In light of the explosive situation in Jerusalem, Jesus takes His twelve disciples into the region of Perea on the other side of the Jordan River.
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After only a few months in Judea where Jesus confronted the Jewish religionists and minced no words in His denunciation of their hypocrisy, Jesus decides to take His disciples and pull back to let things settle down. The Jewish leaders were so red-hot in their anger toward Jesus that they might have rashly murdered Jesus in a manner not in accord with God's plan.
(167) Jesus in Perea - John 10:40-42
Jesus went to the east side of the Jordan River in the region of Perea, the area where John the Baptist was originally preaching and baptizing. Many Jewish people journeyed out to hear Him there, just as they had gone to hear John. They noted that John the Baptist had not performed the miracles like Jesus did, but he had accurately identified Jesus as the Messiah.
(168) Exclusivity of the Kingdom - Luke 13:22-24
Apparently Jesus ventured in and out of Judea, perhaps even making excursions into Jerusalem during the three or four month period between the Feast of Dedication in December and the Passover in the Spring. On an occasion when Jesus was going in the direction of Jerusalem, He was asked if there were only a few who would be saved. Religious people often preen with pride in thinking that they are the "few" who are chosen by God in an elitist and exclusivistic remnant. Jesus seems to indicate that the exclusivism of the kingdom is not in race, religious practices or doctrinal orthodoxy, but in the exclusivism of identification and spiritual union with Himself. Whereas religion would strive and work to perform what they perceive to be God's expectations and demands, Jesus states that our striving should only be a genuine seeking to enter into all that is available in Him, the narrow door (cf. Matt. 7:13,14; Jn. 10:9). Religion offers a broad door in order to accommodate as many as possible, thinking that success is evaluated by the number of participants involved and contributing, but the door to participation in the saving life of Jesus Christ is narrowly and exclusively defined in the person, life and character of Jesus (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12).
(169) The Master of the House - Luke 13:25-30
Jesus proceeds to explain parabolically that when He, the Master of the House of God arises, alluding to His resurrection, the door will be shut to all religious attempts to come to God by performance. The people involved in Jewish religion, and all religion, will stand outside of the kingdom of God's grace in Jesus Christ, knocking at the door and claiming to have attended Jesus' teaching sessions and to know Jesus, but Jesus will declare that He does not know them (cf. Matt. 25:12) for knowing God in Christ (Jn. 17:3) is only possible by the receiving of the grace of God in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The door of the kingdom is closed to all self-effort of religious performance which is but the working of iniquity, unrighteousness and evil-doing, which is forever incompatible with the grace of God in Christ. The people involved in Jewish religion will be wailing and weeping when they realize that they are shut out of the kingdom of God, especially when they see their old covenant patriarchs and prophets within the kingdom, because they were men who were receptive in faith to God's activity. The exclusivity of Jewish blood and legalistic performance is not the criteria of participation in the kingdom, but rather the singularity of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of Christ is universally available to all mankind from north, south, east and west, who will sit down together in loving acceptance of one another at the expected Messianic banquet celebration (cf. Isa. 43:5,6; 49:12,13). Those who thought they were first in privilege and priority before God, like the Jewish religion and all religion tends to think they are, will be last and left out, while those who were regarded as last in line, as lowly losers by religion, will be foremost in the kingdom for they recognized their need and accepted the grace of God in Christ.
(170) Herod, the Fox - Luke 13:31-35
Since Jesus was probably still in the region of Perea while these events were transpiring, He was in the territory governed by Herod Antipas, the same Herod who arrested John the Baptist (Lk. 3:19,20), ordered the murder of John the Baptist (Mk. 6:27), and was paranoid about the identity of Jesus (Mk. 6:14-17). Some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill Him. Perhaps this was a scheme to frighten Jesus back into the region of Judea into the hands of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was not intimidated by the threat, however, telling them to relay the message to the crafty old fox that in accord with Messianic expectations (cf. Lk. 7:22) He was exorcising demons and allowing God to heal people through Him (Acts 2:22), and that only in the three-fold perfection of God's timing would He meet His destined demise in Jerusalem where the Jewish prophets were historically rejected and murdered by the Jewish peoples themselves. Such an announcement might have been a relief to Herod, knowing that Jesus was soon to depart Perea.
The compassionate heart of Jesus for the Jewish peoples is again evident in His desire to gather the collective "Jerusalem" under His wings as a hen does to her chicks when they are threatened. But the Jewish peoples refused to be thus gathered, saved, and delivered from the judgment of God in repentance. Recognizing that rejection, Jesus foretells that the religious "house of cards" is going to fall, the House of God known as Israel will be abandoned by God. The religious people who reject Him will see Him again at the time of judgment when "every knee will bow and every tongue confess" (Phil. 2:10,11), and all will recognize Jesus Christ as God's Messiah and the divine Savior having come as the exclusive expressor of the character and activity of God.
(171) God's Banquet Invitation - Luke 14:1-24
When invited to a meal at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath, Jesus accepted, knowing they were watching for every breech of propriety in their religious rules. A man with fluid-retention, perhaps due to a diseased heart or liver, was present, possibly employed by the religious leaders as a "set-up" to entrap Jesus. Jesus puts them on the defensive by asking whether it is legal to heal on the Sabbath. Their refusal to answer reveals the silent insensitivity of religion to the real needs of mankind. An imperiled animal was more important that hurting people. Personal economic interests often supersede humanitarian concern in religion.
