(A) Introduction. Read: Luke14v1to14

It is amazing that Jesus accepted an invitation to a meal at a very important Pharisee's house who was possibly a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus knew that during the meal he would be put to the test and that he would in all probability upset the other guests who were nearly all Pharisees or experts in the Law. The atmosphere would hardly be conducive to a jolly meal.

Jesus attended the function because he was as concerned for Pharisees as he was Publicans and sinners. He never turned down an opportunity to get his message across. But in so doing Jesus showed great courage because whatever the company he never pulled his punches.

(B) A truth reinforced.

It seems unlikely that the man with dropsy was present to lure Jesus into an indiscretion - although it is a possibility. By now the Pharisees must have known Jesus' views on the Sabbath. He had clashed several times with them on the subject. Luke deals in the previous chapter with reaction to Jesus healing the crippled woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Perhaps the man suffering from dropsy was waiting in the courtyard of the Pharisees house in the hope of being healed. The sick man certainly wasn't a guest because after being healed Jesus sent him away. v4.

After healing the invalid Jesus took the opportunity to reinforce his teaching against legalism. He did so for three reasons:

(1) The lesson still had not been learned by the Pharisees.

As Jesus came into the courtyard of the Pharisee who had invited him to lunch there was a certain tension. The other guests saw the man with dropsy waiting there. They must have been on edge wondering if Jesus would throw down the gauntlet and heal the man in spite of their disapproval. Luke records: He was being watched. v1. The Pharisees were by no means reconciled to Jesus views on the Sabbath.

Any teacher worth his salt will repeat important lessons that have not been taken in and acted upon by his pupils. I used to repeat myself ad nauseam about the necessity to revise for tests and thereby consolidate work covered. Jesus adopted the same strategy with those slow to learn.

(2) Legalism needed to be shown for the evil that it was.

Legalism is an attitude of mind that insists on compliance with numerous rules and regulations. The rules become all important and the reason for them is lost sight of, namely, that they exist for the well being of people. Jesus recognised this when he said on one occasion: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Legalism is bad because it:

    (a) Creates difficulties where none need exist. Jesus said of the Pharisees: "They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." Mt23v4.

    This is certainly the case in Britain. A plethora of regulations has been generated by the Health and Safety Executive. So any teacher organising a trip outside school - even if it is only a walk into the village to visit the local church - has to do a Health and Safety Assessment. The necessity to complete a lengthy questionnaire before each trip discourages many teachers from taking pupils out of the classroom. Bureaucratic red tape causes hours and hours of unproductive work for farmers, industrialists and the front line service providers like the police.

    (b) Causes unnecessary hardship. Jesus asked the question: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" v3. The Pharisees would much rather a person suffered through the Sabbath and waited to be healed on Sunday. Their hard line attitude to what was impermissible on the Sabbath created considerable hardship for ordinary people.

    I live in a country where a council worker stopped a man from taking photographs on a beach, parents cannot photograph their children in the school pantomime, teachers are advised not to put a plaster on a child's knee without parental permission, two policewomen working shifts were told they were breaking the law by looking after each other's children, the cost of public liability insurance puts an end to fun events like pan cake races. The list is endless. Our society is seriously legalistic and seriously sick.

    (c) Produces a self-righteous elite. The Pharisees considered they were special because they knew the rules and kept them. Wherever a society is rule ridden you get self-righteous elites that look down on those not as particular as themselves. Pharisees enjoy showing of their knowledge and putting others right!

    Cricket is a game with rather too many rules. In a recent match the opposition umpire shouted, 'No ball,' because our wicketkeeper had his gloves in front of the wicket. Unfortunately the ball concerned bowled the batsman. This led to an incident!! It could have been avoided if the umpire had warned the wicketkeeper that he was breaking the law. Instead the umpire was legalistic. He wanted to show off his knowledge and confound all those in ignorance of the rule.

    Child protection has spawned innumerable regulations. Adult cricketers are not supposed to get changed in the same room at the same time as youngsters under the age of sixteen. People like myself who protest get told piously, "If it saves one child from sexual molestation it is worth it." The same argument could be used to support the abolition of the motor car. Many, many young lives would be saved if their were no motorcars. Why do we keep the motorcar - only because it is convenient!

    (d) Results in hypocrisy and inconsistency. Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes: "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" And they had nothing to say. v5and6.

    The Pharisees were inconsistent. They would rescue their sons and oxen from a cistern on the Sabbath but deny healing to a chronically ill man who was unrelated to them. This is sheer hypocrisy.

    Where ever legalism exists - in society or in the church - there is much inconsistency. In the past there were chapel folk in my village who were very critical of anyone working in their garden on a Sunday. They said, "Why don't he cut his lawn on one of the other days of the week." Yet when these self-same people managed to afford a car they thought nothing of driving off on holiday on a Sunday.

    I have known Christians who have wanted to drum believers out of the church for getting divorced. But when it happens to their son or daughter they quickly change their tune and talk about being understanding and compassionate.

(3) Legalism would persist as an ever present problem in the church.

From the very start of the church down till today legalism has infected the body of Christ. It always displaces Jesus from his central and rightful place in the Faith. At the time Paul and Barnabas were working at Antioch it was Jesus and circumcision. (See my exposition on Acts15v1to5).In the Middle Ages it was Jesus and Mother Church. It was not enough to believe in Jesus for salvation; one also had to bow to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. I am very much afraid that some of my own people, Grace Baptists, make Christian fellowship dependent upon a commitment to Jesus and to the Articles of Faith - a set of doctrines. This is legalistic. Nowhere in the New Testament is membership of God's family conditional on making a commitment to a list of doctrines - however true they might be!

