Saturday, July 4, 2015

Luke 6:20-26 Blessings and Woes

20 And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

When I acknowledge my 'lacks' (Gk. 'ptochos'), rather than to pretend otherwise, I am blessed. When I am content in my 'lacks' - being without position, power, possessions - rather than to be constantly grasping for more, I am most blessed. On the other hand, if I live each day in anger because of my 'lacks' or obsessed with removing all sense of 'lack', I cannot live in peace.

To have the assurance that I am a citizen of the kingdom of God despite my earthly 'lacks' is to be blessed - to live in joy, peace, and faith. This isn't to say that I don't work hard or refuse to accept more when it is offered, rather that my life is not driven by promises, hopes, rewards, fear, or anger. A kingdom person lives in satisfaction rather than always striving for something that will someday bring satisfaction. When our lack drives us, then we are most susceptible to false promises, hollow hopes, and the ever present charlatan.

A kingdom person acknowledges the often ugly reality of the here-and-now, yet lives with a sense of wholeness, completeness, with what 'is', thereby transforming ashes into beauty (Is 61:3).

Fear turns our lack into a bad thing. Trust in God turns our lack into a blessing from which we can learn. When we receive our lack as a gift we are free to make something beautiful out of it - the basis of true spirituality. On the other hand, when we hate our lack and see it as a curse, we become distracted by it and obsessively strive for the imaginary.

The paradox in this is, in having nothing, they had everything. 'For yours IS the kingdom of God.' 

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 

This verse reinforces the previous kingdom perspective. Though our temporal lack may be food, when we settle into kingdom thinking we always have 'food' that satisfies (Jn 4:32). Confident belief and trust will permit you to have the energy you need to focus on the here and now. Despair, fear, and anxiety sap our energy. We need 'all hands on deck' for what 'is', rather than working for that which 'isn't'.

The same kingdom message applies to mourning the loss of loved ones. Permit yourselves to grieve, to weep, and to be human as you experience the absence of someone you have loved. Loss is our reality. We 'laugh through our tears' because we accept reality rather than to waste energy pretending it is not true or that we can somehow create a utopia where nothing bad ever happens. Belief in an afterlife, rather than stifling the grieving process, actually frees us to grieve.

What Jesus appears to be saying in these beatitudes seems to dovetail what he has been saying regarding sin and grace. In other words, because of the safety net of grace I can accept the fact that I am a sinner - that I fall short of God's ideal in many ways each day. Being settled under the covenant of grace I no longer have to fear judgment, nor live in guilt or shame. God's grace permits me to live in the here and now more authentically. I am free to be human. No more energy is wasted in anger because of my past, frustration because of my current circumstances, or fear of a future judgment since I am not perfect. The kingdom of God invites me to be fully human in the present.

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. 

When we are secure in our faith in God's grace and content with what we have and who we are, what others think is of little importance. The apostle Paul expands this notion in his letter to the Romans (Rom 8:26-39). Once our metaphysical concerns are settled, then we - like Paul - can say, 'for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

There isn't any empirical evidence that establishes our faith as fact. If that was true, then we wouldn't need faith. Yet we have faith - 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen' (Heb 11:1), in what is 'truth' for us. There is much in scripture that is not 'fact', yet it is 'truth'. Belief based on empirical evidence is not Christian faith. The devil believes in the existence of God, according to scripture, but 'he' does not have 'faith' in God. Christian faith takes God at his word without requiring any empirical evidence that what God says is right or wrong. It is total trust in Someone we can't even prove exists. Our faith is all the evidence we need for the truth of what we believe.

When we examine 'faith' from this perspective we can better understand why those who don't live by faith in God may insult us. Never-the-less we choose to live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Our faith is not up for discussion or debate because it was never something that was based on facts to begin with. We don't have any primary sources. We were not eye witnesses to the events of the first century. We have not traveled to heaven and consulted with God face-to-face. Yet we trust in what we believe. We live by faith.

23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. 

When you find yourself hated, insulted, scorned, and banished, 'be glad' and 'jump for joy'?  Wouldn't you, then, receive even more insults and be declared certifiably insane? How could any intelligent, psychologically healthy person 'be glad' under such abuse?

First, a kingdom person recognizes that our temporal context is an accident of birth. In other words, a believer accepts the fact that life isn't fair. Some are born into plenty, some into lack. Some born into plenty meet with unfortunate circumstances and lose everything. Some born into lack are lucky enough to win the lottery. Rejoice not in your circumstances - however good - but as a citizen of the kingdom of God. Rejoice even in your misfortune because you are no longer blinded by false notions of temporal life.

Second, a kingdom person isn't reactively driven by the past or the future, but is moved to responsibly act in the here-and-now. A kingdom person isn't driven by anger at his/her circumstances, nor obsessed with future fixes. Why? Because s/he is content as a believer. In other words, one is not striving for a reward, but is enjoying the 'reward', the gift of the moment. The 'reward that is great in heaven' is the recognition that one hasn't lost anything that must be found, or has been cheated out of something than must be taken back, or must perfect oneself in order to finally qualify for something 'great'. Rather, the reward that is great in heaven is that the kingdom of heaven is now. Live in the moment as a kingdom person. 'Yours IS the kingdom of heaven' (v. 20). Life is what it is.

In Hannah Hurnard's book, 'Mountain of Spices', there is this passage:
In acceptance lieth peace,
  O my heart be still;
Let thy restless worries cease
  And accept his will.
Though this test be not thy choice,
It is his -- therefore rejoice.
In his plan there cannot be
  Aught to make thee sad:
If this is his choice for thee,
  Take it and be glad.
Make from it some lovely thin
To the glory of thy King.
Cease from sighs and murmuring,
  Sing his loving grace,
This thing means thy furthering
  To a wealthy place.
From thy fears he’ll give release,
In acceptance lieth peace.

24 But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. 25 Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Obviously, or so it seems to me, Jesus was not condemning people of wealth any more than he was condemning folks who regularly ate a good meal or those who often laughed.

Rather, his concern was for those who were distracted by their 'plenty' without regard for those who suffered in 'lack' (Luke 12:33,34). Verses 27-38 address this issue more precisely. Kingdom people are 'content' with what they have, making the best with what they have been given, yet never isolated from those around them. Even the poorest kingdom person should show concern for a neighbor.

Yet there is more to all this. If the poor are obsessed with the wealth of others, they have missed the point of being a kingdom person. If the rich are obsessed with keeping their riches away from those who are poor, they have also missed the point. We can never be truly 'content' isolated from those around us.

