LASTING LESSONS Luke 20–21
“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem occasioned some of His most important teaching, conveying lasting lessons.
Jesus rebuked His critics (20:1–8), and told a parable that exposed their motives (vv. 9–19). He turned aside their attempts to trap Him, and used them to teach responsibility (vv. 20–26) and resurrection (vv. 27–40). Christ silenced His opponents with a riddle that had an obvious but rejected answer (vv. 41–44) and then openly condemned them (vv. 45–47), praising a widow, one of the oppressed they exploited (21:1–4). A last lengthy dialogue focused on Christ’s return (vv. 5–38).
Understanding the Text
“By what authority You are doing these things” Luke 20:2.
The chief priests and teachers of the Law were members of the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s supreme religious and civil authority. How frustrated they must have been by Jesus, who bypassed them completely to teach, and performed miracles that proved He had been anointed by God. Authority was extremely significant in the religion of the first century. As today in rabbinic Judaism, the opinions of earlier rabbis were eagerly searched and quoted as authority for contemporary decisions. But “authority” in the language of the New Testament is freedom of action. The person with authority can speak or act without fear his or her will will be thwarted by another. Thus the irony in Jesus’ question. He asked these leaders, who claimed authority, to give their opinion of John the Baptist. And they refused! They had no freedom, no true authority, at all! Their freedom to speak was taken from them by fear of what Jesus might say in rebuttal, or how the people they claimed to lead would react. Today you and I have freedom in Christ. We are truly free to speak and act in accord with our convictions. We are free, because we trust God to guard us from those who might do us harm. Let’s claim the authority that Jesus’ critics surrendered, and always be ready to speak the truth in Jesus’ name. “May this never be!” Luke 20:9–19 It was clear to all who heard that the Parable of the Tenants, in which the dearly loved son of the owner was killed, was a veiled reference to the religious leaders and to Jesus Himself. At first glance the horrified reaction of the crowds seems to express the wish that the owner’s son should escape (v. 16). But a closer look at the sayings just before and after correct the impression. Jesus had warned that the furious father would appear and kill the wicked tenants, and give the vineyard to others. It was this that provoked the reaction, “May this never be!” How like each of us. No one wants to be held accountable for his or her actions. Our nine-year-old wants to mess up her room—but not be forced to clean it up. The pregnant teen wanted experimentation or sought popularity—but doesn’t want the baby. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to make sure they learn early that every choice has its consequences. “May this never be!” is a useless plea. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” Luke 20:25. Throughout the last 2,000 years believer and unbeliever have paused in wonder over the profound simplicity of Jesus’ saying. We live in the world, but are not of it. Caesar can require worldly things from us, and we are to give them gladly. But nothing Caesar does can touch that which we owe to God: our love, our worship, and our concern for others for whom Jesus also died. “Even Moses showed that the dead rise” Luke 20:27–40. This is a fascinating passage for any who are uncertain about the integrity and full authority of Scripture. It’s popular with some scholars to assume that the books attributed to Moses are a much later fiction: the name of a mythical Jewish hero, Moses, was attached in the 600B.Cs to give the editors’ invention credibility. With scissors and paste many modern scholars romp through the Old Testament, cut up the Pentateuch and Prophets, and assign this verse to one supposed set of authors, and that to another. How different from the way Jesus viewed the Scriptures. According to Christ, it was Moses who spoke what is recorded in Exodus, and even a seemingly minor thing like the tense of a verb is authoritative. Do the dead really live again? They live now! The God of the Old Testament is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, long after their biological deaths. On this issue of Scripture, I suspect it’s wiser to trust Jesus’ pronouncement than to trust the theories of the self-proclaimed wise men of our day. When we do so, we rejoice in the confidence that we too will live forever with Abraham’s and our God. “How then can He be his Son?” Luke 20:41–44 The Jewish people loved riddles and word games. But the religious leaders who had set themselves against Jesus positively hated one riddle Christ put to them. It wasn’t because they didn’t know the answer. The riddle was objectionable because they did know the answer! Simply put, the only way that David’s Descendant could be his Lord was if the expected Messiah were somehow God Himself. And this is one thing the leaders of Christ’s day could not and would not consider. Sometimes we’re like them when seeking God’s will. “Lord,” we say, “show me what You want”—when all along we know what God wants, and hope desperately He’ll change His mind. Let’s learn from the Pharisees how not to approach our own relationship with God. “Such men will be punished most severely” Luke 20:45–47. Each Gospel records something of Christ’s final evaluation of the ultra religious men who were His most severe critics. Matthew 23 focuses on their hypocrisy. Luke drew attention to their affront in putting on religious airs while secretly “devouring widows’ houses”—an expression which means taking financial advantage of those unable to defend themselves. Again we see the terrible corrupting power of a love for wealth and a preoccupation with appearances. Judgment for such persons is sure and severe. “She out of her poverty put in all” Luke 21:1–4. It’s not how much we give, but our willingness to surrender all. Undoubtedly Luke purposely placed the ragged, humble widow beside the posturing, well-dressed politicians whose pretentions Jesus had just exposed. Luke wanted us to see others as God sees them. He wants us to realize that the mighty are seldom high on God’s scale of values.
Do’s and Don’ts to Live By (Luke 21:5–36)
Ask a Christian to make up a list of “do’s and don’ts believers should live by” and you probably won’t get the Ten Commandments. In the little church I joined after I was converted, our list had things like “don’t smoke,” “don’t drink,” “don’t go to movies,” “do be at church Sunday evening as well as morning,” and a few other similar things. Our do’s and don’ts list didn’t keep us from loving the Lord and other people. And it didn’t keep us from some of the most meaningful prayer and worship I’ve ever experienced. In fact, looking back, I doubt that the list had any great impact on my life at all—except to make me a little uncomfortable when some sailor friend lit up a cigarette in my “Christian” car. A list of do’s and don’ts that can really make a difference is buried in Luke’s report of Jesus’ teaching on the future. Among teachings that apply directly to us are: • Don’t follow false leaders (v. 8). • Don’t be frightened when natural and other disasters befall (vv. 9–11). • Don’t be anxious if persecuted because of your Christian witness (vv. 12–16). And on the positive side: • Do persevere and maintain a firm stand when others turn against you (vv. 17–19). • Do take heart; full redemption will be yours when Jesus comes (vv. 25–28). • Do watch and pray, that you might live a life the Son of man will approve (vv. 34–36).
God’s do’s and don’ts belong at the top of our lists.
“Have thy tools ready; God will find thee work.”—Charles Kingsley