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Luke 15:1-17:10 Listen
In this passage, we see the following in Jesus' ministry:
It's been lost; we're going to find it (Luke 15)
1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
This whole chapter 15 is set up by the first two verses. Luke 15:1-2 says, "Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." Any Kingdom set up by the Messiah needs to coordinate with the existing Jewish leadership as far as these leaders were concerned. They had an exclusive on religion in their day, and the general Jewish populace of non-observant Jews had been disenfranchised. Of course, Jesus did not share that view; he had repeatedly declared that the existing Jewish leadership was corrupt. The very fact that they had disenfranchised common Jews was a glaring symptom of just that. Make no mistake about the intent of these parables; they are designed to expose the current Jewish leadership as elitists who have no real regard for the people.
Three parables follow which turn the tables on these Jewish leaders and address these disenfranchised people of verses 1-2:
The Lost Sheep
3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
The Lost Coin
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
The Prodigal Son
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The parables of the lost sheep and coin are brief, but do make the point of the importance of recovering that which was lost i.e. those Jews considered "sinners" by the Jewish leaders. There should be rejoicing that the "publicans and sinners" were taking an interest in spiritual things as they gathered around Jesus, but the Jewish leaders didn't see it that way. As far as these Pharisees and scribes were concerned, these commoners were not only lost in their eyes, they had no mission nor desire to see them returned to God. Such was the blatant hypocrisy of these elitist Jewish leaders - interested only in themselves and not others.
While the parables of the lost sheep and coin are brief, the parable of the prodigal son is rich with infuriating implications if you're a Pharisee or scribe, inasmuch as the attitude of the "elder" son typifies these Jewish leaders. The elder son is not happy that the prodigal son has returned, just as these scribes and Pharisees don't seem happy that these "sinners" are gathering around to hear Jesus speak. Question: Wouldn't authentic God-fearing Jewish leaders be elated that Jesus was reaching those who previously had shown no interest in spiritual things? That's the lesson to these arrogant, selfish scribes and Pharisees whose attitudes are reflected in the "elder" son.
So, as it turns out, the main player in the parable of the prodigal son is not the father, not the prodigal son, but the "elder" son; he's the one that reflects the exclusive hold on the religion of the day that Jewish leaders exercised over the people. We see in the prodigal son that no matter how much you've done, a good father still loves you. We see in the father a reflection of God's forgiveness. Those, however, with ulterior religious motives like these Jewish leaders, care nothing about the "sinner" who returns...the very attitude reflected by the elder son in the parable. Even though their own eternal interests were not jeopardized (verses 31-32), they still resented the positive response of the "sinners" to the message Jesus was preaching.
Parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13)
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
It appears that the issue of the squandered funds by the prodigal son provides this theme for the next parable. We see that it is the same occasion as the giving of the other parables with the phrase in verse 1, "And he said also unto his disciples..." Those preceding parables of chapter 15 were presented to an audience of Pharisees and scribes (15:2). While 16:1 says that Jesus is speaking to his disciples with the parables of chapter 16, we see from verse 16:14 that the Pharisees were still in the audience when these parables are spoken as well, "And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him." As a matter of fact, this verse also gives us a clue regarding the true emphasis of this parable; it's money. So, it would appear that after Jesus finished the parable of the prodigal son with the wayward son ending up being the good guy and the faithful son ending up being the selfish brat, the Pharisees may have taken exception to this application. After all, Pharisees were not supported by Temple or synagogue funds; they were businessmen who had created an executive religious class of their own. For the most part, it appears that they were generally men of means and were themselves "covetous."
Now the parable itself: So, here's the business manager for a wealthy man. Word gets back to the wealthy man that the business manager is doing a lousy job and is subsequently given his notice of termination rather than being fired on the spot. Fearing poverty, the business manager uses his last few days of authority to work a deal with debtors of the wealthy man with the intent of causing them to like him in case he needs a favor in the future when he is jobless. It turns out that the wealthy man is pleased with the manager's negotiations of leniency and commends him for his actions, even though perhaps he was not privy to his manager's motivations for doing so.
Jesus makes three main points in this parable:
There's no question but that Jesus is addressing covetousness, compassion and loyalty; there's also no question regarding the fact that he's addressing these qualities with regard to these Jewish leaders who lacked compassion and loyalty but were very long on covetousness. The Jewish leaders are definitely portrayed as the unjust stewards.
