Monday, March 31, 2014

SILENCING HIS CRITICS (Luke Chapter 20)

Luke 20:26, “And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people, and marveling at His answer, they became silent.”

They were trying to find a way to get rid of him.  They went so far as to send spies who pretended to be His disciples (Luke 20:20).  They were trying find something, anything, in which to accuse Him.  Their plan was to “catch Him in some statement” that could be used against Him, that they might deliver Him up the Roman authorities (Luke 20:19).

Someone came up with a great idea.  “Ask Him about paying taxes,” they suggested.  So they first flattered him to be a true and impartial teacher (Luke 20:21), then they laid the big question on Him,    “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  One can imagine their smugness and delight in putting the question forth.  Like spiders spinning a web they worked to draw Him into their trap.  They would have Him at last, they thought, there was no way He could wiggle His way out of this one.  If he answered YES, the people would be upset with Him—because the people deemed the tax illegal.  The people had stood in their way of their conspiracy before, but a YES answer would serve to alienate Him from them.  The religious leaders would then be free to do with Him as they pleased.  A NO answer would be equally beneficial for them.  The tax was the law.  To speak against the tax was to speak against the authorities.  If he answered NO they would have cause to deliver Him up to the Roman authorities as a seditious enemy of the state. He was caught in a trap, they thought, either answer would serve them well.

“But He detected their trickery and said to them, ‘Show Me a denarius.  Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’  And they said, ‘Caesar’s.’  And He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:24-25).  He didn’t answer NO and He didn’t answer YES.  He wisely gave an alternative that they had not considered.

“And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people, and marveling at His answer, they became silent” (Luke 20:36).  We might say, “He silenced His critics.”  This is not the only example of Jesus silencing His critics in this chapter.  The Sadducees concocted a foolish conundrum to likewise challenge His teaching and authority (Luke 20:27-38).  They were silenced too: “For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything” (Luke 20:40).

Skeptical foes bombarded Him with questions, and they do to this day.  But in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).  The religious skeptics of His day “searched the Scriptures” but had no heart for The Truth (John 5:39).  The foolishness of their religious skepticism was readily exposed in the light of His great wisdom.  They marveled at His answer, but not so as to believe in Him.  Let us marvel in belief.  He is all-wise.  His wisdom is imparted to us by the Spirit through His word.  Skeptics remain.  They love to antagonize and instigate His followers.  J. C. Ryle, “Blessed be God, He who silenced the chief priests and scribes by His wise answers, still lives to help His people and has all power to help them. But He loves to be entreated.”  He is glad to impart wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5).

Friday, March 28, 2014

A SIGHT TO BEHOLD (Luke Chapter 19)

“Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.  He climbed up on a Sycamore tree the Lord he wanted to see.”  Zaccheus “was seeking to see who Jesus was,” but since he was “small of stature” he sought to gain a better vantage point and “climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him” (Luke 19:3-4).

Zaccheus was engaged in a noble pursuit, he wanted to see who Jesus was.  He had no doubt heard the news about Jesus, how He spoke as no man ever spoke and did things that no man had ever done before.  But secondhand information could not satisfy the need that he had in his heart to see Jesus.  He was a chief tax-collector, despised by the Pharisees (Luke 18:11; 19:7) and feared and avoided by everybody else.  He had riches and power, but they came at a cost.  His prosperity was ill-gained (Luke 19:8).  He was likely a lonely man and was most certainly lost.

Jesus, the “friend of sinners” came to save people like Zaccheus (Cf. Luke 19:10)--lost and lonely sinners weighed down by heavy burdens; people dissatisfied in the vanity which is life without God.  Jesus came looking for sinners, Zaccheus climbed a tree looking for the sinner’s friend.  It was a divinely orchestrated meeting which ended in a joyous result (Cf. Luke 19:6-10).

Zaccheus’ endeavor was met with obstacles.  He was small of stature.  Jesus was surrounded by a crowd.  But faith finds a way when there isn’t any apparent.  He climbed a tree.  Certainly out-of-character for a chief tax collector.  One can imagine what others must have thought.  But by faith he was undeterred.    Don’t suppose that Jesus can be seen apart from effort.  There is the need to gain a better vantage point if we are to behold Him.  In sin we are small of stature (Cf. Romans 3:23).  The Spirit alone can raise us to a higher plane where we can behold the glory of the Savior (Cf. John 16:14).

Zaccheus’ faith was richly rewarded.  Jesus saw him in the tree and called on him to come down.  Jesus was to be Zaccheus’ guest!  The Pharisees saw what happened and grumbled, “He has gone in to be a guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  Oh happy day when a sinner receives Jesus (John 1:12)!  There can be no more loving friend than He!  He is a forever and faithful companion to those who trust in Him (Hebrews 13:5). 

Zaccheus “was seeking to see who Jesus was,” and we should joyfully follow in his steps.  Men have labored through many an obstacle and hardship to behold lesser things.  Over the course of history we’ve crisscrossed the earth, delved into the depths of the sea, and ventured forth into the far reaches of our solar system.  But no sight in God’s creation can compare with beholding the glory of the Creator Himself!  By a work of the Spirit believing eyes are opened to the glory of Jesus, but only by way of introduction (2 Corinthians 4:6).  By an ongoing work of the Spirit greater clarity of vision is attained (2 Corinthians 3:18).  The time is coming when His own will “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).  What a glorious day that will be!

John Owen once wrote, “The beholding of the glory of Christ is one of the greatest privileges and advancements that believers are capable of in this world, or in that which is to come.  By this they are first gradually conformed to it and then fixed in eternal enjoyment of it…this is the life and reward of our souls” (John Owen, “The Glory of Christ).  The glory of Jesus will be a sight to behold!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE PROBLEM WITH PRIDE (Luke Chapter 18)

Luke 18:9, “And He told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves…”

Jesus’ parable speaks of two very different men offering two very different kinds of prayers having two very different kinds of results.  The Pharisee was self-righteous, the tax-gatherer was not.  The Pharisee prayed to himself and asked for nothing because he supposed that there was nothing that he needed.  The tax-gathered prayed to God and cried out for mercy because he was well aware of his shortcomings.  The Pharisee’s prayer was unacceptable to God.  The tax-gatherer’s prayer met with God’s approval: “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

God hates pride.  Pride was at the heart of the Devil’s sinful rebellion (Cf. Isaiah 14:12-14).  It was to pride that Adam and Eve were tempted and then fell (Genesis 3:5, “You will be like God.”).  It was with pride that they foolishly presumed to compensate for their loss by sewing “fig leaves together” to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7).  False religions, like Pharisaic Judaism, operate according to that ill-advised endeavor.  Religions wrongly assume that there is something man himself can do, in his own wisdom and strength, to make up for that which was lost in the fall.  But pride is an abomination to God (Cf. Proverbs 6:16).  God is opposed to the proud (Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6).  “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).  Pride is at the root of all that ails man and works to cloud a person’s vision regarding his need for mercy and forgiveness.

