Open your Bibles to the fourteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel and we are in the first few verses of Luke 14 today, in Luke 14:1-6. And as we enter into chapter 14, I want to begin by helping you see this opening narrative in its larger context. So let’s start by reading the first twenty four verses of Luke 14 just to set some context, and then we’ll go back and unpack the first six verses.
Luke 14, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things.
“Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend move up higher.” And then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’
“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’
“When one of those who reclined at the table with him heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike begin to make excuses. The first said to him, “I bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
“‘So the servant came and reported these things to his master. And then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.” The master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”’”
From verses one to twenty-four, those verses form a single unit of thought. It’s an account that takes place over a meal, as Jesus was accustomed to doing. After the synagogue service, he would share a meal at someone’s house. Here, it’s in the home of a Pharisee. And the theme in this section, verses 1 to 24, the theme is humility as Jesus confronts religious pride. And he’s confronting religious pride, but he’s doing it indirectly.
The way he is confronting religious pride is really not by calling it pride at all. He’s actually promoting humility and just in speaking from a standpoint of humility, it confronts pride. Jesus speaks, as always, from a position of meekness, humility, lowliness. He teaches humility. He unpacks the concept, and he’s actually very direct and straightforward with these religious leaders. And he’s direct and straightforward where it’s most difficult to do that in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees.
And the way that Luke narrates, it helps us to imagine the scene, kind of picture it as if we were there, watching. Starting in verses 1-6, we can picture Jesus entering into the house and confronted with this man with dropsy. In verses 7 to 11, he’s watching. Jesus is watching as the guests take their places at the table, scrambling like musical chairs, trying to find the best seat. In verses 12 to 14, Jesus has taken his seat because he’s the guest of honor, the invited guest. Next to the one who invited him, he speaks a word to him. And then in verses 15 to 24, the meal is under way and he responds to a guest and he gives a parable. It’s actually, as you read between the lines, it’s quite confrontive to this guest list, to this host.
So from beginning to end, Jesus sees before him, displayed before him, walking through each step, all the way through the meal, he’s seeing a demonstration of religious pride. He’s seeing it acted out. He’s seeing how they act. He sees the fruit of their pride. And Jesus knowing the bitter end of pride, what it leads to, namely exclusion from the kingdom, exclusion from the great feast, the great banquet that his Father in heaven is going to throw. Jesus acts and speaks in love. Here he does what is right. He speaks what is true. He teaches these quite rich, influential men how to use their wealth, how to use their status to love society’s deplorables.
He says in verses 7 to 14, start by associating with the lowly. Associate with the lowly. Don’t try to maneuver your way into seats of honor. Don’t try to claw your way to the top. Take the lower position. Associate with those people. Make those people your friends. Share the table with them, at the end of the table, away from all the people who are so-called important. In fact, when you make a guest list for your banquets, don’t plan with ulterior motives. Don’t make a guest list with the plan to climb a social ladder and become more prominent for yourself. Instead, plan for the purpose of blessing people. Giving a blessing that they can never return. Invite those who are lowly, those who can never pay you back. Why is that? Because verses 15 to 24, those who seem unimportant now are actually the ones who are invited into the Kingdom.
Those who seem important now, the wealthy, the powerful, the influential on earth, those people who make it on to everyone’s guest lists, they’re not gonna be sharing in the great banquet. They’re gonna be excluded in the end. So associate with the lowly. Invite those who are never invited. Verse 21, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. Get to know them now. Because it’s people like that who will sit at the table then. And they will be taking places of honor.
All of that, from verses 7 to 24, all of that is anchored in this first act of love that Jesus shows what he performs in the narrative that we’re going to cover this morning. It’s another miraculous healing. It’s another hostile environment. Another demonstration of the contrast between dead religion and true Sabbath rest. To enter that rest requires humility in the fear of the Lord. Humility is actually thematic in Luke’s gospel, and though it’s a prominent theme woven all the way through, all through the narratives, it’s a quiet theme, as you would expect from humility. It doesn’t blow its own trumpet. It doesn’t toot its own horn. It’s quiet and subtle. It requires careful observation to see its beauty, to see its prominence, to see its glory.
And humility has been in the background since the very beginning, and it’s captured quite beautifully in the words of Mary, young Mary. Finding out that she is going to be blessed by God to bear, in her virgin womb, the Messiah. You can tell she’s quite well versed in Scripture. Don’t underestimate the sincerity of a younger girl who is pious, who loves the Lord. This is certainly Mary, and she saw the continuity of God’s wisdom in exalting the humble all the way through Scripture. It says back in Luke 1:50, that God’s “mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he’s scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he’s brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those who are of humble estate; he’s filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent away empty.”
So Mary sees that God advocates for those who fear him, for those who are humble and meek, those who see God’s law promoting and guiding and directing our love toward practical action, toward works of mercy and compassion. And it’s that, and not the ways of the strong, powerful, and influential in life, that instead is the pathway to joy and blessing and glory. So humility is paramount. Humility of heart to receive what the Lord has for us. We need to promote humility, need to walk around in this virtue. We wanna see this quiet virtue animating our own church, don’t we? We wanna see it in our own lives.
