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BI 1073  Story of Jesus / Lipscomb University

Unit 3A

Discipleship and Parables


Introduction to this unit

  • Luke stops following Mark’s account at this point, drawing on other material available to him, not returning to Mark as a source until 18:15 (Mark 10:13).
  • Several times from this point in Luke, the Greek text literally says Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” (13:22, 17:11, 18:31). From now on, the cross is his goal. He goes to Jerusalem knowing that he must die there to fulfill God’s plan. His death was not a surprise, not an interruption of his life’s mission. The cross was his mission.
  • This section is not really a travel log as Luke isn’t concerned with chronological order. In 10:38, Jesus is in Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha, which is 2 miles outside Jerusalem, but then at 17:11, he’s still on the border of Galilee and Samaria in the north. Again we see Luke arranging material thematically.
  • The first three gospels record only one trip which Jesus makes to Jerusalem during his ministry. John’s gospel is the only one that tells of Jesus in Jerusalem on several occasions.
  • Before we continue with Luke, we will look at two episodes in John.

Jesus and Nicodemus

   Read John 3:1-21

  • During one of his trips to Jerusalem (recorded only in John), Jesus meets Nicodemus, an important Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews.
  • John mentions Nicodemus several times in his gospel, who seems to grow in his faith in Christ. He argues with his fellow Pharisees for giving Jesus a fair hearing (7:50), and after Jesus’ death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea take charge of the body to prepare it for burial (19:39).
  • (3) Jesus mentions being born “again” but the word in Greek can also mean “from above.” Same word in John 3:31, 8:23, 19:11, where it means “from above.” Being born from above means being given a new spiritual beginning by God, and thereafter living according to the Spirit rather than living according to the world.
  • This passage includes the only mention in John of the Kingdom of God, a common theme of Jesus’ teachings in the other gospels.
  • (5) Jesus describes being born of water and spirit. In context, spirit is not a reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit which Christians receive at baptism (Acts 2:38), because the gift of the Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39). Here spirit refers to the kind of rebirth prompted by God. Jesus must refer here to John’s baptism of repentance, the only baptism Nicodemus would know at this time, but readers of this gospel would certainly read this passage in light of later Christian baptism.
  • (8) The word spirit in both Greek and Aramaic also means wind or breath. Jesus means that, just like we cannot see the wind but we see it blowing the trees, we cannot see God’s working directly but we see the results.
  • Jesus assumes Nicodemus’ familiarity with the OT would give him some insight into this saying, so we must consider texts such as Ezekiel 36:25-7 and Isa 44:3 as possible references. These passages speak of cleansing and renewal as part of the prophet’s expectation of the new age, which also fits the idea of John’s baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming kingdom.
  • Jesus compares his coming experience on the cross with that of Moses who lifted up a bronze serpent in the Israelite camp to cure the people of snakebite (Numbers 21). The Greek word “to lift up” has a double meaning: to exalt as king or in this case to be lifted up on a cross.
  • Jesus’ answer seems to change the subject, but he’s addressing Nicodemus’ earlier question, “How can this spiritual regeneration happen?” The new birth only has validity because of Christ’s being lifted up, his atoning death which provides life to those who believe.
  • The famous v. 16 “For God so loved the world” is probably not spoken by Jesus but is John’s commentary explaining the significance of what Jesus has been saying. This passage shares several themes from the first chapter of John, including the contrast between light and darkness, and the Greek term monogenes sometimes translated “only begotten” but more accurately “one and only.”

Additional notes on baptism:

