Jesus Christ is Lord

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:41-47 ESV

Jesus’ last exchange with the Sadducees left them at a loss for words, but more determined than ever to rid themselves of this irritating thorn in their sides. Jesus had deftly handled their cleverly crafted question about the resurrection, easily exposing their poor understanding of the Scriptures. Their tendency to read God’s Word through the lens of their own earth-bound perspective had resulted in a gross misinterpretation of its content and a misapplication of its truths.

And the entire debate between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel revolved around the issue of authority. They believed themselves to be the God-ordained authority figures over the nation of Israel. Yet, Jesus had appeared on the scene, making radical claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. His self-proclaimed identification as the divine King of Israel easily trumped their claims of spiritual superiority and divinely mandated authority. And it didn’t help the cause of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees that this Rabbi from Nazareth backed up His words with inexplicable miracles and powerful teaching.

As we read through the events surrounding the last week of Jesus’ life, we should begin to recognize that this is really about two kingdoms in conflict – the one the Pharisees and religious leaders had come to know, love and control; and the one that Jesus had come to establish. As John the Baptist began his ministry, paving the way for the coming of the Messiah, he had told the people of Israel, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).

His call to repentance was not just an encouragement to change their behavior, but it was a demand that they change their minds. John was calling them to completely alter their preconceived notions concerning God, sin, the kingdom, the Messiah, and the means by which man can be restored to a right relationship with God. Repentance would require them to do an about-face concerning what they currently believed about all of those things. And that change of mind and heart would result in a change in behavior.

In the world into which Jesus came, the Jewish people had strong opinions about these matters, the byproduct of centuries of man-made decrees, religious doctrines, and dogma. They thought they had God figured out and were convinced that they knew what they had to do to deal with sin. But they had grown callous to God and carefree about their own sin, justifying their actions and downplaying their own guilt. They put a lot of stock in their status as descendants of Abraham and in their unique identity as God’s chosen people. But John the Baptist had come preaching a call to repentance. He had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. And Jesus came preaching that very same message, telling them, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT).

The Kingdom of Heaven was near – in the form of the King of Heaven – Jesus Himself. This was a statement of authority and divine representation. Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. He was the one true King. But the Jewish people failed to recognize Him as such.

This brings us to today’s passage, where Jesus continues to spar with the religious leaders of Israel. He had weathered a relentless gauntlet of questions from these men, as they attempted to expose and entrap Him. But this time Jesus turned the tables on them by requiring them to answer a question from Him. In doing so, He reveals some Messianic misconceptions on their part. He exposes their faulty views of who the Messiah would be and what He would do when He came.

Matthew records that Jesus began this conversation with a very simple, yet revealing question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42a NLT).

Jesus already knew what their response would be, and that answer would reveal much about their understanding of not only the Messiah but of His coming Kingdom.

“They replied, ‘He is the son of David.’” – Matthew 22:42b NLT

So, what does this answer tell us about their view of the Messiah? They believed this long-anticipated deliverer of Israel would be a descendant of David. But it also reveals that they viewed the Messiah’s kingdom would be of this earth and not heavenly in nature. In other words, they were anticipating a king just like David had been. They were expecting a ruler, a royal heir to David, who would wear his crown and sit on his throne, re-establishing Israel’s power in the region. They weren’t looking for a Savior from sin, but a deliverer from subjugation to Rome.

But this is where Jesus exposed their incomplete understanding of the Messiah’s identity and role. In Luke’s version of the story, he reports that Jesus posed the question: “Why is it that the Messiah is said to be the son of David?” (Luke 20:41 NLT). Then Jesus presented the well-educated religious leaders with a conundrum. 

For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.’” – Luke 20:42 NLT

Matthew records Jesus’ statement in the form of a question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?” (Matthew 22:44 ESV).

At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is posing some kind of riddle or trick question. But He actually quoted a well-known Messianic passage found in Psalm 110:1. The Sadducees would have agreed that this passage referred to the coming Messiah or Davidic descendant. In fact, over the centuries, this psalm had been applied to each successive king in the Davidic dynasty and was used to refer to the ideal Davidic king. As a result, they would have been very familiar with the passage and its application to the coming Messiah. So, Jesus pointed out that in the psalm, David calls the Messiah his Lord.

If the coming Messiah was to be a “son” or descendant of David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, why would David call this man his “Lord?” To understand this question, you have to recognize that there are two different words used for “Lord” in Psalm 110. The first is Jehovah, a noun used to refer to God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel. The second word is adon, a noun that means “lord” or “master”. But when used in conjunction with Lord (Jehovah), it typically refers to God’s sovereignty or authority. So, you could read the line in Psalm 110 this way: The LORD (God) said to my (David’s) Lord (Messiah)

The point Jesus was making was that David knew something about the Messiah that the Pharisees did not. That’s why Jesus asked them a further question: “Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Luke 20:44 NLT).

The Pharisees had a limited view of the Messiah. They believed He would be an earthly and fully human descendant of David – nothing more, nothing less. But Jesus’ point was that David seemed to know that the Messiah would be MORE than just his descendant. He would be divine and have God-given authority to rule and reign over God’s Kingdom. He would be David’s LORD and Master. He would be a divinely appointed ruler with power and authority far beyond anything David had known.

But the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to see or acknowledge this. Jesus was not what they had been expecting and, most certainly, not what they wanted. He didn’t look or act like a king. And the Israelites still wanted a king just like all the other nations. They wanted a royal ruler on their terms and according to their definition. It was the very same problem their ancestors had when they had demanded that the prophet Samuel appoint them a king like all the other nations.

They had rejected God as their King and, in response, God had given them Saul. Now, centuries later, they were demanding the same thing. But God was not going to give them another Saul. He was going to give them another David, an actual descendant of David, but a man greater than David had ever been. He would be the God-man, the Son of God, and the ultimate Savior of the world.

At this point in the conversation, Jesus turns His attention to His disciples but He spoke so all could hear what He had to say. The religious leaders, who had grown strangely silent, still had the capacity to hear Jesus speak, and what He had to say was aimed directly at them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:46-47 NLT

Jesus was pulling no punches. He was calling out these men for their self-righteous and hypocritical displays of false piety. And in doing so, Jesus echoed the words from His own sermon on the mount, delivered some three years earlier.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. – Matthew 6:5 ESV

This was a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching. Throughout His ministry, He regularly exposed the hypocritical nature of these self-righteous demagogues. Earlier in his gospel account, Luke records Jesus leveling the same condemning indictment against the Pharisees.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11:43 NLT

These so-called shepherds of Israel were fleecing the flock while they feigned a lifestyle of super-spirituality. They had no care or concern for the people of God. Instead, they used their power and position to benefit and promote themselves. This led Jesus to warn, “Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47 NLT). These men, who believed themselves to be the highest authority in the land, would one day stand before the One who wields ultimate authority over all the universe. They will have to answer to God. And, at that time, they will also have to explain their refusal to acknowledge and accept Jesus as the Son of God. While they stand opposed to Jesus now, there will come a day when they will bow before Him and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God of the Living, Not the Dead

27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question. Luke 20:27-40 ESV

The spies of the scribes and chief priests failed to entrap Jesus with their question and, instead, they were left speechless by His response.

