Becoming Sons of the Most High
A sermon on Luke 6:17-49 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/12/2006
Last week we examined the question: What does it take to be Jesus’ disciple? The passage yielded five criteria: Know that you are a sinner, depend on Jesus for healing and cleansing, be cleansed by Jesus, treasure Jesus above all, and become like Jesus. For this last criterion, we are to become like Jesus in many ways, two of which were included in last week’s text: We are to spread the Good News like Him, and we are to be devoted to prayer like Him.
This week’s text – one sermon by Jesus - is much different than last week’s series of eight vignettes. But the passage has much same theme. After last week’s question about becoming Jesus’ disciples, this week’s text raises the stakes even higher: Who are sons of the Most High?
In raising the stakes in this passage, Jesus opens our eyes both to the depth of joy offered His disciples, and the extremely high standard required. The joy offered is for a great reward eternally, in heaven, as we become like God, taking on the character of Jesus Himself. The standard? Being willing to give up all you have in this life by showing Godlike love and mercy to others.
Who can attain that standard? A true disciple – by the mercy and grace of God.
Let’s see how Jesus brings that out in this sermon.
This passage has a number of parallels with Matthew chapters 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s version is shorter, and includes a few verses not in Matthew. The two sermons apparently take place in different locations; in Matthew, Jesus goes up a mountain, sits down, and starts to teach, while in Luke, He and the Twelve come down from a mountain to a level place, where He begins to teach. While some argue that the location could be a plateau on a mountain, the most straightforward way to read these texts is to consider these two separate sermons. Remember, Jesus is traveling around, preaching in different locations and synagogues (Luke 4:43-44). There are no newspapers, no radio stations, no mp3 players, no cassette tapes, no amplification. For His message to reach thousands of people, He must repeat it time and again. So it seems likely to me that these two accounts represent different occasions, when Jesus preached similar but not identical content.
Regardless of the occasion, the central question raised by the sermon is: Who are sons of the Most High?
Last week we began by noting two negative characteristics of a disciple: A disciples is not one who avoids sinners; a disciple is not one who goes through religious rituals. This week we’ll begin with three negative characteristics of a son of the Most High.
Being healed of a physical disease by Jesus does not necessarily make you a Son of the Most High
Verse 17 tells us that huge crowds come to Jesus. Some are from Judea and Jerusalem; these most likely are Jews. But some come from Tyre and Sidon, coastal cities well to the northwest. Most likely these are Gentiles. Luke tells us that some in the crowd are His disciples – not just the Twelve, but many others who want to learn from Him. Others are a “great multitude of people.” Verse 18 tells us these people come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. And Jesus heals many and casts demons out of others.
It is important to note that the crowd includes both real disciples and onlookers. Some of those healed are believers, while others received their entire benefit in the physical healing. Jesus will say to this crowd in verse 46, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” Included among those who don’t obey Him are some whom He healed.
Many people were healed by Jesus, many heard Him speak – and then walked away glad for the spectacle, glad for the physical healing. They didn’t obey Him. They didn’t become like Him.
To be a Son of the Most High requires more than physical healing. The one who is physically healed will still die.
Being rich, satisfied, happy, and admired does not necessarily make you a Son of the Most High
In verses 24-26, Jesus pronounces four woes: On the rich, on the full or satisfied, on the happy or laughing, and on those that people speak well of.
Why does Jesus speak these woes? Because all the rich are lost? No. The Bible clearly teaches that some rich people are saved. In this Gospel, Luke tells the story of the conversion of Zaccheus, a rich tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). So Jesus (and Luke) are not saying that all the rich are lost.
There are two reasons for Jesus to make these statements:
First, the crowd assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s approval. Now, they were correct in thinking that riches come from God. As David says in 1 Chronicles 29:12, “Both riches and honor come from You.” But it is wrong to assume that these riches that come from God constitute a reward for godly behavior. As Jesus says in today’s text in verse 35, “he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Consider: His kindness includes healing the ungrateful who are ill, and providing riches to ungrateful, evil men. Jesus pronounced these woes so that His listeners would know that riches are not a sign of God’s favor.
Second, riches are not only God’s kindness but also God’s test. Indeed, riches are a test that many fail. When God gives us riches, we are tempted: Will find security in our riches or in God? Will we find happiness in our riches or in God? As Jesus says in Luke 18:24-25:
"How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
This statement is particularly sobering for us, since by the standards of Jesus’ day, virtually everyone here this morning is incredibly rich. Our riches are a test. For me. For you. Having wealth does not indicate that I am Son of Most High.
Is your wealth keeping you from discipleship?
Let’s read verses 46 and 49:
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? . . . 49 The one who hears [My words] and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great."
In the great crowd around Jesus, virtually everyone has hears. They are physically capable of listening. But do they hear?
Jesus says there are those who call Him “Lord” but do not obey him. They don’t do what He says.
