Certain of Jesus: The Gospel of Luke
October 31, 2010
After one week off, we’re back to our study of the Gospel of Luke which we’ve called “Certain of Jesus” because Luke wrote his gospel so that we might grow in our certainty about who Jesus is and what Jesus taught, what Jesus did and what Jesus wants. Certain of Jesus.
Today’s message title comes right out of the first 5 words in verse 1 in the NIV, “Jesus said to his disciples...”
What we have in verses 1 through 10 of Luke 17 is a series of loosely connected teachings that are aimed at disciples, followers, students, learners, disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus is teaching His followers how disciples should act, how they should think, how they should believe.
And Luke has faithfully recorded these teachings here for us in one place.
Five things that Jesus said to His disciples.
#1. WATCH YOURSELVES. Listen again to verses 1 and 2.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.”
These are really strong words. Some of the strongest words ever uttered by our Lord Jesus.
But what exactly is he talking about?
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin [King James says, “offenses.” ESV says, “temptations to sin”. The New American Standard and the footnotes on in the English Standard say “stumbling blocks.” “Stumbling blocks”] are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”
Jesus is talking about someone (perhaps a professing disciple, someone who says that they are a follower of Jesus) that causes someone else to sin–tempts someone else to sin, puts a block in front of someone and causes them to stumble over it, falling on their faces.
That sort of thing is bound to happen, but it shouldn’t. And WOE to the person who actually does it.
Here’s how much woe. V.2 “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin [or “to stumble”]. So watch yourselves.”
Jesus is a master teacher. What an image! A millstone, a great big heavy circular stone used for grinding the grain, tied around the neck and thrown into the sea.
What’s going to happen? The certainty of drowning.
That would be BETTER than what will happen to someone who causes one of these “little ones” to stumble.
Now, who are these little ones?
In a very similar passage in the Gospel of Matthew, the “little ones” are children. Little children who are led down an evil path by someone and caused to stumble, led into sin.
And that’s possible here, as well. But there are no little children in the context.
In this context, there are disciples. “Jesus said to his disciples...” And I’m inclined to think that the “little ones” are newer disciples. The “little ones” are Jesus’ term of endearment for his newest disciples who are the most vulnerable to being led off of the path. (Which would include, of course, actual children, too.)
And I think that the temptation to sin, the offense, the stumbling block here is false teaching–a false gospel.
The sin that Jesus and the apostles were the most concerned about was the sin of apostasy–the sin of forsaking Jesus and His way of salvation–His gospel.
And if a so-called disciple were to lead a newer disciple off of the path of the true gospel and into the path of a false gospel–woe to them that did that!
It would be better to die a painful death than to face the wrath of God against those who lead people to forsake Jesus.
“So watch yourselves.”
I think that’s the right approach to these two verses. It’s like the Apostle Paul at the beginning of Galatians.
In the book of Galatians, Paul is very concerned about the young Galatian church because they have been seduced by false teachers who have said that Jesus is okay but He’s not enough.
It’s got to be Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus plus our good works. Jesus plus our performance. Jesus plus our efforts.
But Paul says that that is a false gospel and he pronounces woe upon those who teach it.
He says in Galatians 1, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Doesn’t that sound like what Jesus says here in Luke 17?
“‘Things that cause people to sin [false gospels] are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin [let him be eternally condemned]. So watch yourselves.”
The application is clear. Watch yourselves.
You and I need to be careful about what gospel we believe and share.
Because the consequences of our gospel are eternal for both us and them.
What gospel are you believing and sharing?
Only one gospel saves–the gospel of Jesus Christ and Jesus alone.
#2. REBUKE YOUR BROTHER. Look at verse 3.
‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
“If your brother sins, rebuke him...”
Here’s how disciples are supposed to act. They are supposed to rebuke one another.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him...”
Now, almost nobody like this.
Almost nobody like being rebuked.
And almost nobody likes giving out rebuke, and they when people do like it, there’s something wrong with them!
“Oh, I just love it when people come over to rebuke me!”
“Oh, I just love to hand out a good rebuke.”
No, that’s very unusual.
But rebuking should not be unusual for disciples of Jesus Christ.
We know that we’re going to sin. We are sinners.