Observing the religionists maneuvering and jockeying for position at the table, Jesus exposes their pride of self-importance in seeking to assume proper places of prestige and honor. Like a flock of peacocks developing their pecking order, religionists are often engaged in proud politicking for position. In what might first appear to be a lesson on guest-etiquette, Jesus explains that a kingdom-guest will gather together socially with an attitude of humility that recognizes his own poverty, lowliness and sinfulness, and does not demand any personal rights. Within the kingdom of Christ the proud will be humbled, and the humble will be elevated by God's grace.
Jesus also noticed that the host of this gathering had invited all his cronies, cohorts and colleagues with whom he felt comfortable and from whom he could reasonably expect a reciprocal invitation. Religion often invites the respectable and dignified people of a particular social class, economic group, race and religious persuasion from whom they can "calculate the returns." Jesus indicts such a selfish motivation of personal gain and returned favors by indicating that the invitation of the kingdom is unto those who cannot give in return or reciprocate the favor. This is not just a lesson encouraging benevolent kindness to the poor and handicapped, but a revelation of the divine attitude that will enable unselfish and unconditional love in the social invitations and guest lists of those in the kingdom. The return and reward for such will be the eternal blessing and appreciation of the righteousness of the risen Lord Jesus.
One of the guests uttered a pious statement, "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." Perhaps he was trying to gloss over the indictment of the hosts and guests by saying, "Won't it be nice when we all get to heaven?" On the other hand, he may have been self-righteously affirming that the Jewish Pharisees were "blessed" of God and sure to be guests at God's final award ceremony. Jesus uses the occasion to tell a parable about the kingdom banquet which is not just a future expectation but a present invitation.
God in Christ has made the invitation to partake with Him. Those involved in the Jewish religion were making varied excuses for not participating in God's kingdom meal in Jesus Christ, rejecting the opportunity to partake with the pretext of priority preoccupation. God proceeds to invite all men to partake of Christ's kingdom supper, including the unhealthy and the have-nots; the down-and-out, the diseased, the different and the socially despised; the unclean, ignorant, poor and sinful which religion often neglects. God's invitation in Jesus Christ does not over-look anyone, but draws them by His grace in order to have a "full-house" for His banquet. The religious pretensions of position, reciprocity and preoccupation will render those thus involved unfit to partake of Christ because of their unbelief.
(172) The Cost of Discipleship - Luke 14:25-35
Apparently still journeying toward Jerusalem (Lk. 13:22), Jesus refers to the cost of Christian discipleship, necessitating the willingness to become detached and disentangled from all that would detract from full freedom and availability to follow Jesus. Jesus employs the exaggerated overstatement of hating physical family members in order to provide the impact necessary to challenge the binding family solidarity and expectations within the Jewish religion and culture. The psychological and religious bonds of family attachments can serve as preoccupations which constrain and forestall complete freedom to be available to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Jesus does not mean that Christians are to seek rejection, alienation and estrangement from family members, but only that such relationships are to be a lesser concern and priority than the new spiritual solidarity that the Christian has with Him, and with the Body of Christ, the family of God.
Christian discipleship is no easy task, and not to be entered into half-heartedly. Perhaps thinking of what awaits Him in Jerusalem in a few months, Jesus uses the familiar figure of cross-bearing where the condemned criminal is forced to endure the extremely difficult task of carrying the patibulum cross-beam to his own execution. Though religion emphasizes self-denial and commitment in the interpretation of these words, Jesus seems to be encouraging careful deliberation of the difficulties in detachment and dependency. One must not enter into Christian discipleship "half-cocked," without counting the cost and being prepared. Discipleship demands forethought of what is required, and the willingness to make all other attachments and encumbrances secondary in order to be free and available to Jesus Christ.
It takes spiritual discernment to recognize that just as salt without saltiness is useless, so also is a disciple not disengaged from other preoccupying concerns. Distracted disciples and seasonless salt are both ineffective.
(173) Concern for the Lost - Luke 15:1-32
The Pharisees were separatists who in their self-righteous elitism sought to avoid defilement and maintain ceremonial cleanness by disassociating from all sinners, i.e. those who did not conform to their teaching and practices. They were scandalized that Jesus would engage in the impropriety of having table-fellowship with the down-and-outs, the social outcasts and the unacceptable, thus accepting them as equals. Jesus tells three parables that explain His behavior and freedom of association with "losers" and the lost.
Though religion may be content to count the number who have remained faithful and not strayed, such is not the modus operandi of the kingdom. Since the Jewish religionists were not of Jesus' flock (cf. John 10), they would not have been able to understand how the divine Shepherd functioned. "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). God has individual compassionate concern for the lost who are willing to repent by recognizing their lostness, changing their mind so as to admit their inability and act in reliance on God's grace ability. The pious, self-righteous religious rule-keepers do not regard themselves as needing to repent in this way, and so remain stern and sour in their proud propriety. They never understand the celebration of joy in the divine recovery and restoration of fallen mankind. Joy (chara) is the attitude and expression that results only from experiencing the grace (charis) of God in Jesus Christ.
Religion is content to count the coins in the coffer and devise manipulative schemes to induce others to contribute additional coins. The attitude of God within the kingdom is like that of a poor woman who has lost one-tenth of her savings. Searching for the lost coin in every crook and cranny, she celebrates with joy when she finds it, just as God rejoices over the restoration of one sinner.
