21. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
There is a difference in Greek texts here. Some read “the Spirit,” and others, “the Spirit the Holy.” Either way, the Lord was rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. He thanks the Father as Lord or absolute Ruler of the heaven and the earth. He thanks Him that He had hidden these things from wise and prudent ones and had unveiled them instead to babes. He knew the Father had done this because it was good in His sight.
It seems that Christ was rejoicing because these simple men understood the truth. He peered into their hearts and saw the understanding and the faith that was there. This was true of these simple ones, relatively like babes, whereas the supposedly wise and prudent people, the educated and powerful rulers, did not know or understand or believe these things. I know in my experience that I have often heard very wise things come from the mouths of little children, and often they are things that many people who think themselves wise don’t know. Sometimes, it seems that it just is good in the Father’s sight that this be so.
22. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
The Lord now ends His aside to the father and speaks to His disciples once again. He testifies that all things have been delivered to Him by His Father. He may have been anticipating, for this definitely occurred after His resurrection and when He ascended back to His place as God. He could also have been speaking more specifically of the things He was about to speak of: His knowledge of the Father.
The Lord testifies that no one knows Who the Son is except the Father. This is something we would do well to keep in mind. Some become very upset if they find that they cannot understand everything there is to know about the Son of God. This is to be expected, for no one truly knows the Son except the Father. We can get some concept of Who and What He is, but we are always left with difficulties. We wonder at times how God can speak to the Son when He is the Son? We wonder how God can command the Son when He is the Son? These things are difficult to answer, but we need to realize that no one really knows the Son except the Father. When we keep this in mind, we will expect there to be some mystery to it. Some want to erase all difficulty and make it all plain and simple by saying that the Son is not truly God at all. Well, if He is not God, then we can understand Him. It is this mysterious relationship that He has with the Father that makes it all so difficult. It is wrong to give up and to conclude that the Lord is not God. He is God, but how exactly this works remains known only to the Father.
Then the Lord goes on to say that no one can know Who the Father is except the Son. If He stopped there, we would be left with the same mystery as in the previous statement. But this time, He goes on to include the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. So we can know the Father, and we know Him through the revelation of His character that we see in the Son. This shows that no one can understand the Father except through Jesus Christ. We cannot become spirits and then understand the God Who is a spirit. We cannot become a part of God somehow, or become gods ourselves, and thus understand the true God. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know God! This is a great truth, and another one that we would do well to keep in mind.
23. Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see;
The Lord now turns and speaks to His disciples and tells them they are blessed. “Blessed” here is the Greek word makarioi, and means “how happy.” A blessed thing indeed was it for their eyes to see the things they saw.
24. “For I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
Certainly prophets like Elijah and kings like David must have longed to see the days of the Messiah on earth, and did not see them. These disciples, to see these things, were happy indeed, though they may not have entirely appreciated that fact. Now, we can equally say that many have looked back upon the events and the things these men saw and wished they could have seen them. We ourselves could envy these disciples and wish we could see the things they saw and hear the things they heard. Yet how blessed we are to have so many of those things recorded for us in the words of Scripture so we too can see them through the eyes of faith!
25. And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now a lawyer stands up and seeks to test the Lord. This man apparently wanted to see if He was really as wise as He was rumored to be. Thus he asked what to him was perhaps the most difficult question to answer: what one must do to inherit eternal life.
Many in our day too think that how one can be assured of eternal life is a question too difficult for any but the most wise to answer. Yet God has revealed in His Word the answer to this question, and now even little children can understand it, like the babes Christ mentioned in verse 21. Yet I believe that there is more in inheriting eternal life than merely being allowed to live forever.
“Eternal life” is a poor translation of the Greek zoen aionion. The English word eternal means that something has no beginning or end, and yet the life yet to come certainly does have a beginning. Those who try to fix this by saying that aion means “age” do not really fix it, for is the life to come only to last for an age and then come to an end? The fact is that aionion does not have to do with duration here.
The basic meaning of the word aion is that which flows. Eonian life to come is a life that flows on an on, true, but also a life that flows with every good thing from the hand of God. The privilege of those who are rewarded in that day will go beyond just having God flow into them, however. Those who are blessed by Him will be allowed to likewise flow into others. When this lawyer asked how he might inherit eonian life, he did not just want to live then, but also to enjoy a place with the most blessed at that time, who will reign with Christ.
This man is described as a lawyer. However, this does not mean what we think of as a lawyer, meaning one who stands up and speaks for others in court. A lawyer like this was one who was an expert in and a teacher of the law.