And we know that our sin needs checked. We need accountability. We need help to cut it out.
We’re often blinded by our own sin. Sin is deceitful, and we can’t see how we really are. We need each other to help each other.
We need rebuke.
Rebuke your brother.
If you truly love someone, then you will not let them wallow in their sin forever.
Now, this doesn’t mean to not overlook offenses. It’s a glory to overlook an offense.
But not always. Sometimes, if we love someone, we need to rebuke them.
That’s a big part of being a parent. It is! Showing your children where they are wrong is a big part of what it means to be a parent.
Loving parents rebuke.
Rebuke is a big part of being married.
My wife regularly rebukes me. And I’m glad she does!
Not when she’s doing it! But I need it. I need to be told where I’m wrong.
Last week, at one point, I failed her miserably. And it was a lack of leadership. I failed to take leadership. I abdicated my leadership responsibility and left her hanging.
And she had point it out. Thanks a lot!
I needed that rebuke.
Disciples rebuke other disciples. Instead of leading someone into a stumbling blocks, we warn each other of the stumbling blocks ahead of us.
We must do it in love. Rebuke without love is empty and painful and ineffective.
But rebuke fueled by love is obedience to Jesus.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Rebuke your brother.”
#3. FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER.
This one is even harder. V.3
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.’”
Forgive your brother.
This is what disciples do.
They don’t just point out someone else’s sin and then run away.
We forgive as the Lord Jesus forgave us.
He is the master, we are His disciples. If he forgives, then so do we.
Forgive your brother.
And not just once. Again and again.
Here, Jesus says, ‘If he sins against you seven times in a day [sounds like a family doesn’t it?], and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.’”
Now, this is no excuse to sin against someone the same way seven times a day.
There is no excuse for sin.
This is a call to be gracious. To be magnanimous. It’s a call to be forgiving.
Forgive your brother.
To forgive means to promise to not let this offense stand between you.
To release someone from the debt created by their sin against you.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing.
And it’s bound up with love.
You may have heard the phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
But that’s not right. Love says, “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.
Because we are (all of us) big-time sinners.
But love also says, “I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.”
Now, full forgiveness is only possible if your brother repents. Notice how in verse 4 he comes back to you again and again.
But we should be ready to forgive all of the time.
Because of how forgiven we are.
I thought about just preaching verses 3 and 4 as their own message on relationships.
Most healthy relationships–especially marriage–are based upon applying these two principles over and over and over again.
Sin is a given in all of our relationships. The question is, how will we deal with it when it comes. Not if, but when.
That’s what Jesus said to his disciples.
And that led his disciples to throw up their hands! V.5
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”
Lord, how are we supposed to do that?
Don’t you know how hard it is to forgive someone?
Increase our faith! We need more! V.6
“He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”
#4. HAVE A LITTLE FAITH.
Aren’t Jesus’ images so amazing?
Here, it’s not a millstone, but it’s still the sea.
Say to the mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” and it will obey you.
If you only have faith as small a mustard seed.
It’s not the quantity of the faith, it’s the quality of the faith. It must be genuine. And you must exercise it.
The way to increase your faith is to act on it.
Now, I don’t think that Jesus is being literal here. He never told a tree to do that trick and a disciple has never done it either.
I think he’s saying that amazing things can happen when you believe.
Unexpected things can happen when you believe.
Including loving rebuke and gracious forgiveness!
Amazing things can happen when you believe.
Have a little faith.
Now in verses 7 through 10, Jesus takes a little bit of a different tack.
He’s still talking to His disciples, but He’s got a particular problem in mind–legalism.
Specifically, Jesus is concerned that His disciples don’t fall into the trap that the Pharisees have often fallen for–of believing that God owes us something because of our obedience to Him.
The myth of merit–believing that God owes us something.
Jesus said to His disciples, #5. DO YOUR DUTY (BY GRACE).
Jesus tells a parable, starting in verse 7.
“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? [No.] Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? [Yes.] Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? [No. Not especially.] So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”
Again, Jesus is guarding against the temptation to think that just because we’re disciples, and we’re obeying and doing our disciple-thing, that God somehow owes us something.
That’s what we call a “works-righteousness” approach to God. Or legalism.
Performance based Christianity.
