Thursday, May 31, 2012

The value of the beloved lost - Luke 15 - The lost sheep. The lost coin. The prodigal son.

Luke 15:1-2 (ESV)
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus loved the outcast. He loved radically, sacrificially, completely. His love was big enough to encompass the  scoundrels and sinners, even at the cost of his own reputation with the proper religious and conservative mainstream society. His life was a demonstration of the values of the Kingdom of God, the coming new order inaugurated in his life, planted in his followers by the Holy Spirit in faith, and consummated at his return in glory. His life of sacrifice heralded a new age where everything changes from the inside out. In God's just world, the last will be first.

Luke chapter fifteen, one of the most well known and beloved of the New Testament, tells three stories of Jesus' love for those found in dark corners and alleyways. Three parables illustrate the value of the lost and sometimes forgotten. God seeks the lost, forgives the repentant sinner, redeems the broken.

The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)

The first parable is most closely connected to Jesus' listeners. He begins with a question, "which of you . . . ". He  had done the same at the beginning of chapter 14 (Luke 14:5 - see notes) to illustrate that these religious elite, no matter how judgmental, really do understand love and compassion when pressed. With his question, he graciously offers to his critics the opportunity to submit their hard hearts to his teachings.

He reminds them that the loss of even one of their sheep is enough for them to leave ninety-nine others to go looking for it. Upon finding the one lost sheep, they would call their friends for a party at their joy in its return. Jesus knows that even those who seem not to have compassion or joy would express it when personally moved. But God is much greater than the religiously repressed. His compassion for the lost is great enough to send his own Son among them. His joy at their salvation is enough for Jesus to endure the cross.

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The Pharisees, who frequently had Jesus as a dinner guest, saw no value in Jesus spending time with those they called sinners. But Jesus says that the joy at one of those lost and forgotten people coming to salvation is greater than a thousand parties with the religious elite.

The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)

This story is very similar to the first. Jesus keeps his illustration in the realm of property rather than people. But this story is still one degree removed from the story of the sheep. While the first story asked "which of you . . .", this one asks the male listeners to imagine a woman who loses money.

The simple story begins with a woman in possession of ten silver coins. Each of these coins represent a day's wage. For the sake of our understanding, and keeping with the round numbers, we can imagine $1000 in ten $100 bills.

In our interpretation, we can imagine the woman discovers her pile of bills has been scattered by the cat, and only finds nine when she gathers them up.

The woman is not satisfied by finding 90%. Nine perfectly good $100 bills is not enough when she knows there is another somewhere in her house. In this moment, what is the value of that lost bill? It is marked with exactly the same value as each of the other nine, yet only the lost one would consume the woman's thoughts. Her search for the bill would be relentless until the bill was found. The one bill outside of her possession moves her more than nine in her wallet.

In the story, the woman calls for her friends to tell them about how happy she is at finding her last bill. Today I would imagine a Facebook status update combined with an instagram photo of the lost bill and where it was found. The other nine would hardly get a mention.

Jesus love was big enough to encompass the hypocrites and the religious elite. But his time and his attention was focused more ardently upon the lost and the forgotten.

Luke 5:31-32 (ESV)
Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

(That Jesus would use a woman to represent God in a parable yet again is notable in his culture. Click here to see the parable of the yeast for another example. Click here to read about Jesus and women in Luke.)

The Lost Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The last of the three stories is the longest and most detailed. The first two were more like simple illustrations, each introduced with a question to suggest the listeners could relate. But the story of the prodigal son is a complete one, with characters and relationships and a plot. The story of the relationship of a father and his children is universal. In the prodigal son's brother, Jesus explores for the first time in the three stories what it might be like to be one of the nine other coins, or one of the ninety-nine sheep left in the man's search for the lost one. In the first two stories, the grumbling cynics are invited to relate to the character who experienced loss, as God does. But at the end of this story, the religious elite that judged Jesus at the beginning of the chapter find themselves in the character of the brother not lost. How will they treat their prodigal brothers?

In this story, a father's son approaches him for his inheritance before his time. In doing so, he trades the value of life with his father for cash, grossly under appreciating the true value of his father to the point of insult. To this ungrateful wretch, his father would be worth more to him dead than alive. This young man is lost before he even left. He is bankrupt before he even spends a penny.