So our goal this morning is to see what it is that promotes humility and to think carefully about how we can kill our pride. Because it’s not a matter of if we have pride, it’s where is it and how much is there? So we’re going to ask the Lord to help us to examine ourselves this morning and see what we’re really like in his sight, not in our own sight, because pride has that effect of blinding us to the reality of our condition. So we’re going to ask the Lord to show us what we’re really like, what he sees.
And we’re going to do this so that we can really learn how we can kill our pride to carry out a lifelong campaign to mortify all pride. And so that we do all that we do in humility and the fear of the Lord. So we’re going to frame our exposition this morning around three points for today in verses 1-6. We’ll see the situation, the action, and the justification. The situation, just as Luke sets it up, the action that Jesus takes, and then how Jesus justifies his action before the people on the guest list around the host table.
“And humility has been in the background since the very beginning, and it’s captured quite beautifully in the words of Mary, young Mary.”Travis Allen
So first, number one, the situation. The situation is we see a showing of hostility on the Sabbath. Showing hostility on the Sabbath, Luke is setting the scene there in those first two verses. And again, it’s another scene of religious hostility. He’s been here before, we’ve seen him in the house of Pharisees before, and it’s the same story, a different Sabbath day. It’s totally contrary to the spirit of the Sabbath. Look at the basic facts there in verse 1, it says, “One Sabbath, when he went in to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.”
And the occasion here is what we might call today, a Sunday dinner. For the Jews, though, this is a common meal that they shared after synagogue service. It was eaten cold, because it was prepared the day before to avoid work on the Sabbath, to avoid lighting fires on the Sabbath, and doing cooking. But it was normal for people to gather in a home after the Sabbath morning service at the synagogue and eat a meal together and then pass the afternoon in relaxation and fellowship and conversation. And Luke tells us that Jesus dined, not just at anybody’s house, but at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees, as a party, they really had no rulers. It was much more of an egalitarian party system. So the reference here to a ruler may indicate that this particular Pharisee had the status of a man like, maybe like Nicodemus in John 3:1, “who was a ruler of the Jews.” And it’s the same word there, archon, used in both places, ruler. So, many commentators believe that Luke is telling us that this man, as a ruler of the Pharisees, like Nicodemus, was a member of the Sanhedrin. And if so, this locates the scene is taking place in the city of Jerusalem. It’s impossible to be certain about this, but it’s pretty likely, even probable, and especially in connection with what Jesus just said, lamenting over Jerusalem at the end of chapter 13. Kind of threads everything together.
So Jesus is invited by this ruler of the Pharisees, verse 12. He’s this man’s guest, and Jesus enters into the home by this man’s invitation. And it’s an invitation that is given under the pretense of friendliness, of hospitality, of friendship, of kindness. But as we’ve come to expect in Luke’s gospel, wherever Pharisaical religion is prominent, it’s anything but a friendly environment.
So among the Pharisees, the Sabbath day meal was not really an occasion for rest in the company of meek and humble people. It was meticulous attention to purification rituals. It was concern about proper seating arrangements, showing honor by giving places of prominence to prominent men. It was about including and even excluding the appropriate people on the guest list. And all of this made the Sabbath rest occasion a very unrestful, inhospitable and frankly burdensome place to be.
According to one source among the Pharisees, quote, “Sabbath, banqueting was common and became proverbial for luxury.” One commentator, Joel Green, says that, “according to dining conventions, this ruling Pharisee should invite only those whose presence would maintain or advance his own social status in the community. So his table would be occupied by others of roughly the equivalent social status. These are those among the social elite to include the wealthy.” End quote. So this host, he’s inviting people, but it’s calculated about who he invites, where they sit.
So that enough prominence, not outshining his own, by the way, but he laid out a spread of food, an ostentatious display of his own wealth. His hospitality was prominent not as a feature of his service, but as a feature of his opulence and wealth. And the guests were there to make the afternoon interesting. Show off knowledge, learning, skill with the law, skill with dealing with judicial cases and the like. Everyone’s there to elevate social status and to outdo one another in showing prominence.
Again, it’s not restful, it is exhausting. And if you’ve ever been a part of an occasion like that where everybody is muckety mucks and they all think very highly of themselves and you have to enter into that, it’s a difficult place to be. You might wonder then, what is Jesus doing there? Why does he accept the invitation? Well, in a word, he’s Jesus. He’s invited, and Jesus accepts invitations even to the gates of hell, he’ll go. No matter who invited him, he goes. He’s indiscriminate about that. He accepts invitations from tax collectors and sinners, but also, and perhaps even more scandalous because of what we know, reading the Scripture, he accepts invitations to eat with religious people. Pharisees who are fakes and hypocrites.
