Tuesday, August 31, 2021

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. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

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. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

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?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

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). 

Friday, August 27, 2021

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. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Grace isn’t fair

Matthew 20:1-16…

The setting of this parable was the conversation Jesus just had with the rich man, and the following discussion with the disciples (Matthew 19:16-30). Just before giving this parable, Jesus issued a warning, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” At the end of this parable, Jesus says again, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”  Since this warning both precedes and follows the parable, it is evident that the parable was told to explain the warning.

The story starts out with a normal plot, with a landowner hiring day workers. But as the day came to the end, the landowner did something very unusual. He paid those who had worked the least amount of time the same as those who worked all day. Naturally, the workers who had been there all day complained. They thought it was unfair that the men who worked only a little should get just as much as they did.

But the landowner reminded them of the facts. They needed work, and he graciously gave them a job. He then paid them a fair wage, one they had agreed to. Other workers were simply blessed beyond that, and this was the prerogative of the landowner. There was no law that said he had to pay everyone proportionately. That ended the discussion.

Yet the story isn’t simply about money, wages, rewards, or recompense, but about attitude. The Lord is the landowner, and the vineyard represents His kingdom. We are the workers, and the wages are about God’s rewards for faithful service. But the length of service and the amount of work does not determine what the reward is. God’s economy of grace is not the same as the natural order people expect.

It is when people start comparing what God has given to other believers that they begin to judge God’s fairness. Two things happen when you compare with others: you covet or you complain. You covet what others do have and complain about what you don’t have. The warning to each of us is not to be proud of what we have done and expect more than those whom we think have done less. Anything and everything we are able to do for and in the kingdom of God is simply the result of His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). We must serve Him faithfully, trusting His just and generous character (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The reward of true riches

Matthew 19:27-30 / Mark 10:28-31 / Luke 18:28-30…

Peter attests to what Jesus said could be done by God. The disciples had been converted and have indeed left everything behind to follow Jesus, unlike the rich man. The truth is that eternal life is not inherited by good works. It is received by faith in those whom God’s grace works the impossible. Radical obedience is the result.

But not all people are called to give away all they have. Indeed, very few are. The problem is not the abundance of wealth or the absence of wealth. The problem is the love of wealth. Even among Christians, there will always be the poor (Mark 14:7), and there will always be the wealthy (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Nowhere do we find Jesus calling us to all live the same kind of life. Jesus calls some to radically sell all and give to the poor, but not all. He calls some to lifestyles of radical wealth in order to create more wealth so that His kingdom work can be financed.  What we are called to lose is whatever it is that might keep us lost.

You may have to leave behind some earthly things; but you will gain spiritual and eternal things. Jesus said that we would receive many rewards. The bountiful blessings of now include a new relationship with God and a new spiritual family of fellow disciples that will last beyond death. Jesus wasn’t promising material wealth, He was promoting spiritual wealth. And eternal life with God will be a glorious existence that cannot be compared to earthly blessing.

Certainly, we need to be practically realistic about what we’re calling people to. Coming to Christ and giving up the control of your life can be very painful. But whatever the cost of discipleship, the rewards of discipleship more than make up for it (Romans 8:16-18 / 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 / 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It won’t work, unless

Matthew 19:23-26 / Mark 10:23-27 / Luke 18:24-27…

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t saying that if someone was rich on earth they will not be in heaven. He was teaching us that entering the kingdom of God by relying on material wealth is impossible. Unfortunately, people with possessions have a natural tendency to want to earn their way in. But trying hard enough simply won’t work. There is no way to buy, merit, earn, or deserve God’s grace.  

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” They thought that surely, if anyone could be saved, it would be the rich. But riches are often a hindrance to dependence on God (Luke 6:24-25). On the other hand, a poor person is spiritually in a better position to receive the gospel (James 2:5). A poor person can’t look to wealth to shield him from the reality of his spiritual poverty. Poor people have their worries, just as wealthy people do. But poverty is a blessing in disguise when it makes it harder for a person to maintain the illusion of control, and easier to see his need for God.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. Jesus’ answer says a lot.  Salvation is only possible by the means of a miracle. And that miracle must be performed by God. Indeed, God can work the miracle of conversion even in a rich person’s heart.  It can happen for you when you renounce your works as deserving of God’s favor.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Drop the dough and let’s go

Matthew 19:16-22 / Mark 10:17-22    / Luke 18:18-23…

What must I do to inherit eternal life? This man is clearly intent on achieving eternal life by his own efforts. Jesus answered the question by telling the rich man to keep the commandments. However, Jesus is not giving a plan of salvation. He is using the Law as it is intended (Galatians 3:24). The Law does not save (Romans 3:28), but it does condemn (Romans 3:19). Jesus was lovingly proving where this man’s heart really was.

