THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Luke 9:51-19:48

Caring for the Poor and The Nature of Discipleship
Luke 14:1-35

. INTRODUCTION

It is surprising to see the amount of space Luke devotes to the last year of Jesus' life, especially when you compare it to the smaller amount of space Matthew and Mark devote to this last year. Yet there is a real similarity between Luke and these other 2 Gospels regarding this last year. The dominant theme in Mark and Matthew is that of humility, that is, the necessity for the follower of Jesus to be humble. Luke develops this theme thoroughly here in chapter 14.

Many people misunderstand the nature of humility. They feel that humility means you put yourself down. Humility though is actually not thinking of yourself. Humility involves thinking of others. Putting yourself down is actually a sick form of pride because once more it focuses on self albeit in a negative way. Humility though does not focus on oneself. It focuses on others. Jesus' instructions on the relationship of His followers to the poor focuses on this element.


CARING FOR THE POOR (14:1-24)

The Humble Guest (14:1-11)

Jesus is once more banqueting on a Sabbath in the home of a prominent Pharisee. Unlike the Pharisee of chapter 5 this Pharisee seems to have invited Jesus to his home in order to monitor Jesus' actions, to see if he could catch Jesus in any theological error. He and his Pharisaical friends are observing Jesus. Once more the issue of Sabbath healing occurs because Jesus heals a man afflicted with dropsy. Jesus replies that since it was permissible to rescue a dumb animal on the Sabbath, how much more permissible, even desirable was it to rescue one of God's sons from illness.

At this point Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees. They had been so arrogant as to put Jesus under the microscope, something people continue to do today. Jesus now though puts them under the microscope. They've been observing Him. Now it is His turn to observe them.

What Jesus observes about them is pretty pitiful. To a real degree they are like children who are worried about who is going to get to sit next to whom. Their position at the table was important because it determined how important they were in the group. Normally the host, the most important person at the banquet, would recline on a couch at the head of the table. The couch could seat up to six people. Your importance was seen in where you sat in relation to the host. The most important guest would recline on the same couch with the host on his left, while the second most important guest would recline on the couch to his right. (Judas Iscariot most likely reclined on the couch with Jesus to His left, signifying the honor and grace Jesus was extending to His traitor.) The other guests would be positioned from that point on near the host or far away from the host based on their importance.

(Before we think that this is just a first-century Jewish phenomenon, let me assure you that it is not. I've been to functions and events in which a prominent person would walk by and people who are valuable in their own right would beat others back to get close to that person. I know of high ranking government officials who get upset whenever they are not recognized at a function. It is almost as if the only reason they came to the function was to be recognized. Jesus' words apply to us as well.)

Apparently these guests are scurrying about frantically trying to get as close to the host as possible. Jesus though relates to them a parable. He tells them that it is wiser for them to take a lowly position at the table and let the host move them up to a higher position than to take a prominent position only to be moved down by the host to a lower position. The truth is that all the appropriate places for him might have already been taken by the time the host addressed his over exaltation and all that is left for him is the most humble place at the table.

What is interesting is that Jesus calls this a parable. How is this a parable? Isn't Jesus just talking about good table manners? No. He is using this story to illustrate a point, that is, the need for humility in the life of his followers. We see this in that Jesus concludes this parable with the statement: "The first shall be last and the last first." Jesus is not simply referring to our relationships with other people but also to our relationship with God.


The Humble Host (14:12-24)

Not only are we to exercise humility when we function as guests, we are also to exercise humility whenever we are the hosts. Why did this Pharisee invite these specific people to his banquet? For the same reason we invite our guests to our functions--to benefit from their presence. If that prominent person is invited to my function and he accepts, then my standing among others has been improved. Maybe inviting certain people will help my business opportunities in the community I live in. Maybe I will get enjoyment from their being present. Moreover, I will definitely expect an invitation from them whenever they put on a soiree. Whatever my motive is in inviting these people, it is still all about me. Ultimately it is not about them; it is about me. There are definite strings attached to my invitation. Jesus though exhorts His host and his friends to adopt a different attitude towards invitations. Instead of inviting to your banquet people who will benefit you, invite those who won't necessarily benefit you and who definitely won't be able to reciprocate. Such people include the blind, the poor, the lame, and the crippled.

