Friday, December 12, 2014

Luke 8:9-15 The Secrets of the Kingdom

9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand." 11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Reflection: What I am interested in today is Jesus as he teaches about the kingdom of God. In Luke's gospel he uses the term "kingdom of God", whereas Matthew uses the term "kingdom of heaven". Kingdom of God means, where God rules or reigns. Therefore the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom where God rules help us to see how God's kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Dallas Willard teaches us in the "Divine Conspiracy" that the kingdom of the heavens is closer to us than we think, for God is with us and imminent. He is not just a distant deity. So what does this mean for us today?

1. Some people understand this kingdom and some people are blind to it. It is not as though God wants to hide it, as those who seek will find it. He is not just playing hide and seek games with us. The disciples asked Jesus the meaning of the parable so they were seeking.

2. There are some who seek it and are close to finding it, only to be thwarted by something outside of themselves that prevents the secrets of the kingdom from manifesting itself through them. In this passage the culprits are the devil, the time of testing, and the worries and concerns of this world.

3. The seed that falls on the good soil produces a crop. Those whose seed roots and stays rooted multiply the seed, which is the Word. The Word is everything we can know about God. Jesus came as the Word to completely reveal what God is like. In that sense He completely brought in the kingdom of God in everything he said and did.

So what then is a good and productive life that will bring in the secret of the kingdom of God to earth as we wait its completion when Jesus returns. It is those who hear the word and obey it. By hearing the Word and obeying we stay rooted and mature and become what we were created for. See Colossians 1:28!

Where is God calling you to obey His Word, as you follow Jesus today?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Luke 8:1-8 Good Seed

The Parable of the Sower
8 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

While Jesus will offer an explanation of the parable of the sower, it is good to read the story before the interpretation as this is one of the purposes for using parables to teach. The purpose is that the listener will struggle to find the spiritual truth from the short story. Usually the story is about something the hearer is familiar with, which provides a context for illuminating a spiritual truth. Meaning Jesus doesn't just "spoon feed" people, but wants them to have some skin in the game. For those who seek will understand, but those who are not interested probably would not get it anyways.

So as we grapple with this very important parable, note one thing first. See the women of various walks of life following Jesus, and supporting he and the disciples with the means at their disposal. This would be easy to miss, but for women to follow a rabbi would have been unheard of. Jesus is lifting up women and illustrating those who seek will find regardless of age, sex, or ethnic or religious background. Now back to the parable.

One important principle in interpreting parables, which is good to be reminded of, is that they usually point to one main punchline or main spiritual truth. In this case, a farmer went out sowing as farmers do. And he was sowing indiscriminately, realizing only some of the seed would fall on fertile soil. He spent time sowing seed, not necessarily worrying about the soil condition. What is not too clear is what contributes to the good soil condition. We only learn it is the kind of soil that when the seed roots it bears fruit a hundreds times over. Meaning the one seed in good soil more than pays for itself many times over. So the conclusion might be the more seed the farmer sows, the better chance of falling on good soil, and the higher chance of a bigger yield. Make sense?

And so what is Jesus teaching here? What is the main point he wants us to grapple with? He gives us a clue at the beginning when the text says, "Jesus came announcing the Good News of the Kingdom". Certainly the hundred fold crop was Good News to the farmer, so what is the connection? Here is what I think. The Seed is the Word of God. Specifically the Word, who was Jesus, who came to lead people into God's kingdom and then live according to its principles which he illustrates his whole life. The Good News is that this is the best kind of life both here and also in the life to come. The reality is that we don't control the soil condition. Only God does.

So what can we do? Preach the Word in season and out of season. Pray for those who you love that their hearts might be receptive to the seed being planted. Each of us can sow seeds in different ways based on the spiritual gift we have received. Paul illustrates this when he writes, "I planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who provides the growth. So neither the one who plants or waters is anything. It is God who provides the growth." Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Luke 7:36-50 Love and Forgiveness

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

This is one of the few stories which is told in all four gospels. What makes Luke's version of it unique is that he adds that the woman who anointed Jesus' feet had lived a sinful life. And of course in this story what this adds is Jesus' teaching on forgiveness. When the Pharisees object to his interaction with her since she is a "sinner", he uses the opportunity to teach them on the true nature of sin and how he has come to deal with it.