As the ranking member of this synagogue, for this ruler of the Pharisees, inviting Jesus into his home after the synagogue service, it was not only what was expected, normal in their culture. An established social convention, like inviting a visiting preacher over for lunch after church. This here is an opportunity also for the Pharisees, end of verse 1, “He went in to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, and they were watching him carefully.” This is an opportunity for them. This is an occasion watching him carefully, closely. It’s the verb paratereo, and it’s the idea of keeping something under very close observation, scrutinizing every move, every word. Listening, but without looking like you’re listening.
So in this context, it’s definitely got a negative connotation. It could be translated to lie and wait for Jesus, to lurk for him. One commentator says, “it means to look sideways out of the corner of one’s eyes.” Preachers do that, you know? I look here, but I’m actually looking at all of you. I know what’s going on all in the corners over here in the wings of the church. You think you’re hiding way over there? You’re not hiding. Actually, it’s not true. I can’t see a thing through these glasses, far, so rest easy. But they’re watching him. They don’t want him to know they’re watching him. They’re listening to him, but without letting him know they’re listening to every word.
Because they’ve got a hidden agenda. Who’s the they there? Verse 3, it’s the lawyers and the Pharisees. Why are they watching him? Why are they listening so closely? Because verse 2, “Behold,” Luke uses that word behold to draw attention to something shocking, something that isn’t normal, shouldn’t be. “Behold, there’s a man before him who had dropsy.” Luke is using their technical medical term for a condition. It’s hydropikos, which comes from the Greek word for water, which is hydor. The ‘U’ in Greek is often transliterated into English as a ‘Y’, so hydro is where we get the word hydrate, hydration.
Dropsy is an older medical term. It’s not used much anymore, but the condition more familiar to us is the term edema. You’ve probably heard that. This is where we see a patient’s body swollen with water. The limbs swell up with fluid, fingers, ankles, wrists, legs. And that fluid retention is really not the issue itself. It’s not the cause. It’s actually a symptom of a more severe internal problem. So things like congestive heart failure, kidney disease, serious liver problems. Those with dropsy have bad circulation, so they can’t get the fluid out of the blood and get it into the place where it would be expelled from the body in a natural way.
So it swells up in the limbs and swells up in the body. So those with dropsy feel that weight of that extra fluid. Tightened skin, stretched like a water balloon, the limbs are heavy, making the joints ache. It’s all hard to move. Even a chronic cough can start to develop as fluid builds up in the lungs.
Rabbis believed that the disease resulted from immorality, most likely of a sexual nature. The same symptoms for dropsy are described in Numbers 5:21 and 22, and they’re described there as the result of a curse on a woman, who we could say, test positive for adultery. There’s a test for adultery there. If she tests positive, she starts retaining water. Probably an indication of something going bad with her heart or her liver or kidneys. It’s an affliction. It’s as a result of a curse because of her sin. Leviticus 15:3 describes a body there that’s “Blocked up,” is the term that’s used in the ESV, “Blocked up by an internal discharge.” Again, the discharge is the inability for the body to get rid of its fluids, and that is dropsy.
Luke 15:3 describes it as a ceremonial uncleanness. It’s a unclean thing to have any kind of a discharge, whether it comes out externally or is going on internally, the person is unclean. Later rabbinic discussions as well, they associate edema with vice. They say it’s a mark of sinfulness or fornication or even demon possession. So what is this man who’s so obviously from sight, he’s clearly unclean. What is he doing at the house of this ruler? He can’t possibly be on the guest list. His medical condition marks him as ceremonially unclean, and no Pharisee is gonna tolerate him anywhere near his table, anywhere near his guests.
We got two options. The man is either there by his own initiative or another’s initiative, isn’t he? He’s either there on his own initiative seeking a healing from Jesus, or he’s there on the Pharisees initiative in order to entrap Jesus. Either one is possible. The homes that are described here, especially the wealthy homes, the dining areas were fairly open, especially among the wealthy. Fairly open, they allowed for cool breezes to flow through the dining area. It’s kind of a air conditioning for the guests, making everybody cool and comfortable. And this open space here allowed for people who were not guests to get close to the guests at mealtime by coming around the fringes.
Often time poorer people who were coming to seek alms from the wealthy at the rich man’s table. We saw that at the end of Luke 7, where the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet, she could get close because Jesus’ head and his, his upper part of his body is at the table, his feet are extended behind him, and she’s able to come up to the feet. Anoint his feet with precious ointment and wipe him with her tears and her hair. She can get close because the setup allowed it. But it’s really not likely here that a man like this, with such obvious outward signs of uncleanness, it’s very unlikely that the servants would let him get anywhere close to the guests. Very unlikely that he could get anywhere near the ruler’s table. They didn’t want him anywhere near the guests. As a host to the meal, this rich man who invited everyone, it was his expected duty to protect everyone from ceremonial impurity.
So he wanted to protect that, guard that. The evidence here leads us to believe that this scene is staged, actually by the Pharisees. This man is a plant. He’s there, not by accident, not by coincidence. He’s there on purpose. He’s there to tempt Jesus to do what they consider to be forbidden, that is, to heal the man on the Sabbath day. So that’s why they’re watching him. Furtively tracking Jesus’ movements and listening to his words out of the corner of their eyes and with one ear open. And they hope that Jesus is gonna take the bait, that he’s gonna do some work, some forbidden work on the Sabbath, so that they can discredit him before the people, so they can prove that he’s not from God.
