David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Luke 6:1-49 - THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN
A. Sabbath controversy.
1. (Luke 6:1-2) The source of the controversy: the disciples are accused of “harvesting” on the Sabbath.
Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”
a. His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands: There was nothing wrong with what they did. Their gleaning was not considered stealing, according to Deuteronomy 23:25.
b. Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath? The problem was with the day on which they did it. The Rabbis made an elaborate list of “do” and “don’t” items relevant to the Sabbath and this violated one of the items on this list.
i. When the disciples did what they did, in the eyes of the religious leaders they were guilty of reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food. Four violations of the Sabbath in one mouthful!
c. This approach to the Sabbath continues today among Orthodox Jews. In early 1992, tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath would violate Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.
2. (Luke 6:3-5) Jesus responds to the accusation with two important principles.
But Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
a. Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry: The reference to David’s use of the “holy bread” in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 shows the first principle: human need is more important than religious ritual.
i. This is exactly what many people, steeped in tradition, simply cannot accept. They don’t believe that what God really wants is mercy before sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); that love to others is more important than religious rituals (Isaiah 58:1-9); that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise (Psalms 51:17).
ii. “Any application of the Sabbath Law which operates to the detriment of man is out of harmony with God’s purpose.” (Morgan)
b. The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath: The second principle is even more dramatic. Jesus declares that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, and the Lord of the Sabbath was not offended by His disciple’s actions, then these religious leaders should not have been offended.
3. (Luke 6:6-11) The Lord of the Sabbath heals on the Sabbath.
Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
a. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath: By their very actions, the Pharisees admit Jesus has the power of God to work miracles, yet they seek to entrap Him. It is as if a man could fly and the authorities arrest him for not landing at airports!
i. The religious leaders watched Jesus closely, but with no heart of love for Him. We can watch Jesus, but still be far from our hearts from Him.
ii. What is more, they knew Jesus would do something when He saw this man in need. In this sense, the Pharisees had more faith than many of us, because we often doubt Jesus’ desire to meet the needs of others.
b. Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy? In His question to the religious leaders, Jesus emphasizes the truth about the Sabbath. There is never a wrong day to do something truly good.
c. Stretch out your hand: In this, Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand to do something impossible. But as the man put forth effort, God did the rest. God never commands us without enabling us.
d. They were filled with rage: The reaction of the religious leaders is shocking, but true. When Jesus did this miracle on the Sabbath, He met the needs of simple people and broke the petty religious traditions of the establishment.
i. There is always such a powerful lure to this type of religious legalism in the Christian life because there is never a shortage of leaders who want to lead this way, and never a shortage of people who want to follow this way. But God wants us to have the Holy Spirit write the application of His word into our hearts, not the rules of man made into the law of God.
ii. Jesus constantly rebuked the religious leaders of his day for this kind of heart. He said of them, laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men . . . all too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition . . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition. (Mark 7:8-9; Mark 7:13)
iii. Jesus wasn’t trying to reform the Sabbath. He tried to show that in their understanding of the Sabbath, they missed the whole point. A legalist wants to get you debating rules; but the point isn’t which rules, the point is the basic way we approach God. Is it based on what we do for Him, or is it based on what He has done for us in Jesus Christ?
e. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus: Apparently, the religious leaders thought it was fine to be filled with rage and desire to kill a godly man who never sinned against anybody on the Sabbath. That was all right, but you better not heal someone on the Sabbath!
B. The choosing of the twelve apostles.
1. (Luke 6:12-13) Jesus chooses the twelve.
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
a. He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God: Jesus was about to choose His disciples. In one sense, there was nothing in Jesus’ three years of ministry before the cross more important than this. These were the men who would carry on what He had done, and without them, the work of Jesus would never extend through the whole world. No wonder Jesus gave this an entire night of prayer.
i. Jesus was God. Why didn’t He simply use His infinite knowledge to pick the apostles instead of praying all night? Because like most every other struggle Jesus faced, He faced this one as a man, a man who needed to seek the will of His Father just as you and I do.
ii. You have to wonder how many hours of that night in prayer were spent praying over Judas alone.
b. He called His disciples to Himself: The disciples (and the apostles for that matter) belonged to Jesus. Disciples never belong to any man; they only belong to Jesus. They are His disciples.
i. “A disciple was a learner, a student, but in the first century a student did not simply study a subject; he followed a teacher. There is an element of personal attachment in ‘disciple’ that is lacking in ‘student.’” (Morris)
c. From them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: From among the group of His followers (the larger group of disciples), He picked twelve to be apostles.
i. What is an apostle? The idea behind the ancient Greek word for apostle is “ambassador.” It describes someone who represents another, and has a message from their sender. Jesus was an apostle in this sense according to Hebrews 3:1.
d. He chose twelve: Why did Jesus choose twelve apostles? Because this is the foundation of the new chosen people, and as Israel had twelve tribes, Jesus would have twelve apostles.
