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The Parabolic Sayings

Physician heal Thyself, No one sews a new patch on an old garment, No one puts new wine in an old wineskin. A blind man cannot guide a blind man can he? These are what we call the parabolic sayings. I’m sure you’ve heard all these sayings before, but do you know what they mean? There are several short parabolic sayings of Jesus found in Luke 4, 5, 6 and 7 which I believe the meanings of each build on each other and parallel the message and ministry of Jesus.

The proper way to study parables is to examine the setting to see what the context of the saying is, then identify the problem that prompts the parable or parabolic saying. And finally, determine what central truth is being taught.

"Physician Heal Yourself" - Luke 4:23

    The Setting

In Luke 3 Jesus is baptized and in 4:1-13 He goes into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. He then returns to civilization to begin His public ministry. He begins in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town. He asks for the scroll. They give him the scroll, and he reads from it. He reads Isa 61:1-2.

    18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.

      He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,

        And recovery of sight to the blind,

      To set free those who are downtrodden,

    19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. “ (NASB)

There is a whole lot more we could talk about in this passage, such as why Jesus stopped where he did and didn’t even finish the verse. That suggests that the coming of Messiah would be in two phases. But for our purposes, the passage in Isaiah is about the coming of Messiah. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is plainly stating that He is the Messiah!

What is the response of the people? They say, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Which means, “This can’t be the Messiah.” This also reveals that they don’t believe in the miraculous birth.

Notice the center of the chiasm. It is above giving sight to the blind. Where is Jesus? In Israel. What is going to be the major problem Jesus faces in his ministry? It is blindness to the truth. What was the center of the chiasm in Matt 13? They could not and would not see.

It is in this context that he quotes the proverb/parable: “Physician, heal yourself.”

    The Problem

Why isn’t there a better reception of Jesus in Nazareth? Because they couldn’t accept the fact that someone they grew up with was the Messiah.

    The Central Truth

The rejection at Nazareth was a failure to believe in Jesus as more than the son of Joseph. When they say “Physician, Heal Thyself,” they are saying that Jesus is “sick too.” He is no different than the rest of them.

That is the problem today. People do not think that Jesus was anything more than just a good man, a great teacher or something like that. Certainly, they don’t believe that He was God.

They had heard about his healings in Capernaum (vs. 23) and expected him to do the same at home. They are blind to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who can do what Isa 61:1-2 says He will do. But He cannot do that for those who won’t believe. His home town wouldn’t believe.

He goes on to say, “No prophet is accepted in his home town.” Likewise, Jesus was not accepted as the Messiah in his home town. This is in fact further proof that Jesus is a prophet because they are rejecting him. Throughout history prophets were usually rejected.

Why does he go on to discuss Elijah and Elisha? Because Elijah and Elisha were rejected in Israel and ministered to Gentiles outside of Israel. Jesus was better received by Samaritans and Gentiles. This also fits the theme of Luke’s theology of Gentile opportunity for salvation.

The people understood the references to Elijah and Elisha because they were enraged (vs. 28).

After this, Luke records two miracles which illustrate Jesus bringing relief to the downtrodden (remember the quote from Isa). He casts out demons in Luk 4:31-37 which sounds very much like the first part of the quote about freeing captives. Who is more captive than a demon possessed person? He cures disease in Luke 4:38-44 and a person with a disease in that day was certainly downtrodden. They were considered unclean and alienated. He demonstrates very well that He fulfills the Isa 61 passage.

In chapter 5 Luke begins recording three calls by Jesus for disciples.

The Call of Peter

He helps the disciples catch a boatload of fish in 5:1-11.

 

He heals a leper in 5:12-16

 

He heals a paralytic in 5:17-26. These miracles are designed to confirm His authority to the disciples and contrast him with the religious leaders.

   

The Call of Levi

5:27-30 Jesus calls Levi, a tax gatherer, and the Pharisees disapprove of Jesus’ associations.

The Call of the 12

6:12 ff.

But before we get to the third call, some other things happen....

Fasting and the Bridegroom - Luke 5:33

Also in Matt 9:14f, Mark 2:19

    The Setting

In Luke 5:27-32 Jesus was eating with the tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees looked down on this practice because their theology said that God didn’t love sinners, and godly people didn’t associate with sinners.

