Lord of the Sabbath
6:1 Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples picked some heads of wheat, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 6:2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?” 6:3 Jesus answered them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry—6:4 how he entered the house of God, took and ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for any to eat but the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” 6:5 Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Chapters 6-9 will concentrate on the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’. Reference will be made to Jesus’ call of the disciples and his preaching and teaching ministry, concentrate on the question, ‘Who is Jesus’, and will also explore the appropriate response to him. John the Baptist sends word to ask if Jesus is the coming one. Jesus replies that his works of healing and preaching affirm his status (Lk 7:18-35; cf. Isa 29:18 35:5-6 61:1). The Word demands a response, even though there may be many difficulties to overcome (Lk 8:4-15). Jesus’ miraculous work over nature (Lk 8:22-25), over demons (Lk 8:26-39), and over disease and death (Lk 8:40-56) shows the extent of his power. Then there is a move from teaching and miracles to commitment and discipleship. Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah (Lk 9:18-20). Now Jesus explains that he will be a suffering Messiah (Lk 9:21-22). Total commitment is required of those who follow him in order to survive the rejection that comes with following Jesus (Lk 9:23-27).
A Sabbath – So read most earlier manuscripts. However, a number of the later ones read, ‘on the second-first Sabbath’ (en sabbatō deuteroprōtō). If this is the correct reading, then we have an undesigned coincidence, in that ‘exactly the right time for corn, since the second Sabbath after the first was within days of the first-fruits of the corn harvest during the Passover (Lev 23:10-12).’ (Source)
“Have you never read…?” – 1 Sa 21:3-6. ‘David was not in fact breaking any law, and Jesus was not citing his action as a precedent for doing so but rather showing that the OT itself does not teach the kind of strict legalism which the Pharisees had developed.’ (NBC)
‘Since…the Sabbath is the Lord’s (God’s) own day, this statement of Jesus probably concealed a claim to equality with God.’ (NBC)
Healing a Withered Hand
6:6 On another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching. Now a man was there whose right hand was withered. 6:7 The experts in the law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they could find a reason to accuse him. 6:8 But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Get up and stand here.” So he rose and stood there. 6:9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” 6:10 After looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man did so, and his hand was restored. 6:11 But they were filled with mindless rage and began debating with one another what they would do to Jesus.
‘The opponents of Jesus may have ‘planted’ the sick man in the synagogue to see what Jesus would do. He accepted the unspoken challenge and posed his searching question: If his action in healing a man on the Sabbath was to be considered sinful, how much more sinful was their plotting of his death? The penalty for transgressing the Sabbath law was death, and Mark tells us that from this time the Pharisees began to plot the death of Jesus.’ (NBC)
Choosing the Twelve Apostles
6:12 Now it was during this time that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God. 6:13 When morning came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 6:14 Simon (whom he named Peter), and his brother Andrew; and James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 6:15 Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 6:16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Jesus…spent the night praying to God – and the following day chose the twelve apostles. What kinds of decisions are important enough in our own lives for us to pray intensively about them beforehand?
Luke often mentions our Lord’s prayer life. See Lk 6:12; 9:18,28; 11:1; 18:1; 22:41,46.
The Sermon on the Plain
6:17 Then he came down with them and stood on a level place. And a large number of his disciples had gathered along with a vast multitude from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. They came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases, 6:18 and those who suffered from unclean spirits were cured. 6:19 The whole crowd was trying to touch him, because power was coming out from him and healing them all.
Some think that this ‘Sermon on the Plain’ is the same as that recorded in Matthew 5-7 (the ‘Sermon on the Mount’). They argue that ‘the Mount’ refers to the general terrain, while ‘the Plain’ refers to a level area somewhere on the mountain. They would further argue that both evangelists present a condensed version of what Jesus taught on that occasion, with Luke’s version being much more condensed. With regard to differences between the two sets of Beatitudes, for example (and especially Luke’s reference to the ‘poor’ and Matthew’s to the ‘poor in Spirit’ it then must be argued that the latter includes the former, and the difference is one of emphasis on the part of the two evangelists.