There are things in each of our lives that would keep us from trusting Christ. They are different things for different people, but we must be willing to forsake them if we are to follow Jesus. Christ knew that this man could not follow Him and still keep his money (Luke 16:13). He won’t deny himself, he wanted to hold on to his own will, pride, money, ambition, control over his life. His unwillingness to give his money to the poor revealed that he had not even kept the first great commandment (Matthew 22:36-37).

Jesus did not give him a different requirement than what is asked of others. He declares to us all that we must forsake what keeps us from following Him (Mark 8:34-36). The rich ruler wanted to stay as the ruler when the gospel is that Jesus saves you from self-rule and becomes the ruler.  

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Bless the noise

Matthew 19:13-15 / Mark 10:13-16    / Luke 18:15-17…

The disciples saw the children who wanted to touch Him as a distraction and wanted to stop them. But Jesus welcomed “distractions” to His kingdom, and that should make us pause. In effect, some of us act as if Jesus doesn't want to reveal Himself to children, or as if they cannot receive it. This is simply pride and unbelief on our part. The key to effective ministry to children is humility, and we must be on guard against hindering children from coming to Jesus.

This scenario also has bearing on the modern and all too often misguided desire for a “distraction free environment” in worship. The orderly worship of God is not always supposed to be a silent environment. The Bible does not advocate a disorderly and chaotic form of worship, but we shouldn’t think, for example, that Paul was arguing in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 for an entirely distraction free gathering, either.

We must be careful not to turn the worship service into an individualistic consumer event rather than an individual-in-community transforming event. It is about more than satisfying individual wants/needs, it is about transforming us into being more like Christ. Allowing the “distractions” of hurting people, extraordinary situations, special needs children, etc., is training for just that. We don’t need “a distraction free environment”; we need to learn to focus.

Otherwise, we can only “worship” when we can get quiet. And God isn’t happy with that. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Deceitful divorce

Mark 10:10-12 / Luke 16:18…

After what Jesus had said about possible exceptions in divorce (Matthew 19:9 / cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-15), what are we to make of these texts (cf. Romans 7:2-3)?

Jesus had tossed the question of the Pharisees (Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?) right back to them. Jesus was in fact limiting their use of Moses’ teaching, correcting their desire to use Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as justification for divorce. In doing this, Jesus is saying that no one has the moral right to dissolve the covenant simply because they want to. 

The disciples wanted further clarification. Jesus summarizes the point of the teaching, the problem of treachery. When the covenant is broken by an action such as “fornication,” the divorce does not sever the bond, the action itself has. But if there is no such severing prior to it, then the legal divorce is itself the severing act, and then it is a treachery, and it is adultery.

The statements in Mark and Luke, when considered out of their context, do seem to prohibit all divorce and remarriage. But when seen in their contexts, they prohibit only divorces that are ill grounded. It is improper to say that all divorces that end in remarriage are adulterous. Rather, all divorces not grounded in the scriptural exceptions that end in remarriage are adulterous.

Jesus was not saying that divorce or remarriage is never allowed. The references to John (Luke 16:16-17) and the loyalty of Jesus to the Old Testament steer us against the interpretation of these verses as a proscription of all remarriages. The absolute prohibition of remarriage has no support in the Old Testament, the very thing that Jesus and John sought to uphold. It all depends on how that second marriage was predicated.

Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage is essentially the same as that of the Old Testament. To unjustly divorce a spouse in order to marry another person is adulterous. If you have broken your vows by an ill grounded divorce you still have repentance open to you. Confess it to God as the sin it was, and determine to take your present covenant seriously, to protect it and prevent any future break. There may, as in all sin, be some consequences that will be difficult to bear but there is complete forgiveness.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Some will be single

Matthew 19:10-12…

Considering the standard that Jesus had just given for purity in marriage (Matthew 19:1-9), the disciples wondered if perhaps it would be best to remain single. Jesus says that while some can remain single and be wholly devoted to the Lord, most cannot do this and remain pure.

God wants all people, married or unmarried, to live in sexual purity. People fail to harness their sexual energy when they believe that sexual activity is the only viable outlet for it. Yet all of us are called to some level of self-control. Some are gifted to be able to be single and do this, but most of us cannot do that. So we are called to honor God with our spouse.

