Study 22 - Luke 18:9–30
The Way of the Kingdom
We now come to two very significant parables either side of a short and rather surprising paragraph. I think we should start off with some explanations. The first parable is not about ways to pray but about righteousness (Luke 18:9). Righteousness is a very important, but very tricky, word in the Bible. Our English word has been used to translate a word in the Greek, which does not quite mean what our word means! In fact the Biblical word carries with it a whole set of meanings that no single word in English can possibly include. Our word has as its primary meaning ‘being right’, in the sense of being morally and ethically right in the scale of good and bad.
But the Greek word in the NT is used to translate an OT word, which is primarily about being accepted, about being in relationship with someone. Our word is an accountant’s word; the OT word is a social word. Of course, in the OT one can only be accepted by a Holy God if one is right in the moral sense too, but that idea is secondary. And then a third implication of the word is that if you are accepted by God then you are within the covenant that God struck with Abraham. So the word means being accepted by God, being good and being within the covenant.
Also, a big family of related Greek words about righteousness have to be translated by English words with two very different roots, righteous and justify, which don’t sound as though they have anything to do with each other. If there was an English word ‘righteous-ify’ things would be much easier but, unfortunately, there isn’t. So ‘justify’ in Lk 18:14, and through all the rest of the NT, would be righteous-ify, if there was such a word.
So our reading from Luke 18 is going to start off with ‘to some who were confident of their own righteousness …’ which could be translated ‘to some who thought they, being better than everyone else would be accepted by God and were within the covenant.’
Please read Luke 18:9 – 14.
The whole focus of this parable is about how one can come to be accepted by God, to be in a saving relationship with God. How? The answer is in the meaning of the word translated ‘mercy’ in v 13, which is exactly the same word translated ‘sacrifice of atonement’ in Rom 3:25 and 1 John 2:2. The time for prayer in the worship centred on the temple, which is when these 2 guys would have been praying, was the time of the sacrifice for atonement, as mentioned in the first few verses of this gospel when Zechariah went into the temple. The tax collector was effectively asking ‘Lord, make this sacrifice, going on right now, an atonement for me, a sinner’.
Question 1: What is the only way we can be righteous, that is be accepted by God?
As the write to the Hebrews says ‘Jesus was like us in every way in order that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17)? Or, as Paul says ‘and all are justified-righteousified-freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
Question 2: What other words are used in the Bible about the way God deals with us, which particularly emphasize our relationship to God?
There are all the words about adoption, being children, and having an inheritance. For instance Paul says:‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. If we are children then we are heirs …’ There we have adoption, sonship, recognizing God as our Father and being heirs all in Rom 8:14 – 16; all of those are words about relationship. Paul piles up the same sort of relationship words in his letter to the Galatians too.
Question 3: What is the important difference between the Pharisee’s prayer and the tax-collector’s?
The Pharisee was relying on his own goodness to make him acceptable to God. But, like all of us, he could not be good enough to be acceptable to God who is pure holiness. The tax collector knew that he was not good enough to be acceptable so he asked for the mercy of God, the atonement from sacrifice. He did not realise that all sacrifice at that time was only of value because it was a foretaste of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus would make on the Cross. Question 4:Aren’t we glad we are not like the Pharisee …. Oops! There is something wrong with that question. I think I had better do another question 4.
Please read Luke 18:15 – 17.
Question 4: Children were not then the little gods they are in many cultures today. So what is Jesus emphasising by his statement in 15 – 17?
Children accept what comes to them rather than attempting to organise the world around them to their advantage. Jesus is saying that we too can only progress by a accepting what is given to us from the Lord.
Please read Luke 18:18-30
Question 5: What is the rich man suggesting by his use of the word ‘inherit’ (v 18)? How do we inherit?
He would seem to have understood that eternal life is not something we can demand but depends on the gift of someone else. So the important thing is being in right relation to the person who gives, in this case, God. We can only inherit through the gift of God. Paul says in Gal 4:4 – 7 ‘God sent his Son, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, you are no longer slaves, but God’s children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs.’
Question 6: Compared to most of the people who have ever lived most of us are relatively rich! After all you must be sitting in front of a screen of some sort to be hearing or reading this. What then do we do with verse 22 where Jesus said ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.? Are we thereby failing in our obedience?
We are very fortunate people. but we cannot live in most of our societies without being able to pay our taxes, pay for the electricity and everything else we necessarily have – well, nearly necessarily have, anyway. The real punch line in what Jesus said is the last phrase ‘come, follow me’. If we do that all else will fall into place. We can enter the Kingdom. So that we will remember his warning Jesus gave one of his most memorable over-statements. Various attempts to explain camels as ropes or needle’s eyes as narrow gates are wrong. Just remember what Jesus said. That is the point of what he said.
Question 7: We have just had 3 lovely stories:the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the children coming to Jesus and the rich man asking Jesus about eternal life. What are the similarities between these three stories?
They are all focused on how we should approach God. In the first story we are told that being religious and pious are not sufficient ; in the second that it is all too easy to allow maturity and being worldly wise become a barrier; and finally that riches and good deeds are likely to be a hindrance to us. As one hymn writer said long ago “nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling”. I do hope all our hearers are doing just that.
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