Saturday, September 24, 2016

Luke 19:1-10 Excising Excuses

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 

Last week we examined the role of curiosity in the life of a believer. If the blind man had not been curious, he would not have regained his sight. In this week's study we see that Luke picks up another theme touched upon last week - persistence. 

Curiosity prepares us to see opportunities, but without persistence we still might not enter into the opportunity that presents itself. The blind man was persistent in his desire for Jesus to show him mercy. In this story, we find that the tax collector, Zaccheus, fought against every natural inclination to make excuses to not pursue Jesus. 

What are your most common excuses for not pursuing 'something better' in your life? For Zaccheus, he could have excused putting any effort into seeing Jesus by saying: (1) Jesus is just passing through Jericho. I'll catch up with him another time. (2) I'm the chief tax collector. There isn't any forgiveness for my sins. (3) The crowds won't give me an opportunity to see Jesus because they hate me. (4) I should just be satisfied with what I already have. I am rich. (5) Even if the crowds let me in, unless I can make it to the front of the crowd, my short stature will keep him from even seeing me. (6) By the time I find a way to negotiate all the obstacles between where I am now and where Jesus is, he'll be gone. 

Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 

"But I'm too short. I just can't do it." 

When a door closes, climb a tree.

Zaccheus wanted to 'see who Jesus was'. He had probably heard about him, but couldn't have picked him out of a crowd if he tried. Initially, though, was that all that Zaccheus wanted - just to 'see' Jesus? Was his persistence fueled merely by a need to 'see' a Jewish celebrity? Or was there more behind his persistence? How many rich Jewish tax collectors would have tossed decorum to the wind, ran ahead, and climbed a tree just to see a celebrity pass by?

All this raises another question. What types of objectives are more apt to motivate us to do whatever it takes? Are you as motivated to find a good therapist, medical specialist, or a good book as you are to see a celebrity singer, actor, or politician? 

When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 

When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 

Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke 18:35-43 Wisely Curious

35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 

Maybe you remember a time when your curiosity was piqued, yet you neglected to act on it - only later discovering what might have been if you had just had the courage to act. Of course, maybe you also recall a time when you mindlessly acted on a curiosity and immediately found yourself in trouble. Being curious is good. Being wisely curious is essential.

In this story, Luke was not only demonstrating once again how powerful Jesus was as a miracle worker, but how life-changing the gift of curiosity can be. Imagine if this blind man had ignored the sounds of the crowd going by. Imagine if he had assumed it was merely another passing foolish gang of adolescents heading off to do some mischief. What if he had not followed up? Thankfully, the blind man chose to inquire about what was going on. He was curious enough to want to know what that crowd was all about?  

Many folks aren't very curious. They erroneous think that curiosity will 'kill the cat'. They are afraid that being curious will obligate them to do or believe something they don't want to do or believe. Some stifle their curiosity simply because they are too lazy, they don't want to put any mental or physical effort into anything than maintaining the status quo. Many just don't want to be faced with having to make a choice.

The blind man knew that being curious did not obligate him to do anything. Investigation does not require assimilation. Being curious gives us options, but doesn't force us to make a choice. He knew that not being curious would have confined him to the status quo and kept him from knowing 'something better'. 

Be curious. Think about what you have just learned. Then make a decision to act or not act. Be wisely inquisitive, rather than living each day in a spirit of indifference. 

37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Not only is it important for us to be curious, but it is also essential that we encourage the curiosity of others. 

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day." Einstein

After receiving an answer to his query, the blind man quickly processed what he heard and made the wise decision to engage. Apparently, he had not only heard about Jesus previous to this encounter, but he knew that Jesus of Nazareth was also the miracle working Son of David. This was not an opportunity he could afford to miss. 

39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

There are, of course, the naysayers. Often, strangely, those who discourage curiosity are our leaders. Our leaders are pursuing that which has inspired them and thus squelch anything that may obstruct or distract them from their goal. Leaders call others to be their followers, not independent thinkers pursuing alternative curiosities.   

True, in the pursuit of our own goals we need to be disciplined enough not to be easily distracted. Yet, we must always keep in mind that we live in community. If we only think about achieving our personal goals without encouraging others in their own pursuit, we unwittingly destroy community. We can, though, have unity in diversity. We can all be curious.  

