As Luke chapter 12 begins, we see a warning to avoid hypocrisy. Jesus likens hypocrisy to leaven because, although it may seem insignificant initially, it becomes puffed-up eventually. Perhaps you have noticed that the Savoir came down hard on hypocrites but, was gentile to those caught-up in other types of sin.
Jesus starts in verse 1, telling His disciples “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” “leaven” was yeast which is put in bread dough to make it rise. As the leaven works its way through the entire lump of dough, it affects everything. Jesus compares leaven to the evil doctrines of the Pharisees – the Jewish religious leaders – who are influencing everything in Jewish society. Jesus warns the disciples in verse 2 “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” In other words, God knows all things and in the final day of judgment the true attitude of these hypocrites will be exposed.
Jesus then makes a beautiful promise to his disciples in Verse 8 “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:” However, He warns in Verse 9 “But he that denieth (or rejects) me before men shall be denied (or rejected) before the angels of God.” Each person’s standing before God is based on his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. Then Jesus says, in verse 10 “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man (Jesus), it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost (denies the Holy Ghost) it shall not be forgiven.” This verse focuses on people who have not yet come to believe in Christ. These words mean that speaking against the person of Jesus can be forgiven because the insult may be based on ignorance of His true identity. But anyone who continually rejects the Holy Spirit’s message about Jesus – will never be forgiven because he is beyond redemptive help. Whoever rejects the prompting of the Holy Spirit removes himself from the only force that can lead anyone to repentance and restoration with God. That act has eternal consequences.
Now as Jesus leads into giving what is known as “The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man”, He says in verse 15 “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he posseseth.” In addition to hypocrisy, the second danger of which to beware in the day of prosperity is covetousness. People feel bad about immorality, lying, swearing – but when was the last time you felt bad over the sin of covetousness? What is covetousness? Simply wanting more of that which we already have enough. And Jesus said it is a sin of which – we must be so careful. Besides, our possessions can possess us. The point is that we must avoid allowing our worldly possessions to take the place of God in our lives. Being rich toward God means using our resources to help and serve others in furthering the Kingdom of God. Jesus teaches here about the pitfalls of being greedy. As He says in verse 34 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Moving ahead to Luke chapter 15, we will cover a trilogy of the most famous of the Savior’s parables – the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. To set the stage, verses 1-2 “Then drew near unto him all the publicans (tax collectors) and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” It amazes me how these religious leaders saw themselves as righteous because they claimed to keep the laws and commandments – but saw others as sinners. Do your religious leaders see themselves and others that way? We need to remind ourselves that all religious leaders are sinners – in need of the Savior’s forgiveness.
Verses 3-5 “And he spake this parable unto them (those Pharisees and scribes), saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” God’s love for each individual is so great that He seeks each one out and rejoices when he or she is found. Verses 6-7 “And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
The second parable is usually referred to as the Parable of the Lost Coin. Again, it is in response to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes, and it reminds us that it is worth whatever effort is necessary to save one lost soul. Luke 15:8-10 “Either what woman having ten pieces of silver if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
The previous two parables – one of the lost sheep and one of the lost coin – build up to a climax with the parable of the lost son. Through the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus presents a vivid illustration of God and his mercy for repentant sinners. Luke 15:11-12 “And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” The word “prodigal” means “wasteful” – someone who is self-indulgent. It is the prodigal son who says to his father, “I want goods from you – not a relationship with you.”
This parable involves three characters – the younger son, the father, and the older son. We call this younger son the prodigal son. He is probably not married, and he wants to sow his wild oats. There is not an ounce of gratitude in his heart. In fact, he probably was thinking “Dad, I wish you were dead. You are in the way of my plans. I want my freedom. I want out of this family. I want my inheritance – my share of the estate. Now!
People in the village would probably get word of this, and they would expect the father to rebuke his son and punish him. But this is the first surprise in the story – the father divided his wealth. This would have been shocking to those listening Pharisees to see how the father reacted to his son’s demands. This is God giving the sinner his or her freedom. The sinner like the son is demonstrating the absence of relationship and love with the Father. There also doesn’t seem to be any love or relationship between the two brothers. We will also discover that the older son has no love for his father either. He is equally unloving, equally ungrateful, even though he stays home. Like the Pharisees, he’s the hypocrite in his father’s house. So, the father basically has no relationship with EITHER son. These are two kinds of people who have no relationship with God. One is irreligious and one is religious.
