Christians have differing opinions about many things. But, to be called ‘Christian’ means that a single conviction is common to all: Jesus is Lord! For this to be true, however, means that we do more than pay lip service to this truth; but, that we allow Him to change us day-by-day to be more like Him in every aspect of our lives. This is the truth by which we live. This is the message that we share with the world: Jesus is Lord!
My mother would say this to us every morning when we would leave for school. It was a gentle, daily reminder that this is to be a joyful event to which we look with anticipation. If we live as though He may come at any moment, we will be glad to see Him when that day arrives.
HOW WILL JESUS COME BACK?
Just like today, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had multiple theories about when God’s kingdom would arrive. At the outset of our passage today, Jesus is clear: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). Indeed, here was God Himself in Jesus Christ, standing before them, announcing that the kingdom of God was near! It is right here, right now, in your midst!
FOUR STATEMENTS ABOUT HIS RETURN
First, The Kingdom of God Is Here, In Our Midst (Luke 17:20-21)
There is no need to go looking for it any longer because Jesus has brought the kingdom to us. The lessons learned from the translation discussion of whether the kingdom is “within you” (KJV) or “in your midst” (NIV) is interesting because each understanding carries intriguing meanings and insights to ponder.
Second, The Kingdom of God Will Be Understood With Jesus’ Passion (Luke 17:22-25).
The keys to the kingdom that Jesus announced upon Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:13-20) would issue in the new age on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The kingdom was fully realized in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, taking up residence in the hearts of God’s people who would assemble together as the church. These people of the kingdom would look forward to the day of Christ’s return.
Third, Jesus’ Coming Will Happen Suddenly, Without Warning (Luke 17:26-37)
Natural and historical catastrophic events provide great metaphors for understanding the suddenness of His return. Jesus’ examples detail flashes of lightening across the sky, Noah and the flood, Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. Just another normal day until, suddenly, everything changed.
Fourth, When Jesus Comes Back, God Will Deliver Justice (Luke 18:1-8)
The story of the persistent widow places stress on the widow who drives her king nuts in search of justice until he finally relents. The emphasis is not upon the moral character of the judge but, rather, upon the persistent pleading of the widow (Luke 18:1). When Jesus returns, will He find anyone still looking forward to His coming (Luke 18:8)?
Christians in churches around the world joyfully anticipate the day of Jesus’ return. While there is much discussion about what that day–and the days to follow–will be like, Jesus make is clear in these verses:
There will be no warning or signs preceding the day.
The kingdom of God has already taken up residence on this earth since Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension.
There are times in life when the things that divide us become insignificant. Times of suffering are one of those. It is often said that “misery loves company”; but, in the midst of suffering, our misery can also lead us to forget our prejudices and bigotry. This would appear to be the case of the 10 Lepers in Luke 17:11-19.
FAITH FROM A DISTANCE
Luke reminds us, here, that Jesus is still on His way to Jerusalem. As He and his disciples enter a village, somewhere on the border between Galilee and Samaria, ten lepers cried out to Him from a distance: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
The reason they cried out from a distance was because the Law had specified what lepers must do:
45 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
Leviticus 13 gives priests the tools for diagnosing various skin diseases, including the dreaded leprosy. The next chapter (Leviticus 14) gives the priests detailed information about what to do when the diseased leper seems to have been cured.
So, from a distance, it took faith to cry out to Jesus for help. It took faith to realize that Jesus was more than just a man; but, rather, their “Master”. It took faith to choose to obey Jesus’ command to go show themselves to the priest before they had actually been healed.
WE ALL LIVE BY FAITH
Whether one believes in God or not, life is lived in faith that the sun will rise and set, that the seasons will change every year, that gravity works and that the people coming from the opposite direction on a 2-lane road will stay in their lane. The distinction between the believer and the non-believer is simply to whom we give credit for the predictability in life. The fact is that predictability is our day-to-day normal, whether we choose to believe that it is by chance or by divine direction.
So, it would not be appropriate to say that the lepers were not moved by faith. Rather than sitting in hopeless helplessness, they chose to get up and walk towards the city where the priest would be ready to receive them. Their faith would be immediately rewarded as they began to realize that they were, indeed, rapidly shedding the effects of this horrid disease and returning to health. It would be understandable that, rejoicing, they would run as fast as they could into town to share the good news of their healing.
THERE IS A FAITH THAT SAVES
Then there is the one leper who, likely, could not run to the Jewish priest with the others because he had lost one curse only to be confronted with another; for he was a Samaritan (See “Samaritans” in Bible History Online). Reading a bit between the lines, I suppose that he was now unable to go with his friends of shared misery. The new normal had set in. Now he was contemplating going back to his Samaritan village alone.
In this moment of mixed feelings, this man suddenly realized he needed to say “Thank You” to Jesus. To this Samaritan falling at Jesus’ feet, Jesus tells him he was made well by way of his faith. All of them listened to Jesus and did as they were told. But one remembered Who it was that healed him and he worshiped Him. Faith!
