Friday, May 17, 2013

Luke 16:25-31

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

(This continues a parable from yesterday.)

The wealthy man who seemed to have the blessing of God has looked up to find himself in hell. He has benn in the Greek apollomi - destroyed or lost. Thayer's lexicon states, "The word means, at its heart, to be delivered up to eternal misery." Apart from God, he has no hope. In life the Holy Spirit convicts from love, offering a way out. Satan convicts from a standpoint of guilt. In hell there is complete guilt with no hope at all of redemption. The man does not ask for a reprieve from his punishment beyond a drop of water to ease his suffering for one moment. But even this is denied him.

Abraham responds to his descendant. In life he had received his reward. Lazarus received his in death. Riches do not prohibit someone from heaven, but the rich man had reveled in his wealth rather than turning in faith to God. Even if he wanted to send Lazarus, there was a barrier between heaven and hell.

This is a parable, an allegory to teach greater truths. People cannot speak to one another from heaven to hell or vice versa. But there is a barrier between the two. Once your eternal destiny is set, there is no chance of gaining or losing position.

The rich man realizes this. But he begs Abraham to send Lazarus so that the man's five brothers would believe and not end up with the same eternal punishment. Abraham replies that the brothers have the Law and the Prophets. If they would not believe these, they would not even believe someone resurrected. The Pharisees had twisted the Law into a set of rules and works that would bring salvation. But true salvation as described in the Old Testament required a change of heart as well as a sacrifice of blood that pointed toward the eventual sacrifice of Christ which would impute righteousness to all who would believe. Salvation came through faith alone (Hb 11). The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to the gospel of Jesus - the only way to enter the kingdom of God.

Even when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus (not the same person as the man in this story) from the dead many people would not believe. The Pharisees react to this miracle by plotting the death of both Lazarus and Jesus. When Jesus is raised from the dead many still will not believe. There are those who will believe in the way to salvation laid out in scripture and those who will not. And the responsibility is on those of us who have been given this understanding to share it with others. No one will supernaturally appear from the dead to preach the gospel. It is our responsibility to study, believe, and proclaim the truth to others.

Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord. 
 - Jeremiah 9:23–24

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Luke 16:19-24

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’”

Some have contended that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a true story. After all, it is unusual for Jesus to give a character in one of his parables a real name. Perhaps Jesus chose the name Lazurus because it means "God has helped". It is clearly a parable because certain details in the story are not backed up in other places. With rare exception, no one is taken bodily into heaven. And even Enoch and Elijah are not described as dying before they left this world. People in heaven and hell cannot see each other and converse over some great divide. But in this fictional account Jesus has, as usual, hidden deep truths.

The rich man wears the finst clothing every day - clothing that even other wealthy men would only wear on special occasions. In modern times a man like this would don Alexander McQueen to walk his dog - not that he wouldn't have people to do that for him. He was joyous, indulging his wants and needs every day of his life. In this culture wealth symbolized the blessings of God. Jesus' listeners would hear this story and know that this was the good guy. (Well, unless they'd begun to see the pattern of Jesus' tales that is.)

At the large, fancy gate to his estate, a wretched man was laid. The beggar couldn't walk, was skin and bones, and was covered with oozing sores. He couldn't even shoo away the dogs who came to lick his wounds. He longed to eat the scraps of stale bread used to clean the hands of the diners, but the dogs had that privilege as well. Clearly this was a man punished and hated by God.

Not surprisingly, the sickly beggar dies. But surprisingly that is not the end of his story. With no one to give him a burial or care about his death, an angel carries him to Abraham's side. Abraham, being the father of the Jewish nation both ethnically and spiritually, would clearly be in heaven.

The rich man also dies and receives a lavish burial. Suddenly, he lifts his eyes and realizes he is in Hades. Of course he is shocked. How could he have ended up here? He was blessed in life! He was the right race, the right religion, and the right socioeconomic statues. From the story he doesn't see a particularly bad man. He doesn't help Lazarus, but can any of us help every person we see in need? But his lack of faith and understanding have landed him here.

Clearly he still looks down on Lazarus, asking Abraham to send him over with a few drops of water. Surely heaven can spare such a beggar to help ease the agony of a man such as himself. But we will see tomorrow that no relief is possible for the rich man. He is quite literally beyond hope.

