URGENT MATTERS Luke 13–14
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).The choices that we make in our todays affect our tomorrows—and our forever.
Jesus warned, “Repent, or perish” (13:1–5). All deserve punishment (vv. 6–9), but Jesus showed that this is the day of God’s grace (vv. 10–17). Though Jesus’ kingdom may seem insignificant (vv. 18–21), it is vital to enter now (vv. 22–30). Christ’s warning rejected, He wept over Jerusalem (vv. 31–35). At a Pharisee’s dinner party Jesus healed (14:1–6), commented on guests’ and host’s behavior (vv. 7–14), and spoke of God’s eschatological kingdom (vv. 15–24). Later He spoke to the crowds about the cost of discipleship (vv. 25–35).
Understanding the Text
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners?” Luke 13:1–5 It was common belief that those who were cut off in the prime of life had been guilty of some great sin. When someone asked about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate’s soldiers while coming to the temple to offer sacrifice, Jesus rejected the common view. In saying they were no more guilty than all others in Jerusalem, Jesus taught that all were worthy of death! It’s useless to compare ourselves with others and think, “I never do things like that.” All have sinned. Unless we repent, we will all perish. Here “repent” is used in its most basic meaning of a change of heart and mind. The listening crowd had to change its mind about Jesus, before it was too late. “Leave it alone for one more year” Luke 13:6–9. The parable emphasizes how close judgment had come, and how little time was left for repentance and change. If repentance did not come soon, the verdict would be, “Cut it down.” “On the Sabbath Jesus was teaching” Luke 13:10–17. Though all were guilty and deserved punishment, Christ’s healing of the crippled woman was an affirmation of grace. The indignation of the ruler of the synagogue shows how little understood grace was. And how little desired. The woman who experienced grace praised God. But the president of the synagogue rebuked Jesus for helping her! Many first-century rabbis held that it was valid to untie a farm animal to permit it to drink on the Sabbath, though the strict sect of the Essenes would not permit help to be given even to an injured animal. Christ’s contemptuous dismissal of the charge as hypocrisy shamed His opponents. But it delighted the crowds. How fascinating that no matter how the hypocrite postures and pretends, others see through him. Or us. “What is the kingdom of God like?” Luke 13:18–21 The details of Jesus’ sayings are irrelevant to His point, which is simply this: Jesus’ kingdom appeared insignificant to many onlookers. But ultimately Christ’s kingdom will dominate all. “Make every effort” Luke 13:22–30. Because Christ’s kingdom is the ultimate reality, entry becomes an urgent matter. Mere familiarity with Jesus will not do. One must know Him intimately, and be known the same way. A feast or banquet is a common prophetic image associated with the establishment of God’s future and final kingdom. That meaning, clearly defined in verses 28–30, is carried through the next chapter’s stories, which are set at or told about banquets. This was why repentance and faith in Jesus are such urgent matters. Individuals who failed to turn to Him will be shut out of the future kingdom, where “there will be weeping . . . and gnashing of teeth.” “Leave this place and go somewhere else” Luke 13:31–35. The Pharisees’ hypocritical warning symbolized the official rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders. No doubt if Herod had intended to imprison Jesus, these same men would have done all they could to keep Jesus there! Christ, rather than being angry, expressed anguish and sorrow over the city which must now face desolation and judgment. The house of Israel, having rejected Jesus, became an empty shell. It would remain a mere shell until that future day when God’s people acknowledge Christ, and are restored (vv. 34–35; cf. Rom. 11:25–32). “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” Luke 14:1–6 This is the fourth reference in Luke to the Sabbath issue, showing how serious it was in the conflict between Jesus and the religious elite (6:1–5, 9–11; 13:10–17). This time it took place at a meal in the home of a “prominent Pharisee.” The Greek term is archonton, “ruling,” and suggests he was a member of the Sanhedrin. While Christ seemed to bring the issue up, Luke noted that the man with dropsy had been seated “in front of Him.” And that all Jesus did was being “carefully watched.” Again, no compassion was shown for the sick man, who was simply a pawn to be used against the Lord. The rabbis had ruled that a person whose life was threatened might be taken to a doctor on the Sabbath, but one not suffering from a life-threatening disease should wait till the next day for treatment. Jesus healed the man anyway and then, arguing from the lesser to the greater, showed their hypocrisy. Any one of them would pull a son or an ox out of a hole on the Sabbath, even