26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

Luke's account may have been presented as a warning. Beware! When folks flatter you they are often trying to manipulate you in some manner - either intentionally (maliciously or well-meaning) or unwittingly. For instance, some of their Jewish ancestors spoke nice things to false prophets in order to encourage the false prophets to prophesy good things in return, to sway their community in a direction that would be favorable to the manipulator.

On the other hand, Jesus may have been suggesting that if people praise what you are teaching, then, perhaps, what you are teaching isn't very biblical. Why? Because the gospel goes against human nature. Under the New Covenant we are called to live apart from law, but under the Spirit. That seems 'messy'. Also, under grace we are to extend grace even to our enemies. That just seems 'idiotic'. As followers of Christ we are to look beyond the outward appearance, the sins, and the idiosyncrasies of others and look for the 'heart' - treating each person as if they were Christ Himself. That really goes against our nature. How can we love what we see as 'unlovely' and/or even 'bad'?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Luke 6:12-19 Choosing Disciples

12 It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. 

How does one go about creating a team that can build upon what you have initiated? Among all those who follow you, which ones should you most closely mentor? How many individuals can one leader hope to effectively mentor?

In order to make this decision, Jesus spoke to the wisest Being in the universe - his heavenly Father. This wasn't a quick, two minute discussion. He spent the whole night in conversation with God. Why? What took so long? Was it a discussion, an argument, or a consult? During his prayer, had the Spirit specified to Jesus which disciples had been chosen to be apostles?

13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: 

After wrestling with the issue, in the presence of God, Jesus gathered together all who were his disciples at the time and chose twelve men from among them. It was not mentioned how many disciples were gathered, just that twelve were called to be apostles. We know there were others, because after the death of Judas a replacement was chosen from the other disciples who had been with Jesus from the beginning (Acts 1:21-23).

Not all who are disciples are called to be apostles (1 Cor 12:29). Some would be teachers, prophets, pastors, or called to some other ministerial role (1 Cor 12:28).  According to Paul, the Spirit determines which gift(s) are given to each disciple (1 Cor 12:11). All disciples, though, whatever their gifting(s), are called into a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18).

I wonder if Jesus explained spiritual gifting to his disciples at that time. I wonder if he had any words of encouragement for the women who were present, who also were disciples. Was Mary called to serve as a secret apostle?

14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; 15 and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; 

Luke wrote that Jesus, after a night of prayer, chose each of the twelve. They were not chosen by lot - as the disciples later did to replace Judas' position (Acts 1:24-26). No women were chosen, nor seemingly even considered. No one campaigned for a position as an apostle. In fact, there weren't - apparently - any discussions with the disciples. This was entirely a God ordained thing. If one chose to be a disciple, if 'choice' is this matter is even a valid notion, there was no choice in spiritual gifting.

Many chose to follow Jesus as his disciples, but only twelve were chosen to be his apostles. This is not to suggest that the apostolic calling was closed at twelve men for all time. The gift of apostleship was assumed to occur long after this, in the writings of Paul. Paul himself was called to be an apostle. Some conclude that at least one woman, Junia, was also an apostle (Rom 16:7). Centuries after Christ, Mary Magdalene was labeled an apostle to the apostles.

Some interesting facts about the twelve men who were chosen include, that some were siblings, most were from Galilee with the possible exception of Judas, all were relatively common men, and at least one had a rather shady background.

An important question arises with this pericope. How can I know what my gift(s) is?

16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 

The gospel of John informs us that Jesus chose Judas to be one of his apostles knowing from the beginning that Judas Iscariot would betray him (Jn 6:64,71). As Luke has written, Jesus spent the night in prayer discussing the selection with his Father. Maybe it was a night like Gethsemane where Jesus intensely wrestled with the Father this one particular selection. How difficult it must have been to look at Judas day after day and know exactly what he would do.

John wrote that the choice of Judas was made in order to fulfill scripture - a fulfillment that added more evidence that Jesus was the Messiah of prophecy. In other words, to fulfill a purpose, God can order either good or bad to happen (Is 45:7). Prayer, it seems, can be a dangerous thing. That which God may ordain may not be what we prefer. If we are asking for God's will, it will not always be something that is pain free and may often present us with a choice that will not make sense.

17 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. 

Is there a difference between being healed and being cured? The Greek word translated by the NASB as 'heal' is 'iaomai'. It conveys the idea of 'making whole', of actually curing a person. The Greek word translated by the NASB as 'cure', is 'therapeuo'. It may be better translated as 'healed' or 'restored to health', but not necessarily physically 'cured', though that may be included. Therapeuo appears to be more holistic, serving the whole being. 

The 'great throng of people' came not only to 'hear', but to be 'cured'. By hearing the gospel of the kingdom many found 'healing' for their soul. In other cases Jesus 'cured' bodies, restoring them back to physical health, yet not necessarily 'healing' their souls. 

Much of what a Christian 'does' in relationship with others today is more 'therapeutic' to the soul, heart 'healing', but not necessarily physical 'curing'. That being said, the Spirit's gift of healing granted to some folks (1 Cor 12:9) was primarily 'iaomai' physical healing.

19 And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.

Again, the 'healing' that was effected in this setting was physical curing, not necessarily heart healing. Jesus physically cured 'them all'. That was grace. Some appreciated his compassionate act and responded with saving faith. Others merely took the cure without ever showing any gratitude toward or faith in the One who cured them (Lk 17:11-19).

Grace is unmerited favor. Anyone who came to him for a cure received a miraculous healing irrespective of their faith in Him as the Messiah. Grace is unconditional. Some, though, came to Jesus 'unconditionally'. In other words, they were drawn to him from something deep within them, something that 'insisted' that they approach him, yet without any expectation of a reward for coming. They came empty-handed and without any demands. They merely responded to the drawing of the Lord (Jer 31:3). They just couldn't help but come. The unconditionality of their approach met the unconditional love of God. The result was true healing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Luke 6:1-11 Lord of the Sabbath

1 Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 

It seems that the Pharisees may have succumbed to stalking Jesus at this point in his ministry. They were apparently intent on finding anything they could to accuse him of being a counterfeit messiah. They could have only ventured into that manner of thinking if they had first assumed they themselves were completely acceptable to God and thus the standard against which every other Jew should rightly be judged.

The Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of Law breaking. Implicit in their accusation was the belief that the disciples knew right from wrong regarding Sabbath observance, yet had acted contrary to known truth. For a Jew to disobey well-established Sabbath teaching he would have had to have been criminally deceived by a very persuasive, evil pretender. Thus the Pharisees concluded Jesus was the culprit - that he had intentionally taught his disciples permission to disobey the Sabbath Law.

