Chapter 11 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

11:1-13 Prayer

Matthew's Gospel locates the Lords' Prayer in the context of Jesus's warnings about hypocrisy in giving to those in need, prayer to impress others, heaping up words to catch God's attention, and the practice of fasting (Matthew 6:1-18). As given to us in Luke's account, the prayer is set in the context of a little child talking to his father (11:11-12), and it makes clear that the greatest gift we can ask for is the gift of the Holy Spirit (11:13).

No doubt the prayer was taught on many occasions in various contexts, but Luke places it in response to a request by the disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." It was not a prayer to be recited mechanically, and evidently Jesus changed the petitions as needed for the occasion. In Luke's version the address is simply "Father" instead of "Our Father in heaven," and he omits the words "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10b). The ending found in the King James version "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen" (Matthew 6:13), as used in our common church service versions of the Lord's Prayer, is not part of the earliest manuscripts, and not commented on by the early Fathers.

11:1 We have noted the fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus enrolled disciples by baptism (see 3:7, 5:33, 6:13, John 4:1), and then taught them. Luke has already given us some of John's practical ethical teaching (3:10-14), and he spoke of the work of the Messiah who would follow him (3:16). But Luke did not tell us what John the Baptist taught his disciples about prayer. We might guess he probably taught them to pray the Psalms.

11:2 In Luke's version of the Lord's prayer the address "Father" is as brief as a little child calling out "Daddy" or "Mum" (the Aramaic word is "abba" as used by Jesus in Mark 14:36, and Paul explains the confidence to pray in this way is given to us by the Spirit, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6). No flowery words are needed to come into the Father's presence. Similarly many of the Psalms were addressed to the Son of God as "O Lord" (In Hebrew this is just one word "Yahweh" 3:1, 6:1, 8:1, 15:1. This was the third person meaning "He is" of the name "I am" given in Exodus 3:13-15) . The Psalmist felt free to go straight into a complaint "Why, Yahweh, do you stand far off?" (Psalm 10:1) or an expression of love "I love you, Yahweh" (Psalm 18:1) or a cry for justice "Vindicate me, O Lord" (Psalm 26:1). The difference here is that the Son of God, known in the Psalms, now tells us we can address his Father in the same way. And that name is now to be hallowed (made holy or set apart) in prayer among Jesus disciples. Though Jesus is appointed to reign in the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom is ultimately the Father's (as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

11:3 The Greek word epiousios could mean necessary for existence, for the current day, for to day, for the following day. Matthew uses a Greek aorist imperative which must mean "Give us today the food we need" (Matthew 6:11). But Luke uses the present imperative to suggest the continuous "Keep giving us the food we need." And probably Jesus taught both aspects of this prayer. "I am trusting you for the food my family needs right now" and "When I am worried about the future, I am trusting that you will provide what is needed when the time comes."

11:4 Matthew's version has "forgive us our debts" which was a rabbinic expression for the forgiveness of sins. We should not imagine God keeps an account of our sins. Luke uses the ordinary word for sin (as in 1:77, 3:3, 5:20-24, 7:47-49, see 1 John 1:7-2:1, 3:4-8). The prayer suggests that we will never have assurance of our forgiveness if we cannot forgive others. And the need to forgive when we have been forgiven is pictured in the story of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23-35). God does not send us to eternal damnation for our refusal to forgive, but the refusal to forgive has serious consequences in this life: "His lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt" (Matthew 18:34). In Luke the last petition is literally (as in Matthew 6:13) "and don't lead us into temptation." Matthew's version adds "but rescue us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). James wrote "whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy" and "No one, when tempted, should say 'I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.' But one is tempted by one's own desire" (James 1:2, 13-14). Perhaps we should paraphrase "Keep us from situations which would expose us to satanic temptations."

11:5-8 This parable works by imagining an opposite to God's way of responding to our prayer (e.g. the steward who is dismissed, 16:1-9). God does not sleep at midnight, nor is he unwilling to get up and help a friend. He does not need to be shamed into meeting our needs (as in the parable of the importunate widow, 18:1-8). We should not use this as an argument for pestering God in prayer (e.g. constantly turning the Buddhist prayer wheel). Rather faith brings the exact need to God and then watches with thanksgiving to see how God lovingly answers the prayer. This may take far longer than we imagine. But meanwhile Paul says "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6, see Colossians 4:2).

