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BI 1073 Story of Jesus / Lipscomb University

Unit 4A

Teaching on Mercy and Riches

 

 Read Luke 14:1-6

  • This is the third occasion in Luke of Jesus eating with a Pharisee.
  • This man’s disease, which some translations describe as dropsy, today is called edema, a serious swelling due to fluid, sometimes related to a heart condition.
  • As Jesus notes, the Pharisees did allow some exceptions for activity on the Sabbath, but they would not have considered this man’s disease an emergency but something which could have waited until the next day. The Qumran community near the Dead Sea were even more strict and did not allow any exceptions such as rescuing an animal [DG].
  • This Sabbath healing is parallel to Luke 13:10-17, and the dinner context sets up Jesus’ three following teachings.

 Read Luke 14:7-11

  • In Roman times dinners were regarded as measurements of one’s prestige in the community [DG].
  • How do we remain humble? If we compare ourselves to others, we can almost always find ways to make ourselves look better. But if we compare ourselves to Jesus, we always fall short.
  • Read the similar passage in Prov. 25:6-7.

 Read Luke 14:12-14

  • For most of the Greco-Roman world, the ethic of reciprocity prevailed: do good to others so that they will do good to you. We sometimes hear that Jesus was the only person to teach the golden rule but that is not the case. Some pagan philosophers taught it as well: Aristotle (Nic Ethics 1167b.31), Cicero (De Officiis 1.48), Seneca (Ben 2.31.2).
  • Jesus teaches us to give, not for gain, self-interest, or to feel superior, but out of genuine compassion for the unfortunate; similar to what he said in 6:32-35. One way to accomplish what Jesus commands: give a considerable amount to charities but do it anonymously. We may also give our time to serving others where we meet them personally at a homeless shelter or food bank.

 Read Luke 14:15-24

  • This feast at the coming of the kingdom is described in Isaiah 25:6.
  • In the parallel passage in Matthew 22, Jesus identifies the host as a king giving a wedding feast for his son the bridegroom, making the parable clearly about God and Christ.
  • The excuses are not of equal weight, but it doesn’t matter, as no excuse is adequate for refusing the invitation of the king. Business and relationships are certainly important aspects of people’s lives, but they should not take priority over the call of God.
  • Note those who are invited in v. 13 and 21; Luke describes these as outcasts of society, the poor and sick (a detail not in Matthew’s version).
  • The master’s second call for guests (not in Matthew) shows that the problem is not with God’s stinginess but man’s failure to respond. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God calls everyone to salvation, but unfortunately not everyone accepts his gracious invitation.
  • This parable sheds light on the idea of the “narrow door” (13:23) and Matthew 22:14, “Many are called but few chosen,” passages which are often misunderstood. God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He is always willing to receive sinners, but they must first be willing to come to Him in repentance. Contrary to John Calvin’s idea of predestination (in which God has already chosen a few to be saved and most to be damned), Jesus teaches that God invites everyone to his banquet, but He forces no one to accept. We have a choice to make as well.
  • In Matthew, those who refused the invitation committed a greater offense by killing the king’s servants, just as the Israelites had killed God’s prophets. The king sends his army to destroy them as just punishment for their crimes.

 Read Luke 14:25-35

  • Does Jesus really want us to hate our parents? The parallel passage in Matthew 10:37 reads, “Any man who doesn’t love me more than …” which makes the meaning of Jesus’ statement clearer to English readers. “Hate” is a Jewish idiom of comparison, an exaggeration to make a strong point (see similar statements in Prov 13:24, Mal 1:2-3). Jesus doesn’t ask us to hate anyone but wants us to place him above all other loves, which should pale in comparison. Jesus requires single-minded devotion. In a similar phrase, he speaks that a man should “hate his own life” (9:23) meaning self-denial, not self-loathing.
  • When Jesus talks about putting God before family, he doesn’t mean for a husband to abandon his wife and children or for adults to neglect their aging parents. Most likely Jesus envisions a situation where a person becomes his follower despite the objections of his family who are not believers. He knows that his presence in the world will divide people into believers and nonbelievers, which sadly may split even families. (At my church a Jewish man attends faithfully and believes in Jesus, but has not been baptized, I think because his parents would disapprove.)
  • Jesus freely admits that there is a cost to following him. Too many people today are seeking some type of spirituality that helps them feel good about themselves but do not want to accept any restrictions placed on their lifestyles. They want the benefits but not the obligations of discipleship.
  • If we are true disciples, giving up everything for Jesus, then we will stand out in the world. Too often though with our materialistic, self-centered lifestyles, we merely blend in with the rest of society. Like tasteless salt, no one notices any difference.

