Jesus Ministers to the Masses
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 6:17–6:19
Jesus Ministers to the Masses
May 7, 2017
We find ourselves at Luke 6:17 to 19, which is really another of Luke’s pauses in the text. This happens to be the fourth pause that Luke has provided us, which is sort of a short summary and allows us to stop and ponder, to look at the big picture, and reflect before we wade deeply into the waters that are ahead in the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve just been through a study of the Apostles. It took a few weeks to get a more detailed look at the men God ordained and the men Jesus chose to be his Apostles. That happened, as we look back and read in Luke 6:12, “In these days.” What days are those? If we back up in the text—again we’re just pausing here because Luke wants us to pause, which means the Holy Spirit wants us to pause, and we need to reflect on what has happened over the last few chapters—chapters four through six. Just taking the bird’s eye view to see what has happened, we look in the text and we can see two opposite reactions to Jesus’ ministry. What we’re going to see in Luke 6:17 to 19 is a reaction to Jesus’ ministry, but what we’ve seen over the past two chapters is two opposite reactions.
First, on the one hand, we want to notice Jesus has been opposed by the leaders of his people—the Jews, the people of Jesus’ ethnic origin, the people of his spiritual and religious heritage, the people whom frankly he came to save and to serve as their chosen Messiah. Those people were being led and ruled at this time by a pack of greedy wolves. These wolves were threatened by the sudden appearance of this mighty Shepherd, Jesus Christ, so they began to scheme and conspire, plotting together already early on in Luke’s Gospel, to murder this Shepherd. Back in Chapter 5, verses 17 to 26, remember we covered already how Jesus healed the paralytic. It was an amazing miracle. And the wolves were visiting on that occasion as it says in verse 17, “Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” In that context, in that setting, Jesus knew their thoughts. And he made a point at that time to demonstrate the prerogatives of the Son of Man, not just to heal, but also to forgive sin. He exercised the divine prerogative, and those wolves snapped at him, and they accused him of blasphemy. Do you remember that? They refused to see the connection between his power to heal and his prerogative to forgive sins—both evidences divine prerogative, divine power, but they refused to bow down before their own Messiah.
The next account after that in the narrative is Jesus calling Levi—we know him as Matthew. But Jesus was calling Levi. He saw Levi sitting at the tax collector’s office. He walked right up, called him to full-time discipleship, and Levi, remember, left everything behind eagerly, immediately, to follow Jesus in full-time discipleship. Then in joyful gratitude, Levi threw a banquet for Jesus and his disciples. He invited all his friends, all his partners in business, all the associates he had, and they were a rabble, right? They were a pretty unseemly bunch. And the Pharisees and scribes showed up again to criticize this, to confront this because in their judgment Jesus shouldn’t be there. He should be currying their favor, not hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. More antagonism shows up.
When we get into Chapter 6, we see the Chapter open in two incidents with further opposition from the scribes and the Pharisees. The disciples were hungry on one occasion, and they were walking through the grain fields, and as they walked through the grain fields, they picked off some heads of grain, doing what is allowed by the law, called gleaning. They were just gleaning from the edges of the fields, and they took the heads of grain, rubbed them between their fingers and popped the unprocessed grain into their mouths. Ah, but it was the Sabbath Day. The scribes and Pharisees jumped on that violation. They nitpicked the disciples for reaping. They were threshing, sifting and winnowing the grain, and all that so-called forbidden labor was happening there in the palms of their hands. That was not allowed on the Sabbath Day. It sounds ludicrous, I know, but the Pharisees were very serious about that charge. They were trying to discredit Jesus and his ministry, trying to discredit his disciples.
After that, Luke shows us even more opposition from the scribes and Pharisees again on another Sabbath Day for a violation. Jesus had performed what they judged to be an unnecessary healing on the Sabbath. Can you imagine that? A guy in their midst is healed miraculously from the power of heaven, and they charge him with a violation! They throw a flag. The gall! But they judged: “A withered hand—hardly a life-threatening injury, Jesus. This man’s condition, though regrettable we’ll admit, doesn’t really warrant medical attention on the Holy Day.” Jesus healed the man intentionally. He brought the man and set him in the midst of the synagogue congregation and looked around at all of them. He healed them right in front of them. They condemned him for it.
It’s interesting that Jesus healing this man’s regrettable condition wasn’t an act of necessity—the man wasn’t dying. But that’s exactly the point because Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is a time for mercy. It’s clearly in keeping with the spirit of the Sabbath to show mercy on the Sabbath. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He had the power to show mercy, and he demonstrated mercy. That was set in sharp contrast to their actions—their actions of judgment and condemnation on the Sabbath. And it exposed the fact that his actions, not theirs, were more in line with true Sabbath Day observance. After all, as Jesus told them in Luke 6:5, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” That really got under their skin.
