noticing their proclivity to posture toward getting the best seats at the table, Jesus tells them to take an unusually low seat. With a story, he illustrates how that will lead to greater honor when the host tells you to move up. This also alleviates the risk of being too high and suffering the shame of being sent to the minor leagues of seat selection. Work at being humble, not at getting your own “picture” prominently placed.

Thirdly, it was the behavioral pattern of the Pharisaic class of people to only invite their own type to dinners, knowing they would be invited back. It’s the old country club attitude that has no regard for different or disenfranchised peoples. Get outside the clique that contains only your own pictures and look to be generous toward totally different people.

There really is not enough time in our brief lives and our passing church associations to be undone by all the little stuff that distracts from being on mission for God, especially in a world that increasingly affects the olfactory senses with flames from hell!  We need to excel in compassion, humility and generosity. We need to excel in deference preference – putting aside petty personal tastes to accomplish the greater good of rescuing people on the fast track to damnation and eternal separation from God. Forget the pictures!

Luke 14:1 – One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Sorrow Over Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-35)  

Certain places, families or individuals have long histories of chronic dysfunction. Though there is every advantage and opportunity, tragedy and failure seem to always prevail.

The nation of Israel, and specifically the city of Jerusalem was like this. Though they had every advantage as the people whom God had chosen out of all the nations of the earth, they consistently failed to obey God and truth, serving Him alone.

As certain Pharisees come to Jesus to tell him that he had best leave town, reporting that Herod Antipas was determined to kill him, it has been debated whether this was a true situation or merely a ruse to get him to move on. Either is imaginable.

In any event, Jesus tells them that his schedule will not be affected by that “fox.”  He will do his divinely-prescribed work today, tomorrow, and on the third day.

There is more than a hint of humor in verse 33 … “for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

In other words Jesus is saying, “I’m safe here because this is not Jerusalem, and as a prophet I have nothing to fear, since the history of the nation is to kill prophets there!”

But Jesus immediately affirms his special love for the city and the people of the nation, in spite of their rebellion. The warm picture is of a hen with her chicks safely under her wings. This is the way it could be for Israel, but their rejection made them like a desolate house – trading security for danger … life for death … blessing for destruction.

Quoting Ps. 118:26, a passage with clear, Messianic overtones, it was indeed to comprise the words of the crowds upon the occasion of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The grand picture of this passage is of the readiness of God to forgive and prosper, a position far beyond the readiness of the people to receive, trust and follow. In the bigger view that extends even to our day, the masses of the people who do not trust in Christ continue, not because God is unwilling to forgive them, but because they are unwilling to yield and receive Him.

Luke 13:31 – At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [from Psalm 118:26]

The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30)

Did you ever go to a party or a wedding reception and be surprised by who was there, while also being struck by not seeing others you would have surely expected to be present?

As Jesus was going through the country of Israel and preaching the message of the Kingdom, presenting himself as the Messiah, it was impossible to not notice that the bulk of the population were not responding positively. Quite the opposite, especially from the ranks of the religious leadership. One would have expected a groundswell of affirmation.

This is probably what is behind the question that someone asks, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

The answer of Jesus comes with a story of a man giving a feast. When the door is open is the time for people to enter. A time would come when the door would be closed and it would be too late to be a part of the event, no matter how much pleading or arguing would ensue from those locked out.

This, of course, is a picture of the Kingdom and its constituents.

Throughout the history of Israel, the people thought that they were in good standing with God simply because they were God’s chosen people. Being born as such was enough. And throughout that history were repetitive times of failing to truly trust in God and obey his commands.

At the time of Christ, most of the people thought they were ipso facto members of the Kingdom by being members of the nation. But Jesus says that many of them will be on the outside, merely looking in at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets. The people had no mental category for this thinking.

And beyond that, Jesus says people from the four directions of the compass will be included in the Kingdom. Read this as saying, “In the end, some of you who think you’re frontline, mainline Kingdom residents will find yourselves on the outside, with Gentiles taking your places at the feast table.”


You may recall from back in Luke 4 when Jesus was in Nazareth, he suggested that Gentiles would receive the message of truth; and in response they took him out to a hill to throw him off a cliff. That’s how open the Jews were to any idea of those beyond the nation being a part of THEIR kingdom.

But the gospel message was to include all peoples, as would be seen in the expanse of the church… reaching all the way to our Gentile church in Hagerstown!

Yet at the same time, the door is narrow. Most folks do not believe the message or sense the urgency of faith and repentance. Assumptions of an OK status abound as a false notion of security.

Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, quoting from Isaiah 49:8, As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”  I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

The door remains open, for now … though we know not for how long. Let us be sure we have entered in, while exhorting others to come and follow.

