Friday, March 29, 2013

Luke 9:49-62

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It's interesting to note that John answered Jesus. So what is he answering? Jesus has just reprimanded the apostles for their debate over which of them was greatest. John reminds me of my two children. When either of them is in trouble, inevitably the words “But he/she...” will be spoken in an effort to divert my attention. Daily I must remind them to focus on their own behavior.

John either misses Jesus' point or out of shame wants to put the focus on someone else he feels is behaving badly. Jesus tells him not to worry about those who are “on their team". Of course, we are warned in many other scriptures to watch for false teachers and wolves in sheep's clothing. Jesus taught that on the day of judgment many will say “Lord, Lord! We cast out demons in your name!” Jesus will tell them to depart, since he knew them not. But for the most part it is not our job to argue over whether or not other people are “true believers”. If they believe sound doctrine, even if we have our differences and they do “not follow with us” on everything, we need to let it go and make sure our own spiritual houses are in order.

It is not surprising that a Samaritan village would turn Jesus away. He was a Jewish prophet on his way to his holy city. We cannot underestimate the centuries of hatred and mistrust between these two groups. James and John, the “sons of thunder”, respond unsurprisingly, “Let's consume the city and everyone in it with fire from heaven! No really! We don't mind.” Jesus rebukes them, somehow managing to not roll his eyes. His message of universal love and forgiveness will not seek in until later, but when you read John's letters you realize that the power of the Holy Spirit transformed John from a Son of Thunder into the Apostle of love.

There are many who purport to follow Jesus as he goes, but he knows their hearts. To the three in this story, he points out the one thing holding each back. Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, and only those willing to follow a road of suffering need join his band of followers. The road through Jerusalem would require sacrifices. So he tests and teaches his followers - where is your treasure; where is your heart; to what do you cling?

The first man clings to home and the Son of Man had none. His adult life was a nomadic one. The second clung to family responsibilities. He claimed he would follow Jesus after the death and burial of his father. But Jesus called his followers to leave everyone behind that was not also following. The third just wanted to go say goodbye to everyone. But Jesus tells him that no one who sets his face to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. This may sound harsh to us. When we choose to follow Christ, we must do it wholeheartedly. We must not simply seek to flee the coming wrath. We must be willing to leave everything for him. If you look back you'll start plowing a crooked furrow. The next thing you know, you've run into a big rock or fallen into the creek. Keep plowing! Don't fret over the work you've done, the seeds you've sown, and the ground you've covered. Press on towards the goal God has set before you, no matter the cost.

In other words, the point of all these tough words as Jesus interacts with different people is not to create laws that all disciples or all missionaries have to keep: Thou shalt give all your money! Thou shalt give half your money! Thou shalt go without a bed! Thou shalt go without a funeral for your dad! The point is that Jesus knows everyone’s idol. Jesus knows perfectly what is competing in your heart with affection for him. He looks everyone of us in the face this morning and sees right to our heart.

Let him do that for you now. Don’t take offense. He does this to win us for himself. "Follow me!" is the goal. Being with Jesus is the goal. It won’t be easy. But it will be good. There will be joy even if there is continual sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10 – "sorrowful but always rejoicing"). Because he will be with us.   - John Piper 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Luke 9:37-48

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

The crowds continued to seek Jesus for miracles. As soon as he descends the mountain he is accosted by a large crowd. The disciples have apparently begun healing as well, perhaps since they were sent on their mission. But they are not able to heal the boy. (Later when they ask Jesus why, he tells them that kind of demon can only be cast out through fasting and prayer. Faith of the highest kind was necessary to perform the task.) Jesus looks at them and says, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”  Jesus almost sounds like me when I ask, “Do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?” But I believe he was lamenting the fact that his disciples lacked full faith and that people continued to seek miracles and healing rather than looking to the kingdom of God. Regardless, he healed the boy and handed him back to his father.

Jesus again predicts his death, but they do not understand. He will not always be there bodily to fix all their problems. Believing Jesus will usher in a messianic kingdom in the way they expect, they are afraid to ask him about this saying.