The Pharisee measured spirituality on a horizontal plane and thereby deemed himself better than others.  Religion works according to the false premise that a person is doing well as long as they can find some poor fool that’s worse off than they are (Luke 18:11). It is easy for any of us to get caught up in this system of thinking about things.  The church in Corinth, beset with pride-related issues, was likewise misled: “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Humility can be defined as rightly esteeming one’s self, before God and others, in view of God’s holiness and one’s sinfulness.  Humility is a Spirit-imparted virtue.  J. C. Ryle, “The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our own goodness.”  The Spirit alone can work to open our eyes to the glory of the Lord (John 16:14) and gravity of our need (John 16:8).  Stripped of ill-founded and deceptive notions regarding human merit, the humble person cries out to God for mercy: “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die!”  In humility the tax-collector cried out to God for mercy, God was well-pleased to grant it (Luke 18:13-14).

Humility is not deemed virtuous by the worldly (Cf. Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2).  And it is possible for professing Christians to be so deceived (Cf. Revelation 3:17).  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector serves to instruct and remind us as to the importance of seeing things from God’s perspective.  Preoccupation with self is the spirit of our day.  Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-assertion, etc. are all attitudes deemed to be both noble and essential.  But salvation comes to the “bankrupt of spirit” (Cf. Matthew 5:3).  The Apostle Paul was a proud and self-righteous Pharisee when he first met Jesus (Cf. Philippians 3:4-6).  Jesus worked to save him, changing both his perspective and his heart.  His testimony speaks to the problem with pride: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).  Pride deems “rubbish” virtuous.  But God is well-pleased to grant mercy to those with humility enough to ask (Cf. Luke 18:35-43).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

REMEMBER LOT'S WIFE (Luke Chapter 17)

Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

The context of this short reminder is Jesus’ response to a question by the Pharisees regarding the coming of the kingdom of God.  He responded to them and then spoke to His disciples of what would be the nature of things at the time of His second coming.  Using two examples, the days of Noah and the days of Lot, he warned of the apathetic disregard of pending judgment that would characterize the last days.  In Noah’s day “they were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah enter the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27).  In Lot’s day—“they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” but then, “fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:28-29).  His counsel then was the need to act with urgency, without hesitating or looking back, as one is fleeing the wrath to come (Luke 17:31).  Lot’s wife’s example illustrates the importance of this truth.

The sin of Sodom was exceedingly great.  God had purposed to destroy the city.  He sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family.  Lot warned his soon-to-be son-in-laws of the coming destruction, but they thought him to jesting (Genesis 19:14).  Lot himself lingered when the angels urged him to flee (Genesis 19:15).  The angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters and brought them outside of the city.  “And as they brought them out, one of the angels said, ‘Escape for your life.  Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley.  Escape to the hills lest you be swept away’” (Genesis 19:17).  Given that warning one might assume that Lot would urgently do as he was told, but instead he argued that he be allowed to flee to Zoar, a small city not far away (Genesis 19:18-22).

Lot came to Zoar and destruction came to Sodom and Gomorrah.  The Lord rained sulfur and fire down from heaven and overthrew the cities, the valley, all the inhabitants, and what grew on the ground.  “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she because a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).  She looked back and then looked no more.  God’s judgment on her was swift and sure.

She was set forth by Jesus as an example to consider with regards to the attitude we should endeavor to maintain in view of God’s pending judgment.  What can we learn from her example?  She suffered judgment though she had benefited from certain religious privileges.  Her husband was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7).  Her uncle, Abraham, was a godly man to whom God had made an incredible promise.  God had intervened on her family’s behalf that she might be made aware of the judgment to come.  Others received no such warning.  Remember Lot’s wife.  The mere possession of religious privileges or benefits cannot save one’s soul.  She might have been religious, but she was not a woman of faith.

She suffered judgment because of her disobedience.  The instruction of the angel was straightforward and clear, “Do not look back,” but she had no heart to obey and suffered for it.  She looked back, longingly.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  Her heart was back in Sodom, she had no capacity to contemplate a future home.  She loved Sodom, but was no friend to God (Cf. James 4:4).

She didn’t take God’s warning seriously.  And in that sense she has served as an example to every generation since.  In John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian, having been warned of his city’s pending destruction, shared the news with his family.  They supposed him to be ill and did everything they could to drive away his gloomy outlook.  Burdened by his sins and the warning, he wept and prayed and paced the countryside.  Then one day he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  Evangelist pointed into the distance and handed him a parchment containing the words, “Flee from the wrath to come.”  After receiving specific directions as to which way to go, Christian began to run, as the pleas of his wife, and children, and neighbors faded into the background.  “Come back!  Come back to us!” they cried.  “Life! Eternal Life,” he replied, in a spirit quite unlike that of Lot’s wife.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (Luke Chapter 16)

Luke 16:22-23, “The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

The context of this passage is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.  He had spoken of the impossibility of serving both God and money (Luke 16:13).  But the Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” ridiculed Him (Luke 16:14).  Jesus replied by distinguishing between God and man’s perspectives on such matters (Luke 16:15).  The Pharisees were proud, rich, callous, and unreceptive to truth.  The story of the rich man and Lazarus illustrates the future implications of these contrary perspectives.

The rich man had it all.  He was clothed in royal colors and expensive materials.  He was well fed every day.  But Lazarus was destitute and homeless.  He sat at the gate of the rich man, longing to be fed, like a dog, with what fell from the rich man’s table.  To add insult to injury, the dogs came and licked his sores.  Their situations could hardly be more contrary, and as far as the world is concerned, no one would envy Lazarus’ plight.  And while many might long to be in the rich man’s place, from God’s perspective is was not one to be sought after (Cf. Luke 6:20-21 and 6:24-25).