if their life was not in immediate danger. How then could they object to healing a man on God’s holy day? It must have been frustrating, to be an opponent of Jesus. Whenever they attempted to act against Him, they simply injured themselves! As long as we live in the spirit of Jesus, maintaining His compassion for others, any who criticize us will also expose only their own hardness of heart. “Do not take the place of honor” Luke 14:7–11. Still at the banquet, Jesus commented on the behavior of the guests, who competed with each other for “places of honor.” In the first century banquet seating arrangements reflected the social status of guests. The closer to the host (the “higher” the seat), the greater the honor done a guest. The scrambling for position Jesus observed reflected the heart attitude of the Pharisee’s guests. As Jesus pointed out, it was also foolish, as it exposed a person to the danger of embarrassment if asked to go down lower. You and I can afford to take the humblest of places here on earth. In time God Himself will say to us, “Move up to a better place.” “When you give a luncheon or dinner” Luke 14:12–14. Jesus also had advice for His host. Don’t use your dinners for social advantage, or to seek a quid pro quo. Invite the homeless and hungry when you want to share a meal. Let God repay you. The advice should not have been needed. Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.” The social life of the religious, who scorned both the poor and those ignorant of the Law’s minutia, the am ha eretz, showed that they used religion as well as others for personal ends. How challenging it is to truly let God’s Word shape our lives. The most ordinary actions demand scrutiny. All we do reflects the values of this world—or of the next. “If anyone comes to Me” Luke 14:25–35. Later, on the road with the same crowds that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law tended to despise, Jesus spoke of discipleship. One of the most urgent issues we must decide is whether we will follow Christ wholly. What’s involved? A commitment to Jesus that places Him even above family (vv. 26–27). A conscious commitment, that looks ahead and counts the cost, and determines to carry discipleship through to completion (vv. 28–33). A continuing commitment, that once begun maintains its fervor, even as salt to be useful must retain its savor (vv. 34–35). Difficult? Certainly. But how wise we are to make that conscious, continuing commitment to Jesus Christ!
The Streets and Alleys (Luke 14:15–24)
Banquets in the ancient world were eagerly looked forward to. Life was difficult at best, and festive meals were a time to cast off cares, and enjoy. That’s probably why the Old Testament prophets frequently picture the establishment of God’s final kingdom as a great feast, overflowing with food and wine and shouts of joy. Here Jesus picked up the familiar Old Testament image, using it in a parable that every listener understood refers to the coming eschatological (future, and final!) kingdom of God on earth. The parable makes several points that His hearers would understand, but that might escape a modern reader. First of all, the refusal of the invited guests was shocking. It was an honor to be invited. And an obligation to come. Besides, who would ever think of passing up a “great banquet”? All who heard would have understood Jesus to accuse the religious leaders of refusing God because they were consumed with earthly affairs. A second impression would have been made by Jesus’ reference to “streets and alleys.” First-century Jewish cities were bisected by a few broad streets (where the Pharisees liked to come and preen). But they were also warrens of alleys, twisting and turning back to little courts opening out on the hovels occupied by the poor. In Jesus’ story, the host sent his servants everywhere, even to the obscure homes of the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” And when the banquet hall was still not filled, the servants were sent out, beyond the walls that kept outsiders from the city, to distant roads and country lanes, with a compelling invitation that would move even strangers to Israel’s God to respond. The parable, uniquely shaped to Jesus’ hearers, still speaks to us. It is still incomprehensible that many who hear God’s invitation are too caught up with the affairs of this life to heed. And it is still the glory of the Gospel that its message is for everyone, everywhere.
As servants of God, we are to probe the streets and alleys of our world for guests to God’s banquet at history’s end.
“O merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that Thou hast made, nor desirest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; have mercy upon all who know Thee not as Thou art revealed in the Gospel of Thy Son. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of Thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to Thy fold, that they may be made one flock under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.” -Book of Common Prayer