For there are eunuchs…this means someone who does not engage in sexual activity. Some are born that way, some are made that way, and some choose to be that way for the sake of devotion to God. Such was the Apostle Paul, who encouraged those who might have the gift of singleness that he has (1 Corinthians 7:7), but he also realizes not all do (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). If you are content being single, and if you wish to devote yourself that way to the Lord, then that is good. But it is better to marry if you cannot control your passions.

The truth is that you can be devoted to God and have sexual desire. You can also be devoted to God and have control over your sexual desire. For some, singleness is a gift to be received from God. We must not automatically relegate these gifted people to secondary status.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Divorced from humility

Matthew 19:1-9 / Mark 10:1-9…

Using what was a dispute between the leading teachers of the day (Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause? / cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4), the Pharisees were testing Jesus. This is an important point. They were not coming to the Word with humility. Are we guilty of the same thing? Humility isn’t an attitude that thinks we cannot know the interpretation, it is an understanding that we always need to check our motivation (Psalm 19:12-14).

What we must remember is that Jesus was addressing a particular question, and that this is not the whole biblical picture on this topic. Here Jesus presents sexual uncleanness as grounds for divorce. Paul gives another ground as desertion by an unbelieving spouse. Of course when a believing spouse is deserted by an unrepentant “believer”, in the light of appropriate church discipline, the situation becomes that of a believer divorced by an unbeliever. In effect this abandonment of marital obligations can be grounds for divorce (cf. Exodus 21:10-11).

It is unfortunate that some try and shackle people with a chain of guilt. It is just as unfortunate that others will try and give people paper wings. Jesus was restricting divorce, not refusing it, or recommending it. Being biblical doesn’t simply mean technical, but also compassionate, and real. There are many factors involved. If we were to be perfectly technical about it, who can say that they have never committed impurity in their heart (Matthew 5:27-32)? If all we are doing is looking for prohibition or authorization in these passages, we can miss the heart of God.

When Jesus said that man should not separate what God has joined together, He was not saying it was impossible to do it. God hates that divorce happens (Malachi 2:16) but this does not mean He refuses to recognize divorce when it occurs. God wants people to stay together, but He wants each partner to be faithful to their wedding vows too. When Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife,” He recognized divorce as a fact of life (cf. John 4:16-18). When He said “except for”, He recognized that there are legitimate grounds (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-15). This doesn’t make all divorces right. But it does mean that not all divorces are wrong. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Justified prayer

Luke 18:9-14…

These prayers reflect the pride and self-righteousness which the Lord will judge when He returns, and the repentance and faith which He will reward when He returns.

Justification means being declared righteous before God. Often overlooked is the fact that when the Pharisee prayed he was thanking God. He was not saying how great he was by himself. He knew he needed help, but felt that his cooperation with God is what justified him. This is subtle but is explained by saying that for some to justify is to be made righteous rather than to be declared righteous.  The difference is the difference between a saving faith that relies on an external atonement for sin and a misplaced faith that relies in an internal abatement of sin.

This is the great danger, the teaching that the imparted righteousness whereby we can indeed do good works is the grounds of our justification, instead of the imputed righteousness of Christ to our account. Our good works give evidence to our faith (Matthew 7:20 / James 2:18) but they do not save us (Romans 3:20). God does indeed develop righteousness in everyone to whom He imputes righteousness, but we never achieve perfection in this life (Philippians 3:4-19).Works are the fruit, not the root of justification (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. Justification cannot be done on the basis of our works, but must be based on the merits of Christ (Galatians 2:16). We can never earn, deserve, or merit God’s forgiveness. What we must do is to accept the sinless life and atoning death of Jesus Christ as our substitute. Christians should be thankful that we have been given a measure of freedom from the power of sin in this life, but we must be careful to never equate this with our righteous standing before God. You are not to thank God for your righteousness compared to others, but thank Him for His righteousness accredited to you because of the Atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Praying for His return

Luke 18:1-8…

Jesus had been speaking on being prepared for His return, and the coming kingdom of God. Here He continues. He is not just giving them some random teaching about persisting in prayer so that you will move God to action. He had told them about the difficulty of the coming times. In light of that, many may give up their prayer life. He encourages us to remain steadfast. He is speaking about having, not just a saving faith, but a living faith.