…they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. – Luke 20:26 ESV

This left the door open to the Sadducees, another religious sect in Israel. These men shared membership in the Sanhedrin with the Pharisees but held opposing views on a number of important doctrines. While they held a conservative view of Scripture, insisting on a literal interpretation of the text, they were the religious liberals of their day when it came to the afterlife, the doctrine of the resurrection, and the reality of angels. They rejected them all. For them, this life was all there was, and it was to be lived in strict adherence to the written law as found in the Torah. They were elitists who rejected the oral law of the Pharisees, the “traditions of the elders” that contained hundreds of additional laws or addendums to the written law. But while they were not exactly bosom buddies with the Pharisees, they shared one thing in common with them: A hatred for Jesus. So, in this passage, they come to Jesus posing a question intended to expose Jesus’ heretical views on the resurrection.

Their question is a lengthy one, presented in the form of a short story. It’s a fictitious scenario involving what was called the Levirate Law, part of the Law of Moses found in the book of Deuteronomy. This law ruled that when a man died, leaving his wife a widow with no children, one of his brothers was obligated to marry the woman. The intention behind the law was to carry on the deceased man’s name and ensure that any inheritance he might have had remain in the family.

The law stated, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NLT).

These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, having been seven times a widow and childless. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Luke makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not interested in hearing Jesus’ interpretation of the law but they simply wanted to expose His views concerning the resurrection. This is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!” (Luke 20:33).

They think they have Jesus trapped. Since the Torah did not explicitly teach about the resurrection, they did not believe in it. So, their little story was designed to expose the fallacy behind the doctrine of the resurrection. In their minds, they had shown that the very concept of the resurrection would conflict with the law itself. How could a woman have seven husbands in heaven?

But Jesus exposed the flaw in their thinking and the problem in their lives. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus responded to their question with a rather blunt and far-from-flattering statement.

“Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29 NLT

This would have been like a sucker punch to the stomach. Jesus had caught them off guard and had wiped the smug look of satisfaction off their faces with one simple sentence. These men prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, and yet Jesus accused them of being unfamiliar with God’s Word and His power. They were intelligent yet ignorant. In all their study of the Scriptures, they had overlooked God’s power on display. They had relegated all they knew about life to the here-and-now and rejected the idea of a hereafter. So, Jesus rocked their religious sensibilities by informing them that the resurrection will render marriage unnecessary.

Jesus rendered their convoluted scenario pointless and irrelevant. In her resurrected state, the woman would not be married to any of the brothers.

Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. – Luke 20:34-36 NLT

This statement by Jesus must have caught the arrogant Sadducees completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to some who are reading these words right now.

It’s likely that your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.

In heaven, the union of Christ and the Church will be complete. There will no longer be a need for a symbol of that union. And while we may find that idea disturbing and possibly disappointing, we have to remember that our condition in our resurrected state will be one of perfection. We will be like Christ and have perfect fellowship with God the Father. Our primary relationship will be with Him. There will no longer be the need for another person to complete or complement us.

But Jesus knew that behind their question was their view concerning the resurrection, so He cut to the chase and took it head-on.

But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” – Luke 20:37-38 NLT

Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When God spoke to Moses about His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, He used the PRESENT tense.

God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. – Exodus 3:15 ESV

These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. He was still their God. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error but a theological truth. There is an afterlife, and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So, they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. When they couldn’t comprehend something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, but it was also undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.

For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife because it made no sense to them. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven, and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less.

And sadly, there are many who live with that same restrictive mindset today. Even those claiming to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They simply ignore what they can’t see or explain. And yet, God’s Word encourages us to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers and aliens here, always remembering that this world is not our home. We are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is an eternal state. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.

We worship a God of the living. The power of God assures us that the dead in Christ are not gone. They are experiencing the joys of heaven, and one day we will see them again. It is just as Jesus promised:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Giving God What Is Rightfully His

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:19-26 ESV

While some of Jesus’ parables left the crowds scratching their heads in confusion, this was not one of them. Its meaning was far from hidden or obscured. And Luke indicates that the scribes and the chief priests understood that they had been portrayed as the villains in His story. The only thing that kept them from arresting Jesus right on the spot was their fear of the people. They knew they would have a riot on their hands if they so much as touched Jesus. So, they decided to bide their time, waiting for a better opportunity to catch Jesus saying or doing something that would justify His arrest.

As they had done on so many other occasions, the religious leaders sent some of their own to spy on Jesus. These men were instructed to blend in with the crowds by pretending to be sincere followers of Jesus. Luke doesn’t reveal whether they ditched their clerical robes in order to disguise their identities, but it seems likely that they did what they could to fit in with the rest of the people who flocked around Jesus. Of course, it could be that they hired individuals to act as spies. The Greek word for “spies” is egkathetos and it means “one who is bribed by others to entrap a man by crafty words” (“G1455 – egkathetosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 2 Oct, 2021.).

But whoever these people were, their mission was simple: “get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). They were tasked with shadowing Jesus and looking for some kind of proof that He was a threat to the Roman government. By this time, the religious leaders had already decided that Jesus needed to die (Luke 19:47), but the Romans prohibited the Jews from carrying out capital punishment. So, it was important that they find evidence that would incriminate Jesus and force the Roman authorities to put Him to death. In chapter 23, where Luke records Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the Sanhedrin level a charge against Jesus that they knew would seal His fate:.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

This accusation had not come out of thin air, but it was a blatant misrepresentation of Jesus’ answer to a question the spies had directed to Him. Not long after telling His parable about the wicked tenants, the spies sent by the Sanhedrin asked Jesus one of their cleverly worded questions.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – Luke 20:21-22

This question had been carefully crafted and was designed to put Jesus in an awkward and untenable predicament. It was a simple question, but because it involved the Roman government and the hot-button topic of taxation, it was politically charged and a potential landmine.

In keeping with their charge to feign sincerity, these men prefaced their question with statements of false flattery designed to disguise their real intent. But Jesus saw through their little charade and knew exactly what they were attempting to do. So, He asked someone in the crowd for a denarius, a Roman coin that bore the image of the emperor. Holding up the coin for all to see, Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?,” and the crowd answered, “Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24 NLT).

Jesus had not been stumped by their trick question. The spies had thought it would put Jesus in a no-win situation. If He declared that the Mosaic law required the Jews to pay taxes or tribute, the people would turn on Him because they despised the oppressive and excessive burden place on them by the Romans. But if Jesus stated that the Jews owed no taxes to Rome because it was a godless and immoral government, He could be accused of undermining the authority of Caesar. This would give the Sanhedrin what they were looking for – evidence that Jesus was fomenting political unrest.

