In April we began a series of readings in Luke’s Gospel. These continued through May and June. Then in July and August, Dougie Wolf, Probationer Minister, wrote Bible readings in John and Acts. We now return to Luke’s Gospel, continuing where we left off at the end of June.
Thursday 1st September
As we saw before we broke off these studies for the summer, this chapter has a great deal of teaching about the second coming of Christ and, as we saw in verses 45-48, some strong teaching on judgement. That theme of judgement is continued here. In particular, we see that the process of judgement involves division and separation. The righteous and the unrighteous are separated, good and evil are separated, believer and unbeliever are divided. There are some who paint a picture of Jesus as someone who came only to bring love, peace and reconciliation, the ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ picture. This passage makes it clear that such a picture is not accurate. When Jesus comes, he brings judgement and division. No doubt we have met people who have been separated from their families because they have become Christians. This is worse in some countries, where a conversion to Christ can bring exclusion from the community and even death.
Friday 2nd September
Most of chapter 12 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples but now in these verses, he addresses the crowd. He calls them hypocrites. Why does he do this? It is because they knew what the weather was doing but they didn’t know what God was doing. They could read the signs in the clouds and work out what the weather would be like but they were unable to read the signs of the times, the signs of the kingdom of God, the signs of what God was doing. The implication is that they should have been able to work out what God was doing. Jesus then uses an illustration about a man on his way to court being urged to settle with his adversary before he gets to court because he will inevitably lose the case and have to pay everything. The message is that we must settle accounts with God before it is too late. When the day of judgement comes it will be too late. Have we settled accounts with God? Have we been forgiven and the debt paid?
Saturday 3rd September
This passage is about the need for repentance. Repentance means to turn away from sin and turn back to God. Jesus refers to two incidents where suffering took place, first some Galileans and second, some people killed by a falling tower in Siloam. Perhaps at the time people thought that this had happened because these people were particularly evil. Jesus says that those people were no worse sinners than his listeners and that they too would be subject to judgement if they did not repent. The parable which follows (verses 6-9) underlines the point about coming judgement but also teaches the patience of God who gives people time to repent and every opportunity to repent. Have we repented before God?
Sunday 4th September
In these verses a story of Jesus’ compassion becomes a lesson about the Sabbath. A crippled woman is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. She is wonderfully delivered and she praised God. Unfortunately, the ruler of the synagogue was angry that such a healing should take place on the Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing in the healing, he was upset that his pharisaical rules had been broken. Jesus points out that they would not leave an animal thirsty on the Sabbath yet they wanted this woman to go on suffering rather than see her healed. He points out the hypocrisy of this. We read that his opponents were ‘humiliated’ but that the people were delighted. There is a similar story of a healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12:9-14. On that occasion we read that, ‘the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus’. Their petty rules and regulations were more important to them than anything else. They had failed to understand that the Sabbath was a good gift of a good God to provide rest and not a burden. Some today still don’t understand that.
Monday 5th September
In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus was teaching that the kingdom of God would grow and expand despite its insignificant beginnings. The small community of believers whom he left behind when he returned to heaven would grow, spread out, multiply and so on, until the Christian church was a world-wide movement with millions of members. Thus the seed would become a great bush. The other parable concerns leaven which makes bread grow. A large amount of flour only needs a small amount of leaven but it is vital. It works away unseen but to great effect. Christians may be few in number but, as part of God’s kingdom, we can work quietly and to great effect. We mustn’t worry about numbers, only spiritual effectiveness.
Tuesday 6th September
Jesus here teaches the importance of being saved and uses the illustration of entering through a narrow door. He says that the time will come when the door is closed and so we must ensure that we have entered through the door before then. He also teaches that some people think they should be allowed through the door but find themselves excluded. Jesus says to them, ‘I don’t know you’. This is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’ Many of the Jewish leaders thought that they were in God’s kingdom but in rejecting Christ they placed themselves outside. Only by trusting in Jesus can we be saved.
Wednesday 7th September
Given that the Pharisees were usually against Jesus in the Gospels, it is good to be reminded that not all were of the same stamp. Here we find some Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him and urging Jesus to go and hide away. Jesus responded by saying that he would not change his plans at all and that he must go to Jerusalem, even although he knew he would die there. Then we find him mourning over Jerusalem in verses 34-35. This was the city of God, the place of the temple, the place where David had reigned as king – yet it had rejected the messiah. Jesus wanted nothing more than that the people of Jerusalem would turn back in repentance but they were not willing. What a tragic judgement on a great city.