So what appears at first to be a friendly invitation, all smiles and handshakes, pats on the back. As A.B. Bruce writes, “It’s a strange situation actually, Jesus, the guest of a great man among the Pharisees, as if held in honor, yet there to be watched rather than treated as a friend. Simple hearted geniality on the one side, insincerity on the other.” They’re hiding a secret agenda to entrap Jesus. They want to discredit him. They want to find cause to justify their rejection of him. That serves to protect their own status, to protect their position of authority, to protect their image in front of other people because they have decided he’s not from God. So if they can find evidence to prove what they’ve already decided, then they feel justified in their consciences.
Just a quick word of application on this. If you knew, as Jesus certainly knew, if you knew that the one who invited you to a meal was drawing you into an ambush, would you go? Would you accept that invitation knowingly? Proverbs 22:3 warns us, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” It’s a general principle. We can see in Jesus’ case, he’s one who came with, “A wisdom that’s greater than Solomon.” Luke 11:31 says. He saw the danger as a prudent man and he knowingly entered into it. Why did he do that?
First, we know that he’s driven by love for God. He loves God and he submits in humility. He submits to the mission that God the Father sent him to do, to preach the gospel, to heal. First of all, he loves God and he is submissive to God’s plan. He is in humility before the Father’s plan. Secondly, he’s compelled by love for these people. For these lawyers, for these Pharisees, he’s concerned for them. Their hypocrisy is, it really is deplorable, isn’t it? It’s despicable to see the hypocrisy on display wherever we see it. We can’t stand it. Their sin is great. Rejecting the Messiah, the One that their scriptures point them to, they’re rejecting him. So their sin is great. Their actions are completely despicable here, but their sin’s greater than the tax collectors and prostitutes. It’s due to their close association to the law and their understanding, the light that they’ve been given that their sin is even greater.
But Jesus loves them too. He loves them all. So he accepts invitations. He enters into the belly of the beast, so to speak, eating a meal with his enemies. He’s eating a meal with the ones who are going to make the case against him. The ones who are even then working through the Law so they can find occasion to bring that to the Sanhedrin and present them with a legal case to see Jesus delivered over to crucifixion. On Jesus’ part, this is loving one’s enemies to the extreme, isn’t it?
How can Jesus do that? He shares the confidence of his father, David, who says in Psalm 23:5, “I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” But you know what? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” I eat with them, right in front of them. Jesus fears God. He, so, because he fears God, he doesn’t fear anybody else. He doesn’t fear what man can do to him. So with confidence, with boldness, accepts any invitation, any invitation from an unbeliever, and even hostile ones. He sits at the table with them, and he does so to have an occasion to teach them the truth.
What about you? What about me? What about us? Are we willing to spend time with unbelievers, even hostile ones? Share the gospel, to share with them the claims of Christ. To teach them the truth, to press their consciences with issues of sin and righteousness and judgment? Or do we insulate ourselves from people? Do we make sure that none of those are gonna get close to really make us feel uncomfortable? We like our own kind.
You can be sure that if you’ll trust God and you’ll take the opportunity that he gives you, Jesus will be with you all the way. He’s used to this kind of thing. Maybe you’re not, but if he is living in you by his Spirit, he’s with you there. His experience is going to guide you. His protection is going to cover you. You’ll be okay. In fact, it’s the truth that you speak that’s going to put everybody on guard and make everybody uncomfortable.
But his presence with you is his promise for all those who obey his Great Commission, Matthew 28:20. What does he say? “Behold, I’m with you,” most of the time. “I’m with you always, even to the end of the age.” I’ll be with you when you’re with the horrent kinds of sinners in society, and the more respectable sinners of society, and everybody in between. And I’m never going to not be with you if you’re there for the purpose of the gospel.
There may be times when we fail, right? Times when we fear? When we shrink back from doing what we ought to do, what we know we ought to do. We ought to lean in, but we shrink back and pull back. And that’s why we always need to rest in this. Praise be to God that Jesus never failed. He never feared man. He never pulled back. He never shrank back from an opportunity. He always leaned in. He always took the opportunity. “He was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross,” Philippians 2:8. Because of his obedience, we’ve been set free. We’ve been set free from the condemnation of our conscience, even when we fail. Well, that’s the situation. Let’s see what Jesus does in verse 3.
Go to a second point, the action. The action. What is Jesus doing? He’s providing rest on the Sabbath. He’s really following the Sabbath prescription to provide rest, and this is what he’s doing. The action is providing rest on the Sabbath. It says in verse 3, “Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’” So he starts in his action in providing rest on the Sabbath. He starts with this question about lawfulness.
