Thursday, February 28, 2013

Luke 7:36-43

Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!”

Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher,” he said, “say it.”

“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.”

“You have judged correctly,” He told him.

(Note: this was a separate event from the story in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8.)

Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to a feast. Although we do not know his motivation, we have no reason to assume he was out to get Jesus. Perhaps he was a follower, or perhaps he was curious to get to know Jesus better away from the crowds. The meal was apparently a public celebration, possibly connected with a Jewish festival or the Sabbath. At such times uninvited guests could enter the open door, sit by the wall, listen and watch, and perhaps receive leftover bits of food. Jesus assumes the normal position of reclining at the table for the meal.

The woman in this story comes not to observe the party or beg for food. She comes to see Jesus and beg for forgiveness. She believes his message of forgiveness and wants to honor him. She carries expensive perfume in an ornate alabaster jar. We know not why she wept. Perhaps she was overcome at being in the presence of Jesus. Perhaps she wept as she remembered her past transgressions. Perhaps her tears overflowed at the joy of her forgiveness. Perhaps it was a mixture of all three.

As she washed Jesus' feet, she anointed them with the expensive perfume rather than the standard olive oil. The fragrance filled the room, and all eyes must now be upon her. Rather than wiping his feet with a towel, she dried them with her own unbound hair.

The Pharisees responded with horror. How could Jesus let this sinful woman touch him? Did he not know her reputation? If he was such a great prophet, could he not sense her sinfulness? Why did he not rebuke and dismiss her from the house?

Jesus displayed his prophetic nature in a different way. Sensing the hypocrisy in Simon's heart, he tells a short parable. A banker loans money to two men - two year's wages for one and two month's wages for another. The banker shocks them both by forgiving their loans. But which would be most excited? Simon has no choice but to respond that the one receiving the most forgiveness would love the banker more. Jesus acknowledges that this is the right answer.

Of course all sins, and all sinners, are equal in the sight of God. James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." But it can be easier for those with more obvious sins to realize their need for forgiveness. We must all reach a point of extreme grieving over our sins before we seek God's forgiveness through the blood of Christ. But none of us are more in need of having our debt forgiven than others. Whether our sins amount to a large or small debt, none of us can repay the "banker". The interest is too high!

The longer I walk with Christ, the "smaller" my sins become. But the sins I commit grieve me more! If you have not received forgiveness through faith in Christ, receive him today. If you are already a believer, pray that God will reveal any sins or hypocrisy in your own heart and uproot it.

As it is written:
     “None is righteous, no, not one;
         no one understands;
         no one seeks for God.
      All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
         no one does good,
        not even one...”
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  - Romans 3:10-12, 20, 24-25

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Luke 7:18-35

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

      “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
         who will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

      “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
         we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

You can hardly blame John. After a lifetime of devotion to God, he was arrested for his righteous judgment of Herod. Things had not worked out the way he imagined. After pointing out Jesus as the Messiah no kingdom had come for the Jews. Nothing was changing... or so it seemed. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus point blank if he was the Messiah. Perhaps John feared his entire life's work had been in vain.

Rather than giving them an answer that could be used against him either way by his opponents, Jesus spends an hour healing diseases, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, and preaching the good news to the poor - clear fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. John would understand the report loud and clear. Jesus might not be exactly the Messiah he had imagined, but the kingdom of God was at hand nevertheless.

Jesus commends John to the level of the greatest prophet ever, in fact the one who would come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Christ. But the others in the generation who reject John and Jesus are compared to pouting sulking children who refuse to dance at times of joy or cry at times of mourning. They simply miss the point and the celebration. He calls out the Pharisees on their inconsistencies and hypocrisy. They judged John for his extreme fasting - attributing his unusual behavior to demonic possession. When Jesus came feasting they judged him as well. The Message puts it this way: "John the Baptist came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush. Opinion polls don't account for much, do they?" Neither man played by the Pharisees' rules, so they would rather take their ball and go home. Some people will just never be happy.

Are there inconsistencies in our words and actions when it comes to our faith? Do we judge people rather than carefully seeking the truth of a situation? We must be vigilant to guard against falling into ruts in our beliefs rather than searching Scripture and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit. True wisdom will be proved by the fruit borne by following it.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
 - Proverbs 1:7

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Luke 7:11-19

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Nain was a city of Galilee about six miles south of Nazareth, on the northwest slope of the Hill of Moreh. It is the same place where Gideon attacked the Midianites. Possibly Jesus and his disciples had been through before, and the townspeople surely knew of this miracle worker. Jesus is followed by a huge crowd, and as they neared the gate of the city they were met by another large crowd trying to carry a body out of the city. (I picture Black Friday crowds jostling for position here!)

The second crowd follows a wailing widow. She has lost her only son, a fate many today would consider unbearable. But as a widow in this time she could not inherit property, and anything she owned would revert to her husband's closest relative upon the death of her son. In one moment this woman had lost love, hope, and any security in her life. She certainly needed help from God.

Jesus' heart overflowed with compassion as he comforted the mother, although I have to imagine that she thought the Aramaic equivalent of "yeah right" when he instructed her not to weep. The bearers of the open coffin stood still as Jesus approached. I imagine they were waiting for some insightful teaching. No one expected what would happen next. With a command from the Son of God, the young man sits up and begins to speak! Don't you wonder what he said?

