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

I Once Was Lost…

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

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

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

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. Now he was a Samaritan. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 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

The Ninety-and-Nine

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:3-7 ESV

One doesn’t have to be a theologian to notice the vast difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. All along the way in his gospel, Luke has provided a clear and compelling contrast between the itinerant Rabbi from the Nazareth and the highly educated, socially sophisticated Pharisees and scribes who ruled the roost in Jerusalem. These men viewed Jesus as an uneducated bumpkin from Galilee who had suddenly appeared on the scene performing miracles and preaching messages that declared the coming of the kingdom of God. In a very short period of time, Jesus had managed to amass a huge fan base that followed Him everywhere. And His growing popularity made the religious leaders of Israel both nervous and jealous. He was robbing them of glory by tarnishing their stellar reputation among the people. On more than one occasion, Jesus had pointed out the hypocrisy of their ways. He had labeled them as liars and called them children of the devil.

But the greatest difference between Jesus and these men can be seen in their attitude toward the poor and needy. It would be safe to say that the Pharisees and scribes had a less-than-flattering view of the less fortunate. Their concept of righteousness or what it means to be right with God was based on merit and measured by a set of external criteria. To their way of thinking, the common people were spiritually stunted and morally depraved, preventing the nation of Israel from experiencing the full blessings of Yahweh.

Yet, Jesus had shown up on the scene preaching a message of blessing that was aimed at the very people the Pharisees despised. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had shocked His audience by pronouncing a series of blessings on the “least of these.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted…” – Matthew 5:3-10 ESV

And it was Jesus’ emphasis on the down and out that rubbed the Pharisees the wrong way. They couldn’t understand His attraction to and affinity for those whom they considered the dregs of society. The Pharisees viewed these people as lead weights that were keeping the nation from experiencing the glory of God. That’s why they continually confronted Jesus about His association with “tax collectors and sinners.” And Luke brings up yet another instance when the Pharisees took exception with Jesus hanging out with the loveable losers of Israel.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 ESV

The religious leaders had deemed this class of people as unwelcome within polite society. Not only that, the Pharisees and scribes considered these unfortunate people to be spiritually unclean, their sinful lifestyles providing evidence of their moral impurity. So, they were treated as outcasts by the more pious-minded and religiously superior segment of society.

When Jesus because aware of the Pharisees’ complaint against Him, He responded with a story in the form of a parable, and it began with a rhetorical question:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? 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

Everyone in the crowd would have known the right answer to this question because there was only be one. Notice that Jesus did not refute the Pharisees’ derogatory description of the people as “sinners.” In fact, He essentially affirms that these people were “lost” and in need of rescue. To borrow from a phrase He had used earlier in His ministry, Jesus saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

In Jesus’ story, the one wandering sheep was well worth seeking. Rather than wait for the Pharisees and scribes to answer His question, Jesus reveals that the shepherd in the story did the right thing: He searched for the lost sheep until he found it. He showed compassion. He recognized that the sheep who had wandered was in danger and in need of rescue. It would be incapable of saving itself.

Because Jesus was the Living Word, He was intimately familiar with the written Word of God. He quoted from it often. And, in this case, He clearly had in mind the words that Isaiah the prophet had penned centuries earlier.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

In this passage, Isaiah describes the infinite mercy of God as revealed in the amazing gift of His Son as the atonement for the sins of mankind.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

And though humanity had knowingly and willingly wandered away, God sent His Son to seek out and save sinners.

Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

The apostle Paul describes this incredible search-and-rescue operation in staggering terms:

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And in Jesus’ story, the shepherd returns with his rescued sheep, declaring his extreme joy at having saved even one that had wandered. And he invites his friends and neighbors to join in the celebration.

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” – Luke 15:6 NLT

Whether the Pharisees and scribes realized it or not, they are portrayed in Jesus’ story, but not in flattering terms. They are represented by the 99 other sheep whom the shepherd left behind when he went in search of the one who was lost. In the story, the shepherd leaves the 99 in the “open country” or wilderness. The word Jesus used is very specific and reveals that He is attempting to make a serious and sobering point about His enemies, the Pharisees. The Greek word is erēmos, and it can best be translated as desert or wilderness. It describes a lonely and uninhabited place.

Jesus was indicting the very men who had questioned His poor choice of friends. And He compares them to the 99 who got left behind. But why did Jesus use this analogy to expose the true nature of the religious leaders? He provides some helpful insight in verse 7.

“…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:7 ESV

Jesus uses irony to make His point. The 99 serves as a symbol for all those who consider themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance. They are the self-righteous and piously prideful spiritual leaders of Israel. The New Living Translation records verse 7 this way:

“…there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! – Luke 15:7 NLT

This brings to mind another familiar parable that Jesus told and it is located just a few verses after this one in Luke 15. It is typically referred to as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But one of the main characters in the parable who typically gets overlooked is the older brother who “stayed behind” while the younger brother sowed his oats and squandered his inheritance. When the younger brother came back, financially broke and emotionally broken, the father threw a lavish party to celebrate his return. But the older brother became angry and complained to his father.

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” – Luke 15:29 ESV

Because of the context, we know that Jesus is using the older brother to further expose the hypocrisy and pride of the Pharisees. They are the 99 who stayed behind and never strayed. They are the rule-keeping older brother who stayed behind and never disobeyed a single command his father gave him. In both cases, the 99 and the older brother are those who refuse to acknowledge their own sin and their need for a Savior. They believe themselves to be righteous and in no need of a Savior. But as Jesus so aptly put it, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Luke 5:31 NLT).

