Luke – Part 2 – Chapter 9, Verse 51 to Chapter 10, Verse 42

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Service on the way to Jerusalem

Jesus urges people to get ready for the coming kingdom—Samaritan opposition

Luke chapter 9, verses 51-55
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.

Commentary

Already on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah had spoken with Jesus about the coming climactic events at Jerusalem (chapter 9, verse 31). From now on, that city will be the central focus of Luke’s gospel. In verse 51 we are told that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke later speaks of Jesus going through the towns and villages “as he made his way to Jerusalem” (chapter 13, verse 22). In chapter 17, verse 11 Jesus is said to be “on his way to Jerusalem.” Finally his triumphant entry will be reported in chapter 19, verses 28-38. Jerusalem is the city of destiny; here Jesus will die on the cross, rise on the third day, and ascend into heaven. With the ascension those climactic events will be completed.

To reach Jerusalem, Jesus proposes to journey through Samaritan territory. The province of Samaria lay between Galilee and Judea. It was inhabited by people who had been brought in by the Assyrians eight centuries earlier. They retained remnants of the Old Testament faith but differed from the Jews in some essential beliefs. Over the years an intense hatred had developed between the Samaritans and the Jews. The messengers whom Jesus sent ahead to prepare his way got a very hostile reception.

When the disciples James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark chapter 3, verse 17), saw this, they were prepared to imitate the actions of Elijah (2nd Kings chapter 1, verses 9-12) and call down fire from heaven to destroy the opposition. The rebuke they received from Jesus was intended to teach the lesson that discipleship does not consist of zealous punishment of those who reject the gospel. Once more we see how much the disciples still had to learn. The journey to Jerusalem would provide many opportunities for further training in service.

The cost of following Jesus

Luke chapter 9, verses 57-62
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.
Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Commentary

“Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (chapter 9, verse 51). He walks along the road with conviction and determination; he is unwavering in pursuit of his goal. Along the way Jesus is met by some who wish to join his band of followers. The first comes as a volunteer promising to “follow you wherever you go.” It is a bold promise. In response Jesus points out that to be one of his followers means joining company with one who has less than even foxes and birds: “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Are you ready to give up house and home for my sake? Count the cost.

In another case Jesus invites a man to follow. The man seems to be willing, if Jesus first permits him to fulfill a sacred family obligation: “Let me go and bury my father.” Jesus is not ready to give him that permission. To go and proclaim the kingdom of God must have top priority. Someone else ( Jesus suggests the spiritually dead) will take care of the man’s family obligations. Following Jesus will result in conflicting loyalties.

Finally another would-be follower wants only to go back and say good-by to his family before falling in behind Jesus. Elijah had permitted Elisha that favor (1st Kings chapter 19, verses 19-21). Jesus, however, wants no looking back. No one is fit for service in the kingdom of God who looks back. One plowing in the field must keep looking ahead. So also the followers of Jesus.

These are hard sayings. They dare not be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture, especially the commandment so often repeated by Jesus: “Love one another.” In these statements Jesus is obviously making a strong statement to get across the point he wants to make for all who would follow him: you will need to be ready to make sacrifices. To be a follower of Jesus means to be ready to reorder the priorities of this earthly life.

Jesus sends out the 72 disciples

Luke chapter 10, verses 1-24
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.
“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Commentary

As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, it became increasingly obvious that a vast number of people were prospects for the kingdom of God. Samaria was an entirely new mission field. However, workers to proclaim God’s message were few. Jesus makes a comparison with the harvesting of ripe grain. No matter how plentiful the harvest, the crop will be small if the workers are scarce.

To be a harvester for God’s kingdom was difficult work. Jesus had laid strict demands on those who would follow (chapter 9, verses 57-62). Proclaiming the kingdom of God called for dedication and commitment that, unfortunately, too few people had. Yet there were some ready for this task of harvesting. We are told that the Lord appointed 72 men and sent them out two by two into the towns through which he would be passing. Some of the Greek manuscripts have 70 as the number appointed (which accounts for the figure in the King James Version). Whichever was the original number, these appointees were in addition to the apostles. The work of harvesting was not limited to just the Twelve. It was too big a job. In fact, the first assignment Jesus gives these new recruits is to pray for the owner of the harvest, God himself, to provide more workers.