The first thing we can say is that although it says she lived a sinful life, are not all people sinful? It just so happened that her sin was more publicly known probably as it had to do with immorality. But the reality is we all have lived sinful lives. While some are more public and obvious than others, if we hadn't all lived sinful lives Jesus wouldn't have had to die for ALL of us. Jesus didn't just die for those who lived "sinful lives", but all those born with a sinful nature which is manifested in lots of different ways in each of our lives.

But the real point of the story is the love this woman shows to Jesus, seen by her extravagant act of worship and adoration. Keep in mind she came into the house of a group of Pharisees. The Pharisees probably didn't think they would be getting into this situation when they invited Jesus into their home. But the point Jesus makes is none of them made any gesture to symbolize their own need for a Savior. Jesus said, "you didn't even anoint my head" a sign of worship. But the question Jesus wants to focus on is why she did this. And what he infers is that she offered this worship because she knew Jesus was the only one who could forgive her of her sinful life. And when she experienced this radical forgiveness it sparked radical devotion. The Pharisees, thinking they had not sinned very much but were in charge of pointing out others sin, kept Jesus at arms length rather than kneeling down and asking for that same forgiveness.

So the question for today is who are you more like? Or, maybe you were like the woman at one point, but your love has waned since you have been a Christian for a long time. You have lost a sense of that radical devotion as a result of that radical forgiveness you have been offered and receive by faith in Jesus. It is easy to think we are not as bad as the person who lives a "sinful life", but the reality is Jesus' death for our sin is needed as bad as the sin of any notorious sinner.

Take some time to think about just how much you have been forgiven, and may that lead you to fall at Jesus' feet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Luke 7:24-35 The Least in the Kingdom is Greater

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’[b]
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

When Jesus says the least in the kingdom is greater than John the Baptist, he is not discounting John's ministry, but he is distinguishing those who will be operating in the power of the resurrection after he dies. This had not happened yet, so in that sense John was born of a woman, and not born from above. Yet Jesus still calls John the greatest prophet the world have ever seen.

Then we again see the Pharisees, who not wanting to see the truth or listen to John's call to repent, find fault in both John and Jesus' ministry for different reasons. John came neither eating or drinking wine, and they said he had a demon, and Jesus who hung out eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners, they called a drunkard. The point is rather than being convicted of their own sinful nature, they tried justify their actions with these rationalizations about others.

So the two lessons today are: One, we who have been given the power of the Holy Spirit have great capacity to usher in God's kingdom. The least in the kingdom is still the greatest because if you have Christ you have it all. There are no greater or lesser ranks in God's kingdom. Second, we need to be careful not to judge by outward appearances. The tendency was to judge John because of the way he looked and acted. But Jesus judged him on his role as a prophet and messenger of the Son of God, not the type of clothes he wore or what he ate or drank.

Let's remember what Paul said to the Roman Christians in Romans 14 in terms of what is most important,

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Luke 7:18-23. The Stone the Builders Rejected!

Jesus and John the Baptist
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

John the Baptist was a great prophet like they had never seen before, but he was still human. He still wondered if Jesus was the true Messiah. So instead of going to Jesus himself, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus. A prophet had messengers, who often communicated the prophet's message, but in this case John might have been a little fearful of asking Jesus himself. So his men ask Jesus his question. Instead of being offended by the question, Jesus gives them a direct answer.

How does he answer their question? He replies by saying, judge this question by the works I am doing. And this is what they have not only seen but heard. Meaning these things were not happening in isolation. Probably more important is the connection between what Jesus is doing and the prophecies in both Isaiah 35:5 and Isaiah 61:1. What he is doing is exactly what the prophet had predicted. Any of the Jews who had read and heard these portions read in the synagogue on the Sabbath, should not have missed the significance in their fulfillment by Jesus.

But Jesus ends on an ominous note. He says, "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me". This is a little difficult to understand what Jesus is saying here. Usually when Jesus says "blessed are", it is the result of putting into practice something Jesus has done. But here blessedness comes from not stumbling because of who Jesus is. Another verse in Matthew 21:42, which is repeated by Peter in Acts 4:11 says, "the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone". In ancient building practices, the cornerstone was the largest, most solid, most well constructed stone upon which the whole building was built. Later in Ephesians 2:19-21, Paul will use this metaphor to describe the church, with Jesus being the cornerstone the apostles and prophets building the foundation upon it."