Jesus knew the Pharisees would never acknowledge their “lostness.” They had no need to be found because they had never wandered away. They were the faithful, obedient older brother who had stuck by God’s side through thick and thin. They were the compliant sheep who remained in the “pasture” of their own piety, oblivious to the fact that they were actually in the “desert” of their own sin.

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

Timeless Tips On Social Etiquette

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:7-14 ESV

Jesus is attending a dinner party hosted by a ruler of the Pharisees. The dinner just happened to be scheduled for the Sabbath and it just happened that a man who suffered from dropsy was also on the invitation list. That the host of the party invited a ceremonially unclean man into his home on the Sabbath seems a bit odd, and gives the appearance that the whole affair was a setup. The dinner invite was simply another attempt by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus. They were hoping Jesus would violate the Sabbath laws by healing the man, and He did not disappoint. But before performing the miracle, Jesus asked the host and his fellow Pharisees to give their legal opinion on the matter.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” – Luke 14:3 ESV

When they refused to answer His question, Jesus revealed His own opinion on the matter by graciously delivering the man from his dreaded disease. Then, after sending the man away, Jesus turned His attention to the other guests who had also received invitations to the dinner. Luke makes it clear that the room was filled with “lawyers and Pharisees” (Luke 14:3 ESV), who had been invited for the sole purpose of serving as “expert” witnesses when Jesus inevitably broke the laws concerning performing work on the Sabbath. Jesus had knowingly given these men the evidence for which they had been looking. But as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), Jesus viewed His actions as perfectly acceptable and commendable to God. He was operating according to His Father’s will, and simply emulating His Father’s heart.

“…the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 NLT

“…my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” – John 5:30 NLT

Jesus was walking in step with His Heavenly Father. But the same could not be said for the religious leaders who reclined around the table that day. The meal they were sharing with Jesus was about the only point of commonality between them and the Lord of the Sabbath. He was holy, righteous, and in complete alignment with God, while they were marked by hypocrisy, legalism, and stood in direct opposition to the very One whom God had sent.

On an earlier occasion in His ministry, Jesus had been the guest at another meal, this time in the home of Matthew, a notorious tax collector. “But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with such scum?’” (Luke 5:30 NLT). To which Jesus had responded, “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).

Jesus had chosen to share a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors because they were just the kind of people He had come to save. In fact, Jesus had just called Matthew to be one of His disciples. The only difference between Matthew and the Pharisees who considered him to be scum was the fact that Matthew recognized his sinful state and his desperate need for a Savior. The Pharisees had an overinflated sense of their own spiritual superiority. They looked down on people like Matthew and found Jesus’ decision to associate with him to be evidence of either a lack of discernment or proof of His own sinfulness.

But Jesus was always a step ahead of His enemies. He knew that His healing of the man with dropsy had given them the proof for which they had been looking. But rather than panic and room from the room, Jesus told them a parable. He took advantage of the opportunity to teach His disciples a much-needed lesson in social etiquette. But this was meant to be more than a primer on proper behavior. It was designed to expose the hearts of His accusers. Jesus wanted His disciples to stop admiring the Pharisees and see them for who they really were: egotistical and self-centered social climbers who loved the praises of men more than they cared about pleasing God.

Jesus used the setting of a wedding feast to convey an important lesson regarding pride and humility. Knowing the predisposition of His audience, Jesus warned against seeking the seat of honor at a wedding feast. Doing so, uninvited, could result in embarrassment. Someone who would arrogantly and presumptuously occupy the seat of honor might find themselves publicly humiliated when the host of the feast forced them to give up their seat to a more worthy guest. According to Jesus, humility would be a far better strategy.

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.” – Luke 14:10 NLT

And Jesus explains why this strategy made more sense.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11 NLT

Like all parables, this simple story had a much more profound lesson contained within it. Jesus was dealing with far more than socially acceptable behavior at a wedding. He was exposing the stubborn refusal of the Pharisees to acknowledge their sin and their need for a Savior. Their pride and arrogance had resulted in an attitude of spiritual superiority. They considered themselves to be the religious elite of Israel, fully deserving of God’s favor and guaranteed a place in His future kingdom. But, according to Jesus, the only fate they could count would be far different than what they expected.

“I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 NLT

Everyone in the room that day had been jockeying for position. They all wanted to be seen as the most important person in the room. But Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that, in the kingdom, humility was the key to exaltation. And this was a lesson He had been trying to convey to them ever since He delivered His sermon on the mount.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.” – Matthew 5:3-5 NLT

On that occasion, Jesus had gone on to warn His audience, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). The kind of righteousness God was looking for was not performance-based and regulated by strict adherence to some set of moral standards. It began in the heart. And it was based on a humble acknowledgment of one’s sin and the need for a righteousness that was impossible to self-produce.

The actions of the Pharisees were nothing more than attempts at behavior modification. But all their efforts to appear righteous were no more effective than someone who whitewashed a tomb. Despite the outer display of purity, the inside would still be full of death and decay. No attempt at self-manufactured righteousness was going to be enough to earn entrance into God’s Kingdom.

Next, Jesus turned His attention to His host, the ruler of the Pharisees who had put together this sham dinner party. And Jesus gave him a bit of friendly advice designed to expose the true intentions of his heart.

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. – Luke 14:12 NLT

This man was a social climber who was always thinking about his status in society. He did nothing out of humility or selflessness. Even his dinner invitations were carefully calculated to enhance his standing within the community. Everything he did was based on its ROI (return on investment). His modus operandi was purely selfish and motivated by greed, not goodness. But Jesus was wired differently. He viewed life as an opportunity to give Himself away. That’s why He said of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). And Jesus told this man that a life of humility, service, and sacrifice would be far more rewarding in the long run.

“Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” – Luke 14:13-14 NLT

Once again, this simple message was one the disciples had heard Jesus deliver during His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 NLT

But as will become readily apparent, Jesus’ message would go over the heads of His audience. They would fail to hear what He had to say. The Pharisees and scribes were so motivated by pride and arrogance, that the words of this humble Rabbi from Nazareth would escape them.

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

No Love For God or Others

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. – Luke 14:1-6 ESV

Luke has already established that there was a great divide between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel, particularly the Pharisees. They viewed Jesus with disdain and distrust, having determined that He was a danger to their way of life. From their viewpoint, the teaching of Jesus was divisive, encouraging the people to question the status quo. His seemingly radical views regarding the law were undermining their authority and damaging the carefully crafted reputations of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These men had fooled the people into believing that they were spiritually superior, having painstakingly kept every letter of the law. But Jesus had exposed them as hypocrites and fools.

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” – Luke 11:39-40 ESV

They were all about appearances. Everything they did was meant to give the impression that they were faithful adherents to the law and, therefore, righteous before God and man. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of righteousness because He knew the true condition of their hearts. And He repeatedly exposed them for what they were.

“…you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God.” – Luke 11:42 NLT

“…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

“…you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.” – Luke 11:44 NLT

“…you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. – Luke 11:46 NLT

And these stinging indictments from Jesus infuriated these prideful and arrogant men, intensifying their hostility toward Him and prompting them to come up with plan for His elimination.

As Jesus was leaving, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT

Jesus had done little to win over these powerful and influential religious leaders. In fact, He had consistently exposed them as enemies of God, even describing them as the sons of Satan.

“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!” – John 8:44-45 NLT

And, much to their chagrin and anger, Jesus went on to declare that they were not even children of God.  “You don’t belong to God,” he told them (John 8:47 NLT). Not only that, they had no place in the kingdom of God.

“…you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” – Luke 11:52 NLT

And yet, even after all this, Luke describes Jesus accepting an invitation to dine in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. At first glance, this seems like a rather strange decision for Jesus to make. Luke even admits that the Pharisees, “were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1 ESV). In a sense, these men didn’t want to let Jesus out of their sight. In their effort to expose Jesus as a fraud and a violator of the law, they maintained a close watch over His every move. And it would seem that this dinner engagement was arranged to take place on the Sabbath, in the hopes that Jesus would once again break one of the many laws the Pharisees and their cohorts had made to regulate that holy day.

This whole dinner was a well-orchestrated set-up and Jesus saw through it. On seven separate occasions, Jesus had violated their Sabbath laws. Luke chapter 4 contains the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. That very same day, He had chosen to heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Luke chapter 6 records another occasion when Jesus healed someone of the Sabbath – in the synagogue. This time, it was a man who suffered from a withered hand. And in the audience that day were scribes and Pharisees who “watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And when Jesus healed the man, “they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV).

Time and time again, Jesus had purposefully chosen to violate their Sabbath laws. At one point, He even declared, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5 ESV). He knew that the Pharisees and scribes found His actions to be unacceptable and appalling. They viewed Him as a law-breaker who treated their sacrosanct religious regulations with disdain. But Jesus wanted them to wrestle with the letter of the law. He wanted them to understand God’s intentions when He gave them the law.

“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 NLT

For the Pharisees, the rules and regulations took precedence. They had made strict adherence to the law the end game. But, as the Son of God, Jesus knew that His Father’s real intentions for the law were about regulating man’s love for God and love for others. That’s why, when Jesus was asked to list the greatest of the commandments, He stated, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT).

The Pharisees were missing the point. Their love of law-keeping had long ago replaced their love for God and others. And the very fact that this ruler of the Pharisees had invited a man with dropsy to his dinner reveals the sad state of his heart. Most likely, this man suffered from edema, a painful condition that caused the accumulation of fluid in the body tissue or the body cavities. Luke seems to indicate that the man was little more than a prop, a predetermined tool of the Pharisee designed to set Jesus up. Luke states, “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy” (Luke 14:2 ESV). Seemingly out of nowhere, this man showed up. And the fact that he was at the party should send up red flags. The Pharisee would have viewed this man’s condition as the result of immorality. So, it would have been very uncharacteristic for this well-respected Pharisee to invite an obvious sinner into his home on the Sabbath – unless he had an ulterior motive. And Jesus seems to have seen through the Pharisee’s intentions. He raises the very same question he had asked in the synagogue just before He healed the man with the withered hand.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” – Luke 14:3 ESV

He addressed this question to the ruler of the Pharisees and his esteemed guests, who were also Pharisees and scribes. These men were supposed to be the experts when it came to religious law, so Jesus asked them to deliver their outlook on the matter. But they remained silent. They were smart enough to know that this was a trick question. If they answered, anything they said could and would be used against them.

Since they refused to answer Jesus’ question, He took the liberty of healing the man and sending him on his way. And then Jesus turned to His host but addressed His question to everyone in the room.

Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” – Luke 14:5 ESV

Jesus puts them on the spot by making the situation more practical and personal. If any of these men had a son who had fallen into a well on the Sabbath, they would do whatever it took to rescue him. They would even do the same thing for a beast of burden. And yet, they had probably become enraged when Jesus healed the man with dropsy. In their minds, the man had no value. He was of little worth because he was a sinner. They wrongly believed that he suffered from his debilitating disease because he had committed some egregious and unforgivable sin. In fact, he had probably violated one of God’s commandments.