Jesus makes no guarantees to the 72 disciples that they are in for an easy time. There will be spiritual and physical dangers; they are bidden to travel light; they were not to spend time on the road in casual talk since their task is urgent. Jesus’ instructions are very similar to those he gave to the twelve apostles when he had sent them out previously (chapter 9, verses 1-6).

In some homes and towns the 72 disciples would find a ready welcome. They were to accept room and board with graciousness. However, other towns would not have the welcome mat out. The action of wiping off the dust that sticks to one’s feet was a symbol of God’s coming judgment against those who refuse the message of grace. Yet whether welcomed or not, the workers were to announce that the kingdom of God was near in the person of Jesus.

The thought that some towns would reject the message of God’s kingdom provokes Jesus to speak out against such ingratitude and lack of repentance. Sodom was the city destroyed by burning sulfur because of its wickedness (Genesis chapter 19, verse 24). Yet even Sodom will be judged less severely than those cities that closed their hearts to Jesus and his messengers.

Words of woe are spoken against Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The site of Korazin, recently excavated, is near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand near Bethsaida (chapter 9, verse 10). He had done many mighty works in Capernaum (chapter 4, verse 31). Jesus did no preaching or miracles in Tyre or Sidon, Canaanite (gentile) cities lying on the Mediterranean coast. He condemns the Jewish cities for their failure to repent; in fact they compare most unfavorably with the gentile cities. Far from being lifted up to the skies for being the scene of the activities of the Son of God, Capernaum will go down into the depths. The Greek word for “depths” is hades, the abode of the dead.

Jesus is deeply hurt by the failure of his ministry in the Galilean cities. There was no real change of heart, no readiness to receive his gracious message of salvation. Few were ready to take up the cross and follow. He tells the 72 disciples that they are his personal representatives and can expect the same mixed response. Jesus comes in the words of his messengers. The response to the messengers is a response to Jesus and to the Father who sent him.

The 72 disciples returned from their mission and reported exuberantly that even demons submitted when the name of Jesus was invoked. They were not used to wielding such power. Jesus shares in their rejoicing and tells of a vision he had of Satan falling from heaven. This fall is compared to that of a lightning strike descending from the skies. It is a vision of the ultimate judgment of Satan and all his demons.

When Jesus speaks of the authority given to the missioners “to trample on snakes and scorpions,” we can apply this to the devil and his brood (see Genesis chapter 3, verse 1). John the Baptist had addressed some in the crowds coming for baptism as a “brood of vipers” (chapter 3, verse 7). To imagine that Christ today gives his followers immunity from snake bites on the basis of this and other passages of Scripture is to miss the main point. The believer’s chief enemy is not some member of the animal kingdom but the devil himself.

Yet Jesus seeks to temper the enthusiasm of these returning messengers that was focused upon the works they had accomplished. What matters more than any power they had over the evil powers is the fact that their names are written in heaven. Jesus had seen the fall of Satan from heaven; his disciples are promised a place in heaven, thereby gaining what Satan had forfeited by his rebellion.

The triumphant return of the 72 disciples and the vision of Satan’s fall from heaven fills Jesus with great joy. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he praises his heavenly Father for the revelation of salvation that “little children” have seen. “Little children” is a term Jesus commonly uses when speaking of his followers. They are contrasted with the wise and learned, from whom this revelation has been hidden. The spiritual blindness of the vast majority of Jesus’ contemporaries, especially the wise and learned, is evident. It was the Father’s will to make known to little children the way of salvation, which is in Christ.

This revelation is mediated through Jesus himself. The Father did not give some immediate or direct revelation to the disciples. They learned to know the secrets of salvation through Jesus himself. Jesus is the Word of God. Revelation today also is through the Word of Jesus; one dare not look for any other way of knowing the divine secrets. The wise and learned may still seek other ways of knowing divine things, but such mysteries remain hidden to them because of their refusal to become listeners of Jesus.