So, the father in this story split the estate and, both sons now knew what they were getting. Verse 13 tells us, immediately the younger son put all his financial resources together and got as far away as possible – probably outside Israel into Gentile land. Far away from anybody who knows him, or cares what he does. In those days, when a person disinherited his family and left like that – he would be considered dead to them and the villagers. They actually held a funeral in the village for the dead son. It’s a totally dysfunctional family – a loving generous father and two sons who hate their father and each other. And what does the younger son do with his fortune? He quickly squandered it away through riotous immoral living. He wasted it. He represented the rebellious sinners who make no pretense of love for God. These are those tax collectors and sinners Jesus is sitting with as He tells this parable.
Suddenly, he finds himself broke. In Verse 14 to make things worse a severe famine occurred in the country. This is life at its lowest. From a wonderful place under a loving father in a generous environment, he has come to this. He’s alone and destitute. The party is over for sure. But he’s still not ready to go home. Still too prideful to humble himself to face his family and the neighbors. He didn’t turn to God for help. He’ll fix his own life. He has nothing – but he’s going to pick himself up and decides for the first time in his life to get a job. So, in Verse 15 he went and attached himself to a citizen of that country. A citizen would have been someone with means. The young man was now a beggar and would accept ANY work. Ironically, he was hired to feed swine – pigs. You can imagine at this point in the story, the reaction from the Pharisees and scribes when Jesus says that the Jewish boy was feeding pigs in a Gentile land – serving a Gentile. Remember from Old Testament passages we learn that Jews could not eat pork which were considered unclean animals. So, feeding pigs was about as low as it gets for this young man. It tells us in Verse 16 no one was going nourish him in his poverty. Now he’s not just with the pigs, he was one of them – eating their slop. To those listening Pharisees, this was unthinkable.
What is the lesson here? The lesson is that sin is rebellion against God the Father. It’s not rebellion so much against His Law, it is more a rebellion against His relationship. It is the violation of His Father’s love. In these parables we see the pure joy of God expressed in the recovery of lost sinners. So, let’s read on.
At this point, the father reenters the story…in the MIND of the son – at first. Verse 17, When he came to his senses, he has a conversation with himself. “How many hired servants of my father’s have more than enough bread to eat while I’m starving to death.” And this is where repentance really begins – with an honest assessment of one’s condition. In Verse 18, He knows his father is different than most – He is kind and generous and merciful. Now, he is ready to go back to his father because he has no other alternative. In Verse 19, And maybe if, he can work long enough, he can earn back what he lost and make reconciliation with his father. And the Pharisees listening to this story would have said, “Yep, IF he’s truly repentant he’ll confess, he’ll be humiliated, he’ll be scorned; he’ll be shamed and that’s just and fair because of what he’s done to his father. Then he’ll receive his father’s mercy and forgiveness based on the good works that he performs. He needs to do restitution.” The Pharisees might have been with Jesus in the story up to now. That’s pure Pharisaic theology along with every other works-based, performance-based religion. He’ll have to work and earn his way back to be worthy again.
The young son admits he has sinned against God. He is not holding anything back. THIS is true repentance. He needs his father. Verse 20, “And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him.” The Pharisees did not see that coming! In fact, this is a shameful reception by their assessment. Now, for his father to see his son a great way off, he had to have been looking for him – seeking for him. And as soon as he spotted him, he ran to his son. He couldn’t get there fast enough. And he embraced his filthy, stinky, ragged son and kissed him. All this before his son has even had a chance to say anything. He’s there – that’s enough to indicate his faith in the father and his repentance. It is obvious to everyone that saw it, how much the father loved his son. What a lesson for those Pharisees – and us. You want to know how eager God is to receive a sinner? God is not a reluctant Savior. He immediately extends grace – and it is done. Full faith – no works. Salvation by grace alone apart from works. And the Savior runs to the sinner asking nothing but faith, throwing His arms of love, mercy, and grace around the sinner. The young man was ready to suffer for his sins. But it’s not necessary. He knows he’s accepted with full love.
