Luke 15:11-32 is the last of three parables in Luke 15, all of which highlight God’s love for sinners.
Then he remembers how his father’s servants are always well fed and reasons how foolish it is to starve while his father’s slaves live much better (v.17). So he decides to return to his father, confess his sin, and ask to become one of his slaves (vv.18-19). This is how one turns to God for forgiveness, seeking His mercy. As the son is returning, the father sees him while he is far off. Out of compassion, he runs to his son, embraces and then kisses him (v.20). Normally a father would wait to be addressed by the returning prodigal. God’s compassion and mercy are exceptional.
Luke 15:1-10 include the first two of these parables. The third, and longer parable—the parable of the prodigal son—will be discussed separately (Luke 15:11-32).
The scene opens as our old friends the Pharisees and scribes grumble because Jesus dines with tax collectors and sinners (vv.1-2). The Pharisees felt that righteous people should avoid the unrighteous. But Jesus is about to argue that God demands otherwise, for all lost souls are precious in God’s sight.
Interestingly, in recent chapters Luke has painted the Pharisees as uncompassionate toward people’s physical needs, now Luke is showing that their lack of compassion is spilling over into the spiritual realm, too.The Pharisees’ attitude is what prompts the parables.
The first parable is about a shepherd who loses one sheep out of a fold of 100 and then leaves the 99 to search for the one (vv.3-4) When the shepherd finds the sheep, he rejoices and invites his friends and neighbors to rejoice alongside him. Jesus says that heaven rejoices even more when one sinner comes to repentance (vv.5-7).
The shepherd imagery points to Isaiah 40:11, which pictures God’s tender care for us. The model of God’s care should be our model for relating to the lost. The celebratory scene illustrates God’s joy when sinners come to faith and repentance. Jesus searches for sinners because heaven rejoices at their recovery.
The second parable pictures a woman who loses one of her 10 silver coins. Like the shepherd, she searches carefully until she finds the coin. When she finds it, she too is overjoyed and calls her friends and neighbors to share in her joy. Again, this pictures heaven’s joy at a sinner’s repentance (vv. 8-10).
A Heart for the Lost
These two stories communicate that God wants servants who understand his heart to restore sinners. In inviting his audience into the story (“What man of you” v.3), Jesus is asking timeless questions: Does your heart reflect God’s love and pursuit for sinners?
Do you pursue the lost?
The Pharisees were religious leaders who should have known God’s heart for the lost, but they were clueless because they were stuck in their self-righteousness. Let us be ever mindful of the fact that if we are not reaching the lost, it’s probably because we are stuck in our own self-righteousness.
The fact is we have no excuse for self-righteous attitudes, and we have no excuse for failing to engage the lost in meaningful ways. This is not something that the Church or its leaders can do on its own—this is a task for all servants of the Lord. He wants all of us to seek the lost with passion motivated by a sincere love for them.
We can’t do this if we remain isolated from lost people. As individual believers, we all have a responsibility to engage our lost friends, classmates, co-workers, family members and neighbors in an effort to build meaningful relationships that can open the door for deeper conversations about faith.
This is precisely Jesus’ evangelism strategy with the “tax collectors and sinners” in this account. He is demonstrating that God is relational—he is pursuing fallen men and women to bring them back into perfect fellowship with Him, a fellowship that was broken in the Fall (Genesis 3), and a fellowship that can only be restored through faith in Christ.
You don’t have to be theologically trained or a professional evangelist—you only need a heart for the lost and the ability to engage in conversations and point people to the reality of the world’s brokenness, the reason for this brokenness, and the only answer to this problem—Jesus Christ.
A heart for the lost sees the intrinsic value in all human beings. It sees God’s image stamped on their soul (Genesis 1:27) and seeks to turn that soul toward God through faith in Christ.
Do you rejoice over the lost being saved?
When you hear of someone coming to faith in Christ, how do you respond? Does your heart move to skepticism, indifference, or does your spirit overflow with profound joy?
If you find that you are sometimes skeptical or indifferent, then Jesus is asking you to alter your attitude. There’s a reason God rejoices when one repents and turns to him in faith: He does not wish for any soul to perish (2 Peter 3:8-9). Thus, when one repents and escapes the fires of hell, then there is much reason for celebration.
A heart for the lost will rejoice when one repents and believes in Christ.
The next time you see or hear about a new convert to the Christian faith, pause for a moment and rejoice with God. Thank him for his everlasting kindness, and be filled with joy. Who knows, maybe someone will see your joy and desire to find out more about the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15)?
Luke 14:25-35 is near the center of the much longer travel narrative (Luke 9:51-19:44) and summarizes Jesus’ shift in emphasis from confrontation with the Jewish leadership to preparing the disciples for his departure. As such, this unit details the cost of discipleship.
