The Obedience of a Disciple
Jesus resolved in Luke 9:51 to head to Jerusalem. Knowing how the story ends, we expect the resistance to Jesus’ ministry to grow as he gets closer to his crucifixion. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus spoke of prayer and the love of the Father to give the Holy Spirit to those who will ask in faith. As the chapter continues, we read of how closely knit the world of the spirit is with the flesh. How we respond to the Son of God will reveal whether we have received the Holy Spirit or not.
14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.
23 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.
33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.
There are some very tricky sayings of Jesus in this section which may not get resolved in this exploration of the text. The length of the passage in this section is too large to offer a sentence-by-sentence review. We will look at the big picture of this section and examine certain elements of it.
Saying that, one vital part of reading the bible is being able and ready to ask good questions of the text. Asking the hard questions rather than searching for safe territory is a sign of good reading. Encourage questions in group discussions even if the answers cannot be reached immediately.
- 14-28 Jesus condemned as an agent of Satan
- 14-16 Question: where does Jesus get his power?
- 17-20 Answer: not from Satan.
- 21-26 Jesus is more powerful than Satan.
- 27-28 Blessed are those who stand with the word of God.
- 29-52 Jesus condemns the Jews of the day
- 29-32 They are more wicked than Nineveh
- 33-36 Their eyes condemn them
- 37-53 Their leaders are the worst
- 37-38 Scene change: a dinner disaster!
- 39-44 Four woes to the Pharisees
- 45-52 Three woes to the experts in the law
- 53 The Pharisees and teachers of the law stand against Jesus
14-28 Jesus condemned as an agent of Satan
14-16 Question: where does Jesus get his power?
“Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute.” The OT is almost mute (pardon the pun) on the topic of demons. Lev 17:7; 2 Chr 11:15; Deut 32:17 and Ps 106:37 refer to idol worship and contain Hebrew words which have demonic imagery. Genesis 3 and Job 1 contain accounts of Satan’s activity. The Gospels, on the other hand, are filled with accounts of demon possession. It is not difficult to see that the bulk of the demonic activity is surrounding the ministry of Jesus. See Matthew 4:24 where demon possession is listed alongside sicknesses – it was not an ancient way of confusing mental illness or other. It should be interpreted that there was a heightened activity at the time of the incarnation of the Son of God. Demon possession is described as causing other forms of defects in people such as muteness.
“By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Here is a double whammy. Not only are they accusing the Son of God to be on the side of darkness but that he is a servant of the prince of demons! Verse 18 attributes Satan as Beelzebul. The name means Prince Baal and Beezebub is probably a mocking alternate which means Lord of Flies.
“Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.” The issue is raised that Jesus’ power is coming from Satan and he is commanded to produce evidence that he is working for God. The response Jesus gives following is to point out that their logic is wrong. That he casts out demons is a sign that he is not in league with demons!
17-20 Answer: not from Satan.
I will not break down this passage by clause but simply look at the logical flow of Jesus’ statements.
Firstly, it makes no sense for a team to play against itself.
Secondly, if Jesus casts out demons by the power of demons then that same argument can be used against his accusers. They too must be in league with the devil.
Thirdly, if I can show that I come from heaven then you must take that point seriously – I have been sent from heaven! The finger of God is at work here. What are you going to do about that?
21-26 Jesus is more powerful than Satan.
Verses 21-23 cause us to question, who is the strong man? Who is the stronger man? Springing from Jesus’ statements about a kingdom divided, we begin to view the strong man as Satan guarding his house but then a stronger man comes along and divides his possessions. Jesus’ punch-line is that if you are not on the side of Jesus, the stronger man, then you be scattered.
Verses 24-26 is perhaps a warning that if the strong man or demon has been cast out, it will eventually try to return stronger than before. The person/house seems powerless in this account. They are fought over by demons and the finger of God. Jesus is the stronger but what is the warning here of Jesus? Well, Jesus is building up to his finally in verses 27-28…
27-28 Blessed are those who stand with the word of God.
A woman bursts out a shout of praise to Jesus. Jesus’ response hit a chord with at least one person in the crowd who wanted to cheer him on and rejoice. Jesus’ reply is our application in the context of demon possession.
