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Home Sermons Greatness in Christ's Kingdom - Luke 7:18-50

Greatness in Christ's Kingdom - Luke 7:18-50

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Luke 7:18-50

David Calderwood

My daughter Anna loves making jewellery and always has done. As a young child I can remember her coming home from somewhere with a necklace made from coloured pasta tubes randomly threaded on her piece of string to form the necklace.

Nowadays she uses beautiful beads but they are carefully arranged according to a particular pattern, with a view to creating a particular impact as a whole necklace.

Now, here’s a question for you. Do you read all the separate stories that make up Luke’s biography of Jesus as just random beads on a string, each with its own colour? Or do you assume there is careful order and a pattern that Luke wants to create so that the whole biography impacts in a particular way?

I have been arguing for a clear pattern in Luke’s biography with each of the 14 stories we have considered thus far, being linked and each telling us or showing us something about Jesus – who he is and what he has come into the world to achieve.

Turn back to Luke 4:18 & 43. Jesus’ mission is to declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. In other words he is God’s king come into this world to re-establish God’s rule. But this begs the question; what is King Jesus like? What will he demand from those he rules? What will his kingdom be like? Who will be in it and who will miss out and on what basis?

Luke is methodically answering these questions, incident by incident in his biography of Jesus, some teaching directly and others illustrating what has been taught. And quickly the pattern has emerged that Jesus’ kingdom is radically different to what the Jews thought it would be.

It’s not a physical kingdom focussed on a new Jewish state and having Jewish blood in your veins. It’s not for people who think they are good in God’s eyes because they carefully observe Jewish religious law and practices, and do other good things.

Rather it is a spiritual kingdom where repentance, sin, the need for forgiveness and grace are the important issues. And King Jesus is outrageous at points, repeatedly making clear that many god-fearing, religious Jews will miss out, while those whom the Jews thought had the visible evidence of God’s judgment – the blind, the poor, the diseased, the sexually immoral, the gentiles - in general the riff-raff of society would be welcomed in by Jesus.

So, in a sense all the stories in Luke’s gospel are variations on one theme only. And on that basis I now move into the next two stories - one about John the Baptist and the other about an anonymous woman – asking what they tell us about King Jesus, and what his kingdom is like, and who will be in it?

1. Jesus is the real deal: “Don’t miss what’s really happening!” (Luke 7:18-35 )

John the Baptist, the announcer of Jesus, has been in prison and out of the action since before the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Turn back to Luke 3:19-20 . His preaching had got him on the wrong side of King Herod Antipas.

Prison would not have been pleasant, but John’s primary issue was confusion (18-20). Visiting friends had kept him up to date with what Jesus was doing. But the things Jesus was doing didn’t line up with what John expected Messiah to do. So finally he sends a deputation to Jesus with a question, no doubt hoping for some clarification.

Turn back to Luke 3:7-9 & 15-17. John expected Messiah to bring wrath and judgment, fire and destruction. This was in line with how Malachi, the last of the Old Testament Prophets, writing some 400 years before Jesus had spoken. Turn to Malachi 3:1-5 and 4:1-2.

So, it wasn’t at all clear to John what was going on.

How could wicked King Herod be allowed to silence God’s word through John, calling for repentance in preparation for Messiah.

Why was there not a blast of judgment on Herod from Messiah?

Why was Jesus doing acts of mercy and kindness and salvation rather than judgment?

All that made John confused. Was Jesus the one he was supposed to point to or not? Surely, if Jesus was Messiah he would identify himself differently from what he was known for?

Jesus’ reply to John is clear and incredibly gentle. Don’t be unnerved John, everything is proceeding as planned (Luke 7:21-23 ).

Jesus gently exposes and corrects John’s misunderstanding. God’s first response to his sinful people is never to write them off in their sin, but to help them. Only when they persistently reject his offer of help does God move to judgment. Jesus reminds John that Messiah comes first as the helper of God’s people, as saviour before he comes as judge.