It was a reasonable question, under their religio-cultural circumstances, to ask, 'why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?' They assumed Jesus had led them into this error, but they could not understand 'why' Jewish men, raised under the Law, could be persuaded to act contrary to one of the most defining elements of Jewish identity (Ex. 31:13; Ez 20:12,20). To break the Sabbath was to reject being a Jew. What could Jesus have said that would lead a life-long Jewish person to not keep the Sabbath in the midst of a Jewish province? 'Why' would any Jew act unlawfully, knowing the consequences (Ex 31:14; 35:2)?

First, what did the law say regarding the Sabbath? 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God, in it you shall not do any work...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth...and rested on the seventh day; therefor the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy' (Ex. 20:8-11).

What did Moses have in mind when he wrote, 'in it you shall not do any work'? How was 'work' defined? Actually, in Exodus 16:22-29 clarified what 'work' on the seventh day meant. To work on the sabbath included going out to gather food rather than to have prepared food the day before (Ex 16:23,29). More exact details followed. The Jews were not even to kindle a fire (Ex 35:3); to not buy or sell on the sabbath (Neh 10:31); or to tread a wine press or to carry a load (Neh 13:15; Jer 17:21). In other words, were the Pharisees merely concerned with one of their extrabiblical traditions being neglected, or were they accusing Jesus' disciples of acting contrary to scriptural teachings regarding the Sabbath?

3 And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, 4 how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” 

Jesus defended his own law breaking by pointing to the fact that David broke the law too. Say what? Jesus' defense was, 'I was only doing what someone important also did'? In other words, if you condemn me for law breaking, then you have to condemn our revered ancestor, King David, for law breaking as well. If that had been his intent, it would have been a juvenile argument.

Jesus was actually implying something far more important - something that would shake the whole Jewish 'worldview'?

Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the fact that even their ancestor, David, understood that people are more important than law. The law is for the people, people were not created for the law. Circumstances change things. We must first think about how best to serve one another, not how best to conform to a law.

As was Jesus' practice, as far as we can glean from scripture, he threw out an idea and left the Jewish leaders to think about it. He didn't tend to give them a line upon line bible study on any topic. Rather, their hearts were being tested by the parables or examples he used to challenge their accusations. If they really were interested in the truth, they would be willing to wrestle with God and be willing to follow Him wherever He led them, even if He led them into a whole new way of thinking. Sadly, the Jews weren't as much interested in truth as they were in their current religious beliefs.

5 And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

To be 'Lord of' anything is to be superior to it, to be in command of it rather than 'it' being in command of you. In other words, Jesus claimed to be the definer of the Sabbath, not Moses, and certainly not the contemporary religious leaders of Israel.

Under Law, the Jews rested on the Sabbath 'day', the 7th day. Under grace, Christians rest in Christ 24/7. The former was a 'shadow' of the latter. The former was 24 hours. The latter 24/7. Resting on the 7th was, of course, good for the body and the mind, in this life. Resting in the Person is good for the soul now and eternally.

Living a Spirit-led life under grace is far healthier for mind, body, and spirit than ceasing to 'work' one day per week. The law required one day of rest while leaving six days of work unregulated. The Spirit paces us moment by moment.

The seventh-day Sabbath was a faith-tool that taught the Jews not only to believe that God existed, but that they could trust God to care for them better than they could care for themselves. By resting from their own works one day/week they were taught how to rely on God to take care of them. There was even a sabbath year in which the Jews were not supposed to even plant a garden. That, of course, took tremendous trust in God. If God was merely a nice metaphorical notion rather than a real Being, they could never have trusted that he would supply all their food needs for an entire year apart from their own efforts to plant and harvest.

In other words, the sabbath law was a prelude to transitioning from life under law to faith in God's grace - that the righteousness of Christ covers all our sins past, present, and future. We are not saved by our own good works, but by God's grace alone.  When modern day Christians keep a seventh day or first day as a Sabbath law requirement, they effectively deny the new covenant and fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). 

When Christians separate the 10 commandments out from the rest of the law claiming that the moral law is still in effect, but only the ceremonial elements of the law are jettisoned, they miss the point of Moses own teaching that the 10 commandments are the old covenant (Dt 4:13). The whole old covenant has become obsolete (Heb. 8:13). The gift of the Spirit transforms the believer so that s/he loves others from the heart, not because of a law (Rom 7:6). Love more than fulfills what the law once commanded (Rom 13:10). 

No wonder Jesus claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath. When he becomes lord of our life we are at peace with God from the heart at all times. The sabbath pointed forward to Jesus as the creator of true rest. Why would we want a 'day' rather than the Person? Why would we chose the created day over the Creator? We are Christians in that we follow Christ. He is our Lord, not Moses, nor the Law.

6 On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. 

Luke clearly wanted to address the Sabbath issue head on. But why? It is easy to dismiss much of the old covenant Law after dividing it up into civil, health, ceremonial, and moral elements, and then hold on to only the categories one prefers, such as the moral element. Yet, as already noted, the 'moral' element 'is' the old covenant (Dt 4) and the Sabbath law is in the middle of the 'moral' law.

But, doesn't the NT tell us to 'keep God's commandments'? Yes, but what are his 'new covenant commandments, as understood by those who penned the NT? Whenever we read the word 'commandments' are we to think 'the ten commandments' given by Moses, or something else? John's epistle answered that question. 'His commandment is that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us' (1 Jn 3:21-24). In 'breaking the Sabbath Law' Jesus was, paradoxically, 'keeping the commandment' of God to love his neighbor.

Most Christians believe we must keep the 'moral' part of the old covenant because positive references are made reinforcing its commands in the NT - except for the 4th commandment (Rom 13:9), though Hebrews 4:9 may counter that conclusion. This common approach is challenged by Jesus' remarks in Mt 5 that not one 'jot or tittle' of the law is to be removed. How can one throw out all of Moses Law, yet keep one portion, particularly if Paul is correct in warning that to be under the law in any respect obliges a person to come under the whole law (Gal 5:3; Jas 2:10).

Others believe that the 4th commandment was changed under the new covenant so that we now keep the 4th commandment on the first, rather than the 7th day of the week. The 10 commandments are thus retained because Jesus said 'not one jot or tittle must be removed'. Yet, changing the day to Sunday has no actual Biblical support and does represent more than a 'jot or tittle' change.  