It seems surprising that confirmed inerrantists (such as Howe & Geisler, When Critics Ask) are prepared concede this amount of editorial freedom to Matthew and Luke. It is more likely that the two accounts record part or all of Jesus’ teaching on at least two occasions. There are good reasons to think that our Lord, like so many other itinerant teachers, repeated (with variations) similar material on multiple occasions.
A large crowd – they may well have been attracted by Jesus’ miracles, but Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them.
Cf Lk 8:46
6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.
This is the beginning of the so-called ‘Sermon on the Plain’. It is similar to, but much shorter than, the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Mt 5-7. It is supposed that Matthew has taken a version of the sermon as found in Luke and supplemented it with other sayings of Jesus spoken at different times (so Marshall, NBC)
Both sermons start with a series of beatitudes; ‘a series of bombshells’ (Barclay, adding: ‘It may well be that we have read them so often that we have forgotten how revolutionary they are.’)
Barclay quotes Deissmann: “They are spoken in an electric atmosphere. They are not quiet stars but flashes of lightning followed by a thunder of surprise and amazement.” As Barclay says, ‘They take the accepted standards and turn them upside down. The people whom Jesus called happy the world would call wretched; and the people Jesus called wretched the world would call happy. Just imagine anyone saying, “Happy are the poor, and, Woe to the rich!” To talk like that is to put an end to the world’s values altogether.’
“Blessed are you who are poor…” – Did Jesus have a spiritual, or a physical, poverty in mind (as in Mt 5:3)? If spiritual, he is calling blessed those who are dissatisfied with what this world has to offer. Their longings for something better will be fulfilled in the coming kingdom. However, the references to the ‘rich’ and ‘well fed’, vv24f, seem to be to physical characteristics, and perhaps so in the present verse.
‘If God keeps us to a spare diet, if he gives us less temporal, he has made it up in spirituals; he has given us the pearl of price, and the holy anointing. The pearl of price, the Lord Jesus, he is the quintessence of all good things. To give us Christ, is more than if God had given us all the world. He can make more worlds, but he has no more Christs to bestow; he is such a golden mine, that the angels cannot dig to the bottom. Eph 3:8. From Christ we may have justification, adoption, and coronation. The sea of God’s mercy in giving us Christ, says Luther, should swallow up all our wants. God has anointed us with the graces, the holy unction of his Spirit. Grace is a seed of God, a blossom of eternity. The graces are the impressions of the divine nature, stars to enlighten us, spices to perfume us, diamonds to enrich us; and if God has adorned the hidden man of the heart with these sacred jewels, it may well make us content, though we have but short commons, and that coarse too. God has given his people better things than corn and wine; he has given them that which he cannot give in anger, and which cannot stand with reprobation, and they may say as David, ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ Ps 16:6. Didimus was a blind man, but very holy; Anthony asked him, if he was not troubled for the want of his eyes, and he told him he was; Anthony replied, ‘Why are you troubled? You want that which flies and birds have, but you have that which angels have.’ So I say to Christians, if God has not given you the purse, he has given you his Spirit. If you want that which rich men have, God has given you that which angels have, and are you not content?’ (Thomas Watson)
6:21 “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
F.R. Maltby (quoted by Barclay)
6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man! 6:23 Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. For their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.
“…because of the Son of Man” – So it becomes clear, after all, that the apparent disadvantages spoken of in these beatitudes are mainly spiritual, not physical. It is suffering and privation on account of the Saviour which is truly blessed.
