Today’s Scripture – April 23, 2018

Luke 20:17-19 (NIV) Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were in a very hard place. They had plotted against Jesus, but their plots seemed to be known by Him before they could spring them. It was like Jesus knew what was in their very hearts. And now He was repeatedly exposing them and their treachery to the people He was teaching.

They knew that the parable He had just finished teaching was about them, and it galled them. But He wasn’t done yet. Instead of responding to the people, Jesus instantly transitioned to another parable, based on Psalm 118:22, depicting a building stone that was rejected by the builders of the temple, ostensibly because it was the wrong shape to fit into the existing structure, and no tools were permitted on the temple site with which to reshape it (1 Kings 6:7). In the Psalms passage, that same stone was found to have been cut by the chief planner to be the chief cornerstone for the new temple; the stone that, once it was in place, would determine the orientation of every other part of the temple.

Jesus capped off this imagery by pointing out the truth that anyone who fights against this stone, Himself, would end up destroying themselves in the process. He was trying to warn these leaders away from the reckless course of defiance and rebellion against God that they were already rushing down. He knew that it would ultimately result in their shame, their discipline, and their destruction, and it broke His heart. But they wouldn’t listen. Their anger at being called out only intensified their determination to bring Jesus down.

Father, the resistance of these leaders, even in the face of Jesus’ repeated warnings and condemnation, really is tragic. They did ultimately break themselves against the impervious rock that was Jesus; a great tragedy. Lord, help us to always work with You, and to never set ourselves against You. That is always a losing proposition! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 22, 2018

Luke 20:13-16 (NIV) “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”

In this parable of Jesus, the good owner of the vineyard, God Himself, seems to despair of ever being able to reach the tenant farmers to whom He has leased the vineyard so that He can claim the fruit that is rightfully His. Every servant, small or great, that He has sent to them so far, every prophet that He has sent to deliver His message to them, has been shamefully mistreated and sent away empty handed.

Finally the vineyard owner strikes upon what He hopes will be an effective solution: He will send the Son that He loves as a final, most authoritative emissary. Surely the lessees will respect the authority of the Son!

But the results are exactly what the owner fears most. Driven by greed and rebelling against the wishes and authority of the vineyard owner, those who are charged with making the vineyard productive for the benefit of the owner set themselves to assassinate the Son, and to take over the vineyard for themselves. Of course this brings down the wrath of the owner on their heads, with the death of the usurpers opening the door for the vineyard to be given to others who will faithfully produce its fruit and deliver it to Him as they have been charged to do.

The people listening to Jesus understood right away the picture that Jesus was painting. A vineyard was a symbol that God had used repeatedly for the Jewish people from ancient times. And the lessees could only be the Jewish leaders who were rejecting Jesus’ authority as the Son of the Owner. They saw it foretelling the last chance that the leaders were going to have to get it right. They clearly saw that Jesus was prophesying the destruction of the leaders and the delivery of the kingdom of God into the hands of others if the current trajectory didn’t change. This realization was what wrenched the anguished cry from their lips: “May this never be!”

Father, it is sad that, even though the people clearly saw Jesus’ meaning and clearly understood the prophecy, which was ultimately fulfilled in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome, they were powerless to change the trajectory, powerless to stop the destruction that was being earned by those who were actively plotting to take Jesus’ life even as He spoke. Lord, the leaders turned a deaf ear to Your clear warning, and figured that they could get away with it, because they were able to pressure the government to sanction their sin against Your Son. Help us to not be so stubborn, so self-righteous, so stiff-necked that we ourselves refuse to repent and turn from those things that will earn Your condemnation as surely as they did. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 19, 2018

Luke 20:9-12 (NIV) He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

The tragic and disappointing history of God’s chosen people is clearly laid out in this parable of Jesus. And the focus of the parable, the people that Jesus was targeting, were the Jewish leaders. These leaders may have seemed to be more spiritual than many of the leaders of the past, but they were actually just the next iteration of leaders who lived in rebellion against God and His agenda.

Over the preceding centuries, God had selected people to oversee His community, to stand in His place over them and superintend the work of growing His kingdom until He sent His Messiah to lead them all to the next phase of His plan. But far too many of those leaders that he raised up began to see their role as leading God’s people in THEIR way, with the goal of larding their own wealth, and building their own dynasties.