    The Problem

The Pharisees want to know why Jesus and his disciples are not fasting.

Jesus’ answer: “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” It helps to understand the marriage customs of that day. After the wedding, there was a week long marriage feast. As long as the bridegroom was there, there was much celebrating. That was not a time for mourning. This is Kingdom imagery. The one who is bringing in the kingdom, the Messiah, is here!

Pentecost sees an allusion to the day of atonement. If he is correct, then the significance is that this gives us an indication of what a proper motivation for fasting is--mourning. There was only one time in Israel’s calendar of events that they were required to fast--the day of atonement. You were supposed to fast and beat your chest in mourning over your sinfulness. All other fasts were instigated by culture or personal choice. Therefore, to demand that someone fast, other than on the day of atonement, was ritualistic legalism. And Jesus goes after that throughout his ministry. When the Messiah/bridegroom shows up, that is not a time to fast.

If the Day of Atonement imagery is not what is being alluded to, another possible connection is Zech 7-8. esp. 8:19 The Jews were fasting for themselves and not for God in Zechariah’s time and Zech predicts that all fasts would be turned into feasts. The feast imagery is imagery of the kingdom and that is what Jesus is proclaiming - the presence of the kingdom.

    The Central Truth

There is no need for fasting when Messiah is present. He would deal with the issue that was the reason for the day of atonement and for fasting. Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah who eliminates the need to fast.

Jesus goes on to say that there will come a time when the bridegroom will be taken away, then they will fast in those days. The word “taken away” is term of violence and foreshadows His rejection and death.

When Jesus was crucified, the disciples went away beating their breasts... that is a picture of the day of atonement. When every eye sees Him, there will be mourning in Israel (Zech 12:, Olivet Discourse).

SUMMARY: The first parabolic saying revealed that the people needed to recognize that Jesus was more than the Son of Joseph. He was the fulfillment of Isa 61. When Jesus claims to be the bridegroom, it is also a major claim to Messiahship.

The New Patch on an Old Garment - Luke 5:36-39

Also in Matt 9:16f; Mark 2:21

This one will be treated together with the next parable.

The New Wine in Old Wine Skins - Luke 5:37

Also in Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22

    The Setting

The setting is the same as above: There is the question about fasting, the presence of the Bridegroom and the Pharisees are clinging to their old rules and regulations.

    The Problem

What are the old garment and the new garment symbolizing? What are the new wine and the old wine skins symbolizing? The old garment and old wineskin are Judaism. The new garment and new wine are Christianity.

The problem was that the Pharisees liked the old system. They were at the top and didn’t want it to change. They had the power, prestige, praise, etc. It sort of reminds me of our government. Everyone in America knows things are getting worse and worse with government getting bigger and bigger. But those at the top don’t want to change it. They are getting rich off of the system.

The Pharisees had written the Talmud and the Mishnah which were huge books filled with rules and their own interpretations of the scriptures. They gave more emphasis to their writings than the Word of God.

Why isn’t it possible to make repairs on the old system of Judaism? Time and again, Israel was disciplined and brought back to the land and given another chance. But not this time.

    The Central Truth

Christianity is not a patch for Judaism. It is the replacement of Pharisaic Judaism because Pharisaic Judaism cannot contain Christianity. In what way? There was no place for Gentiles, Samaritans, blind, sick, lame, etc in Pharisaic Judaism. The law was no match for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I say Pharisaic Judaism because Christ was the fulfillment of Judaism, but it had been twisted into something evil.

This is not teaching a permanent replacement of Israel by the church as the Reformed theologians teach. Remember that the parables say something about a subject but not everything about the subject. We have to look elsewhere to see what the future holds for the Jews.

Application: Jesus did not come into my life to patch up the old man and just give me a new lifestyle. He came to give me a whole new life. He came to give me a new way to approach God.

The first two sayings proclaimed that Messiah is here. The next two sayings reveal what Messiah will do. He will do away with the old system and replace it with something new, something better. The old system cannot contain it.

