While at the feast, Christ noticed the behaviour of some of the guests. They were picking for themselves the chief reclining places at the table. The Jews reclined at a meal and did not sit down as we do.
The Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees later on for this very thing (Matt. 23:6). He told the guests that if they did this the host might have to move them if more distinguished people came, and they would find this humiliating. On the other hand it was far better to take the humblest place and then there was the possibility of the host calling such to a higher position.
All this illustrated the important conclusion that Christ made: 'For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted' (verse 11).
This fundamental lesson is one of the repeated sayings of the Lord (Luke 18:14; Matt. 23:12) and there is need for all who profess to be believers to keep this in mind constantly. Pride is a disastrous sin which God never tolerates even in His own children and we have a saying which is true: 'pride goes before a fall'. True humility is the key to all spiritual progress.
Christ had not finished giving His lessons at this feast. He now had a word for the host, advising him not to invite only the rich and his own friends, but to extend it to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and, the Lord added, 'you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous' (verses 12-14).
If a common thing like a cup of cold water given in Christ's name will be rewarded in that day by God (Matt. 10:42), how much more will such humble and unselfish actions be recognized by the Lord! The whole of this episode is peculiar to Luke's Gospel and is followed by another parable, that of the Great Banquet. In some respects this is parallel with Matthew 22:1-14, but there are also differences. Here the parable arose out of the statement of one of the guests, 'Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast of the kingdom of God' (verse 15). There is no need to assume that this person was complacent as Dr. Plummer suggests. The same feeling is expressed in Revelation 19:9, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb' (N.I.V.). This gave the Lord the opportunity of giving this parable which pointed out the slackness and indifference of those who had been invited. A certain man was preparing a great banquet to which he had invited many guests (verse 16), but all started to make excuses for not coming. One had bought a field, so he must go and see it (verse 18). But it would have been there after the banquet surely? Another said he had bought some oxen and must go to try them out (verse 19), but he could have done this before buying. They would not run away! Canon Tristram (Eastern Customs p. 82) says 'to refuse the second summons would be an insult, which is equivalent among Arab tribes to a declaration of war'. The third one declared he had just got married, so he was not able to come (verse 20). The Mosaic law excused a newly married man from war (Deut. 24:5)) but not from social courtesy.
The owner of the house became angry. The dinner was ready and there was no time to be lost, so the invitation went to others in the city, but in spite of this the servants told the master that there was still room for others, and we must remember that he had prepared a big banquet and wanted all the seats to be filled. 'Go out into the roads and country lanes and make them come in' the master ordered, and so all the seats were finally filled, but not before he declared, 'I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet' (verse 24).
The interpretation is not difficult. Those from Israel had been invited, but many of them refused to come. They first made excuses for ignoring the invitation. But upon their refusal, this broadened out. The public roads outside the city would surely have Gentiles and foreigners besides Jews and here again we have Luke giving prominence to Gentile response. All this symbolized the widening of the earthly kingdom, for it was all determined by God. It was never His purpose to limit His kingdom just to Israel. Israel was first by divine appointment, but not first and last, otherwise there would never be a time when the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters covered the sea (Isa. 11:9). This widening of the divine purpose occurred during the Acts. But those of Israel who refused the invitation would be shut out (verse 24).
Christ now had a word for the multitudes that were following Him. Many doubtless followed Him with a wild and unthinking enthusiasm, but He had to tell them there was a price to pay if they were ever to be true disciples of His. What followed was one of the seemingly hard sayings of Christ.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple." (verses 26,27 N.I.V.).
On the surface this was a contradiction of the law, for Exodus 20:12 enjoins the honouring of father and mother and the Lord Jesus strongly corroborated this in Matthew 15:3-9 when He stressed filial duty as essential, actually quoting this verse from Exodus. There is a parallel passage of our context in Matthew 10:37-39 which reads:
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt.10:37 N.I.V.).
And these words explain the passage in Luke. It is a matter of degree in love and loyalty. The Lord must come first in everything. There cannot be a relationship that has the precedence over Him. Not even the life of the believer can come first. Martyrdom is a possibility to the Christian and must be faced if true discipleship is to be experienced.
If the Lord Jesus is always put first and foremost, it may be that such conduct looks like enmity to other people. And this searching doctrine is elaborated in the next verse of our context:
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. (verse 27 N.I.V.).
Crucifixion was common enough in Palestine at this time; the disciples did not need any explanation of these words, for one could often see a criminal carrying his cross (compare Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). The cross speaks of suffering and death and this is what every true disciple of Christ must be willing to face.
What did the crowds think of that? What do the majority of professing Christians think about it today? This will certainly sort people out, the faithful, willing to go all the way with Jesus Christ, whatever the cost, or the unfaithful who keep to the easy way and deliberately avoid suffering. It must be pointed out that it is not for us to seek suffering; self-appointed martyrdom has no value. In His love and wisdom the Lord will lead His children into times of testing and difficulty when He sees fit to do so, but underlying all is the gracious and strengthening promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is true for all time.
So the real disciple of Christ (one who learns from Him), counts the cost of following in His footsteps and goes forward because He knows that God's biddings are always God's enablings.
