After withdrawing again to Bethany Beyond the Jordan after the Feast of Dedication, large crowds follow Jesus. The Pharisees begin to grumble because of Jesus' association with tax collectors and sinners, so Jesus reproves them for their hard hearts with several parables. This episode looks at the first two parables from Luke 15.
Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 100 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes we’ve been looking at Jesus’ dialogue in the Temple at the Feast of Dedication from John 10. As He's been doing throughout His ministry, we saw Him exposing the hatred and unbelief in the hearts of the Jewish authorities. John tells us that they sought to arrest Him, but He escaped from their hands, leaving Jerusalem and withdrawing to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing. Crowds followed Him there, and as we’ll see in today’s episode, Jesus urges them to count the cost of following Him. Now that we’ve finished John 10 and Jesus has left Jerusalem, we’re going to jump back to Luke’s Gospel. So let’s read today from Luke 14: "Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25–33 ESV) Remember what Luke was saying back in the earlier verses of chapter 14 - Jesus was having a meal with the ruler of the Pharisees in Jerusalem sometime prior to the Feast of Dedication. Then we jumped to John’s Gospel where the Feast of Dedication is actually narrated. There John says that Jesus left Jerusalem after the feast and went to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. It seems like the description Luke gives us at the beginning of this section of the "great crowds that followed Him" fits pretty well with John’s description of the “many” who were with Him at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Though we can’t be fully certain, I think that there’s a strong possibility that Luke and John are talking about the same crowds. There is at least some proximity between Jesus’ visit to Dedication and Luke’s words here. Does that make sense? With the chronology in context, I think Jesus’ words have a lot more impact than if He was just randomly walking around somewhere. He had just left the feast where the Jewish authorities sought to kill Him for the 2nd time in a row. So He leaves the city, and a huge crowd follows Him to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Remember, Jesus has not ministered much in Judea and Perea, He’s spent most of His time up in Galilee. He then turns to the crowds as they are going along with Him and says “You need to count the cost of what you’re doing because your association with me is putting you in peril and is going to disconnect you from the nation to which you belong. If you are going to come after me right now, you need to see this through to the end.” Maybe the crowds were aware of the leaders wanting to kill Him, maybe they weren’t. But they needed to understand what they were doing by following Him. Jesus said something similar when He was on the road to Jerusalem as He was leaving Galilee for the last time. Back in Episode 87 we looked at Jesus’ words in Luke 9 where He said: As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62 ESV) Now though there is application for us as 21st century Gentiles, Jesus’ words to the crowds here in Luke 14 make so much more sense in the bigger picture of His ministry. Jesus was only about four months away from being crucified, and in His care for real people, He said “you guys really need to understand what you are getting into…” For an example, imagine if someone in a Muslim family decided to become a Christian and put their faith in Jesus. In order to make that decision and follow through with it, they would really have to count the cost because it means major impact on their life, possibly even unto death. There must be a sobriety about the severity of the decision. The same goes for the Jews here in Luke 14. Well, let’s continue in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus begins teaching, likely still in Bethany Beyond the Jordan: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable..." (Luke 15:1 ESV) Jesus begins a very large section of teaching here that stretches for several chapters, all the way from Luke 15:1 through Luke 17:10. The first part of the teaching consists of three parables, all found in Luke 15. Now in stark contrast to the reception He had in Jerusalem, Luke tells us that all the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Him. Tax collectors, because of their association with collecting payments due to Rome, were extremely despised by the aristocracy of Israel. And a sinner was a Jew who did not abide by and adhere to the traditions of the Pharisees - the “fence” that they created around the Law. The Pharisees did not call someone a sinner because they merely violated the Law that was given through Moses, but because they did not endorse the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law. Do you see the difference? We call a sinner someone who is immoral or someone who cheats or lies. But the Pharisees called someone a sinner if they did not adhere to their man-made traditions. We looked at that back in Episode 59. Now because these types of people were gathering around Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes began complaining. This happened many times in Galilee, and now we see it happening in Judea. These two groups - the Pharisees and scribes and the tax collectors and sinners - are what Jesus is contrasting in the parables found in Luke 15. While there can indeed be some individual and personal application to us in the 21st century, the corporate application to first century Jews is the context in which Jesus spoke them in. Both of these groups Jesus is talking about are Jews. So with that in mind, let’s look at the first two parables in Luke 15: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”" (Luke 15:1–10 ESV) Jesus has been ministering to Israel’s outcasts, the ones the Jewish authorities simply discounted as unrighteous and unworthy of inheriting God’s promises to Israel. They are the ones who are bearing the fruits of repentance. In contrast, the Pharisees and scribes thought that they were perfectly righteous and had no need to repent. It’s not that the 99 sheep in the story are unimportant - Jesus came to be the shepherd over them too, if they were willing. However, they considered themselves fully obedient and therefore did not see the need to repent. Not only that, they didn’t even rejoice with Jesus when the outwardly unrighteous were repenting. Heaven was rejoicing, but the very ones who considered themselves closest to God had cold, hard hearts. Their pride and self-righteousness kept them from rejoicing in God’s work among the unrighteous. The second parable is very similar to the first, but what is emphasized more is the thoroughness of the search. The woman lights a lamp and sweeps the house diligently until she finds the coin. The coin was a drachma, a Greek silver coin that equaled about a day’s wages. The tax collectors and sinners who were bearing the fruits of repentance were precious and valuable to God, and Jesus would continue to tenaciously search for them among a nation that mostly hated Him. Well, here’s a couple of points for your meditation this week: 1) Put yourself in the crowd that followed Jesus from Jerusalem to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. How would you have been feeling when Jesus turned and told you to count the cost of what it means to follow Him? 2) Imagine yourself as one of the tax collectors or sinners in the crowd who are watching the Pharisees grumble. What were their facial expressions like? What did they say to one another? Did they try to speak to the crowd at all? Well in the next episode we’re going to look at the next parable from Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son. And just like that, there are now 100 episodes in this series, and there’s still so much left to talk about! I hope these videos have been encouraging, instructive, provoking, and challenging to you and have helped you grow in your faith in Jesus. I know they have for me! As always, you can find all the past episodes on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Blessings to you, see you next time.