By virtue of his person, by virtue of his divine power, Jesus was demonstrating his true prerogative as the Lord of the Sabbath—singular, one Lord of the Sabbath and it’s him. And at the same time, he is exposing them as frauds, as mere pretenders. That had massive implications. For the scribes and the Pharisees to lose face like this in the sight of all the people meant a loss of authority, a loss of power, a loss of influence, and ultimately for them a loss of revenue. At the deepest level, though, Jesus’ acts of grace and mercy, coupled together with his words of truth—it all confronted and exposed a deep-seated pride in the religious leadership. Jesus angered them. And not because he did anything wrong, but precisely because he did everything right. Just as the presence of his holiness made the demons shriek and howl in pain and protect, so his holiness exposed the unrighteousness of men. And that’s why we read in Luke 6:11 that after Jesus demonstrated his mercy toward the man with the withered hand, the scribes and Pharisees were filled with fury. And they discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
It’s important to see that Jesus, even at this early stage in his ministry, by his understanding of prophetic Scripture, by his knowledge of mankind, by his clear insight into the condition of Israel’s leadership, Jesus was able to read divine providence. He was able to recognize it was time to unveil the mystery of the church. Israel’s rejection of the Messiah meant the full accomplishment of divine redemption and a wide-open door flung open for the salvation of the Gentiles. And so Jesus got to work laying the foundation of that church by selecting foundation stones. Luke 6:12 to 13 says:
*In these days [these are the days we’re talking about] he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he names Apostles. *
Then in the next three verses, as we’ve already gone through, we read the list of names starting with Peter and ending with Judas Iscariot. That’s a study of contrast that we’ve already been, the worldly sorrow of Judas leading to death and the godly sorrow of Peter leading to repentance and life, restoration into ministry. Such incredible lessons etched into the very foundation of the church. But it’s at this point that Luke slows us down once again. Before we get into Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Luke wants us to pause and reflect here. He wants us to consider something very carefully. I mentioned a moment ago that we can observe in the chapters we’ve already covered that there were two reactions to Jesus’ ministry. We just reviewed the opposition from the Jewish leadership, which portended their ultimate rejection as they crucified their Messiah, but the other reaction is quite positive, dramatically so. That’s our text for this morning, following along as we read Luke 6:17 and just getting into verse 20.
*And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowds sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: “Blessed are you.” *
Let’s stop right there. “Blessed are you.” As I said, that’s an indication there in those verses of what seems to be a very, very positive reaction to Jesus and his ministry. At a popular level, no one but Jesus could have anticipated the rejection of the nation because everything at this time seemed to be going very, very well—extremely well, an overwhelmingly positive response. Jesus had been engaged for many months and in a very aggressive schedule, an itinerant preaching ministry. He didn’t just sit tight in comfort, building his empire in Capernaum. He left Capernaum and he went out to take the Gospel to the people. He had been traveling around Galilee and parts of Judea because that is why he came. He said that to them in Luke 4:43 to 44. He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well for I was sent for this purpose.” He was preaching in the synagogues in Judea.
So during these many months of intense ministry, giving himself continually to the people of Galilee and Judea, traveling by foot, which was exhausting—but going from town to town, village to village, person to person, he was preaching, he was teaching. He was healing. He was caring for people. Now and again he would come back to Capernaum, which is kind of like his home base, where Peter lived, and Andrew, James and John. He would come back there for refreshment, provision before launching out again. And that’s where we find him now with his disciples—in and around Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. Many people who had heard about him discovered he was back in town. And so they were swarming into the city trying to see him. That’s why he retreated into the hills around Capernaum—he needed a quiet place to pray, as we already read, before naming his Apostles. Matthew and Mark tell us the people were gathering, and the town was swelling with visitors beyond capacity. It says in Matthew 4:25 that large crowds included people from “Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan,” even.
The Decapolis—what’s that? It’s a league of ten cities. It was constituted during Pompeii’s campaign in Assyria. These ten cites operated independently of Herodian tetrarchy. These ten cities were loyal to Rome. They paid taxes; the men enlisted in the military. They were very supportive of Rome. If you remember the incident with Jesus and the Gerasene demoniacs—remember how he cast the legion of demons into the herd of swine? That happened in the Decapolis area. The presence of a herd of swine is just one of several indications that Jewish concerns and sympathy held little sway over the residents of the Decapolis, but they were there. Because of Jesus’ growing notoriety throughout Galilee, even extending beyond the Jordan, even into that godless area of the Decapolis, people were coming. People were interested. And Mark tells us that because of these growing crowds, “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea” (Mark 3:7). But even there he couldn’t get away because a great crowd followed him out there from Capernaum out to the Sea of Galilee. They came from Galilee and Judea. So the only privacy he could find, the only solitude he could find where he could spend the night in prayer before choosing his twelve Apostles was at the top of a lonely mountain. That’s where he went.