Jesus lifts the young man from his coffin and hands him to his flabbergasted mother. Both crowds are seized with awe at what has happened and begin rejoicing. They imagine Jesus to be a prophet in the style of Elijah or Elisha, missing the grander point, but they cannot help but realize that God had visited his people. Of course the Galilean grapevine lights up with the story that spreads even through Judea.

Any of us who have attended funerals can imagine how amazing it would be were the dead to rise up with a healed body and words of praise on their lips. But Jesus' miracles were not simply performed to reward faith and show his kindness. He shows his power over even death. John writes that the miracles were performed and recorded so that all who hear would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31). This is also a symbol of how Jesus has power over our spiritual deadness. He has the power to raise our dead spirits and breathe true life into is. As tragic as physical death can be, spiritual death is a fate far worse. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life (1 John 2:25). Those of us who have placed our trust in him have nothing to fear in life or death!

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.  - Hebrews 2:14-15


Monday, February 25, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

After the sermon on the plain, Jesus returns to Capernaum. As a center of business and trade, Capernaum required a presence of Roman soldiers. They guarded the people  from illegal business and collected customs from traders crossing Palestine's borders. Despite the commonly assumed 100, Roman centurions usually commanded 60 to 80 men.

A household servant of a Roman centurion fell ill. Apparently he was cared for and valued and may have held a position of high authority. Nevertheless, he was a servant with no rights except those given by the centurion. Although servants could be easily replaced, the centurion cares for this servant. We can't say whether this is pure compassion or if the servant was just a valuable worker.

The Jewish elders who most often opposed Jesus come to him with the centurion's request. They argue for the man's character, even though he is an unclean Gentile. This centurion won favor through his kind deeds and understanding of their customs and religion rather than getting what he wanted through brute force. Early inscriptions show that several synagogues were funded by Gentile contributors who admired the Jews, and this centurion was among those. Although the elders could not refute the healing power of Jesus, they missed the point of his ministry. Jesus did not heal based on works, but on faith. As we shall see, the centurion had both.

The crowds needing healing had pressed tightly against Jesus, reaching out hands for a healing touch. Even the opposition could not dispute the healing power of Jesus.  In Jesus' home base of Capernaum it was well known that if you could get close enough to touch Jesus, possibly healing would flow from him to cure any ailment. I cannot imagine how the crowds would press against him.

The centurion responds in a surprising way. He sends a second delegation, made up of trusted friends. They come with a plea that Jesus not defile himself by entering a Gentile home. Simply issue the command, and the servant will live. The Jewish leaders had claimed the centurion deserved the help of Jesus; the centurion claimed he did not deserve to have Jesus even darken his door.

Jesus responded to the centurion the way the crowds responded to his miracles - with amazement. Such words revealed a faith far beyond any yet shown by his followers. The crowds sought signs and wonders. The opposition sought a slip-up. The centurion simply sought the unmerited favor of the Lord.

Oh to have the kind of faith that would amaze Jesus! Too often we are the crowds, seeking God in the miraculous and forgetting him in the mundane. Too often we are the opposition, coming for help when there is a need but lacking faith and humility. The centurion never met Jesus face to face but recognized his power and authority over all things. Although we can not physically see Jesus, may we have the same faith in our own lives.

"But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Hebrews 10:38-11:1

Friday, February 22, 2013

Luke 6:43-49

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Each year we head to the mountains of North Carolina to pick apples. The trees are healthy, and the apples are gorgeous. The good fruit from those trees provides applesauce throughout the winter. If branches on the trees are found to be diseased, they are cut off and burned. The owners of the orchards know that good trees produce good fruit. Last year I had the privilege to volunteer at a local vineyard. I can promise you that we never went searching the brambles in the nearby woods to find grapes. All the grapes were firmly attached to healthy grapevines.

Jesus used an example easy to understand. Adding to the parable is the fact that fig trees and grapevines were a symbol of the Hebrew people. All his listeners would likely believe themselves to be part of a strong grapevine and fig tree. But when we truly examine our hearts we find diseased branches that need to be cast into the fire. Any bad behavior in our life - gossip, lying, hate, evil words - can probably be traced back to sins of the heart.

Jesus further explains with another parable. As a mom I instantly think of the story of The 3 Little Pigs. The oldest brother pig was the only pig to put real time and energy into building his house, and his was the only house spared when evil came in the form of a wolf. In Jesus' story the man who built his house quickly and cheaply saw his house destroyed when the torrents came. The man who had laid a strong foundation was safe from the exact same storm.

We lay a spiritual foundation in our life through disciplines such as prayer and Bible study. We build strong foundations through growing a network of friends and family who believe in God and encourage our faith. When the storms of life come, the strength of our foundation is revealed. You cannot wait until the storms begin to decide to lay the foundation on the rock. It's too late to brick up your house when the wolf is at the door. We must practice the teachings of Jesus long before the first raindrops fall.