That fits with Jesus’ own statement at the start of his ministry, Luke 4:18-19 . Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 , emphasising how he has come to help God’s people who are needy and helpless. But he ends the quotation before he mentions the day of vengeance or judgment.

That, too, will be part of his mission, but it lies ahead. Now is the day of help, verse 22, when those who have no claim on God and no ability to help themselves in their sin and misery, are rescued by King Jesus.

Jesus insists that John recognise the things he is doing is his mission as Messiah.

And this fits with what the people themselves concluded – Luke 7:16

and fits with what Mary anticipated in her song of praise, Luke 2:46-55 , esp 50 & 54, and fits with what the angels announced to the shepherds – chapter 2:10-11 and fits with what Simeon’s understanding – chapter 2:25 and 30-32 – Jesus was the consolation or help or saviour God’s people had been waiting for.

So, verse 23, don’t lose confidence in me, John. I am the good news of the Kingdom of God, because I am putting things right; helping needy helpless people; dealing with sin and renewing people to be what God intended them to be. The evidence speaks for itself.

Having gently provided an answer for John, Jesus now addresses the crowd and uses John as an object lesson of Kingdom values (Luke 7:24-35 ). And all of a sudden, Jesus gentleness is replaced with an angry rebuke of the crowd.

Jesus wants the crowd to understand that his approval is what really matters (Luke 7:24-28 ). John was once the best known and most popular preacher of his day. Now he’s in prison, alone, and facing death.

But Jesus won’t allow the crowds to conclude that John was just a weirdo – a loose cannon or swaying reed whose message was just the product of his imagination. Nor that John was a wheeler dealer who like some dandy court official was interested only in getting rich and exploiting people’s fear of judgment to build his own wealth.

Jesus commends John as a true prophet, one who lived in the light of God’s word and never deviated from it regardless of personal cost. Even more Jesus affirms John’s special position in God’s plan.

His point is that the absence of man’s favour or the lack of the trappings of worldly success is no proof that God is displeased. On the contrary, John’s faithfulness to God’s word regardless of personal cost secures Christ’s approval and blessing.

And verse 28, Jesus extends this to a general principle for all God’s people. John lived faithfully to God when he only had the promise of messiah, those who lived faithfully to Jesus, having direct experience of him as Lord and saviour are far superior in the sense that they have far more reason to believe and be faithful.

And that puts kingdom people into sharp contrast with people of “this generation” who always find a reason not to believe (Luke 7:29-34 ).

Jesus sees only two types of people. On the one hand, there was all manner of sinful people, including hated tax collectors who took God’s word at face value when preached by John, and repented, and then looked to Jesus to be forgiven and saved.

But on the other hand there were the Jewish religious leaders, who thought they were already good, already acceptable to God because of their lifestyle, and they refused to heed God’s word, and hated John who brought it to them.

And in Luke 7:31-34 , Jesus almost mocks them saying that they will always find a reason not to believe. When John was around they complained that he was too solemn. They wanted a message that was happy and undemanding, but John fasted – a sign of mourning over sin, and talked about the need to flee from coming judgment. John wouldn’t play weddings with them.

And now that Jesus is around, they complain that Jesus is too flippant. They expect a Rabbi to be serious about teaching and living the details of the law. But Jesus ignores many laws, goes to parties with all sorts of undesirable people, and talked to them about salvation and forgiveness from sin. Jesus wouldn’t play funerals for them.

But, Luke 7:35 , in spite of all this rejection in the name of religion and serving God, needy people will continue to embrace King Jesus as they have been doing throughout his ministry. And by the same token Jesus will keep helping the needy, bringing forgiveness and salvation to them as they trust him and respond to his offer.

2. The real deal illustrated – forgiveness and a fresh start (Luke 7:36-50 ). Luke moves seamlessly to a dinner party in the house of a Pharisee named Simon because this incident is a real life example of wisdom being proved right by her children. Here is a woman who has met Jesus, has responded properly to him and who now enjoys forgiveness and has a fresh start in life.

Let’s consider briefly the two players. First, the unidentified woman mingling with the guests, verse 37. It was apparently common knowledge that she was immoral or promiscuous; perhaps even a suspicion of prostitution.