The Blind Leading the Blind - Luke 6:39

    The Setting

After his discussion about Pharisaical Judaism being replaced by Christianity, Jesus demonstrates that the old system is over by picking grain on the Sabbath (Luk 6:1-5) and by healing on the Sabbath (Luk 6:6-11). He then gives the sermon on the mount (In Luke I believe the plain is a level place on the mountain) in which he teaches the ethic of love by contrasting the correct practice of love (i.e. the law) with those who do not love (i.e. the Pharisees). His teaching is rejection of the pharisaical legalistic system that Judaism had degenerated into and a rejection of the Pharisees themselves

We are also contextually in the midst of the third call of the disciples mentioned earlier. After calling the disciples in 12-19, he teaches the disciples how to love and to lead in verses 20-38. Then he gives another parabolic saying in 39-40.

    The Problem

What is the danger of following the leadership and ritualism of the Pharisees?

If the disciples remain “blind,” they will not be able to lead either.

    The Central Truth

The religious leaders had so perverted the law and Judaism that they couldn’t even recognize the fulfillment of the law and Judaism when He came. The Pharisees thought that the mere study of the law would lead to eternal life. But studying the law was the means to the end - knowing Jesus. The danger is this: if they don’t know what God is doing, where are they going to lead you? If you follow them, you will follow them to destruction.

A Pupil is not above his Master - Luke 6:40

Also in Matt 10:24

    The Setting

Same as above in Luke - the rejection of Pharisaic Judaism and the call to discipleship and leadership. In Matthew it is also in the context of a call to discipleship.

    The Problem

There are several problems or questions here: How do the disciples develop as good teachers and leaders? What will happen if they don’t? What is the problem of following the Pharisees?

    The Central Truth

A disciple cannot advance past his teacher.

Incidentally: There is a danger in just following one teacher - like Bill Gothard, Bob Theme, Larry Crabb, etc. There is a trend in Christianity today to make one guy into a guru and major in him. We need to move around and sit under several teachers so we can take what is good from all of them and hopefully discard what is not so good.

Jesus is calling the disciples to leadership positions in the new kingdom and if they don’t mature, their pupils will not mature either. Therefore, they need to develop as teachers and leaders.

How do they do this? I think there are two parts:

  • First is self-evaluation. (6:41-42)
  • Second is by doing what the Word says. (6:43f)

Verses 41-42 show the self-examination. They need to evaluate their own lives and see the evil in themselves. If we don’t see the evil in ourselves we will not feel the need to do what the Bible says. James talks about the natural man who looks in the mirror (and doesn’t see any problems) and then goes on his way and does not “do” what the Word of God says.

Indirectly, we can apply this to the Pharisees who did not see their evil. They were self-righteous and saw no need for repentance.

The second part is by doing what the word says. Our James passage is still relevant to this point because that is one of James’ main points. Jesus will deal more with this with the parabolic saying about the two builders, so we will come back to that later.

How do you know who is a good leader? He goes on to tell how in the next few sayings.

Good and Bad Fruit and Trees - Luke 6:43ff

Also in Matt 7:16ff

    The Setting

The call to discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount

Luke 6:41-42 - The problem of judging others and not looking at your own sin.

    The Problem

Whom should you trust? Whom should follow? How can you identify false teachers?

    The Central Truth

A fruitful lifestyle is a verification or validation of the message and messenger. Look at their fruit. Look at their lives. Good ministers are identified by their lifestyle. You can know their teaching is good if they have a lifestyle to back it up. Why can’t you have a bad lifestyle with a good message? If we are sincere, then we will practice what we preach. We will never match the maturity level of the message, but the question is whether or not there is integrity of heart. Is there a sincere desire to have God change me as the teacher in the process or is this message just for the multitudes.

Think about the tele-evangelists of the world. They preach that their congregation is to give until it hurts, but they themselves hoard the donations and live lives of luxury. They build mansions and buy airplanes. Their lifestyles do not match their message.

Wise and Foolish Builders - Luke 6:47ff.

Also in Matt 7:24f

    The Setting

We have just seen that the disciples need to grow themselves because they cannot lead people past where they themselves are. The first thing they needed to do is to evaluate themselves and see their own evil. Now we see the second ingredient.

    The Problem

What is the danger of hearing but not doing?

We often talk about the wise man and the foolish man who built their houses on the rock and sand. Notice that this comes from the Matthew passage. The concept of the wise man and foolish man was from Hebrew wisdom literature. Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience. Luke is writing to a Gentile audience and leaves that out. Matthew mentions building on the sand, Luke just says ground. Jews would know that the non-rocky ground in Israel was sand. Luke’s audience would not have known that.

