PARABLES AND PEOPLE Luke 18–19
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:9–10).Luke’s vivid sketches of people and his dramatic retelling of Jesus’ parables leave a lasting impression.
Jesus contrasted an indifferent judge with God (18:1–8), and a proud Pharisee with a penitent sinner (vv. 9–14). He welcomed children (vv. 15–17) but discouraged a wealthy would-be follower (vv. 18–30). Jesus predicted His death (vv. 31–34), and illustrated its impact by restoring physical and spiritual sight (v. 35–19:10). The Parable of the Ten Minas taught delay of His earthly kingdom (vv. 11–27), but still the crowd saluted Him as Messiah as He approached Jerusalem (vv. 28–44). There, rather than proclaim a kingdom, Jesus purified the temple (vv. 45–48).
Understanding the Text
“Pray and not give up” Luke 18:1–8.
There are times when we become discouraged about prayer. We claim the promises of Luke 11; we ask, seek, and knock. But we find no answer, and no doors seem to open to us. The story of the unjust judge encourages us to keep on praying, and to keep expecting God to answer. Luke used a common literary device: contrast. The unjust judge just didn’t care about the widow, but finally gave in because she kept on bothering him. Delay may be within the will and purpose of God. But answers to our prayers are assured, not because we’re persistent, but because unlike the judge, God does care! Even in the most extreme situations, which move us to cry out to God day and night, we can be assured of justice, though it be delayed till Jesus comes. “I am not like all other men” Luke 18:9–14. This story is directed to all people everywhere who are “confident of their own righteousness and [look] down on everybody else” (v. 9). The Pharisee, who represented this group, thought his works were a ticket into God’s kingdom. In contrast the tax collector, a representative “sinner,” simply cried out for mercy. Self-justification is still a fantasy. Those who pray as the Pharisee did have their eyes fixed only on themselves and not God. Only by taking our place beside the despised first-century tax collector, acknowledging our sinfulness, and relying solely on God’s mercy, can we be justified before God. “Receive the kingdom of God like a little child” Luke 18:15–17. The incident is purposely sandwiched between stories of two adults who sought entrance into God’s kingdom, one by religious works and the other by good deeds. Here the significant aspect of little childness is dependence. No little child expects his own effort will provide him with even food or shelter. As a little child depends on his parents for everything, so we are to depend on God for entrance into His kingdom. “What is impossible with man is possible with God” Luke 18:18–30. The rich young ruler represents those who rely on morality and decency to gain eternal life. In the first century the rich, who had the resources to be benevolent, were thought to have the inside track on pleasing God by helping others! Jesus told the wealthy young man to abandon his wealth, and follow Him. This is not a universal command. It was given to a specific individual for a specific purpose: to help the young man see that he relied on his wealth rather than on God. It is this that makes it hard for “the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” A person with wealth comes to depend on it rather than on the Lord. As a young Christian I feared possessions. I wanted a car, but worried that if I had one it might become too important to me. Finally, when at age 23 I bought an old Nash Rambler for $500, I enjoyed it, but I learned with delight that it meant nothing to me at all! The Lord seldom requires we “leave all we have” to follow Him (v. 28). But each of us does well to psychologically abandon all our possessions, that we might rely on God and respond freely to His will. “Its meaning was hidden from them” Luke 18:31–34. Luke reported a number of sayings in which Jesus foreshadowed or specifically predicted His death (cf. 5:35; 12:50; 13:32; 17:25). He also often mentioned the disciples’ failure to grasp the meaning of this and other teachings, as do the other Gospel writers. Here Luke clearly implied that God Himself withheld understanding awaiting the right time. What a helpful reminder! Often those we teach or minister to, including our own children, seem unwilling to grasp and apply truths we know are vital. Despite all we say, they make unwise or foolish choices. While the reason may lie in their own willfulness, we must remember that it may simply be that it isn’t yet God’s time for them to understand. God often hides the meaning of what we teach until the time is right to reveal it. Let’s deal graciously and patiently with others, as Jesus did with His disciples. If they seem slow or reluctant, let’s consider the possibility that God has His own reasons for withholding understanding for a time. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” Luke 18:35–43. The disciples didn’t understand when Jesus spoke of His coming death. Yet the next incidents illustrate its meaning. Jesus healed a physically blind man who cried out for mercy (vv. 35–43), and then brought salvation to one who had been spiritually blind (19:1–10). Through His death Jesus would lay the foundation for the defeat of every force hostile to humankind. The healing of the beggar illustrates the way in which human beings lay hold on all that Jesus provides. Jesus told him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you” (18:42). We need only come to Jesus, confident that He is able to save. That faith is the channel through which God’s goodness flows. Note, however, that faith is the beginning of a new life, not simply the end of the old. The blind man received his sight, ending his years in darkness. And he “followed Jesus, praising God.” This is the essential nature of the new life faith launches. It is a life of following Jesus. And of praising God. “He was a chief tax collector and was wealthy” Luke 19:1–10. Many tax collectors in first-century Judea were simply employees. But “chief tax collectors” were major