But Jesus avoided controversy by stating, “Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25 NLT). In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image and name, then it is rightfully his and must be returned. But the spies took this very clear statement from Jesus and twisted it into a declaration of rebellion and anarchy. They misrepresented Jesus’ words and told the Sanhedrin that Jesus had promoted tax evasion, and that is exactly what the religious leaders later reported to Pilate.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

These men were willing to do anything to get rid of Jesus, including lie. And Jesus had already confronted them about their propensity for falsehood.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Because they were unable to trick or trap Jesus, they resorted to lies. They fabricated their own version of the truth, propagating a false narrative that would protect and preserve their domain.

But Jesus had not promoted social unrest or some kind of affirmative action. He had clearly told them to give Caesar what rightfully belonged to him. But He had also stated that the Jews were obligated to do the same with God.

“…give to God what belongs to God.” – Luke 20:25 NLT

The denarius bore the image of Caesar, but mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:27 records that God made the first man and woman in His own image.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Just as the Roman coin was stamped with the image of Caesar, every man and woman is stamped with the image of their Creator. And even in their fallen state, they still reflect the ownership of the one who made them. So, in effect, Jesus was encouraging His audience to honor Caesar by returning his property to him. But at the same time, Jesus was insisting that they honor God by returning to God what was rightfully His: Their lives. The apostle Paul would later expand on this idea in his letter to the Romans. In chapter13 of that letter, he gave a series of admonitions to honor and submit to governing authorities because “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Paul went on to address the topic of paying taxes.

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. – Romans 13:5-6 NLT

The same Roman government was in charge during Paul’s day. Nothing had really changed. Rome was no less authoritarian and abusive, yet Paul continued to promote the very same mindset that Jesus had recommended.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:7 ESV

The last part of this verse reflects what Jesus had been trying to convey. If Caesar wanted his coins back, then return them to him. But it is God alone who deserves man’s respect and honor. Because we bear His image, we belong to Him. And Jesus was demanding that the people of Israel give God what was rightfully His: Their lives and their unwavering devotion.

At the heart of this entire exchange is man’s love affair with money and materialism. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned about the dangers of a divided love.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

He knew that the people were inordinately tied to the treasures of this world and, as a result, they had a divided allegiance. So, He warned them:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel were enslaved to money, materialism, power, and prestige. They may have faithfully worshiped at the altar of Yahweh but the real focus of their devotion and desire was earthly treasures. And while they had no love for the Roman government, they were willing to do business with the enemy because they benefited greatly from the relationship. Their greatest fear was that Jesus would disrupt their symbiotic and self-serving relationship with the Romans. They had a bird’s nest on the ground and this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth was threatening to destroy it all. That’s why Caiaphas the high priest would later tell his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus’ death was preferable to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Romans.

“You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:50 NLT

Caiaphas was out to preserve the status quo, and if it required the death of one man, then it would be well worth it. But what Caiaphas failed to realize was that his words were really prophetic.

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. – John 11:51-52 NLT

Jesus, as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), would eventually give back to God what was rightfully His. He would sacrifice His own life on behalf of sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy God by offering His body as the ultimate tribute. Through the willing sacrifice of His life, Jesus would render unto God what was rightfully His.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Who Do You Think You Are?

1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:1-8 ESV

Not long after His unexpected and surprising display of righteous indignation in the temple, Jesus returned to the scene of the “crime” and began to teach. It was business as usual for Jesus as He entered the temple court and began to proclaim the gospel. But the chief priest, scribes, and elders had neither forgotten or forgiven Jesus for what they viewed as an unjustified and unauthorized display of authority. They were still fuming over the costly disruption Jesus had caused on their turf. This renegade Rabbi had entered the temple grounds, the domain of the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and He had literally “cleaned house.”

Mark records that Jesus “entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (Mark 11:15 ESV). He accused the religious leaders of turning His Father’s house, a place of prayer, into a den of robbers.  While the temple was primarily a place of sacrifice, it was to be characterized by prayer. This harks back to the dedication ceremony conducted by King Solomon on the day the temple was opened. In his dedicatory prayer, Solomon asked God to graciously hear and answer the prayers that the people of Israel directed toward the temple, God’s dwelling place.

“May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:20-21 NLT

But Jesus had entered the courtyard of the temple and found a carnival-like atmosphere where personal gain had taken precedence over piety. The religious leaders of Israel had turned the celebration of Passover into a moneymaking enterprise that lined their pockets and further inflated their out-of-control egos. Rather than serving as shepherds to the sheep of Israel, they acted as opportunists who fleeced the flock and fattened their wallets with the illicit gain.

According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus demonstrated just how antithetical His ministry was to that of the Jewish religious leaders. Even after cleaning out the money-grubbing vendors, Jesus stayed behind. And Matthew reports that “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14 ESV). The Lamb of God demonstrated concern for  the sheep of God, while the so-called shepherds of Israel grew fat and happy by using and abusing those under their care.

But the disgruntled members of the Sanhedrin were furious with this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth and demanded to know by what authority He did the things He did. In their minds, He had no right to question their motives or criticize their behavior. They were the righteous ones. They held all the power and authority and answered to no one, especially an itinerant, unintelligent Rabbi from the god-forsaken region of Galilee. So, as Jesus taught in the temple courtyard, these men showed up and demanded that Jesus explain His actions from the day before.

“By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” – Luke 20:2 NLT

In their minds, Jesus was way out of bounds. He was out of His league and suffered from an unwarranted case of self-importance.  While He claimed to be the Messiah and had even blasphemed by declaring to be the Son of God, they considered Him as little more than a lunatic who had serious delusions of grandeur. According to Mark’s gospel, the Sanhedrin had already made up their minds about what to do with Jesus.

When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. – Mark 11:18 NLT

Jesus was a walking dead man because the Jewish religious leaders had already placed a price on His head. It was just a matter of time. And their demand that Jesus explain Himself was just one more attempt to get Him to further incriminate Himself. They were looking for additional evidence to take before the Roman authorities so they could demand His execution.

But Jesus saw through their little ploy and answered their question with a question.

“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” – Luke 20:3-4 NLT

Jesus stayed on the topic at hand, but He deftly returned service by lobbing the ball back into their court. It was an easy question, but it didn’t come with an easy answer.  Immediately, His interrogators were flustered and floundering around for an answer. They found themselves on the horn of a dilemma.