(C) The assessment that matters.

(1) Why Jesus told the dinner guests a parable.

The eminent Pharisee's guests tried to get seats at the dining table commensurate with their assessment of their own importance. They were behaving in a very unseemly fashion, jockeying for position and scrambling for the places of honour. Such conduct indicates how people love to be important and love to be seen to be important. If we long for recognition we are likely to push ourselves forward to obtain it.

Some pastors play on his weakness. They make a tremendous fuss of individuals. They gush and smarm with doubtful sincerity. I am afraid that they do it, like some politicians, to be popular and gain a following.

(2) What does Jesus' parable teach.

It is actually foolish to assess yourself. We are very rarely as important in the eyes of others as we are in our own estimation. I discovered that my evaluation of myself as a teacher was not shared by everyone else! I have certainly had to greatly revise downwards the opinion I had of myself as a preacher.

Jesus gave sound advice. We should let others assess us. It is best to leave it to them. If we are genuinely valued others will honour us in the end. The man that matters may come and say to you: "Friend, move up to a better place." v10. It will undoubtedly avoid the disappointment and embarrassment of hearing: "Give this man your seat."

In the final analysis what counts is God's assessment. This is what Paul affirms in 1Cor4v1to5. The little apostle said: It is the Lord who judges me. v4. (See exposition on 1Cor4v1to5)

God does not value highly the self-regarding, the pushy, the thrusting, the ambitious. He is not interested in those intent on being recognised and rewarded by man. Jesus said: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Mt6v2. God values highly the poor in spirit, the meek and the pure in heart. He who humbles himself will be exalted. v11. God will honour those who don't care about personal popularity and advancement, who do good for Christ's sake, who love their neighbour and leave the assessment of their lives to him.

(D) Disinterested loves reward.

(1) We shouldn't just give to:

    (a) Our family. Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not ivite .... your brothers and relatives." v12.

    Jesus taught elsewhere that there is no great merit being kind to our family members: "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others. Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect." Mt5v47. God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Mt5v45.

    What we do for our family we should be prepared to do for others - as far as we can. Our resources are limited. Our family should not be neglected in the way Mrs Jellby in Bleak House neglected her children on behalf of the natives of Borrioboola-Gha but neither should the family be our number one priority. I find it significant that a young couple doing a good work of evangelising their neighbourhood in Ipswich will baby sit for mothers who attend their church. This is the sort of thing grandparents do for their children but Jesus teaches it is what Christian grandparents should do for other people's children?

    (b) Our friends - our sort of people. Jesus addressed his host who seems to have invited mainly like-minded Pharisees to his luncheon party. Many share the Pharisees attitude. They believe the British Government should help 'its own people' - not immigrants and refugees. Overseas aid should be reduced to look after our old people by giving them a better pension or more care.

    This attitude can be prevalent in churches. I know that there have been people in my own fellowship who dislike church funds being given to other causes. They say, "We put money in the collection for our chapel." I have known farmers who have made a field available for a Grace Baptist camp but they wouldn't dream of finding space for a Methodist Boys Brigade camp.

    (c) To secure an advantage or benefit. Jesus told his host not to invite his "rich neighbours" because "if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid." v12.

    We can give without gaining much credit in God's eyes to:

      (I) Secure custom. Farmers get Christmas boxes from reps. Even my old friend Tiggy invites people who buy his eggs and chickens to a barbeque. I can remember Alfie Hicks, an insurance agent for Pearl, calling at our house every month for the small premium my mother paid. He would often leave a comic or football program for me. When I finally went out to work it was payback time. He expected me to take out an insurance policy with Pearl. His efforts were rewarded!

      (II) Bask in a celebrities reflected glory. Prime ministers have been known to do this. A triumphant sportsman is invited to nos 10 in the hope that some of the lustre of success will rub off on the beleaguered statesman. In Eddie Stobart's biography quite a lot was made of the occasions that he and his wife entertained Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. It is not unknown in Christian circles for people to acquire celebrity by association. I would have preferred to read of the times Eddie invited his retired lorry drivers to a meal. (Perhaps I do him an injustice and he did!)

      (II) Be entertained. My mother used to invite Old Dick to lunch on Boxing Day. She did so in part out of the goodness of her heart but she may also have been influenced by the fact that Dick kept us in stitches. We can invite a guest to our dinner parties to keep us amused by their wit and anecdotes. Dr Johnson, notwithstanding his grotesque appearance and repulsive feeding habits, had many free meals courtesy of his conversational powers.

(2) Who we should give to.

Jesus said we should give to:

    (a) The needy - the poor. v13.

    (b) Those who find it difficult to help themselves. the crippled, the lame, the blind. v13.

    (c) Those that have nothing to offer - who cannot repay us.

I wonder how often we provide a meal or do something nice for people who fall into these categories.

(3) The benefits of disinterested giving.

(a) Jesus promises: "You will be blessed." There is real blessing in helping the needy. It is a wonderful privilege to make a positive difference to someone's life - to have a share in God's grace. Christians who help the orphaned, the hungry and the handicapped are given a sense of well being. There must be a great joy, for example, in operating on children in the Third World with a cleft palet and knowing that it will transform their lives.

(b) God will reward the merciful and compassionate: "You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." v14. The parable of the Sheep and Goats teaches emphatically the importance of good works. The righteous who are given eternal life feed the hungry, shelter the refugee, clothe the destitute, visit the sick and imprisoned. See Mt25v31to46. Even the great apostle Paul who is at pains to stress that salvation is by grace and through faith teaches that our work will be tested by fire. 1Cor3v10to15. We can build with wood, hay and straw or with gold, silver and costly stones. See exposition on Christian Builders. Fire will reveal all!