Still others don't see that the old covenant is obsolete as a whole, but that certain aspects of it merely are set aside only when it is clear that 'shadow' met form (Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 10:1). In other words, we no longer maintain the 'ceremonial' aspects of the law only because their role was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the true Lamb. So, that which is now obsolete only refers to that which is no longer clearly needed, while other parts of the Law are retained as still relevant. In this manner of thinking some argue that we must still keep some of the Jewish festivals that don't appear to have been fulfilled.

When it comes to the Sabbath, some folks believe that since it is in the 'moral' part of the old covenant it must still be obeyed, and obeyed only on the day stipulated by God on the tablets of stone, on the 7th day, not the first. Thus, when they read the gospels that seem to portray Jesus as 'breaking' the Sabbath law, they only perceive him as breaking man made traditions surrounding the Sabbath, not the God-given law itself. The remainder of this pericope is often used to support that point of view.

8 But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. 9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” 

People were not created for the law, rather the law was created for people. Jesus did not come to uphold the law, rather the law was given to point to Jesus. With that perspective in mind Jesus blatantly juxtaposed the sabbath law and his compassionate act of healing. Compassion for a person was set as more important than strictly keeping a law. The only value for any law is that it helps humanity. When a law becomes a curse to humanity, it is being wrongly used.

There is, of course, another layer of understanding given to verse 9. Did Jesus, perhaps, confirm the Sabbath law by his act of compassion? Was he only cleaning off the rubbish of human misunderstanding of the law, man-made traditions, rather than dismissing it completely? Was he uplifting the 4th commandment by clarifying what it was originally all about?

The fourth commandment tells us that God ceased from his work of creating, thus making the Sabbath holy. So, wouldn't Jesus' act of 'creating' have also been a dismissal of the sabbath commandment? He could have easily healed this man the next day or just after sunset. As with his disciples not preparing food on the preparation day, Friday, but picking and eating grain as they traveled on the sabbath day, Jesus seemed primarily focused on shifting the Jews from making law their primary value, to placing love for neighbor as their  primary value.

10 After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored. 11 But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Whatever Jesus' intention at the time, regarding the Sabbath law, the message did not get received well by the religious elite. They were filled with rage. They did not interpret Jesus' healing as a revelation of the beauty of the Sabbath, but as a blasphemous disregard of the law. They clung to the Law as more important than anything else. The law had become their idol, blinding them from knowing God and his messiah.

Was Jesus an antinomian? The Law commands us not to lie, but if I lie to save the life of a woman who is hiding from an abusive boyfriend, am I a lawbreaker or have I obeyed a greater law? There is the Law of Moses that says, ‘do not lie’. There is also the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2) that says, ‘love your neighbor’ (1 Jn 3:11-24; Rom 13:10). The latter trumps the former. Paradoxically, if we live by the former, we actually break the law because we have valued obedience to the law more than love for our neighbor. Is this not the message that Luke was attempting to convey in his gospel.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Luke 5:33-39 Circumstances Change Things

33 And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” 

We all tend to compare ourselves with others. We may use the differences we observe to either challenge ourselves or as ammunition to judge others. None of us, of course, are exactly like any other person. Each of us are unique and God leads each of us as unique beings.

In this pericope the Pharisees examined other people in reference to themselves, first assuming that their own lifestyle illustrated the 'gold standard' of righteousness and anything that fell short of what 'they' did, required a rebuke. They could give the disciples of John a pass because John's disciples did as the Pharisees did - they fasted. John's father, of course, was a priest. Fasting and praying had been part and parcel of his life as a religious leader among the Jews.

It wasn't that Jesus' disciples didn't believe in fasting and prayer. But with Jesus as their guide they were learning that circumstances change things. When folks live by law they act with a 'one size fits all' attitude, regardless of circumstances. When we live by the Spirit we follow His lead which is tailored to the person and to the situation we are faced with. When we live by law we are more apt to become the 'living dead'. When we walk in the Spirit we become truly 'human' and 'alive'.

34 And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 

Sometimes our questions receive answers that lead us into unanticipated territory. Jesus frequently answered the questions and/or accusations from the Pharisees and scribes in a manner that was unexpected. 

It is said that a story is worth a thousand words, yet a story offered in response to a question may raise more questions than it was intended to answer.  On the other hand, a good story may subtly suggest ideas that couldn't be presented directly. Jesus' response to the Pharisees was a story that, on the surface, elicited an response of 'of course', yet upon further reflection implied much more. Intentionally implied truths offer deniability.

Weddings are happy times. They are all about celebrating, nor mourning. They are about hope, not doubt. The are about food and drink and laughter, not fasting and quiet meditation.

In other words, the disciples of Jesus didn't fast due to the fact that Jesus was like a bridegroom. They were overjoyed that the One in whom they had desired had finally arrived. It would have been nonsensical to fast when it was time to celebrate. To fast as others rejoiced would have been an affront to the bride and groom.

The story well explained why the disciples didn't fast, but it raised the question - 'in what way is Jesus the expected 'bridegroom'? It was obvious. Jesus was claiming to be the long awaited Messiah. Every Jew should be happy, right? They no longer needed to fast and pray for his arrival.

35 But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” 

This is another of Jesus' salvo's against living under the Law. 'But the days will come...then...'  Circumstances change things. The old covenant had a purpose that was met in Christ, which in turn required the implementation of the promised new covenant.

The Law was good in that it was a guideline for life. It kept God's people together until the Person of the Messiah came. The shadow met the real. The 'tool' met the tool Maker. Obedience to Law shifted to faith in the Lawgiver. The focus of the people had been placed on one unchangeable, uniform standard, printed in words, on a rock. It had served as a consistent guide, generation after generation.Then a new Guide arrived. A perfect Guide.

The Law was a curse due to the exact same reasons it had been a blessing. The Law presented an unchangeable rule that brought a sense of security in a very uncertain world. Yet the Law was an inflexible, a one-size-fits-all, kind of deal. People are not all the same and it is impossible to have a law for every person in every circumstance. Something better was needed, longed for, and promised (Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:26,27; 37:14).

The Law, for all intents and purposes, had served as 'God' for the people. The religious leaders were the 'angels' (messengers) of God, carrying out his will. Then Jesus came and changed everything. God dwelt among man, and then within man. He taught, not in a Temple made by human hands, not in letters written on stone, but from within the heart of man. God abides in life, the Law did not. God the Spirit was sent by Jesus to be our daily Guide, fine-tuning his guidance to each individual in each of their peculiar circumstances - encouraging, reminding, and empowering each person. Religion, prior to Jesus, was all about the Law and the Temple. Religion, after the resurrection of Jesus, was all about the individual and the heart as God's temple.