6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
6:26 “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you” – ‘Let that expression be carefully noted. Few of our Lord’s sayings are more flatly contradictory to the common opinion both of the Church and the world, than this. What is more common in the world than the love of every one’s praise? What more frequent in the Church than to hear it said in commendation of a minister, that “everybody likes him!” It seems entirely forgotten, that to be liked and approved by every body, is to be of the number of those to whom Jesus says, “Woe unto you.” To be universally popular is a most unsatisfactory symptom, and one of which a minister of Christ should always be afraid. It may well make him doubt whether he is faithfully doing his duty, and honestly declaring all the counsel of God.’ (Ryle)
6:27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
“Love your enemies” – These enemies are especially the persecutors of the disciples, v22.
“Pray for those who mistreat you” – as exemplified in the case of our Lord praying for those that crucified him, and Stephen praying for those who stoned him. (Lk 23:34; Acts 7:60)
6:29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either.
We read not that Christ ever exercised force but once, and that was to drive profane ones out of his temple, and not to force them in. (John Milton) Cf. Lk 6:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Isa 53:7; Mt 21:10-17.
‘The precepts of these two verses must necessarily be interpreted with Scriptural qualification. We must not expound them as to contradict other passages of God’s Word. They are strong proverbial forms of expressing a great principle. If we were to press an extreme literal interpretation of them, we should give encouragement to theft, burglary, violence, and murder. The earth would be given into the hands of the wicked.
On the one hand, our Lord did not mean to forbid the repression of crime, or to declare the office of the magistrate and policeman unlawful. Nor yet did he mean to pronounce all war unlawful, or to prohibit the punishment of evil-doers, and disturbers of the peace and order of society. We find him saying in one place, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Lk 22:34. We find St. Paul saying of the magistrate, that “he beareth not the sword in vain,” that “he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Rom 13:4. We find several centurions mentioned in the Gospels and Acts. But we never find their occupation, as soldiers, condemned as unlawful.
On the other hand, it is evident that our Lord condemns every thing like a revengeful, pugnacious, litigious, or quarrelsome spirit. He forbids everything like duelling, or fighting, between individuals, for the settlement of private wrongs. He enjoins forbearance, patience, and long-suffering under injuries and insults. He would have us concede much, submit to much, and put up with much, rather than cause strife. He would have us endure much inconvenience and loss, and even sacrifice some of our just rights, rather than have any contention. It is the same lesson that St. Paul enforces in other words: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” – “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” – “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:18-21.
Few things bring out more painfully the little hold that Christianity has on professing Christians, than the utter neglect of our Lord’s injunctions in these verses, which everywhere prevails. Anything more contrary to the mind of Christ than duelling, and hand to hand conflicts, of which we hear so often in some countries and some ranks of society, it is impossible to conceive. To give blow for blow, and violence for violence, anger for anger, and abuse for abuse, is the conduct of a dog or a heathen, but not of a Christian.’ (Ryle)
6:30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away.
The kind of behaviour Jesus is urging here is radical. Is his teaching to be taken literally? He is clearly using striking examples in order to make people think. However, teaching such as that contained in this verse has to be balanced with other Christian principles. ‘Obviously Jesus was not promoting the kind of thoughtless generosity to any lazy scroungers which would simply confirm them in their ways.’ (Marshall)
6:31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.
See Mt 7:12
When asked for her impression of these two great rivals, she replied, “After an evening with Gladstone, I thought he was the most brilliant man I’d ever met. After an evening with Disraeli, I thought myself to be the most fascinating woman in the world!”‘
‘Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
G.K. Chesterton used to say, “The truly great person is the one who makes every person feel great.”
6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 6:33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 6:34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full.
“‘Sinners'” – That is, notorious sinners; those who are generally known or esteemed to be sinful people. Jesus is, perhaps, using an ad hominem argument here. Even such people are capable of acts of kindness towards those from whom they expect something in return. But Christian love is of a higher order. It may receive no credit in this life, but God knows, and will regard as his true children those who sow his mercy to the undeserving.