People are not $100 bills, silver coins, or sheep. The first two stories were short and pithy illustrations. But the truth is that a relationship lost is far more complicated than a coin or a pet. The grief of betrayal runs deep. The scars of abandonment are long to heal. While the listeners may easily imagine searching widely for lost property, they may just as easily imagine a father wanting to write off a son such as this one for the pain he caused him. Though a few may lay themselves emotionally bare to search or wait, just as many fathers may have preferred to let the matter of their lost son go, rather than hold onto hope in a situation beyond their control. But this father's unconditional and patient love remains. Love always hopes.

The wretched son further insults his father by leaving with his money, and spending it all on parties and prostitutes. The amount of money he had judged as worth more than his father was not worth enough to invest or steward. He had not left for any reason but selfishness.

When a famine hits his land, he takes a disgusting labour job. Since pigs were considered ceremonially unclean animals to Jesus' audience, there probably wasn't a much more humiliating job Jesus could describe than tending to swine.

But the son comes to his senses. At this point of conviction, he still does not see his father for who he is. He imagines returning to him in desperation, hoping only to be treated well enough to survive as one of his father's servants. He imagines his father washing his hands of him. The son has certainly done enough for the father to be justified in doing so. But this father is exceptional.

The father sees the son returning from a far way off. His eyes have turned back to the road frequently since his son left. His father did not wait for his son to make it to the house. He ran toward him and met him on the road. Not only this, he embraces his son. Both the running and the embrace must have surprised Jesus' listeners, as a proper landowner with servants would certainly not be known to act this way. But this is a different father.

Before the son can beg for scraps, the father places his robe, ring, and sandals on him. These are the symbols of family authority. He is welcome back wholly and in every way. Not even a time of trial is suggested before placing him relationally and positionally back in the family exactly as he was before. Nothing is said of repayment of the inheritance squandered. Instead, the father pulls his servants away from their work and throws a party, giving his son the choicest dinner reserved for the most honoured guests.

The son stood before the father and his servants wearing his robe, ring and sandals, and smelling of pigs. He hasn't bathed or shaved. He probably didn't look like a guest of honour. But all is forgiven. His value is in the love of his father, not his own choices or material worth.

He is loved.

He is forgiven.

That is enough.

Luke 15:24 (ESV)
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

In all the time the younger son was gone, what did his older brother feel watching his dad spend so much time waiting and hoping for a brother that had abandoned them?

The older brother is the religious legalist. He is the loyal and the hard-working. Upon returning home to the party, it isn't joy for his brother he feels, but resentment that such attention was not being paid to him.

But the value of the older brother was no more in his faithful and consistent hard work than the younger brother's had been in his foolishness and wretched ingratitude. The father's love was enough for both, and it was in this love that both sons could find their true value.

And for the father, one son at home would never have been enough knowing one was lost. To suggest he was fortunate that he at least still had his eldest would have been an insult. He longed for the present relationship of his lost son. The redemption was even greater than the loss.

And here is where Jesus points his finger at the true feelings of the religious elite. It is not for the sake of righteousness that they are angered by the lost. It is self-righteous elitism that leads us to jealousy for the unconditional love shown to those who don't seem to deserve it.

If God's love can encompass the most heinous of sinners, what personal value or self worth can we then put in our own righteous acts? The truth of the radical love of the gospel is that our identity and value come to us as a gift from the unchanging love of our heavenly Father, through and through, from beginning to end. Whether we remain, or run away, or are returning in rags, his love and acceptance for us is sure.

This is good news for those of us in rags.

And for those that remain, we show our understanding of the love of our father when we show it sacrificially to our brothers and sisters in the dark corners and alleys. When we know our value is in the love of our Father, we are free to stop striving, give up, and rejoice along with him as our family returns.

Luke 15:31-32 (ESV)
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Luke 19:10 (ESV)
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.


v2 – “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
v20 – the father RAN to his son.
We should rejoice at the salvation of the lost.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 Reasons Why Men Should Not Lead or Teach in Church

I'm so sick and tired of the arguments over men and women's roles in church. Clearly, only women are truly suited for the ministry and leadership. Men need to learn their place, and start acting according to the special unique supportive role for which God made them.