In fact, they begin to argue about which of them is greatest. Perhaps some were jealous at the attention the three in the inner circle received. Perhaps these three were the very ones who began such arguments. But they all wanted an exalted place in the kingdom they believed was at hand. Jesus takes a child, often devalued in that society, and uses him as an example. Whoever receives and cares for the least is the greatest. Whoever humbles himself is the greatest.

We can be guilty of many of these mistakes. We often seek Jesus when we need help, not to consistently seek his will in furthering the kingdom of God. Our faithlessness and lack of focus on God impede our spiritual growth and impact in this world. We desire to receive praise and attention for our good works rather than pointing to the glory of God. We focus our eyes on the urgent and overlook the "least of these" around us each day. Let us daily seek to focus on and draw our strength from God! And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him  (Hebrews 11:6).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20-21

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Luke 9:21-36

And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

Although Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus warns them to tell no one. It is not yet time for the end of his ministry, and statements such as this would give his opposition too much ammunition. Although he flat out tells them that he will be killed and raised again, this will not strike them until all is accomplished.

The disciples may have been on a spiritual high from their experience of personally healing and casting out demons followed by the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish. Jesus teaches them that his followers will not live on a spiritual mountaintop. Choices will need to be made daily to forsake glory and the comfort of the world in order to follow him. He will not at this time usher in the kingdom of God in the way they are expecting. This will not occur until he returns in glory, surrounded by an army of angels.

The fact that Jesus taught that some would not taste death until they saw his glory, among other reasons, led some in the early church to believe the second coming would be soon. But in fact, Jesus' three closest disciples saw Jesus in his glory a mere eight days later. Can you imagine the shock of Peter, James, and John when they awoke and saw Jesus with his countenance changed and his clothes whiter than anything on a Clorox commercial, talking with Elijah and Moses like old friends? They were seeing with their own mortal eyes a glimpse of the invisible kingdom of God in its glory. Peter, always one to feel the need to say something, offers to put up tents for his three heroes. He was possibly thinking of the Feast of Tabernacles and also did not want to leave (even though he was probably freaking out). A cloud descends, reminiscent of the glory of God in the Old Testament. The voice of God affirms again that he is well pleased with his Son, the cloud lifts, and Moses and Elijah disappear from sight. (The disciples have fallen facedown in terror until touched by Jesus and instructed to rise without fear.) On the way down the mountain, the disciples are instructed to tell no one until after Jesus' resurrection.

One purpose of the transfiguration would be to show Jesus' closest disciples a glimpse of who he really was. Although they could still not fully comprehend Jesus' deity, a glimmer of something beyond his humanity is revealed to them. Many scholars believe that Moses represents the Old Testament law and Elijah the prophets. God's voice from heaven revealed that even the Law and the Prophets were superseded by Jesus. The three friends would never forget the experience, and it surely strengthened their faith. As John writes in the introduction to his gospel, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Peter later penned, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

We may never literally see the glory of Christ in our lifetime, but the moments we catch glimpses of God's kingdom strengthen our faith. Like the apostles, we must daily choose to "take up our cross and follow him". Many days this seems easy; some days we can barely get out of bed. But when we rely on him and draw strength from the Holy Spirit, in the midst of any trial we can know that "His yoke is easy and his burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).

Your cross is prepared and appointed for you by divine love, and you are cheerfully to accept it. You are to take up the cross as your chosen badge and burden, and not to stand caviling at it. Jesus bids you submit your shoulder to His easy yoke. Do not . . . kick at it in petulance, or trample on it in pride, or fall under it in despair, or run away from it in fear; but take it up like a true follower of Jesus! - C. H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Luke 9:10-20

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Can you imagine the excitement as the apostles returned and told Jesus "all they had done"? Their words must have tumbled all over each other. "Jesus! I spoke to a demon and it fled a young boy!" "Jesus! We healed four lepers outside the village, and their skin was instantly clean and restored!" "Jesus! Almost an entire village believed in the gospel!" "Jesus! We were driven from a village in a hail of rocks for blasphemy!"  Multiple books could be written on this conversation alone. He and his disciples tried to slip away for a time of prayer, meditation, and teaching following all that had occurred with his disciples and the death of John the Baptist.