And it is this cost which the Lord emphasizes next in two ways. He cites the case of a builder of a tower. The first thing he will do if he is wise, is to estimate how much money it will involve and whether he has enough to pay for it. Otherwise he may start by laying the foundation and then find he cannot finish the work, so risking the ridicule of everyone who sees it (verses 28-30).
Or supposing a king is about to go to war against another king, he will weigh over whether he has sufficient troops and ammunition to obtain victory. If not, then he will ask for terms of peace (verses 31,32). The Lord added:
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple (verse 33 N.I.V.).
That is to say, in putting Me first, he must be prepared to give up everything that claims precedence over Me. If he is willing for this, then he has the approval of the Lord Jesus and can be a fruitful servant of His. Christ sums up the teaching by likening such to active salt (note the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:13). But salt that has lost its savour is useless and only fit to be thrown away (verse 35). Alas, all had not ears to hear, another of Christ's repeated sayings (Matt.11:15; 13:43; Luke 8:8; 14:35).
In answer to them Christ gives the beautiful parables that illustrate God's love and joy at the recovery of the lost, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. The first one is found also in Matthew 18:12-14. Dr. Plummer is possibly right when he says that 'no simile has taken more hold upon the mind of Christendom'. There is rejoicing in each parable and this in contrast with the chill indifference and opposition of Pharisaism and its cynicism. The wilderness here was not the barren desert, but the usual pasturage. As Dr. A.T. Robertson says, there is nothing more helpless than a lost sheep except a lost sinner. One only out of a hundred was lost. yet the greatest concern is felt for that one by the owner who sets out to find it. The Greek shows that he 'kept on going' until he was successful and the sheep was found. There was no chiding of the sheep for its foolishness, nor grumbling at the trouble it had caused. Rather than this, he lifted the sheep on to his shoulders and carried it home and then, being so happy, he called together his neighbours to share in his joy.
What a lovely picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd and the heart of the Father (represented by heaven) Who is not above rejoicing over the recovery of just one lost person!
The second parable is set in a domestic scene and illustrates the same lesson. A woman has ten silver coins. The word is drachma and is only used here in the New Testament and was worth about a day's wages. In other cases we have the equivalent Roman coin, the denarius. The house was probably a peasant's hut without windows and had only the door for light. One of the coins is lost, so she lights a lamp and starts sweeping to find it.
Just as in the case of the lost sheep, the search is continued until it is successful. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours to share her joy. The Lord's concluding words were:
... there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (verse 10 N.I.V.).
The angels share the joy of God Himself, no less than that. The third parable is that of The Lost Son and this and the previous one are found only in Luke. It is obviously in two parts, the younger son, representing the 'sinners' (verse 1) in their quiet penitence, and restoration, and the elder son, the Pharisees with their striving to keep the law and their cynical regard of ordinary people. The younger one, with the illusion of a 'good time' ahead, asked the father for his share of the estate, which was half the elder's portion, and therefore one third of his father's property. He left home with all he had and went to a far off country and squandered his wealth in the so-called 'good time'. To add to his troubles a severe famine took place and he was forced to find work to keep himself alive. All he could get in the way of work was feeding pigs, an odious and degrading job for a Jew, since pigs were ceremonially unclean to him. He began to feel the pangs of hunger himself, so much so that he could have eaten the carob-tree pods he was giving to the pigs for food. No one bothered about him, not even the companions of his vices, who had stuck to him as long as his money lasted. He was forced to think seriously, and compared himself in his present starving condition with the home that he had left where there was an abundance of food even for the workers. He came to the conclusion that there was only one thing to do -- to return home, confess his sins to his father and be willing to be an ordinary servant with the others. So he made the journey home.
Meanwhile the father with his great love for the boy had not forgotten him. Each day he hoped he would return and he kept looking out for this to happen. Then one day the father saw him a long way off. He was overwhelmed with joy and compassion, so much so that he could not wait, but ran to meet him, took him in his arms and kissed him. Greek students should notice the perfective use of kata. Kissed him much, kissed him again and again; he was so overwhelmed with joy.
Not content with this, seeing the shabby clothes, he ordered the best clothes to be brought, a ring for his finger and new sandals for his feet and a feast to be prepared, because he felt that this great event must be celebrated! But what was the attitude of the elder brother? As he was coming home he could hear the festivities, the music and dancing, and on enquiry was told that his brother had returned and they were celebrating the event. Was he pleased? Certainly not; he went to his father and complained that for many years he had served him like a slave and had worked hard, but without any reward for it from the father, yet, after squandering the property and money, the other brother comes home and gets all this elaborate praise!
The elder brother was full of self-pity and jealousy. Nevertheless the father 'entreated Him'. The verb is in the imperfect tense denoting continual pleading. He finished by saying:
My son ... you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found (verse 31 N.I.V.).
What a glorious picture of the love and long-suffering of God! The father in the story pours out his heart to the elder son. One can imagine how the Pharisees and Scribes were silenced by these three marvellous parables. The third gives a graphic picture of their own attitude in the case of the surly elder brother.
Professor A.T. Robertson points out that Luke was called a painter by the ancients. Certainly he has produced a graphic pen picture of God's love for the lost which justifies the coming of Christ to the world to seek and save them. And what a privilege it is to make known this good news!
No wonder the apostle Paul said, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!' (1 Cor. 9:16 N.I.V.).