6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” – Cf. Eph 5:2. This ‘just as’ implies both some experience and some understanding of our Father’s mercy. Ryle enters the following protest against non-doctrinal Christianity: ‘No thing is more common now than to find charity, kindness, self-sacrifice, and attention to others, praised and commended by popular writers, who make no secret of their contempt for all the leading doctrines of the Gospel. Once for all, let us understand, that real, genuine, self-denying love, will never grow from any roots but faith in Christ’s atonement, and a heart renewed by the Holy Ghost. We shall never make men love one another, unless we teach as St. Paul taught,”Walk in love, as Christ hath loved us.” Teaching love on any other principle is, as a general rule, labour in vain.’
Do Not Judge Others
6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.
See this illustrated in Mt 18:23-35. See also Col 3:13.
6:38 Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
6:39 He also told them a parable: “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit? 6:40 A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher. 6:41 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“A student is not above his teacher” – ‘It is common to regard this verse as descriptive of the portion of all believers in this world, and as parallel with such sayings as these, “If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you.” “If they have kept my saying they will also keep yours.” The perfection is looked upon as the being made “perfect through sufferings.”
But I feel unable to interpret the verse in this sense. It is good divinity, but not the sense of this passage. The true meaning, I believe, must be sought in connection with the verse which immediately precedes it. In that verse our Lord, under a parable, had been delivering a warning against false teachers. He had been comparing them to blind guides, and showing that if the blind lead the blind, “both must fall into the ditch.” He then seems to foresee the common objection that it does not follow because our teachers go astray that we shall go astray also. “Beware of that delusion,” he seems to say. “Disciples must not be expected to see more clearly than their teachers. The scholar will become as perfect as his master, but no more so. He will certainly copy his errors, and reproduce his faults. If you choose to follow blind guides, do not wonder if you never get beyond them, and if you share in their final ruin.” The marginal reading in the English version appears to bring out this sense more clearly than the text: “Every one shall be perfected as his master.”
How strikingly true this saying of our Lord is, has been painfully proved in England during the last thirty years. All who know anything of our religious history during that period, must have observed, that the leaders of the various new heresies by which we have been plagued, have generally had many ardent followers. These followers have seldom got beyond their masters, and have seldom been able to copy their good points without their bad ones. On the contrary, they have often slavishly reproduced the worst errors of their teachers, and that in a far worse form, and have not imitated their good points at all. They have thus strictly verified our Lord’s words, “The disciple is not above his master.”‘ (Ryle)
‘Faults are like the headlights of a car; those of others seem more glaring than your own.’
6:43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 6:44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles. 6:45 The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart.
6:46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I tell you?
‘We might miss the strength of these statements (Mt 7:21-23 and here) unless we realize that repeating a person’s name is a Hebrew expression of intimacy. When God speaks to Abraham at Mount Moriah, as he is about to plunge the knife into the breast of Isaac, he says, Abraham, Abraham. Or when God encourages Jacob in his old age to take the trip to Egypt, he says, Jacob, Jacob. (Ge 22:11,46:2) Compare the call of Moses from the burning bush: Moses, Moses, or the call of Samuel in the night, Samuel, Samuel. (Ex 3:4; 1 Sam 3:10) Or consider David’s cry of agony, Absalom, Absalom, and Jesus cry of desolation on the cross, My God, my God. (2 Sam 18:33; Mt 27:46) When Jesus confronted Martha, when he warned Peter, and when he wept over Jerusalem in each case we find the word repeated for intimacy’s sake. (Lk 10:41; 22:31; Mt 23:37)
You call me Master and Obey me not.
You call me Light and See me not.
You call me Way and Walk me not.
You call me Life and Desire me not.
You call me Wise and Follow me not.
You call me Fair and Love me not.
You call me Rich and Ask me not.
You call me Eternal and Seek me not.
You call me Gracious and Trust me not.
If I condemn you, Blame me not.