Earlier Jesus had pronounced “woes” on some of the cities of Galilee that had refused to listen to him. Now addressing his disciples, he balances this by speaking a beatitude: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” The disciples were blessed because of what they saw and heard, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, things that prophets like Isaiah and kings like David were not privileged to see or hear. Believers today are also blessed. With the eyes of faith we have been privileged to see what Christ has done for us; we can hear the revelation he speaks to us. With the 72 disciples, we can rejoice that our names are written in heaven.

The parable of the good Samaritan

Luke chapter 10, verses 25-37
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Commentary

The expert in the law who stands up to put Jesus to the test is a representative of the “wise and learned” from whom the things of God remain hidden (chapter 10, verse 21). He demonstrates his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures by quoting Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 5 concerning love to God and Leviticus chapter 19, verse 18 about love for one’s neighbor. He gives the correct answer; Jesus then directs him to do the law, to put it into practice (see chapter 8, verse 21).

Jesus has made this law expert look foolish. He feels the need to “justify himself” for asking a question that had such a simple answer, one he himself easily supplied. So the lawyer asks a further question, seeking to demonstrate that loving your neighbor as yourself does call for a legal definition of the term neighbor. Generally among the Jews, the “neighbor” was defined as a fellow countryman, one of the same race.

The story that Jesus tells overturns such an understanding of the word neighbor. Jesus says that three men came upon the bloodied body of one who had been robbed and abandoned for dead. Of these three, a priest and a Levite (temple assistant) both saw the man but did not stop to help. Both of these men represented respectable and religiously honorable positions, the kind the lawyer no doubt would have been eager to include among his neighbors. The third who came by was a Samaritan (see the commentary on chapter 9, verses 52 and 53). Such people were mistrusted and despised by Jews. However, it is this foreigner who cared for the stricken Jew, and he did so in a manner which far surpassed ordinary obligation. This Samaritan, whom the lawyer would probably have excluded from his definition of a neighbor, shows himself as the one who fulfilled the command to love one another, in this case even an enemy.

The expert in the law had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” In the parable that Jesus tells, this question is answered. But Jesus goes a step further with the question he now puts to the lawyer: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor . . . ?” For Jesus, the real question is not Who is my neighbor? but How does one prove oneself to be a neighbor to others? Being a neighbor is more important than legally defining the term neighbor. Jesus makes this hated Samaritan a model for true neighborliness. The Samaritan is one of the “little children” to whom the hidden wisdom of God has been revealed. He sees beyond the racial divisions of this world to the will of God, which bids us to love our neighbor regardless of whom that neighbor might be.

This is a parable which shatters the values of the Jewish religion as practiced by the experts of the law and the Pharisees. The priest and Levite are pictured in a bad light; the Samaritan outcast becomes the example of love. The early church saw in the good Samaritan none other than Christ himself. No one else so radically fulfilled the commandment to love. Faith in Jesus is the way to eternal life, a faith that shows its life by love for God and neighbor.

At the home of Martha and Mary

Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Commentary

When Jesus sent out the 72 men, he told them that they would find food and drink in homes along the way.

Jesus and his disciples often must have had the same experience. The invitation Martha extended to Jesus is an example of such a welcome along the way.

One can understand why Martha is very busy making meal preparations, particularly if the invitation included Jesus’ disciples also. Meanwhile, her sister Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet doing nothing but listening. Martha becomes irritated and asks the Lord to put Mary to work helping her. Jesus does not agree with Martha’s assessment of the problem. It is Martha who has the problem and not Mary. “Mary has chosen what is better,” says Jesus, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Martha is distracted with many things; Mary is satisfied with the one thing needful.

Is this the same Martha and Mary who lived with their brother Lazarus in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem? ( John chapter 11, verse 1) If so, Luke either reports this story out of chronological order (in Luke’s account, Jesus arrives at Bethany in chapter 19, verse 29), or these sisters previously lived in a different village. It is more likely that Luke reports this story here as a contrast to the parable of the good Samaritan.

The good Samaritan is an example of active doing; Mary is an example of quiet listening. Martha is very busy serving her neighbor, but what she is doing is not so essential as what Mary is doing. A service that bypasses the Word is one that will never have lasting character. The example of Mary correctly shows that hearing God’s Word must be our first priority.