40% of Westerners believe that all people will go to heaven, and 48% agree than anyone who does enough good for others will make the cut. But ask people if they think they themselves will enter heaven and 90% answer in the affirmative.They may claim, "Well, I'm a good person." Perhaps they reply, "I'm religious. I believe in God." Or they muse, "God is good and wouldn't send me to hell."

Clearly there is a disconnect. Unfortunately, many people are mislead. We have been fed just enough religion to believe we are safe without possession the true justification that comes when we place our faith in God and the righteousness or Christ is imputed to us. Most of the people who find themselves in hell in the next life will lift up their eyes in total surprise, just like the rich man in the story. It is up to believers to stop sugar coating the gospel and start speaking the truth in love. The body of Christ does not exist to make people feel uplifted, it exists to pull people from the clutches of the evil one to the glory of God.

The story continues tomorrow.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-8:1

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Luke 16:16-18

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

The NIV titles this section "additional teachings". It almost seems a hodgepodge of ideas that do not flow with the rest of the passage. But since that isn't Jesus' style, let's take a closer look. Why are these verses sandwiched between the story of proper use of money and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? Taken all together, Jesus is pointing the finger at the false religion of the Pharisees and pointing out the dangers within the system.

Again and again Jesus points out that a person's outward religiosity is no indication that the person is part of the kingdom of God. He called the most religious people in the land "whitewashed tombs" - clean on the outside but inside filled with rotting decay.

The Law and the Prophets are what Christians today call the Old Testament. Until the coming of John the Baptist, these scriptures proclaimed the truths of God and revealed man's inability to live up to a  perfect holy standard. The arrival of John and Jesus marked the beginning of a new era. The "sinners and tax collectors" had been held at arms length from God by these Pharisees. Now they were forcing their way in droves through the open door of the gospel.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not destroy it. Not even a mark the size of a period or dash will be removed from the Law until heaven and earth pass away. Some of the sacrificial laws and cultural laws are not followed by Christians, but the meaning of the law as taught by Jesus certainly is. Although he interacted with and offered grace to those considered sinners by society, he set the standard for righteousness even beyond the law in teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount. "You think you're righteous because you haven't murdered? If you've hated anyone it is the same thing. You think you're sinless because you haven't committed adultery? If you've lusted you are equally guilty under the Law." He lived a sinless life and imputes that righteousness to all who believe.

Verse 18 seems totally out of flow, almost like a random thought. But he was calling out the Pharisees who had married divorced women or been divorced themselves. They would never have sex outside the bonds of marriage, but in the eyes of the Law divorce and remarriage was equivalent to adultery. They wanted to pick and choose which sins were allowed and which were grievous.

Don't we all. Some sins - sexual sins, divorce, murder, rape, child abuse - are seen by many Christians as worse than others - gossip, white lies, mildly lustful feelings, jealousy, overindulgence. We like to justify ourselves by pointing the finger at others. We condemn Gosnell and the Tsarnaev brothers to hell but give ourselves a free pass. Of course some sins have greater repercussions on earth. Of course our human laws should punish some sins greatly and ignore others. But in the eyes of a holy God, sin is sin. "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (Js 2:10).

So now turn from your conscience and its feeling to Christ who is not able to deceive; my heart and Satan, however, who will drive me to sin are liars... You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you... Therefore you are able to fight with your conscience by saying: You lie; Christ speaks the truth and you do not. - Martin Luther

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Luke 16:13-15

 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

After concluding his parable of the Shrewd Manager, a commentary about how Jesus' followers should use worldly riches to further God's kingdom, Jesus makes it clear that you cannot serve both God and money. We all know people who are obsessed with money. We shake our heads at lottery winners and movie stars who blow through their savings and wind up with nothing. Although money in and of itself is not evil, the love of and obsession with money takes our focus away from God, his will for our lives, and his provision for our daily needs. When you love money, you never have enough. When you love God, you find all you ever needed.

The Pharisees found this statement ridiculous. They loved money. Who wouldn't. Riches in this culture meant God was pleased with you. Destitution was a sign of God's displeasure. Likely your sins or the sins of your father cost you worldly comfort.

Someone was right, and someone was wrong. Jesus' teaching contradicted the traditions and teachings of the Pharisees. They rejected everything he said, unwilling to allow any conviction into their own hearts. They had no interest in using their money to bring people into the kingdom of God. Their defenses went up with every story from Jesus' mouth. They purported to be the true worshippers of God, the true leaders of the true faith. They had convinced themselves and the nation that they held the keys to God. They prided themselves on worship, praying public prayers of thanksgiving that they weren't like the poor sinners surrounding them.