But the crowds would not give Jesus and his disciples peace. As a mother of small children, I know how it feels to want a moment alone and not be able to find it. Jesus experienced this to a much greater degree. But instead of sneaking away in the middle of the night or barricading himself away from the crowds, he looked on them and had compassion. They looked like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. So he began the endless task of healing and preaching the good news.

The twelve wanted to send the crowds away for their evening meal and lodging. We know from John's account that Jesus asked Phillip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Phillip was from the area and familiar with nearby villages. But Jesus was also testing his disciples. Phillip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" Another of his disciples, Andrew, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" The crowd consists of 5,000 men, plus women and children. The size of the crowd is amazing in light of the fact that the neighboring towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida probably had a population of only 2,000 to 3,000 each. Perhaps some had followed the disciples back to Jesus, and we know people were flocking from all over to seek healing. Philip tells us how overwhelming the problem is, and Andrew tells us how hopeless and how meager their resources are. Can you identify with that feeling?

We all know what happened next. Jesus took the meager fare, blessed it, and began to break it. Pieces of bread and fish continued to miraculously appear. Some today try to explain away the miracle by saying the crowd saw the boy sharing and began to share among themselves. But according to Mark 6:43 all ate and were satisfied. Bread was regarded by Jews as a gift from God, and it was required that scraps that fell on the ground during a meal be picked up. So the disciples gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers! No, this was no mere spreading of goodwill. This was a sign that pointed all who truly looked to the Son of Man and the food of eternal life that he gives.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself (John 6:14-15). Jesus continued to reject the world's version of kingship to follow his Father's will. Jesus had to escape and avoid His persecutors. But even worse, Jesus even had to escape followers who didn’t clearly understand his ministry.

After this Jesus and his disciples have some quiet time for prayer and reflection. Everyone had an opinion about Jesus. He evoked both admiration and spite - loved by the poor, feared and hated by many political and religious leaders. He was alternatively called from God and from Satan. When he asks the disciples who the crowds think he is, they respond with many options. But when he asks who they think he is, Peter responds with his great confession. Jesus is no mere prophet, he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Who do you say Jesus is? He is more than an historical figure, a good teacher from one of many religious texts. He is more than a prophet of Judaism. He is the Christ come to save us all from sin and from ourselves. He desires to take the meager broken pieces you have to bring and transform your life.

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  - John 6:68-69

Monday, March 25, 2013

Luke 9:1-9

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

The 12 disciples might seem a ragtag group of followers - some fishermen, a tax collector, a couple of religious/political zealots, etc. One would even betray him. But to this group of men, Jesus transferred his power. These men had authority to heal demons, cure disease, and proclaim the kingdom of God with his authority in a way that no self-proclaimed exorcist, faith healer, or preacher has possessed since.

Jesus sends them out on their first solo mission with interesting instructions. They couldn't even bring a spare tunic! Nothing could weigh them down. They were forced to depend on God's guidance and provision. If people did not believe the gospel, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on to the next town. At this point Jesus was sending them only to Jewish settlements, but even with that there was too much ground to cover to waste time arguing. Surely these lessons served them well after Jesus' ascension when the remaining eleven faced trials, persecution, and disbelief.

Shake the dust off your feet. What does this mean for us today? Other scriptures do not back up the thought that we can simply "shake the dust off our feet" and give up on people. Wives of unbelieving husbands are called to stay with them, continuing as a witness in their lives. And we have all heard stories of those who prayed for and witnessed to family members and friends for decades before seeing fruit. When we in the modern church are rejected, shaking off our "dust" and arrogantly claiming it is a testimony against unbelievers is not an option. We are called to not take it to heart when people do not believe the message. That is the dust we shake off - negative comments, scorn, and rejection. Never imagine someone is a lost cause for Christ. Just remember all the "lost causes" God used in Scripture to further his kingdom!