That’s where we find him now in Luke 6:17. He is coming down from that mountain accompanied by his twelve Apostles, by other disciples as well. They come down from the mountain to face this massive crowd that’s gathered. In fact, if you look at Luke 6:17 to 19, you can boil down this whole section by its grammar, just to its bare essence by looking at the main indicative verb. And if you boil it down like that, this is basically what you read: “Christ stood, the crowds came, he was healing and the crowds were seeking.” That would indicate maybe there might be four points to your outline this morning, but there’s not. There’s only three. I tricked you. But that’s basically what you see here: Christ stood, the crowds came, he was healing and the crowds were seeking. Very simple narrative. But don’t let the simplicity fool you; there is a lot here, folks. Luke wants us to see it and reflect on it.
We know that despite the masses of people who came, theologically that “many are called, but few are chosen.” We also know from reading the biblical narrative and continuing all the way through the Gospel, that many of these same people here in these gathered crowds—in a very short while they’ll change sides. They’ll cheer Jesus here at the beginning, but they’ll ultimately chose to follow their wicked leadership. Their cheering will turn to jeering, and their shouts of acclamation will turn to cries for Jesus’ blood. And make no mistake, Jesus knows that, too. He realizes the crowd has gathered not necessarily because they’ve truly seen what the signs point to—that is salvation through him by faith him, salvation in God—they don’t look beyond the signs to see what the signs point to; they’re enamored with the signs themselves. The power, miracles, healings—all of that, of course, generates interest. All that Jesus does is going to guarantee a gathering crowd. Many at this time were professing to believe in him, but Jesus knew the true nature of their profession, how deep it went because in John 2:25, Jesus knows all people. He knows what’s in mankind.
I want you to notice—and this is really the main point of the sermon this morning—if you boil it down, this is what I want you to hear—that Jesus ministered to this mass of people. He ministered to them. You say, “Of course he ministered to them.” Yeah, well you’ve just been used to looking at Jesus through Christian eyes. What I want you to see is that Jesus, knowing their ultimate end, knowing that they would eventually cry out for his blood and cry out for him to be on the Cross, and say, “Hey, his blood be on us and our children, don’t worry about it. Release to us Barabbas the criminal. Crucify him!” He knew that here. But still he ministered to them. He didn’t look at them through eyes of suspicion or cynicism knowing they would eventually vote for his execution. He served them. He gave himself to these people. Jesus received all who came. He was kind and gracious. He was compassionate and sacrificial. How many of you, if you had a friend whom you could see into the future prophetically—all of a sudden God gives you insight and you see that this person is going to turn you in to the authorities, betray you, you and your whole family and have you put in prison, and not only that, they’ll turn the screws, they’ll show up in court and testify lies against you so that you can be put to death along with your family—how many of you looking at that person years before that incident would still love them, give yourself to them? That is what Jesus is doing here. This is the mercy of God. Just as Jesus chose all twelve to be Apostles, knowing one of them would become a traitor, and yet he loved Judas Iscariot along with the rest, so that even at the very end, none of the disciples knew the difference. None of them suspected he was the one. So also Jesus showed compassion to these masses of people even though many would reject him in the end. It’s incredible mercy.
That’s what Jesus came to reveal to us about the nature of God. Folks, behold your God in Jesus Christ. It’s a truth that had been terribly misrepresented by the religious leaders. One that desperately needs to be recovered and proclaimed and exclaimed—that God is by nature gracious and merciful. What Jesus revealed here was nothing new. In fact, God revealed to Moses in Exodus 34:6 to 7;
*The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord [that is the word Yahweh], the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”*
That’s the God the religious leadership had been hiding from the people. And that’s who Jesus came to reveal, which is what we see here as Jesus ministers to the massive crowd of people who came to see him. Now since the crowds feature so much in this narrative, let’s look a little more closely at them. We’re going to take a lot of time in this first point, so as I start going long in this first point, don’t start looking at your watch. The last two points are short. So a long section here talking about this diverse mass of people. We’ll get into the first point of our outline: the diversity of popular interest. Basically three groups of people are indicated in verse 17. And first we’re going to consider the diversity that was represented here, and then we’ll consider their interest in Jesus. If you look back at the verse, it starts by saying, “And he came down with them.” Who is “them?” Well, that refers to Jesus’ Apostles—the twelve men he chose from the larger number of disciples. That’s the first group. Jesus “came down [the mountain] with them and stood on a level place.” It was probably at the base of the mountain. This sets the location for Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount—we’re going to introduce that next Sunday.