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” This is a key verse in the whole passage of the week. Jesus will go on to rebuke the leaders of the Jews and the whole Jewish culture because they possess the words of life and yet do not listen to it nor do what it says. Here is the Word of God in their midst and they are accusing him of working for Satan! It’s not rocket science. But the power of the evil one is subtle. What would the church be like if everyone in it cherished the word of God, listened to it and put it into practice!
29-52 Jesus condemns the Jews of the day
29-32 They are more wicked than Nineveh
“Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign…” Jesus is talking to the same but growing crowd who saw him driving out demons (v14) and asked him for a sign from heaven to prove his genuineness as a prophet of God (or greater) (v16). By generation, does Jesus refer only to the people on earth at the time or does he mean a broader timeline which includes us today? The context points to the former although it isn’t hard to feel the disappointment of his words on today’s generation also.
“…the sign of Jonah.” Note well that Jesus is not referring to the big fish incident here! Good exegesis (listening to what the bible actually says rather than assuming or reading into it) shows us that whatever the sign of Jonah was, it was a sign given to Nineveh. Jonah came to them to preach judgment (Jonah 3:4). He showed them no miracles but simply preached against it because the wickedness of Nineveh had come up before the LORD (Jonah 1:2). Jesus’ words are enough of a sign for this generation. We face the same test today: we have the words of Jesus which are preached all over the world and available in most tongues yet many will not listen to him or presume that he is irrelevant. When Jonah spoke to the evil and wicked city of Nineveh, the city repented!
“The Queen of the South…” The Queen of Sheba famously visited Solomon (1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chron 9:1) to inspect his kingdom and to ask him many hard questions to test his wisdom. She responded when she recognised a man of God and travelled for miles to see him.
“…something greater than Solomon is here.” Jonah and Solomon do not compare to the Son of God who is now amongst the people of Israel. How should they respond to God’s own Son if Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba responded so quickly to Jonah and Solomon.
“…rise/stand at the judgment…and condemn [this generation]…” The people of Israel may feel they are in a good place before God but the test is what they will do with the Son of God. Nineveh and the Southern Queen chose God and will stand on the correct side on judgment day. See these verses on the topic of Judgment Day: Matt 10:15; 11:22-24; 12:36; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:5; 2 Tim 4:8; 2 PEter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:7; 1 John 4:17 and Jude 6. We stand today between the day of salvation (the cross and resurrection) and the day of judgment. A day will come when all will know which side they belong. Now is the time of salvation – to turn to the Son before it is too late! To what extent the righteous will judge others is speculation. Jesus’ point is that the people of Nineveh in Jonah’s day and the Southern Queen chose wisely and receive eternal life.
“For they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” Nineveh repented! They didn’t casually nod at Jonah nor pretend that they were always in the right and welcomed him in. They heard his preaching and repented. Turning away from the person we were and giving our hearts completely to God is the response required. Will the people of Jesus’ day respond to the words of the Great Prophet by repenting? Some are recorded as doing this in his day (Luke 5:8; 7:36-50).
33-36 Their eyes condemn them
This is a tricky section to untangle. Put simply, Jesus is describing those who are full of light and are attracted to the light while those who are in darkness do not give off light. When you are with and for Jesus, you will shine like Jesus. If you are against him, then you will even project your darkness onto him. When you have the light, shine it. The crowd around Jesus could do nothing but see the world, even the true light that had come into the world, as darkness.
37-53 Their leaders are the worst
37-38 Scene change: a dinner disaster!
A change of scene and a new problem arises: Jesus did not ceremonially wash before his meal! This is not simply an issue of hygiene but the Pharisee who invited Jesus expected that Jesus would follow all of the religious habits of the day. See Mark 7:3-4 for Mark’s commentary on the Pharisees.
While this Pharisee had chosen to entertain and welcome Jesus in, he will be surprised to hear that Jesus is not impressed by the Pharisees.
39-44 Four woes to the Pharisees
“You foolish people!” Jesus’ rebuke in the woes which follow surround the inability of the Pharisees to see beyond their duty to see the purpose of the law. It’s absurd to be offended when someone fails to wash their hands and yet the Pharisee carries a heart of selfishness.