11:9-10 In the Greek there are three present imperatives which could be translated "in God's family home make it a habit of asking, don't be afraid to look for what you need, and knock whenever you want admittance." And Jesus gives us the assurance that our asking, seeking and knocking will never be in vain.

11:11-12 As in the parables of the friend at midnight (see the comment on 11:5-8) and the persistent widow (18:1-8) the illustrations work by imagining (in this case unthinkable) alternatives. How could a loving father give his child a snake instead of a fish , or a scorpion instead of an egg for breakfast? Although these alternatives are unthinkable unbelief harbors the suspicion that God might do this to us.

11:13 But in the case of our loving Father God, the very best he can give us for every situation we may face is the Holy Spirit who can give us all the wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8, James 1:5), and strength (Romans 1:4, 16), and inspiration, and fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that we can possibly imagine, and then raise us from death to the immediate joys of heaven (Romans 8:11). It was by total reliance on the gift of the Spirit that Jesus lived his life (see comment on 4:14).

11:14-26 The Holy Spirit as the Finger of God

11:14-16 Whenever the Holy Spirit does his miraculous healing work there are two common reactions by those who want to find fault. One is to suggest that it is not God the Holy Spirit at work. The name Beelzebul (Beelzebub) was derived from a Philistine god named Baalzebub (meaning lord of the flies, 2 Kings 1:3, 6), and it was used to describe the evil ruler of all demonic spirits. The other objection is to ask for a proof or sign from heaven to authenticate this as a work of the Holy Spirit. But since all that the Spirit does (such as healing and delivering people, giving wisdom and love) is good and true and beautiful (see Philippians 4:8) there can be no greater sign that he is at work.

11:17-18 Jesus' logic is based on the essential nature of Satan's kingdom of evil, as opposed to the Kingdom of God. Satan's aim is to confuse, create guilt, discourage, and enslave any who are willing to come under his power. Joy, and love, healing and freedom is therefore the very opposite of what he has in mind. If he was the source of any of the good fruits of the Spirit, his kingdom would immediately be disintegrated by civil war.

11:19 There were exorcists among the Jewish people who helped people find freedom from satanic oppression, and the religious leaders did not accuse them of being in league with the devil.

Why should Jesus' power to heal be viewed as demonic?

11:20 The finger of God (hand of God) is a metaphor meaning the intervention of God to change the normal course of events. The magicians of Egypt recognized what God was doing as the"finger of God" (Exodus 8:19), and Moses described the "two tablets of stone written with the finger of God" (Deuteronomy 9:10). So the work of the Spirit in Jesus' day, and in our day, is direct evidence of God's Kingdom at work.

11:21-22 Here Satan power is metaphorically described as the power to protect his castle, but Jesus explains the Holy Spirit has the far greater power needed to despoil him, and free those who have been taken captive (as in 2 Timothy 2:26) and kept in his dark dungeons of misery.

11:23 That means that anyone who supports the work of Satan, and fails to rejoice in the gracious work and fruit of the Spirit, is an enemy of the Messiah's kingdom.

11:24-26 But it is important for anyone who is delivered from an evil spirit to be filled by the Holy Spirit. A mind that is vacant and swept clean gives an open invitation to "seven other spirits" to come in and occupy it with terrible results. Those like Judas who engage in a ministry of the Spirit, and then turn to another agenda, are an easy prey for the forces of evil. There is no such thing as freedom from religion. In our day we see intelligent people, who imagine they are agnostic and free, getting entangled in every kind of dark forms of religion.

11:27­35 The Importance of Hearing and Doing the Word of God

The parable of the house with its foundation on the rock (6:47-49, Matthew 7:24-27) has already highlighted the importance of living by the very Word of God (see the Great Commission, Matthew 28:20). Having spoken of the power of the Spirit in the previous section, Jesus reminds us that an emphasis on spectacular manifestations, without being anchored in Jesus words can result in terrible confusion. Again and again spiritually minded people have made shipwreck when their leaders are not open to constant correction by the wise balance of the Word of God.