Herod was greatly perplexed. The Greek is diaporeó - used for someone at a complete loss, like a traveler unsure of which way to go when his journey meets several paths or one who when faced with several options to a problem finds no way out. He is confused by all the messages he hears about Jesus - he is Elijah come back to prepare the way for a military Messiah, he is another prophet raised from the dead, or he is John the Baptist himself raised back to life. This one seems a stretch since Jesus and John the Baptist were seen together on at least one occasion, but to the superstitious Herod who had beheaded John this would be troubling. Herod would be on the lookout for anyone or anything that would threaten his power, and Jesus was now on His radar.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart... On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God... We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body... Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4

Friday, March 8, 2013

Luke 8:40-56

And as Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

While He was still speaking, someone came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.” But when Jesus heard this, He answered him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.”

When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died. He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child, arise!” And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat. Her parents were amazed; but He instructed them to tell no one what had happened.

And by "welcomed" Luke means "mobbed". Only some of the followers of Jesus had formed a flotilla to the not so restful Gadarene pit stop. Many others anxiously awaited his return. "More healing! More miracles! Save us! Look at me!" The throngs pressed so close they almost crushed him.

Perhaps because of his status as a synagogue leader, Jarius makes it to Jesus. He falls at his feet in humility and respect, begging Jesus to save his dying daughter. As Jesus goes with him, an unknown woman, unclean and untouchable for twelve years, presses through the jostling crowd. Who knows how many times she had tried to reach Jesus before. She knew this was her only hope. Reaching out and touching the fringe of his garment, she is instantly healed! But Jesus feels the power leave him and asks who has touched him. Peter is taken aback. Everyone was touching everyone as they pushed through the thick mass of people. Slinking away back through the crowds was no longer an option. Shaking all over and fearing rebuke, she falls at his feet at tells all.

Now of course Jesus knew what had happened, so why not just keep walking? Because the woman was not truly made whole when her disease was cured. The words of affirmation from Jesus healed her life. As she touched the fringe of his garment, now his words touched the fringe of her soul, reaching through the clouds of desperation and self doubt and allowing her to truly go in peace.

Just then Jairus' world is shattered with the news that his daughter has died. He is told to bother Jesus no longer. But Jesus turns his eyes from the woman to look into Jairus' eyes. "Do not be afraid. Everything they are telling you is wrong. Your daughter will be made well." The wailing crowds laugh at Jesus' assertion that the girl is sleeping. They know the difference between the sleeping and the dead. Nevertheless a few disciples and the girl's parents quietly enter the house and witness a great miracle! Do you imagine the parents followed Jesus' instructions to tell no one?

Both Jairus and the woman exhibit a faith that would not give up. Despite spending all she had on doctors, being barred from Temple worship as unclean for 12 years, and likely being ostracized by the community, the woman desperately sought Jesus. The crowd could not stop her. Her fear of rejection could not stop her. She saw the source of life and would not stop until she touched it. Jairus had faith to ask Jesus to heal his daughter. But he and his wife showed extreme faith in continuing to trust Jesus when all else was stacked against them. The neighbors and professional mourners outside, wailing with ashes on their heads, would surely tell everyone what happened. Jairus had a choice: follow the members of the community in which he had such high standing or risk their mockery and loss of trust by relying on Jesus. Thankfully Jairus chose the latter.

May we exhibit the same faith. May we believe that one touch from Jesus can heal physically, emotionally, and most importantly spiritually. May we trust his words no matter what the world or even our closest friends assert to be true!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Luke 8:26-39

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

After the calming of the storm, the stunned disciples land on the other side of the Galilee. Several boats of people step off into the land of the Gerasenes. The people here were culturally more Hellenistic than Semitic, accounting for the presence of pig farmers. Needless to say, these folks were not Orthodox Jews. Perhaps this will be a place Jesus and his small crowd of disciples can find respite from the throngs.

Up on the hill were two demon possessed men who lived among the tombs. If the one in this story lived today, he would be jailed or institutionalized and heavily sedated with drugs. He was dangerous to himself and society and had been banished from civilization. The locals had tried binding him with heavy chains, but in fury he ripped them apart. No guard could keep him controlled. Imagine this man: naked, skin marred from the beating sun in the day and exposure to cold at night, cuts and scars from self-mutilation. When anyone neared the tombs he would run down to attack them. The townspeople knew to steer clear.