I saw this put into practice when my Daddy died last year after a three year battle with cancer. Although we were all heartbroken, the faith exhibited by my family - especially my mom and granddaddy - showed me what it means to have a strong foundation. The storms of life raged, but their faith was firm. Before my eyes I saw proof of Psalm 62:6 - He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Luke 6:37-42

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

People are judgmental by nature. We judge people's behavior. We make snap judgments based on first impressions. We form opinions about situations without knowing the facts. And if you are sitting there thinking that you don't judge people, I bet you are judging all these judgmental people!

We can be remarkably alert to the failings of others while blind to our own shortcomings. Often the things for which we judge others or which annoy us about others are the very logs jabbing into our own eyes. (For example, I abhored procrastination and talking in class when I was a teacher. But just ask my mom what comments she received about me when I was in school!) Or perhaps we are acutely aware that there is a log in our eye, but we hope that pointing out the sawdust in someone else's eye will work some misdirection and keep everyone from pointing at our sinfulness. And we can do it with such kindness, "Oh please can I help you with that speck my brother?"

Does this mean we should never point out the faults of others? Matthew 18:15-20 gives a model for how to confront believers who sin against us. But following the previous passage it would seem that in most cases it is probably wise to "turn the other cheek" and focus on addressing our own sins. I have children who are 3 and 6. Usually they play well together, but when they are reprimanded for fighting you can imagine their first word: "But he..." and "But she..." Mommy and Daddy are quick to remind them to worry about their own behavior, not the other person's. Adults are just as quick to focus on the fault of the other party without contemplating our own role in any discord. Only after searching our own souls and confessing our own sin should we even consider trying to "take out the speck" from our brother's eye.

If we do not judge, do not condemn, and always give and forgive does that mean we will always be blessed and treated fairly? Of course not. God may not give you physical comfort and the favor of others in this life. But as we live in His will and become more like Christ we experience more of God's overflowing favor in our lives. The mercy we receive for our transgressions against God is far greater than any we extend to others.

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, for He will render to each one according to his works. - Romans 2:1-7

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Luke 6:27-36

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

This is one of the most challenging passages in the entire Bible. When I read Luke's sermon on the plain (or Matthew's sermon on the mount) I always feel that I could spend my life working from only those teachings of Jesus. Love your enemies. Pray for them. As Jesus cried from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Can you imagine if we really followed this consistently? Although Christians have as sordid a past as any religion, and although many people who claim to be followers of Christ still loudly proclaim hate, I do see many believers practicing this in their lives. It just doesn't get the attention of the press when someone says, "That's okay; I love you anyway." We find ways to disagree in love - hating sin but loving sinners. After all we are as full of sin as anyone else apart from the atonement of Christ.

I am constantly asking my children to put this into practice. If one of them physically or emotionally hurts the other, I ask the offended party not to strike back. It is difficult enough to teach them to walk away; I can't imagine telling them to stand there and get hit again. But that is exactly what Jesus said! He didn't say to run away. He told his listeners to stand there meekly for another slap!

"Oh, you want my jacket? Here, let me give you my shirt as well."

Your neighbor borrowed your lawnmower and never brought it back? Just let him keep it. The grass withers and fades anyway.

Lend to people who will not ever pay you back? How would we pay our own bills?

Seriously? Are we called to give away everything and get beat up on a regular basis? Well, maybe. Jesus did tell the rich young ruler that the one thing he lacked was to sell everything he owned. But in other cases wealthy people followed Jesus without giving up their socioeconomic status (e.g. Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia). I think the key is that we should always be willing to do these things if God calls us to do it. Anyone in ministry knows that if the church gave money to everyone who asked for it the coffers would be empty in no time. There are too many scammers and too much need. Handing out money willy nilly rarely solves problems of poverty anyway. But when we give our motivation should be to help and love others, not to reap a reward. No earthly possession should be held so tightly that we are not willing to let it go. And when we are not called by God to help, we should show love and try to refer them for help.

In this world, there will always be people who disagree with you, often in very cruel ways. As they say, "haters gonna hate". But we must always respond in love.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Luke 6:12-26

In these days 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 named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

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 crowd 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 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.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

 If I were choosing disciples in Jesus' day, perhaps I would have visited Gamaliel's rabbinic school to seek his top students. Perhaps I would have tried to steal some disciples from the Pharisees and Sadducees.  I doubt I would have chosen some fisherman, a tax collector, a religious zealot, an accountant, and some various others. I would not have been so in tune with the will of God. But Jesus' practice was to spend long periods of time in communication with God before times or trial or decision. Putting aside his divinity, he lived as a man and needed time in prayer to seek the Father's will. It is interesting that one who would eventually betray him was selected as one of his closest followers. Jesus knows what it is to be betrayed by a supposed friend! Although many would follow Jesus from place to place, these 12 would be his closest disciples. They would receive special teaching and instruction, and 11 of them would eventually found the church and spread the gospel at the cost of their own lives.

People continue to pursue Jesus to hear his teaching and receive healing. Many were cured by simply being in his presence or managing to get close enough to touch him. Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" closely mirrors Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount". Clearly these are principles taught by Jesus to the multitudes on more than one occasion.

The gospel is not one of "health and wealth". Those that inherit the kingdom of God experience hunger, poverty, and persecution on the earth. Their true reward is in the life to come. Many who are rich and respected in this life have already received their reward and have only eternal punishment in their future. Favor on earth is not necessarily a sign of God's favor on our lives. Do we trust Jesus enough to wait on his blessing rather than chasing the fleeting riches and rewards of this world? Do we seek the favor of God or the acclaim of man?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Luke 6:1-11

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. 