2. (Luke 6:14-16) The twelve listed.
Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
a. How many of these men do we really know anything about? Peter, James, John, and Judas we know something about. But of the other eight, we pretty much only know their name. Their fame is reserved for heaven, where their names are on the twelve foundations of God’s heavenly city (Revelation 21:14).
b. There are many interesting connections with this group. There are brothers (James and John, Peter and Andrew); business associates (Peter, James, and John were all fishermen); opposing political viewpoints (Matthew the Roman-friendly tax collector, and Simon, the Roman-hating Zealot); and one who would betray Jesus (Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor).
i. “Judas’s surname of Iscariot probably indicates that he was a man from Kerioth: he thus seems to have been the only Judean among the twelve.” (Geldenhuys)
ii. A man once asked a theologian, “Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot to be his disciple?” The teacher replied, “I don’t know, but I have an even harder question: Why did Jesus choose me?”
3. (Luke 6:17-19) Jesus ministers healing and deliverance to a multitude.
And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.
a. He came down with them: Jesus comes down with them to minister to this crowd. Jesus not only wanted to teach them about serving others; He wanted them to help Him. Here they seem to work as a team.
i. Jesus could have done it all by Himself. But it was important that He work together as a team with these twelve, both for their sake and the sake of the work.
b. A great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon: People come from great distances to be healed and touched by Jesus, even from Gentile cities like Tyre and Sidon.
c. Jesus not only had the power of God in Him; the power went out from Him and healed them all. Many of us want the power of God in us to help us. But how many really long for the power of God to go out from us to touch a needy world?
C. Introduction to the Sermon on the Plain.
1. This has been long hailed as the sum of Jesus’ (or anybody’s) ethical teaching; no portion of Jesus’ teaching has made such an impression.
a. Once, when the religious leaders sent officers to arrest Jesus, they came back empty handed, saying No man ever spoke like this Man! (John 7:46) More than any other one teaching, this sermon of Jesus sets Him apart from any other teacher.
b. It has been said if you took all the good advice for how to live ever uttered by any philosopher or psychiatrist or counselor, took out the foolishness and boiled it all down to the real essentials, you would be left with a poor imitation of this great sermon.
c. The American Revolutionaries had their Declaration of Independence. Karl Marx had his Communist Manifesto. Adolf Hitler had his Mien Kampf. This is Jesus’ main message saying what His Kingdom is all about. It is a defining document.
d. The early Church was very aware of this teaching from Jesus. James - one of the first epistles - quotes it often, as do many of the early Church Fathers.
2. Why is Luke’s version different than Matthew’s? Are they the same sermon?
a. Scholarly opinion is divided on this issue. But we should remember that Jesus was an itinerant preacher, whose main emphasis was the Kingdom of God (see Luke 4:43).
b. Itinerant preachers often repeat themselves to different crowds, especially when teaching upon the same topic. This is probably the same sermon as Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29, but possibly at a different time and a different place.
3. This sermon is often, and properly, referred to as the “‘Agenda of God’s Kingdom.” It does not deal with salvation so much, but lays out for the disciple and the potential disciple how having Jesus as King translate into how you live every day.
D. Jesus shows us how different God’s agenda is.
1. (Luke 6:20-23) Strange blessings.
Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
a. He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples: We notice that Jesus is speaking to His disciples (toward His disciples). The Sermon on the Plain is directed towards disciples, though others may - and should - hear.
b. Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God: To be poor in spirit is not a man’s confession that he is by nature insignificant, or personally without value, for that would be untrue. Instead, it is a confession that he is sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend him to God.
i. Poor: Jesus uses the more severe term for poverty. The ancient Greek word here indicates someone who must beg for whatever they have or will get.
ii. But those who are poor in spirit, so poor they must beg, are rewarded: they receive the kingdom of God. Therefore poverty of spirit is an absolute prerequisite for receiving the kingdom of heaven, because as long as we keep illusions about our own spiritual resources, we will never receive from God what we absolutely need to be saved.
iii. Poverty of spirit cannot be artificially induced by self-hatred. It comes as the Holy Spirit works in our heart and we respond to Him.
iv. Jesus says that the poor in spirit would be blessed: the idea behind the ancient Greek word for blessed is happy, but in the truest, Godly sense of the word, not in our modern sense of merely being comfortable at the moment.
v. Poverty of spirit is placed first for a reason, because it puts the following commands into perspective. They cannot be fulfilled in our own strength, but only by a beggar’s reliance on God’s power.
c. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh: Jesus’ adds two other kinds of seekers, those who hunger and those who weep. The poor, the hungry, and the weeping can all be blessed because Jesus is here to meet their needs.
i. Unfortunately, we look for the wrong things to fill our sense of poverty, hunger, and need for comfort. Jesus tells us to find the answers to all these needs in Him.
d. Blessed are you when men hate you: When we seek God like a poor man seeks money, like a hungry man seeks food, or like a weeping person seeks comfort, we will face persecution from those who want other things.
i. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! We can really rejoice when we are persecuted, because we know that it means we are on the right side - God’s side, and the side of so many faithful who went on before us.
e. Jesus makes what seem to be paradoxical promises, but He can make them because He is God, and knows that God will settle all things rightly, and according to these principles.
i. He seems to promise that if we are really following Him, we will be totally happy and often in trouble - two things that seem to contradict one another.
2. (Luke 6:24-26) Strange woes.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
a. Woe: This is an expression of regret and compassion, not a threat. The woes Jesus pronounces seem just as paradoxical as His blessings.
b. But woe to you who are rich . . . Woe to you who are full: We should right feel bad for people who do not sense their own need of God. We won’t come to Him the way we should until we know we are poor, hungry, and needing comfort.
i. Tragically, many won’t come to Jesus until their lives are falling apart around them. No wonder Jesus felt bad for people who would never come to Him except under those kind of circumstances.
3. What does Jesus mean by these strange sayings?
a. He contrasts the current expectations of the kingdom with the spiritual reality of His Kingdom. Jesus tells us that God does unexpected things. His words make a mockery of the world’s values. He exalts what the world despises and rejects what the world admires.
i. Too often, we just ask God to bless our agenda instead of giving ourselves over to His agenda. What Jesus speaks about in this message are what should be at the top of our “to do” list.
b. He is turning upside-down (rather, rightside-up) their perception of the Kingdom of God. Many feel that if they are rich, full, and laughing, then they have all they need in life. Jesus points out just how wrong this thinking is.
E. God’s agenda is an agenda of love.
1. (Luke 6:27-30) The way to act towards your enemies.
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”
a. Love your enemies: After telling us to do this, then Jesus tells us exactly how to do it. We love our enemies when we do good, bless, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
i. The love Jesus tells us to have for our enemies is not a warm, fuzzy feeling that we have deep in our hearts. If we wait for that, we will never love them. The love we are to have for our enemies is a love that does something for them, quite apart from how we might feel about them.
ii. You can look for loopholes here as long as you like, but you won’t find them. We are commanded to love our enemies.
b. Bless those who curse you: This means to love others - our enemies - by the way we talk about them.
c. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also: Jesus then tells us how to deal with people who mistreat, coerce, and manipulate us. We should take command of the situation by sacrificial giving and love.
i. When Jesus speaks about turning the other cheek, He isn’t talking about being passive in the face of a physical assault. He means we should not defend our self in the face of a grievous insult. Culturally, the slap on the cheek was more an attack on honor than a physical assault.
ii. Jesus isn’t prohibiting defense, but retaliation. When we truly love our enemies, it will drive them crazy.
d. From him who takes away your goods do not ask them back: We can only practice this kind of sacrificial love when we know that God will take care of us. We know that if we give away our tunic, God has plenty more of them to give us.
i. If we really lived this, wouldn’t people walk all over us? Where would the limit be? The limit is easy to find: the limit of love. When fulfilling a person’s request isn’t loving towards them, then I shouldn’t do it. Giving a person everything they ask for isn’t necessarily love.
ii. But it is all too rare that we come to the limit of love. Usually, we allow our own pride, or lack of comfort, or unwillingness to sacrifice to be our limit.
