We are looking at the part of Luke's gospel where he describes the events that occurred as Jesus was transitioning His ministry from the northern part of the country near Galilee to the south where the city of Jerusalem was located. We noted that as He drew near the holy city which housed the temple and the religious leaders (priests, scribes, Pharisees), the opposition to Him and His teachings grew. We left off at the end of chapter 11 where Luke records that these leaders were actively plotting to trap Him in what He might say (11:53-54). This was taking place because Jesus had denounced them for having rejected Him and telling the people that He was demon-possessed.
In chapter 12 Jesus responds to the opposition He is facing by warning His Apostles about the schemes of these men, and adds the admonition that being His disciple would be difficult and dangerous. He reassures them, however, with several promises:
- Their message would eventually be heard despite the opposition they faced (verses 1-3).
- The power they spoke from and witnessed about was greater than the power opposing them (verses 4-5).
- God considered them valuable even if the world did not (verses 6-7).
- Faith in Christ would be the determining factor in judgment before God, not earthly power or position (verses 8-9).
- Those who rejected God's word (Jesus is the Messiah) by saying that He and His word were of Satan would not be forgiven because they had rejected and blasphemed the only One who could save them (verse 10).
- God would provide the wisdom they needed to proclaim and defend their faith when persecuted (verses 11-12).
At this point someone in the crowd asks Jesus a question and this shifts His attention from warning His Apostles concerning the Pharisees to warning them about the dangers that were present in the world, dangers that threatened not only their ministry but their souls as well.
Parable About Bigger Barns – Luke 12:13-21
13Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14But He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."
- Luke 12:13-15
The question implies that there is a dispute over money in this family and the person who asked the question wanted Jesus to mediate. The Lord refuses to get involved because He is not one of the judges normally appointed to handle these types of legal matters. He does, however, use the incident to teach the crowd about greed (never having enough), the problem that was probably causing the trouble between these family members in the first place.
His lesson is embedded in a parable.
16And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' 18Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' 20But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
- Luke 12:16-21
The story is a simple one: a rich man is blessed with an abundant harvest which makes him richer still. This sudden increase presents a dilemma: how to maintain this wealth? The man solves this problem by increasing his storage capacity - bigger barns! While he is contemplating how he will enjoy his increased wealth, he dies and his estate is given to others.
Notice that the word greed does not appear in the story. The rich man is not condemned because he was wealthy or because his fields produced a bountiful harvest, these were blessings. The sin comes when deciding about his increase, the things he did and didn't do that were motivated by greed and a lack of faith.
Things He Didn't Do
- Did not give thanks to God.
- Did not ask God for direction in the use of his increase.
- Did not consider giving a portion to God as thanksgiving.
- Did not consider sharing with others in need.
Things He Did Do
- He kept it all for himself.
- He only made an effort to store it so he could benefit from it later.
- He only considered how to bless himself with this new wealth.
- He assumed that he would live long enough to carry out his plans.
The greed here is seen in a person already rich welcoming an increase in wealth only as an opportunity to maintain his lifestyle here in the world. The real danger of greed is that it moves us to act in ways that only consider the physical (i.e. more stuff equals more safety, happiness, success) with little or no regard for the spiritual aspect of life.
In verse 21 Jesus makes a comparison:
- The one that only stores physical wealth is not prepared for death and judgment.
- The "rich toward God," meaning the one rich and becoming wealthier in the things of God (forgiveness, righteousness, fruit of the Spirit, ministry, etc.), this person is more than ready for death and judgment.
Beatitudes – Luke 12:22-34
This parable naturally leads to a more in-depth discussion of the life led by someone rich towards God. Jesus turns His attention from the question concerning the dispute between the brothers and their inheritance, answered by the parable of the rich fool, and now addresses the crowd in general. Luke records Jesus repeating the lesson on the beatitudes originally found in Matthew's gospel (chapters 5-7), as the way one is to live if he is to be rich towards God.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- Luke 12:34
Be Ready – Luke 12:35-13:9
Once He has completed the parable and teaching, Jesus follows up with a warning to all present and future disciples that they should always be in a state of readiness.
35"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
- Luke 12:35-38
The following passages describe the reason for and nature of this readiness:
Ready for What and When?
39"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect."