  • In this passage from John, Jesus speaks of being born again of water and spirit. What does this mean? In other words, how does one begin this new life in Christ?
  • In Acts 2:21 Luke records Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost where he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Isn’t believing in Jesus all you have to do to be born again, or saying the “sinner’s prayer” as some churches teach? Is baptism necessary? But just a few verses later, Peter explains what calling on Jesus’ name means. Faith means responding in obedience to God’s call to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). We cannot take verse 21 as our only guide on this question and disregard verse 38 and the many other passages which speak of baptism as one’s spiritual initiation into the life of Christ.
  • Throughout the NT we are taught that faith in Christ includes the act of baptism (the Greek word means immersion in water), not as a work which earns us salvation but as a divinely chosen symbol of our faith, our sharing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1-4) as we go down in the water and come up to enter a new life.
  • This command comes from Jesus himself: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
  • The book of Acts, also written by Luke, consistently shows that everyone who became a Christian was baptized, without exception (Acts 2:41, 8:12, 36-8, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 18:8, 19:5). For instance, in Acts 16 the Philippian jailer asks Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responds, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” But they go immediately to baptize him and all his household. Simply believing was not the only thing required. Belief in Jesus and baptism in his name go hand in hand in the New Testament.
  • We receive the Spirit of Christ at our baptism: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
  • Why many churches today downplay the practice of baptism as if it were optional is puzzling, since it is clearly taught by Jesus himself and throughout the NT. Some may ask, “Won’t God accept a believer in Jesus who is not baptized?” We must leave that question up to God. But the question for us should be — why would someone who truly wants to please God disregard this simple command clearly taught throughout the New Testament?
  • In 2 Kings 5 the prophet Elisha told Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan river seven times and he would be healed of leprosy. At first Naaman thought, “What’s the sense in that?” but then he did what God commanded and he was healed. Rather than questioning God, he did what he was told and received the blessing.
  • We may not understand why God chose this act of baptism to begin our Christian lives, but we should be willing to obey this simple command. God hasn’t required something difficult. We do not need to climb the highest mountain or jump through fire to prove our faith. Baptism is a simple, beautiful act of obedience, uniting us to Christ in faith.
  • Christians from different traditions may raise the question of infant baptism, a practice not found in early church history until about 200 AD (the date is a bit uncertain). In discussing baptism, I try to follow what we find in the New Testament. Baptism is a visible sign of a person’s faith in Christ, a choice one makes as someone old enough to understand what that means. The New Testament always shows baptism as a deliberate choice made by the person being baptized, not something done to someone else who doesn’t understand its significance, such as an infant.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman

   Read John 4:1-42

  • Samaria is the region of Palestine between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south (see map of Palestine).
  • Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population (Jews who married Gentiles) who settled in Palestine after the Assyrian exile (2 Kings 17:24-41). Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” by the Jews.
  • In the late 4th century BC, Manasseh, brother of the high priest, married a Samaritan and was exiled from Jerusalem, so he built another temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. This second temple was destroyed in 128 BC.
  • There was still great resentment between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. Most Jews traveling from north to south or the reverse would cross the Jordan river and detour the long way around Samaria to avoid contact with anyone there. (That would be like going from Louisiana up through Arkansas and Oklahoma to get to New Mexico, because you didn’t want to go through Texas.)
  • Jacob’s well, the location of this meeting, is not mentioned in the OT.
  • In typical fashion Jesus does not hesitate to interact with an “outsider,” and the woman is surprised at his acceptance of her. Jews did not typically speak to Samaritans.
  • Living water also means running water. The woman misunderstands Jesus, taking his metaphor literally.
  • The theme of water is important in the early chapters of John: John and Jesus’ baptisms, the miracle of water to wine, born of water, living water, pool at Bethesda.
  • When Jesus mentions her husband, she changes the subject from personal embarrassment to unrelated theology about places of worship. Accepting only the first five books of the OT, Samaritans rejected worship in Jerusalem and instead preferred Shechem, site of Abraham’s first sacrifice, overlooking Mt Gerizim (Gen 12:6).
  • The woman has some expectation of a messiah, whom the Samaritans called the Taheb, “restorer.” Since they followed only the five books of Moses (called the Pentateuch), this expectation may have been based on Moses’ prediction that another prophet like himself would come one day. The woman’s enthusiasm convinces others to hear this stranger and many believe (in contrast to the following story in Luke 9).

The Duties and Privileges of Discipleship

   Read Luke 9:51-56

  • Luke takes a special interest in Samaritans as another class of outcasts Jesus cares for, seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25) and the conversion of Samaritans in Acts 8.
  • The prejudicial hatred between Jews and Samaritans was mutual. The Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus merely because he is traveling to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital.
  • Mark 3:17 calls James and John “sons of thunder” and their reaction to the Samaritan town’s rejection is a good illustration of their fiery temperament.
  • Jesus’ response in vs. 55-6 is not in the earliest manuscripts.