Birthrights were important in the Jewish religion and culture of the first-century. When a son initiated the breakdown of family solidarity by demanding his portion, and then squandered such in sin and failure, he would be much despised. The additional degradation and disgrace of tending swine was so offensive and abominable to Jewish thinking that they regarded such a person as a Gentile and a lost cause. The son in Jesus' parable of the "lost son" recognized his desperate need and inability to resolve his predicament, and was willing to confess such and become a day-laborer for his father. God's love and compassion for discredited and admitted failures is portrayed in the forgiveness of the father toward the son and the generous grace that restored him to full relationship as a son. In the Christian kingdom of Christ there is joyous celebration accompanied by the abundant lavishment of God's gifts of grace when the lost have been found.
The older brother in the parable serves as the portrayal of religion which has contempt for failures and "losers" who cannot or will not do it correctly and conform to expectations. Like the older brother, the Jewish religionists were "angry and refused to go in" to the kingdom celebration. Like Jonah, they were angry that God should exercise compassion and mercy upon those who repented. In like manner as the older brother was recounting his propriety and rightness, religion often engages in the bookkeeping and record-keeping of their performances, obedience and correctness, assuming a moral superiority and pride of virtue that should be able to claim exclusive rights before God. In their self-righteous calculation of their self-efforts, they regard it an unfair injustice that God should extend grace to sinners and failures.
Jesus was explaining His behavior by contrasting the proud contempt of the Jewish religionists with the grace of God within the kingdom which He came to bring in Himself. Only in the admission of our inadequacy are we free to accept the adequacy of God's grace (cf. II Cor. 3:5).
(174) Materialistic Religion - Luke 16:1-18
Continuing to expose the religionists, Jesus employs a backhanded parable that drips with sarcasm as it reveals the modus operandi of religion. While some have regarded this as the most difficult of all the parables, it is completely consistent with all that Jesus said in His confrontation of religion. Jesus does not praise what the unrighteous steward did, for such would be to encourage deceitful dishonesty and defrauding of another. Rather, He is portraying the attitudes and activities of the religionists by noting that the religious leaders are like unconscionable stewards of God's estate, willing to employ every expedient means to arrange and insure their own selfish ends. Rightly charged with mismanagement of God's business, these religious stewards resort to crafty, cunning, conniving and crooked scheming in order to set themselves up physically for the future. Thinking that it is a social disgrace to be poor or to be a common laborer, they attempt to maintain respectability and social placement even at the expense of being disreputable and unrighteous. In fact, these "sons of this age" regard such worldly wisdom as a prudent virtue to be admired, and the "sons of light" (cf. Eph. 5:8; I Thess 5:5) are not always as wise and resourceful in manifesting the character of God. "If this is your worldly plane of operation, your playing field, then make your deals, buy your favors which make people indebted to you, and use the methods of 'winning friends and influencing people'," Jesus seems to be saying. "Such unrighteous religious materialism will fail, but go ahead and draw others in, for misery loves company in the everlasting dwellings of torment (23,28) and agony (24,25) in hell." The quantity of faith or fraudulence does not determine character, for the true riches (Eph. 1:18; 2:7; 3:8) of divine character are found only in Christ. Religion is engaged in the serving of materialistic mammon, and of necessity despises God, for it is impossible to serve two masters.
Religionists are "lovers of money" and full of avarice, thinking that wealth and prosperity are a sign of God's blessing. Like the Pharisees, they laugh and scoff with contempt and disdain at what Jesus says about true riches. In self-righteous self-justification they put on appearances before men. "Men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart" (I Sam. 16:7). The ways of religion are the ways of the world which are highly esteemed among worldly men, but are detestable, despicable, loathsome and abominable in the sight of God.
The Jewish religionists kept falling back on their identification with the Law and the prophets, but Jesus explains that these were only valid until John the Baptist, and are now past, obsolete and out-moded. Since John the Baptist the glorious gospel of the kingdom is preached; the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ, the Messiah-King. The poor, the have-nots, and the nonreligious are crashing the gates, pressing for the privilege of participation in Christ's kingdom of grace (cf. Matt. 11:12). This does not mean that there is not a valid connection to the old covenant religion of Judaism, and God's original intent for the Law to express His character (cf. Matt. 5:17-20). It is religion that does not respect the Law and destroys the intent of the Law by misunderstanding the character of God and rejecting the dynamic of expressing such character in Jesus Christ. An example was the religious laxity in condoning infidelity and adultery within Judaism, failing to understand God's intent of expressing His faithfulness and purity within the marriage relationship.
(175) The Rich Man and Lazarus - Luke 16:19-31
To contrast the religious emphasis on physical riches and the radical difference of the kingdom of Christ receiving those who did not measure up materially and socially, Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, who was also a religious man, selfishly spent and consumed to live a life of self-indulgent luxury and extravagance. Lazarus, whose name means "God helps," was poor, hungry and diseased, a condition which religion regards as a despicable disgrace perhaps the result of "bad karma," begging at the rich man's door. Both men died, for "it is appointed unto all men to die, and then comes the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Lazarus, representing the sinful failures of mankind who find grace in Jesus Christ, went to heaven, to the place of intimacy with God which the Jewish religion identified as the "bosom of Abraham" in solidarity with the one they regarded as the father of Israel. The rich man, admired by religion as having been made prosperous as a sign of God's blessing, got all his rewards on earth (Matt. 6:2,5,16) and had been paid in full (Luke 6:24). He went to the everlasting dwelling place of misery, torment (23,28) and agony (24,25) in hell; an irrevocably fixed place of hopelessness with no second chances. He cried out to Father Abraham, still condescendingly seeking to have Lazarus serve him, saying, "Send Lazarus with a cool brew," and then, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers of this terrible plight." Father Abraham explained that his brothers of like kind already had the written revelation of God clearly explaining God's character of graciousness toward the poor in Moses and the prophets. The rich man then reverted to the common religious attitude that people need a supernatural sign to convince them, and that if Lazarus were to return raised from the dead they would repent. The fallacy of that argument is historically evident in Jesus being raised from the dead, and the rich and the religionists remain adamant in their resistance to receiving Jesus Christ. Though poverty is not a virtue in itself, the kingdom of God is open to the poor, the have-nots, and the down-and-outs who will receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
(176) The Stumbling-block of Religion - Luke 17:1-10
To His disciples Jesus then explained that religion is scandalous, an offense to God's grace, creating more stumbling-blocks to faith in Jesus Christ than anything else. Religion abuses people, especially the simple, the poor and the lowly, by heaping on the performance standards of work and achievement. The world would be better off if religion and all religionists were thrown into the deep-blue sea!