Such a person will lose everything. He will look like he has built a nice house of faith: He goes to church. He has been baptized. He has cleaned up his most obvious sins. He quotes the Bible. But when trials come – in this life, or perhaps not until the final judgment – the true nature of his “faith” will be exposed. His house collapses. His ruin is great and eternal.
You are physically present today. Do you hear? Do you follow Jesus? Don’t deceive yourself.
So we’ve seen three warnings:
Those are not the right criteria for judging whether or not you are a son of the Most High. What are the right criteria?
Verse 27 begins: “I say to you who hear . . .” The implication: Some don’t hear. Further implication: Those who truly hear will obey.
But Jesus makes this point most clearly in verses 47-48:
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
Most of you have seen videos of Hurricane Katrina or Southeast Asian tsunami. Walls of water overwhelm everything in their path. Jesus is saying that the one who hears and obeys His word is building a house that no tsunami, no hurricane can break down. The waters will beat against the house, but in the end they will receded, leaving the house standing.
If you are a Son of the Most High – nothing can change that. Nothing can take you out of your Father’s hand. No opposition. No temptation. No persecution.
The one who hears and obeys is a Son of the Most High – even when it may look as if God has rejected him.
Jesus gives an example of this truth at the beginning of the passage. In verse 20, Jesus looks at whom right before He begins to speak? He looks at His disciples. And then He says to them – to those who are following Him, who want to learn from him, who like Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Levi have left everything to follow him:
"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.”
Jesus says, “If you hear my words and do them – your poverty doesn’t matter. Your poverty is not a sign of God’s anger or disappointment with you. Quite the contrary: You have the kingdom! You will be satisfied! You will laugh!”
Jesus is not saying that every poor person is happy and blessed. He is not saying that every poor person is in the kingdom.
The poor do have some advantages. It is easier for a truly poor person to see his dependence on God. For a truly poor person knows that death could come at anytime, while the rich can pretend that they are in control of death. The truly poor person knows he might not have anything to eat for his next meal, while the rich never face involuntary hunger. The truly poor person knows that disease might hit him at any time, that he might thus be unable to work, and so might starve, while the rich have access to medical care and savings.
Despite these advantages, Jesus makes clear in verses 22-23 that His followers, rather than all the poor, are the ones who are blessed:
"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.” (emphasis added)
There are no blessings for the one who is hated because he’s annoying; there are no blessings for the one who is excluded because he talks all the time. Indeed, there are no blessings for the one who is reviled because of his poverty.
Instead, the blessings are for those who are hated, excluded, and reviled on account of the Son of Man. Such persons are to rejoice and leap for joy. Why? “Great is your reward in heaven.”
Note the expression “for behold” in verse 23. The two Greek words translated “for behold” appear together only seven times in the New Testament. Every time they mean something like: “Pay attention: this is really unexpected and great!” One example that you might remember is in Luke 2:10. The angel appears to the shepherds at night. They cower in fear. He says, “Fear Not! For behold I bring you good news of great joy.”
So in verse 23, Jesus is saying, “All these terrible things can come upon you – but rejoice! For behold (Pay attention! This is really important!): Your reward in Heaven is very great!
Implication: Since the emphasis in verse 23 is on the eschatological promise, the promise to be received in eternity, the promises to the poor, the hungry, and those who weep will also be fulfilled primarily in the eternal state. Their hunger may end in this life. It may not. But regardless, Jesus says, “You are suffering now. I know it. I feel it. But if you are suffering all this for My sake – you will never lose. You will receive much more than you ever give up. Hold on to that! Remember that! Live in light of that!”
Note how Jesus characterizes the right response to hatred and exclusion:
But He says we should rejoice! We should have so much confidence in our sovereign God that we should rejoice that He will be glorified in our suffering, and will make up for all that suffering in ways we cannot imagine.
I ask you: What are you willing to give up because of the Son of Man?
Are you so confident in God’s sovereign love and control, that you can hear Jesus’ words and do them?
What commands does He give us? Verses 27-38 contain some of His most challenging commands. The central command in these verses is:
Love your enemies. Jesus isn’t talking about conjuring up warm, fuzzy feelings for those who hate your guts. Instead, see how He elaborates on this command: “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” We are to be so changed on the inside that we take actions that benefit those who hurt and hate us.
In case we miss the point, verses 29 and 30 give some specific examples of how this command looks when we live it out:
Verse 31 gives us a general rule about how we are to love others, especially our enemies:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Note that this verse adds an important qualification to the specific examples in verses 29 and 30. The idea is not: “Whatever other people want to do, let them do it.” The point is: “Act out of love for the other person. Don’t look to your own interests. Do what is best for the other.”
So it is not a violation of verse 30 to demand that a child gives back what he stole, or to refuse to give whiskey to an alcoholic who begs you for drink.
The idea instead is: Don’t guard yourself. Don’t worry about yourself. Be willing to lose – for Jesus sake, to show Jesus’ love.
Why should we live this way? How can we possibly live like this way?