Same threat to both houses. The difference is in one’s response to the truth - one’s obedience.

    The Central Truth

Who is the audience in the Sermon on the mount? Both believers and unbelievers. The multitudes were around him as well as his disciples. He talks about entering by the narrow gate - which is addressed to unbelievers. He talks about praying to the Father, giving, not judging, says they are the light of the world, etc. These are addressed to believers. In Luke, the focus is on Jesus’ disciples.

There are two applications - one for unbelievers and one for believers.

  • For unbelievers: No obedience or application of the truth indicates unbelief. (in Matt)
  • For believers (for the disciples who are learning about being good leaders): The application of the truth of God’s Word is foundational to a stable lifestyle. (in Luke)

Application: I think that this teaches that just reading through the Bible every year in personal devotions without letting the Bible “read through me” is incomplete.

Experience of problems, trials, etc. does not mean you are unsaved or unspiritual. The same winds blow against both. The issue is your response. Are you going to collapse or withstand it.

Luke 7:1-10 Healing of Centurion’s slave

Luke 7:11-17 The Raising of Widow’s son

Luke 7:18-30 John’s question and ministry

Luke records Jesus’ miracles in 7:1-17 in preparation for John the Baptist’s question in 18-20. Perhaps John is asking: “If you are the Messiah and I’m your forerunner, what am I doing sitting here in jail?” Instead of answering with a yes or no, Jesus points them to the signs which are a fulfillment of old testament prophecy. The answer is “yes,” but Jesus wants them to respond in faith by recognizing the fulfillment of scripture. Jesus quotes sections of Isa 35:5 and 61:1. If you will remember, we started in Isa 61:1, so we are still tracking on the same theme.

Children in the Marketplace - Luke 7:31ff

Also in Matt 11:16ff.

    The Setting

The role of John the Baptist, the response of the outcasts and common people (vs. 29), and the rejection of John by the Pharisees (vs. 30).

    The Problem

Why didn’t Israel respond to the ministry of John the Baptist and accept Jesus as Messiah?

    The Central Truth

The Jews were unwilling to repent over John’s message or rejoice over Christ and accept Him as Messiah. They did not fear the judgment proclaimed by John, nor accept the gracious invitation of Jesus. John came playing the funeral dirge and Jesus came to throw a party. John was thumping his Bible and Jesus was saying “let’s go to lunch.” John preached judgment and Jesus proclaimed Joy. The religious leaders responded to neither. They said John was crazy and Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard. They rejected both of God’s approaches.

The question is why were they unwilling. The next parabolic saying shows us that.

The Two Debtors - Luke 7:41ff

    The Setting

The acceptance of Jesus by the sinners and the rejection by the religious leaders. The anointing of Jesus by the sinful woman. The pharisaical self-righteousness of Simon.

The parable is followed by a record of women with questionable background who followed Jesus. (A woman who had been demon possessed. A woman who was the wife of Herod’s finance minister and a woman named Susanna. I don’t know who she was. We can just call her “O Suzanna.”) These women are contributing to Jesus’ ministry out of their own personal financial means.

Cultural setting: Jesus and Simon were eating in the center of the courtyard. There were benches around the outside of the courtyard where others could sit and watch and perhaps talk to those eating, but not participate in the meal. This allows for the woman to be a part of audience and come into the center of the courtyard. This was not done.

This woman of the street, is pouring strong smelling perfume on Jesus’ feet and making the place smell like her private chambers where illegitimate things go on. This woman lets her hair down in public. Women did not do that. She was touching a man in public. Women did not do that. She is crying in public. Women did not do that. They hired professional criers to cry for them in public. She is kissing his feet and wiping his feet with her hair.

    The Problem

Simon is about to have a fit. He makes an assumption. The problem with the assumption is that the premise is wrong. He thinks that Jesus is either not a prophet or He is a bad prophet.

Why is Jesus risking ceremonial defilement in allowing the sinner woman to touch Him?

Jesus tells a parable to answer the unasked question:

In the parable one man owes the equivalent of $50,000 to a man who makes about $30,000 per year and the other owes $5,000. Both are unable to repay. Both are graciously forgiven. Which will love Him more? Simon judged correctly.