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” – Luke 20:5-6 NLT

They knew full well the John to which Jesus had referred. It was the late John the Baptist, who had just recently been executed by Herod, the governor of Galilee. Until his death, John had been a popular and polarizing figure throughout Judea,. He and the religious leaders had enjoyed their fair share of confrontations. At one point, they  showed up in the Judean wilderness demanding that John baptize them. But John saw that their motives were less than sincere and he boldly confronted them for their hypocrisy.

when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:7-10 NLT

John knew they were unrepentant and only seeking baptism as proof that they were prime candidates for the coming kingdom of God which John had proclaimed. Since everyone else was flocking to the Jordan River to be baptized, they didn’t want to be left out. But unlike the common people, the religious leaders didn’t believe in John or his message. That’s why Jesus’ question caused them so much concern. If they denied that John’s message concerning the coming kingdom was not from God, they would face the ire of the people. But if they were to agree that John had been sent from God, then Jesus would want to know why they refused to believe his message. John had also claimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” ( John 1:29 ESV). So, by rejecting the message of John, they had also rejected his identification of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.

Caught in a trap, these highly educated men decided to plead ignorance.

…they answered that they did not know where it came from. – Luke 20:7 ESV

And because they unwilling to declare their true disdain for John and his message, Jesus notified them that He had no intention of answering their question.

“Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Luke 20:8 NLT

Jesus already knew that they had rejected His claim to divinity. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God or the Messiah of Israel. So, anything He said was destined to fall on deaf ears. He had already confronted them about their predilection for falsehood and their propensity to believe lies rather than embrace truth.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 6:44-47 NLT

Jesus had cleaned out the temple based on His authority as the Son of God. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus referred to the temple as “My house.” And this statement had not escaped the ears of the religious leaders. They knew that Jesus was claiming to be on an equal standing with God Almighty. He was declaring His divinity. And to them, that was nothing less than blasphemy. The whole point behind their original question was to get Jesus to reiterate that claim in front of the crowds. That way, they would have all the witnesses they needed to convict Jesus and demand His execution. But Jesus’ time of death was drawing close, it was not yet time. There was more for Him to do. And Jesus followed this tense encounter with His arch rivals with a simple parable, and its message would deal with the topic of authority.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A True Son of Abraham

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10 ESV

At the close of chapter 18, Luke seemed to indicate that Jesus was “drawing near” or, better yet, passing by Jericho. But with the opening of chapter 19, he describes Jesus as entering the city of Jericho. Is this a case of biblical contradiction or of Luke confusing the details of his story? The simple answer is that there were actually two sites known as Jericho in Jesus’ day. There was the original site of the city that Joshua and the forces of Israel destroyed when they first entered the land of Canaan (Joshua 6). Then there was the “new” Jericho, built by Herod the Great. In the 1st-Century, the Old Testament Jericho was nothing more than a small village that lie among the ruins of the former city that the Israelites had destroyed. Joshua had placed a curse on anyone who attempted to rebuild the city.

Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.” – Joshua 6:28 ESV

Years later, one man would ignore that curse and rebuild the city, but at a great cost.

It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub. This all happened according to the message from the Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun. – 1 Kings 16:34 NLT

So, it would appear that Jesus was entering the newer and more recent Jericho as he traveled west toward Jerusalem. As he passed through the city, He encountered a man named Zacchaeus, who happened to be a notorious and despised tax collector. As Luke has already established, men like Zacchaeus were despised by the Jews and considered the chief of all sinners by the Pharisees and scribes. They were viewed as sellouts by their own people, because they were little more than pawns of the Roman government, collecting their exorbitant taxes and fleecing their fellow Jews in the process. Like the disciple, Matthew, Zacchaeus would have grown relatively wealthy by charging his customers a collection fee on top of the already staggering tax the Romans demanded. And because Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the region, he had probably received a portion of all the extra revenue any of his employees managed to fleece from their customers. Luke indicates that he was “very rich” (Luke 19:2 NLT). And this fact would have made him especially despised by the people of Jericho. 

But as Jesus made His way through the city, Zacchaeus became just another curious onlooker eager to see this miracle worker from Nazareth for himself. Jesus’ presence in Jericho had stirred up quite a commotion. It’s likely that news of His healing of the blind man had made its way through the city. And Jesus’ reputation as a healer and controversial teacher had spread throughout the land. So, when Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was nearby, he shut down business long enough to get an up-close and personal look at this 1st-Century celebrity.

It may be that Zacchaeus’ curiosity about Jesus stemmed from the fact that a former tax collector was among His 12 disciples. Or perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about the rumors of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. When Matthew had been called by Jesus to be one of His disciples, he had invited his new master to dine with him in his home.

Levi [Matthew] held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” – Luke 5:29-30 NLT

To Zacchaeus, Jesus was an anomaly. There were no other religious leaders in Israel who would have given him the time of day, yet here was a man who had a reputation for associating with the despised and rejected of Israel. Zacchaeus had heard the rumors concerning Jesus.

“He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” – Luke 7:34 NLT

And this made Jesus all the more intriguing to a man like Zacchaeus. He could not pass up the chance to see this one-of-a-kind Rabbi from Nazareth. But as Luke indicates, because of his diminutive size, Zacchaeus had a difficult time getting a clear view of Jesus. So, he climbed a nearby tree. And much to the shock and surprise of everyone in the crowd, when Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ location, He stopped and directed His attention to the tax collector perched in the top of the sycamore tree.

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” – Luke 19:5 ESV

It was true. This man really did eat with tax collectors and sinners. And Luke indicates that Zacchaeus wasted no time, but “quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy” (Luke 19:6 NLT). This would have been an unexpected boon for this much-maligned and despised tax collector. Everyone in the crowd must have looked on in amazement at this exchange between the two men. But the most offended segment of the audience would have been the ever-present Jewish religious leaders. They were the very ones who had reacted so vociferously when Jesus had dined in the home of Matthew.

“Why do you eat and drink with such scum? – Luke 5:30 NLT

But even on that occasion, Jesus had responded with slightly veiled sarcasm to their self-righteous indignation.

Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

And, even in the case of Zacchaeus, the people disclosed their disappointment with Jesus’ actions, stating, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner” (Luke 19:7 NLT). They were appalled by Jesus’ seeming lack of discernment. How could a great Rabbi and teacher lower Himself by associating with the likes of Zacchaeus? This most certainly not what they expected from someone who had claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. By dining with Zacchaeus, Jesus would not only soil His reputation, but He would also render Himself ceremonially impure and equally as sinful as the men with whom He dined.

But upon receiving the unexpected invitation from Jesus and hearing the unsurprising response of the crowd, Zacchaeus spoke up.

“I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” – Luke 19:8 NLT

At that point, Zacchaeus knew he had a choice to make. He could no longer continue living his life according to his old, self-established standards. He somehow knew that changes needed to be made. His encounter with Jesus had made him painfully aware of his sinfulness and his need for repentance. Zacchaeus suffered from no illusions of self-righteousness. He knew he was a sinner and the crowd had only confirmed it. But he was willing to change.