An incredible reversal of fortune was experienced by both when they passed from this life.  Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s side and was comforted.  The rich man descended to Hades and in torment experienced anguish in its flame.  So great was the rich man’s discomfort that he called upon Abraham to have Lazarus “did the end of his finger in water” to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24).

One thing proven by the rich man’s plight is that present wealth and security is no guarantee as to a corresponding future estate.  The rich fool, of which Jesus had elsewhere spoken of in a parable (Luke 12:13-21), thought himself secure in his wealth, saying to his soul, “Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).  But he was a fool inasmuch as he laid up treasure for himself but was not rich towards God (Luke 12:21; Cf. Luke 9:25).  Wealth, power, or position secure no refuge or eternal advantage when it comes to God’s pending wrath and judgment (Cf. Revelation 6:15).

Abraham refused the rich man’s request that Lazarus be sent.  “A great chasm has been fixed,” he said, “in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).  An impassable gulf separates the future destinies of the lost and the saved.  Decisions in this life determine the fixed eternal estate of a soul in the next.  Those refusing the gospel of the Lord Jesus “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  The believer, on the other hand, will be brought into His presence where he will marvel at His glory (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:10).  There will be no purgatory and no second chances.

The rich man had another request for Abraham, “Then I beg you, father, to send him (Lazarus) to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he might warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:27-31).”  And Jesus did rise from the dead.  But, with few exceptions, the Pharisees didn’t repent.  And so don’t most to this day.  The problem is not a lack of evidence, but rather the prideful and independent spirit that is the very heart of man’s sin problem.  Riches can deceive a man as to his need, and that can place a soul in danger.  Present wealth and security is no guarantee of corresponding future results.  The determined eternal destiny of every soul lies in that person’s response to the One who died for sins and rose from the dead (John 1:12; 1 John 5:11-12).  Take care to not allow an earthly sense-of-security to deceive with regards to the more urgent concern regarding the security of your soul (Cf. Proverbs 30:8-9), lest you experience a rich-man-like reversal of fortune.

Monday, March 24, 2014

THE INSANITY OF SIN (Luke Chapter 15)

“But when he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17).

The immediate context of this text is the account of the “prodigal” son.  It is set in the broader context of the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes who were saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  The chapter speaks to the “joy in heaven” that occurs when a sinner repents (Cf. Luke 15:7).  Several terms are prominent in the chapter: find(s) and found (15:4, 6, 8, 9, 24, 32); and joy, merry, and rejoice (15:7, 10, 23, 24, 29, 32).  Set in the broader context of this gospel account, the chapter highlights its major theme: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

According to Webster’s Dictionary a prodigal is one “who spends lavishly or foolishly.”  That’s what the prodigal did when “he squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13).  We do the text and ourselves an injustice if we view the prodigal as an exception to the rule.  In Adam, we are all prodigals by nature (Romans 5:12).  It is in the heart of man to expend his life in vain and foolish pursuits.  It is in the nature of sin to do such things and the world, the flesh, and the devil unanimously concur (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The prodigal had both the money and freedom to do as he pleased.  He foolishly expended all his resources in these sinful pursuits (Luke 15:13, 30).  He spent everything he had (Luke 15:14).  A severe famine in the land left him hungry, so he got a job feeding pigs (Luke 15:14-15).  He became so destitute that he was longing to feed himself with pig food (Luke 15:16).  It was only then that “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17).  Sin makes no sense.  To expend oneself in sinful and vain pursuits speaks to the insanity of sin (Romans 6:21; 1 Peter 1:18).  But immersed in this sin-sick world, and rebellious by nature as we are, such insanity is commonplace.

The pivotal point in the account is when the prodigal came to his senses.  In the account that happened as the direct result of his impoverishment.  To be sure God uses such things to gain our attention.  The lost sinner can never be truly satisfied by the mere “passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).  Thirsty souls can never find lasting refreshment in broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:12-13).  But sin is too tenacious a foe to be conquered by mere human reason.  The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to bring us to our senses concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).  We come to our senses only as He intervenes on our lives (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).  How wonderful the day when a prodigal is made “sane” through the ministry of the Holy Spirit!

Having come to his senses, the Prodigal decided to go back to his father and penitently hoped that he could get on as one of his father’s hired men (Luke 15:17-19).  He had lost everything and embarrassed his father—to be made a servant was the best that he could hope for.  But as he returned and “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).  The father then put a robe around him, a ring on his hand, and sandals on his feet.  He even killed the fattened calf and held a banquet for his son accompanied by music and dancing (Luke 15:23, 25).  Not only was the prodigal forgiven, he was reconciled and restored in an amazing fashion.

Such is the nature of God and the working of grace!  The penitent sinner cries out to God for mercy and seeks pardon for his sin.  The grace of God works in “far more abundant” fashion to bestow unanticipated blessings (Ephesians 3:20).  The new believer in Christ is not just forgiven, God’s love and grace are lavished upon him and he is made the recipient of “unfathomable riches” (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 1:8, 3:8).  All of this is to the “praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14) which is made manifest in the salvation of a prodigal. It is a joyful occasion when a penitent sinner comes to “his senses.”  He finds in the Savior one who was already looking for him.

Friday, March 21, 2014

COUNT THE COST (Luke Chapter 14)

Luke 14:28-30, “For which one of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

Laura and I used to live in Columbia City and would regularly take walks around the neighborhood.  Not far from our house was an old and overgrown foundation of a home.  It was an eyesore in an otherwise lovely neighborhood.  Someone had begun to build but they had been unable to finish.  In all the years we lived there no work ever proceeded, the foundation silently mocking the builder’s inability to complete what he started.

Our text exhorts us to consider the cost associated with following Jesus Christ.  Jesus addressed the “great crowds (who) accompanied him” (Luke 14:25).  He had already spoken, in other “difficult sayings,” of His high expectations regarding His followers, saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

It is important to note that Jesus was not calling upon His disciples to literally “hate” other members of their families.  This would contradict what is clearly taught in other passages.  He was demanding a love and allegiance--He is altogether worthy of such love—that would transcend all.  Nothing is to be allowed to replace Him in this role.  He demands not just a place in our lives (to be added on as a hobby), or even prominence (to be one of many things of importance), but preeminence (the object of unrivaled love and devotion).  With this kind of devotion, it is expected of His followers that they will be willing to suffer persecution in His name (Luke 9:23; Matthew 10:22-25).  They must be willing to take up their cross (Luke 14:27).  These are amongst the things that Jesus called upon His hearers to consider in counting the cost of following Him.