But the question Jesus posed to his dinner companions was intended to expose their ignorance of God’s laws. Even Moses had recorded the heart behind the law when he wrote:

“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help. – Exodus 23:4-5 NLT

Jesus knew that the Pharisees despised the man He had just healed. They saw him as the enemy. They hated him because they viewed him as a sinner and a violator of their precious laws. And they were unwilling to do anything that might make this man’s life remotely easier and more bearable. In fact, Jesus would later indict them for their hypocritical adherence to the law while ignoring the plight of those for whom the law was intended to help.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

The Pharisees were at a loss as to how to respond to Jesus’ question. So, they refused to answer and their silence condemned them. They had just demonstrated that they had no love for God because they showed no love for those whom God had made. Their disdain for the man with dropsy was only exceeded by their disgust for the one who had just healed him. They continued to see Jesus as a lawbreaker and troublemaker. And, in their minds, the man who had just experienced healing remained just as guilty and worthy of condemnation as before. The miraculous change in his physical health had done nothing to alter his spiritual condition. Or so they thought. They just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and that He had come to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19 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

You Fools!

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. – Luke 11:37-54 ESV

There was no love affair between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. These men found the actions of this Rabbi from Nazareth to be perplexing and irritating. He had burst onto the scene, virtually out of nowhere, capturing the attention and the hearts of the people. From the wilderness of Judea to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this itinerant Rabbi had regularly drawn huge crowds who gathered to hear Him teach and watch Him perform miracles.

And everywhere Jesus went, a contingent of scribes and Pharisees shadowed His every move. They had been commissioned by their superiors on the Jewish high council, the Sanhedrin, and tasked with finding evidence that would convict Jesus of a crime worthy of death. The high priest and his companions on the council had already determined that Jesus was a threat to their authority and needed to be eliminated at all costs.

And, as we have seen, these so-called spiritual leaders of Israel had stooped so low that they had been dessiminating libelous rumors about Jesus. One of the worst was their accusation that He cast out demons by the power of Satan. They had no proof to support their claim, and as Jesus so clearly revealed, it was an illogical assertion that made no sense. If anything, Jesus’ authority over demons provided irrefutable evidence that He had been sent by God. But the religious leaders were not interested in facts. They were obsessed with exposing Jesus as a fraud and labeling Him as a danger to the nation. They had even taken to demanding that He perform some kind of sign that would prove His claim to be the Messiah. If He really was the long-awaited Savior of Israel, He was going to have to do more than heal the sick and cast out demons. To the Pharisees and scribes those were nothing more than parlor tricks. If He wanted to convince them of His Messiahship, He was going to have to do something truly spectacular that would be in keeping with the predictions of the prophets. In other words, Jesus was going to have to show that He could set the nation of Israel free from its subjugation to Rome.

Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without being shadowed by these disingenuous and deceitful men. Their modus operandi was to destroy Jesus, yet they continually tried to act as if they were sincere disciples who were seeking to learn more. On this occasion, one of the Pharisees extended an invitation to Jesus and His disciples to join him for dinner in his home. Interestingly enough, Jesus accepted. And it seems that Jesus knew that this innocent-looking event was all a set-up. Fully aware of His host’s intentions, Jesus purposefully neglected to perform “the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom” (Luke 11:38 NLT). Jesus knew He was in the home of a law-abiding Pharisee and yet He chose to sit down to a meal without having first ceremonially purified His hands. And Luke records that “The Pharisee was astonished” (Luke 11:38 ESV).

Sensing His host’s surprise at this egregious breach of protocol, Jesus used the opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

“You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness.” – Luke 11:39 NLT

It’s likely that this man had faithfully adhered to the hand-washing mandate, and his astonishment stemmed from Jesus’ blatant disregard for their religious customs. But before he could get too worked up over his own display of spiritual superiority, the Pharisee had his pride deflated by Jesus’ harsh-sounding words. Even the disciples must have felt uncomfortable listening to this exchange between Jesus and their host.

But Jesus was simply exposing the hypocrisy of His self-righteous critics. This Pharisee, like all his companions, was guilty of conflating religious rule-keeping with righteousness. They were obsessed with outward adherence to a set of rules, while neglecting the inner condition of their own hearts. That’s why Jesus reminded this man, “But give as alms the things that are within you, and you will see that everything is clean for you” (Luke 11:41 BSB).

Jesus was reminding this man that true cleanliness was a matter of the heart. Outward adherence to laws and regulations meant nothing if the inner disposition of the heart remained unchanged and unmoved. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said:

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

This is the very same message Jesus had conveyed in His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4 NLT

And the apostle Paul would later pick up on this same theme.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:3 NLT

This self-righteous Pharisee viewed himself as somehow superior to Jesus and His disciples because he had washed his hands. But because he lacked love for others, he was actually filled with greed and wickedness. His outward observance of ceremonial laws may have fooled others, but it had not fooled Jesus.

At this point in Luke’s account, he portrays Jesus as amping up His rhetoric in an unabashed attack on these so-called religious leaders. As Jesus prepares to follow His Father’s will and head to the cross, He goes out of His way to expose the truth about His enemies. But His words are not intended to be a vindictive attack on those who disagree with Him. He is simply pulling aside the veil and revealing the long-hidden truth regarding these men. They are not what they seem to be. And, before He leaves this earth, Jesus wants to ensure that His disciples understood what true religion should look like.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27 ESV

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1:They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. Since they believed that entrance into the Kingdom was based on the keeping of the law, they ended up nitpicking the law to death. Jesus accused them of being meticulously observant of laws concerning the tithing of fruit, grain, and other produce – to the point of absurdity. But in doing so, they conveniently overlooked the more important commandments concerning justice, mercy, and faith.