This is about continuing to pray, that is to trust, that Jesus will one day return and that ultimate justice will one day be done. Jesus wants believers to avoid the traps He had just spoken of (Luke 17:22-37). He wants them to avoid following after false prophets who promise signs and wonders and a false presence of the kingdom, the trap of overzealous expectation. He also wants them to avoid the trap of falling back into a routine life of worldly preoccupation which lacks a passion for His return, marked by a lack of prayer.

Jesus will return, and He will vindicate Himself, and His church, and His people, those who have trusted in Him, who have had to suffer injustice on account of following Him.  It is a promise, and each day is one day closer to its fulfillment (Romans 13:11). Are we acting as if we believe that? It is easier to just sort of give up and coast along. But it is not the right thing to do (1 John 2:28). Jesus wants us to continue to fight the uphill battle of faith (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Faithfulness through all the trials and troubles of life, in the midst of this wicked world, is an act of worship (cf. Philippians 2:14-15). Are we living for Christ, winning others to Christ, and edifying our brothers and sisters in Christ? We may think so, but remember none of this is truly being done if it is not bathed in persistent prayer.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The days are coming

Luke 17:22-37…

When responding to the Pharisees, Jesus focused on His first coming. When instructing His disciples, He stresses His second coming. The coming of the kingdom of God means blessings to those who are saved, yet the emphasis here is on the judgment of God which will come upon the lost sinners at His return.

Jesus says that there will be difficult times ahead. Accordingly, many will be seeking for signs of the coming kingdom. So there will be those who are deceiving and those who are deceived about Jesus. Yet we are not to go looking after signs, and we are not to follow the false prophets, because the second coming of Christ will be unmistakable, and the timeline of redemption will be fulfilled. We will not be ready for the Second Coming unless we understand His cross, and remain devoted to the Scriptures. There is a danger of over-zealous expectation.

There is also a danger of worldly preoccupation. Those who dismissed Noah’s preaching and carried on as before were taken away to judgment (2 Peter 2:5), and it came very suddenly. Those who mocked Lot and despised the warnings of the destruction of Sodom were also taken away suddenly to judgment (2 Peter 2:6-7). When Jesus speaks of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26), He is not speaking so much of a return to the world, but a reluctance to break with it.

It will happen again. People will be going about all their regular activities, and be caught unawares. Jesus describes a terrible separation that will happen. The wheat and the weeds, the good and the evil, the converted and the unconverted, they will be made distinct forever. These are the words of warning from our Savior, and they weren’t to the wicked religious leaders but to those who said that they believed in Him! Jesus was warning that people will be taken away, by death, and into hell.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Here I am

Luke 17:20-21…

The kingdom of God is in the midst of you. Is Jesus saying that the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom that resides in the hearts of men, or is He declaring the presence of the kingdom in His person?

Remember that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. Jesus would not be saying that the kingdom of God was in their hearts. Most of His conversation with the religious leaders of the day was to inform them of their wicked hearts. These were not hearts in which the kingdom resided.

Later, Jesus would specify that the kingdom is not a present spiritual kingdom in the heart but a kingdom that will come in the future. He clearly counters the idea that the kingdom would be established immediately (Luke 19:11). He also indicates that the kingdom would be coming near with the events of the future tribulation (Luke 21:31). It is clear that Jesus was speaking of the kingdom as a future entity, not as a kingdom of the heart.

The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed. What does Jesus mean when He says that? The reason He said that is because at that time the kingdom was present in Jesus’ person as He stood before them. Jesus was bodily present, so there was no need to look for signs of the kingdom. After He went back to heaven, then it would be the proper time to look for signs of His return and the coming of the kingdom of God (Luke 21:31).

The significance is that they failed to recognize the Messiah, the king of the kingdom they were looking for. If they missed that, they would miss the signs of the future too. If you don’t recognize Jesus as Lord now, all your prophecy charts and end times books won’t help you to recognize Him then (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The predicate of praise

Luke 17:11-19…

Many people receive blessings and mercies from God in this life. The purpose of these blessings and mercies are to bring us closer to God in worship. Often we are thankful, but fail to dive deeper in faith, into true adoration and praise. Jesus wants not only to give something to us, but to be something to us.

All ten men were wonderfully, miraculously healed. For nine that was enough. The tenth man wanted more. He sought after Jesus Himself and was made whole. Sure he was looking for the physical healing first, but the power of Jesus caused him to see his real need. 

It is interesting to note that this man was a Samaritan. He had been a leper, separated from society, but was made well and able to integrate once again. He had been a Samarian, marginalized by the Jews, but made to be in right standing with God. Your praise of Jesus puts you into the place beyond the physical, beyond the social, beyond the racial or economic, and into the truly spiritual. People can despise and dismiss you, but no one can destroy that.  