11:27-28 This woman was so impressed by what Jesus was doing that she shouted out he must have a wonderful mother. Mary was indeed a wonderful woman of faith (see comment on 1:26-30). But spiritual change in our lives is by hearing and obeying the Word of God (6:46-49, Matthew 7:24, 28:20). But this is in no sense a Pharisaic type of legalism. Obeying his word is accepting our forgiveness, looking to the power of the Spirit, and in every situation treating others as we would want to be treated. Mary's blessedness was that she believed and acted on the Word of God (Luke 1:45)

11:29-30 We noted the demand for a sign from heaven (11:16 ) and Jesus' response that the work of the Holy Spirit was sufficient evidence of God's kingdom (11:20). But now Jesus adds that a decisive sign will be given in the future when he rises from the dead. This will be even more astonishing than Jonah being spewed out safely on dry land three days after being swallowed by a sea monster (Jonah 1:17, 2:10). That was what convinced the people of Nineveh. Jesus has already spoken of his death and resurrection (9:22) and he will repeat this on the way to Jerusalem (18:33 - there were three of these predictions as in Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34).

11:31 Solomon was given great wisdom by the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 4:29, 2 Chronicles 1:10-11) and the Queen of Sheba made a thousand mile journey to hear him. She recognized how great this wisdom was, and that it could only come from God (1 Kings 10:7-9, 2 Chronicles 9:6-8). The wisdom given to Jesus by the Holy Spirit was far greater, and he had come right in among them, but some still did not recognize the source of his wisdom. Solomon is an example of one who was given great wisdom by the Holy Spirit, but (perhaps by pride) came to trust in his own wisdom and as a result fell into promiscuity and superstition (1 Kings 11:1-4). In our day this is a common sad story of many who have had a powerful ministry of the Spirit, and ended up in immorality and unbelief.

11:32 The people of the great heathen city Nineveh turned to God when they heard God's prophet Jonah (Jonah 3:3-5). So their faith is a condemnation of those who refuse to believe the Messiah, who is infinitely more than a prophet (7:28).

11:33 The psalm writer said the Word of God is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). As he continues his comments on the importance of the Word of God, Jesus warns of the danger of putting that Word where it cannot illuminate us (in our day we think of a Bible hidden under a pile of old books).

11:34-35 In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:21-23) the eye is the way we look at our possessions. But here Jesus used the same metaphor to refer to the way we hear the Word of God (11:28, 33). The teachers of the Bible (scribes) who were the theologians of Jesus' day read the torah to find burdensome rules to lay upon people. In our generation we have hundreds of critics who spend their time teaching how the Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions. Others look for stories to prove that God is an evil god, or non-existent. If the Bible is the Word of God we should at least take God seriously, and let the Holy Spirit show us how to interpret it.

11:36 It is those who allow the Holy Spirit to fill their mind and body who find the paradoxes of the Bible full of astonishing illumination.

11:37-53 The Problem with Pharisaism

Having stressed the importance of the Holy Spirit under the control of the Word of God, Luke collects in one section some of Jesus' teaching about Pharisaism. As soon as we begin to take the Word of God seriously, we are easily drawn into one of two deviations. "Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," which Jesus defined as "the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6,12). Sadduceism, which is still the religion of influential parts of the Christian church, could be called "salvation by political action." Rather than faith in God, the power of the Spirit, and the hope of the resurrection, organized religion and worship is designed to use the Word of God to achieve practical goals for the good of humanity. In the case of the Sadducees of Jesus' day this meant getting the best deal possible from the Roman occupation. The High priest of the temple and most of his assistant priests were involved in what Jesus called "the yeast of Herod," the political maneuvering of the half Jewish sons of Herod (Mark 8:15). And the insertion of a small amount of that kind of yeast would soon change the Word of God into practical atheism.

Pharisaism takes us into the opposite danger. Pharisees took the Word of God very seriously, but they mined it to make rules for every aspect of life (in Jesus' day the Pharisee rabbis had deduced a huge burdensome list of 613 commands to be obeyed). Their religion was "salvation by legalism" or "salvation by obeying rules." That quickly resulted in fierce opposition to the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus taught. In our day we can see how again and again genuine movements of the Holy Spirit are taken over by strong leaders who introduce their rules to bring people under their control. Sadly a large part of Christian books, magazines, and Christian education materials, pander to this Pharisaic desire for rules to obey. A previous generation made rules about Sunday observance, smoking, drinking, dancing, movies, etc. Now there are rules about attending meetings, and what must be done to be a spiritual person. There is nothing wrong with rules for an activity we have freely chosen such as mountain climbing, playing bridge, classical music, or football, but we have no right to demand that discipline of others. The Holy Spirit can lead us into a huge variety of ways of praying, reading the Bible, and investing our love in serving others. But to assume that what is right for me is necessary for all others is the curse of every kind of legalism.