The unit begins as Jesus is accompanied by a large crowd (v.25). Jesus wastes no time relaying to the crowds what it means to follow Him—anyone who follows Jesus must “hate” one’s family, his or her own life, and bear their own cross (vv.26-27).
The meaning of “hate” has a comparative force. Christ-followers do not hate family or self, but if believers are forced to choose between family and Christ, the winner must always be Jesus. Two realities come from this initial statement: (1)Jesus must come first in all things and (2) people need to know this before they commit to following him.
As He often does, Jesus then uses two illustrations to drive home these points. The first is a story about a man who builds a watchtower over his land. Such a project is expensive and requires careful consideration of the cost before construction begins. Otherwise, the man might discover that he does not have enough money to complete the project. In such a case, passers-by will ridicule the lack of closure on the project (vv.28-30).
There is no positive testimony in a walk with God that is abandoned because the cost has not been properly assessed. This is tragic. Thus, all who desire to follow Jesus must know upfront what will be required of them: complete allegiance to Jesus.
The second illustration pictures a king preparing for war. No king goes to war outmanned; instead he tries to make peace before he is defeated (vv.31-32). Likewise, all who want to follow Jesus must make a similar decision. Following Jesus begins by understanding that one must negotiate peace with God, which requires unconditional surrender on one’s part.
Unconditional surrender recognizes that God has a rightful claim on all areas of our lives. God must have access to all that we are.
Jesus issues a final warning to prospective disciples through the picture of salt (vv.34-35). Salt is only valuable and useful so long as it is salty—otherwise it is thrown away. The remark implies that God will dispense with disciples who do not complete their call.
Thus, all would-be followers of Jesus need to hear Jesus’ words clearly and understand them (v.35). In sum, Jesus wants those who seek to follow him to understand the cost, so they can resolve in their minds to finish the journey.
Discipleship: It’s a Costly Journey
When Jesus spoke these words He was on a fateful journey to Jerusalem, where He would face rejection, ridicule, and be tempted to abandon the journey before He completed it. Yet He completed the journey despite the high cost. Those who follow Jesus will face a similar journey. We are called to deny our selves, pick up our own cross, face rejection and pursue God with everything we have until the day he takes us out of this world. This looks different for each generation of believers and in different parts of the world, but the timeless truths remain the same: Following Jesus requires that He be given number one priority, which means believers must learn to deny themselves and to pause and consider their journey often.
Following Jesus Requires Total Surrender
This is a hard sell in America, where the culture tells us to pursue our rights, pleasures, and privileges as the sum of our existence. Here is yet another way that Jesus is counter-cultural. Those who desire to follow Jesus must understand that they will have no rights, except the right to follow Him in complete submission as a King who surrenders unconditionally to a more powerful king.
This results in subtle forms of persecution in modern America and more overt forms in other parts of the world. In the modern West, Christians who oppose gay marriage on the basis of Jesus’ words (Mark 10:1-12) are often ridiculed and rejected socially. These days, such a decision may create tension within one’s family just as Jesus said it would.
Others face ridicule for desiring to home-school their children, or when the wife is a stay-at-home mom. Christian men, who truly serve their wives, are mocked for such humility or worse yet are sometimes labeled as persecutors of women because they desire their wives to be home. These decisions are often done at the expense of self; for it is difficult to make ends meet on one income, much less provide the means to pursue pleasure at every opportunity, at least as the world defines pleasure.
Christians in the workforce may find rejection for their stance on marriage, sexual ethics, and Jesus as the one and only Savior. The list goes on.
The point is, no matter what we endure as Christians, we must always remember that Jesus is our King and He comes first and foremost above any person or cultural institution.The Christian life requires unconditional surrender to Jesus and his Kingdom.
Following Jesus Requires Personal Reflection
Obviously, prospective followers need to seriously reflect on what it means to really follow Jesus, which means the Church has a duty to tell people upfront what this journey will entail.
But once the journey begins it must be completed and this requires a continual counting of the cost. Most of us, if we are honest, know that God is constantly claiming more of our lives for Himself and His purpose. We should understand that we will never arrive as disciples, we are always on the road with God, learning to let go of ourselves and hand over complete control to him.
The disciple who constantly evaluates his or her journey with Jesus will be like salt that never loses its saltiness—always ready to function as intended.
Reflection requires work. It requires time in prayer, in God’s Word, and time in thought. All of this will allow God to constantly be at work in your life. These disciplines are the ears by which you can hear His voice. This in turn will make you sensitive to areas of your life that you need to give more of yourself and your possessions to God.
Luke 13:18-35 is an important discourse concerning the nature of the Kingdom of God.