Zacchaues’ humble response brings to mind an encounter that John the Baptist had with a group of religious leaders who appeared in the Judean wilderness expressing their desire to be baptized by him.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” – Matthew 3:7-8 NLT

Zacchaeus was ready to prove by the way he lived that he had repented of his sins and had turned back to God. It’s interesting to note that Zacchaeus’ name is an abbreviated form of Zechariah, which means “the righteous one.” This notorious sinner was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to restore his broken relationship with God. But his justification before God would not be a result of his financial remunerations. It would be as a result of His faith in the Son of God, a point that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NLT

This statement from Jesus reflects the words John the Baptist spoke to those very same Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

A man like Zacchaeus would have been the last person the Pharisees expected to be part of the Kingdom of God. Yet, Jesus had declared that salvation had come to the home of Zacchaeus. According to Jesus, this tax collector was a true son of Abraham. It was not about birthright or ethnic heritage. It was all about faith in the Son of God. Zacchaeus had proven that the call of Jesus was more important to him than anything else. He was willing to give up everything in order to follow Jesus.

Don’t forget Jesus’ earlier encounter with the rich, young ruler. This man had come to Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18 ESV). And Jesus had shocked him by stating, Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22 ESV). But rather than do as Jesus said, the man walked away “for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23 ESV). Unlike Zacchaeus, this man had been unwilling to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And he walked away rich but still living in spiritual poverty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Sacrifice Worth Making

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:18-30 ESV

It’s amazing to consider the sovereign nature of all of Jesus’ encounters. Nothing that ever happened to Him was ever a case of luck or blind chance. It was all providentially orchestrated by His Heavenly Father. Every lame person who ever came to Jesus for healing did so of their own free will, but under the sovereign direction of God. Even those individuals whose lives were under the oppressive control of a demonic spirit somehow scored a face-to-face encounter with the Son of God. Even the demon within them could not stop the inevitable and irresistible will of God.

God’s timing was always impeccable, and the Son’s adherence to His Father’s will was always irreproachable. So, as Jesus walked in lock-step with His Father’s plan, it was inevitable that He would encounter those whom God had providentially preordained Him to meet. And that is exactly what happens when the rich, young ruler comes to Jesus with an important question. This was not just a case of good timing. It was an example of God’s carefully orchestrated oversight of every phase of His Son’s life and ministry. This particular man showed up at this particular time and with this particular question on his mind.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 ESV

Keep in mind that Jesus had just made a startling admission regarding entrance into the kingdom that left His disciples dazed and confused.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:17 ESV

And prior to dropping that bombshell on His disciples, Jesus had made another unexpected disclosure regarding justification before God.

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14 ESV

So, this man’s appearance could not have come at a better time. And his question could not have been more appropriate and applicable to the circumstances.

Luke tells us that this man was a ruler, which infers that he was both powerful and influential. The other synoptic gospels add that he was also rich and young. In other words, he had a lot going for him. We are not told what kind of ruler this man was. He could have served in some kind of governmental capacity. Perhaps he was a leader in the local synagogue. Or he could have been a member of the Sanhedrin. But regardless the nature of his leadership capacity, he seeks out Jesus. And notice how Jesus responds to the him.

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. – Luke 18:19 ESV

Jesus seemingly ignores the man’s question and focuses on a single word contained within it. The man referred to Jesus as a “good” teacher, but uses this polite but overused description to make an important point. According to psalmist, only God alone is good.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 53:2-3 ESV

So, why was the young ruler using this word to describe Jesus? The truth is, the man meant nothing by it. But whether the man or anyone else in the crowd understood it, Jesus was subtly inferring His own deity. Jesus really was a “good” teacher. In fact, He was the God-teacher, the God-man.

But Jesus doesn’t belabor the point. Instead, He points out five of the Ten Commandments.

“Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” – Luke 18:20 ESV

Matthew adds that the man’s request was focused on what “good deed” he must do to inherit eternal life. From the conversation that followed, it seems clear that the man believed he had already done enough. He was young and rich, and from the perspective of most Jews, he was already blessed by God because of his wealth. He was also a religious man because when Jesus listed the five commandments and told the man to keep them, he proudly announced, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18:21 ESV).

This man was looking for confirmation, not a list of things to do. As a faithful Jew, he believed he was a child of Abraham and, therefore, a rightful heir to eternal life. As a descendant of Abraham, he was guaranteed a place in God’s eternal Kingdom. Now, he was asking Jesus to place His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on his life.

The wording of the man’s question is very specific. He uses the word klēronomeō, which means “to obtain by inheritance.” This reveals that he believed eternal life was already rightfully his, but he wants to know how to he can get his hands on it now. He was not willing to wait. His attitude is similar to that of the young man in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In that story, Jesus described another young man from a wealthy family who was destined to inherit his father’s vast riches. But unwilling to wait for his father to die, he demanded that he be given his inheritance right way.

“I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. – Luke 15:12 NLT

Finding himself suddenly wealthy beyond belief, that young man ended up spending everything he had on a life of excess and immorality. He had gotten what he wanted but had misused and abused it.

And, in a similar way, the rich young man kneeling before Jesus was demanding that he be given what was rightfully his: His guaranteed inheritance of eternal life. This man had it all but he wanted more. He coveted the one thing that was missing from his portfolio: Assurance of eternal life.

Because of his wealth, social standing, and success at religious rule-keeping, this young man believed himself to be blessed by God. He viewed himself as a good man who deserved everything that was due to him. And if Jesus could guarantee him that he had done enough to earn eternal life, he could live the rest of his life in ease and comfort. But when Jesus emphasized that “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV), He was letting this man know that there was only one “good man” participating in this conversation. And it wasn’t the rich, young ruler.

And while this man could brag about having kept the commandments, Jesus knew the truth about his heart. It’s interesting that Jesus only listed five of the commandments and they all had to do with the horizontal relationships between individuals.

These five commandments bring to mind Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In that message, Jesus stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to explain what it looked like to “relax” one of God’s laws. He put hatred on the same par as murder (Matthew 5:22). He compared lust to adultery.

“…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 ESV

Lust, like adultery, is essentially taking what does not belong to you. It is a form of stealing. And Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29 ESV).

All throughout His sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a radically different picture of what it means to keep God’s law. It wasn’t just about rule-keeping. It was about a change of the heart. Those who hoped to inherit God’s kingdom would have to live sacrificially and selflessly. Their adherence to God’s laws would have to manifest itself in their relationships with others. That’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 ESV).

Which brings us back to the rich young man. Jesus turned to him and said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV). This proved to be the deal-breaker. This one “good deed” was more than the man could handle. He was unwilling to part with his wealth. All his law-keeping had cost him nothing. But now Jesus was demanding that he do one thing that would cost him everything.

The man was focused on what Jesus was asking him to give up. But the real tragedy of this story is what the young man eventually turned his back on. He was willing to walk away from eternal life so that he could keep living the “good life.” Mark sadly reports that the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22 ESV).