In this story, those who were leading the crowd, were dismissive of the blind man's cry for mercy. Yet, notice the blind man's response to the leaders. He cried out all the more. He was open to the opportunity and would not let anyone, no matter who they were, stifle his curiosity. Jesus responded to the man. The leaders tried to shut him down, but the man would not let what he had discerned as a once-in-a-lifetime possibility pass him by, no matter who tried to stop him. Was he right or should he have submitted to the leader's demand to be quiet?

40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 

There were those who lead that crowd, yet there was One who was the Leader of all mankind. A real leader does not think only about him/herself. The grand objectives of Jesus, pursuing the most important important goal ever to exist in the universe, did not lead him to neglect any soul along the way. His whole mission was to save souls. To pass by even one person in an effort to save all people, would have sullied his grand mission. 

What is the relationship between curiosity and faith? Should our faith dampen or even shut down our curiosity? Can there ever be true faith without ongoing, exuberant curiosity? How well does the church encourage curiosity?    

43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God. 

We often forget this nugget of truth. God is glorified when we are curious enough to always seek something better and gracious enough to encourage one-another to be curious - wisely curious. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Luke 18:28-34 Choosing To Let Go

28 Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.” 

Nothing nails down who truly has your heart than when forced to make a choice between two things you profess to love. 

Jesus presented the ruler with a choice between his temporally accumulated wealth and his desire for life eternal. For the ruler, "'a bird in the hand was deemed of more worth than two in the bush." 

What about you? Have you laid out in front of you all the things you say you love and then ordered them by the most cherished to the least cherished? Have you done the necessary spiritual work of imagining a scenario where you would be forced to make a choice? That is exactly what Jesus invited his disciples to do. They needed to take the time to carefully think through what they thought they believed. 

Actions speak louder than words. Sadly, we are often surprised by our actions when suddenly placed in challenging situations. We discover that what we have often said with our mouth does not match up with what we actually choose to do. We did not really know our own heart.  

29 And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” 

Here is the litany of 'things' that Jesus asked his disciples to wrestle through in regards to having to make a choice. 

If you had to choose between leaving your house to follow Christ or keeping your home, which would you choose?

If you were faced with the choice between leaving your spouse in order to obey Jesus or ignoring the call of the Lord in order to keep your spouse, what would be your decision?

If the choice presented before you was between your sibling and the way of Jesus, which one would come first?

If you had to make a choice between obeying your parents and obeying the Spirit, which would you choose?

Finally, if - as with Abram - you were faced with a choice between losing your child verses losing God's blessing, what would be your decision?

Clearing, Jesus brought decision-making down to where it hurts. The choices he wanted them to wrestle with were not between setting aside their favorite Harry Potter novel or going to heaven, or choosing to build an addition onto their house or receiving the blessing of God, and not between refusing a gift from your spouse or the gift of God's grace. 

Until a professing Christian is willing to wrestle through these emotionally laden choices and determine to choose God over anything or anyone, the heart has not truly been crucified and born anew. There is nothing 'renewed' about a heart that continues to prioritize love for the things/people of this world after hearing about Christ. We are called to love God with ALL our heart, mind, soul, and spirit. The world 'all' does not leave room for anything else to be first in our life.

Grace is offered to all, yet though many are called, few are chosen. Why? Because the many continue to cling to their pre-Christ loves. Jesus has not been given the throne of their heart.

Note the Message Bible translation of these two verses: 'Yes,' said Jesus, 'and you won’t regret it. No one who has sacrificed home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children—whatever—will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life!'

Don't miss this point. Placing God first in your life was not commanded with the assumption that your blessings would all be delayed until the next life. Rather, in this very life, your choice to make the ways of God first and best will bring rewards to you every day, in many ways. How? First, when you are at peace with God, you live differently in this world. Your worries are far fewer. Your attitude towards others is far better. You begin to see everything and everyone around you through a new lens. There truly is peace and joy in believing (Rom 15:13).

31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. 

As the disciples chewed on the previous words of their Master, Jesus led the way to Jerusalem. He knew that if they failed to genuinely wrestle through their various heart affections, they would fall away from him when tested. He knew that as soon as they entered Jerusalem their long-held, untested affections would become an 'Achilles heal' when suddenly confronted with a life or death situation. 

It is far better to imagine scenarios before being challenged by them than to merely hope you will make the right decision when the time comes. We need to know our mettle. If we refuse to critically examine every belief and affection in times of peace, we will often be surprised to discover who we really are at an inopportune time.