Lost and Found

 Read Luke 15:1-10

  • Jesus associated with “notorious sinners” not to condone their lifestyles but to call them to repentance.
  • God rejoices more for the lost who return than for those who were never lost. There is special joy in heaven for a new convert; this doesn’t mean that God values those who remain faithful any less, however. Perhaps it’s like a new baby which brings special joy without taking away from the love we have for the older children.
  • Possibly the woman’s coin came from the headband (kaffiyeh) she wore as her dowry, so it was very valuable to her, not just any loose coin [Jeremias].

 Read Luke 15:11-32

  • These three parables of God’s mercy for sinners, along with parables of the two debtors (Luke 7) and the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18), are addressed ironically not to “sinners” but to Pharisees who opposed Jesus’ association with sinners and their inclusion among the elect. The Pharisees are like the elder brother who resents the father’s mercy toward the prodigal son. Also it reminds us of the OT story of Jonah who was upset when God forgave the city of Nineveh. Sometimes we resent how easily God offers his grace to others whom we are not so willing to forgive.
  • God’s desire to forgive those who return to him in repentance is abundant. In the parable the father’s unconditional acceptance of his lost son “may seem hard to those who have borne the heat and burden of the day, but it is God’s way. There is nothing here to threaten God’s faithful sons. Their place with God remains secure; their inheritance is undisturbed. But they should not imagine that they have a claim upon God that excludes others. Nor should they imagine that their faithful efforts place God in their debt or oblige him to give them some distinctive recognition. Like their returned prodigals, no more and no less, they are the Father’s dear children.” [JN]
  • Notice that the son had first to acknowledge his sinful ways and then return to his father in repentance before he could receive forgiveness. “Repentance … requires a change of thinking and acting and a renunciation of previous intentions and deeds” [DG]. How often do we want to rely on God’s willingness to forgive when we are unwilling to truly repent and change our ways?
  • There are some people today who want to defend or excuse a sinful lifestyle by saying, “Well, we are all sinners, but it’s God’s nature to forgive us anyway.” This is clearly not the teaching of Jesus who preached the necessity of repentance throughout his ministry. In John 8, Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” God forgives those who acknowledge their sins and vow to work hard not to continue living this way. But those who continue to live in open rebellion to God’s commands cannot rely on grace to save them. As Paul says in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue to sin so that grace may abound? God forbid.”

