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Jesus’ teaching on prayer
Luke chapter 11, verses 1-13
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Prayer is one of the essential ingredients for fueling a life that will be busy doing the will of God. Jesus recognized this fact and spent much time in prayer (chapter 3, verse 21; chapter 6, verse 12; chapter 9, verse 28). As this new chapter in Luke’s gospel begins, we are once more told that Jesus was praying. He was a very busy person but never so busy that he did not find time for prayer.
Jesus’ disciples observed the very active prayer life of their master. Now comes a request from one of them: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” In chapter 5, verse 33 we heard that not only did John teach his disciples to pray, but so did the Pharisees. The criticism was leveled at Jesus that he and his disciples seemed to spend more time eating and drinking.
It is somewhat surprising to us that this request for instruction in prayer should come only now in Luke’s gospel. Jesus had previously sent out the twelve apostles and the 72 disciples on preaching tours. He gave them power over the demons and the ability to heal diseases. But why is there not a word encouraging prayer?
A possible answer is to suggest that what Luke here records actually took place much earlier in the ministry of Jesus. It is reported at this point in the gospel to form a continuation of the previous story in which Jesus commends Mary for her attention to the Word of God. The life of the disciples also needs to include persistent prayer.
The pattern, or outline, for prayer that Jesus gives to his disciples has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. We find a slightly longer version of this prayer in Matthew chapter 6, verses 9-13, part of the Sermon on the Mount.
In chapter 10, verse 21 we heard Jesus speaking in prayer to his Father. Jesus instructs his disciples to address God with that same precious name. It is a great privilege granted us by Jesus to speak as children would to our dear Father in heaven. This is a form of address that neither John nor the Pharisees dared teach their disciples to use.
The first two sentences of the Lord’s Prayer fit closely together. The request is expressed that the Father would bring it to pass that his name be hallowed and his kingdom come. In John chapter 12, verse 28 Jesus is asking for the same thing: “Father, glorify your name!” To speak of God’s name is just another way of referring to God himself. In Ezekiel chapter 36, verse 23 the Lord said to Israel, “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations.” God is treated with contempt by so many. When God acts in history, he brings himself glory and makes his name holy. Believers glorify God’s name because of his works of creation, redemption, and sanctification. At the end of the world, “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians chapter 2, verse 11). In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for the time when God’s name will be hallowed and the promise of his kingdom will reach complete fulfillment.
In the final three petitions Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for blessings that they need as they live out their lives on this earth while waiting for the end. There is need for daily bread; there is need of forgiveness; there is need for divine help against the temptations that will come. The most critical of these temptations is the danger of falling from faith and losing the eternal reward. Our plea for the Father’s forgiveness includes an expression of our readiness to pass on forgiveness to everyone who sins against us.
This prayer has become very familiar to Christians through repeated use. From earliest times, these words have been incorporated into the worship orders of the church. The prayer Jesus taught his disciples serves as an outline and pattern for all prayer.
Following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells a parable about a person who goes at midnight to a friend requesting three loaves of bread to feed a guest who had arrived unexpectedly. The friend at first refuses the request because his entire household is settled in for the night behind locked doors. But persistence proves a greater motive than friendship for his finally providing the bread requested. The point Jesus makes with this parable is that persistence in prayer pays off. If a human friend is moved to respond by persistent requests, how much more likely it is that our heavenly Father will respond when we come to him again and again with our needs. Our asking, seeking, and knocking will not be in vain.
What the heavenly Father grants in response to our persistent prayer will be good for us. Again using a comparison, Jesus points out that an earthly father will not give what is harmful to his son. How much more should we trust our heavenly Father to give us good gifts. One of these good gifts is the Holy Spirit. In answer to our prayers, our Father will always give what is best for us.
Jesus and Beelzebub
Luke chapter 11, verses 14-28
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
The previous section on prayer concluded with a reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Time and again, Jesus demonstrated that he was filled with the Spirit. However, his opponents attributed his amazing ability to cast out demons and to heal illnesses to a different spirit, the spirit of Beelzebub. This was a popular term for the devil based on the name of the Philistine idol Baal-Zebub (2nd Kings chapter 1, verse 2). As laughable as it might seem to us, this would make Jesus a partner with Satan in frustrating God’s purposes.
Jesus answers by pointing out how totally illogical this charge is. Human history testifies to the folly of civil war. Satan is not so foolish as to supply Jesus with the power to cast out demons! Furthermore, Jesus makes reference to the fact that exorcisms (casting out of demons) were actions which followers of the Pharisees claimed to be able to do. “Are they also in league with Beelzebub? Let them render a decision with respect to the charge you bring against me.”
