Category Archives: Luke

Luke 17:7-10: The Unworthy Servant

Truth comes in all sizes in Scripture. Some truths are pleasant and enjoyable while others are terrifying. It is true that the righteous will live eternally in heaven; that is a pleasant truth. Likewise, eternal damnation is a truth most horrifying. Consider the truth of Luke 17:7-10:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

Even on our best day, when we have done as commanded, we are unworthy. Let us unpack this short passage and draw out the lessons.

There is a difference between the master and the servants. The servants do the work given them by the master. Here, they tend fields and flocks, they serve the master and standby while he eats and drinks. Only then do they enjoy their meal.

The Christian has a marvelous relationship with Jesus. He calls us brothers (Hebrews 2:11) and friends (John 15:15). But he also asserts authority over us. Jesus is our instructor (Matthew 23:10). A prudent man will always remember his place before the Lord.

Next, there are commands to be obeyed. It is remarkable that some today affirm salvation apart from any obedience. The Bible has examples of both obedience and disobedience coupled with the requisite curses and blessings. Adam and Eve disobeyed and were cursed. Noah was blessed because he did as instructed. Jesus says “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:14). In our text, the servants are expected to obey commandments. Today, you and I must be obedient. We do not decide what is right or wrong. We obey.

The last sentence is the one that is most sobering: “We are unworthy servants.” Even after completing everything commanded by the master, we remain unworthy. We have earned nothing more. There are no promotions, no accolades. We are not worthy. We only did our job. This passage is a death knell to those who believe in earning salvation. We cannot. It was always the sweet grace of the Lord that brought salvation.

But obedience is required. The passage assumes we have “done all that you were commanded.” Christians are to obey their master (Acts 5:29, 32; Romans 6:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 5:9,  et al). Within the many verses teaching obedience are those passages which specifically note that we “obey the gospel.” How curious! The pendulum wildly swings from those that earn salvation to those that do nothing (except giving mental assent of Jesus) for salvation. The truth lies in the middle. We cannot craft our path to salvation. But we can follow or obey the path set before us. Those who deny the necessity of obedience should carefully consider 1 Thessalonians 1:8 and the warning that Jesus will take vengeance on those who “do not obey the gospel.”

Out of God’s immense love for me, I can be saved. My Lord has handed me the route through the fires of life to the glories of heaven. A million lifetimes could never discover the way of truth. But now, revealed in Holy Writ, I have a path to follow. I will be saved by obeying the gospel!


Persistent Prayer

prayingRecently, a discussion arose in a Bible class for which I felt ill prepared to discuss in detail. After some reflection and study, I’d like to present some thoughts better organized than what I offered in the class. The question concerns persistent prayer. Specifically, should the Christian persist in a specific prayer before God until he gets his answer? Put differently, does it demonstrate a lack of faith if one keeps on praying for the same thing over and over.

The locus classicus seems to be Luke 18:1-8:

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This is one of those odd parables where an evil person gives us a lesson for life (Luke 16:1-13 for another). Here, the unrighteous judge stands in place of God. We know this because he has the power to deliver the widow and because the text emphasizes his sovereignty as a judge (vs. 4). The aggrieved widow is the disciple. Her adversary represents any person or situation causing grief. The unrighteous judge refuses to respond to her plea for aid. Yet, she persists in her cries until he finally gives in and grants her petition. The actual source of her problem is not revealed and is irrelevant.

Contextually, the parable is declared to have the point of teaching that people “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (vs. 1). The word translated “ought” could also be rendered “necessary.” Such seems to be an even stronger encouragement than “ought.” In any case, Jesus is teaching his disciples that they should always be prayerful. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 has Paul saying almost the same thing. We know from Jesus’ own example that prayer is vital to our spiritual health (Mark 1:35; Luke 3:21; Luke 11:1; Hebrews 5:7). But on this, most agree. We should be a prayerful people. No, the question is not about generic prayers for strength or guidance, but specific prayers for a specific need. As an example, should we pray over and over for the loved one suffering a serious illness?