contractors, who guaranteed a certain sum to Rome or Herod—and were free to extort more as they could. Thus Zaccheus would have been considered a far greater sinner than, for example, Levi, who simply manned a highway tax station (5:27–30). Several of Luke’s themes are united in this story. Jesus reached out to and associated with sinners. His contact is redemptive, bringing both salvation and transformation. The renewal of Zaccheus is evidenced by his repentance, and his change of attitude toward wealth. Perhaps the most important lesson for you and me is reflected in the stunned look that must have covered Zaccheus’ face, as Christ looked up in the tree where he was perched and said, “Zaccheus, come down immediately.” The short tax collector had climbed a tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But he never imagined that Jesus would want to see him. How we need to take the initiative in seeking out folks others may hold in contempt. Jesus did come “to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus is gone now. And He’s committed His treasure hunt into our hands! “To have himself appointed king and then to return” Luke 19:11–27. This parable is linked with the story of Zaccheus (v. 11). Salvation came “today,” but final judgment would be delayed. The story has a historical context. Would-be local rulers in Palestine had to go to Rome to be appointed by the emperor (v. 12). While the principle would be understood by Jesus’ listeners, it is not to be applied in interpreting the parable, which makes one major point. Jesus will return, and when He does a day of judgment will occur. His servants will then be evaluated on the basis of how they used the resources He provided. And His enemies will be destroyed. The story served as a clear warning to enthusiasts who had witnessed His healings and the transformation of Zaccheus. They were not to expect Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom at that time. The warning was ignored, and before Christ reached Jerusalem crowds gathered to acclaim Him Messiah and King (vv. 28–38). It’s important we do not forget His warning. Jesus will return, and each of us will give an account. If we have used our resources—of time, talent, and wealth—to promote God’s kingdom, there will be praise from our Lord, and a responsible role to fulfill in eternity. “Blessed is the king who comes” Luke 19:28–38. Zeal without knowledge. It’s not unusual, but it’s sad. Jesus had just warned that He was not yet coming as King: He had to return to heaven and be confirmed in that role by His Father (v. 12). So of course the crowds shouted all the louder, “Blessed is the King who comes!” The crowds were right. Jesus is King. But He was not yet coming as King. We may be zealous and enthusiastic. But unless we listen to God’s Word far more carefully than the crowds listened to Jesus, we will be as unaware of God’s present purposes in our lives. Herod the Great dedicated 40 years and untold wealth to beautify the Jerusalem temple. That temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and drew thousands of Gentile as well as Jewish visitors to Judea. Yet Christ’s anger that its courts had become a “den of robbers” reminds us that the true significance of any house of worship is not found in how it looks but in what happens there.
Dreams and Devastation(Luke 19:28–48)
As I write this, Jim Bakker is awaiting afternoon sentencing for fraud, for lying to the Christian public in order to bilk them of funds. In his defense, Jim told the jury about his vision—his dream of a playground for Christians, of Heritage, U.S.A. Whatever a person may think of Jim Bakker, I’m sure each of us would give him this. He had a dream. And he saw his dream lie, shattered, at his feet. The people who welcomed Jesus so enthusiastically on Palm Sunday had a dream too. They dreamed of Israel restored to its ancient glory under God’s Messiah, the promised Descendant of David. Their shouts, as Jesus rode slowly toward Jerusalem, revealed the dream that possessed them completely: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” As they drew near the city the shouting, elated crowd must have envisioned its walls heightened and expanded, sure it was destined to become the center of a theocratic kingdom that would replace Rome as ruler of the world. But when Jesus saw the city, He wept. What Jesus saw was not towering new walls, but crumbled ruins. What Jesus heard was not the joy of misguided supporters entranced by their dreams, but the wailing and crying of the victims who would suffer there. And Jesus wept. The next thing Luke tells us is that Jesus entered the temple area. There He found those who were selling; who had turned God’s house from a house of prayer to a den where robbers lurked, eager to defraud the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to worship. The dream was nothing. The reality was all. I think that the sequence of these events serves as a parable of our times. So many Christians have dreams. So many are so zealous to build empires to God’s glory; edifices they dream of proudly showing Jesus when He comes, saying (but humbly, of course), “See what we’ve done in Your name!” Yet one by one such dreams, like the walls of ancient Jerusalem, fall into ruin. We have zeal. But are the dreams that possess us given by God, or are they like the shouts of the Palm Sunday crowd who insisted on welcoming Jesus as King despite what He had told them? I suspect that what Jesus wants is revealed in His first action in Jerusalem. He cleansed the temple. He chased out the hucksters who had corrupted what was intended to be a house of prayer, and once again put worship first.
It is more important to cleanse our temple than to pursue our dreams.
“It sounds terribly spiritual to say ‘God led me,’ but I am always suspicious of a person who implies that he has a personal pipeline to God. When no one else senses what the person suggests is the will of God, then we had better be careful. God has been blamed for the most outlandish things by people who have confused their own inverted pride with God’s will.”—Paul E. Little