Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Jesus' opponents are seething. They can make no reply after he confronts their hypocrisy. Having asked if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, he healed a man despite their added rules. They know that of course they love their son and would pull him from a well on the Sabbath; their ox is worth money and would be pulled out as well. But when it comes to another person's illness rather than your own needs or comfort, the law conveniently becomes more rigid.

Nevertheless, the Sabbath dinner goes on. The dinner party moves toward the table in uncomfortable silence. Jesus is a people watcher, and he is not finished blasting their religious notions with his observations. In the center of the room is a long U-shaped table. The host will seat himself at the head of the table. The most honored guests will sit on either side of him, then in order of importance the guests will seat themselves down either side.

Jesus sees them posturing for the best possible seat. Perhaps some of them were even asked to move up and down in the rank, humiliating some and puffing others up with pride. Have you ever accidentally sat down at the wedding banquet table reserved for the bridal party of family and had to move? Embarrassing! Just from a practical standpoint it is better to be asked to move up to a better seat than to be bumped down a level.

Let's be honest - we all want the best seat at a banquet. In high school you wanted to sit with your friends, or even longed for the "cool table". There was always concern over who has your lunch period. At church dinners we sit with our friends and enjoy the fellowship. With a big group going out to eat, it is tough to sit at the end with the little kids and hear the adult laughter but miss the joke.  It may be awkward to go sit and with someone who is alone or whom you find annoying. But we are called to seek humility and consider others better than ourselves. This does not mean we should never enjoy the fellowship of close friends and family. Instead it means we should long for the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom rather than the praise of man or our own comfort.

The Pharisee hosting the event is now thinking, "Man, Jesus is really laying into my guests. This is getting uncomfortable for them." Jesus turns to him and says "Oh, yeah, you too. It's pretty easy to invite over the other Pharisees and teachers of the law. They will in turn invite you over to repay your kindness as well as telling everyone what a great feast you threw. Big deal. If you really want to be righteous invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite the ones who cannot pay you back or bring you glory in the community." The Greek does not indicate that you should never invite your friends, but that you should not only invite your friends. You could rephrase his statement, "It is not so much trouble for you to invite your friends, brothers, and rich neighbors."

We always travel at holidays, but if we ever stay home I really want to invite a student from the local college who can't go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But even this would not be that difficult on my part. Imagine inviting over someone poor or homeless, someone without access to personal hygiene or proper attire for a party you held. Imagine inviting the disabled, guests whose needs make them more difficult to host. Considering the belief of Jesus' day that disabilities and disease were caused by sinfulness, imagine inviting prostitutes and drug dealers to your Sunday luncheon. Jesus asks a lot of people!

But this not another rule or religious construction. When making a dinner list it isn't necessary to write "Poor? Check. Crippled? Check. Lame? Check. Blind? Check." Jesus seeks a change of the heart. He desires followers who are humble and contrite who realize they are no better than those so easily excluded from society. But yes, we really must be willing to share our meals, our time, and our material blessings with those considered "less fortunate" or "less desirable" by our society today.

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:10

Monday, April 29, 2013

Luke 14:1-6

A literal cow in a literal well
possibly not the Sabbath
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they could make no reply to this.

After a morning of synagogue worship, one of the prominent Pharisees invites Jesus to dinner. This is interesting, because if the Pharisees thought Jesus was from Satan, this would make Jesus ultimately unclean - thereby defiling the Pharisee's house. Even more suspicious is the placement of a man with dropsy right in front of Jesus. Dropsy is what we call today edema - swelling of bodily tissues. It can indicate failure of the liver, kidney, or heart as the body is unable to detoxify and more fluid correctly from the body. In this time period, illness was seen as judgment for sin, and dropsy was believed to be the result of sexual sin. I doubt this man was invited over because he was a close family friend. No, the Pharisees invite the "unclean" Jesus and the "unclean" man in order to set Jesus up.

They keep fighting with Jesus over the Sabbath. Jesus goes around straightening backs, healing the blind, restoring withered hands, allowing his disciples to pick heads of grain on the Sabbath... the list goes on and on, and everything Jesus did is not even recorded. This is proof enough for the Pharisees. "He broke the Sabbath again! See, he is NOT from God!"

Jesus asks the Pharisees and law experts if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Actually this is a trick question. Nowhere in the Old Testament was healing on the Sabbath prohibited. But in order to avoid breaking one of the Old Testament laws, over time the Pharisees had added additional laws to each law to ensure they did not sin. One of their added rules was that you could only be cured on the Sabbath if you would definitely die otherwise. If this was not the case, you should wait until the next day for treatment.

When no one answers Jesus, he grabs the man and heals him. Instantly the swelling disappears, skin tightens, organs begin functioning, and his joints freely move as he rushes home to show his family. You would think people would respond with, "WOW!!" Instead they glare and seethe at Jesus' behavior and lack of cultural sensitivity.

Calling attention to their hypocrisy, Jesus asks them, "If your animal or child fell into a well on the Sabbath, would you not pull it out? I doubt you would say, 'Sorry Joshua Jr., you'll have to try to tread water until tomorrow. Try to stay warm.'" They cannot reply. Of course they would deal with that situation. They used their man-made lists and regulations to pick and choose what was work and what was not. They walked closely along the lines drawn by their leaders rather than following Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

In the presence of the light of the world, most of the religious people chose to walk in darkness. It was a darkness of their own choosing, bound tightly by their religion and cultural upbringing. The chains of their religion kept them from reaching the kingdom of God. Many today bind themselves with the same chains. They keep certain rules or try to be "good people" believing that if one's good deeds outweigh the bad, heaven is waiting. One common thought is that it does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe it passionately. But Jesus taught, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." There are many paths, but most lead to destruction. No matter how well you run a race, if you are on the wrong trail you will not win the prize.

Even those of us who are truly Christians must guard ourselves from religiosity. There are some tenets that we must all believe: "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:4-6). But often much of what we consider Christianity is likely just part of our culture and upbringing. Guard yourself against placing tradition on the same level as God's Word.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" The man answered, "'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'""You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."  Luke 10:25-28

Friday, April 26, 2013

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will finish my course.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

This is not Herod the Great, the king who rebuilt the Jewish temple, built the port city of Caeserea Maritima, and massacred infants at the time of Jesus' birth. This is Herod Antipas, one of his sons. Herod Antipas was one of three sons of Herod who split Herod the Great's kingdom when he died. He was largely hated by the Jewish people whom he ruled. He built his capital city in Tiberius on a Jewish cemetery. He placed idols and images of Caesar in the city. He is also the ruler who ordered the beheading of John the Baptist at the request of his wife after being enticed by a dance from her daughter at a party (Matthew 14).

