Study 5 – Luke 12:1-34

The Fear of God

Context

Jesus was challenged in Chapter 11 as being in league with the devil. He responded over many verses to highlight how terribly wrong his accusers were and that, in fact, his actions proved his innocence. However, their actions reveal where their hearts are and that they have not entered the kingdom of God. His accusers were not only outside of the kingdom but they were also blocking the entry for others.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law hardened their hearts more as they increased their opposition to Jesus, trying to catch him out. How will Jesus respond to the opposition? When given an audience of thousands, what would Jesus say? That’s what we’ll find in this weeks reading!

Read

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Observation

Another large section to study. Choosing to focus on a smaller piece this week would work. Either the first half of verses 1 to 12 or the second half of 13-32, or even focus on 13 to 21!

Structure

  • 1-12 Be clear on who to fear
    • 1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.
    • 4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.
    • 6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.
  • 13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is
    • 13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns
    • 22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

1-12 Be clear on who to fear

1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.

“…when a crowd of many thousands had gathered…” The description from Luke must not be overlooked. Imagine gaining a following of thousands! In this day of YouTube ‘likes’ a number of thousands is impressive. Jesus had his subscribers! But what he says next could only come from a kingdom-minded person. He doesn’t puff up and address his peeps like a saviour of the world! He reacts like the real saviour of the world and warns his close disciples not to be deceived by what they see now.

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” This huge fan-filled crowd will be easily swayed by the lies and double standards of the Pharisees. Like yeast spreading through a whole batch of dough, this crowd will easily be turned. And they do turn against Jesus to cry out ‘crucify him!’ The size of a church or group is not necessarily the reality of its strength. Jesus will go on to teach his disciples where to put their trust and hold fast to the One who is not a hypocrite. But we must ask ourselves where we stand? Are we truly living for Christ or are we swaying with the influence of the crowd? As our nation and the western world moves rapidly away from Christ, will you move with it? Is popularity and safety more important than serving the living God and keeping your soul?

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Jesus is most likely referring to judgment day when the hypocrisy that the Pharisees possess will be exposed. Both the righteous and the hypocrite will have their deeds shouted from the rooftop. The “plotting” (11:54) of the Pharisees will be exposed one day. It is striking that Jesus comments on this while staring at a crowd of thousands. The disciples are about to enter the heated town of Jerusalem where the small but fierce hatred of the Pharisees will grow through the whole town against Jesus and his disciples.

4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.

“I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Jesus is quite emphatic in these two verses that there is a thing worse than death. Notice the word ‘fear’ used three times. There is no escaping the enormity of Jesus’ words here. Forget those with knives or harsh words or prison cells. God has the authority to throw people into hell. How lightly we treat the choices of our day and how often we err toward avoiding confrontations and offending others.

“Hell” Jesus used this word more than anybody else in the whole bible. Matthew especially picks up Jesus’ commentary on hell (Matt 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 33). The word is gehenna and refers to a historic valley (AKA Ben Hinnom) near Jerusalem where evil sacrifices took place during wicked times in Israel (Jeremiah 7:31; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10). An evil place which Jesus uses to refer to what can happen to a person after death. In Luke 16, Jesus depicts it as a place of torment. While some scholars attempt to show that God’s judgment comes in the form of annihilation, using images from the bible to make their point, the point is that there are a number of images that the bible uses to describe judgment. As Jesus has said three times in this verse, it is a place to be feared worse than death!

But the God who has the authority to cast into hell is also described as the God who cares…

6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” After warning us three times to fear God, Jesus assures us now not to be afraid. As quickly as the wicked will be cast into hell, the righteous who do not fall into the prey of the Pharisees are highly valued by God. Something as worthless as a sparrow is worth something to God and the disciples of Christ are worth so much more than them. When you are on the right side of God, there is nothing to fear. Jesus goes on to define what that means…

“…whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” This is a beautiful contrast between declaring Jesus as Lord before other humans who really ought to fear God and the declaration that Jesus will make of that person before the entire throneroom of the Almighty. We are not to whisper in the ear in the inner rooms but we are to wear our love of Jesus with honour – even if the knife is toward us.