Here's why men should NOT be ordained to the ministry:

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.


I'm a pirate.

That's why I stole the above list from this guy. 

But that guy stole it from these folks.

And they stole it from this lady.

And she gives full credit to Dr. David M. Scholer, a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Jesus, the awkward dinner guest - Luke 14 - The cost of discipleship and the Great Reversal

Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus continues to challenge his disciples with the cost of following him. His is the way of the cross (Luke 9:23-27), execution as an insurrectionist at the hands of the empire. A life of true Justice and humble Love is also a life of resistance. The law of the new Kingdom is to love one's neighbour as one's self, to give one's life in service to the poor, outcast, and marginalized.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus reminds his disciples of the cross again (vv25-35). But if they do count the cost and follow, they will be a salt in the world, a preservative sustaining life, and a flavour of the Kingdom to Come.

Luke 14:12-24 (ESV)
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Jesus is a tough dinner guest. Luke records frequent awkward conversations with religious people around their dinner tables. This chapter repeats the theme. Once again, Jesus is confronts the religious elite with the radical difference between the Kingdom of God as they conceive it, and the Truth and Justice and Freedom that he demonstrates.

The proper religious folk still prefer to demonstrate their faithfulness by following their interpretations of godly customs blindly, whatever the consequence. When given the opportunity once again to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus challenges the faithful to consider the value of rules that contradict living according to love and freedom (vv1-6).

In verse 5, he reminds his hosts that they would certainly help one of their own animals in need on the Sabbath. It must be right to be compassionate to a person in need, even if it seems to contradict the strict literal rules of religion. His brief analogy here is expanded to three stories in chapter 15, the lost coin, sheep, and son, and ties the two chapters together (click here to read Luke 15, and here to read notes on the "lost" parables).

(the second link will work when the notes are posted on May 31, 2012)

It seems it may have been trendy to have Popular Rabbi Jesus visiting your home. Perhaps he was seen as hip and bohemian. Certainly he was popular. Thousands listened to him. But when alone among other contemporary teachers, Jesus did not pander. Instead, he challenges them to open their homes to the crowds whom he loves, to expand their hospitality far beyond their own benefit, even sacrificially for the benefit of others.

Such is the order of the Kingdom of God. It is costly, but it is worth infinitely more.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the next chapter reveals their continued misunderstanding. The religious elite have no complaint with Jesus eating with them or they him, no matter how awkward a guest he may be. But when Jesus demonstrates exactly what he had been teaching them simply by sharing life with the scallywags and scoundrels, they simply cannot abide it.

Luke 15:1-2 (ESV)
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Such judgment and loss of reputation is only one part of the cost of following in the footsteps of Jesus. Would we rather be counted among the poor, or the wealthy? Would we rather have a spotless reputation, or be known as a friend of the outcasts?

Jesus demonstrates the love of the Kingdom as his love for sinners. A love at his own expense. A love even for us. Even for you. Will we do the same?


The first part reminds my wife of Godspell.
vv12-14 – Again Jesus is teaching about taking care of the poor.
When you are generous with the poor, God will repay you.
vv25-35 – It seems that Jesus is saying to take great consideration and care before being his disciple.
Jesus’ teachings are a bit more cryptic in this gospel. Perhaps this had something to do with Luke being a doctor. Maybe he was speaking to an upper crust crowd. Maybe he’s challenging them to be generous because he’s writing to people who have a lot.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Overgrow the Government - Luke 13 - The Coming Living Kingdom of God

(Click here to read Luke 13)
(Click here to read yesterday's entry for more context)

Luke 13:18-21 (ESV)
18  He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21  It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

Mustard bushes are not pleasant plants. They are scrappy and tough little weeds, growing like short woody trees, overtaking any space where they are not kept at bay. In Palestine, they were known to take root and grow over graveyards if not tended well.

Yeast, similarly, does not have a good reputation. On the contrary, it is almost exclusively used to represent sin in the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus himself used it to describe the hypocrisy of the pharisees in only the previous chapter (Luke 12:1 - “leaven” is yeast Luke 12 notes). Jews often fasted yeast during seasonal festivals to represent repentance. (It is also notable that he should make the unusual choice of using a woman to represent God, but I don't have space here for that. Click here.) Yet Jesus uses yeast to describe the coming Kingdom of God, wherein the great reversal sets all things toward God's justice from the inside out.