Are there Biblical examples of persistent prayer for a specific issue? The first is probably the Luke 18 passage above but there are more. The lengthiest is likely the book of Job. This suffering man had a single-minded prayer: deliverance. Job speaks often to his comforters but he is also talking to God. He repeatedly sought deliverance from his struggles. Likewise, the apostle Paul sought relief from a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Inspiration says he sought deliverance from the Lord three times (2 Corinthians 12:8). Consider also Jesus who prayed “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus prayed this prayer three times (Matthew 26:44).

Now given the parable, given the examples of Job, Paul, and Jesus, it seems clear that persistent specific prayer is an acceptable practice. Is it wrong to pray once and walk away? I cannot say so. But I do conclude that if Paul and Jesus did it, I can too.

Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at You can follow Bryant on Twitter @J_Bryant_Evans.

3 Lessons from Fish

BD-fishermenPeter, James and John fished for a living. They knew when to fish and where to fish but on this day the fish were not cooperating. When Jesus tells them to let down the nets they reply that they have worked all night and caught nothing. But, at Jesus’ words, they dropped the nets and caught so many fish their nets began to break. Peter is overwhelmed at the presence of the Lord and falls at his feet. The Lord tells them that from now on, they will be catching men, not fish (Luke 5:1-11). Consider these three thoughts:

Man’s Work is Futile

Peter, James and John toiled all night for nothing. Not a fish was caught. Certainly they were doing their best and using the best techniques they knew. Their lives and the lives of their family depended upon their work. Yet, they came up empty handed.

When we depend on our own knowledge and abilities in evangelism, we will also come up short. Man does not have the ability to save souls. We create programs and ministries and we design training programs to teach people how to spread the gospel. In some places even the very worship of God has been changed so as to draw more into the kingdom of Christ yet we are failing to change lives. Apart from Jesus, Peter, James and John caught no fish. And apart from Jesus we will save no souls.

The Fish May Not Be Where You Expect Them to Be

The Bible says the fishers were “astonished” at the catch (Luke 5:9). I wonder if they had fished in the same spot before or if they had overlooked it. In any case, they were stunned at the unexpected results.

Sometimes, people who need and desire the gospel are not where we expect them to be. Sometimes they do not look like us and do not talk like us. They may even have some rough edges on them. How many times have we failed to evangelize because a neighbor seemed uninterested or because a neighborhood seemed a little tough?

We must not filter out prospects for the gospel. Our job is to teach (Matthew 28:18-19) and God’s job is to save.

It is the Lord Who Gives the Increase

Jesus is the sole path to God (John 14:6). He alone is the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). From Luke 5:3 that Jesus was in the boat with the fishermen. He was there when the net-breaking catch was hauled aboard. The men did nothing different than what they had been doing all night. But with Jesus onboard everything was different.

Paul supports our thinking here in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul had little interest in evangelism based upon the wisdom of the world. He simply preached Jesus and him crucified. When we labor in the way God desires, he will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

There are great lessons in this short story from the banks of the Galilee. Trust God and he will bless us with a great bounty for the kingdom. Our nets (buildings) will be filled to overflowing with a multitude of fish (people) if we will trust Jesus!

 Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.

Jesus and Legion

The meeting between Jesus and Legion is fascinating. Jesus converses with the demon and then banishes him into a herd of pigs. The story is exciting and curious, and there are important lessons to be learned. The account is found in Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39.

Jesus is preaching in Galilee and has just crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat. During the crossing a terrible storm frightened his disciples into fearing for their lives. Jesus rebuked the winds and waves, the storm ended and calm descended on the waters. Jesus had demonstrated his authority over the elements of nature. Now, stepping onto the rocky bank of the eastern shore of the sea, Jesus is confronted by a man of some local notoriety. The man was possessed. His life was a miserable existence. He wore no clothes and lived among the tombs perhaps sheltering in them during inclement weather. The man immediately confronts Jesus and the disciples. Within minutes, the demons are cast out into nearby pigs which rush headlong into the sea and drown. The narrative provides important learning for us.