14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
So, after hearing this parable, the Pharisees "derided" Jesus because of their covetous nature. Just add that to the list of negative Pharisaical qualities. Notice the reaction of Jesus is verse 15, "And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." What is it that is "highly esteemed among men?" Wealth! And in verse 16 we see that their interest in the Kingdom of God was not the miraculous, long-awaited, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but the opportunity for wealth and power. Jesus points out that even though they were highly respected as keepers of the law, their actions, in reality, constituted an "abomination in the sight of God."
He then suggests in verse 17 that these Pharisees were not truly keepers of the law after all. Do you Pharisees need an illustration? Well here it is. You are ready to stone others as they are caught in adultery, but you yourselves practice adultery with your flagrant practice of putting away your wife and marrying another when you tire of her. Jesus equates this Pharisaical practice with adultery. So, you see, those Pharisees aren't so righteous after all. Jesus uses this divorce scenario to support his contention that the Pharisees were not really keepers of the Law of Moses. To read more on Jesus' teaching on divorce, see the notes on Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12.
You may have noticed that Jesus indicates a new era in Luke 16:16, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." As we have continually pointed out in our notes on the Gospel writings, Jesus is introducing the Messianic Kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. That message started with John the Baptist and is the theme of all four Gospels.
Hades just isn't what it used to be (Luke 16:19-31)
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Jesus is still on a "wealth" theme. Since he's still addressing these wealth-loving Pharisees, he may as well drive the point all the way home. I hesitate to say that this is a parable; it is unprecedented for Jesus to use a proper name in his parables, but here he makes reference to a man named Lazarus (not the Lazarus of John 11 - see notes). Lazarus was a common Jewish name during that era - a derivative Greek spelling of Eleazar. Both the rich man and Lazarus (the poor man) die. The rich man lands in "hell" (Greek word: hades). Lazarus goes to an adjacently-located place called "Abraham's bosom" (Greek word: kolpos can also be translated "bay"). We see that the side Lazarus is on is climate-controlled, but the rich man complains, "... I am tormented in this flame." While they have a clear view of one another, there is no passage between the two because of a "great gulf." The clear teaching to the Pharisees here is found in Luke 16:25, "But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." You can see that this story ties in with the first 18 verses of this chapter. These Pharisees had placed more importance on wealth than on a true relationship with God. In other words, Jesus literally uses this occasion with a parable and a story to demonstrate to the Pharisees that they were not righteous after all.
Here's how we know that Jesus isn't just addressing the issue of wealth here. First of all, the wealthy man of the parable in verses 1-13 is the good guy. The business manager is the bad guy until he becomes generous with the wealth; then he's commended. Jesus is dealing with the accumulation at the exclusion of sharing wealth here. We get a further indication of this fact from the dialogue between Abraham and the rich man in verse 25-31. The plea for a warning to his family is rejected with the statement of fact in verse 31 that the rich man had rejected "Moses and the prophets." Generosity to your brethren is seen throughout the Law of Moses. These Pharisees had rejected that in lieu of their own brand of righteousness.
1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!
2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
How can we not use the teachings of Jesus on a subject as the baseline for the subject itself? When teaching on the subject of forgiveness, we see in these verses the foundation for that teaching.
Here are the basic teachings on forgiveness by Jesus in Luke 17:1-4:
So, the question arises, "Do I forgive my offender if he does not repent?" For the answer to that question, let's go to another baseline teaching from Jesus himself in Matthew 18:15-17 (see notes):
Matt. 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Matt. 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Matt. 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
From these words of Jesus himself, we understand the following about forgiveness:
How can teaching on forgiveness be any more clear? Jesus himself lists as a prerequisite to forgiveness by the offended, repentance from the offender himself. As a matter of fact, the offender is inappropriately released from accountability for his actions when forgiveness is offered without the prerequisite of repentance.
Duty is duty (Luke 17:5-10)
5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.
6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Jesus deals with the issue of duty. In this short example, he points out that it is not commendable to simply do what one is responsible for doing in the first place. In verse 7 the word "but" ties this concept to the request from the disciples that the Lord would increase their faith. My impression from Jesus' response is that an increase of faith follows service above and beyond the call of duty before God.