Christians must be cautious about their attitude toward sin. Though God's grace is for sinners, Christ's followers must ever be aware that sin is contrary to the character of God. The subjective application of Christ's forgiveness of sins is realized when the sinful individual repents with a change of mind that recognizes sin as a violation of God's character and submits to Jesus Christ as Lord in order to act by allowing God's character to be expressed in Christian behavior. Christ as the Forgiver within the Christian will repeatedly extend forgiveness to a failing sinful individual (cf. Matt. 18:21,22) when such an attitude of repentance is evident, rather than holding such against them as religion so often does. The disciples responded by requesting an increase to their faith in order to forgive in such an unlimited manner. Jesus explained that faith is a choice of receptivity to the activity of God, or availability to divine ability. Faith itself is not a power, a principle, a "word," or a work that can transplant a mulberry tree; rather, faith allows the Almighty God to act. This counteracts the religious emphasis on having more faith in order to accomplish more, achieve more, and do more for God.
What is a slave expected to do? Only to be available to his master and to "listen under" the direction of his master in obedience. The slave does not get praised and rewarded for his performance, achievement or productivity, nor for his commitment or dedication, nor even for his being available. These are merely what is expected of him as an expression of his master's desire. Likewise the slave of Christ is available to Christ to allow divine grace to be expressed through him as the Master functions as the dynamic of His own demands. God is pleased with the expression of His own character and activity manifested unto His own glory.
(177) Lazarus Raised From the Dead - John 11:1-44
Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha who lived in Bethany, just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. He became ill, and the sisters sent word to Jesus in Perea that Lazarus was sick. Upon hearing the report, Jesus knew that death was not going to be the final outcome and that God was going to be glorified by His activity, so he delayed two days before setting out for Judea. The disciples cautioned Jesus about the intent of the Jewish leaders to kill Him, but He overrode their concerns noting that He was still in the "day" of His Messianic ministry and the time of darkness had not yet come. Jesus explained that Lazarus had "fallen asleep," using the familiar euphemism for death, but the disciples responded with a typical religious ploy of literalism, whereupon Jesus stated explicitly that "Lazarus is dead."
When Jesus arrived in Bethany the sisters both lamented that their brother might not have died if Jesus had been there. To Martha, Jesus replied, "Your brother shall rise again." She reverted to the Pharisaic belief in the doctrine of future bodily resurrection. Religious belief cannot go beyond the epistemological positing of a propositional, theological position of future resurrection. In affirming that "I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus explained that life and resurrection were inherent within Himself, personally, ontologically and dynamically. Jesus is life (John 14:6) in Himself (John 5:25), and to receive Him is to have eternal life (John 3:16,36). Eternal life is not an event, experience or benefit, nor is it an entity, commodity or possession that is acquired. Jesus is resurrection-life and such is the reality of Christianity which He came to bring in Himself. Religion may assent to Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, as Martha did, but it inevitably fails to recognize that the presence of Jesus allows for the active expression of who He is, that His being is expressed in His acts. The glory of divine activity was manifested when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead revealing His character of life and resurrection, all the while anticipating His own historic death and resurrection which enacted the resurrection reality of Christianity.
(178) Religious Leaders Conspire Together - John 11:45-54
The religious rivals of the Sadduccean chief priests and the Pharisees responded to the raising of Lazarus by convening a consortium to determine their course of action. They agreed that Jesus was a threat to their religious security, and that if Jesus were allowed to continue His activity they might lose control of the people and be deprived of their religious positions.
Caiaphas, the high priest of Judaism that year, explained that the issue was cold, calculating expedience. "It is us or Him; it cannot be both. Someone has to go, and we shall make sure it is Him." Religion or Christianity, one or the other; it cannot be both; one eliminates the other. The Jewish religious leaders determined that their own personal end justified the means of exterminating and murdering Jesus, which they henceforth set out to accomplish.
Ironically, Caiaphas himself had been used of God to previously prophesy that Jesus was going to die for the benefit of others, even for Gentiles, so that the "children of God" would become a universal spiritual family. Indeed, the vicarious death of Jesus Christ was the remedial action required to restore God's life in man whereby we become "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26) and part of the one Body (Eph. 2:16) of the new humanity (cf. Eph. 2:15) of God's people.
(179) Ten Lepers - Luke 17:11-19
Somewhere on the border of Galilee and Samaria, Jesus is recognized by ten lepers who seek His mercy. Jewish religion regarded lepers to be unclean untouchables who had to be ostracized from all social interaction, cursed because of sin. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the Jewish priests for ceremonial cleansing (Lev. 14:1-10) and social restoration. Setting out by faith to do so, they were healed of their leprosy. Only one, a Samaritan, recognized that the religious priests of Judaism could not do anything for him, but that Jesus was the One who was God's priest and mediator, and came back to worship Him expressing his faith and obedience in gratitude. Jesus indicated that the faith-receptivity of the one man toward the grace-activity of God in Christ had made him safe from dysfunction in order to function as God intended in restored humanity, not only physically and socially, but also spiritually.