Some Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod wanted him dead. Maybe these Pharisees actually liked Jesus - we know a few of them followed him. Perhaps they just wanted Jesus out of their region. We do not know their motivation or the motivation of Herod. Perhaps he was threatened by Jesus because his superstitious nature associated Jesus with John - even suspecting him to be John the Baptist resurrected. Maybe he saw Jesus as some sort of threat to stability in his region, and instability could lead to repercussions from Rome.

Whatever instigates this warning, Jesus sends a message to "that fox". It is unusual for Jesus to call someone a name. What would be symbolized by a fox? We think of a fox as sneaky and wily. They are quick with their in and out destruction of your chicken coops or vineyards. This is definitely not a compliment.

Jesus' death was not three days away, he is speaking in the fashion of the time to mean that the events of his death would happen at the appointed time, when his course or work was complete. No human, no matter what earthly power they wielded, could deter the divine timetable. Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, the place where so many prophets of God had been killed that it was a tongue in cheek sign of authenticity to be killed as a prophet in the holy city.

Thinking of Jerusalem, Jesus mourns for their disbelief and disobedience. Jerusalem here signifies the entire Jewish nation, not just the city dwellers. As a hen gathers her chicks when a hungry hawk circles overhead or lightened threatens in the sky, God desired to gather his people under his protection. But most rebelliously went their own way, sure that they knew a better way to defeat the hawk, certain that a storm was not even coming.

"Your house is forsaken." As in the Old Testament when the Shekinah glory of God left the temple and it was destroyed by the Babylonians, God would leave his unbelieving people. It reminds me of a parent saying to a young adult wayward child, "You want to be on your own, fine. But you will no longer enjoy our provision while you destroy your life." But a remnant would be saved when they believed in Jesus, saying "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Many Messianic Jews are saved, and many more will be transformed at the second coming.

Like the unbelieving at the time of Jesus, we face consequences when we ignore God's will for our lives. We are not promised to be materially blessed if we seek him with all our hearts, but we are promised to be spiritually cursed if we reject him with all our hearts. Many times he uses drastic measures to get our attention and draw us back to him, but other times we slowly drag our sins and misconceptions down the broad road leading to destruction. Let us seek his will for our lives with all our hearts!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straigh
Proverbs 3:5-6

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Luke 13:22-30

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Jesus' answer to the question is shocking. There will be those who desire salvation that will not find it. We make it seem pretty easy to be a Christian - say a prayer, receive baptism, take communion, be confirmed, or some other combination of tasks and you are in. It is true that salvation is through grace alone, but it also begins a battle against flesh and sin. Those desiring the kingdom of God must fight for it.

Jesus says a time will come when many seeking salvation will find the door shut in their face. It will be too late. They will not be able to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, the owner (Jesus) will say he doesn't even know them, despite the fact that they ate with him and listened to his teachings.

Jesus is exclusive. Christianity is exclusive. Yes, all are welcome. Regardless of nationality, gender, language, socioeconomic status, or lifestyle, you are welcome. But there is only one narrow door into the kingdom of God. There are not many paths to salvation. Good works get you no closer to the right side of the door. Jesus himself taught, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Jesus does not directly answer the question. It doesn't matter how many are being saved, it only matters that you are one of them. Those who heard Jesus' teaching and did not follow him were not more evil than we are. In fact, if we examined most of them we would find them to be quite righteous. But on the one thing that matters most, justification through Jesus Christ, they are found lacking.

Strive to enter through the narrow door.

"Salvation is by grace, by grace alone. Nevertheless, divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness. It never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift, but an empty hand must receive it and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world. Something more than believing is necessary to salvation. A heart that is steeled in rebellion against God cannot savingly believe. It must first be broken. Only those who are spiritually blind would declare that Christ will save any who despises authority and refuse his yoke. Those preachers who tell sinners that they may be saved without forsaking their idols, without repenting, without surrendering to the lordship of Christ are as erroneous and dangerous as others who insist that salvation is by works and that heaven must be earned by our own efforts." - A. W. Pink

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Luke 13:18-21

So He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus spoke in parables for several reasons. The parables hid the meaning from the crowd at large. In Mark 4:11-12 Jesus tells his disciples that the meaning of parables are hidden from the largely unconverted multitude “that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” You can hardly arrest someone for talking about seeds and yeast. But stories are more memorable than facts, and I believe this is another reason he spoke in this way. His followers would remember the parables and their explanations and pass them on to later believers. Parables also have meanings that transcend time and culture.

In this parable Jesus compares the kingdom of God not to a majestic oak nor the costly cedars of Lebanon, but a mustard tree. A mustard tree is far less noble and glorious. The mustard tree is more like a gnarly weed, an evergreen shrub. It grows large from a small seed, but mostly in an outward direction, covering whole areas of the ground. This is not the plant from which we get the seeds for yellow mustard. The mustard tree grows green or yellow flowers and produces purple fruit. The fruit, seeds, and shoots are edible. Its branches resist bacteria and plaque and can be used as toothbrushes of sorts. People as well as birds can find shade within its branches. If Jesus is referring to black mustard, he is speaking of a weed that Palestinians would grow out in a field - a weed that takes over and is difficult to uproot and eliminate but is useful to make spices. People at the time would use the phrase "like a mustard seed" to describe something literally or figuratively tiny.

He follows by comparing the kingdom of God to a small amount of yeast. Not having the neatly manufactured yeast granules of today, the woman was probably working a piece of fermented dough into a larger batch of plain flour and water. Placed into a large amount of flour, the yeast multiplies as it bubbles and expands, working its way through the entire lump of dough and transforming it. Instead of flat, cracker-like bread, the baker can now bake a nice crusty loaf. The yeast changes the character of the bread.

So how can we compare the kingdom of God to these two things? The kingdom of God began small, revealing itself through Jesus, then his followers, then multiplied rapidly after Pentecost. It provides comfort to those seeking shade from the trials of life, spiritual food for the weary, flavoring to a dying world. The influence of a true Christian will spread into other lives, creating disciples as well as blessing even unbelievers. The kingdom of God within us will transform us, bubbling and working its way through our lives, digging roots into the soil of our souls that are not easily uprooted. Like the sower in the parable, we cast out a tiny seed of the gospel, and through the power of God it multiplies into a field that spreads as far as the eye can see. Many meanings can be found in the parables, and I challenge you to meditate on these today to seek their meaning for your life!