Simon did not provide for the customary foot washing that culture demanded. He didn’t do it. He didn’t have a servant do it. He didn’t even provide water for Jesus to do it. Simon didn’t greet Jesus with the customary cheek to cheek kiss. Simon did not put oil on Jesus’ head. (equivalent of taking someone to the guest bathroom to get cleaned up). The woman on the other hand did all this and more.

Verse 47 should be translated “Because she was forgiven, as a result, she loved much.” We know this because the next phrase says, “he who is forgiven little; loves little.”

Who is this that forgives sin? This goes unanswered, but it is obvious.

How do you get forgiveness? Verse 50 says “your faith has saved you.” Because she was forgiven, she could go in peace. She didn’t have the awful debt hanging over her head.

    The Central Truth

Love is the evidence of forgiveness which can only be received by faith in Christ. Those who recognize that they have been forgiven much, respond with worship to God and love to others. Those who don’t recognize their need for forgiveness are self-righteous.

Simon had a faulty concept of who Jesus was and what he shooed do. This reveals the basic problem of the religious leaders.

Simon would have recognized that he was the one who owed 50 denarii. The woman would have recognized that she was the one who owed 500 denarii. Who would Jesus have said owed 500 denarii? He would have agreed with Simon. The woman was the bigger sinner. But Simon was a sinner too. He had a debt he could not repay. He showed no love which raised the question of whether or not there was forgiveness of even the smaller debt.

Our tendency is to jump to the question - “How much love should be shown?” But that is not a proper question to ask. If we ask the question, we have missed the point of the parable.

We must be careful not to reverse the process and say that our love results in forgiveness.

Illustration: Some of you were raised in a Christian home. You never got into any serious trouble, never got arrested, never did drugs, never got drunk. Some of you, on the other hand, might have been more rebellious and been in trouble with the law, done drugs.

Analogy: The worst thing some of you ever did might have been to shoot a BB gun and break a window. Others of you threw bricks through the window. The question is this? How much do the windows cost? They cost the same. They both needed to be replaced.

Simon’s problem was that he thought she was a worse sinner than he was and that his sin was not as serious. But his sin was just as serious.

I talked with someone in our care group the other night who was raised in a mainstream denominational church. He was a youth leader and very active in the church. He said that he always assumed that he was right with God because he felt that he was better than those who didn’t go to church. He didn’t even know what it took to get right with God. He was just playing the comparison game. That is the same mentality that Simon had. Is that the same mentality that you have?

The more I understand how much I’ve been forgiven, the more I will appreciate my forgiveness and the more I will love God and others.

Jesus loves to take the rowdy and the religious to destroy two satanically designed thoughts. One is that there is a level of sinfulness that God cannot accept. It is the attitude that I’m too bad to be saved or loved by God. The other extreme is the idea that there is a level of merit in man for which there is no need for salvation. Or there is a way to merit God’s love.

If you have the idea that the flat tire you had was because you skipped your quiet time two days in a row, then you fall into this second category.

If you remember, Jesus healed the Centurion’s slave in 7:1-10 and raised the widow’s son in 7:11-17. Those were two people who recognized their need. Here we have a Pharisee who does not recognize his need and so Jesus can’t “heal” him.

THE MACRO STRUCTURE OF THE PARABOLIC SAYINGS

The Parables

Their Meaning

Physician Heal Thyself

Fasting and the Bridegroom

They raise the issue of the identity of the Messiah. He is here!

New Patch on Old Garment

New Wine in Old Wineskin

They show the rejection of Judaism as a workable system. The Kingdom is here!

Blind Leading the Blind

A Pupil is not above his Teacher

The problem was insufficient leadership

A Challenge to the new leadership

Good and Bad Fruit and Trees

Wise and Foolish Builders

The reality of righteousness will show up in the character or obedience of the person.

Children in the Marketplace

The Two Debtors

These contrast Pharisaical self-righteousness with genuine repentant faith.

APPLICATIONS

  • Recognize that Jesus is the Messiah
  • Don’t be tied to the old legalistic system. We have a new way of life based on forgiveness and grace.
  • Choose whom you will follow carefully by examining their fruit.
  • Examine yourself more diligently and grow so you can lead others.
  • Be a doer of the word (build your house on the rock) not just a hearer.
  • Beware of self-righteousness and the attitude that “I’m not so bad.” Recognize your forgiveness.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)