They built their foundation on the shifting sands of public opinion, hypocritical acts of goodness, and worldly comforts and praise. They checked off their list of religious behaviors while devouring widows' houses. Every false religion focuses on specific good deeds and outward behaviors. Jesus was proclaiming God's kingdom as inward change, spiritual wealth, and God's glory through changed lives. He taught humility rather than deeds done by men. He taught giving so that your left hand would not even know what your right was doing rather than trumpet blasts and public proclamations of generosity.

People will notice public deeds and attention grabbing generosity, but God searches the heart for true motivation. He desires mercy rather than sacrifice and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).

"How can you say, 'We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,' when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and snared. They have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom do they really have?" Jeremiah 8:9

Monday, May 13, 2013

Luke 6:1-12

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

In the previous chapter, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees' criticism of the company he kept among sinners. The parable in this section is addressed to his disciples.

In the story a wealthy man hears rumors that his property manager is squandering his wealth, throwing his money around indiscriminately. He summons the manager and fires him, but first he gives the manager time to bring him an account of the debts he managed. Perhaps the wealthy man did not have these records, or perhaps he wanted the most recent account. Either way, he is about to find out why people fired from corporations today are immediately escorted off the property.

The manager is in a panic. He faces the prospect of losing his income and his dwelling place on the wealthy man's property. He knows he cannot get his job back, and with a reputation as a bad manager he will not easily find a similar position somewhere else. He knows he is not strong enough for manual labor. He knows he is too proud to beg. So he comes up with a solution. In a society where reciprocation is ingrained into every relationship, he finds a way to make those indebted to his master also indebted to him. These men will then have the cultural responsibility to welcome the manager into their homes.

He calls in each debtor. He cancels a year and a half's worth of wages of the first man's debt and two years of wages from the second debt. You can infer that he dealt likewise with the other accounts. These types of deals were occasionally restructured out of kindness when there were locusts, drought, or other calamity. These men summoned about their debt would assume he was acting for his master,  not knowing he was fired. Even though there was no reason to restructure their debt, they would of course not ask any questions about this good deal!

We would expect the master to be angry, but instead he is impressed with the shrewdness of the manager. He has used the wealth of another to make friends with those who will reward him. He is still fired, but he has somewhere to go.

To interpret this passage as a green light to embezzle and misuse other's money because the master commends the manager would not fit with the rest of Scripture. So what does it mean? Most people of the world focus on using riches for earthly security. Believers in Christ are to use the "unrighteous" wealth of this world as an investment for eternity. We are to invest our wealth in reaching others with the gospel, so that in eternity we will be welcomed by them into our eternal dwellings. If we were even as wise as the unscrupulous financial planners of the earth, we would purchase friends for an eternity. We would lay up our treasure in heaven.

Are you more focused on your 401K than on the unsaved? Are you more concerned about how many years until you can retire than on building the kingdom of God? Do you manage your everyday finances as if "working for the Lord" (Col 3:23)? Take head Jesus' warning in verse 9.

Most of us are in debt. We owe God's riches to others. If we were to give our finances to God with all our hearts, he would receive a big IOU. Perhaps we should consider spending the bare minimum until we free ourselves to spend his money at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Those who are unfaithful in small things will also be unfaithful in big things. I often joke that I'm ready for God to stop teaching me patience and start teaching me to be generous be sending me a large sum of money. But if I cannot be generous with the money already on loan to me from God, how could I be expected to be generous with millions? It is actually easier to be faithful with a small portion than with great riches! We should spend less than we take in not just with an eye for our temporal future, but to save for future investment in God's kingdom. Everything we have is God's property, and we are called to use it for his glory.

These two are diametrically opposed, God and money. One commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight. One to be humble, the other to be proud. One to set your affection on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth. One to look at the things that are unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things that are seen and temporal; one to have your conversation in heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety. One to be content with such things as you have, the other enlarge your desires. One to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; one to look at the things of others, the other to look at only one's own things; one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature. Is it not plain. You can't serve two such masters."  - A. W. Pink

Friday, May 10, 2013

Luke 15:25-32

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

(This story is a continuation from yesterday.)