Our common response to these stories is to shake our head at those silly Pharisees and their silly rules. But I have to respect their willingness to sacrifice and their fervor to follow the laws of God. Yes, by this point in history law upon law had been added to keep people from breaking a commandment, and many attributed the same weight to the man-made laws as to God's Law. But I am sure many of the Pharisees and other Jews did this in an attempt to truly please God, not simply to retain power or to catch this new prophet in a sin.

Ever on the move from the large crowds, the disciples were walking through a field one Sabbath. Possibly unconsciously they pick off a few heads of grain to munch. (Let's be honest; we all know what that's like!) The Pharisees left no room for such an action. Clearly Jesus' disciples were in violation of the law for harvesting and threshing grain! They were completely serious - one didn't even spit on the ground on the Sabbath in case it would make a furrow for something to grow! Jesus takes responsibility for the actions of the disciples by citing the time when King David fed his hungry troops with consecrated bread meant only for consecrated priests from the tribe of Levi. As King David put the physical needs of his soldiers above ritual law, so Jesus put the needs of his disciple over the man-made laws protecting the Sabbath. Jesus' last statement would have filled them with anger as he claimed to be Messianic and the Lord of the Sabbath.

Jesus did follow many of the religious customs, continuing to worship in the local synagogue each Sabbath. As usual, he was chosen to speak. Seeing a man with a withered hand close to Jesus, his opposition watched closely to see if he would follow Sabbath rules of rest or continue his mission to "release the oppressed". Jesus not only healed the man he first provided one of his potent quotables, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” Of course they have no good way to answer this, which likely adds to their fury.

So what can we take from this? How should we honor the Sabbath without becoming legalistic? Commandment number four still applies to believers today. When my parents were growing up there were "blue laws" that kept businesses closed on Sundays. Most people attended church and spent time with families on Sundays. The only work done was related to getting Sunday dinner on the table. Today Sundays are as busy as any other day, and sometimes even church activities can shove rest and worship out of our spiritual lives. Football and other sports on Sundays can crowd out our focus on God as well.

Jesus' example was to observe the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship in the synagogues without the minute restrictions placed on the observance of the law by the Pharisees. The focus of the Sabbath should be first on honoring and worshiping God as we follow his example of rest on the seventh day. The second should be on loving our neighbor as ourselves. Taking one day out of the week to focus on these two concepts and allow ourselves time to physically and mentally rest would affect our entire week in a positive manner. It is up to each of us to pray for discernment about how our Sabbath should be spent. This should be done on a regular basis to avoid keeping the letter of the law and completely missing the true spirit of it as the Pharisees in this story.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 
- Matthew 22:36-40

Friday, February 15, 2013

Luke 5:33-39

They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine should be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’”

The Pharisees continue to criticize Jesus for his religious beliefs and actions. They notice that he and his disciples do not fast as other devout Jewish disciples do. We know that Jesus fasted at least once and speaks about fasting in some of his sermons, but here he does not defend the practice. If he sinlessly followed the Law, then he also fasted yearly on the Day of Atonement. Aside from the yearly fast days, many religious leaders would also fast every Monday and Thursday and would whiten their faces with ash so everyone could see that they were fasting. Jesus did not observe the extra laws added through the years. He explains that fasting is consistent with someone in mourning, but his disciples realized that they were not in a state of loss. Rather they had gained a friend and bridegroom. Sorrow would come to them later after the work of Jesus was complete.

We have all experienced how clothes shrink over time, especially the first time they are dried. If you patch torn clothes with new cloth, the new cloth will shrink while the old garment does not - causing the patch to tear away and make an even bigger hole. Also it would be foolish to rip a new garment simply to mend an old one. New wine expands as it ferments, and it stretches the skin into which it is placed. A wineskin could be used several times before it lost its elasticity. Eventually, however, the skin would lose its ability to flex and would no longer be suitable for making wine. If new wine was placed into it, the wineskin would burst as the new wine expanded. And connoisseurs of wine prefer aged wine with more flavor.

So what does this parable mean? For one thing, Jesus was bring a new take on Jewish theology. Many of his listeners were too set in their ways to consider and understand it. They could not stretch and therefore lost the meanings of his teachings, like new wine spilling from a burst wineskin. Those listening had a choice. They could follow the old establishment with its comfort and tradition, or they could follow Jesus although the road would lead to the cross.

Jesus was starting something fresh and new, based on grace and truth. His new movement was incompatible with the legalistic emphasis many religious leaders of his day placed on the on the law. But this does not mean the Old Testament or all traditions should be tossed by the wayside. Old garments were not tossed away in this time period. They would be worn as long as possible and then used to patch other old garments. Old wineskins were waterproofed with pitch or tar and used to transport anything (except new wine). Jesus taught a new way of making disciples that did not fit with tradition, but that did not mean all the old ways were worthless.