It’s not only an appropriate question considering the company, legal experts and the like. It’s also a very shrewd move, isn’t it? Because the Pharisees plan, their whole scheme depends on craftiness, on keeping their motives hidden. Keeping their scheme secret, not letting it come out in public. But Jesus just blows the lid off of that whole plan, bringing all their secret intentions of their heart out into the open by asking a simple question. That’s why Luke wrote there, “Jesus responded.” Did you see a question in earlier contact? No. They hadn’t asked a question. But he responded. What is he doing? He’s seeing through their external piety. He’s seeing through their ploy to use this poor man to entrap Jesus. And Jesus responds not to their words, but to their hearts. He responds to their intentions. He responds to their plan because he knows what’s in their hearts.
So he addresses the lawyers, the nomikos. The legal experts as well as the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the practitioners of the law, the lawyers are the legal experts. Pharisees are laymen. Lawyers are professionals. And if we consider this scene being set in Jerusalem, you know what he’s dealing with? He’s dealing with the sharpest theological and legal minds of his nation. These are the top-drawer legal experts. If anyone ought to know the answer about the law, it’s them. Or if any one individual can’t answer it, perhaps in a symposium of minds as they come together, they can think and answer legal questions together.
They have no intention of answering any questions from Jesus, do they? Still, by asking the question, he’s turned the tables on them. He’s put them in an awkward spot. And he’s done that not by being rude, just by being open, by being direct, by being honest. And they’re not used to that. These guys are politicians. They’re used to dealing in hidden agendas, in secret motives and backroom agreements. They’re not used to somebody speaking in such a straightforward, plain, direct manner. You don’t ever say what you think if you’re one of these guys. You never say what you think. You say what you think the other person wants you to think, and then you manipulate him to your purposes.
We see this evidenced in our political schemes all the time, don’t we? We see this every time a microphone is put in front of a politician and they speak to the public and the media captures it all, lapping it all up like dogs. And everybody sits and listens and says, “Wow, boy, they’re really on our side, aren’t they?” We know that’s not the truth. Jesus is just turning the tables on all that. He’s just exposing it. And true to form, they don’t even think about answering as a matter of truth and falsehood, a matter of righteousness and unrighteousness, a matter of right and wrong. Instead, they proceed to calculate the consequences of their answer.
They think, okay, if we answer, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? If we answer that in the affirmative, it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Then they’ve contradicted their own principles, haven’t they? They’ve contradicted their traditions. They’ve gutted and taken the legs out from underneath what they condemn everybody for. It’ll make them appear soft on crime, waffling on principle. So they can’t answer yes, in the affirmative. It is lawful.
If they answer, on the other hand, it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath, well, they know they have no biblical grounds to stand on. First of all, if Jesus presses that, it’s going to embarrass them. It’s just going to expose the fact that they’re just doing this by tradition. Because nothing in the law or the prophets say anything about healing on the Sabbath. People don’t heal, so Jesus is a new phenomenon for them.
And not only that, but by saying you can’t heal the man because it’s the Sabbath. Saying that out loud, I mean, they’re thinking it. But saying it out loud, that is not a good look in public. That does not play well on TV. That’s only gonna generate more sympathy, more of what they want to avoid. More sympathy for Jesus, more public support for Jesus and much less for them. So what do they do? They plead, in American constitutional terms, they plead the fifth, don’t they?
Verse 4, Jesus asked a straightforward, really a binary question. Lawful, unlawful, they remain silent. Silent, but not ignorant. They knew what they believed. What this is here, it is a willful, calculated decision to go dark. They will not participate in this debate, so they refuse to answer him. Thankfully, their passive indifference to a suffering man, that passive indifference is answered by Jesus’ active compassion. His first action was to raise the issue of lawfulness and to do that in public, to bring that spurious charge out into the open and have it summarily dismissed. So in the absence of any rebuttal, in the absence of any evidence from the law, the lawyers, the Pharisees, what have they done? They’ve tacitly admitted that healing the man on the Sabbath is lawful. Or at least that they can find no objections to it.
So with the lawfulness of what he’s about to do established publicly. Put to the consciences of everyone present, Jesus proceeds to act in love. He does here what righteousness demands. He acts according to the intent of the Sabbath law, to show compassion and mercy to people on the Sabbath, which is so appropriate, so fitting for the concern of God that his people rest. Heals the man and he gives him rest, verse 4, very simply, “Then he took him, healed him, sent him away.” He took him. The verb used there pictures Jesus grabbing a hold of the man. So taking hold of him, taking him in hand, pulling him close, grabbing him firmly. Probably been a long, long time since anybody had touched this man that way. Because he’s, in society, he’s unclean.
Even his own family was proscribed from touching him, but the holiness of Christ, like he did with the leper, reaching out, if you’re willing, you can make me clean. I am willing and he showed it by touching him first. Holiness of Christ overpowers the uncleanness of this man’s condition. The power drove away whatever caused the dropsy, making the man unclean in the first place. Luke uses the verb for healed him. He uses the verb iaomai to describe the healing. Luke’s a physician, remember? And Luke knows this is a cure.
