Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Something Greater

Something Greater

Preached by Ben Bechtel

This morning we will be continuing our series through the gospel of Luke. As I was studying this passage this week I was amazed yet again at the person and teachings of Jesus. I think so often times we can become dulled to the profundity of the words of Christ—we’ve been in the book of Luke on and off now for about a year and a half, we read from the Gospels personally often, and we hear popular teachings of Jesus regularly espoused. But very seldom do we pause and allow the words of Christ to hit us square in the face. This morning I want us to do that. Let’s pause and think about how truly revolutionary and amazing the life, work, and teaching of our Savior is. With that, let’s read these words of Jesus from Luke 11:27-36:

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

Pray

If you visit our church on a typical Sunday morning I am not the one preaching (to which you probably all say, yes or else we wouldn’t come to this church) but I am usually leading our music team. Last week I was leading the music and as we were singing a particular line from a song struck me in a way that it never has before. The line goes like this:

God is with us/God is on our side/He will make a way

As we sang those words in the service, probably because I had started studying this passage already and it was on my mind, I paused and thought, “how do we know this?” This is a bold claim that this song makes. How do we truly know that God is on our side? How do we know that we are on God’s side?

This text is not an easy one. Jesus has some hard things to say to us. In this passage a group of people thought that they were on God’s side but Jesus revealed that they actually weren’t. This text is really a continuation off of the text which Jason preached last week. Jesus is in a crowd with two different types of people (Luke 11:14-16):

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.

Notice these two types of people. Last week, in Luke 11:14-26, Jesus was addressing those who accused him of working under Satan’s power. These people were directly opposed to Jesus. However, the group we are looking at this week sought to test Jesus by asking for a sign. They are unsure about Jesus and want to really make sure that he is a prophet from God before they devote themselves to following him. It seems like a good, religious thing to do! They are testing to make sure that he isn’t a false prophet, that he is actually from God. But we quickly learn that this is not the case and that they are opposed to the work of God. This morning we are going to learn that we all have a tendency to think that we are God’s side but our lives in actuality tell a different story all together. We think we are walking in the light but we actually are plunged deep in darkness.

We are going to study this passage under four headings: a stern warning, a strong confrontation, a striking application, and a surprising hope.

1. A Stern Warning (27-28)

In verse 27 he transitions to address the group of people seeking a sign. We read in verses 27-28:

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Notice a few things about this text. First of all, notice that this woman spoke “as he said these things.” Likely the whole prior teaching from verses 14-26 is in view. This happens as Jesus is teaching. And it seems to me, now this is just speculation, that this woman recognizes the tenseness of the situation and blurts out this phrase praising Jesus. Maybe I see this in the text because I tend to get very uncomfortable in awkward and tense situations. Regardless, the situation was tense. Jesus directly countered those people who accused him of working by Satan’s power.

One question here is, is Jesus’ rebuttal directed to her words? I don’t think so. The word that the ESV translates as “rather” I think is better translated as “yes, but” in this situation. Jesus is not discouraging this woman from praising him but he is offering a corrective for his teaching purposes. If this woman is trying to divert attention from the confrontation with the crowd, Jesus wants to keep the attention directly on the crowd. It’s like he says “yes” and then looks at the members of the crowd and says “but blessed are those who hear the word of God and do them.”

Jesus has an agenda. He knows the real problem: true blessing does not occur from simply heaping praise on Jesus, saying religious things (which the crowd all knew how to do), or seeking a sign. True blessing is found in doing the word of God. Only those who hear the word of God and do it are blessed. Only those who hear the word of God and do it are truly on the side of God and not the enemy. Keep this in mind as we continue…

2. A Strong Confrontation (29-32)

The action continues to rise in verses 29-30:

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

Do you feel the tension in the air? It is palpable here. The crowd grows as more people gather to see if Jesus will show them a sign that will finally prove that he is a prophet from God. And what does he say? You all are wicked. Jesus is coming out swinging.

Let me try to help us feel just how intense Jesus is being here. Let’s say after a given Sunday morning when either Jason or Benjamin have finished preaching you go up to them and you say, “that was an amazing sermon! Praise God for you!” and they respond to you by saying, “Blessed are you if actually do what I said.” You’d think that’s true but maybe a little in your face. Then crowds gather, because they have heard about the amazing ministry of these guys and once the guys see that the crowd is growing large they say, “you all are evil.” Maybe not the best church growth tactic. Not only does he begin by saying they are evil but he goes on in verses 31-32 to say that the Ninevites, a non-Jewish civilization, one of the most barbaric civilizations in the history of the world, known for skinning their enemies alive, and the pagan Queen of Sheba will judge them at the final judgment.