This one man saw Jesus as He truly was. Jesus was not just great enough to give him what he wanted, but so great that Jesus became what he wanted. Nine saw their physical problem, but one saw his spiritual problem. Don’t miss the fact that Jesus calls Himself God here (vs.18). All ten were cleansed in their body, but one was cleansed in his heart.

How deep is your desire for Jesus Christ? Do you know what you really need? Jesus wants to not only be the source of a blessing, but to be the blessing itself. That is the predicate of praise. We thank God for what He does; but we praise Him for who He is.  

Friday, August 13, 2021

Jesus withdraws

John 11:54-57…

Jesus was deliberate in the way He went about orchestrating the whole event of raising Lazarus from the dead. He waited for the right moment. He demonstrated His intercession (Romans 8:34 / Hebrews 7:25) as well as demonstrating His deity before the doubting crowd. His directions involved others and intensified their experience. Some would become all the more devoted to serve Him, while others became all the more determined to stop Him. It was an object lesson into the way that Jesus’ work opens some hearts and hardens others. 

Jesus knew the plan and purpose of the wicked religious leaders. It was not the time for Him to be put to death yet. Therefore, He withdrew from their immediate vicinity. This caused them all to question, as it was the time on their agenda that He would be expected to show up. Yet He was not there. He was with His disciples, as always.

Sometimes we know Jesus is “around” but He doesn’t seem to be showing up to where we expect Him. Of course, if you are a believer, He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6). But you may have left Him, in a sense, by rebellion. You have withdrawn, turned away from looking at Him. What you need is repentance, that is, to turn and face Him again (James 4:8 / 1 John 1:9).

You don’t have to go searching for Jesus. He is right there. But you only see Him when your heart is open to Him. It is when some door in your life is shut that you are the one hiding behind it. What is it that you don’t want Him to see? If Jesus seems to have withdrawn from your life, open that door of your heart to receive Him. Don’t close it to reject Him. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Jesus’ way

John 11:45-53…

The way of Jesus is not something people automatically follow if they are presented with superior evidence. Yes, we should give reasons for the hope that lies in us (1 Peter 3:15). Yes we should defend and contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). But some people think that if you have some clear and unquestionable evidence for a miracle, that this means people will automatically come to the faith. It is not so, and this event is a case in point.

Certainly, as a result of this amazing miracle, many of those who are there come to a faith in Jesus as the Messiah. However, some do not, and they report what has happened to the Jewish religious leaders, who strengthen their resolve to arrest and kill Jesus. Perhaps even more amazing than the miracle is the unbelief of these men. No one even attempts to challenge the claim. They were going to try and kill Lazarus too (John 12:10). They are in effect saying, “We can’t deny the event, but we can destroy the evidence.” 

There is an undeniable truth of Jesus and yet they don’t care, all they care about is their own positions. By their own words, they reveal that their unbelief is not due to a lack of evidence, but reflects their desire to protect their own selfish interests (cf. Acts 4:16-17).

It is just so today. Many put up smoke screen excuses as to why they do not believe in Christ. They say that they have their reasons, and say that we cannot possibly address them. At times they are right. The truth is that they don’t want to be converted; they love their sin and their selves. Remember how Jesus asked the man “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

This event gives us the truth of Jesus’ way. Some wanted to worship Him. Others wanted to destroy Him. God must change our heart from within if we are to believe and follow Jesus. We must be raised from the dead, too (John 3:3 / Ephesians 2:1-5).  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Jesus works

John 11:38-44…

Jesus was deeply moved by this whole situation. He had waited so that the power of this event would have its full effect. Having arrived at the tomb in the midst of all this doubt, it was now the right time for Jesus to perform this miracle. In doing so, the crowd would not only be a witness, but also a participant (Take away the stone…Unbind him, and let him go). Such involvement would intensify the whole experience for them.

Martha objects, still not realizing what Jesus is about to do. Jesus reminds her of their earlier discussion, and stretches her faith.  He prays out loud as a public testimony to the fact that the Father hears the Son, demonstrating His power and glory through Him. I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.

Now comes the command; he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” He raised His voice so that people would know in no uncertain terms that Jesus was the cause of Lazarus rising from the dead. No one had to wonder, it was cause and effect.  