“Woe!” This word is not a final judgment from Jesus but a declaration that they live in a fool’s paradise: believing all is well but it is not well with their soul! They need to wake up and repent before it’s too late.
“…you give God a tenth…but you neglect justice…” Note that Jesus does not reject their tenth but that they give financially without loving their neighbour.
“…the most important seats…” a demonstration of their love for themselves.
“…you are like unmarked graves…” This little imagery compares the Pharisees with a way of becoming unclean without even knowing it. If a grave was marked as a grave, then people wanting to remain ceremonially clean could avoid walking over it. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are harmful to people in a similar way. Their methods and instructions are not making people clean but they give the impression that they are. They are like any religion that does not preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: they may appear holy and loving but they deny anyone of true and everlasting salvation!
45-52 Three woes to the experts in the law
“…the experts in the law…” This title is self explanatory. People who knew the laws of God expertly 😉 Professional theologians who talk the laws of Moses and instructed the people how to apply them and not get caught out in any way. These teachers of the law were not hearing the words as though they applied to them! Jesus sets them straight too!
“… you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry…” Teachers and preachers need to be careful that they illustrate the word of God and apply it in ways that are realistic. Paul instructed Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely and to demonstrate his progress in the faith to others. He was not to be talk only, but to walk the walk.
“…you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.” Verses 47-51 sound very harsh indeed. Jesus’ logic in saying that since they build the tombs for the prophets, they are just as guilty as those who killed them seems odd and not right. But here is Jesus, standing before them and preaching repentance that leads to forgiveness, and the experts in the law stand in judgment over him. They may praise the worth of a dead prophet, but they are slow or unwilling to follow a living one. Jesus is no doubt declaring that the present leaders of Israel are no different to the ones who killed the prophets. This is the great judgment on Israel even in the book of Romans. They had the very laws of God and yet rejected every prophet that came by.
“…taken away the key to knowledge.” Rather than teaching people to understand God and have a living knowledge of the true God, they taught rules and regulations. They have not seen or found salvation and do not teach others either. People can assume great power and influence over others and any leader who does not lead people to Christ is leading people to death.
53 The Pharisees and teachers of the law stand against Jesus
The conclusion to this passage simply cements all that Jesus was saying. Notice that Jesus is very harsh on this group of people because of their presumption to lead others in the way of God. They were failing and their response to Jesus’ message here is to oppose Jesus in every way they can. They are now his solid enemies. When Jesus talks to a sinner ready to repent, his is usually gentle and assuring. When he is confronting those who should know better but continue to hate, he is blunt and judgmental.
Jesus is the sign from heaven. His words and his deeds are the proof of where he comes from. The words and deeds of the Pharisees and experts in the law are also fuel for their own judgment. Those who have the light on them will easily look at the true light and live. Those whose hearts are dark are likely to remain in the dark and hate the light. Woe to all who have access to the true light and yet refuse to come to him and live.
Topic A: Blessed are those who hear and keep God’s word. Is this you? Earthly privilege, family connections, social status or wealth are not the true blessing but that we have the word of God, hear the word of God and keep it. Do you believe this? What value is the word of God to you? How much of your time is given to meditating on the promises of God and getting to know him through his word by his Spirit. Do we see others in terms of their response to the word of God or by other means of judgment such as wealth, health or ability?
Topic B: Woe to all who reject Jesus. Those who reject the word of God are not our enemy but the enemy of Christ. We follow them at our own peril. If we avoid them, we leave them doomed. What would Jesus have us do? There is a time to implore and discuss and there is a time to acknowledge that Christ is being rejected.
Topic C: Judgment day. What do you believe will happen in the future? I’m not asking to make something up. I’m curious about what you know about the end of time. Different religious groups have different conclusions about the future, but what did Jesus teach? He did not teach annihilationism – where all evil will be destroyed and be no more. He did not teach universalism – where everyone will eventually find forgiveness. He taught about a day when all humans will be judged according to what they have done. And he taught that only those who follow him can have eternal life with him.