The question is, why does he come on this strong? What is the cause for this confrontation? Why does Jesus seem to come at this group of people even harder than those who explicitly accused his ministry of being from Satan?

To answer this, we must first answer what Jesus means by “the sign of Jonah.” What is he referring to? I think we get a good clue in verse 30:

30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

From Jesus’ own words here it seems like he is saying that he himself, his very presence with the people is the sign. Think about the Jonah story for a second: a prophet of God is commanded by God to preach to a pagan city. He then attempts to run away and is miraculously turned around by God, and then this prophet of Israel enters the pagan city and preaches to it. Everything about Jonah’s coming to the people of Ninevah, the fact that he was a prophet of God coming to another nation, the miraculous nature of this coming, and the message he preached were a sign against Ninevah.

In the same way, something greater than Jonah is here! The great prophet of Israel is here announcing that the kingdom of God has come. Something greater than Solomon is here, the king from the line of David who was promised for ages who will rule his people. The Savior of the world is here in the person of Jesus announcing his kingdom and his eminent victory over the great enemy of God’s people, sin and death, by rising from the dead and these people aren’t satisfied. They want more signs. Jesus is saying, “you seriously want more signs?! You have me and my kingdom offered to you! The son of God is before you in flesh and you want another sign? I am about to be raised from the dead miraculously and you want another sign?”

Let’s circle back to Jesus’ words in verse 28. The real problem with the hearts of these people is not necessarily that they seek a sign. The problem is that the word of God has been proclaimed and displayed before their eyes in the person of Jesus and rather than bowing the knee in obedience and faith they want more. They are not satisfied with Jesus and what he has given. They don’t really want Jesus: they just want the religious and personal benefits from being around Jesus. They are not really for Jesus, they are against him. And as a result, the sign of Jonah, the presence of Christ with them, only means judgment and devastation.

Now let’s hold the mirror up church: are we any different from these crowds? Do we simply read our Bibles, go to church, join a small group, listen to worship music, pray, etc. so that we may benefit from being around Jesus rather than from Jesus himself? Do we simply go to church events to feel a little bit better about ourselves, to get our “Jesus fix,” and then move on with our lives? Are we constantly seeking a spiritual experience rather than the face of Jesus? Are we too busy doing spiritual things that we do not do the very words of Jesus? Friends, if this is us, if we are busy with “spiritual” things but are not bowing the knee to Jesus and his demands on our lives Jesus’ presence with us is not good news. We see Jesus revealed to us clearly in the pages of Scripture and by the presence of his Spirit—and yet we like them continue to look for a sign! Jesus’ presence with us, the sign of Jonah, is only bad news, the sign of judgment because we are not actually shown to be with Christ but against him.

I want to say here before we go on that this hard word of Jesus is not directed towards those who are spiritually seeking. If you are here this morning and you would not call yourself a Christian, I would encourage you to seriously consider and investigate the claims of Jesus. Read the Gospels. Hear what he has to say and what that means for you. Continue to take part in conversations with Christians. That is a good thing! Jesus’ audience here is those who claim to follow God and are simply hanging around and demanding more from him without actually honoring him as Lord. This is a rebuke for us within the church who are busy with “spiritual” things but who are not actually following Jesus.

3. A Striking Application (33-35)

Now Jesus takes this teaching and applies it in a more general, parabolic way in verses 33-35. These verses are notoriously difficult to understand because Jesus mixes metaphors about light and darkness, sight, and lamps so let’s walk through the verses together starting in verse 33:

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.

First of all, let’s look at verse 33. Now we just had Valentine’s Day several weeks ago where most of us probably went out of our way to do something extra for our spouse or significant other. Let’s say that men in the room you are preparing a surprise candlelight dinner for your wives. You’ve cooked the food, you’ve set the table, and you have the candles lit. The music is playing and the ambiance is perfect as your wife rings the doorbell. And immediately when the doorbell rings you grab the candles and take them all down to the basement before you go get the door. What sense does this make?