He was possessed by his possessions. He was held captive by the things of this world. His love of material goods and temporal pleasures proved too great. And years later, the apostle John would probably recall this sad scene when he wrote the following words.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This man had been young and full of life. He was wealthy and blessed by every imaginable earthly pleasure. He was a ruler who wielded tremendous power and responsibility. In other words, He was great. He was all that the disciples hoped to become. When they looked at the rich young ruler, they saw the image of what they aspired to be. And as the disciples stood in stunned silence watching the young man walk away, Jesus further exploded their misconception of greatness.

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:23 ESV

This led some in the crowd to exclaim, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26 ESV). If the wealthy, who were obviously blessed by God, were going to find it difficult to enter the kingdom, what hope did they have?  But Jesus assured them, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27 ESV).

At this point, the ever-impulsive Peter stepped into the conversation and reminded Jesus how he and his companions had sacrificed all to follow Him. They weren’t rich like the young ruler, but they had given up everything to be His disciples. Peter was hoping that Jesus would confirm that they had eternal life locked in. According to the criteria Jesus had given the young ruler, Peter figured they had done enough.

But Jesus surprises them by stating: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30 ESV). What Peter did not yet understand was that, with Jesus’ coming death on the cross, he and the other disciples would eventually inherit the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would end up becoming part of the much larger family of God. But the greatest blessing they would receive would come at the end of the age: Eternal life. But all of it would be based on the work of Christ, not their own human effort. Eternal life was a gift, not a reward for work well done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Heart of a Child

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Luke 18:15-17 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions didn’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Alien and Undeserved Righteousness

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 ESV

With His telling of the parable of the unrighteous judge, it appears that Jesus was taking a bit of a diversion from discussing the shortcomings of the Pharisees. But in many ways, the parable was just another in a long line of stinging indictments of these self-righteous men who had made a god out of their religion. While Jesus has begun to focus His attention on His disciples in an attempt to prepare them for what lies ahead, He has not stopped exposing the arrogant and uncaring nature of the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders.

In His previous parable, Jesus told the story of “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man” (Luke 18:2 ESV). This man, by virtue of his role, was meant to be an unbiased arbiter, settling disputes between two parties. But how could he do so if he “neither feared God nor respected man?” And this man’s presence in the story was meant to reflect the attitude of the Jewish religious leaders. According to Jesus, they were guilty of the same thing. And by using the term “judge,” Jesus was not offering them a compliment. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes a judge as “one who passes or arrogates to himself, judgment on anything.”

The Pharisees were quick to judge, condemning others for their lack of religious zeal and their failure to keep all the man-made rules and regulations they had appended to the Mosaic Law. At one point Jesus had delivered a strong word of warning against these men.

“…what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Luke 11:46 NLT

They had become self-appointed judges of the people who feared no repercussions from God. In fact, they actually thought they were doing God a favor by holding the people to such high moral and ethical standards. But like the widow in the parable, the poor and disenfranchised of Israel were longing for justice. They were seeking a judge who would act righteously and deliver justice on their behalf.

Consider closely verse 9 of this chapter. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). It seems obvious that Jesus was focusing His attention of the Pharisees who were still lingering on the edges of the crowd that followed Him. Despite all He had said against them, they had not gone anywhere. But Jesus was not just addressing the Pharisees. Their longstanding attitude of spiritual superiority and self-righteousness had infected others.  They had gone out of their way to teach their flawed philosophy of religion to others, something for which Jesus held them accountable.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” – Matthew 23:15 NLT

As far as Jesus was concerned, self-righteousness was a dangerous and deadly heresy that led people to rely on their own efforts and merits to earn favor with God. It was a dead-end street that eventually terminated with eternal separation from God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The apostle Paul would later quote from the psalms in order to convey the same universal and inescapable reality:

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

Self-righteousness is the greatest form of blasphemy because the one who practices it sets himself up as God. He elevates himself to the place of the Almighty, determining his eternal state based on his own biased judgment, rather than that of God. Anyone who believes he has earned a right standing before God has diminished the deadly nature of sin and devalued the righteous standards of God.

There is no way to get around the fact that in order for anyone to consider themselves to be righteous based on their own efforts, they must lower God’s standard for holiness. Which is really diminishing the holiness of God Himself, because He is the ultimate standard by which we are judged. So, rather than using God as the gold standard for holiness, men begin to compare themselves with one another. According to the apostle Paul, this horizontal matrix for measuring holiness is not only flawed but foolish.

…we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! – 2 Corinthians 10:12 NLT

So, in His parable, Jesus relates the story of two men who have gone to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. One was a Pharisee, an icon of religious rectitude. The other was a tax collector, who represented the spiritual dregs of society. Yet, Jesus places both men in the temple courtyard where they are praying to God. But that is where the similarities end. Jesus portrays the Pharisee as a self-consumed man with an over-inflated sense of self-worth. He stands in the temple courtyard and boldly prays:

“‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” – Luke 18:11-12 NLT

His words are the epitome of arrogance and pride. In a blatant display of self-righteous self-congratulation, he declares his moral superiority to the God of the universe. And he does so by comparing himself to the tax collector who is standing nearby. To the Pharisee, the differences between the two men could not be more obvious. Based on his religious zeal and faithful adherence to the smallest requirement of the law, he holds the moral high ground. He has earned the right to be heard by God.

Yet, Jesus quickly moves the focus from the fictional Pharisee to the tax collector, who “stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow…” (Luke 18:13 NLT). In starks contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector epitomizes humility and a high degree of self-awareness. He knows exactly what he is and what he justly deserves.

“O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” – Luke 18:13 NLT

Fully aware that his sin separates him from a holy God, this man pleads for mercy. He confesses his sinful state and, in a sense, places himself at the mercy of the court. He is more than willing to let the Judge decide his fate but he longs for justice coupled with mercy and forgiveness.

And then, Jesus dropped the bombshell:

I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ statement. He is declaring that the tax collector, a self-admitted sinner, is declared to be righteous by God. This is a judicial act by which God, in His sovereign authority, deems the unrighteous to be righteous in His eyes. The apostle Paul would expand on this marvelous thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:21-25 NLT

Jesus was hinting at a reality to come. He was going to go to the cross and offer Himself as the sinless substitute for sinful mankind. And all those who were willing to recognize and confess their sins and place their faith in Him would be imputed His righteousness as a gift from God. Jesus would take on their sin and, in exchange, they would receive His righteousness. But this “great exchange” begins with the sinner’s willingness to confess his desperate need for a Savior. Like the widow who needed a judge to settle her case, sinners are dependent upon the Judge of the universe to rule in their favor. Not based on their own merit, but according to His mercy and grace.

The apostle Paul, who in his former life was a dedicated and zealous Pharisee, offered his radically altered understanding of how one is made right with God.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

At one time, Paul would have been that self-righteous Pharisee standing in the courtyard singing his own praises. But, mercifully, Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, blinding his eyes, but helping him see for the first time the sin that separated him from a holy God. He went from being a self-righteous Pharisee facing an eternity separated from God to a self-confessing sinner who received the righteousness of Christ and the assurance of eternal life.