Circumstances surely change things. There is a time to fast and a time not to. There is a time to mourn and a time to celebrate. A 'law' may demand that we should fast every Friday. Yet the Spirit would say, 'fast when I prompt you to fast whether or not I have prompted anyone else to fast'. A 'law' may demand, 'place 10 percent of your gross weekly income in the tithe basket each Sunday morning'. The Spirit would say, 'support what I prompt you to support, when I prompt you, and for as long as I prompt you, whether or not I have prompted anyone else to give anything'.

36 And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 

Did you miss the point from the bridegroom illustration? Well, how about another parable?

Why would anyone ruin a new garment in order to fix an old one? Say you just purchased a new blue shirt/blouse for $60. Then, upon arriving home, you cut out a 4 x 4 inch piece of fabric from the front of your newly purchased shirt/blouse and then stitched it over a 3 x 3 inch hole in a well-worn, faded red, 10 year old shirt. Would that make any sense? In other words, in everything we do there needs to be some common sense applied. Just because something is old doesn't mean we should keep it. There is a time and place for everything. Some things actually belong in the past. They were once very good in their time. 

37 And no one puts new wine into old wine skins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wine skins. 

Here is another parable to illustrate this same theme - that circumstances change things. An old wine skin has served it's purpose well. But when the new wine is ready, it cannot be placed in the old wineskin because new wine continues to ferment and needs to be in a wineskin that can expand. The old wineskin has lost it's ability to be flexible. If a person insists on putting the new wine into the old wineskin, the old wine skin will break open and both the wine and the wine skin will be lost. This would be like pouring precious water into a broken cistern (Jer. 2:13).

Jesus was clearly preparing the people for a deep shift in their worldview. When God changes the way he works it doesn't mean that God changed. The change from the Abrahamic Covenant to the Mosaic Covenant was necessary because of the circumstances (Gal 3:15-25).  Under the new covenant everything was about to change again. The way of the Spirit would not 'fit' into the way of the Law. The Spirit would live in the new wine skin heart of believers, not in the old wine skin of the temple. The Spirit would be active, living, and powerful, unlike the Law that was static, dead, and impotent to change anything. The Spirit cannot be contained in the old system. Trying to live a Spirit-led life under the Law is to have abandoned, fallen from, grace (Gal 5:4).

The apostle Paul wrote that the Law is 'good' when it is used 'lawfully' (1 Tim 1:8). The Law leads to the setting aside of itself for that which the Law pointed to - Christ and His Spirit (Jer 31:31-34; Gal 3:23-29). In other words, the law served it's purpose, but it eventually became obsolete (Heb. 8:13), as the Law itself said would happen. Christ in us is far better than the Law written on stone.

39 And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'

Luke added one more idea to the mix, one that accurately describes the way many people thought then and still think now. If it is old, it must be good and should be preserved. Yet, that kind of thinking may actually be a logical fallacy. Just because something is old - even ancient - doesn't make it 'good'. It might be good. It might have been good, but that doesn't require it to be good now. Of course, what we once thought was good in the past may never have been good in the first place.

That being said, we shouldn't necessarily change things for change sake. On the other hand, we should always be open to best practices for the here and now - practices that are helpful to human beings. When we cling to the past for the past's sake, we turn the church into a museum. The church is supposed to be a place of healing, not a place of ancestor worship. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Luke 5:27-32 Celebrating Humanity

27 After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Levi had probably heard about or had personally witnessed the healing ministry of Jesus. Surely he may have even flirted with what he may have thought was a vain hope of someday becoming a disciple of Jesus.

The circumstances of this 'calling' suggest that Jesus had either previously met Levi or he somehow instantly 'read' the heart of Levi. Whatever the case, Jesus 'noticed' him and instantly invited him to 'follow'. Levi apparently didn't hesitate to quickly respond.

Do we nurture our hopes for 'something better' so that when the opportunity presents itself we are ready to immediately respond?

Can we be fully engaged in our current responsibilities, yet simultaneously prepare for something new?

28 And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.

After my conversion to Christ, which took place shortly after college, I believed the Lord was calling me to turn down a full scholarship in a graduate program in science. Upon the recommendation of another pastor I applied to seminary, got accepted, yet still felt the Lord had something else in mind. I ended up leaving that behind as well, for the time being, in order to work more closely with a spiritual mentor I had encountered.

Family and friends, of course, could not understand why I would leave behind everything in order to follow a man, but this one particular man had something I wanted. He had a mature walk with Jesus. He seemed to know Jesus. And I wanted the kind of a spiritual experience this man had

Often, God will call us to be more faithful just where we are. Sometimes, God will call a person to leave everything behind and to follow him without looking back. How has God called you? Would you be willing to leave all behind to walk beside him - if that was his invitation? Are you prepared to immediately say 'yes' when God calls?

29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.

Was this something spontaneous or an event that was well planned and occurred at a later date? Whatever the case, a big reception most likely happened in a big house that had been purchased with big money exhorted from a large number of people. As he had with the four who broke up the house in Capernaum and pushed their friend to the front of the line, Jesus overlooked all this behavior - past and present - and focused on Levi's trust in Him at that moment. It was not what Levi had or was doing wrongly that interested Jesus, but whether or not he was willing to place his faith in Him.

Attention to a person's current act of faith and trust is not to condone either previous wrongs or current missteps. Rather, it is an intentional appreciation for that which is decidedly more important, which is a love for God, however it is manifested. Faith in what one knows 'about' Jesus is tested by the invitation to trust Him enough to get up and follow him immediately when called.

Jesus distinguished between insincere, ritualistic acts of devotion and crude, but genuine acts of worship. Do we? Or do we get distracted by the multitude of things we see in the lives of others that fall far short of perfection? The Pharisees got easily distracted by minor issues. Maybe that is one of the better definitions of a modern Pharisee - distracted from love.

30 The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”

It is nearly impossible to look into any individual's life and not have a 'why' question come to mind. More often than not, perhaps, our 'whys' reflect our own arrogant ignorance, and actually elicit legitimate 'why' questions from others regarding 'why we've asked 'why', if you know what I mean.

It appears clear that by grumbling along with their question, they had already judged the behavior of Jesus. In other words, they weren't asking a legitimate 'why' question, rather they were stating their conclusions. Jesus had been already tried, judged, and executed in their hearts. 'Why?' Simply because what he was doing did not 'fit' their religious notions of 'proper' behavior. They became distracted by religious laws.