Some pretend to have a deep relationship with Christ, but this claim is not borne out in their lives. There are many who say, Lord, Lord, while in fact they live in contempt for Christ’s commandments. If you love me, you will obey what I command, said Jesus.’ (Jn 14:15) (Tabletalk, April, 1990, p. 18)
‘God calls people to worship him with their obedience, and instead they try to fob him off with their religion.’ (John Hercus)
6:47 “Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice—I will show you what he is like: 6:48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 6:49 But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed!”
‘Parallel versions of a given parable often differ in imagery employed, even though the message remains unaltered…Matthew’s parable of the two builders apparently envisages a Palestinian wadi-a waterless ravine with steep sides which occasionally turned into a raging river after severe rains. (Mt 7:24-27) Luke instead portrays a broad river like the Orontes at Syrian Antioch where summer shelters had to be abandoned before the winter rains set in. (Lk 6:47-49) he also speaks of building a foundation for the house, an architectural feature much more common outside of Palestine than within. Once again the changes reflect the natural adaptation of the story to a Hellenistic context. Such transformations may surprise the very conservative reader who often advocates a highly literal translation and interpretation of Scripture, but in fact they fit in very well with the tenets of modern translation theory. Often the form of a message must change precisely in order to preserve its meaning in a new culture, whereas a literal word-for-word translation might well prove unintelligible. Modern versions of Scripture which employ “dynamic equivalence” theory (most notably the United Bible Society’s many translations) as well as freer paraphrases (like those of Phillips or Taylor) regularly employ similar representational changes, especially with metaphorical language which can easily be misunderstood. Popular preachers even of the most conservative stripe often contemporize biblical stories by retelling them as if they were happening in modern settings, so it should scarcely cause surprise that the early church occasionally employed a similar method, especially with parables. As fictional narratives, they do not depict historical events, the details of which cannot be changed, but instead illustrate theological truths which can be communicated by a variety of different metaphors.’ (Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables)
“Flood…torrent” – As would tend to happen more often in hot countries than in our own.
Note that the person that this saying illustrates, is the person who ‘comes to me, and hears my words, and puts them into practice,’ v47. Ryle comments: ‘We must be careful in interpreting and explaining this parable, that we do not lose sight of its proper scope and intention. It is surely not handling Scripture honestly to tell people that the “rock” here is Christ, and the man who builds on it the true believer, – the foundation of earth, false grounds of confidence for justification, and the man who builds on it the deluded Christian who trusts in them. All this may be excellent divinity. But that is not the point in question. The point is, Does the passage teach this lesson? I answer unhesitatingly that it does not.
The object of the parable is not to teach the doctrine of justification, but the folly of Christian profession unaccompanied by Christian practice, and the certain ruin to which such profession must lead if persisted in. That Christ is the true rock on which we must build our hopes, and that there is no other rock on which we can stand, is abundantly taught elsewhere. But it is not the lesson of the passage before us. The passage is a warning against Antinomianism.Let not that be forgotten. The habit of accommodating Scripture, and using it in a sense which it was not originally intended to bear, is a dangerous practice. It has indirectly a mischievous effect on our own minds, and is most confusing to the poor and unlearned. When a poor man hears a sense put on texts which does not appear on the face of them, and in reality can only be drawn from them by accommodation, it makes him think that the Bible is a book which none but learned people can understand.’
“The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice” – John Bunyan thus describes ‘Talkative’ in Pilgrim’s progress: “The soul of religion is the practical part. ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ (Jas 1:27) This Talkative is not aware of. He thinks that hearing and saying will make a good Christian, and thus he deceiveth his own soul. Hearing is but the sowing of the seed. Talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the heart and life. Let us assure ourselves, that at the day of doom men shall be judged according to their fruits. It will not then be said, Did you believe? but, Were you a doer, or talker only? And accordingly they shall be judged. The end of the world is compared to our harvest; and you know men at harvest regard nothing but fruit.”