Verses 32-38 tell us. Verses 32-34 state the point negatively. We are not only to love the people who love us. There is no benefit, no grace in that. That’s common in the world. Similarly, there is no benefit in doing good to those who do good to us. That’s common in the world. People are always paying back those who have helped them, or doing something nice for someone in the hope that in the future they will get something in return. Again, there is not benefit in lending money to someone who you think will then lend you money in the future when you need a loan. That’s just rational self-interest. That, too, is common in the world.
Jesus implies in verses 32-34 that there is a benefit from truly loving our enemies. He explains that benefit in verses 35-36:
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.
There is a huge benefit in loving your enemies. We receive a huge benefit when we don’t live like the world. Our reward is great: We are sons of the Most High! We are like God! We too are kind to the ungrateful and evil. When we live that way, when we truly love our enemies, we are showing what He is like. We are glorifying God. We are fulfilling the purpose of our creation.
Note: Jesus here motivates our obedience in loving our enemies by holding up the promise of a reward. He is not saying, “This is the right thing to do. So just do it!” Instead, He is saying: “Living in this way looks to be risky. It looks like you will lose all. I know that. But listen to me: That is not the case! This is the greatest investment you can make! So lose your self-importance. Be willing to lose your possessions, your comfort, your status. Gain what is infinitely more precious: Take on God’s character. Become like Him. You will be a Son of the Most High. You will have much greater reward in heaven.”
As Jesus says elsewhere:
"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
Verse 37 then applies the command, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” to the area of personal offenses.
"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Remember the context here. Jesus is not discussing how to set up a government’s judicial system; He is not talking about national policy. Nor is He discouraging us from calling sin sin.
Instead, He is talking about our thoughts about other people. You must remember: God is the righteous Judge. You are worthy of condemnation. If you are a Son of the Most High, you are forgiven. So what will you do when your spouse angers you? What will you do when your friend is inconsiderate? What will you do when a driver cuts you off in traffic?
Jesus says: Judge not. Condemn not. Forgive. Love. Your reward will be great.
I see verse 38 as a summary statement of the entire section:
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."
You don’t lose by giving up a selfish concern for your own welfare. Trust God. You don’t need to watch out for number one. He is in control.
Do you believe Jesus when He says this? Will you quit making sure you are ok – and simply love God, love others, and follow Him?
Having told us what are not indicators of being sons of the Most High, Having told us that Sons of the Most High hear Jesus’ commands and obey them, having told us and illustrated for us the central command to love our enemies, Jesus then tells us:
Consider verses 39, 41, and 42:
"Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? . . . 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.
These two parables are related. Each of us is blinded by his own sin. Jesus tells us: “Deal with that sin! Pray, ‘Lord, let me see all my selfishness, all my self-centeredness. I know I have logs in my eyes. Help me to deal with these logs so I can serve to lead others.”
You can’t lead anyone, you can’t help anyone when you can’t see. So judge yourself! Be harsh on yourself, and merciful to others.
Verses 43-45 tell us that if you don’t deal with the logs in your eyes, however good of an actor you may be, eventually what you really are will be apparent:
"For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
What are you on the inside? Are you a Son of the Most High? Or are you really out for yourself? You can’t hide it forever. Jesus says: “If you are not living like a Son of the Most High, don’t assume that you’re a son. What you are on the inside will come out. A true son is changed from the inside out.”
Friends, examine yourselves. Consider who you are. Think about sins that you thought you had dealt with that have cropped up even this week. How are you going to change? How are you going to become Sons of the Most High?
Look at verse 40. This is full of hope:
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Are you willing to be Jesus disciple? Are you willing to sit under Him, instead of sitting over Him, judging Him? Are your ears open? Do you hear Him? Are you listening? Do you trust God as sovereign, so that you can give of yourself and know you will be ultimately cared for tenderly?
Jesus promises in this verse: A disciple may have to go through great sorrows – as He Himself did. But His discipling, His discipline, His training will mend you and perfect you. He will give you the Holy Spirit, and thus will make you into what God intends you to be: a Son of the Most High. Christlike.
Where are you? Are you walking around with a log in your eye saying, “Lord, Lord! Jesus is my lord!” That won’t do.
Hear Jesus’ words! Know God the Father! Trust Him! And so step out in faith to love those who are impossible to love.
Have you built your house on the sand? Or have you dug deep, setting your foundation on rock?
As Hebrews 11:6 tells us, faith means believing that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Will you seek Him? Will you love Him? Will you kill the selfish spirit within you?
Confess! Turn! Repent! Depend on Christ alone for your position before God! And He will strengthen you by His Spirit to you’re your enemies, to become a Son of the Most High.
This sermon was preached on 2/12/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. Darrell Bock’s Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker, 1994) was helpful in discussing the relationship with Matthew 5-7, though in the end I disagree with him. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Volume 1 (Eerdmans, 1959), p. 141-42 is the source for the progression from not retaliating, to not feeling anger, to not feeling depressed, to rejoicing in response to persecution.
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