Use and Abuse of Riches

 Read Luke 16:1-15

  • Jesus speaks more about the problems with money and neglect for the needy than almost any other topic.
  • Some might say how we handle money has no spiritual implications, but Jesus disagrees. In the Final Judgment scene in Matt. 25 he doesn’t say, “Did you attend worship every week? Did you believe the correct doctrines? Did you vote for the right candidates?” but “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me, I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes.”
  • Concerning this parable, we can learn lessons even from the unbelievers of this world. The application: we must use money wisely in this life in order to gain true riches in the next.
  • Shrewd servant/manager: Concerning this difficult parable the majority of commentators interpret the steward as continuing to act unethically by reducing his master’s profits, but if so, why does the master praise him for it? Jesus’ point might be that if worldly men act shrewdly, shouldn’t sons of light be even wiser in their use of money?
  • Howard Marshall offers two alternatives to this view. First, the steward may have reduced the interest due his master. Charging interest was against OT law (Ex 22:35, Lev 25:36, Deut 23:19-20) but was often done anyway, in which case the master knew he had no legal grounds to complain. A second possibility: the steward may have been taking his commission off the top, so he forfeits his share, not what is owed his master. Either of these seems to make more sense than the traditional view.
  • In many parables the master symbolizes God, but not always. In this case Jesus describes a worldly master, not God.
  • This is one of few texts that teaches we are stewards of money/possessions; in most texts, stewardship refers to our responsibility of sharing the gospel.
  • Some translations of v. 9 say “unrighteous mammon.” Mammon was an Aramaic term for any type of wealth: money, goods, property. Some think that Jesus refers to this as unrighteous because it was obtained by unjust or deceitful means, but more than likely this should simply be translated as “worldly wealth” in contrast to the spiritual riches of the life to come.
  • “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves.” This is one case where we can’t interpret this verse alone without considering all the other things Jesus says about wealth. Obviously he doesn’t recommend “buying” friendship or influence as some try to do. In general Jesus teaches that the good use of wealth means that which benefits society, helping others not just in charity but, for instance, a responsible business owner providing good paying jobs, producing quality products which are useful, dealing honestly and fairly with consumers, etc. Possibly Jesus means that we should do good with our wealth in this life and we will be rewarded in the next (but I admit this is one of Jesus’ most confusing statements).
  • The proper use of wealth takes much wisdom, which if true for the worldly person, is even more so for the believer who understands that the wealth is not his own, but that he is God’s steward. It’s about much more than the “bottom line.”
  • “Jesus laments that the children of this world show more concern for the security of their earthly existence and act more decisively to guarantee it than the children of light do in securing their eternal existence” [DG].
  • Notice that the contrast “trusted with little/much” is not referring to how much money one has. Jesus considers worldly wealth to be a little thing in comparison to heavenly riches. If we cannot be trusted not to abuse money, we cannot be trusted with greater spiritual tasks.
  • “You cannot serve God and money.” Notice the emphasis on “serving” money, making it your supreme life’s goal. Taking all of Jesus’ teachings into account, he does not condemn financial success in itself, but he warns about the possible negative consequences: trusting too much in our own wealth and power, having an attitude of superiority over those who are not successful, living an ostentatious, materialistic lifestyle in the midst of poverty, spending too much on ourselves and not helping others, never being satisfied with and thankful for what we have, showing disdain toward the poor (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus below and the story of the rich young ruler).
  • The church should be a place where the world can see what it means to be equal in Christ, where there is no distinction between rich and poor. In his letter to the Romans, Paul sends greetings from Corinth, and includes a valuable example of this principle: “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings” (Romans 16:23). Gaius must have been wealthy to own a house large enough for the entire church (probably around 50 people) to have met together. Erastus was a prominent public figure (in fact, archaelogists found a paving stone in ancient Corinth with this name on it). But Quartus is probably a slave; his name means “fourth” which is how slaves were called, simply by their order of birth. But Paul includes all of these men together as equal brothers in Christ.

 Read Luke 16:16-18

  • These three verses seem to be misplaced in the text and interrupt the connection between 15 and 19 which continues with the theme of riches. They have no relationship to the surrounding texts or each other. They are legitimate teachings of Jesus but have been collected here out of context for some reason.
  • In Matthew 11, Jesus speaks of a confrontation between a powerful kingdom and powerful opponents. Luke (without this context it’s hard to interpret) gives a more positive turn that everyone is trying hard to enter the kingdom. An alternate translation understands it as passive voice: “all are urged to enter it” which makes more sense [JF, DB, DG]
  • (18) In his teaching on divorce, Jesus is clarifying the OT law and its true intention. If a married man sees another woman and wants her instead of his wife, he might think, “I’ll just divorce my wife and marry this other woman, thus I won’t be committing adultery.” Jesus says that you can’t use divorce as a legal loophole to get around the commandment. This divorce would be just as wrong as adultery because you left your spouse for another. (In my opinion, this verse may not apply to all divorce situations, such as when a person divorces because of some kind of abuse, then years later marries someone else. The abused person did not leave his/her spouse for the purpose of marrying another.)
  • In Matthew 19:9 Jesus gives an exception that makes divorce acceptable in cases of the other spouse’s adultery.

Discussion: Jesus and the Old Testament

  • Verse 17 is similar to Matt. 5:17-18 where Jesus says he came not to abolish but to fulfill the law, which would not pass away.
  • Some Christians claim that the OT is no longer important for us today, other than as a book of stories we tell our children about Noah’s ark or Daniel and the lion’s den.
  • Some argue, for instance, that Christians do not need to tithe (10%) in our giving because this was an OT law not directly commanded in the NT. Or some may say that Jesus never condemns homosexual behavior so it must be OK (ignoring Paul’s condemnation of it in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1, affirming the OT teachings). But Jesus respected the authority of the OT and upheld its teachings even when he didn’t repeat everything written there.
  • Although not part of our study of the gospels, some of you may want more information on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible. Here are some notes I’ve prepared (optional reading).
  • Certainly some things have indeed changed from OT times. We no longer sacrifice animals at a temple because Jesus was the supreme and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10). In this way he fulfilled that part of the law for all time.
  • In his letters Paul explains that some of the laws pertaining specifically to Jews do not apply to Gentiles, such as food restrictions or circumcision.
  • Also Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday — by the way, the NT never calls Sunday the Christian “Sabbath” or explains the reason for this change. The NT does not apply Sabbath restrictions to Sunday as a “day of rest.”
  • But we should not ignore the moral teachings of the OT and claim that they are no longer relevant in the Christian era. Jesus continued to teach from the OT scriptures, as did Paul and the other NT writers. When Paul in 2 Timothy said that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine and instruction in righteousness, he was speaking specifically about the OT, since the NT was just in the process of being written. If we want to know the will of God, we cannot ignore the OT.

