Friday, August 31, 2018

Waiting and working

Luke 19:11-27…

Many thought that since Jesus was heading for Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) this meant the kingdom of God was about to be ushered in. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem did present Israel with their Messiah, but it would not be until sometime later that the kingdom of God would be established. Indeed, we still await the coming of that kingdom.

Jesus had spoken to His disciples about His rejection, suffering, and death at Jerusalem (Luke 18:31-34), but they did not understand at that time. What Jesus had said to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9-10) only intensified their expectations. In light of the Old Testament teaching it was understandable why (Isaiah 40:9 / Jeremiah 3:17, 33:16 / Joel 2:32, 3:16-17 / Micah 4:2 / Zechariah 8:3, 9:9, 13:1, 14:4, 14:8). They anticipated the immediate commencement of the kingdom (cf. Acts 1:6-11).  While Jesus taught that we should desire the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10 / Luke 18:1-8), He told this parable to correct wrong conclusions about the way people held these convictions.

In the story a wealthy man was going away to be anointed as king, and would be gone for a while. For the meantime, he gave some of his servants a sum of money, instructing them to do business until he returned. The citizens of the area were not fond of the wealthy man and sent word that they did not want him to return at all.
When the man returned as king, he sent for the servants to give an account of what they had gained. One did very well, obtaining a tenfold return. Another also did well, securing a fivefold return. Both were rewarded and made rulers in proportion to their faithfulness.

A third servant had no increase at all because he hid the money away, and so in a sense lost money that could have been earned. This servant personifies the problem which our Lord is addressing, the lack of faithful obedience. The wicked servant lost the rewards that could have been his, and they were given to the servant who had proven most diligent. If he was truly fearful of his master, he would have used the time he had to be obedient, not complacent.

The master’s final act was to deal with the rebellious citizens who rejected him. These enemies represent those Jews who would reject Jesus as their Messiah.

The departure to a distant land and later return of the king signaled a time delay in the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus had to go up to heaven to be crowned king (cf. Philippians 2:9-11), and the delay of the kingdom provided a time for the king’s servants to be tested. Their faithfulness in serving Him will be the basis of their rewards in the kingdom.

Christians must live with intention and also with investment. Christ could return tomorrow, but His return may not be as soon as we think or hope. We need both a short-term and a long-term view of life and ministry, living for today by having an eye for tomorrow. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Short sighted

Luke 19:1-10…

Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus but he can’t, partly because of the crowd, but also because he was short. He was also hated. The tax collectors were despised because they were collecting money from other Jews and giving it to the Roman government. More than that, they were allowed to exact a tribute on top of the tax that they could keep for themselves. They got rich off their own people’s backs. Furthermore, Zacchaeus had other tax collectors under him, and so no doubt, he was among the wealthiest men of the region.

It may have seemed quite undignified for him to climb that tree, and certainly it invited more scorn. Jesus had healed a blind man on the way to Jericho, proving He was the Messiah, and the crowd loved it (Luke 18:43). But when Jesus carries out His messianic mission, saving vile, guilty sinners, like the chief tax collector, the praise of the crowd turns to protest.

Still, Zacchaeus did what it took to see Jesus. He was looking for the one thing that touches the heart of a righteous God toward an undeserving sinner, which is mercy. Zacchaeus had sought the Lord, but the Lord had also sought him. The Scriptures clearly teach that no one who truly comes to Jesus for mercy, on the basis of faith, will be turned away. They also teach that anyone who comes to Christ for salvation does not come on their own initiative, but is drawn by God. Zacchaeus didn’t offer restitution in order to be saved; he offered it because he was being saved. The heart that is moved by God will also move its hands. A saving faith leads to a living faith.

Children can identify with Zacchaeus because they know what it’s like to be too little to see what’s going on. But adults also know that feeling of being at the edge of the crowd, of being an outsider, of not being able to get a clear view. Yet too often what obscures our vision of Jesus is our tendency to blame external factors rather than internal affairs. Perhaps we have anger because of what God seems to be “doing for others”. Maybe we suffer from laziness, because God “doesn’t seem to be helping me”. Sometimes it is embarrassment, because God “makes me admit my problem before people”. Or pride, because God “couldn’t possibly think I’m worse than that other person”.  All these things cause us to be “short sighted” (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-9).

We should learn from Zacchaeus. His testimony stands tall. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Seeing the point

Matthew 20:29-34 / Mark 10:46-52 / Luke 18:35-43…

Sometimes we can become so focused on minutiae that we miss the meaning of something. We miss the forest for the trees; we choke on the hors d’oeuvres, as it were, and miss the main course. Instead of being enriched by the added details we are bogged down in the incidental. And sometimes we might think that we are going deeper when we are actually becoming shallower.

Here is a case in point. In the gospel of Luke, we see Jesus healing a blind man. Mark gives his name (Mark 10:46). Yet Matthew mentions two blind men (Matthew 20:30). Mark and Matthew refer to the old Jericho, while Luke is speaking of the new Jericho, a mile or so south of the old town. Luke says He was approaching Jericho. Matthew and Mark say He was leaving Jericho. It is possible because you could be approaching the new Jericho leaving the old Jericho. We could get all worked up over some supposed contradiction between the stories instead of seeing them as complimentary. The biblical writers simply focused on different details.