And then verse 17 tells us that Jesus is standing there with a great crowd of his disciples. This gives us a second group. The word crowd is “ochlos” and refers to a relatively large number of people, like a throng, a multitude. But here the text is telling us it’s a crowd that is united by a certain interest. It’s a crowd specifically of his disciples. The distinguishing characteristic of this crowd is that they all share the same interest—learning from Jesus. They’ve already demonstrated a significant degree of buy-in with Jesus’ ministry. This is not some disparate group of seekers who were hearing about Jesus for the first time. This crowd of disciples consisted of those who were already quite familiar with Jesus and his ministry because they had been walking around with him, learning from him. They’ve signed on, so to speak. They are followers, learners. That’s what the word “mathetes” means—disciples. They’re learners. They’re taking notes from this rabbi. They’re identifying with him—for now anyway. We get to the end of John 6, and we find that some of Jesus’ harder teaching repels them, turns them away. But for now, they’re with Jesus, they’re disciples, they’re learners and they’re following with him. That’s the second group.
Then there’s this third group—verse 17—which is a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. We learn from Matthew there were also people from Galilee and the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan. All of this is taking place in and around or near Capernaum, in the region of Galilee, so Luke, in our text, assumes the presence of the Galileans. Matthew is just a bit more explicit. And the terms here that Luke uses to describe the masses of people are almost like he’s piling up adjectives and running out of adjectives to describe the size of the group. It’s huge. It’s large. Thousands of people have converged on the region. They’ve come from all over the place. They are like a mass of ants swarming the mountainside, drawing near to Jesus, as is says in verse 18, “to hear him and to be healed,” and verse 19, “to touch him.”
So there’s this crush of people, a suffocating mass of bodies. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a crowd like that, but it can be quite frightening. You get a sense of feeling like you might be trampled. I’m a bigger guy and I’ve been in situations like that. I imagine for some of the smaller ladies here, you’d have the feeling of being crushed looking at all these bodies. That’s what is around Jesus right now. We already learned in our study of Luke’s Gospel about the differences the text shows us between the Judeans and the Galileans. I just want to review a little bit of that for a moment so we can appreciate the diversity indicated by the presence of a great multitude of people—some of them from all Judea and even Jerusalem. For Judeans, and particularly those from Jerusalem, to go north to Galilee, and even more significantly for the residents of Jerusalem to go north to Galilee—that was more than 80 miles away. If it wasn’t for business, if it wasn’t for some family emergency, what does Judea and Jerusalem have to do with Galilee? Judeans, especially those who lived in and near Jerusalem, tended to despise Galilee and Galileans. For the most part, they thought of them as nothing but a bunch of hicks and hillbillies. Religiously, theologically they were compromised because they were living in and among so many Gentiles, having so much commerce and trade and interaction with Gentiles.
So Judeans considered themselves holy and separate and the Galileans profane, defiled. Judeans believed that they represented the true Israel. Ever since Jeroboam, the slave of Rehoboam, slave of Solomon—who rebelled against Rehoboam. He led the ten northern tribes into idolatry. Though Jeroboam kept the name Israel for his ten northern tribes, those tribes were idolatrous from the very beginning all the way to the bitter end when the Assyrians came conquered them, exiled them. That ignominious history was the background of the region of Galilee. And in the mind of the Judeans, they considered themselves those who stayed loyal to David, loyal to the temple, loyal to God—never mind that Ezekiel condemned them for being worse than Israel, worse than the ten northern tribes. Ezekiel 23:11 says they were more “corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister.” Ezekiel goes on to say that Judah played the harlot with the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and God would judge them for that. Oh, but never mind all that. The Judeans maintained that national pride, especially after the return to Israel. They looked down on the Galileans. They considered them to be inferior in pretty much every way—socially, culturally, religiously, theologically. So for the Judeans to go north to Galilee, especially the residents of Jerusalem to venture 80 miles northward, to acknowledge that something worth their time and interest was happening up there—it’s incredibly significant.
Luke paints the contrast, diversity and interest even further when he notes the presence of crowds from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. Luke bypasses any comment on the presence of those from Galilee and the Decapolis as Matthew mentioned because he wants us to see a large contrast here—the big picture. There are those from Judea and Jerusalem—oh, and by the way, all the way from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. This is demonstrating how far Jesus’ reputation had spread and the diversity of interest in him. He wants us to see the extreme edges of diversity represented by all those who took interest, by all those who traveled great distances. Tyre is 35 miles away from Capernaum. Sidon is even farther up the Mediterranean Coast, making it about 50 miles from Capernaum. So Tyre and Sidon—both located in modern-day Lebanon-neither of these were cities with high Jewish populations. These were Gentile cities. They went way back in biblical history.