The episode begins as Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed and then to leaven (vv.18-21). Both illustrations make the same point: The Kingdom of God begins as small and insignificant but will gradually grow to cover the entire earth. The Jews expected the Kingdom of God to be introduced in one enormous event, but Jesus says it will grow from humble origins into greatness, albeit gradually.
Here, Jesus is calling his faithful followers to trust that he is building his Kingdom, despite the fact that the movement looks so small. God’s plan is advancing—his Kingdom will come.
As Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem, someone asks him if only a few will be saved (vv.22-23). The petitioner seems to have grasped Jesus’ continual warnings to the nation of Israel to repent, a nation where most felt assured of God’s blessings based on their heritage. Jesus’ reply affirms the person’s question.
In his reply, Jesus exhorts the crowd to seek salvation through the narrow door. There is a specific entrance into the Kingdom, and those who fail to enter through it will be left outside (vv.24-25).
Such people will plead with God, but they will be denied, resulting in weeping and gnashing of teeth as they gaze from the outside looking in, where the great prophets reside in the Kingdom (vv.26-28). This is a tragic scene, as the people feel a sense of pain and frustration having missed the opportunity to enter the Kingdom.
This represents an enormous shift in fate for the nation of Israel. Although individuals will come to faith in Christ, the nation as a whole will face certain rejection. Thus, in the Kingdom people from all over the earth will receive that which was first reserved for the Jews (vv.29-30).
Some Pharisees then approach Jesus warning him that Herod is out to kill him (v.31). Their statement looks like one of concern, but it is really one of expedience. If Jesus runs and hides from Herod, then the Pharisees will be better off.
Jesus is undeterred—nothing will stop him from accomplishing His mission. So they are to tell Herod—the “fox”—that He will continue His journey to Jerusalem, knowing that it will cost Him His life (vv.31-33).
Then Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem. The emotion and pain of his lament is evident in Jesus’ double address to the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (v.34). Jesus speaks in the first person for God, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets, and explains how He has longed to care and protect the city, a city that has killed the prophets whom God has sent in the past (v.34).
Because of their rejection of the prophets, including Jesus—the greatest prophet—their fate is sealed, at least until the nation of Israel turns to God by accepting Jesus as sent by God (v.35).
Jesus: A Narrow Door to a Broad Kingdom
This episode begins with Jesus’ illustration regarding the Kingdom, from which he expounds further upon the nature of the Kingdom. Thus here we learn timeless truths about the extent of the Kingdom, how one enters the Kingdom, and the unstoppable nature of the Kingdom.
As an aside, this unit is connected to the prior episode (“therefore” in verse 18). Thus, one addition to this application seems appropriate, although it will not be expounded upon here. In short, Jesus’ Kingdom will also be marked by compassionate people (Luke 13:10-17).
Jesus’ Kingdom will cover the earth (vv. 18-21)
Combining the illustrations of yeast and mustard seed/tree, yields a beautiful scene whereby God’s rule and presence covers all the earth. Jesus illustrates how the presence of God’s authority becomes more extended as His people become more expansive as a result His Spirit working in and through them to draw more people into His loving care, where they can find peace and rest in His “branches.”
Our task is to rightly understand our role in ushering in the final manifestation of the Kingdom, when God’s righteous rule will cover the earth. In the past, some Christians have wrongly assumed they could usher in the Kingdom through political means with an unholy alliance between Church and state. But this misses the mark. God’s Kingdom will be manifest at a time that has already been chosen—upon the Lord’s return, an event whose timing is a sovereign secret (Acts 1:6-9). In the meantime, Christ-followers are to honor God with a life that exudes Kingdom values such as compassion, mercy, seeking justice, acts of service, all of which should be joined with a faithful proclamation of the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). In this way, God’s Spirit will reach the ends of the earth, setting the table for Christ’s return.
Jesus’ Kingdom is entered through Jesus alone (vv.22-30; 34-35)
People in the church can assume, as did many first century Jews, that they are in the Kingdom of God because they have been born into an attending family. Yet, Jesus says that all must enter the Kingdom through him, which means everyone must make a conscious decision regarding Jesus and how He fits into God’s plan.
Many object to Jesus as the only way to God on the grounds that it is exclusive. But as this episode makes clear, the door to the Kingdom is open to all people of the earth (v.29). Those who choose to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and repent of sin (Luke 12:47-13:9), will enter into a vast Kingdom of people from all corners of the earth.
Jesus’ Kingdom cannot be stopped (vv.31-33)
Men like the Pharisees and political rulers such as Herod and Pilate thought they could stop Jesus’ movement. But they were unwitting accomplices in the initiation of God’s Kingdom, for it was their crucifixion of Jesus that started it all.