“…everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” There is forgiveness available for those who have spoken against Jesus (the Son of Man was Jesus’ self-title which brings together beautifully the image of a human child and the promised coming of God – see Daniel 7). The implication is that if somebody repents, then there is forgiveness but…

“…anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” See Matthew 12:31-32. It is the Holy Spirit who provokes a person to eternal life and seals them for eternity. Those who oppose the work of God in their life will fall under this description. There is no magic word that will place you in this predicament, rather, the ongoing rejection of God. You can be religious and yet deny the Spirit in you. Jesus spoke of demons being cast out only to return stronger because they found the ‘house’ empty (Luke 11:24-26). If people see the work of the Spirit and declare that it is evil, this could be what Jesus is talking about. This record has followed on from the accusation of Jesus casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul.

“”When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities…” Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the presence of a crowd of thousands. You can hear him preparing his disciples not to get used to this fan-based attention. It won’t last because many in this world reject the Lord and his call to repentance.

“…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Continuing the theme of not fearing man and being confident in the One you have given your life to. The Holy Spirit himself will not leave the disciples behind. This is not a promise that we will always know the perfect thing to say at any occasion. It is the promise that when the time comes to defend the name of Jesus and publicly acknowledge him before others, the Spirit will lead them.

13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is

13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns

“Someone in the crowd said…” The statement from the crowd shows how little the crowd were understanding of Jesus’ comments to the disciples. Perhaps the person overheard Jesus talk about being on trial before the authorities and blurted out what was dearest to his heart.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The man’s immediate need is where the wealth of his father is going.

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” We know that Jesus is Lord of all but Jesus’ question is about why this is his concern right now. He goes on to express how little this should concern us also.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” After being warned to watch out for the spreading hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which is birthed from popularity, Jesus now warns us against material greed. This is just as damaging to the soul. Jesus’ description that follows demonstrates replacing God with money and possessions. Greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” The parable that Jesus tells is quite straightforward. A man took measures to look after his investments and financial growth only to lose it in an instant and be left with nothing. He had the world as his heaven and neglected heaven itself. Being poor toward God is to have little to no interest in God. Jesus expands on this teaching in the next section which concludes with the words: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We will pursue the things that we love the most. Earthly treasure will steal our hearts away from God.

22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

This section matches quite closely to the passage in Matthew 6:19-34.

“Therefore I tell you…” What Jesus says is a conclusion or application from the illustration that he just ended. Here is the point of the application and the outworking of what you must do in response.

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” Jesus clarifies exactly what he wants us not to worry about. Some have said that this passage and the Matthew passage command us never to worry, but this is a misunderstanding of what worry is. He’s not talking about anxiety disorders nor the natural habit of stress and worry. He is telling us to put the universe into perspective and stop placing food and clothing at the top as if this is what life is about. He is also not talking about being trendy or not. He’s talking about the essentials of food and something to wear. It is hard to imagine this kind of worry BUT even in a rich society, how we will maintain our standard of living can consume our minds.

Step back and look at how basic Jesus’ command is. He’s not promising wealth or high living. Yet this is what many of us do have. Our struggle will not be about worry over the basics but worry over not having more than we currently have. We could learn to say no to things. Would it be so bad if we went through life with no ensuite? Or if we had simpler holidays?

“…they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.” Jesus pulls in the illustration of the barn builder and compares him with the simplicity of God’s creation. Everything is created to live. Yet we fight and stress and persevere to have abundant possessions. It’s worth meditating on how many barns we possess. How many bank accounts? Superannuation. Work and life insurances. Health insurances? Shares? I am not suggesting that these are wrong or unwise to have. Being able to take care of yourself and others is a burden the NT speaks of elsewhere (1 Tim 5:8; Titus 3:14; 1 Tim 6:17; Col 4:1). But note the emphasis is on where we believe things are coming from and giving thanks for God’s provision. Jesus goes further to the point to talk about why we should not worry about the size of the next paycheque.

“Who by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” The point here is that our days are numbered. We could build the biggest barn ever and we would still have to leave it for someone else to enjoy. We cannot stretch our life to eternity. We will face death and we need to face up to that fact.

“…you of little faith!” He does not say ‘no faith’ but ‘little faith’. Here is the point. How far are we willing to stretch our faith? This is a faith issue. Do we trust God or not? Do we trust him only for our salvation but the rest of this life is up to us? Or is he not the God who created the heavens and the earth? He is either God. Or he is not.

“…for the pagan world runs after all such things…” Jesus gets more pointed. When you stress and flurry over what you have, you are living like the unbelievers.