(180) God's Activity Will be Obvious - Luke 17:20-37
The Pharisees, like the nine lepers, failed to recognize the dynamic and ontological essence of God's activity in Jesus Christ. Consistent with religionists through the centuries, they inquire concerning the timing when the kingdom of God will come, conceiving the kingdom as a futuristic phenomenon, entity or realm which will be preceded by physically observable signs which will make the timing of the coming of the kingdom calculable. Jesus explains that the kingdom of God will not be forecast with spectacular and supernatural phenomena of observable signs. The kingdom is not a concrete entity, an "it" that can be identifiably projected in terms of timing and location of a realm. The kingdom is the dynamic presence and reality of the functional reign of the Lord and King, Jesus Christ. "Because I am here as the divine King, the kingdom is among you, right in your midst," Jesus explains.
Jesus begins to prepare His disciples for the time when He will be absent from them physically, and they will long for His visible presence and ministry. In His absence there will be flashes of light that are alleged to be the appearance and activity of Jesus, but He warns them not to chase such. When He acts such will be obvious and visible everywhere, just as lightning lights up the whole sky. First He must suffer the rejection of the Jewish generation of first-century Palestine who would crucify Him.
When Jesus does act in devastating judgment it will be obvious and unmistakable. Just as in the days of Noah and Lot the people will be complacently preoccupied with their daily routine and status-quo, unrepentant of their oblivious unbelief in what God is doing. On that day when the Son of Man is revealed in judgment, Jesus warns His disciples not to attempt to collect material things, but to be willing to be separated from loved ones, and to run the gauntlet unafraid even of forfeiting one's life in death. Those who try to save their life will lose it.
The disciples wanted to know where this scene of devastating judgment was going to take place. Jesus answers them in pictorial language indicating that it would be as obvious as a dead body to a vulture. Where there is death and decay the vultures gather. Where there is spiritual decay, judgment will follow. The vultures obviate the presence of death, and God's activity of judgment will obviate the obstinate unbelief of spiritually dead people. Where? Right there in Palestine. Those who had received Jesus Christ spiritually knew what was happening and what God was doing when judgment came in 70 A.D.
(181) Religious Judgment - Luke 18:1-8
In the midst of the difficult times ahead for the disciples in Palestine, Jesus encouraged them not to get discouraged and lose heart, but to engage in Christocentric prayer that admits human inability and recognizes the grace-ability of God in Christ, being receptive to God's activity by faith. In the parable of the ungodly judge Jesus was not encouraging persistent pestering, haranguing and needling of God in prayer, but was illustrating the persistent pursuit of religious people for protection, whereas there should be a response of faith prior to the just judgment of God.
The Jewish religious leaders served as judges and arbiters over the affairs of the people in Palestine. They were often corrupt and unscrupulous, making their determinations on the basis of bribes and pay-offs. These religious judges "did not fear God nor respect man" in terms of administering justice or exhibiting mercy and compassion. Later Jesus explained that these religious leaders "devoured widow's houses" (Matt. 23:14; Mk. 12:40; Lk. 20:47).
The poor widow could not or would not pay the bribe to the religious judge, but like many religious followers repeatedly cried out day and night seeking and demanding the protection of the religious leaders and God. The ungodly religious judge finally consented to grant her legal protection just to get her "off his back" so she would not bother him anymore.
In contrast to the ungodly religious judge, God as Judge cannot be bribed or bought-off as many religious people would be willing to do. He will not keep stalling and putting people off until they respond as He desires. Swiftly and without a long delay God would act in just judgment upon those who had been His chosen people, the elect Israel, the Jewish people. Justice would be served, for those who reject the Son of God in unbelief deserve the dire death consequences of their sin.
Jesus posed the question, "When the Son of Man comes (cf. Luke 17:30), will He find faith on the earth?" When He came in judgment a few decades later in 70 A.D. would He find people who were receptive to God's grace in Himself by faith, people who had not "lost heart," people who were praying in faithful receptivity despite calamitous circumstances? Jesus did not expect that most of the Jewish peoples would do so, but He was always desirous of extending grace to the desperate. If the Jewish people would recognize their desperate plight, maybe He would find faith on earth.
(182) Religious Pride - Luke 18:9-14
Religious people have such a difficult time recognizing their desperate need for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus illustrates such in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector who both came to the temple to pray at the same time.
The Pharisee was the epitome of religiosity. He was a proud separatist with an attitude of superiority and privilege that made him "holier-than-thou." His arrogant self-righteousness viewed his own self-effort and works as meritorious performance and achievement before God. In comparing his alleged righteousness with others he scornfully concluded that others were contemptuous and despicable, and he had no love or compassion for such people. He prayed to himself a "soliloquy of self-congratulation."1
Jewish religion of that day regarded the tax-collector as a traitor and the grossest of disrespectable sinners. Indeed, he was probably guilty of extortion, embezzlement and other crimes against his own people, but he recognized his desperate need for mercy and forgiveness. He admitted his sinfulness, inability and deficiency, making himself receptive to God's grace, the dynamic of divine activity that can restore a man to function as God intended.
Contrary to all religious attitudes of His day, Jesus indicated that the tax-collector was the one who had a right relationship with God, because he was receptive to the righteousness of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, (Acts 3:14; 7:52; I Jn 2:1), and thus made righteous in Him. Those who religiously exalt their own righteousness will be humbled by God's judgment, but those who humbly recognize their spiritual need will be exalted by God's grace in the kingdom.