Woe #2: These men were all about appearances. They lived to impress and were addicted to the praise of men. As long as they looked good, they believed they were good. External appearances and outward behavior were the criteria by which they judged a man’s righteousness, but God looks at the condition of the heart. Matthew records another stinging indictment that Jesus delivered against these men.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’” – Matthew 23:5-7 NLT

There were all about being recognized for their outward displays of righteousness. They wanted to be noticed and revered. They were more concerned about the praise of men than they were with the approval of God.

Woe #3: Whether they realized it or not, their actions were deceptive and highly destructive. Jesus accuses them of being like “hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on” (Luke 11:44 NLT). The true nature of their spiritual state was invisible to those around them. They had successfully disguised their inner moral decay. But anyone who came into contact with them was deemed impure by association.

“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

At this point, Luke reveals that there were other religious leaders in the room. A scribe or lawyer interrupts Jesus’ diatribe, stating, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also” (Luke 11:45 ESV). This expert in religious law wanted everyone to know that he had been personally offended by Jesus’ words. But this man would regret having spoken up because he became the focus of Jesus’ attention.

Woe #4: As an expert in the law, this man could parse all the particulars concerning the Mosaic law and meticulously hold everyone accountable to every minute detail found in the law. But he cared nothing for those who were burdened by their inability to live up to this impossible standard.

“…you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. – Luke 11:46 NLT

They were legalists who lacked love for others. In fact, they loved the law more than they loved those for whom God had given the law. They cared more about adherence to a set of rules than they did about those who were burdened down by those rules.

Woe #5: In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn, and resistant to God. The Israelites had built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets of God but had failed to listen to their words of warning. In fact, they had killed many of them. And Jesus made it clear that the religious leaders of Israel had done the same thing in His day. They had rejected the most recent prophet of God: John the Baptist. And in just a matter of days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death.

Woe #6: These men had refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God. But their stubborn denial of His identity as the Messiah of Israel had influenced others to reject Him as well. They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY WERE DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led them to become stumbling blocks.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” – Luke 17:1-2 NET

These men DID NOT represent the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy workarounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing to acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on the praise of men, rather than that of God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many mainstream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replace love for God and others. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy – when what we say we believe fails to impact the way we behave. When we love the praise of man more than pleasing 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

A Sign of Things To Come

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV

Some in the crowd had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others “to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16 ESV). It is to this second group that Jesus now turns His attention. Both Matthew and Mark include their own descriptions of the same or a similar incident where Jesus addressed the peoples’ demands for a sign. And it would appear that their insistence that Jesus do some significantly spectacular sign to prove His identity was also the brainchild of the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” – Matthew 12:38 ESV

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. – Mark 8:11 ESV

Their demand was very specific. They wanted a sign from heaven. These men had stood back and watched as Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. And, in an attempt to repudiate those miracles, they had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. So, it seems unlikely that they are requesting Jesus to perform another miracle. The Greek word translated as “sign” is sēmeion, and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than healing the blind or casting out demons. After all, there were others who claimed to perform miracles and even the Jews practiced exorcism.

No, it seems that they were asking Jesus to do the truly impossible. If Jesus He was divine, as He so claimed, then He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, such as predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction. But the motivation behind their request was evil to its core. They knew what the law said regarding anyone prophesied falsely in the name of God.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

Simply put, they were in search of an excuse to put Jesus to death. But He saw through their ploy and responded to their request with a stinging indictment.

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. – Luke 11:29 ESV

Jesus knew the intentions behind this request. The hearts of those demanding that He do some kind of miraculous sign were wicked and unbelieving. He knew that no matter what He did, they would refuse to believe. So, not only did Jesus refuse their request for a prophetic pronouncement, but instead, He announced a sign of coming judgment.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” – Luke 11:30 ESV

The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to those in the crowd. They would have made the connection concerning Jonah’s influence over the Gentile city of Nineveh. After refusing to obey God’s command to deliver His message of repentance to the Assyrian capital, Jonah was reprimanded and then rescued by God. Jonah attempted to run from his divine commission but ended up being swallowed by a great fish. This life-threatening incident ended up getting Jonah’s attention, convincing him to follow through on his God-given assignment. And the result was a miraculous revival among the pagan Ninevites. The entire city repented of their sins and worshiped Yahweh.

Jesus infers that Jonah, the reluctant messenger, because a sign to the people of Nineveh. He had spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish but then had been “resurrected” so that he might deliver God’s message of judgment and His call to repentance. Jesus is predicting His own 3-day-long interment in a tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” – Luke 11: 32 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse His offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the future judgment, the repentant people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the unrepentant Jews. Jesus predicts that the Jews will refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by His coming death on the cross.

And then, Jesus adds another claim of superiority to His growing list.

something greater than Jonah is here – Luke  12:32 ESV

Jonah was a prophet of God and the only one who had been sent by God to the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees would have related well to Jonah’s initial reluctance to take God’s message of repentance to non-Jews. The story of Jonah attempting to get out of this undesirable assignment would have resonated with them. Now, here was Jesus was claiming to be superior to Jonah.  But, in reality, Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to have precedence over the stories of Scripture because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah was just a man, and yet he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedient servant, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus was actually fulfilling their request. He was giving them “a sign by which anything future is pre-announced/.” He was predicting His own death, burial, and resurrection. And He was letting them know that all who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus also predicted that when that sign appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe it. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

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

Lord of the Sabbath

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:1-11 ESV

Repressive and restrictive rules and regulations had become the mainstay of the prevailing religious system of the Jews, and its gatekeepers were the scribes and Pharisees who were closely evaluating the actions of Jesus. To these men, Jesus was a loose cannon, a renegade Rabbi from the small town of Nazareth who was teaching heresy and guilty of blasphemy. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker but they were slowly gathering evidence that would prove His blatant disregard for their laws and His unacceptable association with moral reprobates and social outcasts. In their minds, Jesus was a troublemaker who refused to follow the rules and was leading the common people astray with His blasphemous offers of forgiveness for sins and the tantalizing promise of a coming kingdom.