If so much will come out of so little, we are bound to go in for it. Nowadays people want ten percent for their money. Hosts of fools are readily caught by any scheme or speculation or limited liability company that promises to give them immense dividends! I would like to make you wise by inviting you to an investment which is sure. Sow a mustard seed, and grow a tree. Talk of Christ, and save a soul; that soul saved will be a blessing for ages, and a joy to God throughout eternity. Was there ever such an investment as this? Let us go on with it. If on our simple word eternity is hung, let us speak with all our heart. Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown, hang on the lips of the earnest teacher of the Gospel of Jesus. Let us never cease speaking while we have breath in our body. The Lord bless you! Amen, and Amen. - C.H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Luke 13:10-17

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately her back straightened, and she began glorifying God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

We can imagine that if Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, the large crowd that followed him was there. Scholars debate whether or not women were separated from men and sitting in a separate gallery in synagogues at this time. It is probable that most synagogues were more like the house churches of the early Christians. Whether this was a separate building or part of a large house, the crowd following Jesus likely pushed the capacity to its limits, spilling over to listeners outside. The synagogue official either had enough respect for Jesus' teaching to let him teach or was influenced by the desires of the crowd. This is the last recorded time Jesus will speak in a synagogue and occurs only months before his death.

In the midst of the congregation, Jesus calls over a woman crippled and bent over for eighteen years. Perhaps it was age related, perhaps it had another cause, but Luke mentions a "spirit of infirmity". In whatever way, evil forces have been at play in her life. For eighteen years she has slowly walked to the synagogue to stand unnoticed in the shadows. For eighteen years the eyes of the community have watched her, certain that some sin in her life caused the malady. But at the moment Jesus calls her forward, she slowly shuffles into the center of a battle between good and evil, true worship and religious trappings.

With the words and a touch from Jesus, she immediately straightens. Vertebrae snap back in place along a perfectly curved spine. Damaged nerve endings begin firing orders - no need for months of therapy. No more pain. No more suffering. No more shuffling through the shadows of life. She throws her hands in the air and praises God for all to hear. What other response could there be?

Well, one at least. The leader of the synagogue, the most highly respected layman in the community, looks at the crowd and reprimands them, "There are six other days in the week for this circus. Come and be healed on those days! This is completely out of hand. Today is not a day for work, but for rest. It is the Lord's day! We have a system, and this man is not following the rules." He may have been annoyed by the huge crowd ruining his normally solemn day of worship. Perhaps he was already among those who believed Jesus was working for Satan. It is possible that he was so tied to the regulations surrounding keeping the Sabbath that he could not handle any deviation. We will never know what sets him off.

Jesus is intentional. He is on the offensive at this point in his ministry. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and any other branch of Judaism in the community would have been at this synagogue, watching Jesus closely. He chose to heal for a purpose, and he chose this woman for a reason as well. There is no indication she sought healing from Jesus. He heals her to unmask their hypocrisy. Of course everyone listening gave water to their animals on the Sabbath. They all ate food themselves. There was certain work that was forbidden and certain work that were not. Jesus exposes their reliance on the letter of their Sabbath laws rather than enjoying the Sabbath as a time of worship, rest, and focus on God. In a society that placed women in a lower status, just above animals, Jesus calls the woman a "daughter of Abraham", as much an heir of God's promises as the esteemed synagogue officials and religious leaders. His opponents were humiliated, all the more reason for them to plot against him. But the crowd rejoiced at another miracle.

We so easily fall into the trappings of false religion. Certain things will satisfy God. Certain things will make him love us more. Certain sins are greater than others. We mingle grace with works. We choose which regulations from Scripture to follow and which to ignore. Then we argue with other branches of Christianity who deviate from our interpretation.

Of course some scriptures are cultural. I rarely pray with my head covered (1 Cor. 3:5) and do wear clothing made of two materials (Lev. 19:19). But Jesus exposes our hearts with his words. We focus on the wrong things. We cling to lists of right and wrong, because this seems easier than relying on grace and the Spirit as well as allowing us to feel superior to others. Caring for mankind and seeing each person as created in the image of God is far more important than following any list of prohibitions. It may and should take us out of our comfort zone as we venture further into the kingdom of God.
This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, hiding in the shadows aware every moment of suffering the wait and the burden of sin - hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over like an animal. The image of God defaced. So is the picture of the sinner shuffling one day into the presence of God to hear the word of God. She is met by the Lord and He out of His sovereign love delivers her, straightens her up and makes her a true worshiper. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation. God offers salvation to the outcast, the humbled, those bent over by the weight of sin, who will come and hear Him and He will turn them into true worshipers and He bypasses the curious and the self-righteous. 
- John MacArthur

Monday, April 22, 2013

Luke 13:1-9

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”

A group of people come to Jesus with news of an unthinkable tragedy. Some Jewish believers who had come down from Galilee to offer their sacrifices of repentance had been killed at the temple. Their blood mingled with the sacrifices being offered by the faithful. Remember that the temple would have been a bloody place as bulls, goats, sheep, and birds were killed and offered as sacrifices. Imagine if a terrorist burst into a modern worship service, slaughtered members in the congregation, and poured their blood into the communion cup. This is an unthinkable, vile, unholy occurrence.

The storytellers don't say it, but Jesus hears it in their voices. The slain Galileans must committed a horrible sin for God to allow this to happen to them. Prevailing Jewish thought was that bad things happen to bad people, and good people are blessed. Possibly the first book in the Bible ever written was Job, a story of unrelenting tragedy that tests one man. Job's friends concluded that it must be because of Job's sin that his life fell apart. There is no other possible answer. In John 9 Jesus' followers see a blind man and query Jesus as to whether the blindness is a result of the man's sins or his parents'. Extraordinary tragedy must signify extraordinary guilt.

Jesus corrects, "No, their sin was not extraordinarily horrible. It was ordinarily horrible, just like yours. If you don't repent, your fate will be equally unthinkable." As Paul writes in Romans 3:10,  "There is none righteous, no not one". The surprising thing is not that calamity falls upon some who seem good; the surprising thing is that any of us are spared and given more time to repent! We may not "perish" in the sense of a tragic death. The well-known verse John 3:16 instructs, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his one and only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." The kind of perishing of which Jesus speaks is an eternal perishing - eternal separation from God. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

In setting the stage for Jesus' ministry, John the Baptizer warned, "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Likewise Jesus uses an unfruitful tree as an allegory for repentance. The owner of the vineyard is ready to cut the tree down, but the gardener begs for a bit more time to aerate the ground and add manure. Both agree that the tree should not be given unlimited time. The fig tree was a symbol of Israel's prosperity and could be taken to mean a call for national repentance. But the parable is a call for all to repent while there is time.