Of all of the touching elements of this story, perhaps the most poignant to me is that when the healed Samaritan fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped Him, Jesus never told him to stop. If anyone were to run up to me and fall at my feet I would promptly tell them to get up. I might even look around quickly to make sure no one saw what had just happened.
But not Jesus. He received the praise of the Samaritan, wondering why the others did not join him in giving glory to God Who had chosen to dwell in their midst. The extension of Jesus’ questions to us are convicting: with all of the ‘normal’ of our daily existence, how ready are we to give glory to God for our blessings?
“Increase our faith!” the disciples said. Something Jesus had said convinced them that it was imperative. “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4). Is this even possible for a person to do?
DISCIPLES, CROWDS AND PHARISEES
Two of Jesus’ constants in Luke’s gospel are the disciples and the crowds. Punctuated throughout are the Pharisees who seem to be on the margins, criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the wrong people (Luke 15:1-2) and setting up false dichotomies between, for example, serving God or serving money (Luke 16:13). Whether it was true or whether it was an anecdotal observation of the Pharisees, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it” (Luke 16:16, NIV).
CHASMS AND MILLSTONES
The chasm that separated Lazarus in Paradise and the rich man in Hades (Luke 16:19-31, NIV) was obvious in real life between the religious elite and everyone else. They had become so ‘righteous’ that no one could realistically aspire to their level before God. The ‘sinners’ of the world gave up trying. That is, until John and Jesus started preaching the good news of repentance and the kingdom of God. Now they were storming the gates!
In the minds of the religious leaders, I would suppose, access to God was through the Law. These sinners and tax collectors break the Law daily. Therefore, Jesus–if He was truly a righteous Man–should know that He should be hanging out with them and not with the common ‘sinners’ and hated tax collectors (Luke 15:1-2, NIV). The stories of the lost lamb, the lost coin and the lost son drove home the point that God’s love and the Law are not mutually exclusive approaches to people; indeed, they complement each other!
The fact that this did not make sense to them was tragic, from Jesus’ perspective. This is obvious to the pleading father as he talks to the older brother (Luke 15:25-32, NIV). To the Pharisees, giving access to God to the uneducated and uninformed was compromising righteousness in favor of popularity. To them, Jesus is uncompromising: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:1-2, NIV).
FORGIVE REPEAT OFFENDERS
Opening the doors of the kingdom to everyone who repents means shedding our religious prejudices and seeing people from God’s perspective. When we become religiously righteous in our own eyes, we are in danger of holding others to impossible standards. So, to the disciples, Jesus says: “watch yourselves” (Luke 17:3).
God’s love is a truly amazing thing! In response to His love He expects His children to love others. Of all of the ways we can demonstrate His love to others there is, perhaps, no stronger testimony to His power than the way that we use our money for others: for the kingdom.
GOD LOVES THE LOST
Seeing the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ gathering around Jesus, the religious rulers believed that Jesus had to compromise The Law. “Righteous people do not hang out with those people,” they may have exclaimed (Luke 15:1-2).
It is at this point that Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) and the lost son (Luke 15:11-24) to show that attending to the lost and keeping the Law are in perfect harmony. Jesus, then, challenges the Pharisees to look at their own hearts as He tells them the story of the older brother. In the story, his father ‘pleaded’ with him to join the celebration (Luke 15:25-32).
THE USE OF MONEY
At the beginning of Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd manager who uses his former employer’s money to secure his own future. Jesus seems to be encouraging us to use the money that God gives us to make friends to encourage them to secure their eternal future as well as our own (Luke 16:1-9).
Managing God’s wealth well means that we will be entrusted with more responsibility. Conversely, there are negative consequences when we use His wealth selfishly for ourselves (Luke 16:10-12). To try to straddle the fence between worshiping God or money is futile because it is an either/or proposition (Luke 16:13).
FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY
At this point the religious rulers begin to ‘sneer’ at Jesus, prompting his convicting accusation: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).
Their disdain for Jesus’ love for the lost is now coupled with their love of money. They, themselves, are the ones compromising the Law when they use the wealth that God had given them for their own selfish purposes. Jesus says to them:
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”
If Jesus was quoting the religious rulers then He could be mocking them as if to say, ‘Everything was just fine until John the Baptist and Jesus showed up! Now everyone thinks they can enter the kingdom of God!” Or it could be that Jesus is simply observing that the Law and the Prophets have now been realized with the good news of the kingdom of God.
Either way, Jesus’ point is clear, love for the lost and our use of money in response to God’s love for us is consistent with the Law and the Prophets. In fact, Jesus affirms, ” It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Luke 16:17).
To illustrate this point, Jesus boldly wades right into the hotly debated controversy of marriage and divorce. This was an issue with which the religious elite were embroiled in first-century Israel (see Matthew 19:1-9). “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18). It is as if to say, “There is no controversy here except where you religious rulers have chosen to compromise The Law to your own advantage.”
For those who practice this kind of mental gymnastics, Jesus warns them of their fate in the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
The final words of Moses in the story point to a prophetic truth that will be realized in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ Himself: ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (Luke 16:31, NIV).
This observation was as true then as it is now, today. Believe in the Law and the Prophets! Believe in the one who has risen from the dead! Listen to the story, know Christ, and use the money God has given you for His purposes!