Demons are real.

The story is recorded  here by all three of the synoptic writers. The Bible describes them as demons and notes Jesus interaction with them. Demons were objects of worship in the Bible (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 1 Timothy 4:1). The New Testament also records the existence of demons with the word occurring in 68 verses. In most cases, the demons are objects of God’s power to be cast out of men for God’s own glory. Some would wish to ignore the existence of demons and think only on good things. But Satan and his underlings are real.

Demons are not all powerful.

Hollywood, from the days of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, have given us the impression that Satan and his demons are as powerful as God himself. But here we see otherwise. In Luke 8:28, the demons came before Jesus and “fell down before him.” This is an act of contrition; it is an act of submission. The demon then begged Jesus not to torment him. The word “beg” translates the Greek, deomai, which means to ask with urgency and with an implied need. The demon knew he needed Jesus’ help and submitted to him.

Demons know and worship the Lord.

It is striking to see a demon bowing before Jesus. We are also caught a bit off-guard when the demon speaks to Jesus and calls him by name. Knowing who Jesus is and even feigning worship to him is simply not sufficient. This echoes James’ statement from James 2:19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder!” Mere believe, apart from obedience is useless (James 2:20).

Jesus wins!

This small story really sums up the entirety of the book of Revelation. Despite the trouble Satan causes, despite the pain he brings, Jesus always wins. When the demons asked Jesus to send them into the nearby swine, Luke simply says Jesus “gave them permission´(Luke 8:32). The demons entered the pigs and they rushed into the sea and were destroyed. The man is next seen sitting clothed at the feet of Jesus and in his right mind. This event was so powerful that the people asked Jesus to leave the region because they feared his great power.

While this is an interesting story, it has a purpose. Like all miraculous acts, the purpose was to build faith in Christ, confirm his words and teachings, and to make more disciples. The formerly possessed man begs Jesus to allow him to travel with him but the Lord says no.  “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

What a joy to serve a Lord that can command demons to depart! There is none greater than our Lord!

Who Is Theophilus?

So who is Theophilus in the book of Acts? The identity of Theophilus is a mystery to Bible students. The name appears only two times in Scripture and both times in the writings of Luke (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). It is uncertain what role in the early church he played but he is noteworthy in the thinking of Luke for he directs both the Gospel account and the Acts account to Theophilus.

Various suggestions have been offered as to the identity of Theophilus. It is suggested that he is an actual person, perhaps a patron, of Luke and his work. Some have wondered if Luke was commissioned by Theophilus to prepare a record of both Jesus and the beginnings of the church that bears Christ’s name (Romans 16:16). Cadbury notes that Theophilus was a common name for Jews and dates to at least the third century BC. ((via Pöllmann in Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.)) So it is unlikely we can determine much from the name itself.

There was a Jewish High Priest named Theophilus who served from 37-41 AD. He was the son of Annas and the brother-in-law of Caiaphas before whom Jesus was tried.  The date of service was likely completed before Luke’s writings and therefore he probably should be discounted as the intended recipient.

Another High Priest named Mattathias ben Theophilus served from 65-66 AD and was overthrown in the time immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem. In his case, Theophilus is actually the name of his father, the aforementioned priest. His service also appears to come too late to have been the recipient.

Theophilus may have been a name given to the earliest believers in Jesus. The name is actually a joining of two Greek words, theos and phileo, which mean God and love respectively. Thus the combination would be Theophilus or “lover of God.” If this is true it could refer to either an individual or a group of people who loved God.

This seems an unsatisfactory conclusion for such naming conventions are generally foreign to the New Testament. But perhaps even more difficult is the context of Luke 1:3 where the reference is to “most excellent Theophilus.”  In every other New Testament usage, the phrase, excellent or most excellent, is used toward an individual. ((Claudius Lysias to Felix (Acts 23:26, Tertullius to Felix (Acts 24:2) and Paul to Festus (Acts 26:5) )).