For these particular Pharisees and scribes, their value system exalted things (such as religious rules) over people. In Jesus' mind, the kingdom of grace was all about people being valued more highly than anything else. Was there a time to judge people harshly? Sure. Jesus did. Yet those who Jesus spoke harshly to were in a position to do spiritual harm to other people. Thus his wrath was often revealed against the Pharisees and scribes, not the Romans or the Greeks.

31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.

As a follow up to Thursday's comments, those who are 'well and not in need of a physician' probably does not refer to those who are 'perfect', since there have never been such people. Rather, the so-called 'perfect', in this context, refers to those who were not being spiritually damaged by others.  For instance, the 'perfect' would include the Pharisees and the scribes who considered themselves above reproach religiously speaking. Recall, though, that Jesus told his followers that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees if they expected to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20).

It was the illness of the spirit that most concerned Jesus. He came to deliver people from those who would destroy the spirit, not necessarily to deliver us from those who would destroy the body. The truly 'healed' person would be the one who placed their whole heart, mind, soul, and strength in God. In that sense their righteousness would then exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Those who had acknowledged that they were spiritually 'sick' and found healing through faith in Jesus would then become the truly 'perfect' ones, while the scribes and Pharisees who believed they were perfect because of their 'works', would become the truly 'sick' ones.

We could thus say that Jesus came to heal those who knew they were sick. We are not in need of a spiritual Physician if we do not admit that we are spiritually sick. Confessing that we are spiritually sick is the first step to being spiritually healed.

This passage would not make much sense if we think of the 'sick' as those suffering physically. Jesus was a 'physician' to those who were being spiritually assaulted. This context is made clear in the next verse.

32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Those who are righteous are not perfect in the sense that they no longer sin. Rather, they are righteous in that they walk with God by faith or this may refer to those who believe they are righteous because of their 'works'.

The 'sinners' Jesus referred to are all those who sin - since we all sin and if that was not true this verse would also be meaningless - yet have not found peace with God.

The Pharisees and scribes therefore fell into two categories. They acted the part of 'satan' to the people in that they were obstructions between the people and God. They were also 'sinners' in that they were not at peace with God. Thus, Jesus strongly rebuked the Pharisees for their behavior as 'satans', yet also was a physician to those Pharisees who were seeking to know God better.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Luke 5:17-26 Proof or Truth of God?

17 One day Jesus was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. 

It didn't take too long before the teaching, preaching, and healing ministry of Jesus caught the attention of the religious authorities. These leaders were, of course, as welcome to the table of the Lord as were any other people - Jew or Gentile, leader or follower. News regarding the message that Jesus taught and the miracles that he performed could not be contained within the regional boundaries of Galilee. These Pharisees and teachers of the Law came from as far away as the region of Judea and the city of Jerusalem.

It was one thing to hear 'about' what Jesus was saying and doing in Galilee. It was quite another to personally hear him teach with their own ears and to see him heal with their own eyes. The stories 'about' him were not exaggerated, as were so many claims about so many others. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law quietly sat and carefully listened to all that Jesus taught. They also attentively watched as he healed those who were sick. There could be no denying of the facts. They had never before witnessed anyone like Jesus.

18 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 

What was it that Luke was attempting to convey to Theophilus by including this story? What might Theophilus have gleaned from the account and how might his conclusions differ from ours? Luke, as is evident in the next verse, presented this incident as an illustration of genuine faith - faith that does not allow anything to get in the way.

But, is faith license?

We could, of course, read this story another way - as an act of selfish desperation that is blind to the needs of others. Many others were there, each waiting their turn to see Jesus. Jesus, as we've already noted, ministered to each person one by one. In this case, these men carried another man who was paralyzed. There was no indication that his life was in danger. He didn't have a high fever nor was he bleeding to death. In other words, his health concern would have allowed him to wait for his turn to see Jesus. Instead, his friends tore up another's house, pushed their way to the front of the line, and demanded that their case be handled immediately, without concern for the needs of anyone else in that line of people.

If we have faith in God's ability to heal us, shouldn't we also have faith that God knows best when and where to answer our prayers? In other words, is it really faith when we trust in God's power, yet we don't trust in his wisdom? Do we believe in an omnipotent God who refuses to act on our behalf unless we force him to act? How often did Jesus refuse to obey his Father and just rushed forward to do things the way he thought they ought to be done? How often did Jesus demand his own way, insisting that God empower him to act as he saw fit rather than as heaven willed? Did Jesus ever boycott heaven until heaven yielded?

On the other hand, Is there a time to be selfish? Is there a time to disregard the rights of others, to destroy the property of others, and to push oneself to the front of the line? Should such behavior be overlooked simply because faith is involved? Shouldn't Jesus have scolded these men for acting so selfishly and have sent them home with a rebuke or at least sent them back to the end of the line?

We have often seen in the news how people in poverty have pushed themselves into national spotlight through the use of violence and destruction. Out of desperation they have disregarded the needs and the property of their own neighbors in order to force social change. They believed that through acts of desperation they could force a 'miracle'. Some have simply labeled those who acted in this manner as 'thugs', while others have exalted them as 'champions'.

What, if any, is the difference between those involved in this biblical story and those who participated in the destructive behavior in Baltimore?

We often describe God as both omnipotent and all wise. Is it genuine faith to believe in the former, but not the latter? Is it faith to believe that God can 'do' anything, but not trust in his choice of method, timing, or location?

20 Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 

Here's one of the common questions regarding this text. On what basis did Jesus forgive, justify, this man his sins? Was the man 'justified by blood' (Rom 5:9), or 'justified by works' (Jas 2:21-25), or 'justified by faith' (Rom 3:28; 5:1), or 'justified by his words' (Mt 12:37), or 'justified by grace' (Rom 3:24; Titus 3:7)?

The man had not made a sacrifice nor was he asked to make one. Jesus had not yet become the sacrificial Lamb. There is no evidence that the man had a life full of good works, rather, instead, Jesus spoke about the man's sins. Jesus did not point to the man's faith, but to the faith of those who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. There were no words from the man - either good or bad. Yet, despite all this, Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man.

The scriptures tell us that the sacrifices made at the temple never actually removed sins (Heb 10:11). The sacrifices made simply symbolized the penitents faith that God forgave them or, at least, would forgive them. The rituals at the temple were mere shadows, symbols pointing to something better (Heb 10:1; 7:22), thus Jesus bypassed all that. In addition, Jesus did not say to the man, your sins 'have been' forgiven, nor did he say, your sins 'will be' forgiven, but told the man, your sins 'are' forgiven.