What was Jesus implying by his statement, 'all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.'?  What kinds of 'things' did the Old Testament prophets say would happen to the Son of Man - and his followers? 

32 For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, 33 and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” 

He would be betrayed (Zech 11:12,13); falsely accused Ps 35:11); spat upon and struck (Is 50:6); hated without cause (Ps 35, 19, 69:4); mocked and ridiculed (Ps 22:7,8); hands and feet pierced (Ps 22:16, Zech 12:10); crucified (Is 53:12); soldiers would piece his side (Zech 12:10); forsaken by God (Ps 22:1); and forsaken by his disciples (Zech 13:7).

Imagine that an evil person breaks into your home at night and holds your loved ones captive while threatening to kill them if you don't do exactly as he says. What do you do? What if he commands you to do things you never imagined ever doing before? Would you lie, steal, commit adultery, or even murder someone to preserve the life of your spouse or child? Or, if given the chance, would you run away to preserve your own life? Would you, like the Apostle Peter, deny knowing God in order to save your life? Or, as is more common, would you lie on your taxes in order not to have to pay what is owed to 'Caesar'?

34 But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.

Most of us have heard something, at some time, that at first blush did not make any sense to us. We were unable to understand it and may have assumed it was wrong simply because it didn't make sense to us. Many kids come to this conclusion when they take their first algebra class, even if up to then they had excellent grades in arithmetic. It is as if the trick to grasping algebra was being intentionally 'hidden' from them or they were being tricked into believing that algebra was really math. Yet, if they persist, most discover that algebra makes perfect sense. Interestingly, many others never grasp algebra and continue to reject it as a useful tool because they never understood it.

The same is true in many other areas of life. What we don't understand, we often reject as false or, on the other hand, we turn it into a god (god of the gaps). The purpose of education is to provide us with the tools to understand the things that were once incomprehensible to us. With that in mind, we must remain life-long learners. We can never rest on the belief that everything we now believe is true or, at least, is the complete truth. We should often have to make changes in our thinking, else we have ceased thinking and have settled into being mere reflections of the thoughts of others. 

In fact, there are many truths about our universe that may not be understood by humanity until hundreds and maybe even thousands of years into the future - if this world lasts that long. In other words, we must all be careful not to cling to ideas, things, or even people in this life in a manner that obstructs us from becoming more enlightened. 

What do you cling to simply because you refuse to know something better?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Luke 18:15-27 Self-perception

15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

These verses continue the theme of humility, but as it relates to innocence. There is a difference between true humility and contrived humility. The Pharisee thought of humility as conforming his life to the commandments of God, yet without surrendering his heart to God. The sinner came to God 'just as he was' - a sinner - surrendering his life to God.

Babies are what they are. They are completely dependent on their parents for everything. There is no pretense. If they are happy, they smile and coo. If they are hungry or feel pain, they cry. They are continuously curious, seeking to learn as much as possible from their environment and parents. There is never a smile, when they really feel anger. There is never an expression of pretend anger just to conform to some tribal expectation. 

But this was not so much about the babies, as about the grown-ups bringing their babies to Jesus. The babies did not come on their own. The babies had no idea what their parents were up to, who Jesus was, nor why the disciples were angry. The disciples we angered that parents were obstructing the way of Jesus simply because they wanted the miracle worker to 'touch' their babies.

What did the mothers think would happen if Jesus touched their babies? Were their babies sick and needed healing? Or did the parents believe that the touch of Jesus would keep their babies from ever getting sick? Or did these mothers believe that contact with the assumed Messiah would orient their children to a life of religious service rather than crime?

Whatever their reasonings, Jesus allowed these parents to come to him with their babies. It didn't really matter what drove them to Jesus, but simply that they came. The parents, like their babies, came to Jesus 'just as they were'. The disciples focused on what they perceived as the Master's more important tasks and missed his love for people. 

When we obstruct others from coming to Jesus - regardless of their motives - we play the role of the master obstructionist - Satan. Let the people come. Let God judge the heart.

18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 

Jesus instantly bypassed the question to first address what was implied by the salutation. Maybe this was a common expression, but Jesus leveraged the opportunity to turn the ruler's question into a teachable moment - not merely for the ruler, but for all of us as well. 