11:37-38 To introduce the topic of Pharisaism Luke again chooses a dinner party (as in 5:29,7:36,10:38-41). Our communion services should speak of the joy of a family meal, but they can also be taken over by Pharisaic legalism. Perhaps based on the washings (Exodus 30:19-21, Leviticus 15:16) prescribed in Old Testament law, the Pharisees had made strict rules for ceremonial washing before every meal (Mark 7:3-4). Presumably Jesus washed his hands when needed, but he did not bother with the elaborate rules.

11:39-41 Sensing their disapproval Jesus explained that it is not the cleaning of the exteriors that counts (as in Matthew 23:25), but the heart of those who share in the meal. The adjective eleos means mercy, compassion, or pity and the verb eleeo means to exercise mercy or pity. So the text is not about almsgiving, but about the loving compassion that should be at the heart of all we do. This is the direct opposite of the "greed and wickedness" (11:39) that characterized Pharisee religion.

11:42 The Pharisees were meticulous about setting aside one tenth (tithe) of their garden herbs to give to God's work (as in Matthew 23:23), but they had forgotten the prophetic emphasis. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). We cannot exercise mercy unless we are first just in our dealings (in contrast to 11:39). "Without neglecting the others" shows that Jesus was not criticizing the habit of tithing. only its misuse as a sel-righteous means of impressing others.

11:43-44 An emphasis on meticulous performance of religious duties soon translates into pandering to pride, giving honor for those who do this, and a despising of ordinary people who do not conform to their standards. And the Pharisee concern for outward religious duties hid the corruption of the human heart. Jesus complained "You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth" (Matthew 23:27).

11:45-46 The lawyers (theologians or experts in Old Testament laws) could be either Pharisee or Sadducee (see 11:37) in their emphasis. This particular lawyer felt that Jesus' description of those who wanted places of honor and respectful greetings, applied to him. Jesus responds to this by pointing out the terrible burdens on ordinary people caused by their legalistic interpretation of the laws (as in Matthew 23:4)

11:47-48 The church has continued the practice of building impressive monuments for reformers who were martyred by our religious leaders. Luke omits the explanation "you say, if we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets" (Matthew 23:30). Jesus point is that the building of impressive tombs to honor martyrs is to pretend that we would have listened to their words.

11:49-51 There is no quotation of this kind in the Old Testament or in other books, so Jesus is referring to God's wisdom in sending prophets and apostles, knowing full well that they will be rejected, as was the Son of God (20:10-12, Matthew 21:34-37, Mark 12:3-8). God's wrath is very patient, but eventually the constant injustice (the blood of the martyrs) is required, as it was in AD 70 (see Matthew 23:32-36). "This generation" is often interpreted as extending two thousand years to our day, but it is quite clear that Jesus was talking about the cup of wrath filling up in the life of his hearers (as in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30). Abel is viewed as the first martyr because he looked to God in faith (offering a right sacrifice) as opposed to Cain who became jealous and killed his brother (Genesis 4:3-8). In the Hebrew order of the books of the Bible Zechariah was the last prophet to be martyred (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).

11:52 As an alternative to "you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 23:13) Luke has "you have taken away the key of knowledge." This confirms the fact that the power of the keys (Matthew 16:19) refers to the apostles opening the doors of the Kingdom (by welcoming all comers). It can also be misused by those who (the lawyers) lock people out by withholding the good news or making the Word of God so difficult no one could obey it. This suggests a total difference of mind and heart.

11:53-54 Luke has described Pharisaic opposition to Jesus message from the beginning of his ministry (5:17,30, 6:2,7,7:39, 11:38, 45). Now the theologians (scribes) have joined in an organized plot to catch Jesus in a situation where he could be finally silenced. This was not as easy as they imagined (see 15:2, 16:14, 19:39, 47-48). And the whole Pharisee (and Sadducee) religious establishment would be decimated and scattered with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (as Jesus predicted in Matthew 23:36-38).

Chapter 12  .....