Thursday 8th September
Here we have another incident similar to the one we looked at in chapter 13. Jesus has been invited for dinner to the home of a prominent Pharisee and was being ‘carefully watched’. A sick man was there and he asked the Pharisees and experts in the law if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Receiving no reply, he healed the man. Knowing what they were thinking, he then challenged them. These Jews were set in their ways, their theology was fixed and their practice was determined by many rules and regulations. They were unable to see things otherwise. Before we criticise them, we must recognise that in many ways we are the same. We know what we believe and we are often deeply set in our ways. We must allow Christ to challenge us and help us to see things more clearly, in the light of the Gospel.
Friday 9th September
While at this dinner in the house of the Pharisee, Jesus noticed how they all sought the positions of honour, so he told them a parable. The teaching of the parable was simple: better to choose a lowly seat and be moved up than to choose the best seat and suffer the embarrassment of being moved down! The message Jesus was trying to teach them was about humility. Some of those around the table had a very high opinion of themselves and looked down on others. Jesus condemned such attitudes and called for humility. The best way to learn humility is to think about those truly godly Christians we have met and then consider our own lives and our own spiritual condition. More than that, if we compare ourselves to Christ himself, we can see what we should be. Humility ought to follow.
Saturday 10th September
Jesus tells the Pharisee and his friends that when they host a dinner they should not invite their friends, family or rich neighbours because then these people would invite them in return and the generosity would be repaid. Instead, they should invite those who could not repay. Then they would receive their reward from God. It is certainly true that some people give in order to receive. They are generous towards those whom they think will be able to help in return, or perhaps advance their careers. Sometimes they want their generosity to be seen by others, so they can bask in the glory of their own goodness. Jesus is telling them (and us) that the best kind of generosity is towards those who cannot pay back. We also see this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1-4. They key message there is, ‘when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’. We must give without hope of recompense or reward on this side of the resurrection.
Sunday 11th September
Still at the Pharisee’s table, enjoying a banquet, one man speaks about that great heavenly banquet to come, in the kingdom of God. In response, Jesus tells another parable. The background to the parable was the Jewish conviction that they would all be at that banquet as the chosen people of God but that no Gentiles would be there. Jesus’ parable challenges that belief. He tells of a banquet where many are invited but, when the day comes, most of them make excuses and do not attend. The Master of the house is angry and says to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’ (verse 21). The failure of the Jews to follow God’s ways and to believe in Christ meant that the Gospel (the invitation) would go to the Gentiles, those with whom the Pharisees refused to eat. Paul goes so far as to say, in Romans 11:11: ‘salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious’. There is still hope for the Jews.
Monday 12th September
Large crowds were following Jesus and he explains that to be a true disciple, it is necessary to count the cost. He gives the example of a man who is going to build a tower, saying that he will sit down first and make sure that he has enough money to finish it, because if he doesn’t he will perhaps get the foundations built and then not be able to finish it and everyone will laugh. This is very true. There are in Scotland a number of towers like that. In Oban there is McCaig’s Folly and there is also one up on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. They were started but never finished. The builders did not count the cost. Jesus’ message to us is clear. Just as those men didn’t take the time to consider if they would be able to finish what they had started, so we must consider very seriously before we become Christians exactly what it involves. We must count the cost. John Stott, in his book Basic Christianity sums up the two things which are involved in counting the cost. First, there must be renunciation of sin and second, there must be renunciation of self. Have we counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus?
Tuesday 13th September
As we saw yesterday, Jesus spoke about the need for would-be disciples to ‘count the cost’. The chapter ends with a warning, contained in these two verses. Salt was used in Jesus’ day for preservation of food and for fertilising the soil, among other things. Jesus says that if salt loses its essential properties, it becomes useless. The message is that disciples who give up are useless and face only God’s judgement. There are many people who start well but later give up. Jesus makes this point in his explanation of the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13:20-22: ‘The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful’. The true disciple perseveres to the end.