The religious leaders had already confronted Jesus about His choice of dinner companions.

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” – Luke 5:30 ESV

They deemed Jesus as a poor judge of character. He willingly associated with the dregs of society, the very sinners who the religious leaders believed were preventing Israel from experiencing the full blessings of God. And His disciples were no better. These men were, for the most part, nothing but uneducated Galilean fishermen who were gluttonous and ignorant of the laws concerning prayer and fasting. And they had been more than willing to point out this apparent flaw in Jesus’ followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

But what these men failed to realize was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not subject to their manmade laws and decrees. As the Creator-God, He had authority over all things. The apostle John described the basis for Jesus’ exemption from the Pharisees’ repressive rules.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

And the apostle Paul would go on to explain the overarching nature of Jesus’ divine authority over everyone and everything.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

But as Jesus walked the earth, He appeared to these religious leaders as nothing more than a man who was violating their precious precepts and encouraging the uneducated peasants to do the same. He was threatening their way of life by diminishing their control over the people. Without rules, society would devolve into anarchy and chaos. These men had made a god out of the Mosaic Law. The righteous rules and regulations prescribed by God and handed down by Moses had become more important than the Law-Giver. Their strict adherence to the law had replaced their affection for God. And Jesus would later declare these very same men to be nothing more than pious-looking pretenders whose religious zeal was misplaced and whose love for God had been replaced by their lust for power and control.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

At the heart of their monolithic legal system was the Sabbath and the seemingly endless list of rules they had developed to regulate its observance. So, it was not long before Jesus found Himself at odds with the religious leaders over His lack of protocol concerning this holy day. Luke records that Jesus and His disciples were making their way through a field of grain on the Sabbath. As they did so, “his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1 ESV). According to Deuteronomy 23:25, the Mosaic Law provided a waiver that allowed anyone to pluck grain by hand.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand… – Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV

But as Luke reveals, the disciples were being watched by the Pharisees, who immediately deemed their actions as a violation of their laws concerning the Sabbath. According to their strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the disciples were guilty of harvesting, reaping, and meal preparation, which were all prohibited on the Sabbath. With legalistic zeal, they immediately confronted Jesus and His disciples, pointing out their seeming disregard for the Law.

“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” – Luke 6:3 ESV

Rather than explain the actions of His disciples, Jesus took these men to the Scriptures. He reminded them of a story involving the great king, David. The book of 1st Samuel records an incident in which David ate bread that had been dedicated to the Lord. David was the anointed king of Israel, but he and his men were on the run from the current occupant of the throne: King Saul. When they arrived at Nob, David convinced the priest to give his men the bread of the Presence, holy bread that was unlawful for them to eat. In doing so, David violated the ceremonial law but because he was the Lord’s anointed, his actions did not violate God’s moral law. Human need took precedence over the ceremonial law. Jesus would later use this same logic to justify His healing of a man on the Sabbath. He would ask the Pharisees, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” (Luke 14:5 NLT).

The Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ question because to do so would have shot a hole in the logic behind their entire legal system. They cared more for their rules than they did for the people for whom they were responsible to God. And Jesus was not about to follow their lead.

According to Jesus, what David did was acceptable to God and, therefore, the behavior of His disciples was as well. Then He added a statement that must have left the Pharisees apoplectic with rage.

“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:5 ESV

Jesus was clearly stating His divinity and authority. He was declaring His divine right to authorize the behavior of His disciples –even if it violated the Sabbath law – which it did not. As God, Jesus was the author of the Law, and He had not come to abolish or violate the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Luke follows up this story with a second occasion in which the Pharisees confront Jesus for His violation of Sabbath law. This time it involves Jesus’ decision to heal on the Sabbath, thereby doing “work” and willingly breaking the law. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on the Sabbath and in the local synagogue. And Jesus was fully aware that the entire scene was a setup, knowing that the Pharisees were waiting “to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And He did not disappoint them. Jesus purposefully called forward a man who had a withered hand and had him stand in front of the congregation gathered in the synagogue. In a sense, this man became a prop in Jesus’ lesson on the Sabbath law. With the man standing in front of Him, Jesus directed a question at the Pharisees and scribes:

“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 ESV

There was no response. The religious leaders knew that they were caught between a rock and a hard place. If they said it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath, they would come across as uncaring and unloving. If they answered in the affirmative, they would be validating the behavior of Jesus. So, they remained silent.

Luke records that Jesus looked at each of them, waiting for a response. This delay must have felt like an eternity to these men, as all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on them. But Jesus finally broke the silence by turning His attention to the man with the withered hand and stating, “Stretch out your hand” (Luke 6:10 ESV). And as soon as the man complied, his hand was immediately and miraculously restored.

But rather than responding with awe and amazement at Jesus’ supernatural display of power, the religious leaders became incensed. Luke reports that they “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV). They had just witnessed living proof that Jesus was indeed Lord of the Sabbath, but they were furious because Jesus had made them look like fools. He had made a mockery of their ceremonial laws and further enhanced His reputation among the people – and all at their expense.

Jesus had displayed His power and authority over disease, demons, and even the Sabbath. But the religious leaders were convinced that He was a menace to society who showed them no respect and had no regard for their sacred traditions. By the time they made their way back to Jerusalem with the latest reports of Jesus’ exploits, their superiors would have already made their decision to eliminate this growing threat to the nation.