So, Jesus wrapped up His little parable with the sobering statement:

“…those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

The apostle Peter would reiterate the words of Jesus in his first letter:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Filling in the Blanks

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 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 will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” – Luke 17:20-37 ESV

This section contains a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of lessons on the kingdom of God. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had declared the good news regarding the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

Jesus was declaring that He was the Messiah or Savior the prophets had written about. He was the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in keeping with the covenant God had made with David (2 Samuel 7:11-16). And this message struck a chord with the people of Israel because they had been longing for the arrival of the warrior-king who would be their emancipator, releasing them from their subjugation to the Romans. For centuries, the Israelites had been waiting for God to send the next David, a man whom He would use to redeem His people and restore their fortunes as a nation. So, everywhere Jesus went, His words concerning the kingdom were met with joyous expectation and hope.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread – Matthew 4:23-24 ESV

But the longer Jesus’ ministry went on, some of the people began to have doubts about His message. While they were amazed by His miracles and blown away by the power of His words, they were disappointed that He had not done anything to establish His earthly kingdom. If He truly was the long-awaited Messiah, when was He going to turn His attention to the Romans and clean house? How were they supposed to believe He was who He claimed to be if He never did the things the Messiah was supposed to do? This led many to demand that Jesus perform a “sign from heaven” to validate His identity. Yes, He had healed many people, but there were others who did the same thing – even His own disciples. He had cast out demons, but that was nothing new. Even the Jews had their own exorcists who were known for doing the same thing.

In fact, on one occasion, Jesus cast out a demon from a man and the people immediately proclaimed, “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” (Matthew 9:33 NLT). But the Pharisees rejected their enthusiastic endorsement of Jesus, saying, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34 NLT). And to prove their point, these men “demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Luke 11:16 NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah led them to constantly demand that He provide them with some kind of heavenly sign as irrefutable proof.

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” – Matthew 12:38 NLT

So, it should come as no surprise that Luke records yet another confrontation between Jesus and this religious leader where they demand that He perform a sign. But this time, their request is hidden behind a question regarding the kingdom of God. They ask Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT). This question wreaks of sarcasm. In essence, they are ridiculing Jesus for having declared that the kingdom had come, but they could see no signs of its arrival. He was still nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi wandering around the countryside teaching, preaching, and performing the occasional miracle. He spent more time in Galilee than He did in Judea, where Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel was located. He had many followers, but no army. And while He had cast out a handful of demons, He had done nothing to get rid of the Roman centurions who occupied the land of Israel from north to south. If He was the Messiah, they wanted proof. When was He going to do something to usher in the kingdom He claimed to have brought?

But Jesus saw through their ploy and understand the real focus of their question. They wanted some kind of sign that Jesus was the warrior-king who was going to conquer the enemies of Israel and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. And it seems unlikely that these men were expecting Jesus to fulfill their demand for a sign, because they believed Him to be a fraud. To them, He was little more than a charlatan and anything but the Savior of Israel. Yet, Jesus responded to their question.

“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” – Luke 17:20-21 NLT

Jesus knew what they wanted. They were demanding that He do something that would affirm His kingly role and prove that He had been ordained by God to be the next ruler over Israel. Like all the Jews, the Pharisees and scribes were expecting the Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom that mirrored the glory days of David and Solomon. And Jesus knew that they were looking for visible, tangible signs that would demonstrate He meant business. As far as they could see, there was absolutely no evidence that would suggest He was a king, by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus informed them that the nature of the Kingdom of God was radically different than what they had been expecting. In fact, the kingdom was already in their midst. The King was standing right in front of them. But Jesus didn’t look like a king. He didn’t do kingly things. At least, not according to their understanding of the role.

But it is interesting to note what the psalmist wrote concerning David.

He [God]chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

The Jews were expecting another David, a warrior-king who would destroy the enemies of Israel. But God had spoken of David as the shepherd-king who cared for the people of Israel. Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost. His first advent to earth was intended to bring a different kind of victory over a completely different kind of enemy. Jesus had come to conquer sin, death, and the grave. His coming had inaugurated a different kind of kingdom that would not be of this world. What the Jews failed to understand was that the Messiah’s mission would come in two parts. There would be a first advent and, when the time was right, it would be followed by a second one.

And this is where Jesus turns His attention to His disciples, in an attempt to help them understand the full scope of the divine redemptive plan. Even they were beginning to have doubts about Jesus’ identity and role. They were just as anxious for Him to set up His earthly kingdom, and they were having a difficult time understanding the apparent delay in what they believed to be the primary point of His mission.

Jesus informs His disciples about future events that will need to take place before His earthly kingdom can be established. In the days ahead, He will die, resurrect, and return to His Father’s side in heaven. And after His departure, they will long for His return.

“The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. – Luke 17:22 NLT

With the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the church age began. The kingdom of God will exist in its partial form through the lives of all those who, through placing their faith in Christ, become citizens of that kingdom. They will live their lives on earth as sojourners and strangers. But one day, Christ will return for His bride, the church. He will gather up all those are citizens of the kingdom and take them to be with Him in heaven. That will usher in the days of Tribulation – a period of great suffering and persecution on earth when the enemy will focus all his wrath on the nation of Israel. During that time, many will come to faith in Christ and even suffer martyrdom at the hands of Satan’s earthly proxy, the Antichrist. But at the end of that seven-year period of time, Jesus will return. This will be His Second Coming when He appears as the warrior-king with the armies of heaven beside Him, and He will defeat all the enemies of God and judge all those who have rejected God and His Son.

At that time, there will be two groups of people on earth: Believers and non-believers. And Jesus indicates that the destruction will be severe. But those who have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation will be spared. That is what He means when He says, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-35 ESV). People will be caught completely by surprise. They will be going about their lives, “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (Luke 17:28 ESV), and then, suddenly, the King will return.

And it will be after this apocalyptic event that Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom and rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. The sign the Pharisees were demanding was one they really didn’t want to see. The kingdom for which the disciples longed would eventually come, but not during their lifetimes. God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. And the first phase of the plan required that His Son come to earth as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT). It will be at His second advent that He comes as the Lion of Judah and conquers the enemies of God and re-establishes the rule and reign of God on earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Seeking and Saving the Lost

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”– Luke 17:11-19 ESV

At this point in his narrative, Luke reminds the reader that, despite all the recent delays and seeming distractions,  Jesus remained committed to going to Jerusalem. Up to this moment, Jesus had been in Judea, slowly making His way to His final destination. But Luke reports that, for some undisclosed reason, Jesus decided to take a detour, passing back through Samaria and all the way to its northern border with Galilee.