Even today we wonder why tragedies happen. In the last week the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the explosion in West, Texas claimed the lives of many and severely injured others. These tragedies are not a judgment on America for our corporate sins. They are not judgment on those who perished because they were worse than others. Those who survive are no better morally than those who perish. A better question than "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is "How can God use this tragedy to bring glory to himself and grow spiritual fruit in my own life?"

God may be adding fertilizing manure to your life now in an effort to bring you to repentance. Your first inclination is that life stinks. Things are not going "your way". Take the time to seek God's will for your life and search your soul for areas that need repentance. Each day we wake offers a chance to draw nearer to God or closer into sin.

"As I look for a moment on the poor mangled bodies of those who had been so suddenly slain, my eyes find tears but my heart does not boast. Far from me be a boastful cry, 'God, I thank Thee that I'm not as these men are.' No, no, no, it's not the Spirit of Christ nor the spirit of Christianity. While we can thank God that we are preserved, yet we can say it is of Your mercy that we are not consumed." - Spurgeon, in 1861 after a collision between two trains in the Clayton Tunnel claimed 23 lives and severely injured hundreds, and about two weeks later another train wreck in North London claimed 15 more lives.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Luke 12:49-59

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how it consumes Me until it is finished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, right away you say, ‘A storm is coming,’ and so it does. And when the south wind is blowing, you say, ‘It’
s going to be a scorcher!’ and it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the ruler, make an effort to settle with him on the way. Then he won’t drag you before the judge, the judge hand you over to the bailiff, and the bailiff throw you into prison. I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last cent.”

Christmas songs resound with the promise that the Messiah has come to be the Prince of Peace, bringing peace to all the earth. So what is up with verse 51? Jesus keeps blowing our preconceptions out of the water.

Consider the scriptures that speak of the Messiah as a peacemaker. Psalm 72 says the righteous will flourish under an abundance of peace. Isaiah 9:6 prophesied that the Messiah would be the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 55, 57, and 66 taught that he would bring peace to those near and even those far off. Ezekiel 34 & 37 predicted a new covenant that would bring peace. The Jewish people had every reason from Scripture to believe that the Messiah would bring peace.

When Zechariah prayed and prophesied over his son John  he proclaimed that the Messiah would guide our feet into the way of peace. Jesus himself told many that he healed and forgave to "go in peace". In John 14 he taught his disciples, "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." Two chapters later he tells them. "These things I have spoken that in me you might have peace." So why would he say he did not come to bring peace?

Let's look at the rest of John 14, "Not as the world gives peace do I give peace." That's a huge clue. In Colossians 1:20 Paul writes, "God made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross." Jesus' listeners expected him to bring a time of national peace, if he was indeed the  Messiah. He would overthrow the Romans, and Israel could be it's own boss. John and Jesus both preached that the kingdom was one of peace, but this is the kingdom of God, not a kingdom of man. There can never be peace in the world unless every life is focused on bringing glory to God, every man has personal peace through the forgiveness of Christ, and each person is led by the Holy Spirit. This will not really occur until the second coming of Christ, but it is visible in snippets as we are transformed into the image of Christ. But as we reject the Prince of Peace we forfeit the kingdom of peace he brings.

In the Greek verse 49 reads this way, "For fire, I have come upon the earth." Jesus came to bring a fire that both cleansed and purged the hearts of men. "Baptism" here implies total immersion. Jesus had a task to undergo that consumed his ministry and his mind until it was complete - his propitiation for our sin and death on a cross. His death would be the kindling that lit the fire of judgment. The Old Testament speaks many times of fire as judgment, but the Jewish listeners would have been taught that the punishing fire of God was for Israel's enemies - Moab, Edom, and others in the Old Testament and certainly Romans of their day. Gentiles deserved the fire of God, his people did not.

Although we find unity in the body of Christ, the gospel bring division. We know in other countries that people converting to Christianity are persecuted and killed for their beliefs, even by their own families. I currently know of two former Catholics who were disowned by their families for joining Protestant churches. But even on a lesser level, families with mixed religious beliefs will have conflict. Different priorities, lifestyle, and beliefs will bring tension if not flat out arguments.  (In verse 53, Jesus is also loosely quoting Micah 7:6. His listeners would have caught this reference to Micah's cry against the morality in his day and know that Jesus was comparing them to that wicked generation.)

Jesus reprimands his listeners for being able to interpret the signs of the weather better than spiritual signs. When a cloud appeared in the west or a wind blew in from the south, these amateur meteorologist did not need Doppler radar to know what was coming. Yet they ignored and misinterpreted the signs given by Jesus. He must be using the power of demons. He couldn't be the Messiah because he isn't performing the signs we expect.

He calls the throng hypocrites, comparing them to people on the way to court. It is uncommon for people to not proclaim their own innocence. We either claim we didn't do it or, if caught, offer excuses as to why we did. Jesus warns his listeners to settle before judgment is reached. Those found guilty would be thrown into a debtors prison, jailed until every penny was repaid. And how could you repay the debt from prison? Most would languish and die within the prison walls.

Jesus was truly speaking of a spiritual debt. We are hypocrites who cannot easily see our own faults. Common thought is that if the good outweighs the bad, we will be okay on the day of judgment. Can you imagine if we applied this thought to our court system. "But judge, look at all the people I didn't murder! And there were so many houses I could have broken into that I left alone." We would "throw the book" at someone with that defense. Yet that is how many plan to argue their case before the judge of all.

Have you ever heard a hypocrite describe himself? I describe him this way:—you are a mean, selfish person. “No,” he says, “I am not; I am economical.” I say to him, “You are dishonest, you are a thief.” “No,” says he, “I am only shrewd and clever...” Somehow or other he will make vice look like a virtue in himself, but he will deal the opposite with others. Show him a Christian who is really humble, and he says, “I hate his submissive ways.” Tell him there is one who is very courageous for Christ; and he says, “Oh! he is insensitive to the feelings of others!”... There are people like that who make virtues in others into vices, and vices in themselves they transform into virtues.
Now, if you are a Christian, I will tell you what your spirit will be like, it will be the very opposite; you will always be making excuses for others, but you will never be making excuses for yourself. The true Christian, if he sees himself sin, mourns over it. He says to another, “Oh! I feel so sinful;” and the other one says, “I cannot really see it; I can see no sin in you; I could only wish that I were as holy as you.” “No,” says the other, “I am full of weaknesses.” ... That is the spirit of a Christian; but the spirit of the hypocrite is the very reverse; he will judge, and condemn, and severely punish every other man; and as for himself, he is exempt, he is a king, he knows no law, and his conscience slumbers and allows him to go on easily in the very sins which he condemns in others. This is a very prominent mark of the hypocrite, and I question whether all of us must not blame ourselves a little here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Luke 12:35-48

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?”