“… your Father knows that you need them.” Enough said? Remember the Lord’s prayer in chapter 11? Our Father, give us today our daily bread? This is the prayer of faith.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” The gospel is not just “pie in the sky when you die.” It is also “steak on your plate while you wait”. For some it may be beef and reef with a pinot noir, and for others the bread that is just right for the day. Whatever the menu, the priority is to be God’s kingdom. Fear the one who can cast you to hell. Fear not because he give freely his Holy Spirit to all who ask.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” For someone who is so familiar with Matthew chapter 6, this little phrase which is not included by Matthew is a brilliant shining star in the familiar story. I love hearing Jesus call us his little flock! He is the good Shepherd and we are his little flock. Cared for. Nurtured. Protected. Guided. Fed. Clothed. Loved. Saved. Given the keys to the kingdom! So don’t be afraid.

“…a treasure in heaven…” Jesus concludes with this coda: retrain your heart to pursue the future. The kingdom is ours so why get obsessed with today’s trinkets? Do you desire a swimming pool but can’t afford it? A bigger house but it will take all your time and devotion to get it? Give your heart to God and let him be your delight forever.

Meaning

Fear is a the topic of this passage. Know for sure what is worth fearing and what is just vanishing anxieties. The draw of popularity may pull you to hypocrisy but devotion to God will keep you straight. Fear for your life may threaten you but don’t let it dominate the real fear of hell. But take heart and know that God is not just on about salvation but is ready to give you the kingdom of heaven along with the Holy Spirit. The keys are yours if you will be proud to be a friend of Jesus. He will not hold back his adoration of you if you do not hold back your devotion to Him.

Application

Topic A: Fear of men. It is common to want to please people and crave the commendation of others. It can manifest itself by being an overachiever because you fear someone criticising you or you crave as many praises as you can get. It can manifest in needing to say ‘yes’ to everybody. It can manifest too in one’s inability to talk about Jesus even when it feels like this could lead to the end of a friendship. Jesus said not to fear those who can kill the body (or hurt our feelings) but fear the one who has our eternity in his hands. A real part of maturing as a Christian is to stop trying to please others but to please God.

Topic B: Greed as idolatry. How do you manage your bank accounts, your income, your investments and your expenses? If you could draw a pie chart showing how much of your money is directed toward you (and you family) and how much is given away, what would the pie chart reveal? What would happen if you gave more away? Is there anything in your expenses that you could stop spending on yourself? God is generous himself and gives us good things as well as essential things. But examine how you could use your bank account to express your faith in God.

Topic C: Stress and anxiety. This is a stressful world and our day is perhaps more stressful than others. Counseling to talk about ongoing anxiety is a great idea. Mental health and medical help are all real things but so is prayer and being real with God. For general stress and worry, consider where your heart is at and who it is you are trying to please? Find someone to talk to about your frustrations with life and listen to their advice on what you should do next. Our ‘little faith’ in God can be real for salvation but may need some help for us to mature as faithful sons of our loving Father. If you are overloaded with anxiety, it is always a good idea to ask for help with it.

Study 4 – Luke 11:14-54

The Obedience of a Disciple

Context

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.

Read

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.

Observation

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.

Structure

  • 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.

Meaning

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.

Application

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.

Luke 11:1-13 – The Prayer of a Disciple

Discussion

When did you learn how to pray and how did you learn?

Context

Jesus’ disciples have been with him for a couple of years now and are ready to declare Jesus as God’s Messiah (Luke 9:20). Jesus has turned his face in the direction of Jerusalem where he will go and lay down his life for all who put their trust in him. Many are drawn to him but find it hard to let go of the pull of this world. In chapter 10, Jesus sent 72 others to go  from town to town to preach the gospel (Luke 10:8-9) but only if welcomed to do so. Judgement on this world begins now, measured by how welcome the kingdom of God is now. Gospel work is compared with a spiritual battle. That as the gospel is proclaimed, Satan and his minions are being attacked. But what is important is not that the battle is being one but that the disciples’ names are already written in the book of life. While Jesus calls and directs his disciples to go on mission, he sets it in the context of an eternal relationship with God the Father (Luke 10:21-24). Following Jesus is not just about knowing the truth and fighting for truth, it is more importantly about knowing God the Father and being known by him.