(183) Marriage and Divorce - Matt. 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12
Doggedly determined to put Jesus on the horns of a dilemma in order to trap him and decrease His popularity with the people, the Pharisees brought up the age-old religious debate about divorce. Religion is inevitably polarized in their positions on divorce, either embedded in self-centered concerns of maintaining moral control by rules and regulations, or in the equally self-centered desire to allow all individual preferences; legalism or libertinism. The Jewish theological schools of the day represented both extremes: the conservative school of Rabbi Shammai allowed no cause for divorce except prior fornication; the liberal school of Rabbi Hillel allowed almost any cause for divorce, and such was the prevailing public attitude.
Expressing the character and activity of their father (John 8:44), the religious Pharisees tempt Jesus with a direct question of whether or not it is lawful before God for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. They knew the public sympathies for moral laxity in marriage, and were probably quite aware of Jesus' prior teaching that restricted divorce (Matt. 5:32). If Jesus were to take sides on the issue of divorce, they could generate conflict in the rabbinical schools. If His position placed restrictions on divorce, they could drive a wedge between Him and the prevailing public opinion. If Jesus were to severely denounce divorce, they could construe such as a denunciation of the divorce of Herod Antipas and his openly adulterous relationship with Herodias, the issue that led to John the Baptist being arrested, imprisoned and beheaded.
Jesus pointed the Pharisees back to the pronouncement of Moses (Deut. 24:1), where he referred to a man "finding no favor in his wife because of some indecency, and writing her a certificate of divorce." His intent was not to become embroiled in the interpretation of "indecency," but to expose the misconceptions of their enculturated religion, and to take them back to God's original intent for marriage. Jewish religion had trivialized marriage as a masculine convenience that allowed domination and abuse of women. They were convinced that Moses had sanctioned male-initiated divorce and that such was a moral duty when the wife failed to please her husband, revealing their attitudes of masculine superiority and selfishness which were always seeking an easy way out of marriage commitment. Countering their religious misconceptions, Jesus explained that Moses did not command divorce, but realistically recognizing that "it happens" often due to the husband's hardness of heart, he instituted a provisional protection for women by requiring a certificate of divorce. Male dominated Jewish religion was blind to Moses' objective, seeing only what they wanted to see. Taking them back to the beginning, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that God's original intent for marriage was an indissoluble relationship wherein two become one in a genuine union of mutuality and partnership. When two individuals, one male and one female, are indwelt by the presence of God and allowing His character to be expressed in loving unity, there will not be dictatorial dominance and forced subjugation, but a long-term relationship of mutual respect wherein they become inseparable. "God hates divorce" (Mal. 2:16); it destroys the most intimate physical picture of the spiritual relationship between Christ and the Christian (Eph. 5:23-32). On that foundation Jesus indicated that divorce and remarriage should not be considered except in cases when sexual immorality has broken the "one flesh" unity. Jesus, like Moses, realistically recognized that "it happens," and neither of them was issuing a legal dictum about divorce. Both were revealing God's original intent for marriage wherein both partners having the Spirit of God dwelling in their spirits might allow for the divine character of love, faithfulness and purity to be manifested in their marriage relationship.
Even Jesus' disciples were conditioned by an enculturated male dominance and depreciation of women allowing for moral laxity, as evidenced by their reaction to Jesus' statement in reasoning that it might be better not to marry. Jesus concedes that some might indeed forego marriage and sexual involvement in order to focus their priority on their relationship with Him in the kingdom, but He does not indicate that such celibacy is preferable or more "spiritual" or should be imposed on religious leadership.
In contrast to the religious views of marriage, Jesus does not address marriage in terms of religious, cultural, physical or legal concerns, but emphasizes the spiritual essence of marriage. A kingdom understanding of marriage recognizes the Christocentric reality of a man and a woman wherein the Spirit of Christ dwells in the spirit of both persons (cf. Rom. 8:9), and the divine character of love, faithfulness and purity is expressed toward one another in the human relationship of marriage. It is religion that always tends to focus on the "escape clauses" or "exception clauses" rather than on the Christocentric and spiritual essence of marriage.
(184) Receiving the Kingdom as a Child - Matt. 19:13-15; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17
It is a natural parental desire to have one's children "blessed" with every advantage, and such was perhaps the reason they were bringing children to Jesus. In the religion and culture of Judaism in the first-century, children were valued for their potential posterity in racial preservation and ethnic purity. On the practical level, however, they were regarded as annoyances and inconveniences, just dirty little beings who were ignorant, inadequate and insignificant, having no standing or status in the society. Adopting this common adult attitude toward children, the disciples of Jesus were trying to forbid this nuisance of having children brought before Him.
Jesus admonishes the disciples to allow the children to come, "for of such is the kingdom of God." The grace of God is made available to the inadequate and insignificant, who have no standing and are unable to care for themselves. All men must receive the kingdom, receive Christ the King, in trusting dependence upon God's grace, just as a small child receives all things from his parental care-giver.
