So this leads to a question I’ve been trying to get to — In what sense were the Jews of Jesus’ day idolaters? The curses of Deu 28 aren’t only for idolatry but they are especially for idolatry. Moreover, the Prophets continually warn against many sins, but idolatry is far and away at the top of the list.
In fact Deu 30 contrasts returning to God and receiving circumcised hearts with —
(Deu 30:17-18 ESV) 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.
So did the Jews of Jesus’ day worship false gods? Well, Jesus saw Satan’s path to the Kingdom as idolatrous. Luke and Jesus seem to agree with Satan that he had the rule of the Jews at that point. For Jesus to seek to establish his throne my any means other than the cross would be idolatrous because it would be to worship Satan.
When the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah (all but a remnant), they thought they were choosing God, but they were in fact rejecting God because Jesus is God the Son. You can’t worship just part of the Trinity. You can’t reject the Son and accept the Father. It’s a package deal.
But it’s not just Trinitarian metaphysics. The Jews who rejected Jesus preferred war against Rome to the spiritual kingdom Jesus promised. They preferred to seek victory with their own hands in their own ways — Satan’s ways.
Consider the Pharisees. They thought they could bring the Kingdom about by insisting on an extreme form of obedience — imposing the priestly code of cleanness etc. on all Jews. It was as though God, like a pagan god, could be controlled by doing the right rituals and saying the right words. Just so, the Sadducees rejected the resurrection and all of the OT other than the Torah because they gained power — political power — by compromising their beliefs to more naturally fit the surrounding Hellenistic culture.
In addition, it appears clear that the Sadducees profited immensely from their control of the Temple — surely part of Jesus’ reason for cleansing the Temple. And while the Pharisees weren’t in it for the money, they were concerned to have only the sort of Messiah that they wanted — so much so that they credited Jesus’ miracles to Satan and participated in his crucifixion.
We’ll consider this question further once we get to Acts.
The Sermon on the Plain
I’m skipping wonderful material, but I urgently need to get to the Sermon on the Plain (which may also be the Sermon on the Mount. Opinions differ.)
(Luk 6:20-26 ESV) And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
Notice how closely this passage parallels Mary’s Magnificat. According to this teaching, what would repentance look like? The Kingdom (entered only by repentance) is open to the poor, the hungry, mourners, those rejected by society. The Kingdom is closed to the rich, the well-fed, those who laugh, and those well-regarded by society.
(Luk 6:27-31 ESV) “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
The next passage is familiar territory, but Jesus seems to show a path for the rich to enter: “from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” In other words, the rich will enter the Kingdom by their generosity to those in need.
It helps to remember that the Torah commands that the poor be supported through private loans, not by gifts. The references in the Gospels to loans are generally loans to the needy that need only be repaid if the needy person recovers his fortunes.
(Luk 6:32-36 ESV) “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Again, we see that Jesus emphasizes lending to the poor as a Kingdom virtue — being a virtue taught in the Torah.
The centurion’s servant
The Sermon on the Plain is immediately followed by this story of Jesus’ healing a Roman centurion’s servant —
(Luk 7:1-9 ESV) After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
A Roman centurion was over at least 100 Roman soldiers — a hated, occupying force. This centurion was wealthy — wealthy enough that he could afford to build a synagogue for the Jews of his city, Capernaum. And he was humble enough to have the elders of the city — Jewish leaders — approach Jesus on his behalf, knowing all too well that any rabbi would be tempted to ignore the pleas of a Roman military officer. He further declared that he was unworthy for Jesus to come under his roof. Jesus’ response was, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
The centurion came to Jesus in penitence, that is, humbly, with generosity to the poor, and concerned for his servant. He was cashing in political chits with the elders for the sake of a mere servant. “Servant” translates doulos, meaning bond servant or slave. This was truly a remarkable Roman! And the story is told by Luke surely to explain how the rich who wish to enter the Kingdom should think and feel and act.
(Jam 4:10 ESV) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Luke’s Great Commission
I skip now all the way to the end of the Gospel —
(Luk 24:44-48 ESV) Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”
Notice how Jesus ties forgiveness of sins to repentance. He does not speak about “faith” in so many words. But “repentance” is spoken of in terms of the Law and the Prophets. Repentance, therefore, includes returning to God in faith, fleeing idolatry, and being concerned with the poor and vulnerable of society — and Luke’s gospel very much speaks in these terms.