The sights, sounds, and sharing of this event would greatly intensify their understanding of God’s sovereignty. Jesus answered all their “If you had only…” thoughts (vs.21, 32, 37). He showed His wisdom over their worries, fears, and suspicions. Jesus used their doubts, second guessing and unbelief as instruments in His hand and turned them into faith. 

If you stay involved with Jesus, His work will cause your work to be an instrument of belief.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Jesus weeps

John 11:17-37…

The disciples had been perplexed as to the slow pace of Jesus, considering the grave nature of Lazarus’ condition. They had also worried for Jesus’ safety, considering the Jews would be after Him if He were to go there. Jesus had informed them of His plan, but they thought this meant they were just supposed to resign themselves to pessimistic courage (John 11:16).

Mary, Martha, and a crowd of well-wishers and fellow weepers was also perplexed “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus explains to Martha what will happen, she thinks Jesus means in the future, not that Lazarus will be raised from the grave now. She does indeed understand who Jesus really is, but not what Jesus is really about to do. She believed in God’s power for the future, but doubted His power for the moment.

When Jesus saw Mary and the rest of the crowd weeping, He was troubled. He knew that Mary’s tears were genuine, but He also knew some of the crowd was only crying along in conformity with custom. Most were weeping because of grief about Lazarus and Mary’s sorrow. Mary was also weeping because she knew Jesus “could have done something”. He was about to. 

Jesus wept. That is to say, Jesus had a sorrowful sympathy and also a righteous indignation about it. He had genuine compassion but was groaning under the weight of sinful man. He had feelings. Think about that. The transcendent, impassible, impeccable God has taken on humanity and could now feel our pain (Hebrews 4:15). He wept for Lazarus, and also for all the calamity, chaos, confusion, and corruption that sin causes (cf. Luke 19:41 / Hebrews 5:7).

Some remarked upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, while others became bewildered as to why Jesus hadn’t arrived earlier. What no one yet understood was that His weeping was a prelude to His acting. Jesus knew what the outcome of the event would be. But that didn’t stop Him from entering into the sorrow and suffering of His loved ones.

We are supposed to laugh with the laughing, and weep with the weeping (Romans 12:15). This does not make us actors, but active. If you want to be like Jesus, you’ll have to enter into the intensity of intercession. And weep.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Jesus waits

John 11:1-16…

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. How curious and counterintuitive this seems. That is, until we understand the grand plan of God. It is often this way in our own little world. We are waiting on Jesus, but He is waiting on His own perfect timing. His timing is worth waiting for. He wants is deliberbatenessto turn our worry into worship.

The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Even after we understand where Jesus is going with all this, we may still doubt His direction. But when we are walking by His light, God’s purpose in us and through us will be fulfilled. His direction is worth following. He wants to turn our fear into faith.

I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. The plain purpose of Jesus in His waiting and His direction are for our benefit. We might at times be thinking, “Where are you?” and “Where are we going?” Still, and as always, He knows what He is doing. His purpose is to perfect us. He wants to turn our suspicion into submission.

Jesus is waiting...for you.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Minimum wage

Luke 17:7-10…

Jesus says, “An increased faith isn’t just fulfilling some growing list of duties; that is just faithfulness.” Jesus describes faith’s personality; faith realizes God doesn’t need it, it needs God. It is not our faith that makes things happen it is God. Our faith is in the ability of our Master not in our ability to muster. Not in what we can do but in what He can do. Not what or how much we do for Him, but in what He does for us. Not who we are but who He is.

Most people don’t really want grace, however. They want to earn wages. If things aren’t going the way they want, or to get God “off their back”, they just add another thing to the list. Yet you could fill up every box on some imaginary list without God having your heart. He wants us to want Him not to simply dispatch our duty. You could do all your duty and Jesus says that all it means is that you are an unworthy servant. You can’t earn grace. Your works don’t merit the wages of favor. There is really only one wage we have earned (Romans 6:23).  

One of the benefits of Christ paying the price of redemption for us is that we might be able to bless Him. We should see things like being baptized, taking Communion, living a godly life, praying, reading our Bible, giving, witnessing and fellowship with other believers as gifts we can enjoy to the glory of God. They aren’t tools for earthly treasure, or burdens we must bear lest we be lost. Let it suffice that in His grace we are storing up treasures in heaven for such things, let alone the fact that they please God.