Remembering that Jesus told this parable in response to the question about fasting, we can surmise that Jesus may have been condemning the extra regulations and traditions added on through the centuries rather than the perfect law of God. Jesus invites all people, including the Pharisees, to join Him in this new way of following the Torah. However, he knows that people generally prefer their old traditions and are uncomfortable trying something new. Even today we can get caught up in traditions and forsake living in the presence of Jesus. We must guard ourselves from going through the motions of religion and must instead strive to be dedicated learners with a desire to understand and obey the teachings of Christ.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  - Romans 14:17-18

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Luke 5:27-32

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” So, leaving everything behind, he rose and began to follow him.

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Leaving everything he had behind - his profession, his profits, and his personal identity - Levi began to follow Jesus. We don't know what contact Levi had with Jesus prior to this encounter. We know there were tax collectors who followed John the Baptist's teachings, and we know the people in Capernaum had probably all heard Jesus speak at some point. Levi knew enough that he was willing to leave it all behind to use all he had in the service for Jesus. Levi would eventually write the gospel that bears his name (Matthew), become a fearless evangelist, and according to tradition die as a martyr for Christ.

Following Jesus did not mean simply wandering around and listening to Jesus preach. It meant using his skills and relationships to serve Jesus. Peter had allowed Jesus the use of his boat and time; Levi uses his money and friends to give a banquet for Jesus.

The Pharisees and scribes, already annoyed with Jesus to say the least, begin to grumble at the company he and his disciples keep. Eating with tax collectors and sinners was an easy way to defile oneself, and Jesus was doing it willingly and knowingly.

In true Jewish fashion, Jesus answered their questioning with a proverb. I love it because he is being a bit sarcastic. "Oh, well you know only those who are sick need a physician. And we all know you guys are religiously well, right? So clearly I need to be with these guys who know they have the disease of sin."

In this season of Lent, let us examine our own hearts for the disease of sin that so easily goes undiagnosed, festering and growing like a cancer until it takes over our hearts.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  - Hebrews 12:1-2

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Luke 5:17-26

On one of those days, as he was teaching, 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. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Mobs of people continue to seek the miracle worker. The account of this story in Matthew tells us that this happens when Jesus is back in his home base of Capernaum, right after Jesus returned from the land of the Gadarenes where he healed a man with many demons.
As one reads the passage, one wonders why the Pharisees and teachers of the law were there. None of them thought he was the Son of God. Perhaps a few believed he was a prophet because of the miracles. The fact that some had come even from Jerusalem indicates that they were coming to ascertain what was going on. For leaders to have come from Jerusalem the word about the teachings and healing about Jesus must have been causing a stir on a national level. Reading the gospel account from John fills in some blanks. Jesus had begun his ministry in Judea by driving merchants from the temple courtyard with a whip made of cords. And because of his work on the Sabbath and challenges in his sermons to common Jewish theology, many of the religious rulers were looking for a way to stop him.

The "power of the Lord was with him" to heal on this day. Does this indicate that Jesus was not divine? No! Remember that he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant in becoming man. To become man, Jesus set aside the independent use of His own divine power and did only what God willed Him to do through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love the story of the paralytic, whose friends, seeing that the immense popularity of Jesus prevents access to Him, open up the roof of the house where Jesus is staying and lower their friend directly between Jesus and the religious rulers of the day. The persistent faith of the man and his friends caused them to travel from their hometown (I doubt it was Capernaum or they would have sought Jesus before) and finding no way to push through the crowd to get in, the friends climb to the roof, ascertain where to tear off tiles to be above Jesus, and lower their friend down. (Roofs in the day were made of mud and sticks and were used as an outdoor living space. Some upper class homes would have tiles as well.)

Jesus sees the man and knows his true desire is for forgiveness of his sins. He looks at the man's faith and the faith of the man's friends and tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Perhaps unable to walk and hearing the common theology of the day that his sins had brought about his condition this man had spent countless hours beating himself up over each sin committed in his life.  Unlike the self-righteous Pharisees the paralytic was broken and knew He needed forgiveness. Looking at the friends we see a persistent, intense, relentless faith that literally dismantles the roof if necessary in order to reach Jesus. The fact that Jesus sees their faith as well before forgiving the friend is certainly an application that we should fervently pray for our lost friends and family members

The Pharisees had good theology in thinking that only God can forgive sins. All sins are ultimately against God, and Jesus is claiming to be divine in his statement. Such blasphemy is answerable only with death in their eyes.

Jesus perceives their thoughts of hatred and asks, "What is easier to say, 'your sins are forgiven' or get up and walk'?" Of course both are impossible to do but it is easier to say "your sins are forgiven" because there is no empirical way to test that statement. But if you tell someone to "get up and walk", you will look like a fool when nothing happens.

The man instantly stands up, rolls up  his mat, and goes home. Atrophied muscles are made new. Neurological connections that had forgotten how to move limbs are connected as synapses begin firing. No physical therapy is needed. There is instant healing of mind, body, and spirit. "Extraordinary things" is an understatement! Can you imagine the scene as the man calmly walked through the door of his home and asked his wife what was for dinner? But I am sure that beyond his excitement over physical healing, he would have told anyone who listened that the true miracle was the peace beyond understanding his his heart as a result of meeting God and receiving forgiveness.