Human beings sometimes do accomplish works that appear to be miraculous. The magicians of Pharaoh, with “their secret arts,” were able to duplicate some of the acts of Moses and Aaron in Egypt (Exodus chapter 7, verse 22). But, ultimately, when confronted with more and more miracles, these magicians said to Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God” (Exodus chapter 8, verse 19). Describing miracles as being worked by God’s finger emphasizes the greatness of his power. Now Jesus uses this same expression, admonishing his opponents to recognize that his miracles are worked by God and are not black magic.
The devil is certainly a strong and powerful being. He does all he can to guard his possessions, the people whom he controls. When Jesus wrests these helpless victims out of the hands of the devil, it shows that Jesus is the stronger one.
In verse 23 Jesus issues a challenge to his listeners. One has to take sides in the struggle between Jesus and Satan. Those who don’t stand with Jesus are on the side of the enemy; those who don’t work with Jesus in gathering people into God’s kingdom are guilty of scattering. To link Christ and Satan as coworkers is not only foolish; it is blasphemy, and it hinders the work of the kingdom.
Jesus did much good in driving out evil spirits from many a person’s life. Once healed, such a person has the responsibility of making sure that the devil isn’t given the opportunity to get back in. The demon goes searching for a resting place (see chapter 8, verse 32), and if none is found, it may come right back along with seven other spirits and reoccupy its former quarters. Jesus is warning against leaving one’s life empty, of living in a vacuum. Only the heart filled with the Holy Spirit is fortified against the assaults of Satan.
The opponents of Jesus may have attributed his wonderful power to the working of Beelzebub, but a woman in the crowd listening to Jesus has other ideas. She rather blesses the mother who gave him birth and nursed him. Was his mother perhaps a goddess? wonders the woman. Jesus had earlier identified his mother and brothers as those who “hear God’s word and put it into practice” (chapter 8, verse 21). He repeats the same thought now, expressing himself in the form of a beatitude: those who hear God’s Word and obey it are blessed. They are fortified against the evil one.
The sign of Jonah
Luke chapter 11, verses 29-32
As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
We have heard the response of Jesus to those in the crowd who charged that he drove out a demon by the power of Beelzebub. There were others who asked for some special sign which would authenticate that he really was from God. The miracles were not convincing proof for them; they were looking for something even more spectacular. Jesus characterizes his generation as wicked because of this demand for a sign. He will only give them the sign of Jonah.
Jonah was the Old Testament prophet called by the Lord to preach repentance to the gentile city of Nineveh. Jonah fled from that assignment by taking a ship in the opposite direction. Cast overboard from the ship during a storm, Jonah was carried inside a great fish for three days and three nights before being deposited on land again. Then he went and preached to Nineveh, and as a result, that great city repented.
Luke omits the words found in Matthew chapter 12, verse 40 which specify that the sign of Jonah is the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. The sign of Jonah also includes the fact that the people of Nineveh repented due to the preaching of Jonah. This is something that the contemporaries of Jesus failed to do (see chapter 7, verses 31-34). At the last judgment, the gentile Ninevites will condemn Jesus’ countrymen. So will the gentile Queen of the South (Sheba) who came to listen to the wisdom of King Solomon (1st Kings chapter 10, verses 1-10 and 13). Jesus is greater than both Solomon and Jonah, but his own generation rejects the blessedness of hearing and obeying his Word (chapter 11, verse 28). They fail to follow the example of Mary (chapter 10, verse 39), Nineveh, and the Queen of Sheba.
The lamp of the body
Luke chapter 11, verses 33-36
“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”
Earlier in this gospel, the light of a lamp was used by Jesus to illustrate the fact that the message of God cannot be hidden (chapter 8, verse 16). Now Jesus uses this example of a lamp to say something about himself. The people of his generation were demanding a sign. No sign is needed because Jesus himself is like the light of a lamp. One only has to look to see that a lamp is burning. One only has to look at Jesus, his preaching and his works to see that he is of God. Jesus is for all to see.
Yet some don’t see. The problem is not with the lighted lamp; the problem is bad eyes. Jesus speaks of the eye as being the lamp of the body. The eye lets light into the body; we would be in total darkness if we had no eyes. If we don’t see well, then there is something wrong with our eyes. This can also be true in a spiritual sense. Those who don’t see Jesus, the burning lamp, continue in darkness (John chapter 3, verses 19 and 20).
The light that comes into the body through the eyes is there for the benefit of the entire body. When with the eye of faith one sees Jesus, the true light, this seeing will be reflected in bodily actions, in practicing the Word. Then the light that is Christ will also make the Christian a light burning in this dark world (Matthew chapter 5, verses 14-16).