But Jesus’ parable emphasizes two things.
1. We should do our duty. We should do what we’re supposed to do as disciples.
And in the context, that’s watch yourself, rebuke your brother, forgive your brother, and exercise a little faith.
We should do our duty. But we shouldn’t expect God to say, “Oh, you did your duty? Great! Well, now you’ve earned my favor! Come and get be served.”
That’s a false gospel, too.
The second thing Jesus’ story does is to show us that we are unworthy even to be His slaves.
V.10 We should say, “We are unworthy servants...”
We are unworthy.
But here we are.
And how did we get here?
How did we become His servants?
The unworthy being given what we don’t deserve.
So, do your duty by grace, out of grace, because of His mercy, because of His grace.
But, you know what, it gets better than that.
Because Jesus, our master, actually does serve us.
Remember how Jesus acted at the Last Supper in the Upper Room?
How He washed His disciples feet?
How He said, “I am among you as one who serves?” (Luke 22:27)
The most amazing thing is that Jesus actually does serve us.
Not because we deserve it, but because He loves us and lavishes His grace upon us.
We are servants, but not just servants.
We are actually God’s adopted children!
What more reason do we need to do our duty? Grace is all that we need.
We are unworthy, but He is amazingly gracious.
Have you trusted in Jesus for salvation by grace?
It’s the only way to live!
Let me end by asking you a trick question.
Today is a great holiday. What great holiday is it?
Now, remember, this is a trick question.
What great holiday is it?
Today is “Reformation Sunday.”
Reformation Sunday marks the day in 1517 when Martin Luther, a catholic monk and teacher, nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg starting what became known as the Protestant Reformation. That was October 31, 1517 AD.
The medieval church had gotten off track, and Luther was trying to bring reformation to it–to get the church back to what it was originally intended to be.
What Luther was most concerned about was what gospel was being preached.
He was concerned that the medieval church had again added works to the gospel. “Jesus plus our good works,” “Jesus plus the works of the saints,” “Jesus plus purchasable forgiveness in the form of indulgences.”
So, Luther started something big on this day 493 years ago.
With his 95 Theses, Luther was saying with our Lord that stumbling blocks, false gospels may come, but WOE to those through whom they come.
Salvation is found in the Scriptures Alone, by trusting in Christ Alone, through Faith Alone in Grace Alone to the Glory of God Alone.
That’s the only way that we will be able to loving rebuke our brothers and sisters in Christ and the only way that we can forgive them–because of the forgiveness that Jesus gives us.
That’s the way of faith. Just a little of faith (alone in Christ alone!) can miraculously save us.
Not because we’re worthy. We are unworthy.
But we are loved.
By Jesus Christ.
Let’s stand together and sing the most famous song by Martin Luther. #26.
It’s a celebration of the true gospel–in Christ alone.
He’s is the “one word” that fells the devil and is above all earthly powers and doesn’t live because of them.
Jesus is the “one word” that makes the difference in everything.
So that goods and kindred may go (things and family may go) and even our mortal lives.
Because God’s truth lives on. His kingdom is forever.
That’s what Jesus says to His disciples.
Messages So Far In this Series:
Certain of Jesus
The Back-Story of Jesus
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus - A Very Special Child
Preparing the Way for Jesus
Jesus Is the Son of God
Jesus in Galilee
Jesus and the Sinners
Jesus Brings Real Joy and Rest
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part One
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Two
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Three
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four
Disappointed with Jesus
Loving Jesus Much
Jesus' Real Family
Jesus Is Lord
Who Is Jesus?
Sent By Jesus
Q&A With Jesus
Sitting at Jesus' Feet
Jesus Teaches Us to Pray
Jesus Is Stronger Than Satan
More Blessed Than Jesus' Mom
Jesus and the Judgment to Come
Being Real with Jesus
Jesus and Our Stuff
Be Ready for Jesus' Return
Jesus and Tragedies
Set Free By Jesus
Jesus and the Surprising Kingdom
Jesus and Jerusalem
Jesus at the Party
The Cost of Following Jesus
Jesus and the Lost: Part One
Jesus and the Lost: Part Two
Jesus and the Lost: Part Three
Jesus on Money
Sneering at Jesus
Jesus and the Great Chasm