Luke 16 represents a body of Jesus’ teachings about money that are echoed in other parts of Luke’s gospel. For example, see Luke 6:30, 38; 12:33; 14:12-14.
In the first half of Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and his shrewdly dishonest manager (Luke 16:1-8). At the conclusion of the story (Luke 16:9-13) Jesus extracts principles about the use of money, trustworthiness and responsibility (vss. 9-12). He concludes with a pretty stark pronouncement:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
On the surface, one might conclude that Jesus is only talking about money. In truth, money’s value is only relative to importance we assign to it. Give it too much influence in one’s life and we are at risk of thinking that it is all-important. However, it won’t be worth very much when our heart stops beating.
Conversely, among the people of the light, it is to be used to accomplish kingdom purposes: making forever friends in God’s forever family. This kind of stewardship reaps benefits both here, in the making of friends, and in eternity.
WEALTH IS A GIFT
Our wealth is a gift from God that provides each person an opportunity for stewardship. The emphasis here is upon how we care for the gifts God gives to us.
PREVIEW OF “MONEY” – PART 2
Our next lesson in Luke will focus upon the second half of chapter 16 with Jesus emphasizing that He is capable of both caring for “sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 15:1-2) and remaining faithful to the Law (Luke 16:16-18). This is boldly illustrated in the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” in Luke 16:19-31.
At the beginning of the lesson we viewed the following video from DanStevers.com.
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”, the Pharisees had asked Jesus’ disciples (Luke 5:30). In their world, true men of God would not compromise the Law by associating with people who did not obey it’s commandments. Jesus’ answer to them was to the point: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). Doctors don’t visit the healthy! God visits those who know they are broken and scarred; in need of His mercy!
Jesus reveals the heart of His Father to men who exclude others based upon a twisted view of the Law, it’s regulations and its commands. What had been delivered through Abraham (Genesis 17:4) and the Law, through Moses (Deuteronomy 4:5-7; Isaiah 60:3) was intended to bless the nations that surrounded them. Instead, slavish obedience to the Law and it’s nuances had created an association of legalists who, alone, felt the sole right to the blessings of God.
YES, TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS!
In Luke 15:1-2, their question remains. So, Jesus illustrates for everyone His Father’s love for His lost children in three unique stories found only in Luke’s gospel. The parables of the lost sheep (vss. 3-7), the lost coin (vss. 8-10) and the lost son (vss. 11-24) give us a glimpse of heaven’s celebration when one sinner repents. It is in the third story of the lost son that Jesus gives us more detail to illustrate His Father’s watching for, running to, and embracing of, His broken children when they come home.
WHY DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?
Finally, Jesus turns from the crowds to address the Pharisees directly in the parable of the older brother (Luke 15:25-32). Here Jesus describes the Father who comes to his older son as well, “entreats him” (rather than commands him), calls him his “child” who is always with him and reminds him that all He has available to His son. It is a touching scene as the father pleads with his son to come join in the festivities…. Will he enter the house or will he choose, rather, to stay outside and pout.
As Jesus looks at the Pharisees, we are left to wonder, too: Will they surrender their distorted view of God as a Divine Master lording over His obedient slaves? Or will they hear Jesus’ loving appeal on behalf of His Father? After all, God is their Father, too, Who desires to bring everyone home to celebrate at His table…even the hypocrites.
Click HERE to watch “The Older Brother” video intro to Luke 15:25-32. This introduced the second part of the sermon.
In the gospel of Luke the crowds play an important part as different groups of people strive to understand Jesus, who He Is and what is His mission. By Luke 14:25 the crowds are traveling with Him and His disciples. It is time to challenge them all to start thinking about what it means to be one of Jesus’ disciples. So, Jesus clearly states His demands.
LOVE HIM MORE
Jesus insists that His followers–His true disciples–must love Him so much that, in comparison, their love for father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–even one’s own life–looks like hatred (vs. 26). Love for Him is supreme, beyond anyone else; even one’s self.
YOU MUST DIE TO SELF
Before anyone could grasp Jesus’ own understanding of His upcoming death on a cross, everyone understood the horrors of crucifixion. As frightening as this torturous execution might be, Jesus uses it to convey the depths of commitment required of a disciple. It’s like carrying your own cross for crucifixion. You are a dead person walking. This is how Jesus characterized His disciples.
RENOUNCE YOUR POSSESSIONS
Nothing is excluded from Jesus’ demands. Nothing. No hoarding among kingdom people. Packing away keepsakes makes no sense. When the call comes to let it go, the disciple does not worry about losing anything. All of those things were given up when they decided to follow Christ.
I suspect that Jesus’ pronouncements about discipleship thinned out the crowd a bit. At the least it led people to think about their walk with God and the importance of Jesus’ words.
There can be little doubt that many would still hang around for a free meal, a healing, an exorcism or a good word or two. But, I think people had trouble shaking the totality of Jesus’ demands for those who would follow Him and become a disciple.
Indeed, counting the cost would take on a whole new meaning for those who would take Him seriously. Just like it provokes you and I to wonder if I have truly handed it all over to Him….