The big picture is that this is actually the last of Jesus’ public miracles before reaching Jerusalem and the time of His crucifixion. The first miraculous sign Jesus performed was in the north at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11), and here, the last is in the south of Judea. He had filled Israel with signs and wonders, testifying to His divinity and role as Messiah. The blind beggars called out to the Messiah (son of David) and were healed. 

The crowd will try and crowd you out. But don’t let the religious crowd stop you from getting to Jesus. Using your intellect and being diligent to study are good and necessary things. However, the key to spiritual understanding is obedience and trust. Don’t be blind about how to understand spiritual truth. Get the big picture into your heart before you concern yourself with getting the details into your head.

Do you see the point?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The precedent for preeminence

Matthew 20:20-28 / Mark 10:35-45…

The ambition: Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
The inquiry: Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?

The answer: We are able.
The insight: You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.

The anger: And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
The implementation: whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.

It is not simply a matter of suffering, and not simply a matter of service, it is a matter of self-denying self-sacrifice, not self-indulgent service for self-exalting status. Submission makes us a servant to others; thus submission is the surrendering of our independence. In submission we place the interests of others above our own personal interests (Romans 15:1-2 / Philippians 2:1-4), which enables us to humble our thirst for recognition.

God is the key and Christ is the model and the means for submission. The submission we are to have one to another is to imitate Christ’s submission (Philippians 2:5-13). Peter also makes God the focus of submitting to governmental authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), to workplace authority (1 Peter 2:18-20), and to those who cause them suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25, 4:19).

In the eyes of the world, the greatest is the one who has no one over him. In the kingdom of God, Jesus said that whomever would be the greatest would be the servant of all (Mark 9:33-37). Submission is the attitude which underlies servant leadership. When we subordinate our interests to those of the ones we lead, we die to self (Matthew 10:38-39 / Mark 8:34-35 / Luke 9:23-24 / John 12:24-25). In this way we become models of submission to the church (1 Peter 5:1-7). 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Just keep following

Matthew 20:17-19 / Mark 10:32-34 / Luke 18:31-34…

Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. They were all in wonder and many were worried.

Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. In our walk with Jesus, everything that God has ordained for your life will be accomplished, too.

But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Even His closest disciples didn’t really understand what He was now saying, and what it all meant for the future.

But don’t forget one thing…the true disciples kept right on walking with Jesus. Where else were they to go (John 6:68)? Even though they didn’t fully as yet understand what He was saying, and wondering why He was going where He was. It sounded like trouble. But they still followed.

It is worth the trouble to follow Him into trouble. Every commandment of Christ is for our best, and it is done from a heart of love (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2-3). He may seem to be a dead end to you at times, but He will rise again, you’ll see. That is, if you keep following (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Those who follow Jesus follow all the way through death and home to heaven. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Church and the Secular Mindset

Secularism is the dominant idea today that guides peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, many professing believers are succumbing to a secular mindset in one very important way.

Exposing a secular mindset

First, you need to realize that secularism means “this age”. To the secular worldview, what matters is the temporal world. Any ideas about the eternal shouldn’t influence how we act as a society, and religion gets in the way of modernization and human flourishing. In other words, secularism isn’t concerned with cosmic ideas such as heaven and hell (expressed in John Lennon’s song Imagine). It is all about this age, and getting the most out of this life.

Exercising a secular mindset

This secular mindset is what professing believers are adopting, even if unwittingly, when they treat church as if their attendance or absence has no bearing on the life and health of the institution that Jesus started and is expressed in local assemblies. Your absence is a testament to your secular mindset. Your actions speak loudly, that church doesn’t matter all that much. You’ve got your ticket to heaven and that’s all that matters for the next life, so you can just go and live this life, you don’t need church. But you do need the church, and the church needs you. It isn’t some secondary matter, and to treat it as optional or occasional is to give into the secular mindset.

Your attendance matters

Jesus said that he will build the church, and the local church is the visible expression of the Lord’s promise being fulfilled. Do you want to the local church to die out? You can say “no”, but when you don’t go, you are contributing to the death of the local church expression. Church is important to God. Corporate worship is important to God. Corporate worship is important for you. Corporate worship is important for the life and health of the local church. For Christians, corporate worship is our most important hour of the week. Nothing else takes precedence over the worship of God. When you purposefully miss church, you are missing the most important hour of the week. What could possibly take priority over God’s ordained means? You need to make church a non-negotiable habit, just like eating or sleeping, something you skip only in the rarest of circumstances, and something you resume as soon as you possibly can.     

Think about it

When you are absent, what are you saying to the culture? What are you saying to new believers? What are you saying to your brothers and sisters in Christ? What are you saying to Jesus? When you decide not to go, are you contributing to the strength of the local church, or are you contributing to the decline of the local church? Do you think Jesus cares? Which matters more, what he thinks about it, or how you feel about it?