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. - Micah 7:18-19

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Luke 5:12-16

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Leprosy in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is not modern Hansen's disease but any number of skin diseases. Leprosy was contagious, incurable, and usually fatal. Leviticus 13 contains strict rules of how a priest was to diagnose the disease. If someone was found to be leprous, they were run out of town, able only to to cohabit with other lepers. Rules such as this were important to keep the community free of debilitating disease. But to the leper the the disease was horribly disfiguring as well as a condemnation to social and religious isolation - no contact with friends or family and none with God through the system of temple sacrifice and ritual.

The man in this story is "full of leprosy" - covered with sores, perhaps missing fingers and toes, a crumbling nose, and surrounded by the stench of decay. In Jesus' day people believed disease was a curse from God, a direct result of a person's sin or perhaps the sins of his parents. So not only was the man isolated and diseased, he likely believed it was his own fault.

Despite the fact that he could be stoned for entering the town, he came to seek Jesus. Perhaps with no other options even stoning would have been a relief from his suffering. He knew Jesus was his only hope. Somehow in his isolation he had heard of Jesus and knew this was his only chance to be healed. Perhaps this miracle worker who could heal the sick and cast out the demons could help him as well - if only he was willing. Falling at the feet of Jesus in a posture of worship and submission, he begged Jesus to make him well.

Jesus healed him with a touch and a declaration. He could have healed with a word if he had desired, but he intimately touched him in the midst of his filth. To touch a leper was to make oneself unclean, but when Jesus touched him he was no longer unclean. He was made whole. The leprosy left him. Sores were instantly closed. Perhaps even new fingertips appeared before the man's eyes.

Jesus commands the man to show himself to the priest and tell no one. This would require a trip to the temple and eight days of multiple animal sacrifices. Jesus wants this to not be a publicity stunt and probably wants to buy some time. He is already so pressed by the crowds that he must preach from boats and sneak away to be alone with God. But the book of  Mark tells us that the man went about spreading the news to everyone. As a result Jesus could no longer enter into cities but was even sought after in the wilderness because the crowds would not allow him to function normally. Just imagine the stampede in America if someone was curing cancer with only a touch!

What an analogy this provides to our lives. Jesus is our only chance to be saved from our filthy rotting rags of sin and self righteousness. As Isaiah wrote about the Lord (64:5-6) "You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; how then shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."

Salvation comes not through our own good works, but when we fall broken at the feet of our Savior, imploring him to remove our filthy rags. With a touch he does so, freeing us from the disease of sin and giving us new life to live in true righteousness and holiness. What a vivid picture this leper gives us of what Christ has done for us!

Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. - II Corinthians 7:1

Monday, February 11, 2013

Luke 5:1-11

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

Jesus has become a popular speaker. Some were there to learn from his words, some were there for healing, some were probably there just to see what would happen. The crowd was pressing against him, jostling for a closer position. In order to be heard by all, and possibly to get a little elbow room and rest his legs, Jesus climbs into Simon's boat. (We know that Jesus knew Simon from the previous chapter when he went to Simon's house and healed his mother-in-law as well as when Simon's brother Andrew, a follower of John the Baptist, introduced him to Jesus.)

Simon gladly stopped his work to assist Jesus, even though he had worked through the night as most fishermen did. When Jesus finishes speaking, Simon must have been shocked at the command to try to fish again. This was not the best time of day to catch fish, and Simon was likely worn out and frustrated from a night with no catch. Nevertheless, he follows Jesus' words and lets down his nets. Imagine his surprise when he not only catches fish, but his nets begin to break from the weight. Even with the vessel of their partners they can barely hold the weight of the fish without sinking. The four well seasoned fishermen are shocked.

Simon is humbled and afraid, realizing how miraculous the events are that have just taken place. This has to be the biggest catch they have ever made and obviously the most money they have taken in from one fishing trip. Simon instantly realizes he is in the presence of the divine, falls to his knees, and confesses his sinfulness. And when Jesus calls Simon to be his disciple, all four men leave their boats, nets, and the fish behind to follow Jesus.

Why not at least sell the fish first to provide for their families or feed the poor? What was the point if they weren't going to do anything with the catch?

Because God values obedience more than success.

These four men did not become caught up in worldly values of money and accomplishment; they saw the Savior and followed his voice. "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). When the call of God is clear to you, be ready to drop everything and follow him.

We will abandon it all, for the sake of the call.
Wholly devoted, to live and to die, for the sake of the call.
Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we'll obey

Steven Curtis Chapman - For The Sake of The Call from christsdem on GodTube.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Luke 4:38-44

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf.  And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus walks to Simon's house and dismisses his mother-in-law's fever with a simple command. I love how she hops right up to serve the people in the house. I can imagine any southern woman reacting the same way, "Oh thank you Jesus! Can I get you some sweet tea? A piece of cake?" No mention is made of the fact that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath, thereby "working" and "breaking the Sabbath". At this point people still seem excited and amazed by his miracles.

As the sun set and the Sabbath ended, devout Jews were free to walk any distance and bring their sick to see this miracle worker. He took time to heal each one of them. The demons had good theology, but they did not respect the title "Son of God". So each time Jesus rebuked them, not needing their witness. Their truth was a crooked truth, meant to shortcut Christ's winding path to Calvary. Jesus did not need vast crowds of revolution seekers, he desired only those who truly were willing to follow at any cost.