As Jesus and his crowd entered this man's territory, he flew down the hill towards them. Perhaps at first the demons did not recognize this man who looked like any other. At the command of Jesus to leave the man the demons threw their host to the ground, not in worship but in fear. Controlling his voice, they ask "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me." We know from other scriptures that some demons are bound for now in the Abyss and some are allowed to roam the earth, destroying whom they can. These demons know Jesus has the power to bind them or destroy them. No one outside Jesus and his apostles have had this power.

The demons beg to be sent into a herd of pigs. For Gentiles the herd of pigs would be a standard way to make a living. For Jewish observers they would be a source of revulsion. (I would be thinking Carolina barbecue myself!) For whatever reason, Jesus let the demons have their choice. Good news for the man, bad news for the pigs and the farmers. Possession stirred the pigs into a panicking mob, rushing over the cliffs and into the sea to drown.

The herdsmen immediately run into town to alert the townspeople. They come out amazed that the insane dangerous man is now sitting clothed, calmly sitting at the feet of a Jewish teacher. Whereas other regions mobbed Jesus for more miracles, here they were afraid of this sorcery and more concerned about the loss of monetary gain. The cured man had a different attitude. He begged Jesus to be allowed to come along as a disciple. But Jesus sent him home to be a witness to the fearful townspeople who had expelled Jesus from their region.

It is said that the greatest lie of Satan is that he has convinced the world that he either does not exist or that he has unimaginable power. We cannot understand everything about the unseen spirits, but any of our knowledge should come from the Bible, not from Hollywood or people's personal accounts.

Demons around Jesus could not help but reveal themselves. But as a rule they are much more subtle. They are still at work today. Although we may not pass our children through the fires of Baal, we surgically abort about 3,288 babies per day in America (not to mention the morning after pill). Although many who support abortion want them to be "safe and rare", there are those who actually celebrate it. We emotionally, physically, and sexually abuse children. We rape and kill. Rarely is any of this attributed to demonic activity. We talk about depression, mental illness, or personal choice. While these things are real, we should focus on putting on the armor of God against spiritual darkness. Evil forces want nothing more than to keep you from believing on Christ, and if you do believe to make you turn back or be as ineffective of a Christan as possible. As 1 Peter 5:8 warns, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." He wants you to be miserable, overwhelmed, and self doubting. He wants you to hold bitterness in your heart. Through the power of God you can overcome him. As James 4:8 teaches, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

On a positive note, we see from this story that God can use anyone as a missionary. This man once possessed could now enter a town where Jesus himself was unwelcome and share the gospel with his kinsmen. Jesus can transform any life. When everything else has failed, the power of God can turn your life around for his glory. That doesn't mean you will have an easy life. I doubt the former demoniac had a rousing welcome home party restoring him to wealth and prosperity. He was likely treated with suspicion at least for a time. Nevertheless he gladly walked the road set before him by Christ.

First, then, here is what these children are to tell. It is to be a story of personal experience. "Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done for thee, and hath compassion on thee." Not what you have believed, but what you have felt; what you really know to be your own; not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord has done for you; not alone what you have seen done in the great congregation, and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And mark this: There is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself.  - C.H. Spurgeon 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Luke 8:19-25

And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.” But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”

Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?”

Jesus' own family did not follow him constantly like his disciples. We know his mother knew who he was, but his brothers did not believe at this time. After the resurrection, James became a church leader and wrote the book bearing his name. Historians assume Joseph was dead by the time of Jesus' crucifixion. But his family came to check in on him and found crowds so dense that even their credentials could not grant them access.

When the information was passed to Jesus, his response was shocking. But his teaching had been that blood relationships did not matter, listening to and applying the Word of God did. The ties that bind true believers are stronger than any DNA or childhood memories.

With the crowds constantly pressing around him, Jesus came up with creative ways to find rest. Several of his disciples were seasoned fishermen who grew up sailing the Sea of Galilee, likely the setting for our story. Exhausted, Jesus fell asleep in the gently rocking boat as they sailed to the other side.