So what then does this mean given the extensive use of this metaphor in the bible? It means that if they reject what Jesus is saying and doing, they will miss the key to building God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. If they reject Jesus, they reject the cornerstone and the whole building will fall. And as we will see, God will go to other builders who will build on the true foundation of Jesus as the Messiah.

So a good question for we who seek to continue to build on the foundation of Jesus, is to ask how are we tempted to build on a different foundation? Have we substituted anything for Jesus? Jesus can become a stumbling block because it causes us to rely completely on him and give him credit for the work that is done. Our temptation in the flesh is to try and build our own projects, but without the right cornerstone that building will be built on the wrong foundation. We know what happens to buildings without a good foundation in times of stress. But the Good News is as we build on Jesus we can be assured that our foundation is rock solid and will endure forever.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Luke 7:11-17. The Lord Saw Her!

Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

Nain was a small town south of Capernaum, on the slope of Mount Hermon, called today "Little Hermon". When he approached the town gate, he met a widow, who had lost her only son. This put her in a really bad situation, as she had no one to provide for her, and unless a relative helped out she might be relegated to begging in the streets. What is significant about this story is that Jesus sees the woman, and in compassion, reaches out to her. In most cases people come to Jesus for healing, and he rewards their faith. In this case independent of anything Jesus sees this woman's plight and it says, "his heart went out to her".

After he told the boy to get up, he gave him back to his mother. Jesus raises a dead man all out of compassion for the woman, who had no other hope except for Jesus. Note too when the others see this great miracle, they exclaim, "A great prophet has appeared among us." In the Old Testament, prophets like Elijah and Elisha and also raised people from the dead, and this was their only frame of reference. Of course Jesus was a prophet, as prophets speak for God and show signs of God's power. But as they will discover he was much more than a prophet.

In the end, what they are most excited about was that, "God had come to help His people". Jesus showed compassion for the widow, showing how much He cared for her. So there are two applications for our story today. One just as Jesus reached out to the widow as her last hope, Jesus has compassion on us who are dead in ours sins. The only hope we had is that Jesus would have mercy on us and raise us up from being dead in our sins. Just as the mother had great joy that her son, was raised from the dead, we too have great joy from the salvation Jesus purchased for us on the cross.

Finally, Jesus gives us an example to live by. When we see people in need do we just pass on by? There are people who live among us, who have no hope and feel like God has forgotten them. We could be just the person God has sent to them to show them that God has not abandoned them. So as we begin the season of Advent today, the message is Immanuel, God with us. The season of Advent is a season of expectant hope. We see our hope come in the light of Christ, where God shows that His "heart goes out to us", just like the widow of Nain.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Luke 7:1-10 Amazing Faith

The Faith of the Centurion
7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Chapter 7 marks a transition in the book of Luke from Jesus' ministry mainly to the Jewish audience to the Gentiles. One of Luke's unique characteristics is his concern for the Gentiles. This could be reflective of his travels with Paul, who was a missionary to the Gentiles. Today we see the "amazing faith" of the Roman centurion. Centurions were in charge of 100 men, and in this case this centurion was supportive of the local Jewish synagogue. The Centurion shows humility by sending his servants to the elders, who in turn communicate this to Jesus.

When the Centurion meets Jesus we see why Jesus recognized his amazing faith. What did Jesus see?

1. Though the Centurion was a man with authority he recognized Jesus' authority as superior. The centurion tells Jesus that he did not consider himself worthy for Jesus to come to his house.

2. The Centurion had faith in Jesus' power and authority. This is reflected when he says, "Just say the word and my servant will be healed." The Centurion used power when he told those under him to when he said to one "go", and the other "come". The Centurion knew that Jesus had to say just "one word" and the healing would occur.

Jesus is quite amazed at this man and publicly commends his great faith. When the men returned to his home they found this one word had healed the servant.

A question we might ask ourselves today is what kind of faith do we have? The centurion was an unlikely candidate for great faith, but Jesus recognized it. Faith is not dependent on race, ethnicity, religion or earthly power and authority. It is based on one thing. Recognizing Jesus' power and authority and then in humility going to him for whatever you need trusting that with one word your request can be granted.