Is Grace Free or Not?



Luke 16:14-18
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. 18Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

While Jesus has been instructing His disciples, the Pharisees are eavesdropping and take a moment to “scoff” (ridicule) at Him. The Pharisees scoff at Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve God and mammon” made in the previous section (vs. 13).  Given their assumptions, this was predictable. For them tragedy is a sign of God’s displeasure; success is evidence of one’s righteousness and of God’s pleasure. It is no wonder they scoffed at Jesus’ “either God or money” stance. Money for them was a sure sign of God’s favor and of their place in the kingdom. Jesus’ response to their scoffing was to contrast their outer-public appearance with their inner-private reality. At this point in Him ministry, Jesus is executing a full-court press on the Pharisees. Their influence over His disciples and other followers has to be mitigated by the truth about His Kingdom.

The passage for us that may cause the greatest consternation is verse 18, concerning divorce. Taken on face value, this verse seems to be out of place or disconnected to the rest of the passage. But really, it is not. Jesus is shining the light of truth on the use of the law and how the Pharisees manipulate what God says in order to serve their own purposes.

Most commentators also note that the rabbis took two different views on divorce. L. T. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 251, puts it most succinctly: “As the Mishnah tractate Gittin shows, a large amount of legislation was devoted in rabbinic Judaism to divorce, some of it quite liberal. Thus, although the School of Shammai would allow divorce only on grounds of fornication, the School of Hillel would allow it simply because the husband found another woman more attractive (m. Git. 9:10). Like Jesus, the Qumran sect had a far stricter view of marriage (CD 4:20–5:1).”
Just, A. A., Jr. (1997). Luke 9:51–24:53. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Lest we become too smug when discussing the Pharisees it is always a good idea to ponder how we might be guilty of laying undue law oriented burdens on those around us. The goal always needs to be about presenting the Gospel as a free gift of God, given to us by His grace. We all struggle with the need to try and earn God’s favor but that simply is not God’s way. His grace is freely given because of His great love, not because we are good enough or have jumped through enough hoops. When we present the Gospel, is it without our man-made restrictions? Always something to consider as we witness to the world.

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