Because the Sea of Galilee is below sea level and is surrounded by mountains, it is susceptible to sudden storms. It is a relatively small body of water (thirteen miles long, seven miles wide); but it is 150 feet deep, and the shoreline is 680 feet below sea level. Winds sweeping across the land come up and over the mountains, creating downdrafts over the lake. Combined with a thunderstorm that appears suddenly over the surrounding mountains the water stirs into violent twenty-foot waves. The sea can be calm one minute and violent the next.

This sudden storm carries such severity that even the seasoned fishermen are terrified. After all, they likely knew men who had perished in similar storms. The boat becomes swamped with water and is close to capsizing. Fearing death, they shake Jesus to wake Him up. He rebukes them for their lack of faith. After all, he had told them they would be going to the other side. Shouldn't they have trusted his word that they would arrive?  He speaks a simple phrase and calms the seas. The disciples are shocked! They have seen Jesus heal disease, cast out demons, and even restore life, but they still cannot wrap their minds around the absolute power of the Christ even over nature. Surely this storm was used by God to strengthen the faith of the disciples for the storms that would rage in their future lives.

Most storms in our life come suddenly, often with a severity  that shocks us. It can seem as if God is asleep, caring not if we perish. Or we may be engulfed in a storm of sin which seemed at first a beckoning tranquil breeze. Sometimes God sends the storms to strengthen our faith or to discipline us. Whatever the cause, we cry out to God when the storm becomes something we feel we cannot handle on their own. Just as the disciples did not wake Jesus until they felt they were at the point of perishing, we often try to handle life through our own strength until things spiral out of control. Even though we have the testimony of Scripture and knowledge of how God has worked in our own and others' lives, we can doubt His purpose and plan in the midst of storms.

But even if our faith is great, Jesus may not speak the words that would calm the storms in our own lives. Remember that even in his earthly ministry he did not miraculously feed every crowd, heal every disease, cast out every demon, or turn every funeral procession into a resurrection party. Although everyone he healed had faith, not everyone with faith was healed. But even if the storms continue to rage, never doubt that he is with you in the boat! God often uses the fires of this life to refine us into the image of Christ. One of my favorite songs has the following chorus:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold
- Psalm 18:1-2

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Luke 8:9-18

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.  But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.”

The first section of this passage was covered in yesterday's devotion. Jesus tells a second story to illustrate the principles from the Parable of the Sower.

I have worked with church preschools for too many years to not have "This Little Light of Mine"  in my head after reading about covering a lamp with a container. Every Sunday the preschoolers at our church belt out verses promising to let their lights shine, not cover them with a bushel, not allow Satan to blow them out, and let them shine 'til Jesus comes. As they wave their fingers high, I pray that the words prove prophetic as God uses them to further his kingdom.

In today's world of light switches and multiple light bulbs per room, it is difficult to imagine a time when your only light source would be a small oil lamp needing to be held closely to whatever needed to be seen. Jesus uses obvious things from his world to teach hidden truths. No one would go to the trouble of filling a lamp with oil, trimming the wick, and lighting the fire without the use of a Zippo and then stick the light under a container or bed. No, the light would be put onto a lampstand to provide as much light to the room as possible.

The light has a singular purpose - to light a room. God's Word has a similar purpose. It is not meant to be hidden away or shared with only a select few. It is not meant to be a secret thing that only those with special knowledge can understand. So listen to God's Word in such a way that you are open to understanding, not seeking to find only that for which you are looking. Be careful how you listen. Be careful to whom you listen. To those who have true understanding, more understanding shall be given. But to those who hold fast to false notions, even those will be taken away. You are either maturing in the light or shrinking into the shadows. Which will you do today?

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, "He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness." And again, The Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise are meaningless. So don't boast about following a particular human leader. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.  - 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:2

Monday, March 4, 2013

Luke 8:1-8

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Jesus and his closest followers undertake a nomadic ministry, preaching and healing in cities and villages likely in Galilee. Although Israel was a patriarchal society, Jesus allowed women to have key roles in his ministry. Mary Magdalene had good reason to follow Jesus, having been set free from demonic posession. She is among the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, and according to tradition was a leader in the early church. Joanna also appears at the empty tomb of Jesus. Her husband had an important role in Herod's government, and she must have left a life of ease to follow Jesus. Susanna is only mentioned here, but these women as well as others provided much of the support needed for Jesus' ministry to continue. God still calls us today to give sacrificially to further his kingdom.