The older son has been in the field during the time of reconciliation. As the manager of the property, he wouldn't really "work" so much as sit in the shade and make sure others did their work to his satisfaction. No one comes to get him for the party, and he was so far away on the father's large estate that he knows nothing about it. Rather than going in to see what is going on, he is suspicious and asks a servant what is happening. He is told that his father has received his brother back safe and sound and is throwing a party to celebrate his joy.

The older brother is angry. and refuses to join the party. Finally a character appears with whom the Pharisees can agree! The younger son was sinful, dishonored his father, and deserved shame rather than restitution. The father shamed himself by agreeing to divide his estate and improperly welcoming home the son. But this older brother with his righteous indignation is the kind of guy they can get behind.

Growing up I thought the older brother was the good guy. He stayed and did what the father expected. But I know now that the older brother is the Pharisees. He outwardly completed "good deeds" but inwardly had no love for his father or his brother. He judged his brother, but clearly he also did not care about his father's joy. All he wanted was to keep what he thought was his by birthright and certainly not to share it with his sinful brother.

All people are sinful. We may be the irreligious overtly sinful younger brother or the religious hypocritical older brother. Most of us fall in the middle of the spectrum. But no matter which we are, the Father loves us and longs to offer grace, forgiveness, and love. He longs for a relationship with us that will bring glory to him. Good works are worth nothing in the realm of salvation and forgiveness. But thank God that he saves us by his grace through our faith!

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Luke 15:17-24

(This continues a parable from yesterday)

But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Suddenly, with nowhere else to turn, the younger son remembers his father. While he lived his life of sin and revelry, he had done all he could to push his father from his mind. Completely homesick, he remembers that his father was a man of great kindness and compassion, paying even the day laborers beyond what was expected. Destitute and dying of hunger amid the famine of a foreign land, he has nothing else to lose. He knows that he will not be restored as a family member if he returns. Perhaps after years of penance and hard labor to earn back what he squandered... but he knows he should not even hope. Except for this one fact. Whereas most fathers would hold a funeral service and consider such a disrespectful, dishonest son dead, he knows that his father is compassionate. If he can just convince his dad to let him prove his worthiness as a daily hired man, perhaps his father will one day be able to look him in the eye.

He has his speech all worked out. He's been rehearsing it on the long walk from Gentile country. He has braced himself for the awkward and shameful walk through town. But his father is on the watch for him, knowing that eventually the son's choices would reach a disastrous end and turn his heart toward home. Unwilling to let his son bear a second more of shame, the father picks up the hem of his garment and sprints to his son. In Middle Eastern culture it was shameful to run and expose one's legs, but this father is not concerned about his reputation. He throws his arms around his filthy, smelly son and begins covering him with kisses.

The son begins his speech, but the father isn't listening. He instructs the servants to get the family robe, the robe saved for special occasions such as the oldest son's wedding, and wrap it around his malodorous defiled son without even requesting a handwashing. He places the signet ring of authority on his sons finger. He places sandals on his feet, an item servants or hired laborers would never receive to wear.

The meanings in this parable are clear. In this story the father represents God's behavior and feelings about repentant sinners. The son realizes he has traded the riches and generosity of the father for the fleeting pleasures of sin. He knows that the smallest pleasures in the house of his father are far better than anything in the world without him. The son approaches the father like most of us approach God when we repent. "I am so sorry. I am not worthy of your love. I am willing to work as hard as it takes to make it up to you, earn your favor, and just maybe become your child again. I'll do anything to be reconciled in some way."

But the Father doesn't work that way. There is no trial period or tests of worthiness. The moment we repent, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. We are justified immediately, without any need to get "cleaned up" first.

And all this brings the father great joy! He throws a party, killing even the fattened calf! Meat was a rarity in these days, and the fattened calf was reserved for the most special of occasions. The entire village is called to celebrate the return of the lost son. Just so, all of heaven rejoices when one sinful person turns from their sin. No works are needed to receive the full grace of God. We could not do enough good to outweigh our sin and earn his favor anyway!

"With Him the calf is always the fatted calf; the robe is always the best robe; the joy is unspeakable; and the peace passes understanding. There is no grudging in God’s goodness. He does not measure His goodness by drops like a druggist filling a prescription. It comes to us in floods. If only we recognize the lavish abundance of His gifts, what a difference it would make in our lives! If every meal were taken as a gift from His hand, it would be almost a sacrament."  - Haddon Robinson