Jesus then reinforces this principle with another parable. in this parable the host sends out an invitation to the usual guest list. Before the actual banquet begins though, the host sends out a servant to remind the guests of their initial invitation. This time the servant is met with a bevy of excuses: "I have some land to attend to"; "I have a new wife"; and "I have some new oxen I need to try out." It almost seems as if all the guests have ganged up against the host and have decided to refuse his invitation. (You need to understand that rejecting an invitation was a serious offense socially in the first century. )

The host is furious at the guests. He commands the servant to go invite people who normally would not be invited to such affairs: the blind, the poor, the lame, and the crippled (the same categories of people mentioned earlier). He is going to have a banquet, and nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to prevent it from happening. After the servant has brought in a host of these, he informs the host that there is still room left at the banquet. The host then commands the servant to go search the hedges and highways, and compel those there to attend the banquet.

What is the meaning of this parable? Because the kingdom of God was viewed as a time of great joy and celebration, the Jews pictured it as a feast, a banquet (Isaiah 25:6). In the parable the host represents God who has reached out to the Jewish people. Although there are some exceptions to this rule, the truth is that for the greater part the Jewish people on a whole scale rejected God's invitation to His banquet. Jesus was not calling them to a life of drudgery but to a feast, to abundant life, to the life of God. The elite, God's chosen people the Jews, have rejected God's invitation. Now God turns to those outside the elite, to the Gentiles, those whom the Jewish world considers spiritually blind, spiritually poor, and spiritually lame. These respond positively to God's invitation.

Why does God command us to reach out to the poor? Because it is the only way that we can demonstrate our belief that God the rich host has reached out to us the poor guests. When God reached out to us in Jesus, He had nothing to gain or benefit from our accepting the invitation. It is an act of sheer grace and mercy, and if we have truly experienced God's grace and mercy, then we too will extend it to those who need it even more than we do.


THE SERIOUS NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY (14:25-35)

Recently when I was discussing this passage with one of the men's groups, somebody asked me about how serious Jesus was about us inviting the poor into our homes. This person was like the rest of us in that we try to find ways out of obeying Jesus' command. My response? He's deadly serious about this as this passage will show. He really does expect His followers to send out invitations to the poor, the blind, etc.

Now some are going to respond that in this passage Jesus is not talking about becoming a Christian, that is, being saved, but about being Jesus' disciple. With all due respect there is no difference. This is once more just another subtle argument people use to excuse themselves from obeying Jesus' commands. Jesus never calls us to be Christians; He calls us to be His disciples, His followers. Whereas it is true that we are all in different places in our growth as disciples, we are to grow as disciples, not just be Christians.


Supreme Love Goes to Jesus (14:25-26)

The first part of being Jesus' disciple means that I am to give Him my ultimate, supreme love. The way Jesus communicates this startles you at first: "Unless you hate your parents, spouse, and children, you cannot be My disciple." Jesus is not commanding us to hate these people in our lives. Luke 14:26 is a Hebrew way of saying that we should love Jesus more than these other people in our lives. For example, when God said: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:13), God did not mean that He literally hated Esau. The fact that God ended up blessing Esau and making of him a great nation proved He loved him. It was just that God favored Jacob more than Esau. In Matthew Jesus puts this same thought this way: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me . . ." (Matt. 10:37).

What Jesus is saying is that our love for Jesus should be so far superior to our love for others, even the most important people in our lives, that if we compared the 2 loves, our love for Jesus would be so intense that our love for others would almost come across as hate. He is not commanding us to love others less but to love Him more.

This is a timely reminder for our culture which places such a high value on children. If you want to win an election, claim that everything you do is "for the children." We as a society don't care how much money we spend on education, even if the programs are ineffective, because the money and good intentions are for the children. Jesus though has not called us for the primary purpose of being good parents. In fact He tells us that if we are going to be His disciples, then He is going to have to be more important to us than our own children.

Aren't we afraid though that our children are going to suffer in long run if we put Jesus ahead of our children? The truth is that I am a better dad because of Jesus being lord in my life. If I didn't think Jesus was going to hold me accountable for the way I treated my family, then at times I probably wouldn't try to be a good husband or good dad. Knowing that Nathan, Molly, and Nancy belong to the Lord motivates me to be a better member of my family. Yet when push comes to shove, if they were to choose to go away from the Lord, then I would have to choose Jesus. (The same thing holds vice versa.) "But I might lose my kids!" The best hope for our family is that we hold onto Jesus. When it is all said and done, they need Jesus a whole lot more in their lives than they need me or you.


The Command to Carry One's Cross (14:27)

The second part of being Jesus' disciple involves carrying one's own cross. Too often we think that we should experience physical and financial comfort because we are disciples of Christ. How a person can come up with that idea is beyond me because being a disciple of Jesus means that I am to follow Him. And what is He doing? He is carrying a cross. How can I expect to follow Jesus who carries a cross if I am unwilling to carry a cross?