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Yes Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. We hate to wait in America. Fast food, credit cards, microwaves, speed passes, and premarital sex abound. What does this passage teach us about waiting Jesus' way?

We must always be prepared to serve Christ daily - be dressed ready for service. Literally we are to "have our loins girded". In Jesus' day one would need to tuck in his long robe in order to serve. Today we might use the idiom "roll up your sleeves" to convey the same image of readiness to work and "get your hands dirty".

We must maintain ourselves - keep your lamps burning. In those days without electricity, servants would have small oil lamps to illuminate the way for the master. You couldn't just light them at a moment's notice. A good servant would keep the wick trimmed and oil in the lamp, listening for sounds of the masters return. Likewise we should be preparing for our Master's return through Bible Study, prayer, righteous living, and sharing the gospel.

We must expect the master to return - like servants waiting for their master. Even now, two thousand years later, we must anticipate the return of Jesus. The eager servant will be watching and waiting, ready to throw open the door and welcome the Master.

A surprising thing happens to the ready servants in the parable. The master tucks in his own garment, tells them to recline, and begins serving them! Likewise when Christ returns, his servants who have been found faithful will be rewarded. Jesus came to serve (Lk 22:27), thus serving is elevated to an honorable task rather than a demeaning one. Jesus led through servant leadership throughout his ministry, never bossing his disciples around but rather kindly forgiving and leading through example. We should mirror this in our own relationships, especially when put "over" other people in any capacity.

But there is a tension in this passage. The first section reveals the joy a faithful servant will experience at Christ's return. But those with opposite lives will have a different perspective. In fact, they will view him as a thief breaking into the house in the middle of the night and taking what the owner believed belonged to him. Not knowing when the thief would come, the homeowner finds himself caught unprepared. The return of Christ is seen as a disaster for this fellow. All he values is taken away.

We can be confident that Christ will return to reward some and judge others. We cannot know the day or the hour, and those who attempt to predict it end up looking like fools. The delay in his coming is a test of our faithfulness that refines us through the Spirit into a closer image of Jesus to bring glory to God.

Peter, probably feeling uncomfortable, queries Jesus as to whom the parable is about. I'm sure he wants to be considered a faithful servant and not a robbed homeowner. In true Jesus form he does not give a straight answer. The principles here apply to all people.

The reward of the faithful and wise manager is to be put in charge of managing many things in eternity. Scripture indicates that we will work in the afterlife, not sit on clouds strumming harps. (Not that strumming harps isn't work. Calm down harpists!) Won't it be amazing to accomplish tasks without becoming weary or being distracted by other things?

But suppose the servant becomes weary of waiting for the Master and begins to engage in drunkenness and abuse of others. This servant is cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers. Harsh words, but we must not overlook them in an attempt to cling to our idol of a constantly loving and kind Jesus. The one who sins knowingly receives a greater punishment than the one who sins unknowingly. In Matthew’s parallel account (24:45-51), he adds a reference to “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  Ignorance doesn't bring you through the gates of heaven; it just diminishes hell. Many who claim to be servants of God will find themselves judged harshly when all is said and done. In light of Jesus' recent confrontation with the Pharisees and lawyers, he may have had false religious leaders in mind. Those placed in leadership have an even greater responsibility (Js 3:1).

Those of us who have accepted the truth of Jesus' first coming should look eagerly towards the second coming and the fulfillment of his promises. And keep in mind that much has been given to us, therfore much will be expected!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.   - Colossians 3:23-24

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Luke 12:22-34

Then He said to His disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: They don’t sow or reap; they don’t have a storeroom or a barn; yet God feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you’re not able to do even a little thing, why worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wildflowers grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! Don’t keep striving for what you should eat and what you should drink, and don’t be anxious. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Worry is disbelief in disguise. When we worry about anything we are in practice saying that we do not believe God will handle the situation. Yet God promises repeatedly in Scriptures to do what is best for us and for his glory. False teaching abounds, even in the world of Christianity, that twists this to mean that God will bless us materially and give us everything we think we need. Pray the right prayers, be faithful, and you will have comfort on earth. In fact, in John 16:33 Jesus warns his disciples, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

A simple glance over the trials the disciples experienced - arrest, scorn, beatings, torture, and death - shows us that even those who most closely follow Christ are not promised a life of ease. Many Christians in history as well as modern times lose all they have, even their own lives, for their steadfast faith in the gospel. But even when we hunger, lack clothing, or face the end of our lives, God uses all circumstances for his glory and to refine us into the image of Christ. Seek his kingdom, and your true needs will be met.

I am very into the whole foods, non-GMO movement. I spend lots of time researching what my family should and should not eat, especially in light of my husband's health problems. Although I do believe that to some extent this is important, there are many times when I worry and obsess over all the data out there. Although I do not worry about from where the money will come for our next meal, I can easily fall into worry about what kinds of things we will eat. Worry tends to creep up on you unannounced but instantly removes your eyes from God's kingdom.

In our human propensity to make our gods in our own image, we tend to water down the words of Jesus or consider allegorical the ones that seem too harsh. Jesus tells his listeners, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor". Yet like the rich fool in the previous passage, we box up our possessions and give them to the attic.

We have a system with the children's clothes at our house. If they are outgrown and perfectly spotless, we hang them for a consignment sale. The ones that are stained or worn go into a donation bag. Once my daughter asked, "We are giving these clothes to the people who can get stains out better than us, right?" Ouch, this is not  the message I want to send.

Are we willing to sell things about which we care in order to help the poor? Are we willing to fast for a period and give the money to alleviate world hunger? Are we willing to forgo buying the fashions of the season and instead clothe those in need? We are called to do this and so much more in order to follow Jesus. The payback for us is wonderful as well. Rather than earthly treasure, we become more like Christ and receive and inexhaustible treasure in heaven that nothing can destroy. As Spurgeon taught, "Giving is truly having."

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. - 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbitrator between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

It must have been so noisy. With thousands of people trampling on each other to get closer to Jesus, I imagine many voices were crying out for healing and answers to theological questions. He could never answer every question. But he chose to respond to this one.

In the presence of the greatest teacher of all time, the questioner's focus was on the wrong thing. Instead of learning about the kingdom of God, he was concerned with his own kingdom on earth. Jesus clearly tells him that His purpose is not to arbitrate between financial disputes. He warns his listeners to be on guard against greed.

Examples about of the truth of Jesus' statement, "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions". Many extremely wealthy people are miserable. The more wealth and the more possessions, the more "things" you have about which to worry. In the shanty towns of South Africa I found families that were among the happiest, most hospitable, and giving people I have ever encountered. Things do not equal happiness; in fact they can equal sadness.