What are we to make of all of this?  Is it necessary for a person to consider such things before they trust in Jesus?  Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), how does this counting-the-cost matter fit in?  There is a cultural bias that we bring to our understanding of the Scriptures.  We, as Americans, live in an exceptional period of human history.  We have experienced unrivaled freedom and very little by way of religious persecution.  But that hasn’t always been the case in this world, nor is it the cast in many places today.  The persecution church is well aware of the high costs associated with following Jesus.  In such places people trust in Jesus, mindful of the potential consequences that accompany a persons’ allegiance to Him.

The health, wealth and prosperity gospel (which isn’t really a gospel at all) has perverted the thinking of many with respect to such matters.  They suppose that Christ’s purpose was to prosper us in the here and now, but that’s not why He came.  To be sure He improves the life (on earth) of a believer in a variety of ways, but the focus of His work has to do with reconciling lost sinners to God, transforming them, and bringing them safely home to heaven.  Salvation is all about Him (John 17:3).

Even for those not suffering much in the way of persecution there are costs associated with following Jesus Christ.  To the ordinary trials, which are experienced by believers and non-believers alike, others are added.  There is a race to run, a fight to fight, a salvation to be worked out (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Timothy 1:18; Philippians 2:12).  The world, the flesh, and the Devil stand in opposition to all these things.  Tough choices and sacrifices are involved.

Salvation is a free gift, but it was not cheap and it is not easy.  There are costs associated with following Jesus, but what’s the alternative (Cf. John 6:66)?  In God’s divine economy he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot loose.  The cost here might be high, but “eternal glory” stands on the other side of the equation (Cf. 1 Peter 5:9-10; 2 Corinthians 4:17). 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

BAD NEWS (Luke Chapter 13)

Luke 13:1-5, “There were some present at that very time who told him 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 say?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Just as in our day there was bad news in that day.  There was no newspaper to publish it, but the news of Pilate’s heinous act had spread.  Pilate mingled the blood of Galileans he killed with the sacrifices they had brought.  Though we are not given the specific reason why he killed them, it’s safe to assume that they were involved in some kind of rebellion.  Pilate’s hold on that remote territory was tenuous and rebellious activity was met with horrendous brutality.  The event was reported to Jesus.  His response was other than what they might have expected.

On any given day tragic things happen.  About two weeks ago a plane bound for China disappeared.  As of today no one knows for sure what happened.  The fate of the 239 souls on board is yet undetermined.  Last week the news reported on a fire that consumed a large building in New York City.  Eight people perished.  Such events are commonplace in this sin-cursed world.

In Jesus’ response to the news of the Galileans he spoke of another bad news situation.  A tower in Siloam fell and killed eighteen people.  It is interesting to consider what Jesus didn’t say or do regarding these two events.  He did not suggest that the people rise up in rebellion against Pilate for his wicked deed.  Nor did He suggest the institution of a “Building Codes” department to oversee the construction of new towers.  It was not that He oblivious to such matters, or uncaring, He had come to deal with a greater problem, a problem that underlies all of man’s problems and would threaten our souls with infinite and eternal loss.

Jesus corrected a common erroneous assumption that supposes that bad things happen to bad people.  So the people thought, but Jesus made it clear that the Galileans did not suffer because they were worse sinners than all the other Galileans and the eighteen did not die because they were worse offenders than all the other residents of Jerusalem.  Bad things happen in this world.  No one is exempt.  According to statistics one out of one people die.  A person might die of natural causes or he might die as a result of some tragedy, but—unless the rapture happens first—all will die sometime, somehow.

The Galileans were all sinners.  And so were the residents of Jerusalem.  So are we all (Romans 3:23).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Because of sin we are all doomed to perish, not just physically, but eternally.  Physical harm and death is to be avoided, but there is another kind of death of which is of far greater concern.  Jesus was warning his listeners of that death.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  He came to give His life to deal with sin that He might rescue the perishing.

Jesus called upon the people to repent.  They were lost in sin.  Their hearts were unbelieving.  Their eternal destiny hung in the balance.  Salvation was at hand.  There are no guarantees in this life—as was demonstrated in the two tragedies—but Jesus promises eternal life to those who place their faith in Him.  There is a lesson for us in the bad news we hear.  Sin is at the heart of all of man’s problems.  Jesus is the only solution.  We hear of lots of different kinds of tragedies in the news, but nothing is more tragic than the death of an unrepentant sinner.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SIGNS OF THE TIMES (Luke Chapter 12)

Luke 12:54-56, “He also said to the crowds, ‘’When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’  And so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

The people of Jesus’ day were able to discern and predict, by changes in the sky or the wind, what the weather would be.  They had learned over time how to forecast what was to come.  We, in our day, are even better skilled at such things.  We have radar and satellite capabilities that allow us to accurately predict the weather even days and weeks ahead of time.

But while they demonstrated some interpretative capability in the physical realm, Jesus chided them for their woeful deficiency as to the spiritual.  They were unable to “interpret the present time.”  Their inability was not because of lack of information.  Jesus, the Divine Son of God, was present amongst them.  Their promised Messiah was right before them.  But most refused to receive Him as such (Cf. John 1:11).  John the Baptist had proclaimed Him.  Jesus’ countless miracles testified to the truth about Him (John 20:30-31).  He spoke as no man had ever spoke and did things no man had ever done before.  But they were oblivious to the obvious regarding the truth. Jesus spoke words of pending judgment, but as in the days of Noah (and as they will be in the day of His second coming), they were oblivious, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38).

We live in an oblivious age.  There is much concern in our day regarding “global warming” (now deemed “climate change”), but woeful ignorance regarding the drastic changes in the spiritual “climate.”  Jesus warned of the things that would proceed His second coming: false Christ’s will “lead many astray.”  He said that there would be ”wars and rumor of wars…famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:4-9).  He called such things “the beginning of the birth pains.”  “The whole creation has been groaning together (under sin) in the pains of the childbirth until now,” but most have no ears to hear (Cf. Romans 8:22).