Luke 13:22 – Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Mustard Seed and Yeast (Luke 13:18-21)

Even years ago as a child, I was terribly competitive about anything that involved keeping score and accumulating points. That hasn’t always served me well, but in one venue of my youth it was to my great benefit. I went to multiple VBS programs every year, and they always had Scripture memory competitions with points given for all sorts of participation. So I would memorize like crazy, just to win … which I would do, because losing was worse than death!

I don’t remember any prizes I ever received, except for one. It was a tie clasp that had a rectangular glass element that contained a single mustard seed. (When I was a kid and teenager, all the boys wore suits and ties to church every Sunday.)  I wore that thing for many years, and somewhere along the way of life and multiple moves, it got lost.

The clasp with the mustard seed was very cool. The seed was only about one millimeter in diameter, not even as big as a sesame seed. This was often thought of and considered as the smallest of seeds, hence also becoming an illustration of something very small – like the amount of faith that, if placed in God, could move mountains.

But another feature of a mustard seed is the tree that would come of it. Hey, we’re back to talking about dendrology again, but apparently mustard trees (there are varied species) grow extraordinarily fast. What I’ve read about this gives numbers that are so astonishing that I hesitate to repeat them.

But you get the picture. The idea is to present something that is very small … that grows to something very large … doing it in an amazingly short time … and producing something beautiful and productive.

Jesus says that this is what the Kingdom is like. It begins small (like a mustard seed) and grows quite large rather quickly (into a mature tree).  The birds that perch in the tree may be (picking up on some Old Testament allusions) a picture of the varieties of nations.

And upon the heels of this parable comes another of similar nature – that of the yeast in bread. The picture here is the same, one of something small and practically unseen, that grows into something very large. It penetrates.

These are good pictures of the Kingdom of God. When Christ was born, it was a small gathering. The only large crowd involved a host of angels. The people element was limited to a few shepherds. And though thousands would follow Jesus at certain points of his teaching ministry, at the time of his death, few true followers could be found – hidden away in a room or watching from a distance.

But after the resurrection, it began to grow. The church started with 5,000 at Pentecost, and before long there were church communities growing throughout the Roman world. Over time and with the western expanse of civilization, the redemptive message of Jesus would spread all over the world. It continues to happen, even as we ourselves support missionaries in places where the gospel has barely penetrated.

There are times when as Christians in a secular world we may feel that we are a part of something very small. And it will always be true that those who follow the broad road to destruction will outnumber those on the narrow path to eternal life in Christ.

Yet we have prophetic pictures of what it is like at the very end. Around the throne of God are multitudes of those who have been saved from every nation and people group. We are, truly, a part of something huge.

So as you go out on this Monday morning to take on the broader world, there is no reason for insecurity. You’re on the winning team. And you’re also on mission to grow the Kingdom. Be confident today.

Luke 13:18 – Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Healing a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17)

Have you ever heard the phrase “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?”  Probably you have heard it the other way around – to speak of gaining a win, just when it looked like a loss was about to happen.

Here in Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who was crippled for 18 years by the presence of a spirit. It is incredible, she praises God for the healing, and all of the people have witnessed a miracle.

This is done in a synagogue on a Sabbath. Synagogues were the local gathering places for Jewish people all around the world. There was a ruler in place, a fellow who would be in charge of a variety of deeds related to the place and its ministry. A part of that involved assigning speakers to give a teaching sense of the meaning of whatever prescribed Scripture passages were read that day. Likely he either asked, or at least allowed Jesus to speak. And he likely had some hesitations while giving in to the crowd gathered who were focused on Jesus.

Sure enough, Jesus steals the show. It would be sort of like running a weekend music club, only to have a guest travelling through town outshine you and everyone else you featured regularly. Professional jealousy.

So the synagogue ruler tries to discredit the deed by the only thing he can come up with on the spot – that it was wrong for this to be done on the Sabbath, that is was working. Yep, it’s pretty silly … especially since there were Rabbinic teachings and allowances for dealing with animals and their needs on this day of the week.

Detractors from God’s work have been in every generation. Here on the occasion of the death of Billy Graham at age 99 with all that comprised his amazing life, while most articles rightly honor his legacy, there are a couple that mock him as a fraudulent and self-possessed scam artist. Wow! But it is not surprising. The world is full, has been full, will always be full of those who condemn God’s work. They are the ones who are self-possessed, having no room to serve anyone higher than themselves. This should not shock us or discourage us from continuing to do what is correct.