2. (Luke 6:31-35) The attitude to have towards your enemies: treat them the way you would want to be treated.
“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”
a. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise: Many of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day bitterly resented their political enemies, the Romans, and looked for the day when the Kingdom would come and destroy them, thus fulfilling their hate. But Jesus says that in His Kingdom, you love your enemies and do good for them. The best victory over an enemy is to make him a friend.
b. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil: This ethic is founded in the character of God. This is how He treats us.
F. God’s agenda is an agenda of mercy.
1. (Luke 6:36-38) The principles to follow.
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
a. Judge not, and you shall not be judged: Despite the way this passage is quoted by many of those who are not Christians (who seem to have memorized it faithfully), and even by many Christians, Jesus is not calling to a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching.
i. Note what Jesus says in Luke 6:43-45 in this same message. There, Jesus calls us to know people by their fruits, and some sort of assessment is necessary for that.
ii. The Christian is called to unconditional love, but he is not called to unconditional approval. We really can love people who do things we do not approve of.
b. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: Instead, Jesus is speaks against being judgmental, that is, judging motives and the inner man, which only God can know. Jesus calls us to have the same kind of mercy God has towards us.
i. We can judge the fruit of others, but we can rarely judge their motives with accuracy.
c. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you: In addition, Jesus does not prohibit judgment of others. He only requires that our judgment be completely fair, and that we only judge others by a standard we would also like to be judged by.
i. Most of our judgment in regard to others is wrong, not because we are judging according to a standard, but because we are being hypocritical in the application of that standard. We ignore it in our own lives.
2. (Luke 6:39-42) Illustrations centered around the idea of seeing.
And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
a. Can the blind lead the blind? We shouldn’t look to other blind men to lead us. We can go no further than they themselves have. Instead, we should make Jesus our leader, our teacher, who sees and knows all things.
b. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? The figures of a speck and a plank are real figures used humorously. Jesus shows that we are generally far more tolerant to our own sin than we are to the sin of others. We need to show to others the mercy God shows to us.
c. You yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye: Our hypocrisy in these matters is always more evident to others than to ourselves. We somehow find a way to ignore the plank in our own eye, but others notice it immediately.
i. A good example of this kind of hypocrisy was David’s reaction to Nathan’s story about a man who unjustly stole and killed another man’s lamb. David quickly condemned the man, but was blind to his own sin, which was far greater.
d. It is a good thing to help your brother with his speck, but not before dealing with the plank in your own eye.
3. (Luke 6:43-45) We can only follow Jesus this way if we have been radically changed by Him. If Jesus has touched us, it will show in our lives.
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
a. A good tree does not bear bad fruit: To live this way, to produce this fruit with your life, you must be good at the root, at the heart. The kind of love and mercy Jesus talks about is only possible if we are bearing fruit for God.
b. Every tree is known by its own fruit: This fruit is the inevitable result of who we are; eventually (though it may take a time for the harvest to come) the good or bad fruit is evident, revealing what sort of “tree” we are.
c. Jesus wants to perform a radical change on heart in us. We need the transforming work of God to do it in our lives from the inside out.
4. (Luke 6:46-49) Concluding exhortation: doing what Jesus commanded is our foundation.
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”
a. But why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do the things which I say? Outward conformity is not enough. You must be a doer of the word, not only a hearer. Calling Jesus “Lord” is an empty statement if it never makes a difference in your life.
b. He is like a man building a house: In Jesus’ illustration, both houses looked the same from the outside; but they were far different because of their foundation.
c. And when the flood arose: The flooding stream is a display of trials or judgment. We should be thankful for the flooding streams in our lives now, because it is better for us to find out now what kind of foundation our lives are on than at judgment before God.
d. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation: A mere hearing of God’s word isn’t enough to provide a secure foundation. It is necessary that we are also doers of His word. If we are not, we commit the sin that will surely find us out, the sin of doing nothing (Numbers 32:23), and great will be our fall.
i. Love and mercy are things we have to live as Christians, not just hear and talk about. We need to realize that if we do not want to live lives of love and mercy, we don’t want to follow Jesus and we don’t want His agenda.
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