- Luke 12:39-40
The coming of Christ will take place at an unknown time. He either comes for us in death, like the rich farmer, or at the end of the world to judge. This is why we need to be in a constant state of readiness.
Ready for Who and Why?
41Peter said, "Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?" 42And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
- Luke 12:41-48
Everyone should be ready, but especially those who know that He can come at any time. Non-believers go about their business unaware, but disciples know that Jesus will return at any time for the purpose of judgment, and thus have no excuse. Readiness is important because the judgment brings both reward and punishment. I believe Jesus is referring to disciples here and particularly teachers, elders, preachers and deacons. They are the slaves who have received instruction and have been left as stewards of God's word and His church. They have been given much (spiritual gifts, a calling, a ministry, opportunities for spiritual growth and blessings) and because of this, much will be required of them. This idea is also supported by James:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
- James 3:1
As to the greater and lesser punishment and rewards, Jesus Himself states that there will be degrees of difference (as does Paul in I Corinthians 3:13-15).
13each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
- I Corinthians 3:13-15
We do not, however, have any descriptions of what these differences are or will be.
49"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
- Luke 12:49-53
Here Jesus reveals that the battle will become extremely personal and, as a result, very painful. Your ministry, faith and readiness will be challenged by those of your own household and those you love most here on earth.
54And He was also saying to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming,' and so it turns out. 55And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, 'It will be a hot day,' and it turns out that way. 56You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? 57"And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? 58For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent."
- Luke 12:54-59
The Lord confirms His warning by reminding them to simply read the signs that He has cautioned them about as they appear in the future (opposition, persecution, family division, etc.) and act accordingly by being ready at all times!
The Lord mentions two ways that a disciple can cultivate this state of readiness at all times.
1Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
- Luke 13:1-4
Repentance is the first step to discipleship and a recurring exercise to produce spiritual growth leading to maturity. Jesus, speaking mainly to the crowd, emphasizes the first and most productive spiritual exercise without which there can be no salvation or subsequent spiritual growth. All need to repent, even Pharisees.
2. Be Productive
6And He began telling this parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. 7And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' 8And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"
- Luke 13:6-9
In this parable, the vineyard and tree are the Jewish nation, the vinedresser is Jesus, and the master is the Father bringing judgment. The nation has been receiving care for three years through the steady preaching of John the Baptist followed by Jesus so that it will bear the fruit of repentance because the kingdom is at hand.
The Jews (especially the religious leaders) have rejected both John and Jesus (killing one and planning to kill the other). The judgment on the nation is imminent but Jesus calls for more time (He has not died, resurrected or empowered His Apostles to go preach yet). These events constitute the "extra" year given to see if there will be a harvest of repentance and faith as a result of these efforts. We know from history that the nation, for the most part, did not respond and in 70 AD the judgment of God fell on the city of Jerusalem as the Roman army laid siege to it, killed the inhabitants, burned the city and tore the temple down to ruins (this was represented in the parable by the cutting down of the fig tree).
And so, Jesus completes a section of teaching to His disciples through the use of parables encouraging them to always be ready (by bearing the good fruit of repentance and faith) because He will return to judge when least expected. Within this warning is included an additional prophecy of judgment and punishment on the Jewish Nation (70 AD) for their lack of faith.
Healing on the Sabbath – Luke 13:10-14:6
The next section is built by placing two instances of Jesus healing on the Sabbath on opposite ends with several of His teachings in the middle. It is interesting to note that Luke is the only gospel writer to add these healings to his record.
Healing on the Sabbath (13:10-17)
10And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. 12When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your sickness." 13And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
- Luke 13:10-13
This woman's main problem was that she was possessed by a demon. The bent over condition she suffered for 18 years was the manifestation of this demon's attack on her body. Jesus releases her from the demon-possession which in turn removes the physical symptom of its presence. She, as a woman of faith (attended synagogue despite her embarrassing symptom), breaks forth in praise to God (He gets the credit as He should).
But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, "There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day."
- Luke 13:14
The synagogue official could not deny the miracle (he may have even been witness to this woman's suffering for 18 years with no cure), but Jesus' miracle might stir up the crowd and thus jeopardize his position. The word "indignant" refers to an anger caused by some insult or challenge. This woman had suffered for nearly two decades and may have had many prayers offered on her behalf. Jesus now comes and, in an instant, she is healed to the joy and amazement of the congregation.
