Pastoral Commentary for Luke 11
Author: Pastor Zach
My first Christmas as a pastor, I was living in Corpus Christi and was thrilled at the prospect of preaching at my first Christmas Eve candlelight service ever. I spent hours crafting my message, I carefully scoured the sanctuary's Christmas decorations, making sure everything was in its place, and painstakingly proofread the service several times. The big evening came and with anxious expectancy, I arrived at the church two hours before the service was to begin. But then something completely unexpected happened. I glanced out the church windows and noticed our parking lot was turning white. "How can blacktop turn white?" I wondered to myself. So I walked outside to investigate further. That is when I discovered, falling from the sky, these little, white, crystallized flakes. In South Texas, I don't think these flakes have an official name, but in other regions of the country, I hear they call them "snow."
Unfortunately, because South Texas snow on Christmas Eve is a once-in-a-century phenomenon, our Christmas Eve worship attendance was abysmal. People either did not want to drive in what for them was a menacing white powder, or they took the opportunity to spend a white Christmas around the comfort of their living room fireplaces. The snow was indeed beautiful. But after all of my planning for our Christmas Eve service, the attendance was disappointing.
Apparently, Jesus wasn't battling inclement weather in Luke 11. Attendance at Jesus' church services was increasing exponentially. Luke 11:29 begins, "As the crowds increased... " That pretty much says it all. People were cramming into synagogues to hear Jesus preach. And Jesus does indeed preach. Addressing a packed house, he begins his sermon for the day: "This is a wicked generation" (verse 29).
Uh, maybe Jesus needs to go back to seminary and take a remedial preaching course. I was taught to begin a sermon on a slightly more upbeat note. But Jesus, even in front of one of his largest crowds yet, wastes no time cutting the hearts of his hearers: "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign" (verse 29). It seems as though with Jesus' ever-increasing crowds came the crowds' ever-increasing appetite for miraculous feats. But this crowd's appetite was not a hungering for faith in Jesus as the Son of God; rather, it was a hungering for the cheap chills and thrills that miracles inevitably bring. But Jesus refuses to feed the crowd this kind of spiritual junk food. Jesus offers no miraculous thrill, but instead an ominous sign: "No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah" (verse 29). In Matthew's account of this story, Jesus further explains his statement: "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). "I will die and be buried," Jesus warns. "But I will only be dead for three days."
One of the marks of a good sermon is that it moves people to do something. For instance, if a pastor preaches a sermon on reconciliation, one of his hopes might naturally be that his congregants will seek to reconcile their own broken relationships even as Christ reconciled us to God through Christ. Jesus' sermon, then, which is not only a good, but a perfect, sermon, is meant to move his listeners to action, as Jesus himself says: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (verse 28). Sadly, the people listening on this day do not obey, but rather rebel: "When Jesus left, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say" (verses 53-54). Jesus' sermon leads his listeners to action, but not to obedient action. Instead, it leads his listeners to persecute him. Indeed, his listeners eventually kill him and bury him for three days, according to the very miraculous sign he has just preached about. Thus, his persecutors become part of his sign.
Jesus still preaches. He still preaches through his Word. But Jesus doesn't only preach so that we will passively soak in his message, he also preaches so that we will do something with his message - so that we will obey him. And happily, Jesus has given us plenty to obey. From loving our neighbors to helping the poor to comforting the bereaved to approaching God in prayer, there's plenty to do today. I hope you'll heed God's voice and do it.