Here Jesus is speaking of his own life and teaching. He is the lamp being talked about. What he is saying is that his revelation of himself is clear. He has not kept it hidden but has revealed it for these people to see clearly. They have heard the word and seen it demonstrated in sign clearly. Jesus is not to blame for their lack of receptivity.

In verses 34-35 Jesus switches to speak of how the people receive him and his message:

34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.

He uses the metaphor of the eye to refer to our spiritual perception. The terms “healthy” and “bad” are not merely physical terms but ethical. When your spiritual faculties are evil and cannot perceive the message of Christ, you will be evil but when they are good and you can truly perceive Christ, you will be good. It refers to our ability to hear and respond to the words of Jesus.

And then Jesus hits them with the application: be careful that what you think is light is not actually darkness. In other words, be careful that you actually are hearing and doing the words of Jesus and are not on the side of the enemy. Be careful that you do not fool yourself into thinking you actually love and follow Christ when all you are doing is looking for a sign.

Friends, this is Christ’s challenge to us today too. Look at your life: do the things that you do, attitudes you have, and words that you say reflect that you have actually been beholding the true Jesus? Or do they reflect a life that is only looking for signs, a life busy with religious activity and sign-seeking, but not hard deeds of loving sacrifice in obedience to king Jesus?

Do you come to every men’s or women’s ministry event and yet when someone brings up the plight of racial minorities in America your first reaction is to scoff or be defensive? Do you raise your hands in worship but never lift a finger to help the poor and needy in our city? Do you utter words of praise to God but heap slander on those within the church and judgment on those on the outside of the church? Do you love to have your Christian friends or small group over to your house but never have non-Christians in your mix? These are hard words. And these are words that I need just as much as you. Examine yourselves.

4. A Surprising Hope (36)

If we all are honest about our examination of ourselves, we will quickly recognize that something is desperately wrong: all of our eyes are bad and blinded! Who of us in here can say that we truly behold Jesus’ revelation and obey it? We all do what the evil generation of Jesus’ day did! We seek signs from him but we do not do what he says. We do not actually hear and believe the words of Jesus. We are not on the side of Jesus but on the side of the enemy. What is the hope that God is on our side if we do not do the words of Jesus which we have heard? How do we not become like the evil generation of Jesus’ day under the judgment of God?

We are given a glimmer of hope at the very end of this passage. Look at verse 36 with me:

36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

Our situation is not entirely without hope. There is hope for us to have our whole bodies full of light, to see and obey Jesus truly. How do we get this type of light in our lives? How do we live lives of undivided obedience to Jesus?

Let’s return to the story of Jonah to see the answer. There is one element of the story that we have not yet discussed—how does Jonah’s preaching of judgment affect the Ninevites? Look with me at Jonah 3:4-6; 8b-10:

4 Jonah…called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.. [the king said] “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

The difference between the evil generation of Ninevah and the people of Jesus’ day is that the Ninevites saw their wickedness and they threw themselves upon the mercy of God in repentance! At this bitter prophet preaching a bitter sermon, the people are utterly broken over their sin. They saw their own impending destruction and turned their back on their sin.

Friends, the greater one than Jonah is here! We don’t have just the message of a bitter, rebellious prophet we have the very Son of God revealed to us! Jesus was the only one who, unlike Jonah, truly heard the words of God and did them. Unlike the cowardly prophet Jonah who was hurled into the sea, Jesus threw himself into the sea of death and rose up from the watery grave victorious over sin and death for all who would throw themselves in trust upon him. He lived in obedience to God’s commands and took the judgment of sin and death upon himself so that we who have darkened eyes might see. Now we who are darkened and unable to see and understand Jesus can repent and turn to him in faith. You see, we find out that God is actually on the side of the needy, those who know they cannot do the words of Christ. We can cry out in utter need that we are unable to do his words. And when we do this, the sign of Jonah, the presence of Jesus Christ with us, turns from being the bad news of our destruction to the good news of our salvation! Only when we respond to Christ in repentance and faith can we truly walk in the light of obedience to his word.

My encouragement to you all here is simple: repent and believe in Jesus today. Stop staying stagnant and searching for a sign through your religious performance. See the one who did the words of God for you and cast yourself upon his mercy. And allow this mercy to motivate you to hear the words of Jesus and do them. As those who are counted in Christ as hearing and doing the words of God, be those who joyfully hear and do the word!

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