Obedience is an act of worship, not an earning of wages. It is not to prove your worth but to glorify His. The blessing is that when we come to Him as a servant, He welcomes us as family and friend. Don’t look for a list of minimum requirements. Don’t settle for minimum wage.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

A little faith

Luke 17:5-6…

What is faith for? Luke 17:1-4 shows us that one thing we need faith for is to be longsuffering, to bear with one another (cf. Galatians 6:1-2). It is for enduring and engaging despite what happens. This is the difficult task. If someone kept on sinning against me, yet kept asking me to forgive them, I might doubt their sincerity. Yet Jesus commands me to still forgive them.

Jesus describes faith’s potentially incredible power, but faith is not about moving trees, it is about moving obstacles to forgiveness. It is not about obtaining some desired blessing. It is for the spiritual things, the forgiveness, repentance, and restoration (Matthew 18:22). Faith is not really about the quantity, but the quality. Faith is powerful when it is focused rightly.

What type of harvest are you hoping for? Be honest. It isn’t that God won’t give you temporal blessings or that it is wrong to want them. It isn’t, if you have your priorities straight (Matthew 6:33). If you are increasing in spirituality but not yet in temporal needs or wants, are you complaining? If so, it shows what you consider more important.

People who only know Jesus on the surface see this passage as a way to do “big things” in the realms of heath and wealth, and many try and minister to others through this understanding. It fails, and people’s faith fails. They aren’t even looking at the right place. The eyes of faith are not, “God is going to give me what I want”, but “thank God He is God, and He will change me to do what is right, and think of Him as enough”.

The greatest miracles of faith have to do with the restoration of relationships, specifically our relationship and/or fellowship with God (Ephesians 2:8-9 / 1 John 1:9). As we relate to God rightly we will relate to others rightly.  Don’t be misled by charlatans who try and sell some faith formula. Don’t be mumbling because you can’t use faith to get what you want. Be satisfied with God Himself (Psalm 73:26). It is all going to be worth it. Have a little faith. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Money can mess you up

Luke 16:19-31…

Jesus had been teaching that our use of our resources is an indicator of where our true loyalties lie. Now He tells the story of two men, examples of one who is ruled by God and one who is ruled by money. Wealth isn't bad in itself; it is what we do with it that matters.  

The first man is rich, but self-indulgent, with a need to impress people with his wealth. He always dressed up and had great feasts every day. Lazarus, the second man, was poor and sick. The people of the community had laid him by the gate of the rich man, in hopes that he or his guests might show Lazarus some kindness.   The rich man’s guard dogs are fed, but Lazarus goes hungry. Yet while the rich people wouldn’t help, even the dogs realize that Lazarus needed some mercy. The poor, sick man doesn’t grumble against the rich people or God. The longsuffering Lazarus entrusts his soul to his faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).

The scene changes, as both men have died, yet they have wound up in different places. The rich man recognizes Lazarus and still despises the poor man! He had known about Lazarus all along and chose to do nothing for him. But now the tables are turned, and yet the tormented rich man wants Abraham to get the comforted poor man to serve him!  

Lazarus might be expected to give the rich man “a piece of his mind”, but he remains quiet. His faithful patience has paid off; he has no vengeance in mind.

Jesus clearly taught the deceitfulness of riches to those who trust in material wealth. What we do with our possessions influences every area of our lives. Having pride in position and possessions blinds people to the greater realities of grace. No sign or wonder, even someone coming back from the grave as some sort of “gospel ghost” can change people’s hearts if they reject the warnings and wisdom of the Word of God. People who reject the Gospel will be in eternal torment, and their condition cannot be remedied. 

Thursday, August 05, 2021

He is the completion

Luke 16:16-17…

Jesus declared that the old writings of the Law and the Prophets had revealed God and His righteousness to the Jewish people up to the time of John the Baptist. Now, since John had come and announced the Messiah, who was Jesus, the good news of the kingdom of God was being preached. Multitudes were coming into this kingdom, eager to accept the “good news,” redemption through Jesus Christ the Messiah.

Jesus said the Law of God will be fulfilled. He affirmed that His teaching was consistent with those old writings. Why then did the Pharisees hate Jesus? The reason the Pharisees despised Jesus is because He took away their authority. That authority was not really theirs to start with and when Jesus said “follow me”, the Pharisees realized Jesus was showing people a better way. They wanted control of the people and thereby have control of their money.

The good news tells us that we don’t have to follow man made rules or be manipulated into following religious men in order to be reconciled to God or have a relationship with Him. All of the Law was fulfilled, completed, satisfied in and through Jesus Christ and His works. The Bible says God is love and love is the fulfillment of the Law. By faith we are in Christ and in that love; we have fulfilled, completed, and satisfied the Law because of Him (Romans 3:21-31).

