Luke 14–when grace and commitment clash

This Chapter consists of five sections which Luke has placed together for a purpose. Before we try to figure out what that purpose was, we need to look carefully at each section.

The five sections can be categorized by where they take place. The first three sections take place in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. That is important because it establishes the audience. It was religious professionals and experts in the interpretation of the Mosaic law.

Section 1

1-6

Jesus and his disciples are at the home of a rich, prominent man. There was an illusion of spiritual importance in the place. The disciples were probably caught up in it, but Jesus was not. He could see through the illusion.

Somehow a sick man appears in their midst. The group is watching Jesus to see what he is going to do. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Jesus healed this man because of his faith. The text does not say that this man deserved the healing. The law did not command healing on the Sabbath, or on any other day. Jesus went beyond the law and ministered grace.

Everyone there that day understood the principle that Jesus operated under. His question showed that. It implied that every one of them without exception would choose to rescue their own ox or their own son, regardless of what day he fell into the pit. The problem was not really a law versus grace issue. The problem was that this sick man was not deemed worth rescuing because he was an outsider. Jesus was visibly angry with them for this attitude.

Section 2

7-11

Jesus had noticed that when these people gathered together, they each tried to sit in a prominent place. Their gatherings were not opportunities for fellowship as much as opportunities for self promotion. Jesus suggested that they should have been seeking the lowest position. He pointed out that if they did this, a side benefit would be that they might be asked to take a more prominent position. But if they insisted on getting the best spots, they would likely be asked to vacate them.

Section 3

12-24

In the third section, Jesus turns his attention to their host. He had been guilty of jockeying for position as well. He had chosen people of prominence and invited them to his banquet. The only exception had been the sick man.

Jesus’ mention of the banquet had caused one of the listeners to pronounce a religious blessing upon the saved. One of the symbols of salvation the Bible reveals is the great banquet at the end of the age, also known as the marriage supper of the Lamb.

If you had called for a vote among the guests at that banquet, everyone there would have affirmed that they expected to be among the elect. They looked forward to fellowship with God for eternity -later on. Jesus told a story about people who were invited to a great banquet, but could not fit it into their busy schedules when the invitation first came.

Section 4

25-33

The venue appears to change to a more general one in section 4, but the overall topic has not changed. Jesus talks about the commitment expected of those who accept his invitation. They cannot be like those who originally received the invitations to the great banquet. They have to be willing to put everything else in their lives aside and concentrate on his kingdom exclusively.

To illustrate this, Jesus talks about building a tower and going to battle. In both of these projects, the one who intends to accomplish the task has to evaluate his resources to see whether he has what it takes to finish the task.

Section 5

34-35

The last two verses of this chapter appear to have been tacked on to it. Jesus talks about salt being worthless if it looses its saltiness. In many commentaries of this text, readers are referred to the sermon on the mount, as if Luke mistakenly put these verses in the wrong place. No, Luke did not make a mistake, and neither did the Holy Spirit. But to understand why Jesus said these words in this context, we will have to step back and look at the whole chapter again.

Colliding agendas

It is possible to look at Luke 14 as a theology proper: a chapter that reveals who God is. Jesus’ choice to heal the sick man was an illustration of pure unmitigated grace. He was presented as a creature in need, and his creator chose to meet that need.

God is the loving father who graciously rescued his stupid son who has fallen into a well and cannot get himself out.

God is the loving host, who sees his friend at a lowly position and invites him to a higher place.

God is the master of the banquet, who commands his servants to scour the city for every last riffraff, so that his banquet hall is filled.

I deliberately pointed this out because we tend to read past this message of grace and make this chapter all about personal commitment. Here Jesus commands his follows to hate their friends and relatives, and even their own lives. Believers must renounce all, and take up their crosses and follow him to their deaths. Last year when I wrote a devotions text based on this chapter, my conclusion was that we all have only enough resources for one project, so that project better be God’s kingdom.

I have to admit that I have always preached this chapter with the aim of encouraging people to be more committed — more faithful.

But I’m worried about that. Those two possible agendas (grace and commitment) seem to clash in this chapter. I’m not ready to conclude that either Jesus or Luke was schizophrenic. There has to a pin that connects these two different rail cars.

I think I’m beginning to understand what that pin is. The clue that got me started is in those final two verses of the chapter where Jesus warns us not to lose our saltiness.

Being salty in Jesus’ messages means leading people to God by proclaiming his gospel of grace. It is the true spiritual prominence we get when the gospel takes hold in our lives. Losing one’s saltiness, then, would be moving away from that message of grace.

When we only emphasize the commitment of Luke 14, we forget what that commitment is for. Jesus calls his followers to renounce all and follow him because their all is not enough.

We all start to build our tower and then realize that we are going to be a few stories too short. Isn’t that the problem they had at Babel? There was  no way they were going to reach the stratosphere on their own.

We all plan to go to war and then realize that we are going to lose badly. We start out life as an ox in a well. It does not matter how strong or dedicated we are. We are not going anywhere without rescue. It does not matter how many resources we have. In fact, the more resources we have apart from Christ, the less likely we will surrender to his rescue.

Jesus was not teaching the Pharisees that they should be more humble. He was using these interactions with the socially prominent to teach his disciples that his kingdom works a different way. In Christ’s kingdom, the only resource we need is the Holy Spirit. Luke emphasizes this throughout his Gospel and throughout the book of Acts.

This truth can set us free. When we are challenged to take on more than we can handle, we need not concern ourselves with that fact. Taking on more than one can handle is the norm in Christian service. It is one way of demonstrating that our faith is in Christ, not in ourselves.

— LORD, forgive us for relying so much on our own abilities and experiences. Forgive us for not trusting your Holy Spirit. We come back to the cross where we first met you. There we see that you renounced all for us. We choose to renounce our all to serve you.


This message was preached by Jeff in Japan at the Fukuoka Agape House worship service, Sunday morning, July 29, 2012.

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