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

I Am Doing a New Thing

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinåners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:27-38 ESV

Jesus’ healing of the paralytic amazed all those who witnessed it. Even the scribes and Pharisees who had come to Capernaum to investigate this trouble-making Rabbi were amazed at what they saw. But they were also infuriated by Jesus’ blatant display of blasphemy. By claiming to have the power and authority to forgive sins, Jesus was clearly placing Himself on equal standing with Jehovah. And despite His miraculous healing of the paralyzed man, the religious leaders found Jesus’ actions unconvincing and His words, unacceptable.

And it wasn’t long before these men had more evidence of Jesus’ unorthodox and unacceptable behavior. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the house where He had healed the paralytic and made His way to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He began to teach the people who had gathered to hear Him. When finished, He made His way back into town but made an unexpected stop at the business of a man named Levi (Matthew), who was a tax collector or publican. Levi would have been a prominent member of Capernaum society but would have been despised by his fellow townspeople. He was essentially an employee of the Roman government, who received a commission for collecting taxes from his own people. And it was not uncommon for publicans to use their position and the threat of Roman force to exact surcharges that they used to line their own pockets. As a result, these men were viewed as traitors by their own people and treated as the worst of sinners. He would have been considered a social outcast in Capernaum. So, when Jesus made an unscheduled stop at Levi’s booth, the people would have found His actions shocking. To make matters worse, Jesus invited this man to become one of His disciples, and to the peoples’ surprise, Levi accepted.

To celebrate his inclusion in Jesus’ company, Levi threw a party at his house. And Luke records that “there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:29 ESV). Matthew and Mark are much more specific, describing the “others” as sinners. And right in the middle of this collection of disreputable and despised moral outcasts were Jesus and His disciples. Because of His popularity, it was virtually impossible for Jesus to do anything without being seen, and this particular incident did not escape the notice of the ever-present crowd. Everywhere Jesus went, a throng of people gathered to see and hear Him, and this occasion was no different. And among those who stood outside Levi’s home were the scribes and Pharisees, who looked on with self-righteous indignation as Jesus and His disciples ate with “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10 NLT).

Somehow these men were able to get word to Jesus’ disciples, asking them, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30 ESV). This question was meant to shame the followers of Jesus, raising doubts about their spiritual discernment. As good Jews, they should have known better than to associate with people of such low moral standing. To the religious leaders, Levi and his guests were considered ceremonially unclean and, as a Rabbi, Jesus should have known that He risked moral contamination just by associating with them.

But when Jesus heard the question raised by the religious leaders, He responded with a proverbial statement that must have left them scratching their heads in confusion.

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

Jesus was reclining at a table in the house of a notorious tax collector, sharing a meal with people who were considered the worst of sinners. But to Jesus, they were no different than the self-righteous religious leaders who were displaying their unwarranted pride and hate-fueled prejudice. Both groups were made up of sinners in need of a Savior. But the scribes and Pharisees refused to acknowledge their own insufficiencies. They deemed themselves as spiritually superior and morally pure because they were strict adherents to the Mosaic Law. But as Matthew records, Jesus saw through their facade of religious legalism and rule-keeping. Quoting from the prophet Hosea, Jesus challenged them to display the true fruit of righteousness.

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

Jesus was echoing the words of John the Baptist, spoken to the scribes and Pharisees who had come to the wilderness to watch him baptize.

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. 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

These men were convinced that their status as God’s chosen people was secure because they were good Jews and law-abiding members of the religious elite of Israel. But both John the Baptist and Jesus pointed out that their rule-keeping was not enough. They were going to have to acknowledge their sinfulness and recognize their need for a Savior. And later on in his gospel, Luke records another encounter between Jesus and another tax collector, a man named Zacheus. Jesus would issue a call to Zacheus as well and share a meal in his home. Then He would pronounce the miracle behind Zacheus’ life-altering transformation.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 NLT

But the religious leaders remained unconvinced and unconvicted by Jesus’ comments. In fact, they simply change the subject, accusing He and His disciples of failing to live up to the standard set by John the Baptist and his followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

Their emphasis is on religious rule-keeping. There was only one official day of fasting required by the Mosaic Law and that was on the Day of Atonement. But over the years, the religious leaders of Israel had expanded the number of fast days, creating another layer of religious observance that allowed them to publicly display their righteousness before men. Jesus exposed this self-righteous hypocrisy in His sermon on the mount.

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus don’t follow their example by keeping the prescribed fast days. But Jesus responds by using a series of analogies to illustrate the absurdity of their point. The guests at a wedding feast would not be expected to fast at the celebration of a wedding feast. That would be unacceptable behavior and considered offensive by the bridegroom and his family. There was a proper time for fasting and feasting. But these men failed to recognize the difference. Next, Jesus compares their methodology to using a new piece of cloth to patch a tear in an old garment. When washed, the new cloth will shrink, causing even more damage to the garment. And no one would ever consider putting new, unfermented wine in an old wineskin because as the fermentation process took place, the rapidly expanding gases would burst the old skin and waste the wine.

These men were addicted to the old ways. They were living in the past and attempting to gain favor with God by keeping the law. But Jesus had come to offer something new. As the apostle Paul would later point out, God had a different plan for redeeming sinful mankind.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of placing their hope in human effort. They were convinced that their self-righteous acts would gain them favor with God. But Jesus wanted them to know that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They were sick and desperately in need of a physician. But these men considered their way to be the preferred way. The old was better than the new. In Jesus, they saw a threat to their accepted way of life. He was throwing a wrench into the carefully crafted machinery of Judaism that they had come to know and love. In a sense, Jesus was fulfilling the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:18-19 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

Exposed and Condemned

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:35-40 ESV

Up until this point, it has been the Jewish religious leaders who have been asking all the questions, but now Jesus turns the tables on them. In verse 34, Mark indicated that, as a result of their three failed attempts to entrap Jesus, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” They simply gave up. But they didn’t go away.