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Inside out & upside down

Luke 16:14-15…

The Pharisees heard what Jesus had been saying and responded with ridicule. They seemed to stay silent when Jesus had spoken of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. But when He spoke about their money, look out! Their scorn stemmed from their being lovers of money more than mercy. Much like today’s charlatan teachers, they esteemed wealth, and viewed their supposed keeping of God’s standard of the law as having earned God’s standard of living. They despised the poor as accursed people who were ignorant of the law (Proverbs 17:5).

Jesus tells them that while they may be able to fool other people into thinking that they were good and right, God knows better than that. You can fool yourself most of the time but you can never fool God at any time. We cannot hide what we are and who we are from God (1 Samuel 16:7 / 1 Kings 8:39 / 1 Chronicles 28:9 / Proverbs 15:11 / Jeremiah 17:10 / Acts 1:24, 15:8-9 / Hebrews 4:12-13 / Revelation 2:23).

Jesus took their value system and turned it around on them. The values of God’s kingdom are the opposite of what the world teaches. When the world says stop, Jesus says go. When the world says go for it, Jesus says no. Jesus says that you must give things away before you can truly have anything worthwhile. Jesus says that we must become fools to the world’s ways to become truly wise. Jesus says that we must lose our lives if we are to find them. The question isn’t whether or not God knows your heart; it is whether or not He has your heart.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The quality of trustworthiness

Luke 16:9-13…

Jesus is teaching about how to live wisely in anticipation of His return. He urges us to invest in our eternal future by using our “worldly wealth” in an appropriate way. Money is for building treasure in heaven and you can’t serve both God and money. Our use of our resources is an indicator of where our true loyalties lie. The truth is that you cannot be trusted with truth unless you can be trusted with money.

Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to someone who isn’t building quality into their lives is for them to have some easy success. They may have some success, but they cannot handle success, and they wind up back where they started and usually even worse.  For many people, what they need isn’t success in their life, but stability in their soul.

Even small things matter; faithfulness to a little thing is a big thing. The little only becomes much when you use it (Mark 4:24-25).  Doing the right thing with what you have now shows that you will do the right thing if given more. Being a person who is faithful with someone else’s stuff proves that one is ready for their own stuff. If you can’t be a good subordinate, you won’t be a good supervisor. Invest in other’s lives and other’s will invest in yours (Luke 6:38).

Are you building up the things that make you trustworthy? Can people trust you because you take care of the details? Can people trust you because you know what is important? Can people trust you because you care about their stuff?  Can you be trusted with more things, with better things, with control of things?  

Your influence is beyond money, it includes time, talent, and treasure. You cannot serve both sides at once: who are you serving at this moment? Are you giving glory to God through the stewardship of small things, lesser things, and other people’s things? The most important ability is dependability. You can cultivate that, but are you serving yourself or your Savior? If all you do is act entitled, you won’t be a person who is entrusted. 

Monday, August 02, 2021

The merciful master

Luke 16:1-8…

The steward in this story was not careful with the stuff entrusted to him. He was apparently using the debtor’s payments for his own pleasure. The master heard the news and told him he was fired. But his master mercifully gives him time to prepare his books for an audit.

The steward struggles with what to do. He was caught and in trouble. His options are limited and he doesn’t like his choices. When the people found out he was a crook who would hire him?

He puts together a shrewd plan. Before the news spreads that he has been fired, he calls on the debtors, and quickly gets them to settle their accounts. They do so willingly because the steward gives them a substantial discount. In this way the debtors see the steward as a hero who had helped them negotiate a lesser fee for their final bill, instead of as a rascal who had been squandering their payments to his master.

The master realizes what the steward has done, but he considers what the alternatives might have been. He also realizes that the people will be praising the master for his generosity in lowering the bills. If he goes back and annuls what the steward had done, their joy in him will turn to anger. The master proves himself to indeed be a merciful and generous man. He allows the steward to go free and the accounts to be settled. The steward had risked everything on the master’s good nature, and he won. 

Jesus is not teaching people to commit fraud, compromise with evil, or act entirely in one’s own self-interest. He isn’t saying we can buy our way to heaven. The emphasis is on living in the light of eternity. We have been unjust, but we have been given a merciful “grace period” to settle our accounts. Like the unjust steward, we must recognize the hopelessness of our situation, and turn to the one source of our salvation, our generous Master.

There will come a day where we will be called to account. It does us well to make preparation before then. Are you placing your total trust in the Master’s mercy?