But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that in recent times something dramatic had happened to her. She had repented and changed her ways such that Jesus declared, verse 47, that her many sins had been forgiven.

Clearly she came prepared to see Jesus, determined to honour him by moisturising his feet with expensive oil. In his presence she broke down in tears, and again as the story unfolds it is clear that her affections and feelings are a result of her sense of forgiveness and restoration. Jesus had been the one who had helped her, when all others had simply rejected her as evil and beyond help.

Second, we have Simon the Pharisee. Obviously he was a strong character, still open minded about Jesus when many of his colleagues had already totally rejected him, because he had invited Jesus into his house for a dinner party.

Simon’s thinking is revealed. First; he takes the fact that Jesus is interacting with this woman as evidence that Jesus is not a prophet, because obviously he does not know what sort of woman she is. A true rabbi and prophet would never get close to such a dirty sinner.

But Jesus does know who the woman is, and obviously also knows what Simon is thinking and can see Simon’s theology or connections of thought: Only those who are good, who deserve to be forgiven would be of interest to Jesus. Only the lovely people would love Jesus. This woman is sinful because of what she does rather than what she is.

The result of his theology is that like all the Jewish religious leaders and most of the Jews, he withdraws from people who are caught up in sin and abandons them in their misery with no hope for the future, while at the same time believing himself to be good.

Jesus challenges his theology, Luke 7:43-44 , and Simon, reluctantly I think, concedes an obvious point regarding sin and forgiveness. Forgiveness is about cancelling the debt of those who have no hope of repaying that debt on their own account. The equation is obvious, the bigger the debt that is forgiven, the more loving will be the response of the forgiven one to the grace given them.

So, Jesus makes the point he wants Simon and others to see. Christ’s kingdom is open to any sinner who sees their need to have the debt of sin cancelled and turns to him for that forgiveness.

Simon’s actions had revealed the state of his heart and the woman’s actions had revealed the state of her heart. Simon did nothing to honour Jesus. He did not even show basic courtesy and hospitality. And thus revealed that he had no affection or sense of indebtedness to Jesus.

He was not drawn to Jesus in love and thankfulness because he had no sense of need of Jesus’ help. He had no sense of sin separating him from God and condemning him. Rather he thought he was good and able to deal with Jesus on equal terms.

By contrast the woman realised her sinfulness and realised her guilt before the Lord and realised her desperate need of forgiveness from Jesus, and when she got it, she then showed her ongoing affection and appreciation for her new life and new start.

That woman, with such a sad past, left the scene with Jesus’ affirmation of her forgiveness and with the greatest blessing possible, assurance of peace with God and a fresh start in life. It would seem verse 48, that Jesus spoke more so that the crowd would change their view of the woman. And we, like Jesus, must now view this woman and all like her, by who she is in Jesus, not by what she used to be or do.

Greatness in God’s Kingdom is measured by love for Christ which flows from a realisation of forgiveness. That was the basis of Jesus commending John, and the basis of his great affirmation of this woman.

Friends, I have run out of time to develop in detail application for us. But hopefully you are already connecting with the application.

What a wonderful illustration of Jesus’ mercy and compassion to sinful, undeserving people. What a great comfort it is to know that Jesus easily and gladly identifies with sinful people like you and me, no matter how awful our sin has been in the past.

What a wonderful encouragement to keep on speaking the gospel the good news of the Kingdom of God to your friends regardless of their sinful lifestyle. They are needy people, though they may not yet realise their need until they are confronted by the truth of Jesus.

What a challenge to come to Jesus for forgiveness and a fresh start if you have not yet done so. If you have any understanding of your own thinking and actions as viewed by God, if you have any sense of how offensive you are to God because of your disobedience and disregard fro him, then you will know that nothing you can do will turn it around.

You need the very mercy and love and forgiveness that Jesus promises to sinful, desperate, hopeless people like yourself. And you too could walk away today with full assurance of peace and acceptance with God, if only you would come to Jesus.

David Calderwood - July 2011


Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 21:19  

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