26. He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
Christ seems to have seldom answered people’s questions outright, usually preferring instead to help them reason out the answer for themselves. In this case He was helping this lawyer to answer his own question using his knowledge of the law, that which he was supposed to be an expert in.
27. So he answered and said, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
The Lord has turned the tables on this man, and the tester is now the tested. He answers with what he thought was the right answer, apparently what he was looking for from the Lord. This is the same answer the Lord gave to the question, “Which is the first commandment of all,” in Mark 12:28-31, so he was correct, and this was a good answer. We will see if he is willing to live by it, however.
28. And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
This man’s answer was correct, and the Lord gives credit where credit is due and commends this man for it. So many things are summed up in this command, even faith itself, for if we truly love God of course we will believe His words! As Christ said, this answer was correct. Yet, unfortunately, no one is able to live up to such a standard. No sinful person is able to love God with all his heart, for there is evil in all our hearts and the evil does not love God but hates Him, and does not love our neighbors but rather wishes to exploit them. Therefore more than this is needed.
29. But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer had meant to test the Lord Jesus, and now found himself being the one tested and his answer approved. Perhaps he still wanted to test the Lord by questioning him further, yet the Lord’s words had also made him uncomfortable. The Lord had told him his answer was right. However, He had not told him that he had done this, or that he now was guaranteed eternal life. The truth was that this man had not done this. Having answered rightly, he now wishes to nullify his own correct answer with arguments meant to make himself look good. Not being justified by the Lord, he now attempts to justify himself. How often we ourselves are guilty of such a thing! Having found a good truth, we attempt to water it down or change it somehow when it makes us feel uncomfortable, or points out our faults and need for the Lord’s grace. Better that we understand that we are lost and hopeless without Him.
30. Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
The Lord answers this man’s question by telling a story. The word “answering” here is not the usual word for answering, but one used only four times in Scripture: Luke 7:43, here, Acts 1:9, and Acts 2:15; so it is a word only used by Luke. It means to take up, and is used for the Lord’s taking up into the clouds in Acts 1:9. It can be used for taking up an arguments or “supposing” something, as it is in Luke 7:43 and Acts 2:15. Here, the Lord takes the man’s argument up and speaks a suppositional story to illustrate for the man who his neighbor is.
The Lord’s story is about a certain traveler. This man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. “Down” is very true here, as the country around Jerusalem was mountainous and the road was very steep, and Jericho was indeed on a lower level than Jerusalem. In our day of car travel we think of “down” as south, but in the days of foot travel “down” had a very different meaning!
There is no typical significance in the fact he was going down to Jericho. Jericho was not a wicked city, but a city of Israel. Jerusalem was not a righteous city, though it will be someday in God’s government. He was probably traveling to Jericho on business. This would have been a common occurrence at that time.
As this man is on his journey trouble comes upon him in the form of robbers. This would have been a common occurrence in that day. As I’ve said earlier, some men were disenfranchised by the Pharisees, and thus had to fend for themselves by any (usually shameful) means possible. Others, hating the Roman government, became rebels, and upon being chased from their homes by the soldiers of Rome, many of these would rob and even kill to support themselves and their cause in exile. Indeed, some viewed acts of robbery and violence as a form of protest against the Roman government that they hated so much. This made travel very difficult and dangerous, and one would seldom travel alone at that time. Large groups afforded some measure of protection. Yet this man seems to have been alone, and he fell among thieves, who robbed him of his clothing, perhaps the only valuable thing he had on him, wounded him, and left, leaving him half dead.
31. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
Now the Lord has a priest enter the story, coming down the road beside which the unfortunately man is lying. The priests in Israel were meant to be the teachers of God’s Word and the revealers of God to the people. Nevertheless, this priest does not show Godly compassion for the man who was in such dire need. Instead, he passes by on the other side of the road. The priests in general did not do much for the common people, though they may have gone out of their way to help the rich and powerful. We can imagine that this priest was fearful lest the robbers were still around, or was in too much of a hurry to stop, or feared lest the man would die and he would become unclean by touching him, or simply didn’t want to get involved. Yet the fact remains that this holy man did nothing to help this poor man in his hour of need.
32. “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.
Now a Levite passes along the road, and he behaves the same way. The Levites were the special tribe that served God by taking care of the temple and the religious life of Israel. They were given privileges by God, and again were meant to represent Him to the common people and to be their teachers. Although Levites were given this position by God, and were generally held in high honor by the people, this man too does not have the love and care to help this injured man.
33. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
We have already run into Samaritans in this book of Luke, and have discussed the fact that the Samaritans, as half-Jews who worshipped God according to their own traditions, were despised by the people of Israel as a whole. A Samaritan was about as far from a Levite or a priest that you could get. Instead of being honored, they were despised. Instead of being representatives of God, they were looked upon as reprobates from God and apostates from His true worship. Yet in Christ’s story this man is the only one who looked upon this poor, unfortunate man and had compassion.
34. “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
The Samaritan acts upon his compassionate feelings, and stops to help the man. He goes to him and bandages his wounds after pouring on oil and wine. These things would both have been considered good medication for wounds. Wine, which contains alcohol, would help to sterilize the wound. Oil was regarded for its healing properties. Then he sets him on his own animal, which means he would have had to walk beside it instead of riding. This must have slowed him down considerably, which means he was willing to inconvenience himself to help this man.
Now when they get to a town, he brings the man to an inn. Having gotten him where others can help, this Samaritan goes on to aid him further. He wasn’t going to just help the man at first and then hand him off to someone else. Instead he took total responsibility for him, caring for him even once he got him to the inn.
35. “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’
The next day, the Samaritan gets ready to depart and to continue on his journey. Even then he does not forget the poor robbed man. He takes two denarii, which would be about two days’ wages for the average laborer at the time, and gave them to the innkeeper, thus providing for the man’s care once he had gone. How many people would care for a stranger, moreover a stranger whom many of his people would have considered their enemy, in such a way? What love for a stranger this man displayed!
36. “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
Having told His story, the Lord now returns the conversation to the question the man had originally asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He asks him which of these three men, the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan, was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?
37. And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Lord has set this whole thing up brilliantly. He once again gives this man the opportunity to answer his own question, which he does. Of course the Samaritan was the one who was a neighbor to the unfortunate man. Yet we must appreciate how it would have galled an Israelite to admit to such a thing! We can perhaps little understand the distain and the hatred that the average Israelite had for the Samaritans. This animosity went as far back as the split between Israel and Judah at the time of Rehoboam and Jereboam in I Kings 12. This hatred was only solidified in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Samaritans oppressed the people of Judah and opposed the rebuilding of both the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The fact that the Samaritans worshipped God at a sacred site of their own rather than at God’s temple just further justified the hatred the Jews had for them. Yet now, the Lord had made the Samaritan the hero of His story. He has set it forth so plainly that the lawyer cannot deny the truth of what He was saying in His story. Yet this lawyer must have had to bite out the words to give the credit to a Samaritan. Yet neither could he deny the truth of what the Lord was saying. It could not be denied that a Samaritan was more likely to help a man in such dire circumstances than was a priest or a Levite.
The lawyer has again answered his own question. The Lord then commands this man to do the same. We have no idea if he listened to the Lord’s words or not, of course. It would have been a big change indeed for a lawyer to start caring for the poor and needy in Israel.
This story is not a parable meant for the dispensation of grace. Yet we can listen to the Lord’s words here, and there is much we can learn of love and sacrifice in the example of this caring Samaritan. We are commanded today to be gracious to one another, even as God in Christ is gracious to us, as Ephesians 4:32 says. This is especially true between believers, though we certainly can be kind and loving to unbelievers as well. A Christ-like love for others is still something that all of us should cultivate, and to seek to offer help to those who are truly in need.
38. Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
Now the Lord goes on His way, ministering in the various places He was planning to travel to. In His journey He comes to a certain village, which from John 11:1 we learn must have been Bethany, a very small town not far from Jerusalem. Here He is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha.
39. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.
This is the first mention we have in Scripture of this family that was so dear to the Lord Jesus. It appears from John 11 that He was good friends with these people, and the short time He spends with them here hardly seems to account for His apparent closeness to them. There was a book published some time ago called the Archko Volume that contains several writings purported to be from the Lord’s time. These articles are supposedly by secular authors telling about events tangential to the things that happen in the New Testament. Most of them are held by scholars to be second century apocryphal, but I find particularly interesting the passage on this family, which suggests that the Lord had been friends with them since before His ministry began. It claims that He had traveled around with Lazarus to many places, and that He had a history with Mary and Martha as well. It even goes so far as to suggest that many thought He would marry one of these sisters, Mary or Martha. While this is probably all second century speculation, almost “historical fiction,” as we would call it today, it is not entirely unlikely that something like this might have been the case. There appears to be some unrecorded history here between the Lord and this special family.
