Luke 16

Chapter sixteen contains two of Jesus’ well-known parables with a teaching between them. The first parable was directed toward his disciples (vs. 1) but was overheard by some local Pharisees (vs. 14). In his parable, Jesus taught of an asset manager who was fired by his master for mismanaging the owner’s wealth. In order to not lose everything, the manager approached the owner’s debtors with a “discounted rate” in order to get their help. This rate may have been part or all of his commission or even illegal interest. By cutting their bills drastically, he won their friendship. Although the owner did not approve of the manager’s initial bad management, he had to commend his quick thinking.

Jesus pointed out that believers are often foolish in their financial matters compared to unbelievers, and that should not be one of our characteristics (vs. 8-9). He taught that our faithfulness or lack thereof is basically the same, no matter if we have much wealth or a little (vs. 10-12). However, we must not get caught in the trap of serving wealth rather than serving God, because the two are mutually exclusive (vs. 13). The Pharisees who overheard this thought it was absurd. Wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, isn’t it? Jesus responded that their lives showed that they were not serving God. They justified their wrong priorities (vs. 15), ignored the Messiah’s offer (vs. 16-17), and did not honor marriage (vs. 18).

The second parable is the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus (vs. 19-31). The point is not, as some have tried to make it, that rich people automatically go to hell, while poor people are spiritual and go to heaven. Under the Jewish law, helping the poor was commanded, so the rich man’s refusal to do so showed his attitude toward God’s law. In this parable Jesus made four very important points.

First, the afterlife is real and eternal. Not only did the rich man and Lazarus recognize each other from this life, they also recognized Abraham, who had been dead for 2,000 years. Notice also that the rich man, when asking on behalf of his brothers, never asked for his own release. There is the implication that he knew there was no way out.

Second, the pain or pleasure in the afterlife is real. The rich man was “in anguish” (vs. 24), while Lazarus was “comforted” from his sores (vs. 25). Even after death, the rich man felt the punishing fire and requested water to quench his thirst.

Third, perspective in the afterlife is different. At some level, the rich man remembered his brothers. Though we do not know the relationship he had with them in life, he was infinitely concerned about them now, asking Abraham to have Lazarus warn them for him. It seems he thought they were as greedy as he was.

Fourth, the Scriptures are the final word. Abraham’s response was significant. He said that even a resurrection would not be enough to convince people of the truth, if they already ignored what God had given in the Scriptures. This is similar to what Paul wrote in Romans 1, that people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, refusing to believe in Jesus even though God proved who he was by raising him from the dead. A person who rejects the Scriptures has rejected all of God’s revelation.

Luke 15

Chapter fifteen is probably one of the most well-known chapters in Luke, yet it is also frequently misunderstood. The key to the whole chapter is found in the first three verses. The Jewish religious leaders were unhappy that Jesus spent time with sinners, so Jesus told them a parable. The rest of the chapter is the same parable told three different ways. In this parable:

  • God is portrayed by the shepherd, the woman, and the father
  • The “sinners” are the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son
  • The “non-sinners” are the other sheep, the other coins, and the other son

Notice in these scenarios that the lost items/son were already a part of the group/family but became lost. Something happened so that they had become separated from the group – the sheep left the pasture, the coin left the pouch, the son left the house. Jesus gave this parable to demonstrate to the religious leaders that those “sinners” were still Jews who were born into the promises God made to Israel. However, when he came and offered the Kingdom, not all of them had accepted him, making them “lost” but still sheep, coins, and sons. Ironically, the religious leaders considered themselves to be “in,” yet many of them were just as lost as the sinners they despised, because they were also rejecting Jesus.

This parable is often used today to portray God as looking for unbelievers to be saved. While it is true and can be proved from other Scripture that he wants people saved, unbelievers were never a part of the family from which they could leave. A more accurate principle from this chapter that applies to Christians is that God does not stop “looking” and “waiting” for those who are already part of the family but have wandered away. Sometimes we call these “backslidden Christians.” For those who have not wandered off, we must continue to do the Father’s work cheerfully and celebrate when our wandering brothers and sisters come back, because this makes the Father exceptionally glad (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16; Jude 22-23).

Luke 14

Chapter fourteen is actually only two stories, though it may seem like more. The first four sections (vs. 1-6, 7-11, 12-14, and 15-24) all took place at the same event – a Sabbath dinner at a leading Pharisee’s house (see vs. 1, 7, 12, 15). First, the religious leaders allowed a sick man to sit right next to Jesus. When Jesus challenged their continual resistance about his healing on the Sabbath, they were unable to respond, humiliating themselves. Second, Jesus spoke to the crowd at large, giving what might be taken as PR or business advice. Instead of choosing the best seat for oneself at public gatherings, when you may be asked to move, choose a less public seat, and you may be publicly asked to move forward. Rather than simple business advice, though, Jesus was teaching that humility is honored in nearly every aspect of life. Third, continuing the theme of personal humility, Jesus advised the dinner host to invite people who could not repay him for his kindness, because God will reward that kind of attitude toward others. Fourth, Jesus told the parable of the great banquet. Understanding God to be the banquet host (vs. 15), Jesus not-so-subtly told all of the rich people around him that one’s station in life will not guarantee a seat in God’s coming kingdom. In fact, God would open it up to anyone and everyone, which he did by crucifying Jesus for all people. The gospel message is available to all and must be shared with all, especially after those who initially received the offer rejected it.

The second part of the chapter seems connected to the first, but it is unlikely that “large crowds” were at the Sabbath dinner with Jesus (vs. 25). Instead, Luke placed this teaching here to connect with Jesus’ parable but not necessarily with the event itself. Although everyone is invited into Jesus’ kingdom, it is not something that can be taken lightly. In fact, truly following Jesus means to bear the shame and ridicule (“cross”) that comes with being associated with him. It also requires loving him more than even our family members. Many will not follow Jesus for fear of what their parents or family will say; Jesus said that is not good enough. While we are not necessarily called to “burn bridges” with our loved ones, there may be a time that we are called to make a choice between them and Jesus, and Jesus demands our full allegiance. Still, he wants this to be an intentional choice, not an emotional one. “Think it through,” he said. “See if you are willing to do whatever I ask. Ultimately, nothing else can be more important to you than I am.”