In other words, the basis upon which Jesus forgave this man his 'sins' was His grace. 'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God' (Eph 2:8). When Jesus forgave the sins of this man Jesus effectively presented himself as God. No wonder the authorities got angry with him.

21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” 

Notice that the scribes and the Pharisees did not say, 'who can forgive sins except a priest after having offered a sacrifice for the individual?' Instead, they said, 'who can forgive sins, but God alone?' The implication was that the religious leaders knew that forgiveness didn't really exist through sacrifices or through the Law or through good works, but only when God said so. If God said someone was forgiven, he was forgiven. That was the unchallengeable prerogative of God which needed no basis other than God's will. God didn't need to sacrifice his Son to justify forgiving humans for their behavior, any more than I need to prove myself worthy before forgiving someone's offense against me.

Jesus didn't say, 'God has told me that your sins are forgiven.' Rather, Jesus simply stated that the man's sins 'are' forgiven. Grace exhibited by someone who is loving isn't based on any law or enabled because of some previous or promised act. Love shows grace simply because that is how love works. Christians believe that God has always loved mankind and has always operated with grace toward man. God didn't have to do anything in order to earn the legal right to forgive the 'sins' of man.

Jesus forgave because Jesus loved people. His forgiveness was something that man needed because of man's understanding of the Law. Jesus met the man where the man was. He didn't forgive the man because the man's sins needed to be forgiven, but because the man believed that his sins needed to be forgiven. It was all about the man, not the sins.

Jesus set free the 'sinner' through love. Far too often the church oppresses man by focusing on sin, not the person. The NT authors attempted to shift man's attention from the Law-sin worldview to the person-grace worldview. The NT does this by transforming the cross into a symbol that would forever stand as an end to Law-sin thinking. Sadly, as Joseph Campbell once warned, the church turned the metaphor into a fact, unwittingly using the symbol of the cross to restore Law-sin thinking - the antithesis of what the cross was supposed to mean.

22 But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.” 

It was as if Jesus read our 21st century minds as well and said, 'look, I am God the Son. I don't need to die on a cross to earn permission to love you. I've loved you with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3). My death on the cross was love in action. The cross is the evidence that I am willing to do whatever it takes to set you free from all that keeps you in bondage. My death on the cross was not supposed to imply that I could not love mankind unless I first died. I am the Creator God. Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). I love, because I am love. God is love, not law. Heaven is ruled by love, not law. The cross is a symbol of love, not law. The language of the NT explores the metaphor of the cross, it was never meant to be used as fact.

Two thousand years ago Jesus proved to those around him that he, the Son of Man, had authority from God, even as God, not only to forgive sins but to miraculously heal people. No Law-required sacrifices were made beforehand. No confessions of sin we asked for. No promises to live without sinning we extracted from the man. No identification papers proving he was a Jew were required. There were no hoops for Jesus to jump through in order to set this man free from his sense of guilt. Jesus just simply said, 'your sins are forgiven.'

25 Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. 26 They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

Why were the people 'filled with fear'? Because they had witnessed 'remarkable things' that day - 'things' that did not fit any of their expectations about God. The obvious - selfishly inserting themselves at the head of the line and destroying another's property - was overlooked and not rebuked. The impossible - forgiving the sins of this man - took place apart from all they had been taught about God and the Law.

We all become fearful when faced with 'things' that blow up our current worldview. Their whole religious paradigm had been shattered in an instant. God suddenly exceeded their imaginations, becoming more than real. Grace really did exist, making every previous belief suspect.

Scary stuff indeed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Luke 5:12-16 Compassion's Downside

12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 

In our previous studies in Luke we have learned that it is nearly impossible to help those who don't want to be helped (4:21-30), that even among those who want help we must not move any faster than can be accepted (4:31-37), that we don't permit momentary needs to distract us from our larger purpose (4:38-44), that we can best help some people by removing ourselves a short distance from them (5:1-3), and that the best way to help folks is to inspire trust in God no matter what this life throws at them (5:4-11). In this study we will discuss the consequences for doing good - in other words, compassion's downside.  

The news about Jesus had spread far and wide. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was good in that people were being drawn to him, enabling him to share the gospel with them in both word and practice. It was a 'bad' thing for at least three reasons. First, it drew attention away from the religious leaders who wanted to be the only legitimate source of 'truth' to the people - an authority issue. Second, the miracles of Jesus revealed an inexplicable creative ability that scared Jewish leadership - a power issue. Third, among the throng of sick people gathering around Jesus were many with infectious diseases - a health issue.

As the Spirit leads us, we are to do good to those around us. Yet, we need to be cognizant of the oft quoted truism that 'no good deed goes unpunished'. I don't say that in order to suggest Christians should always be looking over their shoulder, but to say we need to be realists in all we do. Many people don't see 'people' in need, but only see a set of rules that need to be protected for the good of all. In other words, they will be on your case if you apply grace outside set lines.

Grace, though, is always radical in that it joyfully exceeds the rules when it comes to people in need. In fact, even God's own rules are broken by God Himself. This is a paradox that many people, particularly those who live along the more legalistic portion of the religious continuum, can't live with. That being said, while helping others don't be surprised is someone calls foul. On the other hand, if you make compassion a generic 'rule' - without being Spirit-led in time, place, and person - you have become a 'gate-keeper' of compassion rules as verily as others are 'gate-keepers' of orderly rules.There are, of course, fundies on both ends of the continuum.

The leper believed that Jesus 'could' heal him, yet he also knew 'could' did not mean 'would'. Thus he said, 'if you are willing.' This remark suggests several possible motivations. The leper only knew about Jesus ability, but may not have known anything about Jesus' character. Did he suspect Jesus might have prejudices against certain people groups? Had he assumed Jesus would be a stickler for Jewish law and would keep distant from those with leprosy? Did he imagine Jesus might see his leprosy as a judgment from God and therefore opt not to remove God's curse? Had he thought that God might prohibit Jesus from healing him for a reason only heaven knew? Was he aware that Jesus might choose not to heal him because in doing so many other lepers would ignore social prohibitions in order to seek Jesus out?

13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 

This passage begs us to wrestle with it. In it Jesus pushed forward, yet held back. That is part and parcel of living gracefully in the world.  We want to promote truth, but know we must present it gently and in a timely manner. We can share truth compassionately or maliciously, wisely or recklessly, as a rule or only as Spirit-led. The truth is always both good news and bad news - depending on the context in which it is given. Luke has already presented this notion several times.