The official tries to cover his anger and possible envy by citing the rules about medical work. Doctors could attend to emergencies on the Sabbath but not treat various chronic conditions on that day (i.e. no doctor's office hours on the Sabbath).
15But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? 16And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?"
- Luke 13:15-16
Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of their attitude. It was custom to feed animals on the Sabbath (they had to be untied or released from their pens to do so). Jesus simply equates the two in order to reveal the double standard (free an animal to drink - ok; free a faithful woman from painful bondage - not ok).
As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.
- Luke 13:17
The ordinary people who saw through the hypocritical rules and regulations of the Pharisees, but were afraid to challenge them, rejoiced because someone was finally standing up to these people not just with words but with power! Luke mentions the humiliation of the religious leaders, and as we will see, this incident will fuel their hatred and eventually move them to plot Jesus' death.
Teaching – Luke 13:18-35
Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (13:18-21)
Previously Jesus had issued warnings about being ready because the kingdom was at hand. Here He provides two brief parables showing what the kingdom is like:
- Mustard seed and plant: has dynamic growth and provides room for many to take shelter.
- Leaven: its growth is unseen but sure. Its presence affects all of its surroundings.
The Narrow Gate (13:22-30)
Luke adds another teaching portion that is also included in both Matthew and Mark's gospels: the call to enter by the narrow door (gate or way) which is Jesus Himself. This continues to be Jesus' invitation to the people (believe in Him is the way to enter the narrow door/gate/way). This repeated call accomplishes two things:
- It offers a clear choice to those who see His miracles and hear His teachings.
- It condemns those who reject Him, especially the religious leaders.
The Lament Over Jerusalem (13:31-35)
Tensions mount as Jesus approaches Jerusalem and the religious leaders try to turn the Lord away by warning Him that Herod means to capture and kill Him. The Lord merely sends a message to the wicked King, telling him that God's plan for Jesus to minister must be fulfilled. In addition to this He tells Herod that He is not worried about being killed here in the outskirts of Jerusalem (Perea) because Jerusalem is where the prophets go to die (this was an observation about the number of past prophets put to death there).
34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! 35Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
- Luke 13:34-35
Jesus finishes with a sad lament over the suffering that the city and nation will experience because of their rejection of their Messiah (and history bears this out: 70 AD, etc.).
Healing on the Sabbath
1It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 2And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 4But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. 5And He said to them, "Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 6And they could make no reply to this.
- Luke 14:1-6
This is the only instance where the term "dropsy" appears in the entire New Testament. It was a disease we now refer to as edema, which is a swelling of the legs, feet or hands due to excessive fluid in the tissues (also, the only time we see Jesus heal this illness). The scenario is the same as the first healing on the Sabbath, except this one is done in a private home, and no one challenges Him this time.
The fact that it was a Pharisee's house and everyone was watching what Jesus would do with the sick man who was (conveniently) present suggests that this was a set-up to gather eyewitness evidence against the Lord for future use. Note also that the man with dropsy offered no praise or thanksgiving after he was miraculously healed.
Jesus is becoming more pointed in His denunciations of the religious leaders, and more adamant in His demand for faithfulness and fruitfulness from His disciples.
Two lessons stand out in this section:
1. No Fruit - No Life
Being alive and remaining alive in Christ requires that we be fruitful in faith, good works, pure living, ministry, etc. There is no neutral gear in Christianity. We are either moving away from something or moving towards something as disciples.
2. The Truth Hurts
The Pharisees were standing right in front of Jesus but their envy and anger stirred up by His teaching and miracles blinded them to the truth that could save them. This same truth that God's word reveals about our lives today is also often painful and embarrassing, however, if we can allow it to lead, heal and inform us, we will grow stronger and more pleasing to God in the process. Spiritual growth can be uncomfortable at times, but it is always worth it.
- In your opinion, what would be the lessons drawn from the parable of the rich fool (bigger barns) for an audience of people who are poor.
- Explain how repentance and bearing fruit prepares a Christian for the return of Jesus.
- Describe, in your own words, the work of a minister who would receive many stripes at judgement, and the work of a minister who would receive only a few stripes. What would be the main difference between the two?