In spending time alone in prayer, Jesus models true ministry for his followers. Ministry, no matter how spectacular or effective, is not a true ministry of God if it is not steeped in prayer and led by the Holy Spirit. In choosing to limit himself to human form, Jesus needed time to "recharge his spiritual batteries" throughout his ministry. This is especially seen before or after spiritual battles, large volumes of healing, or times of extended teaching. The crowds driven by their own needs will have no time for solitude and prayer. Nevertheless we must take time from simply "doing good" to spend time personally seeking the face of God.

Although the people in Capernaum begged Jesus to stay and minister there, he was led away by the Holy Spirit. Clamouring crowds, acclimation, and vast needs were not his driving forces. Not content to minister comfortably in Galilee, Jesus followed the Spirit's leading and ministered throughout Judea. We must likewise be open to stay or go as the Lord commands, daily seeking his will for our lives.

You see, Jesus isn’t simply another preacher delivering a sermon, Jesus is the sermon—God’s Word with authority and power in human flesh. He is God’s sermon to the world. He was sent to preach the Good News. It’s the good news that you are pardoned, that your death sentence has been lifted forever. It is good news that gives sight to the blind, that opens the ears of the deaf, that causes the mute to shout out with praise and thanksgiving. It is good news that finds its fulfillment in your hearing, when you hear that God is at peace with you for Jesus’ sake, that your sins are forgiven by His blood, that you are free.   - Robert E. Moeller, Jr.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Luke 4:31-37

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice,  “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

After rejection in his hometown of Nazareth Jesus goes down from the hill country to Capernaum, a town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. When he begins teaching in the synagogue, people are immediately astonished. He continues to teach with authority and explain Scripture in a new way. Rather than teaching what the rabbis have said, Jesus teaches "but I say" and "the Lord says". That is a huge distinction.

In the synagogue was a demon controlled man, clearly able to hide it from the other religious people. The demon instantly realizes the presence of the Messiah, is threatened, and uses the mans voice to call out at the threat to its power. Jesus will not allow the demon to speak the words that he is the Son of God, even though the words are true. The demon's words stir up dissension, division, and distraction. As we have noted, Jesus is not interested in winning followers through some grand show of power but through a changing of hearts and minds.

The passage from Isaiah that Jesus had read in Nazareth indicated that as the Messiah he would "set free the oppressed." Certainly anyone under the influence of a demon is oppressed! (Demon possession is covered well here.) When the crowds see that Jesus is able to command spirits, the word gets out that something exciting and unusual is going on in Capernaum.

Although few in the world are in need of an exorcism, many are controlled to some extent by evil forces. Each sin gives evil a foothold in our life. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27). The deeper we fall into sin, the further we drift away from God and towards Satan. The deeper we deceive ourselves that we are "good people", the more barriers we allow between our spiritual ears and the pleading voice of the Holy Spirit. Do not think that simply because there are no demons cast out in your Sunday morning service that the devil is no longer at work around us.

For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 
 - Ephesians 6:12

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Luke 4:20-30

Can you imagine having furniture
made by the Son of God?
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 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, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Jesus returned to Nazareth, the town in which he grew up. Perhaps some who traveled between towns had heard their native son expound on the Scriptures. At the least, many would have heard that Jesus of Nazareth was an in demand speaker in the region. I imagine the men listening to the sermon were feeling pride as Jesus read the passage from Isaiah with authority and were excited to hear his sermon. Everyone was abuzz with the gracious words with which he spoke. They speak with pride to one another, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" "Yes, I bought a table from them a decade ago. It is so sturdy! I would recognize Yeshua bar Joseph anywhere." "How could one not trained as a rabbi speak so eloquently? I imagine the conversation I had with him before his bar mitvah played a part."

Then it sinks in. Jesus isn't just explaining that this is a Messianic passage soon to be fulfilled; he is actually applying it to himself! He isn't even a rabbi, just a carpenter's son! People there had known him since before he was potty trained. They watched him learn to walk and listened as he learned to speak Aramaic. No way was he the Messiah.

Jesus knew their thoughts and hearts. Most were thinking the equivalent of, "Yeah right! Prove it!" This mirrors Satan's temptation of Jesus - give us signs and wonders and we'll follow you. But Jesus sought faith in his word, not in signs and miracles. The people felt slighted that Jesus had performed ministry in Capernaum; why not here for his friends and neighbors? But Jesus would not be a mere carnival side show for the locals. His miracles were done only in the will of God and for the furtherance of God's kingdom. He reminded the crowd that many Old Testament prophets were often only revered after their death. Elijah and Elisha both had ministries among even among foreigners as many in Israel rejected the God of Abraham.

Amazement turned to fury. Blasphemy! Mob mentality took over as the crowd forced Jesus to the brink of the cliff just outside of town. Jesus simply walked calmly through the crowd and continued his ministry elsewhere.

