After being on the road for several weeks and a week catching up at home, we are ready to continue our study of the Gospel of Luke. In our last essay, we ended with a segment (vv. 22-30) on entry into the kingdom. The next segment, verses 22-30, tells us about entry into the kingdom. In verses 23 an unidentified person asked Jesus a question: “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
Jesus didn’t answer the question “Yes” or “No,” or even in terms of how many will be saved. Rather Jesus answered in terms of how many will not be saved. “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” Then Jesus explained why. “When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’”
We noted three things about Jesus’ reply. First, Jesus said that the door of salvation is narrow. That means that there are restrictions. One cannot enter with a load of sin, for example. We must repent. Nor can we take our worldly goods with us. We must give them up at the door.
Second, there is a limited time, or window, of opportunity for salvation. The day will come when the door will be shut; and those who have refused to enter will not be able to get in.
Finally, third, Jesus makes it clear that a passing acquaintance with him will not be adequate. Just being a Jew who heard him preach or teach in the streets will not do it. Even having eaten a meal with Jesus will not be enough to get one in. One has to have responded positively to his teachings; one has to have been in real fellowship with Jesus, to enter in.
This brings us to the new lesson. At the very moment Jesus said these things, some Pharisees come to him to warn him that King Herod wanted to kill him. The Herod here was Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea. It is uncertain why Herod would have threatened the life of Jesus. Indeed the Pharisees who rought the news could have fabricated the report.
At any rate, Jesus takes their report at face value and assumes that they are messengers of Herod. So in return he makes the Pharisees his messengers, and replies directly to Herod: “Go and tell that fox . . . I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
Now then, by calling Herod a “fox” Jesus used an image that communicated low cunning. He obviously did not think much of the man. And Jesus certainly did not fear Herod. From what Jesus goes on to say, it is clear that Jesus knew he was near the end of his life and that Herod would have little to do with his death when it happened.
The expression “today and tomorrow,” followed by a reference to “the third day” needs a bit of explanation. The expression obviously can mean two literal days, today and tomorrow. But the underlying Aramaic also can mean “day by day.” So many scholars would interpret it as meaning an uncertain, but limited, period of time. The third day then refers to the end, either of his ministries of casting out demons and healing, or his death, or both, since the latter would include the former.
Verse 33 seems a bit repetitive, but it clarifies his meaning. He is saying that he is gong to continue his ministry until he reaches Jerusalem, the place where prophets are killed. And of course the implication is that he will die there. We must remember at this point that in Luke’s mind, Jesus had been on his way to Jerusalem since 9:51. And his purpose in going was to die for our sins.
In verses 34-35, Jesus shifts his thinking from his coming death in Jerusalem to a lament over Jerusalem. Stoning was reserved for the worst of sinners such as idolaters (Deut. 17:2-5) and sorcerers (Lev. 20:27). Therefore the prophets that were stoned to death in Jerusalem were perceived as false prophets. We know this was turned out to be true of Jesus as well.
When Jesus mentions “how often” he wanted to gather Jerusalem’s children together, it suggests that Jesus visited Jerusalem fairly frequently. We cannot tell the truth of that from the Synoptic Gospels, because they only record his final visit to Jerusalem. Fortunately, the Gospel of John clearly shows that he did visit Jerusalem regularly, usually for the major Jewish feasts.
Jerusalem’s “children” of course would mean the people who lived in the city. But since Jerusalem was the capital of the country, we legitimately can suppose that Jesus had all the Jews in mind. The image of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings was a common one that communicated the idea of caring for others, especially the young. In this case, Jesus meant the image specifically to represent his desire to bring people into the kingdom of God. But they were unwilling.
In verse 35 Jesus projects their unwillingness into the future. He declares, “See, your house is left to you. That is quite vague, and without Matthew’s parallel (Mt. 23:37-39), we would have to interpret the house as meaning the city or people of Jerusalem. But we have Matthew’s parallel; and he says, “Your house is left to you more desolate.” Then Matthew follows the saying immediately with Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mt. 24:1-2). Therefore I believe “your house” meant the temple. Jesus was declaring that an historical judgment was coming on Jerusalem. The city and temple would be destroyed; and the people would not see Jesus again until the coming of the Messiah, who of course was Jesus.
14:1-24 takes place in the house of a Pharisee. This is the second time Luke records a visit by Jesus to a Pharisee’s house for a meal. The meal was on a Sabbath. Therefore it likely followed a synagogue service. The first time Luke recorded such a visit was in 11:37-54, and it resulted in Jesus denouncing the Pharisees. This time Jesus again criticizes the Pharisees, but not quite so directly.
The opening incident, seen in verses 1-6, is the healing of a man with dropsy. The fact that they were watching Jesus closely suggests that this was another occasion when scribes and Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that could be criticized. Verse two shows us what the trap was. The Pharisees invited a man with dropsy in order to force Jesus to deal with him on a Sabbath.