Bock ((Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 1 (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI), pg. 64)) suggests that Theophilus was actually a Gentile. He reasons that his apparent high station in life and the degree to which Luke defends the Gentile mentioned in Acts suggest that he was not Jewish. As with other suggestions, it is little more than speculation.

In the end, almost all we can say about Theophilus is skillful speculation. But we do know  that Theophilus was at least curious about Jesus and his followers. It would seem unlikely that Luke would address two manuscripts to Theophilus if there were not some interest. We may perhaps add that Theophilus was probably not hostile to the gospel message. At least for that, Theophilus could be commended.

Who is Theophilus? He was an individual interested in the gospel. His importance lies in the fact that he was the original recipient of two magnificent pieces of inspired literature. How poor would we be without Luke and Acts!

Through the Eye of a Needle

Camels are big – really big. Standing over 7 feet tall these interesting creatures inhabit the dry desert regions of the Middle East. They have been used in combat for millenia and were even used experimentally in the American Civil War. The camel has an ability to frighten horses and so they have proven useful on the cavalry battlefield.

Jesus spoke of the camel in the synoptic Gospels just after speaking with the rich young ruler who was told to sell all that he had. Matthew records the words similar to Mark and Luke:

Again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:24).

Such a comment was astonishing to the listeners who concluded that no one could be saved.  Jesus corrects their misunderstanding in verse 26 when he says that “with men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

It is indeed an odd, even cryptic saying of our Lord. What exactly does he mean and what should present day hearers take from this passage?

An Attempt to Explain How A Camel Can Pass Through A Needle’s Eye

Some time ago, a teacher hit upon a way to explain this passage. The story is that the needle’s eye in the Gospels is not the same needle we think of today. Instead, the needle’s eye was a small passageway built into t he side of a walled city. The passage was so low that a camel would have to pass through by crawling and not walking. This would prove very difficult but possible.

An interesting suggestion but wholly unacceptable when one considers the facts.

A Camel Cannot Go Through the Eye of a Needle

Let us begin by taking the Scripture in their simplest interpretation. Using Occam’s Razor we make the fewest assumptions possible about what Jesus means and just take it at its face value. We know what a camle is and we know a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle.

  • We observe that there are no other Bible passages which are contradicted or compromised by this interpretation.
  • We observe the ease with which a hearer would have understood Jesus’ comment.
  • We note the smooth flow of the text and context to verse 26 where Jesus offers a fuller explanation of his intention.
  • We also mention that the idea of a gate called the Needle’s Eye was never even thought of until the 11th century by Theophylact. So far as we know such a gate was just a fabrication!

The Beauty of Jesus’ Words

What Jesus speaks of is impossible (Matthew 19:26). The word Jesus uses is a derivative of the dunamis in Romans 1:16 where Paul declares his faith in the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation. However in Matthew 19:26 the Greek word is prefixed by the letter alpha – a – which creates an opposite word. Instead of man have power to do something he has no power. Therefore, in this context of wealthy people, thy have no power to reach heaven within themselves. The power Jesus says, is with God!

While Jesus was speaking of the wealthy in these passages, the same idea – the impossibility of self salvation – is prevalent in other passages. Most notably Paul’s comment in Romans 3:28  and Galatians 2:16 that no man can be justified through works and Romans 5:23 that salvation is a free gift of God and not earned by men.

Jesus is saying that just as a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle and man cannot earn or pay his way into heaven.

We ought use care not to move too far in one direction. Jesus is not declaring that man does nothing. Man must be obedient and faithful to Christ.  Just as the young ruler was instructed to do certain things, so too we have been commanded to do certain things. Jesus says in Luke 17:10 that when a servant has done what he has been told, then he has done nothing remarkable, just what he was supposed to do. Our actions and work are what we are supposed to do. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now when studying this passage, I hope you recall our discussion here. As always, this post is open for your comments.