We have likewise been warned of specific concerns that would characterize the last days.  “There will also be false teachers,” Peter warned (1 Peter 2:1).  We should not then be ignorant to the prevalence of false teaching and the need for us to exercise discernment (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Paul wrote of the need to “realize…that in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).  We should not then be surprised then by the present moral free-fall that is taking place in our society (Cf. Romans 1:18-32; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).  We were warned that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 3:3).  We should not be surprised then by the reality that much of the modern church has little appetite for the truth.  We were warned ahead of time that the church in this age would be Laodiciean in nature (i.e. self-confident and self-assured; Cf. Revelation 3:17).  So we should not be surprised to learn that its ministrations are too often of a Christ-less, cross-less, gospel-diminishing variety.  We were warned ahead of time that of the “mockers’ who would come in the last days who would dismiss the reality of God’s pending judgment (2 Peter 3:3f).  It should not therefore surprise us then that in our day that few take such matters seriously and even many in the church refuse to acknowledge the existence of sin and hell.  Any spiritually minded person can’t help but realize that drastic changes are taking place both in society and in the church.

The sons of Issachar were commended inasmuch as they were “men who understood the times, with the knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  They had wisdom to perceive what God was doing by way of making David King.  They stood by David and garnered support or him.  Our day has desperate need of men and women who understand the times.  The church needs them and families do to.  The clouds of pending judgment are on the horizon, nothing less than genuine faith in the Risen Lord can save a soul.  Those who understand the times fix their eyes upon Jesus, urging others to do the same.  They pay attention to the Word as they live in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent return (2 Peter 3:19).  They are not oblivious to the signs of the times.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

THE GOOD GIFT (Luke Chapter 11)

Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The person of the Holy Spirit is set forth by Jesus as the preeminent example of God’s readiness and ability to give good gifts to those who ask of Him.  Of all the gifts given by God to minister to His children and their needs none is more necessary or precious as He.

Jesus’ disciples were troubled at the news of His pending departure (John 13:36-14:1).  He spoke to them comforting words, including this surprising statement: “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).  Jesus departure would be advantageous inasmuch as it would open the door for the Spirit’s coming!  How precious then must be the provision of the person of the Holy Spirit!

The Spirit’s work in the believer’s life is all encompassing.  It is by the Spirit that we are made aware of our sin and pending judgment (John 16:8).  It is by His work that we are born again (John 3:5-8; 1 Corinthians 12:13).  It is by His presence that our new identity as a child of God is confirmed (Romans 8:16).  It is by Him that our eyes are opened that we might understand and know the truth (John 16:14-15; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 John 2:26-27).  It is by Him that we are made to realize the glorious nature of our inheritance and immeasurable greatness of His power (Ephesians 1:16-19).  Again, it is by His revelation that we are given the strength to comprehend the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).

It is the Spirit who intercedes for us in our prayers (Romans 8:26).  It is by Him that our minds are renewed (Ephesians 4:23), sin put off (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22), and Christlikeness attainted (Ephesians 4:24).  It is by Him that we have received spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

The Spirit of God reveals Christ to us, in us, and through us (John 16:14).  He is everworking, patiently and relentlessly, to conform us to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).  His presence in our lives is made evident in the glorious fruit He bears.  Supernatural, Christlike, virtues—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control-- blossom and bloom where there once was but barren ground and noxious weeds (Galatians 5:22-23).

The parched soil of our need is met with His abundant and overflowing provision of “living water” (John 7:37-39).  God’s provision of salvation and all its benefits are realized only in the Spirit.  The commands to be filled with the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit are of preeminent concern to us.  The gift of the Spirit is treasured to the extent that we wholeheartedly submit ourselves to His control (Ephesians 5:18). We are commanded to walk in Him (Galatians 5:16) and not to quench Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is oftentimes overlooked or misunderstood.  Many dubious works are attributed to Him (speaking gibberish; laughing revivals, being “slain” in the Spirit, false healings, etc.).  But His work in us transcends such spurious matters.  The transformation of the believer in Christ into the very image of Christ is a miracle of God that is at the heart of His ministry.  It is a work that cannot be accomplished apart from Him.  J. C. Ryle once said, “The Holy Spirit is beyond doubt the greatest gift which God can bestow upon man.  Having this gift, we have all things—life, light, hope and heaven!”  Praise God for His good and perfect gifts, and especially for the gift of the Spirit (Cf. James 1:17)!  Let us treasure this precious Gift as we work, by God’s grace, to fully cooperate with Him in His miraculous, empowering, and transforming work!

Monday, March 17, 2014

THE GOOD PART (Luke Chapter 10)

“When in trouble and in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!”  Perhaps that was Martha’s thinking.  Martha had welcomed Jesus to her home.  He was to be her and her sister’s honored guest.  There were many things to be done in preparing the home for Him.  One can imagine Martha busily sweeping, cleaning, and setting things in order.  Dinner needed to be planned and prepared.  These things all took time and Martha was busy-as-a-bee seeing to them.

While Martha was busy doing, Mary was quietly listening.  She was seated “as the Lord’s feet and listening to his teaching” (Luke 10:39).  “But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).  How easy it is to get distracted by the tyranny of the urgent in our lives!  A divine appointment to hear the Master speak was availed to both Martha and Mary, but Martha was distracted by matters of lesser importance.

Martha asked Jesus to intervene, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40).  Isn’t that often the way things work amongst siblings?  Lord don’t you care?  Tell her to do her job?  It’s not fair for me to do all the work.  The passage indicates that Martha was “distracted,” “anxious,” and “troubled.”  She had many things on her mind.  Much to do, much to do!  And like a juggler with too many plates in the air, she was frustrated by her inability to keep track of them all.  Vance Havner once said, "Jesus knows we must come apart and rest awhile or else we may just plain come apart!"  Martha was in the “coming apart because she had failed to come apart” mode.

But Jesus didn’t tell Mary to help Martha, instead He helped Martha to reassess her priorities, saying, “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  D. L. Moody once said that the “main thing in life is keeping the main thing the main thing.”  To love and know Jesus is the main thing (Cf. Philippians 3:13; 2 Peter 3:18).    The main thing is keeping it the main thing because countless things can work to distract us.

Life is filled with choices and we make choices according to what we deem important.  Tragically, in the business of our lives it is very possible for us to lose track of what matters most.  Good things, even relatively important things (like making a home presentable for an invited guest) can work to keep us from something that is of infinitely more value.