What is that cross? To answer this, notice that Jesus commands us to carry "our own" cross. In other words the cross I carry may differ from the cross you carry. You might have to carry a cross of a broken relationship. I might have to carry the cross of psychological hardship. The other person might have to carry a cross of financial pain. God doesn't use a cookie cutter when creating us, and as a result the specific cross we carry might differ from what others carry. Whatever the specific cross is though, we carry it because we are following Jesus who is carrying His cross.

Notice also that the verb "carry" is in the present tense. He is not telling us to carry the cross just one day out of our life time. He is commanding us to carry our cross continually. In last Sunday's sermon Milton realistically stated that the scars we bear don't go away. At the end of his life, William Carey, one of the most influential Christians of all time, could be found at his desk weeping. What was he weeping about? The tremendous hardships he had endured while trying to bring the gospel to India in the early 1800's? The fact that his wife went stark raving mad once she arrived in India? The fact that the publishing business he started to print Bibles went up in flames, destroying years of work? No. He was weeping because he was so broken that somebody as unrighteous as he could ever stand before a righteous God.


Consider the Cost (14:28-32)

Before talking about the third part of being Jesus' disciple, Jesus exhorts us to consider the cost before we commit our lives to being Jesus' disciples. It is almost as if Jesus is saying that it is better to have never been His disciple than to having committed to being His disciple and then falling away. Peter writes: For it would have been better not to have known the way of righteousness than having known it to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them; it has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'A dog returns to its vomit' and a sow after washing returns to wallowing in the mire.'" (2 Pet. 2:21-22).

Jesus uses 2 illustrations to encourage us to count the cost. The first involves the man who wants to build a tower and yet has not sat down and counted the cost. He started the project with a great vision, with great enthusiasm, only to discover he did not have the necessary funds. The result? An incomplete tower which people will look at and then ridicule the man for his folly. The second illustration involves the king who is about to go to war with 10,000 troops. The only problem is that he is facing another potentate with an army of 20,000 troops. He would be wise to sit down and count the cost before he sprang into battle.

In both these illustrations the situations are serious: financial loss and physical destruction. Both situations demand that the person sit down and consider what he is doing. Too many times we are so anxious to get people "saved" that we fail to share with people the cost of being Jesus' follower. It means taking up His cross and following Him.

You might say, "Well, Paul didn't share about the need to carry one's cross whenever he shared the gospel." First, look in his writings and you will see statements: "I have been crucified with Christ"; "May it never be that I should boast except in the cross"; "We preach Christ crucified." Moreover, suppose Paul never mentioned the cross. Would that change the truth of this statement? Most of the time people saw Paul carrying his cross as he preached among hostile throngs or even shared the gospel from his prison cell. We're fortunate that we live in a Christianized culture. That is not the situation for most Christians today. Corrie Tin Boom stated that the Christians of her day made the serious mistake of teaching everybody that they were going to be raptured before the tribulation. She said that going through or escaping the tribulation was not the point. The point was that she said she would have been better prepared for the concentration camp of WW2 if she had been taught to prepare herself for the tribulation.


Care for the Poor (14:33)

The third part of being Jesus' disciple involves caring for the poor. How many times does Jesus have to say something for it to be true? Once. How many times does Jesus have to say something before it is important? Once. If that is true, then how important and true is something if Jesus says it a number of times? Very true and very important. In response to the person who asked me how serious Jesus is about our caring for the poor, the answer is "Very serious." Why? Because Jesus doesn't just address this issue once. He addresses it numerous times in the Gospel of Luke.

Are we then to sell all our possessions and give them to the poor? Although I am skating on thin ice here, I don't think that we are to go sell all our possessions and give them to the poor. Why? I just don't see the followers of Jesus doing this in either the Gospels or the book of Acts. You see wealthy supporters of the church retaining their possessions, and yet they are spoken of in glowing terms, e.g. Lydia in Philippi. Rather Jesus seems to be saying that we are to go give all things we have to the Lord and then let Him tell us what to do with them. If He tells us to give 100% of our belongings to the poor, then we are supposed to do this; if He tells us to give 2% to the poor, we are supposed to do this. "But the Lord has never told me to do this." Have you prayed about the matter? If not, then the Lord probably has not communicated this to you. (Be careful here. If God has not communicated this to you, it is most likely your fault. He's not going to let us off the hook if we have not searched His will in this area.)