Over Lent some friends and I made the conscious decision to examine the clutter in our own lives, giving away or throwing away at least one thing a day. One friend took the additional challenge of only wearing clothes that were at least one year old. I made the effort to eat from my pantry and freezer instead of hoarding food. We all learned that we have far too much "stuff" that takes our eyes off the kingdom. Each bit of clutter or belongings in your house represents time and money - time to clean it, think about it it, and move it around and the money used to purchase it. We could all live and thrive on far less. The ESV reads "be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness". The possessions we have can be a barrier between us and God, and the things we desire for ourselves can be as well.

"Eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow you die." The rich man in the parable was blessed with a great harvest. He made plans to kick back, relax, and live off this surplus. Instead of sharing the surplus with his workers or the poor, he tore down his barns to build bigger barns to store it all. Can we relate with our garages, attics, and storage sheds? A friend recently related that her family came to visit from England. They were shocked at the size of our houses, continually questioning, "Why is her house so big?"

I'm not suggesting that we should all sell our houses, move into tiny apartments, and live as monks. But any possession that we hold as "ours" and not "God's" is an idol and a barrier between us and Him. Hold your possessions loosely in your hand, and be ready to give them up if so instructed by the Holy Spirit.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21

Monday, April 15, 2013

Luke 12:1-12

Under these circumstances, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

So what were the circumstances? Jesus has just pronounced six "woes" against the Pharisees and lawyers at a luncheon, and they are seeking to kill him. Thousands of people are trampling on each other to get close. It's the UFC of the day, and with no loudspeakers or video screens everyone wants to get close enough to experience the action.

First Jesus speaks to his disciples, probably more than just the 12. Some were true followers. some were not. As leaven works its way through a loaf of bread, transforming the properties of the dough, so the brand of religious hypocrisy practiced by the Pharisees would work its way through a person's spiritual life. Our own hypocrisy may begin as a small thing, driven by an attempt to keep up what we perceive are other's perceptions of us or even in an attempt to truly "do good". We begin to worry about our external actions so that others will judge us well. Before we know it the hypocrisy has worked its way so thoroughly into our lives that there is no way we can work it out on our own.

Sins done in secret will eventually come to life - shouted on the rooftops. We see evidence of this in modern times. When people are caught in extremely sinful behavior such as child abuse, it may take decades to come out. There are many sins that will not be "shouted from the rooftops", but all sins will be laid bare at the judgment. No one escapes exposure for eternity. Only the blood of Christ completely blots out sins.

Jesus warns his listeners not to fear the judgment of mortal men. The worst they can do is kill you. That seems very extreme! Most of us would rather not be killed. But we should far more fear the judgment of God, for nothing escapes His knowledge. He knows how many hairs are on your head, not even having to recount as the strays detach themselves into your brush each morning.

Sparrows were so inexpensive that you could buy two for a copper coin (a sixteenth of an average day's wage), or five for two coins. Sometimes we feel like that 5th sparrow, thrown in for free and worth little or nothing. But the flip side of God knowing you well enough to be able to rightly judge your behavior is that he cares enough to offer a plan of forgiveness through Christ and a way to truly change your behavior through the Holy Spirit. You are of great value to him! Those who have engaged the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - will be acknowledged by Christ and forgiven for any transgressions. (It is not enough to believe in "god".)

Why would Jesus say that some people could not be forgiven? Is not God merciful and willing to forgive all sin? Yes, but if a person consistently closes his heart to God and his ears to his voice, he comes to a point where he can no longer recognize God even when God is making himself known.

As believers, we are not to be anxious about our conversations with others. If we use our own words, they might be eloquent, but they will ultimately be ineffective in communicating spiritual truths. The Spirit's words spoken through us will pierce and transform hearts. This does not mean that even if we are close to God we will win every argument. In fact, many times in the tense world in which we must communicate that the best thing is to walk away and lose an argument. When we are in close communion with the spirit we will know when and where to hold our tongue and what words to speak at other times. But in either case we will be able to say as Paul said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:1, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
- 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Friday, April 12, 2013

Luke 11:45-54

One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’  Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and those who were entering in, you hindered.”

When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say.

He is not used to being spoken to in such a manner, so the lawyer automatically corrects Jesus. "Jesus, you are insulting us lawyers, too." And Jesus replies, "Okay, woe to you lawyers, too!" he gave three curses to the Pharisees; now he gives three curses to the lawyers. So much for the idea that Christianity should be a religion of tolerance.

In Jesus' day, a lawyer would have a somewhat similar function to our lawyers. They traveled with the Pharisees or Sadducees, understanding and following all the rules of their particular sect. They would know and memorize the Jewish scriptures as well as the multitudes of laws that had been added on to "clarify" and maintain the purity of the laws given by God. Over the course of 400 years, they had crafted the rituals, routines, and procedures of their religion and culture. It was a labyrinth of behaviors imposed upon the people as if it was the true will of God, rules so complex that you needed a lawyer for interpretation. They weighed men down with a religious burden so heavy that none could lift it. And since the system was based on ritual rather than relationship with God, they gave the people not even a finger to lift the burden. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).

I was playing the book of  Leviticus on my iPod yesterday. As I listened to all the laws about sacrifice, uncleanness, and so forth, I couldn't help but think, "No wonder they were so obsessed with following the Law. There were so many specific Laws of which to keep track." And the punishments for breaking the laws were severe, culminating in the idea that you would be unforgiven of sins if you did or did not do certain things. Just like we need lawyers today when we try to struggle through "legalese", the Jewish people needed lawyers to clarify their laws. They were the biblical scholars and theologians of the day.

Jesus accuses the lawyers of building and decorating the tombs of the prophets, whom their ancestors killed. They wanted to show that they were more pious and righteous than their ancestors. But they ignored the teaching of the prophets - teaching that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), that doing what is right is more important than sacrifice (Prov. 21:3), that God has no pleasure in the blood of bulls and goats (Is. 1:11), that the important thing is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8). And they would plot to kill the one of whom the prophets spoke, Jesus himself.

For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and those who were entering in, you hindered. Could anything worse be said of a religious leader? The world has always been full of religious liars - intentional or otherwise. As the apostle John wrote, "We know that we are children of God, and the whole world lies in the lap of the evil one." Throughout history people have allowed themselves to be rocked to sleep by false teaching, lulled into a false sense of security through rituals and misplaced faith.

Can you imagine the tension in the room? The Pharisees must have been outraged. No one talked to them that way. People graciously greeted them in the marketplace. People literally accepted their word as law. As soon as he leaves, the leaders begin to plot a way to trap Jesus in his words so they can put an end to this.