In this passage Jesus approached the fact that the Law is obsolete (Heb 8:13), yet - at the same time - he upholds that very same Law. At first blush it appears as if Jesus spoke out of two sides of his mouth. The truth is that the Law is a curse (Gal 3:13), yet holy (Rom 7:12). The people of God were, at the time still living under the Law, yet were soon to be released from the Law. Shortly, at the cross, Jesus would be inaugurating the new covenant of grace. In other words, at this point in Luke's gospel, Jesus was preparing the people for what was to come, yet honoring what currently existed.

The Law taught that the leper was forbidden to enter the camp (Lev 13:45,46; 22:3) and that anyone who intentionally touched what God has declared as unclean sinned against God (Lev. 5:1-6; 22:6-9). In this story, the leper had broken the Law even by approaching Jesus. Also, Jesus himself broke the law by intentionally touching the leper. Even though the leper wrongfully approached Jesus, Jesus could have simply spoken the word and the leper would have been healed. Yet, instead, Jesus intentionally touched the leper, defying the Law of Moses - for a clear reason.

Jesus understood the purpose for the Law. The whole Law, including the ten commandments (Dt 4:10-13; 5:3; Gal 3:17), not just the Sabbath (Mk 2:27,28), were made for man's good - to keep him headed in the the right direction, until they could come to faith in Christ (Gal 3:19-28). The Law was not God, but God's tool to lead his people to faith in Him. The Law was not a good thing that went bad (Rom 7:7), but a good thing that served it's purpose (Gal 3:23-25). Obedience to the Law was never God's ultimate objective for mankind (Heb 7:19,22; 8:6-13; 10:1-9; Rom 7:4-6), rather it was a heaven ordained means to another end - life indwelt by the Spirit. Jesus knew this difference, yet could not fully explain it to anyone, including his own disciples, at this point in time.

The truth about the Law, that it really wasn't God's ultimate objective, could only be revealed slowly, at the rate the people could receive it. Yet, to approach this important truth, Jesus occasionally, intentionally, 'colored outside the lines' in order to awaken people to the coming change. The people witnessed his miracles, which convinced them that Jesus had God's blessing, yet they also witnessed him breaking the law. That paradox created questions - just as Jesus had hoped.

The scripture itself teaches, if you believe you must keep the law, then you are obligated to keep the whole law. You cannot pick and choose. (James 2:10; Gal 3:12; 5:3). Yet, taught Jesus, living under the Law required a person to be as perfect as God is (Mt 5:20, 48). The NT scriptures also say that the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19). 

Sadly, many Christians claim to live under grace by faith, yet pick what they want from the OT Law to clobber others and even themselves. In doing so they effectively blaspheme Christ by rejecting his gospel of grace. To place ourselves under law in any form is to fall from grace (Gal 2:16-3:14; 5:1-6). 

14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 

Jesus basically said, 'come, let me miraculously heal you of leprosy, but don't tell anyone who did this or how it came about.' The predictable response to this prohibition was described by Paul in his letter to the Romans (7:8). Until the heart is fully surrendered to the Lord, our human needs exceed even God wisest commands.

If we assume that Jesus understood the nature of man, why then did he bother to tell the leper not to reveal the facts? Maybe it was not so much because he expected the man to conform to his word, but because he knew the man wouldn't, yet that he would learn from his mistakes. Often we must permit others to fail so that they may eventually succeed.

It is nearly impossible to look at a foundation and discern what kind of building will eventually be constructed upon it. Nevertheless, the foundation needs to be put in place before the building can take shape. In other words, Jesus often taught things that he knew could not be understood at the moment, yet would make sense later on (Jn 14:29). As there are many things we teach our children that they can't understand, and even disregard at times, they come to understand their parent's teachings at a future time - especially when they themselves become parents. So, rather than to question Jesus' wisdom in expecting this leper to understand and to obey his command not to tell anyone, we should look beyond the obvious and anticipate the building he would construct upon the foundation he was laying.

Another point about this verse. The leper had disregarded the teachings of Moses, just as he would disregard the command of Jesus. We could easily blame him as a hopeless lawbreaker or quickly excuse him, understanding that his natural human hope exceeded the law. Again, Jesus had himself set aside the teachings of Moses when he touched this leper, which begs the question as to why Jesus would then tell this man to conform to the teachings of Moses. Maybe the following quotation from Barbara Brown Taylor gives us the answer.

To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are.

15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 

The devil's temptations in the wilderness were parochial in contrast with the temptations associated with Jesus' own successes. Every religious leader faces this exacting moment when a choice must be made between channeling Nebuchadnezzar or Jesus.

As has often been said, the seeds of failure are found in our successes. This is true for several reasons.

First, when we have success we are inclined to stick with whatever methods led to our success - long after they no longer work. We oddly forget that circumstances change things.

Second, when we have success we are also inclined to become self-congratulatory. We believe that our success is all about 'us', which obscures our ability to see the larger picture, guaranteeing our eventual fall.

Third, when success is something we can measure, numbers enslave us.

Life confronts us with many choices. We all need to decide how we will live in this world. Is life all about exploiting everything and everyone around us in order to obtain/retain personal happiness? Or, is life about withdrawing from anything that might cost you the promise of eternal life? Or, is life about being a blessing to your fellow man in the here and now? Our particular worldview will shape our posture in the world. How we then orient ourselves in this world will determine what we call 'success' and how we manage that success.

The key is to realize that even a good success can easily become a miserable failure if the good becomes the tail that wags the dog.

16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Jesus, aware of the dangers of success, did what most leaders find impossible to do. He walked away. Notice where he went. He 'slipped away into the wilderness' - the very kind of place where the Devil had tempted him. Did he feel safer around the Devil than around his own successes?

Jesus didn't go into the wilderness to hide. He went there to talk to his Father. When we sit with our spiritual Mentor we obtain course corrections. All the rubbish that has accumulated and obscured his purpose for us gets swept away. In discussions with God we reconfirm, yet also refine his purpose for us. The distractions of this life are exposed for what they really are. The things we thought would make us happy are abandoned for the things of God that deliver true joy and peace. The notions of others that have cluttered and confused our thinking are excised, bringing us back to the clarity of the gospel of grace. The meaning of true success is re-established.

Jesus not only slipped away for a few hours to get his act together. He usually moved on to another location. Success was not in being well-liked and/or being actively sought after. Success was in keeping his purpose clearly in mind and in making the decisions that achieved his purpose - which was to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all people (Lk 4:43). That gospel would help countless others learn how to truly live.