So what interest do Tyrians and Sidonians have in Israel’s Messiah? Before Israel arrived in the land of Promise, to the land of Canaan from Egypt, after the Exodus, Tyre and Sidon were Canaanite cities located in a region the Greeks called Phoenicia. Phoenicia is a Greek word that refers to the purple dye that the people of this region harvested from shellfish in that area. They gathered a Mediterranean mollusk—no doubt divers going down and doing free-breath-hold dives, free dives, down to the bottom, gathering those shellfish called the murex. And from that shellfish, they extracted a fluid from it—very difficult and expensive process to create this much-coveted purple dye. Because of its great expense in developing this dye, purple became the color of kings. Everyone wanted purple. The Phoenicians not only developed the industry, but they created a market for it. Then they fulfilled the demand they had created, and they shipped it all over the Mediterranean world. They were very resourceful people.
Phoenicians were famous for other industries as well—copper, woodworking—because after all, the cedars of Lebanon were just up the mountain. They chopped them down, brought them down. That aided in their other enterprise of shipbuilding. Phoenician shipbuilding was very well known. Not only that, but they were able to develop a highly refined culture due to the early development in their culture of an alphabet. You may have heard of a Phoenician alphabet, a very ancient alphabet of 22 characters. So an alphabet meant literacy. And literacy meant allowing the people to pass on their culture through writing, through literature, to teach it from generation to generation, to build on the previous generation’s knowledge and develop technology and science and industry. That’s the connection that these Canaanites had with Israel—in their technology, their industry both as a source of supply, but also as a source of temptation.
In the conquest of Canaan, when Israel came into the land, the region where the cities of Tyre and Sidon were located was given the tribe of Asher. You remember the command, “Go in, conquer the people, get rid of them and inhabit, take over.” Well, you also know that like so many of the other tribes, Asher and all of them failed to drive out the Canaanites from the land. There were little pockets of Canaanites all over the place. Instead, the Israelites, contrary to God’s command, became very interested in these Canaanites, appreciative of their culture, and started to even covet their culture. Phoenician culture and the cities of Tyre and Sidon became a very great snare to the people. The cities of the Phoenician seacoast—that’s a culture, by the way, shared with the Philistines, as well, who were probably Phoenician sea people. They were always a source of enticement, temptation. You might see it as like us today who live in the inland areas of our country, how attractive the coastlands are—California, New York, Miami, Florida and all that. We look at the culture going on there and try to redo that here. You know, same kind of thing. Even though you don’t want to admit it, do you?
Tyre and Sidon show up in biblical history, though, as not just a source of temptation, but also a source of supply. And particularly during the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms. You may remember the name King Hiram. He was king of Tyre. He was friends also with King David. In 2 Samuel 5:11, we read, “Hiram, king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house.” When David was gathering provisions knowing he’s not the one to build the temple for the Lord, but his son Solomon will do it, he gathered provisions for Solomon to build the temple for the Lord. He visited the Sidonians and Tyrians. In 1 Chronicles 22:4, it says they brought great quantities of cedar for David. Hiram even offered to bring the cedars of Lebanon to the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon and float them down the Mediterranean coast to Joppa for Solomon to then pull them out of the sea, take them up and build his palace and the temple of the Lord. In fact, in 1 Kings 5:18, it says, “Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders […] did the cutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.” Solomon paired his own men with Hiram’s expert carpenters and stone masons to train them. Pretty clever, isn’t it? A great way to help your people to learn—to pair them up with experts.
So the cities of Tyre and Sidon were connected to David and Solomon, particularly in the project of building the temple. Now, think about this. Do you think maybe in all that history, as these Phoenicians were connected with the Israelites—with royalty, with David and Solomon—do you think maybe they picked up on the significance of the temple by talking with David, Solomon and all their people? I think so. In fact there’s no doubt in my mind. The fact that both peoples—Phoenicians and Israelites—both possessed alphabets, both peoples were able to record and pass on their cultures through writing, through literature, a written record. They certainly shared with one another their background and their culture, their history, their religion. The Phoenicians knew Israel’s history. They read Israel’s Bible. They knew Israel’s God—Yahweh. Israel’s latter prophets wrote about Tyre and Sidon. Joel and Amos, Jeremiah and Ezekiel—they prophesied the demise of those two cities because of their arrogance and their cruel treatment of their old friends, the Israelites. Tyre and Sidon turned on them. God says in Joel 3:6 to 7, “You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head.”