There lies in this passage a warning to beware of religions created by the world as well as rituals within Christianity. Any religion or denomination that places works above grace is false. Nothing we do is important in earning our forgiveness, not baptism, communion, or words spoken. Faith and God's grace is what it takes. And "good deeds" do nothing to earn us favor in the eyes of God. It is unmerited. Our good works will flow from a heart of thanksgiving as the Holy Spirit conforms us into the image of God.

We must also beware the danger of hindering others from entering the kingdom. We keep silent when we should share the gospel. People look at us and see a life no different from other religious or irreligious people. We allow slavery, neglect orphans and widows, disregard the poor, allow abortion, ignore sin, and go about our lives ignoring the transforming power of Christ. Let us instead brightly shine a light on the path to heaven. Let us point people to the keys for the kingdom!

The principle he is putting before us is that outward conformity to either cultural norms or Biblical commands is not what God is after. He wants our hearts. And when he has our hearts, broken and humbled over our sin, believing and resting in his promises, he has the whole person. Only then does the outward behavior have value, because it flows from an inward change. The “inside of the cup” can only be cleaned and made right by the grace of God. - Jennifer Thorn

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Luke 11:37-44

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, all things are clean for you.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

It is interesting that a Pharisee would ask Jesus to dine with him after Jesus has denounced the wicked generation. Luke does not tell us this man's motivation. Perhaps he really liked Jesus. Perhaps he wanted a chance to trap him. Perhaps he agreed with Jesus that "this generation" was in fact very wicked, neglecting to include himself in that crowd. Clearly he followed the letter of the law, shuddering in disbelief when Jesus did not follow the ceremonial ritual for hand washing.

(Kids, don't use this as an excuse to not wash your hands. Jesus wants you to kill those germs, he just cares more about your spiritual well being than meaningless actions.)

It is a terrible thing when religious practices become an end in themselves and people neglect their hearts. The Pharisees followed the law of the Old Testament as they had interpreted it, even adding extra laws to clarify and keep them from breaking a single commandment. But they neglected justice. They neglected mercy. It is good that they did not neglect tithing, even down to their herb gardens. But this needed to be done in the context of love and worship for God and concern for their fellow man. They took the metaphoric chair of Moses (Mt 23:1-2), judging others for their behavior as Moses judged the Hebrews in the desert. (Any present day Orthodox Jewish rabbi will tell us that he holds in part the “Chair of Moses”.) And they loved to sit in the seat in the synagogue that honored those in the succession of Mosaic teaching. They enjoyed the respectful greetings given them in the marketplace. But Jesus compared them to an unmarked grave, a location that would make a person unclean without them even realizing it. Their teachings might seem like lush green grass, but beneath them was the rotting stench of decay.

It is all to easy to fall into the trap of legalism. Checklists make us feel better and prove we are on the right track. Surely certain rituals and behaviors must make us more appealing to God, more worthy of salvation. But nothing can be further from the truth.

God cares about our hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus equates hate with murder, lust with sexual immorality, and divorce with adultery. As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is. It is difficult to not desire praise for accomplishments, attention for good deeds, and greetings in the marketplace. Good deeds done for the sake of earning forgiveness or to look good to a watching world are meaningless. 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 (Isaiah 64:6).

When we allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts of greed and wickedness it can be a painful process. But as a result, our good deeds will come from clean hands and pure hearts lifted to the father.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:8

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Luke 11:29-36

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

The anti-Jesus leadership seems to have succeeded. Unwilling to accept that his power comes from God, people in Galilee and Judea murmur that his power comes from Satan. Many have chosen the side of the establishment, and many who seem to follow Jesus do so only to seek signs and wonders. From this point on, Jesus' words become more judgmental and confrontational. He still heals and reaches to the hearts of the outcasts, but he concentrates his teaching on his disciples, preparing them for what is to come.

The crowds increase. They are drawn by his miracles and the authority of his teaching. He is the greatest show in Israel. Most religious leaders would see this a a great thing. But Jesus knows their hearts. They are a wicked generation, claiming to seek a sign but ignoring the signs all around them. Compared to our society, we would think these people amazingly pious. Most followed the letter of the law. All would be utterly shocked by the norms in our world today. But despite their outward morality and cleanliness, they were decaying on the inside.  They challenge Jesus to give them a sign to prove his power is not from Satan rather than taking his words about their own sinfulness to heart. In John 15:24 Jesus said, "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sinned." They can't wrap their head around him, so he must be satanic.

He tells them that the only sign the will receive is the sign of Jonah. If you don't know his story, Jonah was a prophet who chose to run from God rather than deliver a message of conviction and repentance to the hated and evil Ninevites. He tried to run away from his mission to the landlocked city by sailing as far away as possible. God sent a massive storm that rocked his shop. When a game of dice reveals him as the reason, the crew agrees to toss him overboard. God provides a large fish to swallow him. But this proves to be his second chance as the fish vomits him onto the land after he repents. He walks through the city of Ninevah, delivering a less than stirring message that they should repent. He gets into a tiff when they repent and are not destroyed. After Jonah. the Ninevites are free from God's wrath and destruction for about 150 years.

Jonah's deliverance from the clutches of death after three days in the fish mirror the three days Jesus will spend in the tomb before his resurrection. Jesus prophesies that on the judgment day, these Ninevites will stand in judgement of his generation. After all, the entire city of Ninevah repented after Jonah's wishy washy preaching, and some people of Israel would not even repent after Jesus comes back from the dead. Instead they spread the rumor that his body was stolen by his disciples. It has to be Satan. It has to be a trick. It can't be that he is actually the Messiah, sent from the one true God.

The Queen of Sheba came to visit from what was considered the ends of the earth when she heard of King Solomon's great wisdom. According to Ethiopian tradition, and possibly legend, during this visit Solomon sired her son, Menelik I, who would become the first Emperor of Ethiopia and later bring the ark of the covenant to Ethiopia. A group of Ethiopian priests guard a replica of the temple today which they claim still contains the ark. In the biblical account, this visit seems more a meeting of heads of state. She brings gifts to Solomon; he sends gifts back with her. The Queen is enamored by Solomon's wisdom, causing her to emote in 1 Kings 10:9, "Praise the LORD your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness." Jesus says that at the day of judgment, this queen would condemn Jesus' generation as well. She traveled far to hear and believe the wisdom of Solomon; they would not believe the far greater wisdom of Jesus.

For any culture throughout history, light is necessary for life and metaphorically signifies understanding. When we finally "get" something we say, "The light went on." When we realize the error of our ways, we say, "I saw the light ". The Light of the world was with them, but the people adamantly stumbled through the darkness. It matters little how much light there is if you cannot see.