The parable Jesus tells to this crowd is explained in the following verses. (Many use this passage to argue for and against certain doctrines of salvation, but that is not the point.) The seed represents the Word of God. Like the sower, we should spread the Gospel to everyone - not just to those who seem to have fertile soil. As you walk through the field of your life, spread the seed with which God has entrusted you!

Some seed in the parable is instantly trampled underfoot, only to be eaten by the birds. These seeds never sprout. Like a ravenous bird swooping down from the sky, the devil comes and takes the word away from their heart so that they will not believe. Many reject the gospel instantly and never even seriously consider it.

The second type of seed quickly sprouts in the rocky ground. But not having deep root to obtain moisture, the plant that springs up withers and dies. It never bears fruit. Similarly, other seeds sprout and seem to do well until choked by thorns. Many hear the gospel and receive it eagerly, but unfortunately never spend time in discipleship developing spiritual roots. Others fall away rather than allowing the trials of this life to refine their faith. Or the pleasures and pursuits of this world distract them from truly following God.

The final seed falls on good soil, grows deep roots, and produces fruit and seed that perpetuates forever. This obviously represents those who believe the gospel and develop into strong mature disciples through prayer, Bible Study, evangelism, and walking with God throughout their life.  Mature believers represent only a fraction of those who hear and even those who initially resopond to God's Word.

The sower did not control the type of ground onto which he sowed. But we have control over what type of "soil" our spirit is. Just like gardening requires effort to produce a bountiful crop, spiritual gardening requires belief - taking the seed deep into our soil. We fertilize and water the seed through prayer and Bible Study. We pollinate our seed through interaction with felow believers. Then we spread our seed by becoming sowers ourselves.

What type of soil will you be today?

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  - Romans 2:6-8

Friday, March 1, 2013

Luke 7:44-50

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 

Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 

Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 

And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

"Do you see this woman?" Depending on this woman's sinfulness, no one had seen her for years. Eyes were averted as she walked past. Children were shepherded to the other side of the street. Husbands dared not make eye contact lest their wives suspect unfaithfulness. But Jesus turned to her and saw her. He looked past her deeds and into her soul.

The righteous Simon would not have feared comparison to this woman. The proud Pharisee would have no doubt that any analysis would turn in his favor. But in the flurry of party preparation, Simon had neglected the simple but expected act of commanding a servant to wash Jesus' dusty feet. Neither had Simon greeted Jesus with a customary kiss at the door. Anointing a guest's head with olive oil would show extreme courtesy and respect, but Simon had not done this. In contrast the woman had strained her resources to lavish expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. Simon must have been shocked as he lost when their deeds were weighed.

Jesus brings home his point - the woman's many sins were forgiven. He does not say the woman and Simon have sinned equally but acknowledges the woman's many sins. The woman heard from the Master that although she was steeped in sin, she was acceptable in his sight because she loved much.

The guests must have gasped when Jesus spoke words of forgiveness to the woman. Only God could forgive sins. Who did Jesus think he was? Ignoring the onlookers Jesus looked into her eyes, commanding her to go in peace, saved by her faith and his forgiveness. Her works for Jesus did not save her, her faith which manifested itself in works provided the avenue for her forgiveness. Any who heed the call for faith and repentance are saved.

We must guard against thinking any are unworthy of salvation. Regardless of race, politics, religion, or social class all are equally in need of forgiveness. No matter what evil a person commits, he is no further from salvation than I was the first time I lied as a child. No extremist, no terrorist, no murderer, no rapist, no one who has hurt you deeply, no prostitute, no sinner is too far to be reached by the forgiving eyes of the Savior. Will you see them? Will you share forgiveness and the love of God with them? Will you pray for the salvation of all mankind?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9