Wednesday 14th September
In this chapter, there are three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son. The context in which these parables were given by Jesus helps us to understand their meaning. Tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were drawing near to Jesus. These people were the lowest of the low, the outcasts of society. The Pharisees and Scribes, we are told, murmured about Jesus eating with them. People who did not keep the law were Gentile outcasts and there was to be no contact with them. This, of course, was not the way of Jesus. Time and again in the gospels we find him in the company of such people. In Luke 5:30-32, the Pharisees asked him, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Jesus came to save those people who knew that they needed to be saved, who knew themselves to be sinners.
Thursday 15th September
The main point of the three parables in this chapter can be found in verses 7 and 10, ‘There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents’. The first parable is of the shepherd who has 100 sheep, loses one, and goes to find it. Many of the flocks belonged to villages, and the villagers would hire one or two shepherds to look after the flock for them. If one of the shepherds lost a sheep, the others would return to the village and tell the people. Then they would all watch the hills, waiting to see if the shepherd recovered the beast. When they saw him returning in the distance with the sheep over his shoulder they would begin a great celebration. It is this imagery of the great celebration which Jesus is using to make the point in this parable. Instead of a village rejoicing over a sheep, however, we have heaven rejoicing over the recovery of one lost sinner.
Friday 16th September
The second parable tells the story of the lost coin. The woman had lost a coin and was searching frantically for it. Professor William Barclay gives us an interesting insight into the meaning of the coin. The mark of a married woman, he says, was a head dress made of ten silver coins linked by a silver chain. A girl might save for years to amass enough to buy this head dress and it was more or less the equivalent of her wedding ring. I remember one year in Norway listening to an explanation of the national costume. We were told that the different types of national dress came from different parts of the country and one could tell the difference between a single and a married woman because of the belt of silver clasps which the married women wore, and so the idea is not unique to 1st century Palestine. Professor Barclay’s explanation helps us to understand the urgency of the search. If you have ever seen a woman searching for her lost wedding or engagement ring, then you will be able to identify with the woman in this parable. She was frantic. You will also understand the happiness and rejoicing of the woman when she finds it. Once again the conclusion is given: just as the woman is delighted when she finds the lost coin, so God is delighted when a lost sinner is found and comes home.
Saturday 17th September
The crucial element in both these parables is what we learn about God. We are told that God goes out looking for sinners. Like the shepherd and the woman, God searches until he finds. For many people, including the Pharisees, this was a new picture of God. The very idea of such a God was indeed anathema to many of them. The Pharisees believed that if a sinner found his way back to God, and then went on hands and knees to plead for mercy he might just find it, but the idea of God pursuing sinners with a view to their forgiveness and salvation was unacceptable.
This is perhaps the most vital thing that we need to know about God, that he actively goes looking for lost sinners. Most religions and philosophies will tell us how to find God but the emphasis is always on what we must do, or believe or think. Christianity is unique in telling of a God who loved the world so much that in the person of his Son he actually came looking for sinners – and gave his life to save them. Do we have a proper, biblical view of God?
Sunday 18th September
This third parable in Luke 15 is the parable of the lost son but is best known to us as the parable of the prodigal son. The parable is about the love of God and the way he welcomes lost sinners home, with great rejoicing. The story begins with a dissatisfied younger son who asks for his share of the father’s inheritance. The son had decided that he wanted to be his own man, no longer subject to his father. The son’s request for his inheritance is, in spiritual terms, a declaration of independence. This declaration of independence from God is the most basic of all sins, and is precisely what happened in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Many people today say that they do not need to believe in God and are able to live independent lives, choosing their own way and living according to their own desires and pleasures. Like the prodigal, they imagine that they know best and do not need anyone (even God) to tell them how to live. This never ends well because ultimately we must all stand before God.
Monday 19th September
The situation soon changed for the prodigal. His money ran out (and with it his friends), a famine came to the land, and he was in real trouble. Verse 14 says, ‘he began to be in need.’ If we continue to look for the spiritual significance of the story, we can say that this was a most important point. When the prodigal began to be in need, he recognised that his situation was not good and he began to seek a remedy. Spiritually speaking, an awareness of something lacking in our lives is often the initial step back towards God. When we begin to be in need, then we look to the one who can answer that need. The prodigal had some way yet to go down, however, before he came up again. His situation deteriorated, as we can see from verses 15-16. No matter how sorry we may feel for him at this stage, we must remember one vital truth: the wretchedness of his condition can be traced directly to that declaration of independence. He isn’t where he ought to be. He ought to have been at home in his father’s house, not looking hungrily at pig-swill in the house of a stranger. The spiritual message is that human beings were created in the image of God, created for fellowship with God, and outside of that relationship with God mankind has no real purpose, no real peace, and ultimately no real satisfaction.