(185) The Relativity of Religious Goodness - Matt. 19:16-26; Mk. 10:17-27; Lk. 18:18-27
Religious rulers often revere one another with titles of "good, right, and reverend." When such a one approached Jesus, he called Him, "Good Master," and inquired what performance was necessary to have eternal life. Jesus first addressed the religious relativism of recognizing "goodness," which could be traced all the way back to the forbidden choice of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. In his natural condition "no good thing" (Rom. 7:18) dwells in man and there is "none good" (Rom. 3:12). Absolute goodness is an exclusive attribute of God alone, and any expression of such character of goodness must be derived from Him. The one who does good derives such from God (III Jn. 11). If the religious ruler had understood such derivation of divine character expression, he might not have been so quick to claim that he had done what God required, for the Law is the expression of the character of God. God is faithful. God is the preserver of life. God is content. God is truth. God is personal and relational. God is love (I Jn. 4:8,16). What God is, only God is. Man is incapable of exhibiting such character, of keeping the Law, and must derive the expression of such character by God's grace. Religion, like the ruler, continues to engage in the hypocrisy of pretense of doing good for God, failing to recognize human inability for such, and the necessity of deriving all from God, in grace.
If we would achieve God's objective of perfectly functional humanity we must abandon our pious attempts at performance to please God as well as our preoccupation with material possessions. As religion has traditionally regarded wealth and prosperity as a sign of God's approval and blessing, this was a radical challenge to the religionist. What Jesus called for what not a blanket command for a vow of poverty in order to be a Christian, but an adjustment of priority and focus from material things in order to "follow Him" and allow Him to function as Lord in our lives within the kingdom. When performance and possessions are the priority of our concern, it is so difficult to divest ourselves of such in order to derive all from Jesus Christ. It is as difficult as trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle. Jesus employed the humor of hyperbole using an idiomatic truism that expressed the impossibility of putting the largest animal of the region through the smallest opening. But what is impossible to man, both the performance of the Law and the divestiture of possessions, is quite possible by the dynamic activity of the grace of God whenever a person is willing to follow Christ and allow the Savior to make him "safe" from dysfunctional humanity in order to function as intended by participating in the saving life of Jesus Christ and deriving all from Him.
(186) Reigning With Jesus - Matt. 19:27-30; Mk. 10:28-31; Lk. 18:28-30
Vociferous Peter reveals his mercenary attitude by claiming that the disciples have abandoned all to follow Jesus, and asking, "What do we get? What is in it for us?" The answer Jesus gave was misunderstood by the disciples because of the residue of Jewish religious expectations of the kingdom. When Jesus indicated that the twelve disciples would be sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, the nationalistic sentiments and the egocentric aspirations of the disciples came into play. Many Christian religionists to this day continue to interpret Jesus' words in an eschatological futurism of a physical or heavenly realm. Jesus was telling the disciples that in the spiritual relifing of mankind in the spiritual kingdom of Christianity, He would be sitting victoriously on the throne of glory reigning and functioning as Lord, and the disciples would be reigning in life with Him (Rom. 5:17), judging the unbelief of Judaic Israel by their receptive belief in Jesus (cf. Rev. 21:12,14,21). Their abandonment of attachment to physical riches and relationships would be far outweighed by spiritual riches (cf. Eph. 1:18; 2:7; 3:8) and the spiritual relationships of solidarity with Christ and those in the Body of Christ who participate in the eternal life of Christ Himself. Those regarded as foremost by religion in terms of their performance, possessions, pedigree and position will be left behind in the kingdom, whereas those who recognize their inability and bankruptcy will be promoted by God's grace.
(187) Parable of the Grumbling Laborers - Matt. 20:1-16
Countering the mercenary attitude of Peter and of religion in general, Jesus tells the parable of the grumbling laborers. Failing to realize that "God is not served with human hands" (Acts 17:25), those engaged in religious service laboring for the Lord are often calculating the returns, remuneration and rewards, preoccupied with riches and monetary concerns. While religiously working for Jesus they are clocking in, keeping records, counting their hours of service, and banking on their merit-pay. They fail to understand that all that is done in the kingdom is to be derived from Christ by the dynamic of God's grace. All that God has to give is His Son, Jesus Christ. The entirety and the wholeness of who God is is made available ontologically in Jesus, equally available to all and only by grace, not by merit. Grace is not proportional, nor can it be earned.
In accord with the natural, work-ethic propensity of man and religion, the laborers in the parable gripe and complain about the social and vocational injustice of the equality of grace. The benefactor explains that their charges of unfairness and injustice are ungrounded, for He gave them what was promised and remains Faithful and True. It is their own selfish problem of demanding merit-pay and attempting to lay claims on God that causes them to question the generous goodness of God and miss the celebration of grace. Those who demand merit-pay create their own misery in their solicitation of selfish satisfaction. The evil eye of religion casts its selfish glance at God denying His goodness and grace. It has been said, "They that work for reward do not get as much as they want, while they that work out of love get more than they expect."
(188) Leadership and Authority in the Kingdom - Matt. 20:17-28; Mk. 10:32-45; Lk. 18:31-34
As they prepared to journey to Jerusalem for the consummation of Passover, Jesus gave His disciples a more explicit preview of what was going to happen. There had been previous explanations (cf. Matt. 16:21; 17:22,23; Lk. 9:22,44), but Jesus expanded the details, again culminating the recitation in His resurrection from the dead.
The disciples were bewildered and could not comprehend what Jesus was telling them. This was due in part to their religious misconceptions of the kingdom which predicated a triumphant and victorious Messiah-conqueror who would establish a nationalistic, political and geographical kingdom realm. Had they not just been promised places of political power and prominence sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel? To speak of the defeat of the Messiah-King in shameful suffering and death was antithetical to all of their religious and personal aspirations. The disciples did not understand the spiritual reign of Christ in the kingdom, and neither does religion.