This is a thorough complete cure, a deliverance not only from the symptoms but a full cure of what caused the condition in the first place. So, if the dropsy was caused by a heart condition, congestive heart failure, a failing heart not able to circulate anymore, that heart was instantly made whole. No surgery, no knife. If it’s caused by a kidney or a liver condition, same thing. Whatever the cause was, restoration here to full health. It’s something no doctor, no physician can do.
I gotta imagine Luke just marveling here. Watching this take place, it must have been incredible, right? The swelling of this man instantly gone. All that excess fluid, which you’d expect to show up somewhere, evaporates in an instant. Gone without a trace, the bloated man returns to his normal shape and size, which people hadn’t probably seen for a long time. Probably they thought they were looking at a completely different guy. Jesus replaced that guy, bloated with fluid with that guy, in an instant. He’s able to walk about freely without pain in his joints, heaviness in his limbs. He’s got no hindrance, doesn’t have the added weight.
Notice how brief we are here. Luke just says it, verse 4. It’s a very short sentence. Just as a side note, not the point of the text, but just as a matter of reflection. Those who suffer from edema know that drinking more water helps reduce the swelling. It seems counterintuitive, but taking in more fluid is actually better to reduce the swelling. You might not expect that, but that’s what doctors say. Take in more water. It’s crucial that you do that to reduce the swelling. That was known in the ancient world as well. Joel Green cites a ancient proverb that says this. “Nothing is as dry as a person with dropsy.” Pointing to the insatiable thirst of one whose body is already retaining too much fluid. So it’s kind of an ironic twist. Body retaining too much fluid, but he needs to keep in taking in more fluid.
And that little proverb was not really about physical dropsy at all. It was a form of spiritual dropsy, which everybody identified as greed. Dropsy was a metaphor for greed for those who loved money like these Pharisees. No matter how much they had, no matter how much property, possessions, wealth, investments, no matter how much they had, the money did not satisfy. They were swollen with wealth, fattened, literally fattened by rich, rich food. They were dry. They were unsatisfied. They were empty. They were always greedy for more. This irony would be lost on all the guests, the lawyers, the Pharisees. But it really is worth our reflection.
After Jesus heals the man, Luke tells us he sent him away. Why did he do that? Well, this is maybe counterintuitive, but it’s really the Lord’s heart here to shepherd his sheep. He’s really protecting this man in sending him away. The poor man had suffered enough, hadn’t he? Not just from his physical condition. He’d been used here as a pawn for religious hypocrites. They had no love or care for him. They didn’t care about him and his suffering.
Delivered by Christ, it’s time for this man to go home. No longer the center of unwanted attention at this banquet, no longer a pawn of the cruel hearted. Jesus wants to get this man away from this snake pit, wants to let him share a meal with people who really do love him. His family, his friends, people he’d been separated from for so long. People who could now embrace him, kiss him, enjoy his company closely. So he sent him away.
Before moving on, what could we apply here for ourselves? Jesus shows us here that doing what’s right, acting out of true biblical love, and especially so when it’s unpopular, when it’s prone to be misinterpreted by others, prone to be misjudged, prone to be unaccepted, and rejected by other people. This is what acting in humility and the fear of the Lord looks like. This is what love looks like.
So beloved, for those who fear God, we are the objects of God’s protection, care, provision. He will give us the faith to act in courage, act in faith, strengthen our love to do what’s right. He’ll strengthen us to speak the truth, to act boldly from conviction, even when it, especially when it’s unpopular. When it’s very likely that acting or speaking is going to provoke a, a hostile reaction from others. And I’ll tell you what, you do this a while and your skin thickens. You get some more layers of skin and you realize, you know what, I can stand with Christ and be content standing with Christ and be rejected by these people who hate Christ.
Again, even if we fail, Jesus is there. He points to the scars on his hands. He settles our hearts and faith, reminding us of the gospel that saved us. But it’s not about our righteousness. It’s not about our performance. It’s about his merit for us, his righteousness that covers us. So he points us to the cross. He encourages us to fear God. Try again. He sends us back into another opportunity. So now that Jesus has acted, it may seem that everything’s over Jesus is though, just as we can see from the narrative, he’s just getting started. So he starts here with a justification for his actions.
Point number three is the justification. And the justification has to do with loving neighbors on the Sabbath. Loving neighbors on the Sabbath. That’s what his justification, that’s what his defense is all about. And he said to them in verse 5, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that’s fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” So he sent the healed man away, back to his family and friends. And then he turns his attention to them, to the host, to the guests.
It’s emphatic, actually in the original, he’s speaking directly to them. To them, he says this, lawyers, Pharisees. And he poses a question, and the question also is emphatic in the original. To them, he says, “Which of you?” By asking that question, he intends to personalize this. He wants to take this whole thing, this whole scenario, out of the abstract and make it really concrete. So rather than abstracting the issue with questions about propriety and tradition and rabbinical opinion, he makes this so concrete he gets him to think about something that’s personal to them. Make a mental note. This is wisdom here in action.