Tuesday 20th September
Eventually, the prodigal ‘came to his senses.’ In other words, he began to realise his true condition. Spiritually speaking, it is only when we grasp our true condition, as sinners before God, that we can begin to put things right. A grasp of our true condition leads almost inevitably to conviction of sin and to repentance. So it was with the prodigal, as we see in verses 18-19. He realised that he had hurt his father and sinned against him. Sin is very personal. Every time we do wrong we are hurting God. Sin is a breach of God’s moral law and hence no matter who else is hurt by our sin, it is ultimately sin against God. So the prodigal returned to his father. We all know the happy reunion which then took place. The lost had been found and so the celebrations begin. The father orders a feast to be held, kills the fattened calf and clothes his son royally. The message is the same as in the previous two parables: when a sinner returns to God there is great rejoicing in heaven.
Wednesday 21st September
The elder brother of the prodigal son heard the music and celebrations and asked what was going on. When he was told, he was not happy. Do you sympathise with him? We can understand him a little better if we cast our minds back to the context in which Jesus told the parable. The Scribes and Pharisees were angry at Jesus for associating with sinners. Instead of being glad that such people were coming into the kingdom of God, they were furious, believing that righteous people should have nothing to do with such sinners. Jesus uses the character of the elder brother in his parable to speak to these Scribes and Pharisees. He was really saying this: when a sinner comes home to God, he is welcomed with open arms by his heavenly Father. If you cannot share in that joy, then there is something wrong with you. The elder brother simply did not understand the free grace and love of the father. Do we? One thing must be said in closing. Some people have used this parable to suggest that all that is required for salvation is God’s love and a sinner’s voluntary repentance. We don’t have time to deal with this in detail except simply to say this: it cost God to forgive sinners. His son had to die to make salvation and forgiveness possible.
Thursday 22nd September
This parable is one of the less well-known and is one of the more difficult to understand. The parable tells the story of a rich man who employed a factor to handle his estate. Unfortunately this factor was embezzling his employer’s money and was found out. The employer told him to produce a final statement of accounts before leaving the job. Realising that he was going to be without work and knowing that he was too unfit to be a labourer, he hit upon an ingenious plan. He contacted all those who owed money to his employer and altered the accounts in their favour. He reasoned that they would help him when he needed it. The parable ends by telling us that the employer, although cheated, praised the factor for being astute. The key message of the parable is that we should use everything we have to help others and so settle accounts with God before it is too late
Friday 23rd September
We read this parable again today to focus on the theme of money. There is a good deal of teaching in Scripture about money, much of it challenging worldly attitudes. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:10: ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’. Here in our passage, Jesus says that we can’t serve God and money (verse 13). What then does Jesus tell us to do? Does he tell us to have nothing to do with money? No, he tells us in verse 9 that we are to use our money in a different way, that we ‘may be received into an eternal home’. You will remember the parable of the last judgement in Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whatever we do for others, we do for him. Just as the dishonest factor used his employer’s wealth to buy friends to help when he had lost his job, so we are to use our money for the sake of others so that we will have a home and friends in eternity. Now I am not suggesting that good deeds can buy a place in heaven. What I am saying is that true Christians will use their money wisely, indeed this is part of the evidence that they are Christians.
Saturday 24th September
The Pharisees we are told, loved money and so ‘sneered’ at Jesus’ teaching. Jesus tells them that, however they might present themselves to human beings, God knew what was in their hearts. God knew that they were worldly and loved money and that they valued the things of this world instead of the things of God. Jesus goes on to emphasise that the Pharisees and everyone else were still subject to God’s law. He explained that the time before John the Baptist (the Old Covenant period) and the time after John the Baptist (the New Covenant period) may be different but God’s law remains unchanged. He presses the point home by using the example of marriage and adultery. The law of God in this matter has not changed. We might sum up these verses by saying that believers in Christ are to have different values than unbelievers and that these values are to be found in God’s law.