 Read Luke 9:57-62

  • By reminding his followers that he has no home, Jesus stresses the humble status of the Son of Man in contrast to his revealed glory (previous stories of miracles and transfiguration).
  • We do no one a favor by making Christianity sound easier than it truly is. Following Christ is a difficult and demanding path, a lifelong commitment of self-sacrifice. Jesus makes clear that would-be disciples must count the cost before joining him. These comments from a student are insightful: “Taking a closer look at Luke and Acts, I get a more meaningful idea of just how hard it is to be a faithful follower of Christ. It is certainly rewarding but it can be very challenging to the human psyche and ego. It is like climbing a mountain. Every step of the way is hard but inside you get a sense of satisfaction that is not in congruence with how your body feels. I imagine that every one who has climbed Mt. Everest and has gotten frost bite would not tell you about the pain until after they told you how good it feels to reach the top.”
  • Burial of immediate relatives was a religious duty that took precedent over all others, including study of the law. Even priests, normally forbidden to touch corpses, were allowed in cases of relatives (Lev 21:1-3). In this text Jesus doesn’t teach disrespect for the dead but uses hyperbole (exaggeration) to emphasize his point, stressing the ultimate importance of following him. Compare God’s forbidding the prophet Ezekiel to mourn over his wife’s death (Ezek 24:15-24). Jesus must come even before family in our priorities. We might interpret Jesus as saying, “Let the [spiritually] dead [that is, those who don’t follow Jesus] bury the [physically] dead.” Jesus’ characteristic use of exaggeration makes some of his statements sound more harsh than they actually are.
  • Paul refers to the idea of being spiritually dead in Eph 2:1-5: we were dead in our sins but now are alive in Christ.

 Read Luke 10:1-20

  • Only Luke records this second sending out of the disciples on their missionary work. There is a minor discrepancy in the earliest manuscripts, as some give the number as 70 and others say 72.
  • (3) The verb “I send you out” is apostello in Greek, from which we get the word apostle, someone sent on a mission.  The word can apply to anyone, not just the twelve.
  • (4) “don’t greet anyone”: Jesus doesn’t advocate rudeness, but urges haste; don’t spend time talking. In middle eastern customs, greetings were elaborate affairs and would take time away from their mission.
  • Carry no sandals, that is, an extra pair besides those worn. Rely on God to provide.
  • (7) This verse is one of few sayings of Jesus that Paul quotes in his letters (1 Tim 5:18).
  • (13) The town of Korazin (Chorazin) is unknown other than this comment, nor do we have any record to explain Jesus’ harsh judgment against Bethsaida or Capernaum, located near the sea of Galilee. Whatever the case, their rejection of Jesus leaves them without hope in the age to come, as he is the only means of salvation. His condemnation of these towns is a general one, speaking about those who rejected him. Obviously some did believe in him: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and probably Matthew were all from Capernaum. (Tourists in Israel today can visit ancient Capernaum.)
  • (15) Some translations say “go down to the depths;” the Greek word is Hades, which is not Hell (Gehenna) but the Greek equivalent of the OT Sheol, meaning the grave.
  • (18) The disciples’ amazement that even they could rebuke demons in his name prompts Jesus to proclaim an even greater event — the ultimate defeat of Satan himself. In a prophetic vision Jesus speaks of having seen judgment against Satan as a past action, typical of prophetic speech which describes a future event as already happened, indicating the certainty of God’s judgments (see Isa. 14, Jer 1:13-19, Ezek 2:9-10). There is no need to wait and see; the defeat of Satan has already been determined by God. Satan “fell” at the time of Jesus’ victory on the cross when he rescued us from the power of sin. In this context, Jesus is not commenting on some past defeat of Satan, but his present defeat by the coming death of Christ.

Additional notes on the origin of Satan:

  • Despite popular belief, the Bible does not teach that Satan was once an angel who fell from heaven. This idea first appears in the writings of the 2nd century church who took passages from the OT out of context and applied them to Satan.
  • For example, Isaiah 14:12 reads, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of the morning.” If you read this verse by itself, it might sound like it is talking about Satan, but it is not. We must read the entire chapter to see whom the prophet is describing here. In verse 4 Isaiah clearly says he is referring to the king of Babylon who considered himself so high and mighty, but God would bring him down to ruin. Isaiah uses symbolism comparing the haughty king to the morning star (the planet Venus which can be seen early in the morning). The King James version translates the name as “Lucifer” which means “light bearer,” another name for the morning star, but the Bible nowhere identifies this as another name for Satan.
  • We must always read a passage in its entirety to understand its true meaning, but Christians past and present have a tendency to pick and choose verses without regard to the full context, thus misreading the author’s intention.
  • Likewise Ezekiel 28 describes the ruler of Tyre in symbolism as a heavenly being who was cast from God’s presence, but never identifies him as Satan. In context it is a prophecy of the fall of the king of Tyre, an ancient city in Lebanon. We should not read something into the text that is not there.
  • Some point to Revelation 12 as supporting the idea of Satan’s original fall. This book is too complex to discuss here, but if you are interested, here are some notes on RevelationLinks to an external site. I have on another site.
  • 2 Peter 2:4 mentions angels who sinned and were cast into hell, but the passage never mentions Satan, nor says when this punishment occurred, that is, it doesn’t say this fall happened in the beginning of time before creation. So again the text does not say what people assume it says. Too often we come to scripture with preconceived ideas leading us to see things in the text that are not there.
  • The idea of Satan as a fallen angel was made popular by John Milton’s great Christian epic poem Paradise Lost in the 17th century, a wonderful work of literary fiction, but fiction nonetheless.
  • So where did Satan come from? We must accept that this is a mystery. I agree that the “theory” that Satan was created good then fell into sin makes sense, and I have no other explanation for it, but the Bible doesn’t specifically describe it this way. It may very well be that Satan is a fallen angel; nothing in scripture contradicts this idea, but the passages that are used to “prove” this have been misinterpreted and shouldn’t be read out of context. That is a careless misuse of scripture.