Jesus describes the woman as “hiding” the yeast in the dough. Both this yeast and the mustard plant are hidden, and both do their work outside of the light, but surely and steadily. Both are alive, bursting from within and affecting everything around them.

Such is it with the Kingdom of God. The seed of the Kingdom, the living Holy Spirit of God, is planted in the disciples of Jesus. From the inside out they are changed. Their attitudes, desires, and motivations change. Their actions change. By their testimony, others also reject the sinful and corrupt spirit of the world, and join the living resistance. They become a body, working together in new, just community contrary to the power and control of the empire. As they grow and change, so do the affects of their lives change the very foundations of the empire in which they live. The roots of the living Kingdom wedge wider the cracks of the concrete and barbed wire until the entire dead structure comes crumbling down, revealing a living, verdant garden of True Community in Holy Spirit Kingdom life.

But this good news has a sharp other edge. Those that cling to the cold, empty deadness of the old way will perish along with it. Those that prefer the injustice of the selfish world and their selfish and controlling heart within it will pass away just as it will.

Luke 13:24-30 (ESV)
24  “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25  When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’, then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

These are extremely dramatic and sobering words. Yet it would be far less than the love that Jesus preaches for him to not warn people of the judgment that comes with justice served. Yes, there will be a great reversal. Be sure that you choose now which side of the line you stand on, or the good news of the Kingdom will not be good for you. Jesus said that the Kingdom was entered as though we are children. He said it is good news for the poor and hungry. He shares it in food and healing among the oppressed masses. Better to be among the poor, the weak, and the oppressed, seeking their justice as the reversal occurs.

And to make a statement of belief in the justice of God is not enough. If we truly believe that the God we serve is Just, Good, and Loving, it will be seen in our actions. Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree cut down when it does not bear fruit (vv6-9). This is not burdensome religion, not rules or legislation by which we judge ourselves worthy. It is the reality of fruit borne from our lives when the seed of the living Kingdom is planted in our hearts.

The difference of kingdom priorities is illustrated in the story of Jesus healing the disabled woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). A powerless woman is set free from a debilitating disability by the power of God. Such is the demonstration of the Good News of the Kingdom. In response, a man from the controlling powers of the religious elite commands the people not to come for healing on the Sabbath any longer. For him, the rule of rest on this Holy single day is more important than the lifetime of freedom for the woman who was set free. The story describes him as “indignant” (v14).

Jesus sharply condemns him for his hypocrisy and control.

The people rejoice (v17). It is for them that the Kingdom of God is good news.

The religious elites, however, are put to shame. They are on the wrong side of the coming reversal. Unless they change, the good news for them is not good at all.

But Jesus does not rejoice in the judgment or destruction of those who perish along with the old corrupt way. Chapter 13 ends with his lament over those who reject the good news of true Justice, Life, and Peace. He and his warnings are a message of love.

John 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


v17 – Jesus interpreted the law differently than the Pharisees. This verse emphasizes his compassion and love by which he interpreted the law, and the delight of the people at his interpretation.
vv22-30 - Will many be saved? Will everyone?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Patience, Anxiety, and Resistance - Luke 12 – Living Free and without Fear in a Contrary World

(Click here to read Luke 12)

Luke 12:1-3 (ESV)
In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2  Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Luke describes a great reversal. Jesus travels Galilee and then Jerusalem, gathering followers and preaching to the masses about a New Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, where everything is different. Mountains are brought down. Valleys are brought up. Rulers are removed. The humble are exalted. The proud are humbled. The rich are poor. The poor are blessed. The blind see. The deaf hear. Sins are forgiven. People are set free.

Along with this radical message of freedom, he also pronounces deep warnings for those on the wrong side of the coming change. Jesus warns the oppressive rich and comfortable that their time of laughter is coming to an end (chapter 6 - and notes). He pronounces judgment on towns that refuse his messengers (chapter 10 - and notes). So far, he has reserved his strongest and most specific warnings of judgment for the religious and political elite, the pharisees and lawyers, whom he calls hypocrites, unmarked graves, bowls buffed shiny on the outside but filled with greed (chapter 11 - and notes).