Dropsy is a disease in which the body swells up from fluid forming in the cavities and tissues. It certainly would not have threatened the man’s life to wait until the next day to heal him. But Jesus made no attempt to avoid thee issue. He asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” No one answered him, so he healed the man. Then Jesus said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ And again no one said anything.
Immediately following the healing, Jesus decided to teach on something he had observed at the dinner. He noted how the guests had sought the places of honor at the meal. In verse seven, after Jesus observed the guests seeking the places of honor, he decided to tell a parable that teaches humility.
The parable was about wedding feasts. Jesus taught that when one is invited to a wedding feast, one should take the lowest seat rather than a high honor seat. If one takes a high honor seat, and a more distinguished guest comes later, the earlier arriving person would be humiliated when asked to take a lower seat. But if the earlier arriving person takes a lower seat, he or she could be honored before everyone present when asked to move up to a more honored seat. The most honored seats were those near the host. Since important guests tended to arrive a little late, the situation Jesus was setting forth easily could have happened.
Then in verse eleven Jesus applied the parable: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This teaching is similar to the principle of reversal that we saw in 13:30 where Jesus said that some who are last now will be first in the kingdom, and some who are first now will be last in the kingdom.
After the teaching about humility, in verses 12-14, Jesus immediately spoke to the host of the dinner he was attending about whom to invite to dinners. This teaching easily could be taken wrongly. Jesus certainly did not mean that we never should entertain our family and friends. That would go against the practice of Jesus himself and his disciples. The point is that our generosity ought not end there. We must be generous to the poor as well. Once again Jesus applies his teaching, “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In verse 15 someone at the dinner in the Pharisee’s house, excited by Jesus’ mention of the “resurrection of the righteous,” directed an exclamation at him, “ Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” He reacted that way, because the Jewish people thought of the future kingdom of God as a messianic feast (Is. 25:6); and of course, the guest assumed he would be a participant. Jesus replied with a parable that often is called the Parable of the Great Dinner.
Notice that many guests were invited to the great dinner. In those days, the date of a dinner was announced, but not the hour. Thus the persons invited already had accepted the invitation, and the master who invited them expected them to be there. Then when the meal was ready, according to custom, the master sent a slave or servant to tell those invited that the feast was now ready.
But as you see in verses 18-20, they began to make excuses. In Jewish society that was unacceptable behavior. The host prepared food for the number of expected guests. And now those invited guests were making feeble excuses for not attending.
Only three examples of the excuses are given, but they were intended to be typical of all of the excuses given. The first thing to notice about the excuses is that every one of them could have been delayed to another day. The man who purchased property would have had plenty of opportunity to inspect it before he bought it. It is possible that the man could have bought the property on the condition that he would inspect it after the sale and then give his final approval. But even then the inspection could have been done on a day other than the day of the feast.
The man who bought the oxen normally would have tried them out before paying for them, though again it would have been possible that he bought them with a condition of a post-sale inspection and approval. But again, that inspection could have been done on a day other than the feast day.
In the case of man who just married, he would have known the date of his wedding far in advance. Therefore he should not have accepted the invitation to the dinner in the first place. In other words the invited guests blatantly were insulting the host.
When the servant reported that the invited guests were not coming, the host justifiably became angry. He didn’t want the food to go to waste, so he sent the servant out into the streets to invite the poor, crippled (that is, maimed), blind and lame. There typically were the beggars of the society. The equivalent people in our society would be the many homeless people of our cities.
The servant did as he was told, but when he had finished, there still was room for more people. So his master sent him out again and told him to compel people to come, because he wanted every place occupied. This is interpreted by Calvinists to mean that God will make sure that all of his chosen ones make it into the kingdom. A better interpretation is that a second invitation is needed because in that oriental culture, many people would refuse an invitation until pressed to accept it. A good biblical example of this is seen in Gen. 19:2-3, where two angels came to Lot in the city of Sodom. Lot offered them hospitality for the night, but they politely refused. Then Lot, quote, “urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house, and he made them a feast.”
Jesus ended the parable by saying, “I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” This saying helps us to understand how to interpret the parable. Jesus did not intend it as an allegory with every detail to be given a symbolic value. But the parable is symbolic. Those who originally were invited were Jews. But though they said they wanted to be part of the kingdom of God, they refused to come to the feast. They were interested in worldly rather than heavenly things.
So the master, who symbolizes God, invited the spiritually poor and maimed. That would be the Gentiles. The fact that the servant was sent out again suggests an incomplete task. The task of inviting others would have to be completed by Jesus’ disciples. Both Jews and Gentiles still are invited, but none of those originally invited persons who refused the offer, would taste of God’s kingdom feast. This is essentially the same message we saw in 13:22-30 where we were told that the Lord eventually would shut the narrow door to salvation, and those who had refused to go in (whether Jew or Gentile) would no longer be allowed to enter.