So he calls them to imagine a scenario involving something precious to them, like a son or an ox. He says, imagine your son. Imagine your animal, your favorite working animal, falling into a deep cistern. The word cistern here could refer to a mine shaft, it could refer to a deep, deep pit. In context though, he’s talking about a home setting, so it’s really a sealed in cistern, in ground, steep walled storage container for water. So if your beloved son, if your animal falls into a well, if your son or animal is in danger, what will you do? What would you do? Will you not immediately pull him out? Of course you will.
There was a really strict sect of the Jews, ones that the Pharisees even saw as way too strict. And they in turn, they’re called the Essenes, the Qumran sect of the Essenes. And they actually thought the Pharisees were a bunch of compromisers. Interesting on the scale of what’s fidelity, right? If you’re standing here, everybody over to your left, compromisers. If you’re over here, everybody to your right, liberals, right? Careful about that scale in your own mind.
But this is what the Pharisees, they’re compromisers to this Qumran sect of the Essenes, and you may have heard of the Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, strict sect of the Jews. They allowed, as one source says, that a man could be pulled out of a well on the Sabbath so long as no implements were used, but an animal might not be pulled out. Let the animal die. That’s how strict we are with the law. Well done, right? The Pharisees had no interest in that interpretation. They didn’t want to associate with that point of view because many Pharisees were actually very wealthy landowners and businessmen. Much wealth comes by the strength of an ox. You don’t get rich by buying, feeding, maintaining animals, and then letting them die.
Besides that, they had Scripture on their side to refute these Essenes. In Deuteronomy 22:4, It says very clearly, “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his oxen fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him lift them out again.” So Scripture is working in their favor this time, and so the Pharisees are able in good conscience to reject a very strict, merciless interpretation of the law. And Jesus knew that. That’s why he brings it up.
“So beloved, for those who fear God, we are the objects of God’s protection, care, provision. He will give us the faith to act in courage, act in faith, strengthen our love to do what’s right.”Travis Allen
His justification is based on a principle that the lawyers and the Pharisees already believe. Not only that, but they practice routinely. Jesus wants them to think about that and think about how they need to go back and examine that principle of why they do that. And go back to the principle contained in the law, the ten commandments. The fourth one, Deuteronomy 5:14, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant, your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”
What joy comes through the obedience to the law, right? What goodness of God manifests in a desire for his people, and all underneath their influence and authority, to have rest, down to the animals. Is it restful for an animal to be under duress and stress? Anybody’s seen that? Cattle tied up in a barbed wire fence, drowning or freezing in the cold bottom of a well. So of course you’re gonna pull your son or your ox out of the well and onto the ground, even if it’s on the Sabbath day.
Note the word, “immediately,” there. Emphasized in the original without hesitation, without any thought whatsoever about lawfulness. Again, what they had not examined very carefully is the principle behind Sabbath rest and even the principal driving their own actions. The principle of the Sabbath is based on love. Not on self-interest, but it assumes self-interest. In fact, it’s the assumption of acting in one’s own interest that sets the standard for how we’re to love our neighbors.
Love your neighbor as what? Love your neighbor as yourself, right? Do for your neighbor as you do for yourself. And without any thought, these religious leaders show that they get that, that they will not hesitate. They will not think twice about rescuing their sons or their animals from any danger. Even if there’s no threat of mortal danger, no threat of death. No one says, “Oh, they’ll be fine falling in the well, that’ll be fine. The well isn’t full. My son’s not going to drown. The animal, yeah, I know the animal’s stressed, but it’ll be fine. We’ll get him out. We’ll get him out tomorrow. We’ll wait till this isn’t a Sabbath day. Just leave him there.” No one does that. No one says that because no one wants to be put off until tomorrow.
Imagine yourself in the well, needing help. Something precious to you, like your own self and your comfort. You don’t want anybody to employ the Sabbath day principle of, don’t touch you in the well, then. You’re looking for compromising people, aren’t you? Violate their Sabbath principle. Pull you out. Pharisees did this all the time. Someone precious to them, in danger, serious discomfort even, they act.
So Jesus is saying when you encounter a poor man suffering from dropsy and instead of seeing him get the help that he needs, you instead use him as a pawn. You use him as a plant to entrap the one and the only one who can help him. Can they not perceive the absence of love in their hearts? Can’t they see the cold indifference and the self-centeredness? That in one sense, when it interests themselves, they’ll act, but when it doesn’t interest themselves, they’ll pull back and condemn.
The lack of love here, love for God, love for neighbor. That is what marks the difference between two radically different and opposed views of how to observe the Sabbath and what the Sabbath is for. The Pharisees will help when it benefits themselves. Jesus helps, and he helps those without any benefit to himself whatsoever. As Plummer says, “Their Sabbath help had an element of selfishness, his had none.” Pharisees viewed Sabbath keeping in terms of self-love, self-interest. Jesus views Sabbath keeping in terms of neighbor love. This is his operating principle. Not theirs, but his. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Self-love is what really produces and insulates a proud and arrogant heart. But it’s love for God, it’s love for others. That is what produces a humble heart. It’s one that sees God’s rules and God’s freedoms, both the restrictions and the freedoms, the permissions. It sees all of those as serving the purpose of love. So when we are restricted, it’s for love. When we are permitted to do something, it’s permitted to love others, to love God and others. Restrictions are not for the purpose of self-serving and freedoms are not for the purpose of self-serving. It’s for the purpose of others.
And that’s why in verse 6, they could not reply to any of these things. The first time they were silent in verse 4, they remained silent because they were then unwilling to answer. They didn’t dare speak out and entrap themselves and get caught in Jesus trap. And now they’re silent because they’re unable to answer. They’re unable to contradict, unable to dispute him. The verb there they could not. It means they don’t have the capacity to answer. They’ve got nothing. No power to reply.
Pride is such a crippling malady, isn’t it? Just completely paralyzes the soul. It blinds people to the condition of their own heart, which is here hostile to the truth. Cold toward what really helps people. Ultimately, it’s exposing here a lovelessness and indifference to people. Self-centered pride is what robs people of humanity. True love for people, love that’s biblically defined, and that is, really just taking a pause for a moment, that’s really the lie of this whole social justice movement. Society around us, they see injustice everywhere, as you’re going to do in an unjust society, in an unbelieving society. But being ignorant of truth and God’s justice, redefining justice in modern terms, like equity of outcome.
Social justice movement really hurts people. Why? Because it’s ultimately driven by greed. By just wanting to take others’ stuff. To salve your own sense of injustice. It provokes hatred toward others. It fractures people into different groups, and you do that in order to demonize this group and take what they have and make it yours. That’s not biblical justice, ever. Humility, on the other hand, that’s what opens the heart. Love promotes that kind of humility, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the spirit who was given to us.
It promotes this kind of humility. And humility is manifest outwardly in meekness toward people. Gentleness in dealing with people. Humility demands nothing. Meekness expects nothing. It sees everything as a gracious gift from a good and kind God, not deserving, not demanding, but just gentle and meek. Love and humility, those two virtues are partners in producing the actions of compassion and mercy to those who are in need. Both of those virtues come into perfect expression in the actions and the words and the life and the sacrifice of our savior, Jesus Christ.
Like all unbelievers, the lawyers and the Pharisees have no category in their hearts for this. This is a different planet to them. They don’t understand the principle of love that Jesus alludes to there in verse 5. All they know is self-love, self-interest, what serves me. So they’re proud to the core, blind to their true spiritual condition, and relatively, apart from the powerful grace of God, they’re impervious to any outward influence. This is why they often react and deal with Jesus violently in hostility toward him. They’re trying to silence their own accusing conscience. They’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They’re trying desperately to protect the tiny little ground of turf that they have of self-love, of petty pride, of rights and respect.
Listen as we look carefully at them, as this text exposes them to us, shouldn’t we consider ourselves, lest we be like them? What is it that’s motivating our actions? What self-interests might be, be protecting and the principles that we adhere to? Some of them sounding very holy. Principles that set the boundaries of our lives, our time, our priorities, our spending, our compassion? Is our mercy limited? Do we act out of true biblical love, or are our thoughts and actions characterized more by self-interests?
The sin nature is tricky, isn’t it? It’s tricky. So subtle in helping us to justify our own self-centeredness. To redefine selfishness as acting on righteous principle. Why? Because we can pad our self-centeredness with righteous principles just like the Pharisees did. The key is a biblical, honest, God-wrought, spirit-produced self-examination. The more we mature in Christ, the more the fruit of the spirit grows in us and out of us, the more we’ll see, love and humility leads us into all wisdom, meekness, walking after the pattern of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we just have to say, may the Spirit produce that in us, amen?
Let’s pray for it now. Our Father, we ask in the name of Jesus Christ in whose example we’re watching unfold in the pages of Scripture. We hear his words. We see his actions. We stand in amazement knowing that if we were put into the same scene, we really have to question whether we would act in the same way. Or would we be scrapping for a seat at the table with the Pharisees?
Father, we, we sometimes don’t like the answers to those questions. But we do pray that you would promote within us, by the Holy Spirit, by his energy and working and power, that you would grow that fruit of humility within us. And allow us instead of nursing our pride, that we’d mortify it and kill that beast, and see humility grow. That expressions of meekness come out in our words, our actions. That we are driven by love for you and love for others. To show mercy and compassion to everyone in need.
We pray that that would be guided by true biblical wisdom as a stewardship in our life so that we don’t run recklessly showing mercy and compassion in a way that doesn’t do any good to anybody. Instead, that you would guide us and direct us by your Spirit, by your Word, and in the context of this local church, help us to be productive according to your will. We love you and thank you so much for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He truly is marvelous in our eyes. Even though he is the stone that the builders rejected. He is marvelous in our eyes, and we worship and adore him. And that’s what you’d have us do, Father. We thank you. We sing your praises. We love you in Jesus’ name. Amen.