This is the scene we enter in this passage. Jesus does not leave his words of judgment hanging alone. He turns to the crowds, and explains the other side of the story. The rules and striving and control of the religious elite don't have the answer, but with the crowds Jesus willingly shares the freedom and good news of the Kingdom of God.

After warning them with a quick summary that they should not be like the pharisees in their hypocrisy, he tells the crowds that the truth of their inner lives will eventually be revealed. There is no need to put on a face as the religious people do. God knows our hearts anyway. We should instead humbly present ourselves as we are. In faith, we are forgiven and justified. In the kingdom, we do not judge and no one judges us. So we do not need to be afraid to be seen as the people God is making us. We are free. Neither need we fear the judgment of those who live outside of Kingdom principles. The most they can do is kill us. God justifies or condemns eternally. The reversal will set it right (vv4-7). He knows us utterly. The words and actions of the unrighteous and judgmental toward us are meaningless.

Jesus tells us that we will, in fact, be brought before the corrupt and controlling powers of the world to justify our free lives under the authority of the King. Jesus assures us that the Holy Spirit inside the believer will give them the words to say before the kings of the world (vv8-12). No fear.

The Kingdom is here, inaugurated in the life of Jesus on earth. But the Kingdom is also coming, to be consummated upon his return. Though the order is changing now, and we see it and participate in its change, a day will come when all will be put right, and justice will truly be finally served. Jesus promises the crowds that he will return, and they should remain ready (vv35-48).

He encourages his followers to keep watch on the reversal, the great struggle between the corrupt power of the orders of the world and the Kingdom of justice and peace that is growing from within. He describes family being torn apart as people choose sides in an epic battle toward the end (vv49-53). His warnings until now are not without reason. Those that seek to keep the selfish and corrupt order will not give up their power easily. But he encourages us to continue to persevere in peace and justice, submitted to God. If we keep our eyes on the sky, we know the end of the great reversal is coming (54-59). Do not remain in fear and anger toward one another. True justice is coming.

It is sobering to be reminded that this already-but-not-yet time of change does not come easily. It is hopeful to remember that the change is happening. We need not fear or lose heart. We are justified, forgiven, and freed by our faith in Jesus Christ. Like the woman with the issue of blood, and the sinful woman who is forgiven because of their faith, we are saved (Greek “sozo”), a present reality. God is making us fully whole, and the world along with us.


In the midst of such a resistance, Jesus says these beautiful words about living as agents of the Just Kingdom of God now.

Luke 12:22-31 (ESV)
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

If God is my sole master, at the expense of wealth and earthly treasure, I must also trust that he will also be my sole provider. If earthly treasure is my master, I will be a slave to worry. If God is my master and provider, I will have nothing to worry about.

Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.

God gave us life. He gave us a body. Of course he can sustain it. Do not worry.

Philippians 4:6 – . . . do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

We can’t drive out worry with possessions, because possessions are just another thing to worry about. We cannot drive it out anxiety with striving for financial freedom or worldly acclaim, because these strivings are anxiety themselves. They become a temporary and uncertain foundation, because all stuff is temporary and uncertain. We can’t drive out cares with cares.

Anxiety always exists in tomorrow, while our things are only to be used for today (daily bread). There is no insurance in our things.

Jesus is speaking to very poor people, and for those who are not poor, he’s calling them to leave everything and become poor in themselves. These are the people he instructs not to worry about what they will eat tomorrow.

Our lives are small, weak, and short in comparison to the might and eternity of the living God. But God is willing to clothe the grass, which is gone in a moment. Of course he will take care of us. Grass is considered the least important of plants, bundled and burned for cheap fuel without thought. Throughout scripture, it represents the shortness and frailty of life.

If we believe God is our judge, provider, and king, we do not need to seek approval from people (Luke 12:1-12). God is our total satisfaction. We do not even look at our income as having come from our own efforts. We are simply obedient, and God is our provider.

This is a different Kingdom, a different order, a different way of being that requires a faith in a just God who really will fulfill his promises. If we do, we need not fear though the world be against us. We need not be anxious though our strange lifestyle of resistance marks us for fools in a world struggling for power. We need not hide under masks of hypocrisy, because our true judge knows our hearts and calls us righteous. We need not judge, because we know we are all equal both in our skullduggery and salvation by God's grace.