What did the ruler mean by this greeting? Did he mean anything specific or was it merely a mindless, common greeting? Was the greeting intentionally phrased to manipulate the ego of Jesus or was it purposely dismissive of his divine nature?

Did Jesus use the phase to imply that he really was God in human flesh or was he attempting to dissuade all from thinking he was God that had become man simply because of his abilities to heal the sick?

Was the ruler trying to nail Jesus down on the requirements for salvation? Clearly, at this point in time, the some Jews believed in eternal life rather than, as did other Jews, that this life was all there was.

20 You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” 

The New Covenant had not yet been inaugurated. That would come at the cross. Jesus met the people where they were - under the Law - while preparing them for life under grace. 

Interestingly, Jesus quotes five of the last 6 commandments, leaving out the commandment to not covet. He also omitted the first 4 commandments that focused on love for God. Why? 

The next few verses answer that question. First, the ruler was a covetous man. Second, the ruler loved his wealth more than he loved God. 

The ruler, as Jesus appeared to know, had cherry-picked the commandments to suit his lifestyle. He had convinced himself that he was a ok with God, because he hadn't committed any of the vilest sins, yet he ignored the fact that he hadn't humbled himself before God as a sinner accepting that he needed to be fully dependent upon God alone, moment by moment.   

22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 

In these words Jesus not only highlighted the neglected commandment regarding coveting, but exposed the true nature of the ruler's heart. The ruler loved his possessions for more than he loved God, his neighbor, and the promise of eternal life. He loved what he had in the here-and-now rather than what he could have for eternity. He loved what he had in his walled up home, more than he loved the people outside his compound. 

23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 

It is not that Jesus requires all rich people to give all their possessions to the poor and to then become poor with those already in poverty. Rather, it is the willingness to cease clinging to one's possessions when others around us are in need. The love of money is the root of all evil. Money itself is not evil. Having money is not evil. It is not the amount of money that is in question here either. A poor person who has a dollar more than the poor person beside him in skid row, but clings to his dollar when his 'neighbor' is starving to death, has the same 'heart' problem that a person who clings to his millions.

Evil defines a person's heart that loves wrongly. 

26 They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

The disciples correctly discerned the problem. We are all selfish. We all cling to 'stuff' in one way or another. We cannot change the fact that being human is synonymous with being selfish. 

But, Jesus said that God can still save us. How? How can a naturally self-centered person be saved? How can we expect to keep all the commandments of God perfectly (Mt 5:48)?

We can be accounted perfect, though we are not, simply through faith in God's grace (Eph 2:8; Rom 4:3,5,9,10, 22). 

Curiously, when we humbly come to God 'just as we are', accepting God's grace through faith, God begins to rule our heart and we find peace in his kingdom. When we are at peace with God, we are free to receive the Spirit who truly is able to transform us into the image of the Son of Man.. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Luke 18:1-14 Humility

1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 

What did Jesus mean when he said that 'at all times (we) ought to pray and not lose heart'? 

First, prayer implies communion. Prayer is a two way conversation, unlike meditation. Thus prayer requires both a willingness to ask as well as to listen. 

Second, Christian prayer is to a Being we call God. Christians believe that they are speaking to the loving, all-powerful Creator of the whole universe. Thus, to pray implies being humble enough to listen and to obey.

Third, when Jesus said to 'pray at all times', he is telling those who claim to be his disciples that they must consciously choose to live in humble dependence upon God moment by moment, always talking to him and always listening for his guidance. In other words, we 'walk in the Spirit'. 

Fourth, when we walk with Christ, we can never lose heart because we never cease believing that God is with us, through whatever we face in this life. We are never alone. We are never without the guidance of the Spirit. Though God may not change our circumstances, he does change the way we deal with our circumstances. 

The key to all this is humility. If you believe in God, then walk humbly with him at all times. 

saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” 

This parable begins with two elements that represent the opposite of Christian belief. The judge in this story did 'not fear God and did not respect man'. Alternatively, Jesus told us that there are two great commandments, 'to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor.'  In other words, this judge was the antithesis of a Christian. It might also be said that he was oriented against Christ, thus was 'antiChrist'.

Now, even though the worldview of this judge was clearly antiChrist, he was still human. In his unconverted nature he could only be motivated by self-interest. The widow was driving him crazy with her requests, so he relinquished and gave her what she wanted - not because he was a good person who cares about her, but because he was a selfish person and wanted her out of his hair.