As Jesus continued to teach in the temple, He posed a question of His own. Matthew indicates that He directed it at a group of Pharisees standing nearby. This was probably the same group who had shown up with the scribe who asked Him which was the greatest commandment. These men are still standing close enough to hearJesus but are most likely plotting their next move against Him. They have completed discounted any notion that Jesus might be the Messiah. This fact is important because it sheds light on the question that Jesus poses.

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? – Mark 12:35 ESV

It’s interesting to note that the three gospel writers who cover this event each word Jesus’ question slightly differently. Matthew reports that Jesus directed His question at the Pharisees, asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 23:42 ESV). And Luke has Jesus asking, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son?” (Luke 20″41 ESV). It seems likely that this was a series of questions that Jesus posed. First, He asked the Pharisees what they believed about the Messiah or Christ. After all, these men were the religious conservatives of their day and were supposed to be highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures.

According to Matthew, these men quickly responded, declaring that the Christ would be “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42 ESV). Jesus then asked the Pharisees to explain how the scribes, the experts in the Mosaic law, would justify their belief that the Christ would be the son of David. All of these men were supposed to have a strong grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures and they shared a common belief that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. But how would they justify it from God’s Word? One of the passages they would use was 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which records a promise that God had made to King David.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

While this promise was fulfilled in part with the birth of Solomon, the Jews believed it had longer-term implications that would ultimately come about through the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Keep in mind that Jesus has already publicly shamed these men, declaring them to be ignorant of God’s Word and strangers to the power of God.

“…you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Mark 12:24 NLT

Their understanding that the Messiah would be a descendant of David was what drove their expectation that He would be a powerful king and ruler just like His predecessor. They were fully expecting the Messiah to arrive on the scene and wield a sword just as David had, conquering the enemies of Israel and restoring the people of God to their former position of prominence in the Middle East.

But Jesus turns to the Old Testament Scriptures in order to teach a vital truth regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the opening verse of Psalm 110, a psalm written by King David himself.

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Psalm 110:1 ESV

Through His ongoing confrontations with the religious leaders, Jesus has been subtly revealing the justification for HIs authority. This whole situation had begun when the chief priests, scribes, and elders confronted Him over His unacceptable behavior in cleansing the temple. They demanded to know, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28 NLT). And in every subsequent conversation Jesus had with these men, He had gave them glimpses of who He was by revealing His knowledge of God’s Word and declaring Himself to be “The stone that the builders rejected” (Mark 12:10 ESV). Through use of a parable, Jesus had described Himself as the son of the master of the vineyard. And the Pharisees had fully understood His meaning,

But here, Jesus uses the words of King David to make an important point about the Messiah that these learned men had somehow missed in all of their studies of the Scriptures.

Jesus notes that, in the psalm, David refers to his coming descendant as “my Lord.” In Hebrew the text reads, “Jehovah has said to my Lord (‘adown).” In other words, David records that God had spoken a promise to his future descendant. But Jesus wants to know why David would call this man his “Lord” or Adonai, one of the most common names in the Old Testament Scriptures used to refer to God Himself.  So, Jesus wants to know why David used this particular word to refer to a man. And why would God offer a mere man a position of prominence at His side?

Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” – Mark 12:36 ESV

There was more going on in this passage than the scribes and Pharisees understood. Jesus is revealing that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, He would be David’s Adonai (Lord and Master). The Messiah would be the Son of Man and the Son of God, the God-man who was fully divine and fully human. Even King David understood that his future descendant would have a unique relationship with God that was greater than anything he had ever experienced.

And Jesus summarized His point by asking these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures to explain how this could be.

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” – Mark 12:37 ESV

But they refuse to answer. They had already discovered that their attempts to debate with Jesus had left them looking like fools. Yet Mark indicates that the crowd who overheard this conversation loved what Jesus had to say. To a certain degree, they probably enjoyed watching the public humiliation of these arrogant men, who prided themselves in their vast knowledge of the Bible and flaunted their superior righteousness. And, to their delight, Jesus dropped another bombshell.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:38-40 ESV

Mark presents a very abbreviated recounting of Jesus’ teaching, leaving out the seven “woes” that Matthew records. After putting up with a constant barrage of condemnation from these religious leaders, Jesus turned the spotlight on them. And, according to Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially told the crowd to “do as they say, but not as they do.”

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

In other words, these man taught the law of God, but failed to live up to it. They could proclaim the truth of God’s Word but had no desire to let it influence the way they lived their lives. And in Matthew’s account, He records that Jesus called these men hypocrites and blind guides. They were frauds. And, not only that, they were like blind men futility attempting to provide guidance to others.

Jesus declares that these men were more interested in their reputations than they were in living according to God’s will. They loved being recognized for their fine robes and coveted their status as celebrities. They were addicted to honor and recognition. It was all about them. And Jesus declares that these men will receive greater condemnation. God would hold them accountable for their pride and arrogant mistreatment of His people.

These men had no right to question the authority of Jesus. He was the Son of God and was doing the will of God. But they were supposed to be the servants of God, caring for the flock He had placed under their care. Yet, they had failed miserably.

But Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, would faithfully fulfill the the will of His Father, sacrificing His life for the sake of His Father’s flock.

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