Luke’s placement of this real-life story at this point in his gospel account is intentional because it provides a direct link to a couple of Jesus’ parables recorded back in chapter 15. One involved a shepherd who searched for a missing sheep, while the other described a woman who diligently searched for a single lost coin.  Jesus told both of these parables in order to expose the hardened and uncaring hearts of the Pharisees. These men, who were supposed to be the spiritual shepherds of Israel, showed no compassion or concern for those whom they deemed to be sinners. The members of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and other religious sects of Israel had become an exclusive society of spiritual elitists who looked down their noses at the poor, uneducated, and less fortunate. They had even deemed Jesus and his raggamuffin band of Galilean disciples to be little more than country bumpkins who attracted a motley blend of societal rejects, moral reprobates, and religious rejects. But Jesus took every opportunity to expose these men as hypocrites whose attitudes and actions stood opposed to the divine purposes of God.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus told of a shepherd who, while leading his flock of 100 sheep through the wilderness, discovered that one had gone missing. It had somehow wandered away from the fold. At this point in the parable, Jesus posed the question: “Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 NLT). To those living in an agrarian society, the answer to this question was obvious. The shepherd would risk everything to find that one lost sheep. But notice that Jesus describes the shepherd as leaving “the ninety-nine others in the wilderness” in order to find the one missing sheep. In this parable, the 99 sheep are meant to represent the Pharisees. They believed themselves to be the select sheep of Yahweh’s flock. They were pristine, pure, and spiritually healthy. But in the story, the shepherd leaves those sheep in the wilderness and turns his sole attention on the one missing sheep. And when he finds it, he returns and announces his discovery with great fanfare and joy. But Jesus discloses the real point of His story.

“I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” – Luke 15:7 NET

This statement was meant as an unflattering slam of the Pharisees. They wrongly believed themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance. In their minds, they were already right with God and had no need of a Savior. But Jesus exposes their faulty self-assessment. In the long run, it was they who were really lost, wandering in the wilderness of their prideful self-righteousness.

The second parable Jesus told involved a woman who discovered that one of her ten Greek coins was missing. Like the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, this woman instigated a desperate search of her home in an attempt to find that one missing coin. Its recovery was important to her. And Jesus indicated that her diligent search resulted in a positive outcome, causing her to declare her joy to her neighbors and friends. Then Jesus reveals that point of His story.

“In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” – Luke 15:10 NLT

The woman turned her attention away from the nine “non-lost” coins in order to discover the whereabouts of the one that was missing. What’s fascinating about this story is that Jesus seems to describe the lost coin as the sinner who repents of his sins and returns to its rightful place. But it was the woman who sought out the coin, not the other way around. Once again, Jesus was attempting to expose the uncaring nature of the Pharisees. They failed to share God’s love for sinners because they refused to admit that they were sinners themselves. But a few chapters later in his gospel, Luke records an encounter that Jesus had with a man named Zacchaeus, whom Luke describes as “the chief tax collector in the region” (Luke 19:2 NLT). Much to the disgust of the Jews, Jesus decided to share a meal with his notorious sinner, and He would later shock the self-righteous and prideful religious leaders by announcing, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:9-10 NLT).

Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and other religious leaders, was dedicated to seeking the lost and offering them God’s unmerited gift of salvation. That was why He had come to earth in the first place. And Jesus repeatedly went out of His way to go where the sinners were. He spent His time in places like Galilee, far from the environs of Jerusalem where the religious leaders sat in the wealthy homes and enjoyed the perks that came with their privileged positions. Jesus even made forays into the region of Samaria, ministering to those whom the Jews considered little more than dogs and considered to be impure and idolatrous half-breeds.

So, that is what makes this surprising detour by Jesus so significant. He had been on His way to Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jewish religious leaders, when all of the sudden, He turned away and headed back into no-man’s land – the despised region of Samaria. Luke describes that Jesus traveled all the way to its northern border with Galilee, where He entered a village and was immediately confronted by ten men who suffered from the dreaded disease of leprosy. Notice how many men there were: Ten. How many coins did the woman in Jesus’ parable have? Ten. I don’t believe this is merely an interesting coincidence. This dramatic real-life encounter was meant to be a living illustration to Jesus’ disciples of all that He had been trying to teach them.

Upon seeing Jesus, all ten men cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV). They each shared the same common problem: leprosy. And none of them could do anything about it. As a result of this devasting and potentially deadly disease, they were social outcasts and even prevented from participating in services at the local synagogue. These men were all equally despised, rejected, and hopeless. So, in their desperation, they called out to Jesus for help. And He responded. But notice what Jesus did. Rather than immediately heal them, He gave them instructions.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” – Luke 17:14 ESV

Jesus gave them something to do. At this point, they each remain infected with the disease. Nothing has changed. But Luke reports that “as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14 ESV). They received their healing as they faithfully obeyed the command of Jesus. Even before they made it all the way to the priest, they received the mercy they had requested. But what happened next is revealing and the point of the whole story.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. – Luke 17:15 ESV

Don’t miss this. All ten of the men received healing, but only one of them returned to thank Jesus for what He had done. The other nine would have immediately recognized the miraculous change that had come over their bodies. They too would have experienced the inexpressible joy of finding themselves completely healed and whole for the first time in a long time. But only one seems to have recognized that his healing had been the work of Jesus. It almost appears as if the others believed themselves to be the source of their miraculous transformation. They had received a command and had obeyed it. It was their faithful obedience that had led to their healing – or so they must have speculated. But one man knew that he had someone to thank for his remarkable restoration. And that man just happened to be a Samaritan.

The fact that Luke points out this man’s ethnic identity is critical to the story. It seems to suggest that the other nine men were all Jews. They were card-carrying members of the Hebrew race. But not a single one of them was willing to give Jesus credit for his healing. They simply walked away.

What’s interesting to consider is that this one man, a Samaritan, had suffered a double liability. He was both a leper and a Samaritan. He was avoided for his disease and despised for his ethnic identity. And even after receiving healing from leprosy, he would remain a member of a people group whom the Jews considered sub-human and undeserving of sympathy and love.

And Jesus points out the obvious when He asks, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 NLT). Nine had received mercy but had refused to give God glory. Only one man took the effort to return and express his gratitude to Jesus and offer praise to God the Father. 

At this point, Jesus makes a fascinating statement that requires some unpacking. He responds to the Samaritan by stating, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV). The Greek word in this passage is sōzō and it conveys the idea of wholeness. What Jesus seems to be implying is that this one man received more than just healing from a disease. Each of the others had also been healed. But this one man, by returning and expressing glory to God and gratitude to Jesus, had received wholeness of life. This despised member of the Samaritan race didn’t just receive physical healing, but he was spiritually restored to a right relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In obeying the words of Jesus, the other nine men had exhibited a form of faith. But because they refused to express glory to God or gratitude to Jesus, it appears that they saw their healing as somehow their doing. They had obeyed and, as a result, they had been healed. But sadly, their physical healing was the only reward that they received. They had been healed but had not been made whole.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson