Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Parable of the Wedding Feast (Luke 14:1-14 Teaching Outline)

Note: Today I am going to continue the series I have been doing on the parables of Jesus, but since the Parable of the Wedding Feast – in verses 7-11 – occurs in the context of a dinner to which Jesus was invited, and because it is so closely connected to the context before and after, I want to examine the entire passage beginning in verse 1 and continuing to verse 14. This also has the added advantage of preparing us for the next parable – the Parable of the Great Supper – which begins in verse 15 and, Lord willing, we will examine next week.

Introduction: Although we will focus our attention today on seeking to understand Luke 14:1-14, an illustration from an earlier passage in Luke will help to prepare us for it:
NKJ  Luke 6:6-11 Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. 8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” 10 And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. 11 But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Here we have a common enough scenario in Jesus' ministry. Jesus would do what is genuinely right and loving in accordance with the true intentions of the Law, and the scribes and Pharisees would become angry about it because they were being confronted for their own unloving and hypocritical hearts. But Jesus would not accept their hypocrisy and hatefulness no matter how much they sought to harm Him, and no matter how angry and frustrated they became. And He won't accept such wickedness in us either. And this sets up the focus of the passage before us this morning, in which we will see that 1) the Lord Jesus will not accept our hypocrisy, 2) the Lord Jesus will not accept our pride, and 3) the Lord Jesus will not accept our selfishness.

I. The Lord Jesus Will Not Accept Our Hypocrisy

This will become clear as we examine the first six verses of this passage.
NKJ  Luke 14:1 Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.
The key to understanding what is really happening in this passage is found in Luke's statement that “they watched Him closely.” Indeed, this probably explains why Jesus was invited to a Sabbath meal at the house of “one of the rulers of the Pharisees” in the first place! We have already seen one example from earlier in Jesus' ministry of how the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus to try to get something on Him in order to accuse Him. But perhaps one more example will help us to see just how common this was. Earlier, in Luke 11, we can read about another occasion in which Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee, with other scribes and Pharisees in attendance. There He also ended up confronting their hypocrisy, and Luke describes their response for us:
NKJ  Luke 11:53-54 And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, 54 lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.
You see, they were constantly looking for a way to trip Jesus up in order to accuse Him. Perhaps this is the true reason that this ruler of the Pharisees invited not only Jesus but also a sick man to his house for a meal, and why he did so on the Sabbath. We are told of the sick man in the next verse.
NKJ  Luke 14:2 And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy [ὑδρωπικός].
Perhaps by now you may share my suspicions that this man was a plant put in place to see what Jesus would do? Notice how Luke tells us that this man was “before Him,” or as the NASB says it, “And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy” (italics mine).

The impression is that the man may actually have been seated right in front of Jesus, and it is hard to avoid the thought that this was part of a plan, since we are immediately told that the man had dropsy. The Greek word used by Luke – who, remember, was a physician (Col. 4:14) – is hudrōpikós, a word which may also be translated by our more common medical term edema. This condition involves swelling due to the accumulation of fluid under the skin, most often in the legs, ankles, and feet. There area number of potential causes, the most serious of which may be heart failure or liver disease. The man must have had enough swelling in his body to have been noticeable to others, and it was likely a pretty serious condition.

So, based upon Jesus' previous track record, the scribes and Pharisees would have expected Him to see it and to want to help the man, especially since the man was put right in front of Him! And, of course, Jesus didn't let them down, but neither did He heal the man without making a point, as the next verse will show.
NKJ  Luke 14:3-4 And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 4 But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.
Jesus responded to this situation on two levels.

First, He posed the very question that was on the minds of the lawyers and Pharisees, namely, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” As we have already seen from a previous occasion recorded in Luke 6, this was a prominent point of disagreement between Jesus and the Jewish leaders concerning the correct understanding of the Law.

Notice, however, that no one answers Jesus' question. But why not? Why wouldn't they welcome the debate? Perhaps it was because, deep down, they knew He was right and that they really couldn't win the argument. That is possible. But I think it is more likely that they didn't want to hinder Jesus from healing the man, since His ding so this would provide the very pretext they thought they needed to accuse Him of breaking the Law – at least as they interpreted it.

Second, Jesus also responded to the situation by showing compassion on the sick man by healing him, after which we are told that Jesus “let him go.” In this way I think that Jesus showed an additional kindness to this man by dismissing him from the gathering. He let the man off the hook and made sure that the attention was no longer focused upon him. Jesus would no longer allow this man to be used by these hypocrites as a pawn in their cruel game. In fact, their use of him in this way actually showed that they viewed him as less important even that a common beast of burden, as Jesus' next statement indicates.
NKJ  Luke 14:5-6 Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey [some mss. read son, as indicated in the ESV or NASB, but the point Jesus is making is the same either way] or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” 6 And they could not answer Him regarding these things.
This situation is somewhat similar to an earlier account, found in chapter 13:
NKJ  Luke 13:10-16 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. 12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” 13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-- think of it-- for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
Just as on that earlier occasion, so also here Jesus points out an exception that He knew full well all the scribes and Pharisees would allow for activity on the Sabbath. He knew they would allow someone to untie an donkey or an ox on the Sabbath in order that it may drink, and He knew they would allow someone to pull a donkey or an ox out of a pit on the Sabbath in order to save it's life.

But Jesus makes explicit in the earlier situation what is implicit here, namely a charge of hypocrisy against the scribes and Pharisees, who would bend or break their own legalistic requirements when it suited their own selfish purposes – in this case to avoid the loss or ill health of an expensive animal – but they wouldn't allow any latitude at all when it came to helping a sick human being!

Application: You see, Jesus simply would not accept their hypocrisy, and He won't accept our hypcrisy either! And – to the extent that we all have at least a little hypocrisy dwelling in us – we can be sure that Jesus desires to confront it in us just as He confronted it in them.

I think Steven Cole is helpful in identifying a number of characteristics of the scribes' and Pharisees' hypocrisy evident in this passage, and I think his list will be of help to us in rooting out any hypocrisy in ourselves as well:
(1) Hypocrites study the word for ammunition against others, but they don't apply it to themselves … [These men knew the Word, but didn't want to truly follow it as Jesus did.]
(2) Hypocrites target and try to bring down anyone who confronts their sin with the Word … [These men were out to get Jesus lest they be forced to admit that they were the ones who were wrong. But I think they knew this deep down, as many hypocrites do, which is why they “could not answer Him regarding these things.”]
(3) Hypocrites care more about man-made rules than about people being right in their hearts toward God … [These men didn't care about their own wicked hearts, but focused only on how they were perceived by others.]
(4) Hypocrites bend the rules for their own purposes, by they apply them rigidly to others … [These men could find ways to do things on the Sabbath that suited their own selfish purposes, but wouldn't cut anyone else any slack even if it meant that they had to continue suffering needlessly.]
(5) Hypocrites often ignore overwhelming evidence in order to persist in their sin …. [These men weren't impressed at all that Jesus had just miraculously healed a man right in front of them!] (Online sermon entitled Jesus the Confronter)
I pray that the Lord will continue to deliver all of us from such hypocrisy! But I also pray that He will deliver us from another sin, one that always accompanies hypocrisy, and one concerning which Jesus is equally intolerant. And this leads us to the next point.

II. The Lord Jesus Will Not Accept Our Pride

Now we arrive at the Parable of the Wedding Feast, which doesn't look like a typical parable of Jesus, yet we know is a parable because Luke says it is. We find Luke's introduction to the parable in verse 7.
NKJ  Luke 14:7 So He told a parable to those who were invited [καλέω], when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: [Notice the repetition of καλέω throughout the passage.]
Stephen Cole is again helpful when he says:
In these verses Jesus turns the tables: instead of the Pharisees observing Jesus, Jesus observes the Pharisees. But His motives were totally different than theirs. He wasn’t watching them in order to trip them up, but to confront them with their sin and hypocrisy so that they could repent and be right before God. (Online sermon entitled Jesus the Confronter)
Notice the reason given for Jesus' communication of this parable. It is because He sees the manner in which the hypocrites jockey for the best places at the supper. As Thomas Constable says:
Customarily people reclined on low couches for important meals, such as this one, resting on their left sides. Where a person lay around the table indicated his status. In the typical U shape arrangement, the closer one was to the host, who reclined at the center or bottom of the U, the higher was his status. Jesus' fellow guests had tried to get the places closest to their host that implied their own importance. (Notes on Luke, e-Sword)
No doubt they all wanted to be seated as near as possible to the unidentified ruler of the Pharisees (vs. 1). Apparently the closer to him that they were seen to be sitting, the greater honor they would have in the eyes of the others present.

But notice also that, since Luke identifies the following teaching of Jesus as a parable, we know that, asis typical in Jesus' other parables, what He is saying has pertinence not just with respect to our relationship to other people, but with respect to our relationship to God. And we know that He is talking about principles that apply to the kingdom of God. With this is mind, let's take a look now at the Parable of the Wedding Feast, in which a focus on the sin of pride and the necessity for humility are obvious.
NKJ  Luke 14:8-10 When you are invited [καλέω] by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited [καλέω] by him; 9 and he who invited [καλέω] you and him come and say to you, “Give place to this man,” and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited [καλέω], go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited [καλέω] you comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.
The meaning of this parable is easy enough to grasp, even for those as spiritually dense as so many of these scribes and Pharisees were. Jesus took a common situation – one in which they happened to be at the moment – in which one of them might seek to promote himself, and which could easily lead to embarrassment if he wasn't careful, in order to describe a kingdom principle. In the kingdom honor does not come to those who seek it, but to those who humbly see themselves as less deserving of honor than others.

In this way a person trusts the Lord to exalt him if that is His plan, instead of usurping His divine prerogative. This is a principle all of them should have understood, being well acquainted with the Law. For example, Asaph writes:
NKJ  Psalm 75:6-7 “For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. 7 But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.”
Those men at the dinner were acting as though they had the right to judge, whether it be their judgment of Jesus or of one another, judgment which led them to think they were each more deserving of a better place than those around them.

Application: But aren't we all capable of such prideful and judgmental attitudes? Aren't we capable of treating one another with arrogance and a critical spirit? And shouldn't we expect that our Lord Jesus would be just as intolerant of these attitudes in us as He was in them? Indeed, isn't this why the Apostle Paul also warned us against the same things? For example:
NKJ  Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
In the Church of Jesus Christ, there is no one who has faith in Christ who hasn't been given that faith by God. So there is no one who may look down on anyone else.
NKJ  Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
No believer has any business judging another as though he is somehow better. For, it is not only God who gives each one of us saving faith, but it is also God who enables each one of us to stand firm in the faith.

But we must be quick to recognize that these same principles apply in our relationships to unbelievers as well, for we know that the only reason we believe and they don't is not because we are somehow better that they are or less sinful than they are, but rather because God has shown us His grace. Thus Paul confronts the pride that quickly ensues within us if we forget this important fact, a pride that leads us to be judgmental and hypercritical.

This is the very kind of prideful and judgmental attitude that Jesus is confronting in this parable, for He will not tolerate such pride, especially in those who claim to trust in God as their Savior. Thus He goes on to state the general principle in an even more forceful and all-encompassing way.
NKJ  Luke 14:11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Here Jesus makes use of what Biblical scholars call the “Divine Passive.” He says that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (italics mine), but He doesn't explicitly say who will bring about the humbling or exalting. That God is the one who will do the humbling and exalting is implied and would have been understood by those who heard Him.

But when will this humbling and exalting take place? It is possible that to some degree it may happen in this life – as in the type of situation Jesus has described in the parable – but I think we have to say that it ultimately happens at the future judgment, which becomes clear later when we get to verse 14. And this this leads us to the next point.

III. The Lord Jesus Will Not Accept Our Selfishness

Those who are hypocritical and prideful are also selfish, which has already been evident in the passage, but which I think is brought to the foreground in verses 12-14:
NKJ  Luke 14:12-14 Then He also said to him who invited [καλέω] Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite [ἀντικαλέω] you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite [καλέω] the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Notice the way that Jesus shifts His attention away from those who had been invited to this Sabbath meal and places it upon the ruler of the Pharisees who had invited them. And notice how He confronts the man for having essentially the same prideful attitude as those he had invited. For, whereas they saw the invitation as an opportunity to selfishly promote themselves above others, he also saw his inviting them all as an opportunity to selfishly promote himself. This man was looking to be “repaid” (vs 12). He was in it for what he could get out of it, and this was what motivated him to select the guests that he had invited to come.

But, then, what was the man with the dropsy doing there? Was he an exception? Did this ruler of the Pharisees invite him for a loving and noble purpose? Apparently not! Apparently even the man with the dropsy was invited only because he could serve this ruler's own selfish ends.

I think this is why Jesus admonished him saying, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” In other words, if this ruler of the Pharisees had truly been motivated by a selfless love, then why weren't there more sick or poor people at his dinner? The reason, as we have already concluded, was that the man with dropsy was there simply to serve the ruler's purpose in trying to hurt Jesus. And this was a very selfish purpose indeed!

I think Jesus is making it clear to all that this is a very selfish man, one whose example should not be emulated, even if he was a prominent man among the Pharisees. For, as Jesus makes abundantly clear, it is not necessarily those who are prominent in this life that are great in the kingdom, but those whom the Lord exalts (vs. 11), and this ultimately happens “at the resurrection of the just” (vs. 14).

This man sought an earthly reward rather than a heavenly reward, and Jesus warned Him that he should be doing the opposite. But a heavenly reward comes through selflessness, not through selfishness. But such selflessness comes through repenting of our hypocrisy and humbling ourselves before God. For it is only when we are humble that we see our need for His grace and call upon Him to save us.

Conclusion: Wrap-around: I began today's teaching by highlighting the way in which Jesus commonly confronted the scribes and Pharisees and by pointing out how they reacted with anger and frustration. But this morning Jesus has also confronted all of us, hasn't He? Indeed, He has rebuked us for our own hypocrisy, pride, and selfishness. But what will our reaction be? Will it be anger, frustration, irritation, or bitterness, as we have seen in those scribes and Pharisees in our text? Or will we instead humble ourselves before the Lord that He might exalt us in Christ Jesus!? Will we accept the lesson David taught us when he wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). It is only when we humble ourselves that we may experience God's grace, and the Apostle Peter warned us about the tremendous spiritual warfare that we face in battling our pride in this regard, so perhaps his words will provide a fitting conclusion:
NKJ   1 Peter 5:5b-11 “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you . 11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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