"I pray that the commission of Jesus Christ may be fulfilled this day to all the broken-hearted ones to whom the word of this message shall come. I hope there are none here who claim a right to healing; for, if so, the Lord will not listen to them. He will do as he wills with his own; for it is written, 'He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.' The men of Nazareth claimed it in the synagogue that day, because he had lived among them, and so Jesus did not speak of healing them... His healing work is not of debt, but of grace; not granted to presumptuous demands, but frankly bestowed as a free gift." 
- C.H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Luke 4:14-19

And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Jesus continues to follow the leading of the Spirit, modeling for us how to live. Satan had tempted Jesus to perform miracles before the Jerusalem throngs to achieve instant fame. The Spirit led Jesus to rural Galilee to teach farmers, fishermen, and traders in their small community worship centers. At this time he was praised by all who heard him. No one had taught with such authority before. He was the popular speaker of the hour.

Jesus returned to Nazareth, the town in which he grew up. The men in the synagogue likely knew that their hometown boy was "making good". As was his family's custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath - the same synagogue Joseph had taken him to each week to learn the ways of God. The worshippers would recite the Shema together, the central verse of Judaism which proclaimed God to be the one true God. Next they would pray, hear a passage from the Pentateuch, a passage from the prophets, a sermon, and a final priestly blessing.

Jesus was handed the prophetic scroll of the book of Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he read Isaiah 61:1-2. Everything went well until he began his sermon, but that reading is for tomorrow. Those who heard Jesus teach throughout his ministry were usually amazed at the way he spoke, but many who were initially attracted to him would fall away when he began to teach things contrary to what they believed.

When we approach Scripture or wait on a word from the Lord, we should come with an open mind. Many in today's society believe having an open mind means allowing everything to have equal importance in your thought life, but as a Christian everything should be filtered through the lens of Scripture and the theology taught by true minsters of the world from the early church fathers to today. There are times in a believer's life when a passage of Scripture will come to have a completely new meaning to us as God opens our understanding. When you approach Scripture either in personal study or a group setting, be prepared to think critically and be armed with prayer for discernment. Just as Jesus is about to do to his listeners in Nazareth, it is possible that your mind with be blown.

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. - Acts 17:11

Monday, February 4, 2013

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written,

‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’


‘On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.

Luke continues to paint a picture of Jesus' obedience. After humbling himself in the form of baptism, he is led into the wilderness for forty days of fasting, prayer, and temptation.  In the barren land populated only by the occasional robber or revolutionary, Jesus forgoes food, family, and friends to follow the Spirit's leading. With no physical resources, Jesus must rely on spiritual strength to combat Satan himself.

The first test was to fulfill his hunger. Surely the Son of God has a right to be well fed rather than starve. But Jesus answers that there are needs more substantial than bread, and God would supply what he really needed.

It is more amazing to me that Jesus did not turn the stones to bread than that he could. Growing up in a mainline Christian denomination I learned almost nothing about fasting. Fasting was giving up chocolate for Lent or fasting for the 30 hour famine to raise money for World hunger. The closest I came to fasting was an attempt to give up Mtn. Dew for 40 days as part of a youth group event, and I'm pretty sure I cheated a bit. In Jewish culture it was expected that there would be times of individual fasting as well as days of corporate fasting (the Day of Atonement prescribed in Leviticus as well as other days developed by Israel). It seems we kept the tradition of feasting but lost the discipline of fasting. In the past year I have attempted to learn to fast. At times I am successful, but at times I give up and eat dinner with everyone. It would be easier if fasting was a cultural occurrence and something learned from childhood, but we are still instructed in the New Testament to fast.

Fasting and prayer both take spiritual discipline. They focus us on God and open us to receive his blessings and instructions. Becoming more disciplined would obviously make a positive difference in our own lives. But it is a mystery how the spiritual discipline of believers affects things in the spiritual realm. Somehow our prayers help in the battle against unseen powers and principalities. And something about fasting along with praying can increase this.

The second test was to build his kingdom quickly - worship Satan and receive all the kingdoms of the world.This seems startling since God owns everything. But Satan has been given temporary power over the kingdoms of the world. The powers of darkness still push a "get rich quick" ethic in today's world. Cheating, lying, whatever it takes to get ahead is often encouraged instead of hard work and honesty that may or may not pay off. For Jesus, following God's way led to suffering, scorn, and eventually the cross. For you it may lead to suffering and scorn as well. Are you willing to do things God's way whether life brings feast or famine? One moment of worship for a lifetime of worldly power would seem a good trade off to many. Just think of all the good you could do if you were in control of everything! But one moment of worship would reveal something deeper - a hunger for personal power and self interest rather than reliance on God and his ultimate plan.

The third test was one to receive recognition. If Jesus hopped off the highest pinnacle of the temple in temple and floated to the ground with the help of angels, everyone would want to be in his fan club. It makes great marketing sense. But it wasn't God's way, and Jesus wanted true followers willing to follow him through suffering as well as easy times. Today Christians may rely on slick marketing campaigns to try to reach the masses, but the best evangelism may be living your life for God through thick and thin as you relate and share the gospel with those around you.

It is important to note that Satan quoted Scripture in this debate with Jesus. He is able to twist God's own words to serve his purposes. But Jesus has studied, memorized, and understood Scripture so that he was prepared when the battle came. Satan can prooftext, but Jesus knew the context. We cannot wait until we are in a time of trial to seek God's word on the subject. It is far better to spend time daily in God's Word to strengthen us today and prepare us for the future.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. - 1 Corinthians 10:13