Jesus would speak to my heart though His Word today.  Do I have any time for him?  Has the business of my life clouded my vision?  The “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3) is a precious thing, but do I esteem it so?  Do I have time and heart to sit at Jesus’ feet that I might hear what He has to say to me?  He deliberately “chose the bad part,” stepping out of Heaven to love me by dying for my sins (Cf. John 1:14; Galatians 2:20), do I “choose the good” that through the ministry of His Word I might better appreciate the full measure of His love (Cf. Ephesians 3:14-19).  I’m prone to wander, but the Good Shepherd cares for me and knows all about my needs—do I have ears to hear what He has to say to me this day (Cf. John 10:27-28; Hebrews 4:12-13)?  His Word is able to guide me along His path of righteousness--teaching, reproving, correcting, and training me—but it cannot achieve its profitable intent if I take no time to sit at His feet and listen (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  He is a Glorious Savior—the day will come when “He will be marveled at among all who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10)—do I yearn to behold His glory even now as the Spirit works through the Word to help me to see (Cf. John 16:14)? 

Lord, we are a busy and distracted people, help us this day, like Mary, to choose the good part.  Help us that what truly matters most might be what matters most to us in the daily practice of our lives.  Help us to yearn to be glad to sit at Your feet and listen!

Friday, March 14, 2014

RICH IN MERCY (Luke Chapter 9)

Luke 9:53-56, “And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face to Jerusalem.  And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them [some later mss. add “and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of’”]. And they went on to another village.”

The time for Jesus’ departure drew near, so He “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  He had foretold of his pending death, and though the disciples couldn’t understand what he was talking about, He himself was fully aware of what lay ahead.  He was fully submitted to drinking from that bitter cup of betrayal, injustice, affliction, sorrow and death.  He was resolute and determined and would not be dissuaded from His mission of mercy.

The life of Jesus is filled with examples which speak to the riches of His mercy—he relentlessly and compassionately concerned Himself with the needs of others.  According to Vine’s mercy is “the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receive it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it.”  Mercy is something that we need and can relate to.  The greatest demonstration of mercy is Christ’s sacrifice for lost sinners (Cf. Luke 19:10).

On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus had sent some messengers ahead to a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Himself and His disciples (Luke 9:51-52).  But, since He was on His way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans refused to receive Him.  The Samaritans had no regard for Jerusalem and in that there was disagreement between the Samaritans and Jews (John 4:20). There was a centuries-old distrust and dislike between the two (John 4:9).  Jesus’ request of the Samaritans for hospitality was refused.  That was too much for James and John.  Their prejudice combined with the Samaritan’s inhospitality made them mad.  So mad they asked Jesus if He wanted them destroyed!  How contrary their thinking to their Master’s!

It is possible for us to entertain similar thoughts with regards to the enemies of Christ and His gospel.  How deeply engrained in the hearts of men is the spirit which gave rise to the disciple’s request!  Through the course of history thousands and tens of thousands all ‘round the world have been put to death for religion’s sake.  They’ve been crucified, burned at the stake, shot, or otherwise brutalized in the name of Christ.  And the perpetrators of violence have even supposed themselves to be doing God a favor!  I recently read the account of Anne Askew’s life.  A believer in Christ, she was burned at-the-stake in 1546 by so-called Christians, because she refused to recant of her disbelief in the doctrine of transubstantiation.  But the spirit that would incite that kind of hatred does not come from God.

There is a spiritual war ongoing.  And some are unsuspectedly led by the Devil himself to fight his unholy cause (Cf. Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:26).  We, as believers, are called upon to “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).  It will never do to wage the war with carnal weapons, for “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).  And, as Paul instructed Timothy, “the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

James and John’s response was strikingly inconsistent that which they had witnessed in Christ.  There would come a day in the villages of Samaria when the gospel of Jesus would receive a warm reception (Acts 8:14, 25).  The Apostle John was sent there, perhaps to the same village.  One wonders what he must have thought as he recalled his previous ill-founded request seeking their destruction!  By the Spirit he was transformed, and then instructed and empowered to compassionately care for those he had previously despised.  God is rich in mercy, and, by the Spirit, those who claim His name should be too.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

SAVED TO SERVE (Luke Chapter 8)

Luke 8:1-3, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”

As Jesus traveled through cities and villages, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, He was accompanied by the twelve, and a group of women. These were women who had been healed of evil spirits and various infirmities. They traveled with the group and provided for their needs.

Three women are mentioned by name: Mary, called Magdalene; Joanna, and Susanna. Not much is elsewhere written about these women, but we can ascertain a few things about them from our text.

Mary Magdalene had been delivered from demon possession. Indeed, seven demons had gone out of her. Other instances of demon possession speak to the awful consequence of that affliction. Demon possessed individuals were mentally unstable and ongoingly prone to bouts of self-affliction. Their lives were literally hell on earth. Jesus delivered her from that hell.

Joanna and Susanna were likewise healed of either evil spirits or infirmities. Joanna, was a woman of privileged means. Her husband was Herod’s household manager. She had likely abandoned a life of comfort and ease to follow Jesus. No other mention is made of Susanna in the Scriptures.

Despite these differences, these women shared one thing in common—they served Jesus. They lovingly served Him. They had experienced His healing touch. They had believed Him and His message. They gladly and whole-heartedly devoted themselves to providing for the needs of the traveling group. And tough Susanna remains otherwise anonymous to us (in the Scriptures), the record of her service was duly recorded for posterity’s sake in this account of Jesus’ life.

Mary Magdalene and Joanna continued to follow Jesus (Susanna likely did also, but no record is given). They remained at the cross when others deserted Him. It was to them that the angel revealed the resurrection truth. They passed the message on “to the eleven and the rest” (Luke 24:9-10).

Noval Geldenhuys (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) wrote of this, “What a challenge and inspiration it must be for every woman to consider that, while nowhere in the four gospels is mention made of any women who were hostile to Jesus, there are numerous references to ministration and marks of honor which they accorded Him. With much affection and faithful devotion they ministered to Him with their possessions (verse 3)—to Christ Jesus who became poor so that we might be made rich. What an example of service to be followed by every woman who believes in Him!”

No matter the specifics of our individual backgrounds, we are all saved to serve. He has freed us from our afflictions to that end. Service involves sacrifice, but no sacrifice is too high for the One who has so sacrificed even His life to save us. These women faithfully served Jesus. God calls upon us to do the same.