The question being raised thus far in this parable is, 'why do we do the good things we do?' Have we chosen to do good to others having been inspired by God to be compassionate or have we chosen to do good to others in order to satisfy some selfish desire within us?  

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 

Here is the comparison. If an unrighteous judge who is the antithesis of Christ can be moved to do 'good' to a persistent widow, what should we expect from our Creator God when we walk humbly and unceasingly in his Spirit?

Jesus tells us that if we humbly and unceasingly cry out to God, He will (1) bring about the justice we ask for, and (2) will do so without delay. 

The next questions, of course, are (1) is God's notion of justice the same as ours? and (2) what did Jesus mean when he said 'quickly'?  If we examine Rom.16:20, Rev.1:1 and Rev 22:6 for how the Greek word 'tachos' was applied in other contexts, we 'quickly' realize that 'soon' to God and 'soon' to us may differ in terms of time by several millennia, which would be consistent with the last phrase of verse 8 - 'when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?' This appears to be an odd phrase to add at the end of this particular parable, unless it was added later to intentionally shift our notion of 'quickly/soon' to the end of time. Justice will come, and it will come quickly, but quickly at the coming of the Son of Man. 

All this naturally raises another question. When is the coming of the Son of Man? In our last study we noted that the coming of the Son of Man was with lightning. We considered the interpretation that this 'coming' could be whenever the Spirit is poured out upon a newly converted soul. If the coming of the Son of Man is when a person receives Christ by faith, then the question, 'will he find faith on earth' makes more sense than to apply it to the end of time, because - as noted in verse 22-25 - Jesus was speaking to his disciples about what they will wish for after his death, yet prior to Pentecost. 

How, then, do we receive 'justice' at our conversion? When the Spirit comes like 'fire' into our hearts, the 'old person' is crucified (Rom 6:6) and we become citizens of the heavenly kingdom. We remain 'in this world, but are no longer of this world'. Justice is not the clobbering of our enemies, but the crucifixion of our hearts, changing us so that we now 'love our enemies'. We receive justice when we are justified by faith in God's grace. 

'But', you might say, 'I want justice in this world. I want my enemies in this world and in this time to be clobbered quickly.'  Yes, but that is the 'old person' way of thinking, not the 'new person in Christ' way of thinking. The 'justice' Jesus spoke about was the forgiveness of 'our' sin. When he forgave those who entrapped the woman caught in adultery, she received justice by being forgiven right then and there. Her accusers were not jailed, removed from their positions of power, excommunicated, kept from doing the same thing to others, nor immediately executed by a lighting bolt from heaven, Rather, the 'lightning' of the Spirit infused the heart of the woman when she received God's grace. That was Jesus' notion of 'justice' that comes very 'quickly'. Humility is found in accepting God's idea of justice and timing.

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 

In order to deepen his disciple's understanding of this point, Jesus shared an additional parable. In this case, both men were praying at the temple, but their prayers were not the same, nor received by heaven as the same. In other words, the location - being in the temple - did not make a difference in how efficacious their prayers were.

The Pharisee prayed without humility. He presented his own efforts at being good and expected God to reward him accordingly. The tax collector humbled himself before God and simply asked for mercy. The former defined justice as an temporal 'right' earned because of his good deeds, while the latter asked for justice as a spiritual gift of grace based solely on having a truly humbled and repentant heart. Again, justice was received quickly by the latter, but not by the former petitioner. Justice for the latter did not require God to destroy the former, but was based on crucifying the heart of the former. 

When I have the assurance that I am saved through grace by faith in Christ - I immediately have justice, though the world around me remains the same.

14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Verse 14 is the pièces de résistance. 'This man went to his house 'justified'. Why? Because he humbled himself before God rather than to have presented himself to God as better than others. For those who are citizens of the kingdom of God, justice is first being justified through faith in God's grace. What is destroyed is not our neighbor, but our self-centered approach to our neighbor. 

When we define justice as our neighbor receiving his/her just dues because they have hurt us or the ones we love, we have misunderstood the parables of Jesus. Justice can reign in our world only to the degree that the hearts of men are justified by faith. No more, no less. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 17:22-37 As in the Day

22 And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. 24 For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. 