This woman Mary, the sister of Martha, sits at the Lord’s feet and hears His words. This was not the usual place a woman would take. Most women at the time would have been doing what Martha was doing, which was being busy serving the men. They would not have associated so closely with a man, or joined the men to sit at His feet and learn. Mary is acting somewhat contrary to their culture in doing this. Yet she is so interested in listening to the Lord and hearing His word that she ignores these cultural conventions in order to be with the Lord Jesus.
40. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
Martha is distracted with much serving. We know that the Lord had many disciples, and the number of guests that Mary and Martha were entertaining must have been great. Martha, as a hostess and leading citizen of this city, is wrapped up in serving and making sure all these guests are cared for. Yet Mary ignores all this to sit at the Lord’s feet.
Now Martha is not happy with Mary’s choice. She feels that she needs help in all the work she is doing, and her sister is the one who should help her. This is made even worse by the fact that her sister is more or less ignoring cultural customs to take a place that typically belonged only to men. Thus Martha thinks she needs to do something about this, and she comes to the Lord to complain. Martha accuses the Lord (and of course Mary as well) of not caring about the work that needed to be done, and the fact that her sister has left her to do it alone. There might be more than a little sibling rivalry in this statement. Yet what an accusation to make of the Lord! If there ever were anything He is not, it is uncaring. Yet this same charge is often the accusation of those who concentrate on works against those who concentrate on study.
There are many women of Martha’s type, it seems. Such women are so busy working and serving and doing good works that they can’t seem to understand the importance of the study of God’s Word. Although they are dear women, they seem to have no concept of what they are missing out on. I have known many women of this kind, and indeed it seems sometimes that this type is far more common than the Mary type. I recall one girl who was otherwise a serious Christian who told me once that “I haven’t really gotten into the Bible study stuff.” If only they would learn a lesson from Mary and discover that which is truly needed!
Martha concludes that the Lord should tell Mary to help her. She wants Him to put her in her place. However, by doing so, He would more or less be admitting that He was uncaring, even as she claimed He was. Women do sometimes tend to think that men don’t appreciate them and the work they do. Yet Martha made a serious mistake in thinking such a thing of the Lord.
41. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.
Martha’s biting words against the Lord were entirely inappropriate, yet He does not harshly cut her down. Instead, He repeats her name in a gentle rebuke. She is worried and troubled about many things. This is another pitfall for women, it seems.
42. “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Only one thing is truly needful, the Lord tells Martha. She was so focused on all that needed to be done to be a good hostess. Yet what did she need to do to be a good follower of God? This she had not considered. She was worried about cultural customs. Yet what about God’s will? For what God thinks must always trump what culture teaches and demands. Thus the Lord Jesus justifies Mary’s choice and tells Martha that Mary has chosen a good part indeed. There is always work and service to be done, but if we do not take the time to sit at the Lord’s feet and learn from Him we will miss out on the best portion of all!
It is amazing to me that, in spite of the Lord’s words here, many still take Martha’s side today. Mr. Charles Welch made a joke once regarding the English Channel that Marthas built the tunnel and Marys use it to go on holiday. I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Welch really was paying attention to what he was talking about, particularly since he himself is one who spent a good deal more time sitting at the Bible and learning than most. Surely we cannot miss here that the Lord approved of Mary’s conduct and reproved Martha’s. Martha was so busy serving she forgot what was important. Yet those who still value hard work but fail to value a heart to learn the things of God will not see this truth. It was Martha, not Mary, who had her priorities wrong. Yet it is the Marys who are still often misunderstood, and the Marthas who are universally commended. Little does the world value the Bible student. Yet God has a different way of looking at things.
The Lord speaks of that which Mary had chosen. The word “chosen” here is exelexato, from the Greek word eklecto, which means “to elect.” This shows us that people can elect, as well as God. Mary had seen the choice she had to make, and had elected what she thought was better. This was true election.
We cannot deny that the work Martha was trying to do was good. It would have been a good thing for her to serve a meal to all these disciples. As a good hostess, it would be well for her to see to their needs and comfort. Yet Mary shows us that some things are even more important than serving others. There are far too many Marthas in our day, and not nearly enough Marys. Few there are who realize that just to sit down with God’s book and to learn from Him and His Word is a better portion even than service. It is not that we do not take the opportunity to serve when it comes along. Yet service to others is not our ultimate goal, but rather service to God. Just sitting down with the Bible and studying it may not appear to be a great and lasting thing in the eyes of the world, but such will always be commendable in the eyes of God. Let us never be guilty of glorifying the Marthas and ignoring the Marys. It is Mary’s attitude that the Lord wants us to emulate. Let us all learn to quietly sit at His feet with Mary and learn from Him. Then we, too, will have chosen the better portion.