Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 104 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since episode 85, we’ve been looking at the time frame of Jesus’ ministry I’ve called the Late Judean and Perean Period. If you recall, that period began in the fall of 28AD when Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem, departing from Galilee and pronouncing judgment on it for their lack of repentance. Jesus was heading south to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and now as we’re about to see in the next couple of episodes, this portion of Jesus’ ministry will come to a close and we will be back in Jerusalem for the final Passover in April of 29. Over the last 6 months in the southern parts of Israel, crowds have swelled and waned, the Jewish authorities continued to grow in their hatred of Him, and Jesus taught often while only seeing a few who bore the fruits of repentance. In the last several episodes we’ve looked at Jesus’ teaching in Bethany Beyond the Jordan where He gave several famous parables. We looked at those from Luke 15 and Luke 16. In today’s episode, we’ll work through some of Jesus’ words right at the beginning of Luke 17. These words, spoken likely still somewhere in or around Bethany Beyond the Jordan, form the close of Jesus’ public ministry in Perea and are important admonitions for His disciples there. But before we jump into Luke 17, let’s do a quick review of Jesus’ ministry so far. If you remember, I broke Jesus’ two year ministry down into six separate periods. The first three periods, the early Judean, the early Galilean, and the Middle Galilean, all fit within the first year of Jesus’ public ministry, between the first Passover of John 2 in 27AD and the 2nd Passover of John 6 in 28AD. Jesus is primarily ministering up in Galilee during this first year. We looked at major events like the calling of the Twelve and the Sermon on the Mount, and all of the Galilean ministry led up to one event that all four Gospels narrate - the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus preaches His famous bread of life sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum, then doesn’t attend the Passover of 28 in Jerusalem and instead heads north to regions primarily populated by Gentiles. There, He first predicts His suffering, and we see other major events like the Transfiguration which is the event that ends His Late Galilean period, likely sometime in July or August of 28. And in the last 19 episodes, we’ve been looking at the period I’ve called the Late Judean and Perean ministry, a 9 month period that Luke and John narrate for us. In today’s episode and in the next several, we’ll be covering the last few events of this period before we start looking at Passion Week, which is in April of 29.
So let’s read today from Luke 17:
"And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”"
(Luke 17:1–10 ESV)
So Jesus is speaking these words in Perea to his followers there. These words might sound familiar, because Jesus had some of these same admonitions for his disciples up in Galilee, as Mark 9 and Matthew 17 and 18 narrate. But the circumstances here are a bit different. It’s likely already springtime in 29AD, and Jesus is about to be crucified in April. And Jesus is also just about to raise Lazarus from the dead, as we’ll see in the next episode. I think these closing words to His Perean followers are important in four ways. Two of which show that the disciples have an obligation toward other people and the other two show that they have an obligation to God Himself. First, He encourages them to holiness. Though in this present evil age, things that will cause them to sin are bound to come, they must not be the one who causes that temptation and sin. Jesus said it would be better off if they were drowned by having a heavy stone tied around their neck than it would be to cause people who are helpless before God to sin. This is what the Pharisees were doing, right? Not only were they refusing to repent, they were keeping others from entering the coming kingdom by the heavy burdens they lay on men’s backs, their teaching that exalts their traditions over the Law itself. Jesus said that back in Luke 11. Second, not only does Jesus tell his followers to not sin, He encourages them to be careful not to take offense and to rebuke a sinning brother. If that brother repents of his sin, he is to forgive him over and over again. Jesus said to forgive him if he repents seven times in a day, which is not a literal number, of course. Seven was the Jewish number for the idea of completeness, so what Jesus is communicating is that his followers should forgive a repentant brother as often as it happens. Thirdly, He encourages them to be sincere and simple in their faith toward God. When the disciples asked for more faith, Jesus didn’t say that they needed more faith but that they needed the right kind of faith. Even the smallest amount of faith, the size of a small mustard seed, could do miraculous things like uprooting a mulberry tree, a tree with very deep roots. I’ll talk about this a little more in a second. And fourthly, when they have tested their faith and it has become part of their experience, they are to see themselves only as servants, not expecting great praise for doing the things they were expected to do because a servant doesn’t get some special privilege or honor from his master for doing his job. This manner of living is in contrast to a fundamental mindset of the Pharisees, that their obedience would merit the coming of the Messiah and thus cause them to be rewarded when all of God’s promises came to pass. Jesus encourages His followers to see themselves as unworthy servants, simply doing what God commands. If we were to be honest, a follower of Jesus almost always does less than all that God requires, and even still, our tendency is to be puffed up in pride when we do obey. Jesus is once again encouraging His followers here to not be like the Pharisees.
Let’s go back for a second and look at the disciples’ request in verse 5. They say to the Lord, “increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” Now how would this be worked out practically? I don’t think Jesus was primarily talking about having the right amount of faith to do crazy signs, wonders, miracles, or manifestations of power, mostly because of the context here. The disciples ask for more faith after Jesus talked about temptation and forgiveness in verses 1-4. And though it’s a major emphasis in some parts of the church in the West today, we see almost nothing in Jesus’ teaching about how to have faith to go out and perform signs and wonders and miracles. In context, the disciples are asking for a greater, continual trust in God to help them as they do the things God has commanded them - to forgive, to repent, to speak about Him, and everything else Jesus has been teaching them. Does that make sense? The Gospels are not how-to manuals on being a super Christian that does miracles that everyone is wowed by. There are weightier, more important matters - to love and forgive when repentance happens, to lead others to righteousness, and to simply be a joyful, obedient servant of God that doesn’t boast in themselves. This is where we need God to help us.
Well, with these words, Jesus closes His Perean ministry. From this point, the Gospel writers begin to significantly "zoom in” and give us a clearer picture of the events of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem for His crucifixion. But I’d encourage you to not move too quickly past these words here. To help, here’s a couple of points for your meditation this week:
1) Imagine you were in the crowd hearing Jesus speak these words. What kind of reaction would you have had? Upon hearing Jesus’ words about repentance and forgiveness, would you have responded with “Lord, increase our faith!”?
2) Ponder what Jesus might have been dwelling on during these moments. Think about the Galilean ministry behind Him, now the Perean ministry just about behind Him, and His coming suffering only perhaps a few weeks away at this point.
There’s still a good amount of material to look at before Passion Week, and so in the next several episodes we’ll do just that. You can find all of the past episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.