Read

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“ ‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.g
And lead us not into temptation.’ ”

5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Observation

Structure

  • 1-4 Jesus’ prayer content
  • 5-10 Jesus’ prayer approach
  • 11-13 Jesus’ prayer expectation

1-4 Jesus’ prayer content

“Lord teach us to pray…” What a great question that one of the disciples has blessed the whole church in history with. This one man saw a prayerfulness of Jesus that he admired and saw a lacking in himself that he sort to correct. John the baptist clearly had taught his students how to pray but it is the lesson of the Lord that has been passed on to the Christian community, preserved for all time.

The disciple saw a prayerfulness in Jesus that he desired for himself. Before we look at the content of Jesus’ prayer, we should notice that Jesus was known as a prayer and took time and relief to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer

There is so much to discuss with this prayer that it cannot be covered in this space. Volumes have been written about the Lord’s prayer such that, anyone who believes they can say everything in a brief time either boasts too much or is unaware of how deep this prayer is. What follows will suffice to scratch the surface and enable discussion in the right direction.

“Father”. Note that when we compare this prayer with the parallel prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, the phrase is “Our Father in heaven”. It is likely that Jesus taught this prayer format on two different occasions but an alternate theory that Jesus taught it only once but Matthew and Luke placed them in different parts of their narrative. The former theory is probably right given the differences in the prayer and the context of the lessons. We could study this prayer by combining and comparing the two but, for the sake of studying Luke, we’ll follow Luke’s recorded prayer. It differs on three major moments and on each occasion, Matthew’s account is longer. The prayer that we recite in church follows Matthew’s format.

“Father…” When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray he instructs them to call God, the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Judge – Father. Luke and Matthew do not include the word “Abba” which is famously taught as an intimate word for Father, like Daddy. Jesus used this address of God in Mark 14:36 when he prayed in Gethsemane. Paul invites us to share that intimate relationship because of the Spirit in us (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6). While we could say that no Old Testament prophet or writer ever taught us to approach God with even the formal title of Father, we shouldn’t go too far with this. The Psalms contain great examples of intimacy and trust between the writer and God and we they shared the same Spirit as we do with the same effective act of salvation through the Son as we do. But Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Father”.

“Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.” The name “Father” is accompanied with the descriptions of holiness and authority. The prayer knows his place in the universe and in this relationship of prayer. While we come to God in the context of a real relationship, we also know that his place before us is great. While we know that his place before us is great, we are still able to come! What a privilege is it to be able to speak directly to the ruler of all creation. His authority is great and his intentions and actions are holy, perfect, pure and just. When we come to him in prayer, we are not only coming to a being with all authority, but we are coming to the God who acts righteously. And our conversations with him should both respect who he is, as well as be prepared to speak accordingly. He desires us to desire what he desires.

“Give us each day our daily bread.” We do not ask the world of God but we can ask what is good and right. The daily bread reminds us of our dependence on God not to desire more than we need nor to have so much in reserve that we forget that we need him.

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” A sinner forgiven is a person who understands forgiveness. A person who deals mercifully with others demonstrates that they know the mercy of God themselves. Some will ask, “what if someone has sinned against me but is not repentant and doesn’t care? Must I forgive them in order to be forgiven myself?” The simplest reply is that we must always be willing and ready to forgive even if forgiveness has not been sort. Our forgiveness comes with repentance. That should be the model for us also. But the bible demands that we always show love, even to our enemies and those who hate us. And love does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor 13). Blend all of these ideas together and you can see that the forgiven sinner is already ready to forgive those who have sinned against them. The harder question is, are our hearts at the ready to forgive. Are we ready to let go of our anger, and hate. Those who have wronged us and not repented will get what they deserve from our Father.

“And lead us not into temptation.” The very act of prayer puts us in a good place to avoid or flee temptation. It ought to be our first strategy against sin. When our heart is tempted to wander and take something that is forbidden, then take our desires to God in prayer. Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” When our mind is meditating on God and engaged with Him, we are choosing to love Him more than sin. James 1:13 tells us that God never tempts anyone. The Lord’s prayer, however, takes us to the very place that we need to be before God. Under the care of our Father, longing for His will or kingdom to rule over ours, knowing that all good things come from God and our needs are met in him, that forgiveness, mercy and grace are at the heart of His kingdom, and ready to turn from evil rather than running toward it. “Lead us not into temptation” is equal to “lead us into righteousness.”