Jesus’ fateful march to the cross reminds us that God is sovereign. He is accomplishing His plan to redeem the peoples of the earth through His one and only Son.
There is nothing that will stop God’s Kingdom from its final manifestation. If anything, modern Christians can see this simple truth in how the Church has grown from insignificance, to the world’s largest religion today—just as Jesus said it would begin and end (vv. 18-21).
For the Christian, this results in powerful confidence in God’s promises and authority. It reminds us that one day all the pain and suffering in this life will be replaced by a new Kingdom, where we can find rest. For the non-Christian, this results in profound questions about their future. If this is you, look at Jesus’ words recorded 2,000 years ago and judge for yourself if His words are right and true. If you look with an open heart and mind, you’ll see that his Kingdom is coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Jesus is pleading with you to enter the Kingdom through the narrow door, where you too can find rest and care in the presence of God.
As the episode begins, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, where a woman is present who has suffered from a severe disability for 18 years, caused by an evil spirit (vv.10-11; 14). The length of suffering underscores the seriousness of her condition. Here is a woman who needs only what Jesus can provide. So, Jesus promptly heals her, thereby freeing her from the disability (vv.12-13).
The miraculous healing should be cause for great celebration—but that is not the case, for this is the Sabbath. Thus, the synagogue ruler immediately objects, saying that such healings should only occur the other six days of the week (v.14).
In His objection the ruler no doubt had in mind parts of the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:9-11; Deut. 5:12-15) and Jewish tradition (Mishnah), that forbade work on the Sabbath. Yet, it is unclear what rules Jesus has violated here, for He merely touched the woman.
Thus, Jesus responds sternly, addressing the ruler and those who side with him as “hypocrites” who also do work on the Sabbath when they lead their livestock to water (v.15). In their tradition, the Jews allowed people to walk their cattle to water on the Sabbath so long as it was within a certain limit.
If compassion to animals on the Sabbath is acceptable, how much more compassion should a human receive? Jesus drives home His point in the following verse: Should not this woman—a child of Abraham— who has been physically and spiritually chained, be set free? What greater day to perform this release from bondage than on the Sabbath, a day of rest when people were to reflect on God’s care and provision (v.16)? Jesus is exercising his ministry of deliverance and release, as He said He came to do (Luke 4:16-30) and He is Lord of the Sabbath as He also claimed (Luke 6:5). Luke says the leadership were “put to shame” while the people rejoiced (v.17). Those who wish to apply the rules improperly stand rebuked. Legalism stands condemned.
Legalism versus Compassion
In this short unit Luke juxtaposes compassion and legalism, noting the incredible difference between the two. The text emphasizes that compassion is always the right course of action—for it glorifies God. Conversely, the text also emphasizes the destructive nature of legalism, which burdens people with loads they cannot bear and dishonors God.
Legalism dishonors God
By definition, legalism is an excessive adherence to laws. Laws ordained by God are good and need to be followed. But the Jewish leadership that we see time and again demonstrate an excessive adherence to their rules and regulations, which they built around God’s Law as a hedge of protection.
In their zeal for law keeping, the Jewish leadership became inflexible. They refused to change their man-made rules to adhere to what Jesus later describes as the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Their own rules allowed them to walk their ox to a watering hole on the Sabbath, but did not allow a long-suffering woman to receive healing via a simple touch of the hand—a clear act of justice and mercy on the part of Jesus. Thus, they were hypocrites who dishonored God with their legalism. We must be careful not to allow our pursuit of religious practice, according to our preferred custom, outweigh our responsibility to seek justice and mercy in a world dominated by injustice. As you go, consider deeply the weightier matters of the law on a personal level. Do you live by a strict adherence to a code of conduct that prevents you from showing compassion and mercy to those around you? Examine your heart and see for yourself.
Compassion glorifies God
Jesus’ act of compassion resulted in the woman glorifying God and the crowd rejoicing over Jesus’ deep compassion. Acts of mercy and compassion demonstrate God’s glory to a hurting world. Jesus saw something in the woman that many of us miss. Her life, according to Jesus, was far more valuable than the life of the ox or donkey. Here was a child of God—a person crafted in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—who desperately needed a touch of compassion. When you look at the people around you, what do you see? I’m afraid many of us see others through an evolutionary lens where we are all just another creature in the animal kingdom, some of which are judged to be more valuable on the basis of color, skill, achievement, economic status, education, and location outside of the womb.
Jesus reminds us that all humans are intrinsically valuable, far more valuable than the ox, birds of the air, and fish of the sea. We need to recapture the understanding that all human life is created in the image of God and let that truth guide us toward compassion for all—regardless of looks, cultural heritage, intelligence, economic status, age, and so on. Compassion and mercy to our fellow image bearers brings glory to the One whose image we bear.