And that’s exactly what God did—bringing wave after wave of attack against Tyre and Sidon. It started with the king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and it culminated in the assault of the Greeks under the attack of Alexander the Great. All those attacks fulfilled in vivid detail the prophesies of Joel and Amos and of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In fact, take a quick look and turn back in your Bibles to Ezekiel 26. I want you to look at the first few verses in Ezekiel 26. Ezekiel devotes three full chapters to this prophecy against Tyre. You may remember that the famous 28th chapter of Ezekiel portrays the animating spirit behind the king of Tyre as Satan himself. It is the one who was, according to Ezekiel 28:12, the “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God […]. You were an anointed guardian cherub.” Then in verse 17, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.” So if you look back at Ezekiel 26, verses 3 to 6, you can see in fascinating detail how everything in these chapters came to pass and literally. God said:
*Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her, make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declared the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord. *
As I said, wave after wave of attack came against Tyre. It started with Nebuchadnezzar, ended with Alexander the Great, and the attack and the prophecy fulfillment came in dramatic fashion. Writing an article in the Bible and Spade: Journal of Biblical Archeology, Gary Byers writes this: “Although every Phoenician city to the north, including Sidon, welcomed Alexander, Tyre would only agree to surrender nominally to him. They would not allow him entrance into the city, which was exactly what Alexander attempted to. Not to be denied, after only a seven-month siege of the island city, he did what no one else had ever considered possible. Utilizing stones, timber, dirt and debris from the mainland, Alexander constructed a causeway out into the Mediterranean and at last he reached the island, breached the city wall and slew or put into slavery the defiant Tyrians. An amazing feat. Tyre was changed forever.”
Before Alexander the Great did that, Tyre, the walled city spoken of in Ezekiel 26, was on an island, a rock out separate from the mainland. And Alexander built a causeway out there. He got his men—you can do that when you’re a dictator and you’ve got nothing but people at your disposal. He’ll wear them out, he doesn’t care. “Build a causeway out there.” “Yes, sir.” So they set about to do that, and you can see the change reflected on the map. Forever changed. What was once an island fortress—now a peninsula. It joined the mainland because of Tyre’s stubborn arrogance and Alexander’s persistence, diligence, and ingenuity.
You can turn back to Luke 6:17. After Alexander’s conquest in 322 BC, Tyre and Sidon—they did give themselves over to all the nations. Rome came in and developed the region and used it as the center of its Syro-Phoenician province. But all these lessons of history, and particularly the literal fulfillment of what the prophets had said in Israel—left quite an enduring impression upon generations of Phoenicians in the cites of Tyre and Sidon. It lasted long in their memory. In fact, the remarkable faith of certain Phoenicians became an example to Israel. Remember what Jesus said to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth—and what made them so angry at him? He pointed out God’s concern for a Phoenician woman. God visited her in Elijah’s lifetime through Elijah’s ministry. In Luke 4:25 to 26, Jesus said:
*But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath [between Tyre and Sidon], in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.*
God showed mercy to a Phoenician woman, a widow of the city of Sidon. It’s remarkable. Later in Jesus’ ministry, you can read about it recorded in Matthew 15:21 to 28, also a parallel account in Mark 7:24 to 30. Jesus visited the region of Tyre and Sidon in his ministry. He healed the demon-oppressed daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman. Do you remember that? Jesus commended this woman in the presence of his disciples and even against their protest, by the way. He commended her for her great faith. Do you remember that? One of the many remarkable details in that story is how the Syro-Phoenician woman called out to Jesus. Do you know what she said? “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” Why did she call him that? She’s appealing on a historical basis of an ancient friendship between King Hiram and David. She recognized Jesus is the Son of David, and perhaps on that basis, he would have mercy on her.
We spent a little time on this point of detail in Luke—of the significance of the people coming from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon—but I hope you get a greater understanding of what’s here. These pagan Gentiles—they made a trip of 35 to 50 miles to visit Capernaum and try to see Jesus. Why? Because he was purportedly the prophesied Son of David, and because in their minds, the minds of these pagan Gentiles, biblical prophecy had proven to be literally fulfilled in horrid detail on them and their culture, on them and their cities—total devastation and destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and all the way up to Alexander the Great. And so, if there’s hope prophesied, they’re going to take that literally, as well. They were banking on it. They came. They came to see the literal fulfillment of these Messianic prophecies of restoration, hope and mercy in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Great faith. Did this Jesus have the same heart for them as his father, David? Would he demonstrate the mercy of the God of Israel, who sent his most famous prophet, the prophet Elijah, to visit one of our unknown widows with kindness and mercy?
What I find fascinating is that for all the diversity of popular interest in Jesus represented in verse 17, the socio-political interest of the Judeans, the ethnic, maybe regional interest of the Galileans, you might even say the theological interest of this large crowd of Jesus’ disciples—those whose interest in coming to Jesus seems to me to be of the greatest purity, of the deepest sincerity—it just may be these pagan Gentiles who are the most remote, these visitors from the coastland of Tyre and Sidon. And here’s where we’re going to get into second point of our outline, verse 18, the outpouring of divine mercy. Their hope and their interest were not disappointed, was it? Look at verse 18. All of these visitors “came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.” There are two clearly stated interests that this diverse multitude of people has in Jesus. The masses came, number one, to hear Jesus; and number two, to be healed by Jesus. They will hear Jesus as he preaches his most famous sermon staring in verse 20, but Luke wants us first to focus on the healing they received from Jesus.