James and John were apparently being accompanied by their mother, who may have joined them for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She was an ambitious mother who made a presumptuous plea for preference on behalf of her sons, seeking their promotion to priority positions on the right and left hand of Jesus when the kingdom of established. They knew not for what they asked, for in the kingdom of Christ "the way to gain is to lose, the way to live is to die, and the way to lead is to serve." Jesus would live such out in the cup of suffering and the overwhelming baptism of death, which they too were likewise promised, but He could not grant them positions of preference.
In the ensuing amplification to appease the indignation of the other disciples, Jesus explains that the leadership and authority of the world and of religion involves the assumption or placement of an individual in a role or position of privilege wherein he assumes a self-importance and power that becomes oppressive and dominating. Such leaders selfishly demand to be respected, honored, served and obeyed, asserting their power in a manner that is soon corrupted into subjugation, enslavement and tyranny. Jesus did not lead in such a way, and neither will those who lead in the kingdom. His was not a role or position of authority, but the inherent ontological authority of God Himself. His leadership and authority were based on divine character, whereby "out of the being" (literal meaning of the Greek word exousia translated "authority") of deity He could defer in order to serve others. This leadership of servanthood is contrary to all religious structures of hierarchy and power. Jesus came not to be served in the human effort of performance or to be bowed down before in prostration, but to minister to others by investing humanity with His divine life in order that they might function as intended in serving others. He came to give His life as a ransom payment to redeem and "buy back" mankind that they might be liberated and set free to be man as God intended, vessels of God's activity.
(189) Undeterred Desire to See - Matt. 20:29-34; Mk. 10:46-52; Lk. 18:34-43
As Jesus went through Jericho toward Jerusalem with His disciples and a sizable entourage, two blind beggars along the road inquired about the commotion and were told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Perhaps they had heard that "the blind receive sight" (Lk. 7:22) in the ministry of Jesus. Bartimaeus and his fellow-suffer recognized their deficiency and desperately cried out asking the Messianic Son of David to have mercy on them. Though some in the crowd had no compassion and attempted to push them aside and silence them with rebuke, the blind pair would not be deterred, hollering even louder. Jesus recognized that they were receptive to God's activity in faith and restored their physical sight, after which they followed Him and the crowd praised God.
(190) Exclusion from the Kingdom - Luke 19:1-28
There was popular support for God's work in the life of a man like Bartimaeus who was blind and poor, but it is often more difficult to accept God's work in a man who is wealthy and corrupt. Zacchaeus, whose name means "pure," did not live up to his name. As a chief tax-collector he was despised as a renegade and a traitor among the Jews and socially boycotted. Religion regards certain non-conformists to be such severe "sinners" that they do not deserve compassion or grace, but only the justice of God's judgment, and should be excluded from all association with God's people. Jesus, on the other hand, was a "friend of tax-collectors and sinners" (Lk. 5:30; 7:34), aware that they need God's grace just as much as anyone else.
Seeing that Zacchaeus was "up a tree," Jesus seems to almost invite Himself to stay the night at Zacchaeus' home. Zacchaeus was receptive to the presence of Jesus, and evidenced repentance by confession of his fraud, willingness to make restitution, and a desire to give half of his possessions to the poor. Salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus in the presence of the Savior, apart from whose present-tense activity there is no salvation. Although Zacchaeus had been one of "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:6; 15:24), abandoned and excluded by the religious shepherds of Judaism, the Messianic Son of Man had come to seek and to save such religiously rejected sinners.
The only basis of exclusion from the kingdom is revealed in the parable of the coins, which Jesus told to forestall the misguided enthusiasm of the Jewish populace who wanted to force Jesus into an elevation to political kingship in accord with their false religious conceptions and expectations of an imminent, immediate commencement of the kingdom. Though Jesus would soon enter Jerusalem in a somewhat royal approach, the prevailing religious opinions of the coming kingdom as a political, national, religious, material, geographical and militaristic entity were not consistent with the spiritual reality of the kingdom which Jesus came to bring in Himself. Jesus told a parable about a royal official who went away for awhile and then returned to receive his kingdom after a period of time, thus illustrating that His kingdom would not be inaugurated immediately as they thought.
Jesus, the King, came to earth to receive a kingdom for Himself and to reign in people's lives. He invests Himself in us in various ways, but does not intend that His life should be "put on hold" in "no-risk spiritual shelters" or in some religious "safety deposit box." Religion seeks to hide the activity of Jesus in religious boxes of belief, morality and ritual. It is Christ's objective that His grace activity be enlarged, as we are receptive to such in faith. Grace is dynamic, active and alive, but therefore risky because we do not know the outcome. The citizens of the country of the King, the Jewish peoples, hated Jesus and did not want Him to reign over them. They wanted a kingdom-realm wherein they could cash-in for themselves and calculate the physical and material returns.
Religion often conceives of Jesus as an austere and tyrannical Judge who keeps score of their performance, but He is instead a just and compassionate Savior who desires to see His grace functioning and being enlarged, and will give more and more grace to those who are receptive to such in faith. To those who refuse such, their opportunities for the reception of grace will be removed.
The Jewish peoples of Palestine had refused the grace of God in Christ. They did not want Him to reign over them as Lord in the kingdom He came to bring. Opposing Him as King and Savior, they were thus His enemies. They would suffer the ultimate loss of life, slain in God's judgment by the destruction of the Jewish nation in 70 A.D. Their exclusion from the kingdom and destruction in judgment was not based on their being particularly bad sinners, but only because they rejected the only basis of inclusion in the kingdom, the receptivity of faith and submission to His reign as Lord and King.
J.W., The Christ of the Gospels: An Exegetical Study.
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. pg. 450.