 Read Luke 16:19-31

  • The name Lazarus means “helped by God.” This is the only parable where Jesus gives a person’s name. (Don’t confuse the man in the parable with Jesus’ good friend, brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11.)
  • No reference prior to this text mentions angels attending the dead, or the deceased being at Abraham’s side; the latter probably means Lazarus was reclining next to him at a banquet in contrast to his hunger before. Keep in mind this is parable imagery, not a literal description of the afterlife.
  • Notice that the only fault the rich man commits is enjoying a lavish lifestyle while ignoring the needs of the poor. This is not simply ignorance, as the rich man knew Lazarus by name (24); he probably saw him on his doorstep every day. Even after death the rich man orders Lazarus about like a servant as if his riches made him a superior person.
  • The sin of disregarding the needy runs throughout the Bible. In the OT the city of Sodom was destroyed in part for neglecting the poor (Ezek 16:49-50). See also the warnings of Amos 4:1 to the “ cows of Bashan,” rich Jewish women who lived in luxury while others starved. These are but a few examples.
  • But note: Abraham was also wealthy and yet was considered a righteous man. Money is not the issue but how we use it, selfishly or sharing with others in need. God entrusts us as stewards with possessions (his, not ours) to use for his good works. If God blesses us with a good income, we should share this blessing with others less fortunate. The more blessed we are, the more we can give away. In this way God blesses others through us.
  • (23) Some versions mistranslate this verse and say the rich man is in “hell.” However, the Greek word here is Hades, the equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol. In the OT, Sheol is the realm of the dead where both good and wicked people go, usually translated “the grave.”
  • The word for hell is Gehenna; see note on Luke 12:1-12. The rich man cannot be in hell, the place of final punishment, because this story clearly happens before Judgment Day; notice the rich man’s reference to his brothers who are still alive on earth.
  • Some interpreters believe that this passage teaches a waiting place for both the good and the wicked after death, before the day of resurrection. However, there are several reasons why this argument is invalid. Nowhere else in the Bible does it describe a waiting place for the dead before the Judgment. We should not take this parable as a literal depiction of life after death; that is not Jesus’ point. If taken literally, the details of this parable would contradict other biblical doctrines. First, these characters are described as having bodies (see references to finger and tongue) which cannot exist before the Resurrection. At death our bodies return to dust. At the Resurrection we will receive new bodies, not before. Also it would contradict the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25) who do not seem to know their eternal fate before Judgment; if the wicked were waiting in a place of torment after death, they wouldn’t be surprised at God’s sentence. Many texts tell us that the judgment will occur when Christ returns, not before: Matt. 16:27, 25:32; Acts 10: 42; Rom. 2:5, 16.
  • Despite our curiosity, the Bible does not give a clear picture of what happens to us between death and the resurrection day. All the relevant passages focus on the dead waking from their graves on the Resurrection Day. Some believe (as I do) that after death, the next thing we will experience is waking up in our new bodies on that day, with no sense of time passing in between. Thus there is no need of a “waiting place.” (We will discuss the doctrine of resurrection more in the final unit.)
  • The purpose of this story is not doctrinal teaching about the afterlife but a moral lesson: “The Savior related this parable not in order to satisfy our curiosity about life after death but to emphasize vividly the tremendous seriousness of [choices made] on this side of the grave” [Geldenhuys]. The rich man ignored Lazarus at his doorstep, so in the next life their roles will be reversed, similar to what Mary says in her prayer, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the rich empty-handed” (Luke 1:53).
  • We do not earn salvation by good works such as feeding the poor, but we do prove the genuineness of our faith by producing the fruit of a righteous life. As James 2:17 says, faith without works is dead.

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