For many of these visitors, especially from those who have come from beyond Galilee, we need to realize this is the time they’re hearing Jesus. There’s no telling what their expectations were as they came. There is no telling what their actual interests were, even though we get a bit of hint of that in verse 19. But there’s no doubt they came in response to the many rumors they had heard. We know the news about Jesus has spread a long way. And you know how inaccurate and distorted rumors can become. Those from Jerusalem probably came with their heads that were filled with reports that were informed by the religious leadership, probably not too flattering of Jesus. “Ah, he’s a blasphemer.” “He’s a violator of Sabbath law.” “He likes to dangerously make physical contact with lepers and the like.” “He pals around and hangs around with tax collectors and sinners. Who needs to listen to him?” That same report with the same information, even the same details, you can imagine how that would be reported and received in other regions, like in the Phoenician coastlands. The same information would be more favorably reported and received among pagan Gentiles, right? “We’ve got to go see this man! I hear he’s the descendant of King David and he’s not persnickety and fastidious and hard-nosed as those arrogant Jewish leaders.” “He’s showing a bit of leniency with us Gentiles.” “If he’ll touch a leper and eat with sinners, well, maybe there’s a chance he’ll have time for us, too.”
The immediate interest of these visitors was to be healed of their diseases, a variety of illnesses. To travel 30 to 50 miles with your sick and ailing loved ones, friends, like the Phoenicians who were upwards of 80 miles, like those coming from Jerusalem—this indicates a lot of hope they were placing in Jesus—not just in his power and ability, but in his willingness to heal. That much had been reported to them. In verse 19, we read that “Power came out from him and healed them all.” This is a clear, unambiguous indication of the divine intention to show mercy. We read earlier in the service from Isaiah 61, the same text Jesus used to launch his ministry in hometown synagogue in Luke 4:18 and 19. Jesus told them:
*The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. *
We’re going to get into the way Jesus began to proclaim good news to the poor next week in word and truth. Here in Luke 6:18 and 19, we can clearly see before a word of teaching comes out of his mouth, we see the outpouring of divine mercy. These people came with physical maladies, with illnesses, diseases, ailments, disorders—all kinds of sicknesses. And all these things were incurable by contemporary medicine. If they were otherwise, no one would have traveled these great distances and made the arduous journey to find healing from him, right? They would just visit their local doctor. These people came seeking a power greater than they could find on earth, a power that resided by the Holy Spirit in this man Jesus. They sought that power for the healing of their physical illnesses, the curing of their physical diseases. Jesus delivered them. He proclaimed liberty from disease, recovery from these incurable conditions.
Remember, they received more than they sought. It says in the end of verse 18, “Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.” The grammar there in the Greek may very well indicate something slightly different, and we can maybe read it this way, “And those who were troubled, they were cured from unclean spirits.” The meaning isn’t really changed either way, but there is a subtle difference. I don’t know if you noticed. But if we take it as it reads in the ESV, we might assume the people came to Jesus knowing already they were troubled by unclean spirits and then seeking deliverance from those demons. But if we take the grammar the way it seems to indicate in the Greek text, we can assume the people came to Jesus troubled, perhaps oppressed, afflicted, tormented, ailing, hurting—and whether or not they knew the source, Jesus knew. And he healed them and restored them from an even deeper malady—a spiritual malady—that of demons and unclean spirits. He freed them, restored from the torment of unclean spirits.
Listen, that’s the power and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The outpouring of this divine mercy is extravagant. It’s without boundaries. It doesn’t just handle the stuff on the surface so people can see—it goes down to the depths of the soul where we can’t see. It restores everything. This is surely the year of the Lord’s favor. And this is a clear demonstration of divine holiness. The heart and the essence of God is to bless, is to do good, is to care for us and to heal us. Beloved, you either believe that about God or you don’t. And if you believe that about God, it not only takes care of the eternal issues, it takes care of every present issue as well. You say, “Why do I suffer now with all manner of hurts and pains, all kinds of perplexing conditions and ailments that even doctors can’t diagnose or understand? It’s not fair!” Look, I don’t know why, but God does. Jesus knows. And if we can read here that his heart is to show mercy and compassion and, yet we suffer the pain of these many sicknesses and diseases still, we need to know and believe and trust that he has a good and wise reason for our suffering. Do you believe the truth about God—his holiness, his goodness, his mercy? It takes care of a thousand problems as well. That’s the response of faith, isn’t it? Knowing that God has good and wise purposes for our suffering. It’s a suffering people who are made a compassionate people, who are softened, useful to the Master’s work because they’re able to sympathize with others in times of weaknesses, just as our Lord did for us and our own weakness, Hebrews 4:15.