According to Luke, Jesus said that 'the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed..because 'the kingdom of God is within you' (Lk 17:20,21). Later, Jesus reportedly said, that when we see the 'sign of the end' we can 'know that the kingdom of God is near' (Lk 21:25,31). How can we reconcile these seemingly opposite notions? Or can we?

First, note that in this passage Jesus was confirming that he would die. Second, he noted  what is commonly experienced after the death of a loved one - that his disciples would sorely miss the days when they walked beside him in the flesh. Thirdly, the disciples would be tempted to believe reports that he had been sighted here or there. But he warned them not to believe those reports - which might explain why they reacted the way they did when Mary reported seeing Jesus after his death (Lk 24:11). 

Then, in verse 24, Jesus spoke about his later appearing as a 'flash of lightning'.

25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 

Verse 25 orients us - ''but first'. First, Jesus will suffer and be rejected. These rather cryptic words imply that he would be killed. He was speaking about things that would happen in his generation.

Second, it will be life as usual afterwards, just as during the days when Noah built his ark. Noah warned the people as he built his ark, but no one paid much attention to his eccentric ways, until the day that Noah entered the completed ark and the flood came and destroyed everyone who had not entered the ark with him.

In other words, the return of Jesus will come suddenly, yet clearly as a flash of lightning, when the world is behaving as the world has always been behaving - selfishly.  

28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 

Jesus then reiterated this point of 'suddenness' by referring not only to the time of Noah, but also to the story of Sodom. The thing to focus on is not the specifics of Noah's day - destruction by a water, nor the specifics of Lot's day - destruction by fire and brimstone from heaven. Rather, the consistent theme noted in both OT references is that the appearing of Jesus will be 'sudden' and all the old, 'life as usual' ways will be 'destroyed'.

So far, from chapter 17, we know that the 'kingdom of God' is not coming with observable signs because it is something that happens within us. If we are looking for something tangible, something external to our own heart, we will be misled. The kingdom is not something that Jesus must build in our world, but a relationship with Jesus that he builds within each heart. Do not wait for him to do something in the world. Rather, let him do his work within you. 

In fact, you will be living each day as usual, expecting God to intervene in our world in some miraculous way, when suddenly the light goes on in your heart. You 'suddenly' see the whole world differently. The aha comes as quickly as a flood and is as awe-inspiring as a lightning bolt across the sky. Our 'old man' is destroyed and the 'new man' is created. Jesus was referring to the conversion of the heart.

Zacharias discovered that even as an old man, he and his wife could bear a child - John. Nicodemus discovered that even when old, he could be born anew. In the power of the Spirit we can 'lay aside our old self' (Eph 4:22), that our 'old man' can be 'destroyed' (Rom 6:6). We will suddenly experience the 'baptism of the Spirit and fire' (Lk 3:16; Acts 2:3; 1 Cor 3:15; Heb 12:29).

30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 

If 'the day that the Son of Man is revealed' is primarily about an individual encountering the sudden, converting power of the Spirit, then why the warning about 'Lot's wife'? 

Maybe the apostle Paul answered this question best in his letter to the Galatians. "Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh" (Gal 3:3)?   

In other words, when we have truly experienced the Spirit, don't be hoodwinked into returning to a life guided by the flesh, the local culture, or even our childhood religion. The Spirit must continue to be our guide. We rightly must live 'in the world', as noted by Jesus command to the 10 lepers (Lk 17:14), but we must 'not be of the world'.  

33 Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. 36 [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] 37 And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

The mistake many new born Christians often make is to be fearful of the very Spirit that has touched their heart. Like Judas, we experience the miracle, but then attempt to tame it and control it, unwittingly destroying ourselves. Alternatively, if we remain dependent only upon the voice of the Spirit for life, we finally truly begin to live. 

Whenever we attempt to preserve 'this' life, we unwittingly lose life - as with the rich young ruler. He attempted to 'suspend disbelief' by creating his own reality and he did everything to keep others - like Lazarus - from messing up the reality he had created for himself within the walls of his compound. 

What did Jesus mean about those who are taken and those who are left behind? The disciples asked this same questions (v. 37). Jesus replied, telling them that those who are taken will be brought to 'his dead body' (Message Bible) - i.e. at the foot of the cross (Jn 12:24). When the Spirit finally converts the heart, the 'fire of the Spirit' destroys our sin. We are set free (Rom 6:7).  With this in mind, Paul wrote that he 'died daily' (1 Cor 15:31).