Luke 13:10 – On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Repent or Perish, Fig Tree Illustration (Luke 13:1-9)

Life in this world is filled with terrible calamities and injustices. Many of you have heard me from time to time reflect upon the dear senior pastor of my youth who had such an effect upon my life through his encouragement. And you may recall my accounting of the story as to how he was tragically killed in a head-on collision with a truck – the driver being impaired in some fashion.

One of this pastor’s sons was my first-year college roommate, though he was actually two years ahead of me in school. He is now the president of an evangelical denomination called The Bible Fellowship Church. His younger brother – my exact age – is now an evangelist, having previously been a pastor for many years.

This younger of the sons had a son who was likewise a pastor, so if you’re keeping score, that is three generations of pastors. He was in his early years of ministry in a church in New Mexico when one evening a drunk driver going the wrong way on an interstate killed him in a head-on collision. Totally tragic – leaving a young wife and child.

How can this happen? Why doesn’t God stop these sorts of events?  Well, that’s a long answer, the short version being that these events are the sad realities for all of us in a fallen world; and God does answer ultimately – it’s called “heaven.”

But here is what you would have heard from the majority of Jewish people in the time of Christ. They would say that when something like this befell someone, it was because of sin in their lives or in their family – that it was a just recompense for some unknown iniquity. There are several passages in the gospels that counter this viewpoint.

In today’s portion, conversation is brought to Jesus about some event where certain Galileans where slaughtered in Jerusalem by Pilate at the time they were there for sacrifice. The details are unknown to us; social and political tensions abounded in those days even as they do in that region of the world in our own time.

Jesus also mentions another incident, unknown beyond this text, where a group of 18 people were the victims of a tower in Siloam randomly crashing upon them.

To each of these situations, Jesus says that these poor victims were not worse people than other around them (contrary to conventional religious thinking). Tragedies happen in an imperfect world. There are no guarantees. But something that is guaranteed is that those who do not repent spiritually are guaranteed to face judgment.

Illustrating this further is the additional words of Christ as he tells a parable about a non-productive fig tree. If I understand my dendrology (no extra charge for using that word again), it takes three years for a fig tree to produce fruit. The owner said to get rid of it as it was just taking up space, but the orchardist asks to give it one more year for additional fertilization and opportunity to produce.

The point is that the nation of Israel had not been producing the fruit of repentance, and in fact they were living in a period of grace wherein they could trust in Christ as the Promised One. But … but … but … judgment was soon coming.

But … but … but … judgment is coming; Jesus will return. And even Billy Graham passes away. The daily extension of our lives represents God’s extended grace to us to live in repentance and in production of the fruit of the life of Christ in us.

So let us use our granted time well – to be in right relationship with God and in his active service throughout the days God graciously gives us.

Luke 13:1 – Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Understanding the Times (Luke 12:49-59)

Story 1 – Probably most of us have extended family situations where we find ourselves in very different “faith camps” regarding Jesus Christ, the Scriptures and objective truth etc. And it is likely true that we also find our relationships with those who reject our confidence in both the written and living Word to be often rather difficult. That difference constitutes two different worldviews, so it should not really be surprising to us.

Story 2 – One of my enduring memories of living in Texas for five years is the weather. No, not so much the summer heat; I’m talking rather about the manner in which the weather conditions could very suddenly become very, very violent. There would be blue sky overhead, with a wall of dark clouds rolling in. Moments later, the street lights would come on at midday, the wind would pick up, and it was time to get to the basement or a middle room.

Story 3 – Being a defendant in court is not a pleasant experience. You want to be sure to not be a guilty defendant. So, if you truly owe something, wisdom should drive your every effort to pay that debt and make the situation right before the judge deals with you in the harshest terms.

Let’s tie these three stories together with the three paragraphs in today’s reading.

Jesus taught that the reality of his coming would be that some will reject him while others believed in who he was. This was to be expected. Even families would be divided over this issue. That remains a truth to this day.

In Israel, west winds brought moist conditions from the Mediterranean, whereas south winds brought dry desert air. People knew what was coming by the direction of the winds. They should likewise be able to read the atmosphere of the day. Jesus was among them as the promised messiah. They should recognize this “wind condition” and accept him, though most were foolishly rejecting the obvious truth in front of them. This remains a truth to this day.

If it is wise to not ignore a situation that puts you into a perilous position before a human judge, how much riskier is it to ignore the judge of the universe? The Jewish people were not getting right with God. It is like having an increasingly loud knocking sound in the engine of your car, to which you respond by increasingly turning up the volume of the radio.

Understanding that truth divides, rightly understanding the times, and getting right with God – seems obvious, yet most people in all generations fail to see and do the correct thing.

Luke 12:49 – “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”