We have one more short point to make for this morning, which has to do with the short-sightedness of the people, who are focused only on physical healing. Jesus had a lot to teach these people, for he understood what they could not—that it was his teaching ministry that saves from sin and death and all spiritual maladies. But before we look at that final point, let’s just pause for a moment and ask this question—by setting Jesus’ teaching ministry in the context of his healing ministry, what does the Holy Spirit want us to see and understand here? Could it be that God wants us to show compassion for others, to have a heart of mercy as we take the Gospel to other people? Look ahead in the text to Luke 6:27 and 28. Jesus says this, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus is doing that right now by healing these people, many of whom are going to turn on him in the end and call for his blood. He is loving them.
Folks, love like that is something this world has never seen. On this occasion, Jesus is giving himself for the sake of ministering the physical needs of this mass of people. That’s the kind of love that’s never been seen—ever. That’s why Jesus said to those who hear—verses 35 an 36—“Love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be called sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Beloved, that’s what we need to see here as we enter into the Sermon on the Mount. Our teaching of the Gospel is always going to be best illustrated when it’s served with compassion and kindness to those who are hurting. Not everyone who is hurting is coming to us in need. Many would seek even to take advantage of our Christian compassion. And I don’t say that we should cast our pearls before swine or give what is holy to dogs, but we should, like our Lord, lead with compassion, mercy, kindness.
One final point for this morning. We’ve seen the diversity of popular interest, we’ve seen the response of Jesus, which is this outpouring of divine mercy. The third point to see just briefly is the short-sightedness of popular response. It says in verse 19, “All the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” The crowd is seeking to touch him because power for healing is coming out from him. The word “touch” is an interesting word here. Obviously, it can mean touch, as in making physical contact. It can mean even something more aggressive like “taking hold of.” Sometimes that’s motivated in the interest of friendship, as in clinging to somebody. In some cases, “take hold of” is in the sense of doing someone harm or causing them injury. There’s another possible meaning of this word “hapto,” which has to do with touching or partaking of something and in a ritualistic context, like a religious ritual—it’s to partake of something that has ritualistic significance. It’s likely there is bit of that kind of touching going on here as people want to touch Jesus to partake of the power that’s emanating from his person. It’s almost a superstitious, pagan interest in touching Jesus, hoping that some of that power will transfer, that it rubs off on them and they can take it with them. That sense might not be far off the mark, especially when you consider the pagan background for the Phoenician visitors, but even for the Jews. They were utterly overwhelmed by this incredible display of power, and they were also assured and encouraged by the goodness of that power, which was intent on healing them from illness and disease, delivering them from demonic oppression. So all of them—Jew and Gentile alike—they’re drawn to Jesus. They’re wanting to touch him, to take hold of him. They even want to cling to him. They want close physical contact with that power.
Before I speak to the short-sightedness of the people, I want to acknowledge this reaction to Jesus—his incredible, unparalleled power—who wouldn’t react that way? Listen, I’m not naturally much of a hugger, especially to people I don’t know well, but it’s hard for me to imagine getting to heaven, being the presence of Jesus Christ, my Savior, my Lord, and settling for a gentlemanly distant handshake. I think even I will be overcome in the moment, don’t you? But the tendency we have to cling to the bodily presence of Jesus is somewhat short-sighted because it’s his teaching that saves and sanctifies. It’s his teaching that delivers us from bondage to sin and Satan. It’s his teaching that delivers us from death. It’s his teaching that sets people eternally free and takes care of us from the interior to the exterior and everything in between.
So these dear people, like all people—they needed to look beyond the physical. They needed to look beyond the apparent presenting problem, the felt need, if you will. They needed to hear Jesus speak and not just watch him perform. They needed to listen carefully to his words of truth so that just as their bodies had been delivered from their illness and disease, so also their souls may be delivered from their bondage to lies. That’s why the next words we read in verse 20 are these, “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples,”—that is to say Jesus intentionally looked up from the physical, temporal needs that demanded his attention and turned his attention to spiritual matters.
*And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. *
Oh, and by the way, they did that same thing to the Son of Man. Beloved, when he lifts up his eyes, he is speaking to us, his disciples. We’re going to get a fuller introduction to that sermon he preached next week. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you by the power and the energizing of the Holy Spirit within us. We thank you for our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you for his mercy and compassion, his kindness and his grace, to love us, once his enemies, now made to be his friends. Thank you for forgiving all our sin in Christ, Father, for joining us to Christ so that as it says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Thank you for that. In Jesus’ name, amen.