Verse 22 “The father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:” The Pharisees wouldn’t understand this at all. The father is giving his son honor by putting his best robe and his ring on him? This is a way of saying to his son, “everything I have is yours.” He was once spiritually dead but through the Atonement – reborn. Lost – now found. But this doesn’t make any sense. You don’t reward somebody who does what he did. You reward the guy who stayed home, right? All of this should have gone to the older son, right? This kind of lavish love, this kind of grace bestowed upon a repentant trusting sinner is a bizarre idea to a legalistic minded person. Verses 23-24 “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and lets us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” I want to point out – this is not so much the celebration of the son. This is the celebration of the father. The feast honors the father for what he has done. It is the father who gave him back -his son’s life. It is the father who made him a son. It is the father who restored him to blessing – by merciful forgiveness and gracious love. And for the first time the son has a real relationship with a loving father. God treats the repentant sinner as if he was royalty, making him a joint-heir with Jesus Christ.
At this point in the story, the older son enters the scene. Verse 25 “Now the elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.” Now, most people say the older son was faithful to his father – he was at home doing what he should being doing. That’s not true. Nobody told the older son about the news and the celebration. That’s because he has no relationship with his father and no interest in his brother. Just as the younger was in a far country – this guy’s in a far field. But the symbolism is that they’re both apart from the father. They both come home but for very different reasons. And here the Pharisees – listening to this story – finally have somebody they can identify with – the older son who they thought had been so dutiful. The celebration is in full force when the older son shows up at the house. He is stunned and shocked. He is confused.
Verse 26 “And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things mean.” What’s going on? Verse 27 “And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.” This was his worst fear – his brother came back. And what – his father has received him? And his father is wasting valuable resources for the celebration. Here we see the legalist’s mind-set. The Pharisees are agreeing with the reaction of the older son. He should be outraged. Verse 28 “And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.” – His father pleaded with him to join in. And that’s the answer to the original issue for this parable, isn’t it? The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, you receive and eat with sinners. How can you do that?” Likewise, the older brother wasn’t happy for his father or his younger brother. There was no love – no grace. This son is no Christian – no believer. This is a typical religious hypocrite standing on the outside condemning the gracious work of salvation. Legalists don’t understand unmerited favor. The father goes outside to his older son in mercy – and reaches out to the hypocrite the same way he reached out to his prodigal son.
Here is the response of the older son. Verse 29 “And he answering said to his father. Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid (a young goat), that I might make merry with my friends:” In the language of a self-righteous hypocrite he claimed, “neither transgressed I, ANY commandment.” Verse 30 “But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” Notice he said, “thy son” not his brother. You can cut the contempt with a knife. The Pharisees can relate to this older brother. Then, the father gives this tender response in Verse 31 “And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” Wow, is there any question about God being a loving, compassionate Savior? Even towards hypocrites? He’s saying, “You’ve been around here – though superficially. Everything has always been available to you. It’s yours – not by your works – you’ll never earn it. But it’s here if you ever want to establish a relationship with me.”
And verse 32 goes back to the main theme of the parable, “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead (spiritually), and is alive again (born again); and was lost, and is found.” Divine joy is released when one sinner repents and is reconciled. He’s inviting all of us to the party. Inviting all of us unto salvation. And then the parable stops abruptly right here. Isn’t that strange? Aren’t you wondering what the older son did? Did he fall down before his father and seek grace for his hypocrisy and bitter service? Did he humble himself and join in the celebration party? We’d like to think so. But it was the Pharisees – listening to this parable, who wrote – or carried out – the actual ending to this story. Here’s what they wrote, “And the older son being outraged at his father, picked up a piece of wood and beat Him to death in front of everyone.” Those words weren’t in this parable, but that’s basically the ending the Pharisees will live out in just a few months – when they have Jesus nailed to the wooden cross. And congratulate themselves on their righteous act in the name of religion. But from that cross the Father’s Only Begotten Son bore our sins. And what the leaders of Israel meant for evil – God meant for good. Praise God!
And that concludes our review of Luke chapters 12 through 17, and John 11.
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