5-10 Jesus’ prayer approach

Jesus tells a story to illustrate that those who ask receive because they presume to be helped. Jesus describes a request asked at a bad time and yet the answer to the request is still yes. God is not to be compared exactly with the friend who was woken to give bread, but the illustration means that we ought to ask. Look at the final sentence in the story…

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

“Shameless audacity…” This is a description of boldness. A risky move that shows no restraint. Politeness, patience, social etiquette and worthiness are not part of the process here. Imagine how bold we must be to approach a holy God to ask for anything!

“…as much as you need.” The content of the prayer is not outrageous that we are asking for straight A’s without putting in the effort, or a Ferrari at no cost and so on. Our requests a both necessary and able to be supplied by God.

The difference between this illustration and our prayer requests is that God is not like the grumpy neighbour who feels bothered. If our neighbour will agree to do it, how much more will our loving heavenly Father who invites us to pray, respond to our requests.

So, we should pray. We should ask. We should not wait. We should pray with the expectation that God will respond positively. James 4:2-3 speak about our stupidity of not asking God but also about have a love for God over love of the world when we ask.

So, Jesus follows this illustration with the next to highlight the love of our heavenly Father…

11-13 Jesus’ prayer expectation

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The neighbour in the first illustration got out of bed and gave what was asked even while wishing the other neighbour would go away! But in contrast, our great God loves us. Jesus asks us to think of our earthly fathers and then imagine how much better is our heavenly Father, who is perfect.

And the great gift that we need is the Holy Spirit! On a section of scripture about prayer, how amazing is it that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate gift to us. Better than material possessions is the living God dwelling in us. Better than success in this life is the seal of the Holy Spirit confirming our inheritance for eternity! Better than a desire to know how to pray better is the Holy Spirit who knows us intimately and knows the Father intimately too. He is our intercessor in prayer! The disciples asked for directions on how to pray and what they got was an invitation to ask the Father for the Holy Spirit. And a promise that he will give the Spirit to those who ask him in faith.

Meaning

Jesus demonstrated a keenness to meet with his Father in prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus to help them with prayer, they received a model of what to ask for, what to expect from their heavenly Father and an invitation to ask for the eternal God to dwell with them. Prayer is so much more than a time of meditation and grounding oneself in the presence of God. It is an open door to the King who cares. Let us not treat prayer like it is a burden or a discipline. Let’s learn to approach God often and with great requests.

Application

Topic A – Practical tips on prayer. Discuss in your group some practical tips on how and when to pray. For some ideas, consider praying through parts of the bible, praying at a particular time and place, the PrayerMate app, a prayer partner, a prayer diary and journaling your prayers. While “praying continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16,17) is a beautiful way of living life, it is nourished by regular, drawing aside times of communing with God. Jesus himself displayed a habit of withdrawing from others in order to pray.

Topic B – The content of our prayers. Write out a list of things that you would like to ask God for or about. Keep the list to yourself at first before sharing a couple with the people around you. What does your list teach you about your love of God and your love for the world? How has your knowledge of God through His word and by His Spirit, helped you to refine your list? When our desires are in tune with God’s then we know that we can ask with shameless audacity. Genesis 4:26 gives the first indication of prayer in the bible and it is a call on God to fulfill his promises (Genesis 3:16). We can pray boldly when we know that our prayers are filled with the things God has promised us.

Topic C – Awareness of the Holy Spirit through prayer. All Christians are in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. He is our seal that confirms our salvation. He is at work in us to sanctify us. To complete the work that God has promised to do in us. He is also our best friend when it comes to prayer. Before we even approach the throne of God in prayer, our God is with us to provoke us to pray. The Son has opened the doors of heaven so that we can come unashamed. The Father loves us and has invited us to come to him and ask what we need. When you pray, bring to your mind the promise that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. And when we doubt the generosity of God, remember that he has promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

“And now, as we leave the passage, let us ask ourselves whether we know anything of real prayer? Do we pray at all? Do we pray in the name of Jesus, and as needy sinners? Do we know what it is to “ask,” and “seek,” and “knock,” and wrestle in prayer, like men who feel that it is a matter of life or death, and that they must have an answer? Or are we content with saying over some old form of words, while our thoughts are wandering, and our hearts far away? Truly we have learned a great lesson when we have learned that “saying prayers” is not praying! If we do pray, let it be a settled rule with us, never to leave off the habit of praying, and never to shorten our prayers.” J.C. Ryle

Prayer

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.