 Read Luke 10:21-24

  • Jesus praises God for revealing the truth (21); in the next verse Jesus himself is the Revealer (22). This is important to remember. We cannot know anything about the invisible God except what he chooses to reveal to us about himself, through his word and through Jesus. Some people say, “I think God is like this or that” but nothing we imagine about God can be the truth unless we find it in scripture.
  • Note the contrast in divine and human wisdom (see 1 Cor 1-3, Isa 29:14, Job 5:13). The little children are those who have faith, whom those considered wise in the world may ridicule. But what is wise to the world, God sees as foolishness. Christ turns the world’s values upside-down.
  • This is the only place in the Synoptic gospels where Jesus speaks of his unique relationship with the Father, which he does in John’s gospel repeatedly.
  • God does not malevolently hide the truth from the “wise,” but they are self-blinded by human pride, trusting their own understanding. “The so-called wise of the world rejected Jesus because of their self-sufficiency and arrogance.” [MB] This saying picks up the theme of reversal of worldly values seen first in the prayer of Mary (ch.1).

The Good Samaritan

 Read Luke 10:25-42

  • This parable is unique to Luke, but Matthew and Mark share similar questions about loving one’s neighbor.
  • The lawyer (not in the modern sense but an expert in the OT law, a scribe) is one of the “wise” that Jesus said wouldn’t see the truth because of stubbornness (21 above). The truth is there for those who are open to finding it.
  • The scribe asks, in effect, “Who is my neighbor, who’s worthy of my loving attention?” Jesus turns the question around, from defining neighbor as one who receives love to defining neighbor as the one who shows love: is the scribe worthy to be called a neighbor, as the Samaritan was?
  • Some of the rabbis interpreted OT laws to exclude non-Jews. For instance, Ex. 21:35 says, “When one man’s ox hurts the ox of his neighbor …” but the rabbis commented, “This excludes the ox of a Samaritan or a foreigner.” [DG]
  • The town of Jericho in Jesus’ day was south of the ancient city which was destroyed in the OT. Over 18 miles from Jerusalem in the mountains, the road drops 3300 ft. to Jericho. This treacherous road was infamous for its bandits. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the Roman general Pompey’s efforts to clean them out in the 1st century BC. Jerome (who translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century) said it was known as the red (bloody) road.
  • The text says the priest was “coming down the road,” that is, coming down from Jerusalem in the mountains. Perhaps this implies that the priest had just completed his duties at the temple and was heading home, but his acts of worship did not change his heart. Today some Christians may attend church regularly but never go out of their way to help the needy person they meet along the way.
  • Levites were lesser priests, not directly descended from Aaron (Moses’ brother), who were in charge of maintaining worship rituals.
  • A Jewish saying (not in scripture) illustrates the hatred they had for Samaritans: “He that eats bread with a Samaritan is like one that eats swine [an unclean animal].”
  • The two denarii which the Samaritan pays the innkeeper would have been about three weeks worth of food. [DG]
  • Mary and Martha lived in Bethany, about 2 miles from Jerusalem (John 11:1). This would not make sense if Luke were recording Jesus’ actual travel route, because he is still in Samaria. Why Luke includes this episode here is not clear.
  • The parables in the following chapters (several of which are unique to Luke) are arranged in an interesting fashion, in inverse parallel order, with the theme of the first parable similar to the last, the second similar to the next-to-last, etc. You might want to read them in pairs to see the similarities. This type of organization was common in the ancient world.

1a. good Samaritan / bad priest (10:25-37)

2a. persistent neighbor (11:5-8)

3a. rich fool (12:13-21)

4a. watchful servant (12:35-8)

5a. fig tree saved (13:6-9)

6a. wedding feast (14:7-14)

6b. great banquet (14:15-24)

5b. lost sheep, coin (15:1-32)

4b. shrewd servant (16:1-13)

3b. rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31)

2b. persistent widow (18:1-8)

1b. Pharisee and tax collector (18:9-14)


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