The body of Christ includes many women who serve in likewise manner. They humbly serve Jesus with unrivaled devotion. They serve Him day-after-day, in countless ways, as they serve their husbands, families, and others. Their sacrifices, whether great or small, frequently go on unnoticed and receive no recognition. Be encouraged, faithful servant, the Lord is well aware of your service, in due time you will receive your reward (Galatians 6:9-10).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MUCH FORGIVEN (Luke Chapter 7)

The problem with mere religion is that it has no life to it.  It is cold, hard, loveless, and lifeless.  Religion says “do this” and “don’t do that,” supposing to somehow bestow benefit to the lives of its adherents.  Religion is a scam, ill-founded on the false-premise that do’s and don’ts can somehow work to regain that which was lost in the fall.  But “dos” and “don’ts” are no substitute for the love and forgiveness bound up in Christ.

Simon was a Pharisee.  The affairs of his daily routine were governed by countless “do’s” and “don’ts,” and in doing such things he esteemed himself righteous.  He invited Jesus to his home for dinner (Luke 7:36).  We are not given the reason why, perhaps he was curious about Jesus, but whatever the reason the setting was disrupted in curious fashion.

A “woman of the city, who was a sinner” entered the home (Luke 7:37).  She was an immoral woman.  That Simon knew of her reputation, “what sort of woman” she was, would indicate some sin of a public nature (7:39).  Perhaps she was a prostitute.  To enter that Pharisee’s home was an incredibly bold venture.  What caused her to do it?  In the chronology of events Jesus had previously invited “all who labor and heavy laden” to come to Him (Matthew 11:28).  Perhaps she came looking for Jesus, yearning for His promised “soul rest,” something that mere religion could never provide.

So the woman entered the house.  Jesus was reclining at the table (Luke 7:37).  She came up behind Him and began to do all that she could do that she might express her love for Jesus.  She had brought an “alabaster flack of ointment” (Luke 7:37).  She was weeping and “began to wet his feet with her tears.”  She then wiped His feet with the hair of her head and anointed them with that rare and expensive perfume (7:38).  It was an unprecedented, public display of extravagant devotion.  It would be repeated by another on a future occasion, and the response of the religious in both cases speaks to their ignorance of matters pertaining to grace, love, and forgiveness (John 12:1-7).

Simon was disturbed by what he saw.  “Didn’t Jesus know ‘what sort of woman’ she was,” he thought.  But Jesus discerned his thoughts and used the opportunity to explain, by means of a parable, important truths to a man who was religiously wise but spiritually stupid.  He said, “A certain moneylender had two debtors.  One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both.  Now which one of them will love him more” (Luke 7:41-42)?

We are all, in sin, debtors before God.  Religion falsely supposes that the debt can be somehow worked out through religious self-effort and good deeds.  Simon was a religious man, he had not experienced God’s forgiveness.  He saw no need for it.  His religious life had no “vertical” to it.  He was ignorant to matters pertaining to grace and love.  In his religiosity he was cold, and hard, and lifeless.  He invited Jesus to his home, but his invitation was not marked by love.  He gave no kiss, washed no feet, and offered no anointing.  In his religious economy the sinful woman was not worthy.  He had no loving concern for her and used her faults to bolster his own religious prestige.

But the sinful woman found a friend in the “Friend of Sinners.”  No sin debt can exceed His capacity to forgive.  His forgiveness worked a change in her, freeing her from her bondage in guilt to love Jesus in extravagant fashion.  Her life was utterly and remarkably changed by Jesus.  She loved Him much because she was much forgiven. And in that she possessed something far more precious than Simon’s dead and heartless religion.  One by one God’s much-forgiven saints file into church on any given Sunday, like alabaster flasks they were created in Christ Jesus and filled with His love that they in turn might be spilt out as He was.  The sinful woman loved Jesus in extravagant fashion, she serves as a wonderful example to all those who have been much forgiven!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A SOLID FOUNDATION (Luke Chapter 6)

In the fable of the three little pigs, the big bad wolf was able to blow down the first two pigs' houses, made of straw and wood respectively, but was unable to destroy the third pig's house, made of bricks.  Big bad wolfs exist.  Some homes are not strong enough to withstand their assault.

The main point of Jesus’ parable in Luke 6:46-49 is the vanity of hearing His words without doing them.  It is possible for a person to profess Jesus as Lord, apart from a necessary obedient response.  That dichotomy between profession and practice is both inexplicable and calamitous.

The term “Lord” translates the Greek term “kurios.”  The term refers to “one having power” and is variously translated in the NT, “Lord,” “master,” “owner,” and “Sir.”  This was the common form of address to the Lord Jesus, both by the people (Matthew 8:2; John 4:11) and by His disciples (Matthew 8:25; Luke 5:8).  By definition Lordship involves and requires obedience on the part of those in subjection to it.  Unresponsiveness to the Master’s commands lends doubt to the credibility of a person’s profession (Cf. Matthew 7:21-23; Titus 1:16).

The parable speaks of two different men building two different houses leading to two differing results.  In the first case the man “dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock” (Luke 6:48).  In our country building codes govern the construction of homes.  The foundation must be laid according to stringent requirements.  The laying of the foundation can be both expensive and time-consuming, but is nevertheless essential to both the value and strength of the home.  Woe to the negligent homebuilder who under estimates its importance.

The same holds true in the spiritual realm.  Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  He, the builder, has set forth His own requirements.  A superficial response to His Word is inadequate.  The Word will demand change.  A spiritual excavation of soul is necessary.  No such excavation is possible apart from wholehearted obedient response to His Word.  There is but One foundation that is adequate (1 Corinthians 3:11).  Apart from obedience it is impossible for that foundation to be either properly laid or carefully built upon (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:2).

Since much of the foundation lies underground, the differing strengths of the two homes prove difficult, under ordinary circumstances, to discern.  But it is made evident when the two homes are both equally subjected to external forces.  Jesus’ parable spoke of the trials which are an inevitable part of life.  Here they are compared to a “flood” (Luke 6:48), in Matthew to rain, floods, and winds (Matthew 7:25).  Trouble is inevitable—in life, marriage, family, in confronting sickness and death, etc.  The man who hears and does is able to withstand the onslaught of antagonistic spiritual forces, the one who merely hears is not.  The world, the flesh, and the Devil will work to oppress and storm against the believer, but in obedience to Christ the believer is made “strong and brave to face the foe” (Cf. 1 John 2:14).

The flood “could not shake” the “well built” home, but the other home fell immediately, its ruin was “great” (Luke 6:49).  God’s Word repeatedly promises to spiritually bless those who take it to heart.  The promise is not to the “hearer who forgets, but (to the) doer who acts” (James 1:25; Cf. Psalm 1).  A solid, well-laid, foundation—obedience to His word--is essential.