Sunday 25th September
Jesus continues the theme of money in the next parable. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is one of the well-known parables of Jesus. In it we have a wealthy man who apparently cared little for others and whose main focus in life was his money. Contrasted with him is a poor beggar unable even to defend himself against the scavenging dogs which roamed the streets. The parable tells of the great reversal of fortunes which took place after death when the rich man was dispatched to Hades and torment, and Lazarus, the poor man, was taken to Paradise, there to rest at Abraham’s side. At first sight this is simply a statement that situations will be reversed on the other side of the grave, that if we are poor now we will be happy then, and if we are rich now then we have before us only the prospect of eternal suffering. This, however, misses the real point of the parable. Helmut Thielicke says that the key, ‘is none other than the speech of Abraham in which he says that a man must hear Moses and the prophets if he is to come to terms with his eternal destiny. It all depends upon one’s identifying oneself with one of the five brothers and taking the right attitude to the Word of God. This is the point of the story.’
Monday 26th September
We look at the parable today from a different angle. The Jews of the day were quite prepared to make prosperity one of the marks of a good man. A poor man on the other hand had clearly not been blessed by God and therefore was, by definition, a sinner. Throughout his ministry Jesus railed against this false conclusion and spoke of how hard it would be for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. The rich man in our parable lacked the most important thing of all, a right relationship to God. For all his wealth and influence he had nothing of any eternal significance. In this he reminds us of two other characters whom Jesus met: the rich young ruler who was told to sell all that he had and give it to the poor but who went sadly away, unable to give up that which was dearest to him; and also the man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones and who said to himself ‘Take life easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself’ but whose life ended before he could enjoy his wealth. Remember Jesus’ words about that particular man: ‘This is how it is for those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God’s sight.’
Tuesday 27th September
The first part of this passage is a warning to those who lead others into sin. Many people are easily led into sin, perhaps especially the young. They don’t have the experience or confidence to resist when the older person or the ‘leader of the pack’ takes them down a bad road. Jesus says that those who lead others into sin will be severely punished. The second theme is forgiveness. We must forgive others, especially knowing that we have been forgiven ourselves. Compare Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22. The third theme is faith. Jesus teaches that even a little faith can achieve great things. The final theme is duty. Professor Barclay says, ‘We can never put God in our debt and can never have any claim on him’. In other words, the most we can do is our duty before God and, even then, recognise that we are ‘unworthy servants’.
Wednesday 28th September
Jesus heals ten men of leprosy but only one returns to thank Jesus and to praise God. The fact that he was a Samaritan increases the power of the story because he might have been regarded as the least likely to come and thank Jesus. Gratitude is a virtue and one which is always a blessing. When someone writes a ‘thank you’ note or phones to say thanks for something, it warms the heart. The gratitude shown by a Christian should, of course, flow out of our gratitude to God. Since God has done so much for us, we should be grateful and thank him. I wonder how much time we give to thanksgiving in our daily prayers. Sometimes we are so busy asking for things that we don’t stop to say thank-you when our prayers are answered. Gratitude is undoubtedly a sign of grace.
Thursday 29th September
This passage speaks about the coming of the kingdom of God. The Pharisees wanted to know when it would come and what the signs of its impending arrival would be. Perhaps they still thought that the coming of God’s kingdom would mean the overthrow of the Romans and a Jewish king in Jerusalem. Jesus’ kingdom, however, was not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus tells the Pharisees that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’. It is a spiritual kingdom and not a natural one. The passage goes on to deal with the second coming of Jesus. The timing of that event is unknown but it will certainly happen. Above all, it will come at a time when it was not expected. The message here is the same as the message of Matthew 25:1-13, which is that we must be prepared so that whenever Jesus returns we will be ready to receive him. If you knew that Christ was going to return tomorrow, what changes would you make? Make them!
Friday 30th September
This is the parable of the persistent widow. She wanted justice but the judge, who couldn’t care less about what anyone thought, even God, refused to help. The woman did not give up, however, rather she persevered and kept going back to the judge and demanding justice until finally, to get rid of her, the judge deals with her case. Jesus tells us that we should be as persistent in prayer as that woman was in petitioning the judge. The message is that God is just and God will answer our persistent prayers. Are we persistent in prayer, or do we give up too easily? I know of people who have been praying for the conversion of a spouse or a child for thirty of forty years and they have not given up. Nor should they. That persistent prayer is the kind God wants and the kind God answers.