Psalm 23 (ESV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the


vv20-21 – Our riches are before God. Earthly riches are worthless.
vv22-34 – God is our provider. This is why we do not need to worry or store up treasure on Earth.
v34 - Do not worry about tomorrow. Heavenly Father knows what you need.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Woe to the Hypocrites! Jesus lays it down on the religious and political elite - Luke 11 part 2

More dramatic and intense than the woes to the rich of Luke chapter 6 are the severe and dramatic warnings Jesus levels toward the Pharisees and lawyers, the cultural religious and political elite, at the end of chapter 11.

Luke 11:37-38 (ESV)
37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

When Jesus is judged by a pharisee for not following the custom of ritual washing before a meal, it seems that he's finally had enough. Whether because they've followed him looking for criticisms (Luke 5:30-6:11 and notes), or seem to honestly come upon them at dinner parties (Luke 7:36-50 and notes), Jesus can't make one decision trivial or righteous without some comment by these cultural watchdogs. And he's had it.

Here come the woes.

Luke 11:39-41
And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

WOE #1 – You have greed instead of integrity (vv39-41)
Jesus uses the metaphor of cleaning a dish only on the outside to look good for others. But he goes further than just suggesting the inside of their dishes must be cleaned. He says that the contents should be given to the poor. So this double edged sword suggests that not only are their outer lives a false front, but that their inner lives are full of greed and self indulgence. Only generosity can cure this ill.
(Jesus doesn't actually say “woe” here. He just calls them fools. He's still warming up. Some put this first woe with the next one, making only six woes total.)

Luke 11:42
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

WOE #2 – You have wrong priorities (v42)
The pharisees interpreted every action of the law. Defining every command to the finest detail. Yet in the details, they'd forgotten the entire point of the law to begin with. In Chapter 10, a lawyer tries this same trick, asking Jesus the specifics of who he is commanded to love or not love when told he must love his neighbour. Jesus did not allow him the control and comfort of a perfect legal boundary. The purpose and point of the law is love and justice. Beyond that is missing the point.

Luke 11:43
43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

WOE #3 – You are people pleasers (v43)
It is the nature of the empires of the world to seek the affirmation of others. It is the nature of the Kingdom of God to be a servant of all. In taking praise and honour from people, they are stealing credit that belongs to God alone, and tempting others with idolatry. There is only one Rabbi, and we are all disciples. The humility of discipleship in Jesus is greater than the greatest honour of being a teacher or spiritual leader in the world.

Luke 11:44
44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

WOE #4 – Your influence makes people unclean without their knowledge (v44)
Jesus tells the pharisees they are like unmarked graves. This is a terrible accusation. The Jewish law said that to come into contact with a grave made a person ceremonially unclean. Jesus is suggesting that the pharisee's influence actually makes people unclean before God, but the appearance of holiness and religion makes it appear as though this is not so. Their laws and regulations do nothing to purify a person, but they do ease the conscience. This would make a person even worse off then they were to begin with. It's a double hypocrisy.

Here is where a lawyer speaks up, saying that Jesus is insulting them as well.

Luke 11:45
45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”

Rather than letting up, he turns his fury from the pharisees onto the lawyers that accompany them.

Luke 11:46
46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.

WOE #5 – Your religious rules are unbearable (v46)
By quantifying every detail of the people's lives, the lawyers had taken a faith intended to let people know the God that had set them free from slavery, and turned its practices into a slavery itself. What a perversion. Ironically, as “experts” in the law, they likely knew ways to follow its letter without the same depth of consequence, just as a person with greater resources may do today. This is probably why Jesus implies that the burdens aren't as great for themselves.

Luke 11:47-51
47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.

WOE #6 – You are as guilty as your forefathers (vv47-51)
Jesus accuses the lawyers of being the same as all the generations before them who had ignored the pleas of prophets who had called on the people to return to justice. He is crying out in the same way for people to leave behind their control and striving and burdensome selfish powergames for the truth of the gospel of the Kingdom found in himself. They reject him as others rejected the prophets of old. Their guilt is the same.

