Episode 96 - Dining with the Ruler of the Pharisees - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 95, we looked at Luke chapter 13 where we saw Jesus interacting with the Pharisees and the people and confronting them once again. He provoked the Jewish authorities by healing on the Sabbath, and He told the people that they would not be a part of the promised eschatological feast in the kingdom. He also spoke a severe word of rejection and judgment over the nation. The window for the peoples’ repentance was closing and the situation was very grave. Jesus was only a few months away from crucifixion at this point. Today we’re going to continue to look at the events between the Feast of Tabernacles in October of 28 and the Feast of Dedication in December of 28. Let’s read from 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.” (Luke 14:1–6 ESV) Here, Luke places Jesus in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees where He confounds them all through His healing of a man and His response to their question of it being lawful or not. Just a few chapters ago in Luke 11, we saw Jesus eating with a Pharisee. That’s when He didn’t wash his hands before dinner and harshly rebuked them with several “woes”. We looked at that back in Episode 93. Now in this scene in Luke 14 we have yet another clear indication of Jesus’ proximity to Jerusalem, and that’s because of something we’ve talked about all the way back in Episode 50 when we looked at Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3. The title “ruler of the Pharisees” would have only applied to a very small group of individuals and only fit one who dwelt in Jerusalem. Jesus is dining with a member of the Sanhedrin, the leadership council of Israel. Some Bible translations even put the word “Sanhedrin” in the margin because this title could not apply to anyone else who was not part of the leadership of Israel. We can’t be sure who this leader was exactly, but I have a gut feeling that it was probably Nicodemus, the same one who Jesus met back in John 3 and the same one who spoke up on Jesus’ behalf before the council at the Feast of Tabernacles back in John 7. Regardless of who it was, I think it is clear that these events took place just prior to the Feast of Dedication, which was in December of 28. If this took place after the feast, it really wouldn’t make much sense because of how fiercely He was opposed at the feast itself. We’re going to look at that a few episodes from now. So let’s look for a minute at a simple timeline of this period. I’ve said in the past that Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus traveling toward Jerusalem three times in this late Perean and Judean time, and John’s Gospel shows Jesus actually being in Jerusalem three times. In Luke 9:51 at the start of this period, Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem and then in Luke 10:38, we saw Him in Bethany, just 2 miles outside of Jerusalem. This was for the feast of Tabernacles in October. Then in Luke 13:22, we saw Him back on His way to Jerusalem again and now in 14:1, we see Him dining in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, which was almost certainly in Jerusalem. Let’s continue in Luke 14: “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.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 14:7–11 ESV) Jesus, having looked around at the guests at the dinner, noticed how so many of them had picked the places of honor. In the culture of the time, the closer a person was to the host of the meal at the table, the greater was that particular guest’s position of honor before the host and the rest of the people. The honor-driven seating arrangement was typically based on one’s rank, reputation, or age. This is something we’re not familiar with in our modern Western culture. We’ll see this come up again during Passion Week, and we’ll see how the disciples must have remembered Jesus’ words right here in Luke 14. The whole point of this brief story that Jesus told was to say that “everyone who exalts Himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In the last episode we saw Jesus say something very similar from Luke 13, that the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus once again is directing these words at the Pharisees who assumed the places of honor around the table. As ones who supposedly understood the Scriptures and obeyed the Law, they assumed they would have important positions in the Messiah’s kingdom. But they would in fact be humiliated if they were pushed aside so that someone else could be honored. If they humbled themselves and repented, they would perhaps be honored at the final judgment when Jesus establishes His kingdom in Jerusalem. This is yet another appeal to them to see the wickedness in their hearts and turn. Let’s keep reading in Luke: “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.”” (Luke 14:12–14 ESV) Jesus says to the host of the meal that when he is being hospitable, he shouldn’t invite his familiar family and friends, but he should invite those who cannot ever adequately repay him. In doing so, God would see and abundantly repay in the future resurrection and kingdom. Now the role of a leader in Israel was to represent God to the people. In contrast to Jesus and His ministry, the Pharisees despised the poor and the crippled and the maimed. Jesus is teaching them to seek their honor and reward before God in the age to come, not before men in this age. Now earlier I mentioned that I thought that the host of this dinner might be Nicodemus. Nicodemus was known for giving lavishly to the poor as we see later on in the Gospels. He was the one who brought a massive amount of burial spices for Jesus in John 19. We can’t be sure, but perhaps he heard Jesus’ words here and actually took them to heart. Let’s finish up the last part of this passage in Luke 14: “When one of those who reclined at 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 began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have 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. 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 still there is room.’ And 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.’ ”” (Luke 14:15–24 ESV) Jesus responds to the people with a parable about a man who gave a banquet and invited many, using the same theme throughout this passage. The man sent a servant and told those who were invited to the banquet to come, but each one made various excuses about why they couldn’t attend. So the servant comes back and tells the master, who in his anger tells the servant to go into the city to bring in the poor and crippled. The servant told the master that even after that had been done, there was still room. So the master encourages the servant to go far and wide and bring people in, saying that none of the men who were initially invited will partake in the banquet. In light of everything we’ve looked at so far in this series, do you see what Jesus is saying here? Jesus came to divide Israel and to indict the nation’s leadership, and they did not bear the fruits of repentance. But the ones who did, the ones whom the Pharisees said would not be participants in God’s eschatological feast in the kingdom, the blind and the lame and the crippled and the sinners, actually will partake of it. And just as Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 32, God will be provoked to anger and thus provoke Israel to anger by including Gentiles in the future kingdom. The Pharisees had long since hardened their hearts towards Jesus. In just a few short months, that rage would come to its peak as they would pin Him to a cross and seal their own fate at the Day of the Lord. Here’s a couple of points for your meditation this week: 1) Imagine you are one of the Pharisees in the house. Think about all of the emotions going on in the heart during the meal, from anger and shock to joy and indifference. 2) Ponder what was going on in Jesus’ heart and mind as He sat among them. His patience knows no bounds, yet undoubtedly He was moved within Himself as He gave these severe warnings to the leaders of the nation He chose for Himself. In the next episode, we’re going to turn to John’s Gospel and look at the Feast of Dedication from John 9 and 10.