Luke chapter 11, verses 37-54
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”
One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.
John’s gospel includes the story of how Jesus healed a man born blind (chapter 9). The Pharisees contest this miracle, questioning whether the man was ever really blind. They were not willing to admit that Jesus had opened the eyes of this man. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus makes a statement as to the reason for his coming into the world: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John chapter 9, verse 39). The Pharisees claimed to be able to see but were actually spiritually blind. As a result, Jesus tells them, “your guilt remains” (verse 41).
Jesus is the light of the world, the lamp for all to see. As religious leaders, the Pharisees and experts in the law claimed to have keen spiritual sight. But, in fact, they had eyes only for minute points of the law, totally overlooking the kind of practice of his Word that the Lord was looking for. Jesus catalogs the guilt of the Pharisees and the lawyers, condemning them in a series of six woes. The occasion for this denunciation was another invitation from a Pharisee for dinner (see chapter 7, verse 36). We might suppose that one reason for this invitation was a desire to catch Jesus in some fault, something to tarnish that image of a brightly burning lamp.
The Pharisee found what he was looking for when he noted that Jesus had not washed his hands before eating. In Mark chapter 7, verse 3 we are told that “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.” They believed that unwashed hands would bring ritual defilement upon the food that had been blessed by prayer.
Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s shocked surprise by faulting that sect for their attention to external cleanliness while neglecting the inside, the heart. In the case of the Pharisees, that inside is “full of greed and wickedness.” Jesus challenges them to give alms to the poor; such a loving action would clean up both the outside and the inside. It would make ritual washing of hands unnecessary.
Continuing on the subject of the sins of the Pharisees and the experts in the law, Jesus six times utters the words “woe to you.” This expression of judgment was used previously in chapter 6, verses 24-26. These woes are in contrast to the beatitude spoken by Jesus in chapter 11, verse 28. Though on the surface the Pharisees seem to be very religious, they do not truly hear the Word of God and obey it. They therefore receive these words of woe.
The first woe denounces the wrong priorities of the Pharisees. They are fastidious about making sure that God gets a tenth of the tiny seeds of their garden herbs like mint and rue, but justice and the love of God are neglected. Jesus is not criticizing tithing; he rather faults the Pharisees for forgetting words like those spoken by the prophet Micah: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (chapter 6, verse 8).
Next Jesus castigates the Pharisees for their showy pride. They love the most important seats in the synagogue and the habit of being the first ones greeted in the marketplace. The third woe has reference to the practice of carefully marking the graves of the dead lest a person be defiled and made unclean by walking on them. The Pharisees are walking graves, and people do not realize what evil is really within them and what contamination comes from them. One should not read these woes of Jesus as condemning each individual Pharisee but rather as a judgment upon their theological system, which produces such spiritual attitudes.
One of the experts in the law interrupts Jesus with the comment “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” We have met these experts in the law (lawyers) several times previously in Luke’s gospel (see chapter 5, verse 17). They may have been a specific group among the Pharisees who were specialists in the study and teaching of the law. When Jesus levels woes against the whole body of the Pharisees, he is thereby including also the smaller, professional class of law experts. At least one of them does not think this is being fair.
Jesus knew what he was talking about and now specifically utters a like number of woes against the experts in the law. In the first of these, he condemns them for burdening people with so many different laws that the common person can’t begin to keep all the religious laws straight, let alone practice them. For example, the law experts had carefully determined that 39 classes of work were forbidden on the Sabbath. And what is even worse, the lawyers weren’t even lifting a finger to keep the laws themselves.
The fifth woe in this series denounces the law experts for their attitude toward prophets. It is true that many fine tombs were being built to honor the memory of the prophets. But Jesus observes that the present generation is really no better than the forefathers who killed the prophets. Building tombs in no way makes up for the failure to listen to the words of the prophets (including John the Baptist and Jesus). The Old Testament fathers killed the prophet Zechariah son of Jehoiada in the courtyard of the temple (2nd Chronicles chapter 24, verses 20-22). God sends New Testament prophets and apostles knowing that they will suffer a similar fate because of the hostility of the religious leaders of Jesus’ generation.
The final woe addresses a failure that is the most serious of all: “You have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” The key to knowledge is God’s plan of salvation through Christ. The law experts rejected Jesus, and by their attitude they kept others from entering into the kingdom of God. This is their greatest sin.
Back in chapter 6, verse 11 Luke tells us that the Pharisees “were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” As Jesus makes his journey to Jerusalem and continues to speak out against the sins of the Pharisees and experts of the law, that opposition grows more fierce. It becomes increasingly obvious that Jesus is making a journey which will lead to the cross.