Monday, March 10, 2014

THE MIRACULOUS CATCH (Luke Chapter 5)

I love to fish and over the course of my life I’ve been fishing thousands of times.  When I was 18 I spent the summer running a dory out of Depoe Bay commercial fishing for salmon.  I caught my share of fish, but was “skunked” (caught no fish) on plenty of occasions.  I can relate to Peter’s experience.

Peter and his friends “toiled all night” fishing and “took nothing” (Luke 5:4).  They were boat fishermen.  They fished at night because that was when the fish could be found along the shoreline.  And at night the fish were na├»ve to the existence of the encompassing nets that would spell their doom.  For hours they labored hard and despite their efforts no fish were to be found.  So they made their way back to shore and were washing out their nets.

Jesus was there.  The crowd was pressing in on Him.  Jesus got into one of the boats and from there taught the people.  When He finished speaking, he said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).  This was not Peter’s first introduction to Jesus.  On a previous occasion Peter’s brother, Andrew, had told him about Jesus.  “We have found the Messiah” he said (John 1:41).  Having been brought then to Jesus, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter (‘Peter’ is from the Greek word for ‘rock’; John 1:42).  From the beginning Jesus had plans for Peter.

Peter was a fisherman.  He knew about fishing.  He had labored all night to no avail.  Daytime was not the time for good fishing, but He nevertheless obeyed Jesus and they went fishing together.  I’ve fished with plenty of different people and some real good fishermen, but Peter was privileged to fish with the “Master of the seas.”  And so when they let down their nets “they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6).  So great was the quantity of fish that they even filled another boat so that “they began to sink” (Luke 5:7).

It was said of Jesus following another miracle that “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37), and that was the case in this case.  His supernatural wisdom, power, and sovereign control over all things were dramatically demonstrated to Peter.  And that explains Peter’s response as he and his friends were “astonished at the catch of fish” (Luke 5:9).  “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8).”  Peter saw something of the glory of Jesus, and in that was made aware of his own shortcomings.  The miracle worked to simultaneously expose truths regarding both Jesus and Peter.  But Jesus was well aware of Peter’s needs.  Peter bid Jesus to depart, but Jesus instead called that sinful man, that ordinary fisherman, to follow Him, saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).

On another occasion, some years later, Peter would again experience another miraculous catch at Jesus’ bidding (John 21:4-8).  That would happen not long after Peter’s biggest failure and disappointment.  He had self-confidently asserted his loyal allegiance, saying, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:35)!  But he failed to live up to his assertion and denied Jesus three times.  But the Jesus who renamed him and called him and prayed for him and loved him, worked to restore him.  His ministry began with a miraculous catch and with a miraculous catch the resurrected Jesus put Peter back to work.

And then there came that day.  At Pentecost the Spirit-filled Peter stood before a large crowd of People.  He boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And the people responded.  3000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:41)!  Peter the fisherman was made to be a fisher-of-men.  In every case it was Jesus Himself who caused the miraculous catch, but He was well pleased to call and use that ordinary fisherman.  I love a good “fish story,” but it was more than a story about catching fish, for it speaks to the truth regarding Jesus.  The Great Fisher of men still works in the lives of ordinary men and women in miraculous ways to accomplish miraculous things.

Friday, March 7, 2014

HOMETOWN ZERO (Luke Chapter 4)

If it had been up to the people of his hometown, Jesus’ ministry would have ended at the beginning.  Mere minutes beforehand they were speaking well of him and marveling at his gracious words (Luke 4:22), but something transpired to precipitate their rage and the people of the synagogue drove him out of town and tried to throw him over a cliff (Luke 4:28-29).  What happened?

 
Things started out well enough.  As was His custom, Jesus entered his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.  He unrolled the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah (Cf. Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).  Isaiah’s prophecy spoke of Him as the Messiah and the Savior who had come to proclaim good news and liberty to the captives, and to give sight to the blind and deliverance to the captives.  “And he began saying to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21).”  He identified Himself to be the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.  To this those gathered responded with approval.
 
But then they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son” (Luke 4:22)?  His response to that changed everything.  He who knew what was in a man (John 2:25), knew what was in their hearts.  He spoke prophetically of what would come to pass in his hometown—no miracles.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  They knew of His family.  Matthew and Mark’s gospels also record this event, though some suppose that there were two separate hometown visits (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6).  Whether speaking of the same or a separate event, Mark’s account speaks to Nazareth’s prevailing spirit of unbelief.  The people were saying, “Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him?  How are such mighty works done by his hands?  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us” (Mark 6:2-3).  According to Mark’s gospel “they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3).  They “were being made to stumble,” thinking how can this man whom we know so well be who He is claiming to be?
 
Jesus was cognizant of their unbelief (Cf. Mark 6:6), and He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 4:24).  He illustrated that truth by the way of two Old Testament examples.  There were plenty of widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, but Elijah was sent to none of them, but instead to a widow in Sidon (Luke 4:25-26).  There were plenty of lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but Elisha was sent to none of them, but instead to a Syrian (Luke 4:27).  Their demand for more evidence testified to their lack of faith.  He indicted them for it.  In the climate of unbelief He would choose to not exercise His miraculous powers.  That made them mad, so mad that they ran Him out of town and tried to kill Him.
 
What happened in Nazareth that day should not surprise us.  At His birth there was no room for Him in the inn.  By Herod’s decree there was no room for him in the town of His birth.  The religious leaders had no room for Him and His ministry.  From beginning to end His ministry was met with growing opposition.  Nazareth ran Him out of town, at the cross humanity ran Him out of this world.  As the song says, “No room, only a manager of hay, No room, He is a stranger today; No room, here in His world turned way…No room, here in the hearts of mankind; No room, no cheery welcome could find; No room, surely the world is blind…Angels, in heaven up yonder; Watch with amazement and wonder; To see the Son of the Highest treated so.”  To this day most deny His true identity.  Indeed the mere mention of His Name frequently elicits anger.  And though some have no problem with a “good man” Jesus, they bristle at the notion of His divinity and coming reign.  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  He might have been a hometown zero, but what is He to you?  “Have you any room for Jesus, He who bore your load of sin?”  How blessed are those who in taking Him at His Word receive Him as their Lord!