Luke 11:52
52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

WOE #7 – Your perversion of scripture has hidden the truth of salvation from yourself and all you teach (v52)
Because the lawyers had turned the faith intended to teach of justice and love into a meaningless set of minute personal rituals, the path of faith in Jesus had been obscured. The scriptures revealed Jesus, but they had turned them into an impossible set of rituals. They were self deceived, and they in turn deceived others. Woe indeed.

The pharisees and lawyers are not convicted by Jesus' angry sermon. Their efforts to trap him are redoubled.

(Jesus is not given the right to remain silent.)

Luke 11:53-54
53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Prayer, Persistence, and Excuses - Luke 11 part 1

(Click here to read Luke 11)

Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

Prayer is very important in Luke's gospel. Jesus spends a night praying before choosing his disciples. He spends a night praying before asking them who they say he is (chapter 9).

When the disciples see him praying, they ask him to teach them. The prayer he teaches them is commonly called “the Lord's Prayer, or “Our Father.

"Our Father" is a corporate prayer. Our daily bread. Our debts. Our debtors. Lead us. Deliver us. Though we often imagine prayer as a personal, private activity, Jesus' prayer is one to be shared. It is corporate. Even when praying alone, we pray in unity.

We are a family, and God is our Father. Yahweh was called “our Father” in the Old Testament as well (Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:6, Psalm 103:13, Hosea 11:1). Only Jesus called him “my Father”.

To pray for God's will to be done is as submitted and humble a Kingdom prayer as can be prayed. This is the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemene “not my will, but yours be done”, before going to the cross.

Our daily bread – We pray for God’s provision for everyone, everywhere, remembering that we are his body. We remember that everything we have to sustain our life has been provided by God. We do not need to store up food for ourselves (James 5:1-6), but trust God to provide for us each day. Also, when we each pray that God would provide for “us”, we give opportunity for God to remind us that it is often through us that he wants to provide. When our cupboards are full, it may seem strange to pray for God's daily provision. But as a corporate prayer, it applies. When one person is still hungry, we can still pray.

Notice that this verse shows that this is a daily prayer.

Daily repentance. Praying for God to forgive others (our debts) will lead us also to forgive others.

God does not tempt us with evil – James 1:13. Though James also says in the same chapter that we should consider in trials to have “pure joy” (1:2), we are still to pray that God would keep us from trials that could tempt us from him. In the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus told his disciples to pray so that they would not be tempted (Matthew 26:41). Prayer is essential for remaining in Jesus.

We rely on God both for forgiveness when we fail, and for the grace to have victory over temptation. Whether we fly or fail and are forgiven, it is all the work of Jesus. His is the power and the glory. Forever. Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:11-13 – the oft quoted scribal addition (for yours is the kingdom, and the power . . .) is scripturally sound.

Continuing his teaching on prayer, Jesus reminds the disciples to be persistent in their prayer, using a parable of a friend making a request at an inconvenient time. This isn't to say that God is unjust or that we ever inconvenience him, but that our prayers needn't be passive. We pray as though we truly expect God to answer. Passivity isn't humble. We can persistently pray “your will be done” with humility.

In contrast to the humility of an open hand and heart praying for a good God to forgive and provide daily, the pharisees and crowds demand signs and make excuses for not following Jesus' teachings. The pharisees accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan. That they would consider that authority and power such as Jesus possesses - to heal and feed and teach and set free – would come from Satan shows the depth of their own corruption. In fact, Jesus himself says that the darkness is in their own eyes. They are unable to see the truth of the light of the freedom Jesus demonstrates. With their eyes closed, their spirits are darkened.

When asked for a sign to prove his identity, Jesus refuses. He has willingly taught, healed, and performed miracles. He has commissioned disciples with his authority. He has been transfigured before his friends. But in the presence of those demanding a sign with dark eyes and hard hearts, Jesus will not oblige. The prophets have spoken. It is enough.

Jesus' call to come into God's way is not abstract, it is not inward and individual. It is not psychic or academic. It is active. It is real. It is now. He does not accept excuses. He calls to surrender.

Luke 11:28 - Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!

(part 2 of Luke 11 - Woes to the Hypocrites - will be posted in one hour.)