My father-in-law had surgery yesterday to remove cataracts and repair his macular degeneration. Imagine his joy when the dark spots in his vision were removed! He kept talking about all the light and bright colors he could see. Now imagine if he decided to walk around with a sleep mask on instead of enjoying his restored sight. We would think he was crazy! Yet people then and now persist in walking in darkness, unhealthy spiritually and suffering in their stubbornness. Many falsely believe themselves to be are "enlightened", but their hearts and minds are full of darkness.

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart... But you did not learn Christ in this way... in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
- Ephesians 4:17-24

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Luke 11:14-28

Now He was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute, spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons!” And others, as a test, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his estate, his possessions are secure. But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes from him all his weapons he trusted in, and divides up his plunder.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Don't you wonder what the formerly mute man said? And aren't you surprised that people asked Jesus for a sign? What did they think every move he made, every miracle he performed, and every word he spoke was? Everything pointed to the Father. Everything pointed to the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is present. And even the finger of God has more power than the entire kingdom of darkness currently allowed to rule much of the earth. And with the coming of the kingdom, we see unprecedented movement in the powers of darkness. Only 5 of the 39 books of the Old Testament even mention Satan. But when Jesus comes on the scene the demons cannot remain silent. Just being in His presence they cry out, "What have you to do with us, Son of the Most High God?" The mere proximity of Jesus forces them from the behind the scenes work demons prefer and into the spotlight for a showdown.

Jesus is accused of using the power of Satan to defeat Satan, but he points out how crazy that would be. Plus, there were leaders of the Jewish faith who cast out demons. They would confirm that it was not by evil forces that they did this. In Exodus 31:18 the finger of God had inscribed the words of the law on the stone tablets. The psalmist speaks of the heavens as created by the finger of God. God does not have literal fingers. This is a figure of speech indicating the power of God. But I like the mental image of God (or Jesus) pointing a finger at the demon and with a flick of a knuckle commanding it out of this man. Jesus has easily overpowered Satan and taken away his weapons.

But he will not completely accomplish this until he comes again. Until then, Satan has some of his weapons still on earth. One of Satan's most effective tactics is to divide those of us in God's kingdom against one another. We must encourage one another in our battle for the kingdom. We won't walk around confronting demons like Jesus did, but we make war against the sin in our lives. Fight not against those who are different, rail not against those who believe not in Christ, but make war against the sin in your life. Hold each other accountable in their faith journey. "The only foothold Satan has in your life is your flesh and your sin" (Piper).

When you find yourself seemingly free from a particular sin, beware. Although your spiritual house may seem to be swept and in order, temptations return sevenhold. Be on your guard against temptation! Do not let sin master you! For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first (2 Peter 2:19-20).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

Monday, April 8, 2013

Luke 11:1-13

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus' disciples knew there was something different about the way he prayed. John, as well as the Pharisees, taught their disciples how to pray. Jesus' followers wanted to learn the discipline as well.

Jesus provides them with a model prayer. He begins by giving glory and honor to the Father. He prays that God's name be hallowed - sanctified and made holy. Of course his name is holy whether we pray or not, be we pray that his name will be treated as holy. We pray that people will believe God and with peaceful confidence trust what he says. We pray that we will keep his commandments with reverence and respect. “The most significant reason to pray is to ask God to glorify himself” (Piper).

His first request is that God's kingdom would be known on the earth.The kingdom of God was both a present spiritual reality beginning with the incarnation of Jesus and a future event which will be ushered in at his second coming. Secondly he requests the meeting of daily needs. He follows by requesting that sins be forgiven, since obviously we forgive those who sin against us (ahem). Yes, we are to forgive everyone, even those who don't ask or don't deserve forgiveness. “We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him” (Thomas Fuller).  He closes with a plea that we not be led into temptation. This is a great model to follow in our own prayer life, without becoming caught up in rote prayer or legalistic praying.

In true Jesus form, he follows with a parable. The man in bed in the first parable would not want to get up, have to resecure his door, and wake his children in the process of getting bread for his neighbor. As the mother of small children, I understand him perfectly! I am such a "don't answer the door" kind of girl that I have trained my children to hide when the doorbell rings. (Call first, friends.) But when the neighbor in need refuses to give up, of course the sleeping family is awakened and the need is met by the grumpy neighbor.

The message here is that we should approach God with shameless audacity, believing that our needs will be met. Through the Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ, we are able to approach the very throne of God with our needs and desires. We ask with the firm belief that he will answer and the knowledge that he does hear. We are to continue praying until either our prayer is answered or God tells us to stop. Keep asking! Keep seeking! Keep knocking! Just no sane earthly father would give his hungry child a meal of snakes and scorpions, our heavenly Father will give us what we need. (Sometimes he says no, because we are asking for snakes and scorpions!) And what do we need? An outpouring of the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit will guide us as we pray, show us when our prayers are selfish, reveal when God's answer is no, and help us persist in prayer. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26).

God isn't Santa Claus. No matter how high your name is on the “good list", you won't get whatever you request. Even if you beg. Even if you whine. Invoking the name of Jesus is not the same as rubbing the genie's lamp. But when we ask, seek, and knock he will care for us. We do not pray to get God on our side; we pray because he is already on our side and has a plan for our lives.

Yes, we will go through trials. Yes, many true believers are hungry, sick, and dying. Yes, life can seem unfair as the sun and rain fall equally on the just and unjust. But God provides the Holy Spirit to all who call on his name. The Holy Spirit will lead us in paths of righteousness, comfort us in trouble, and give us indescribable peace in storm or fair weather. He will give us the words of God to speak in any situation and hold our tongues silent when our mouths should stay shut. “We look to God, not as our enemy or as a frustrated father who can never be pleased, but as our Father who is 100% for us because of Christ alone. Therefore, we trust him, that because of Christ (his death and righteousness), he will give us the Spirit—and everything else we need. That is how we pray ‘in the Spirit.’ That is what it means to be gospel-sustained. That is gospel-praying” (Piper).

"Father, we long to see you honored more and more in our church and our city. Cause your name to be hallowed among us. Magnify your worth and your glory in our midst. And let your kingdom come. Take up your kingly rule more and more fully over our church and our lives and our families and our city. And hasten the day of Christ's final appearing. Meet our physical needs we pray, so that we can press on with joy in the work you call us to for your name's sake. Forgive us, O Lord, where we have sinned and fallen short of your glory. And keep us from entangling temptations that will trip us up and bring reproach upon your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen."  - John Piper, paraphrase of the model prayer