From time to time God would raise up a prophet and give them a message for those leaders, pointing out their spiritual self-centeredness, and demanding that they return to God and His agenda, in effect demanding the fruit that was supposed to come from his vineyard, but which they had coopted for their own use and enrichment. And it usually turned out that they mistreated those prophets, beat them, imprisoned them, and even killed them, leaving them empty handed.

Even in Jesus’ day, before Jesus came into the public light, John brought this same message of challenge and refocus to those who came to hear him, and that included the Jewish leaders. But rather than receiving his words and repenting, those leaders observed him, judged both him and his message as unauthoritative, and turned away, continuing to enrich themselves on the backs of God’s people, and continuing to pat themselves on the backs for being so much better than their ancestors.

Father, it is very easy for us to keep our eyes on ourselves, and to allow ourselves to become the standard by which we measure our actions and attitudes. The plus side to this is that we all look pretty good when we judge ourselves by our own standards. The down side is that we quickly become smug and self-satisfied, and we grow blind to our own deficiencies, even when You send messengers to point them out to us. Help us, Lord, to always keep our eyes and ears open to Your correction and guidance. And help us to keep Jesus constantly before our eyes as our standard, so that we never grow self-satisfied, but always allow You to continue to mold and shape us into His image. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 18, 2018

Luke 20:1-8 (NIV) One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

The Jewish leaders had decided that a straight out confrontation with Jesus was the best approach. So they came to Jesus in the temple where He was teaching, surrounded by people as usual. Jesus had accepted praise as the Messiah (19:39-40), and He had cleared the temple of the livestock vendors and money changers (19:45-46), and they asked Him point blank where His authority to do these things came from.

The leaders wanted Jesus to say that His authority came from heaven, from God Himself. They were ready to gleefully shoot down that argument the second that it was raised, because they believed that they could show conclusively that they were the ones with legitimate scriptural authority to run the temple, and they could show from tradition that they were the legitimate arbiters of who was qualified to be the Messiah.

But Jesus turned the tables on them immediately with a simple challenge. He would answer their question if they answered His: Was John’s baptism authorized by heaven, or was it simply of human origin?

On its face, this was a simple question, with only two possible answers, and no false dichotomies. John’s baptism had to originate from one source or the other; there were no other alternatives.

But that simple question put the leaders in a terrible spot. They had confronted Jesus in front of the crowd so that they could shame and discredit Him in front of His followers. But now that same crowd could be turned entirely against them if they answered Jesus’ challenge poorly.

If they said that John’s baptism was authorized by God, as the crowd believed, then they would have to answer Jesus’ question as to why they themselves had rejected both John and his baptism. It was a good question for which they could give no satisfactory answer. If, on the other hand, they said that John’s baptism was merely a human invention, that John was a religious fanatic who believed that he was led by God but was actually not, then the crowd, who believed that John was a legitimate prophet, could easily turn on them.

The self-assurance with which they had strutted up to Jesus melted away in an instant. Instead of cornering Jesus, He had somehow locked them into a no-win situation. No matter how they answered, they were going to lose. So they simply declared, “We don’t know the source of John’s baptism.”

Jesus smiled a bit at their distress. And the crowd did too. The intense conversation of the leaders that led up to this decision, although whispered among themselves, had still been largely discernable to the people nearby. They all knew that this answer was simply a face-saving maneuver. But it also let Jesus completely off the hook. If they were unwilling to give a straight answer to Jesus’ question, then they were undeserving of the truth about the source of Jesus authority.

Father, when we are thinking about or talking about the things of the kingdom, we need to make sure that we keep ourselves out of the middle of the conversation. Our thoughts and feelings are not at all as important as Your truth as You have revealed it through Your Scriptures and through the person of Jesus. And any time we find ourselves hedging what Your word clearly says in order to protect our reputation or our pet theologies, that’s a sign that we are likely on the wrong track. Help us to always deal with our theology openly and honestly, even if it means that we might have to change what we believe to what Your truth actually is. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 16, 2018

Luke 19:47-48 (NIV) Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

Jesus’ life was in imminent danger. The powers that be had it in for Him, and were waiting for a single slip, a single word from His lips that could be turned against Him and used to build a case against Him in court, preferably charges that could be used as a basis for a death sentence.

But Jesus showed not the least concern. He knew that his time was up, and that before the end of the week, God would move His defenses aside and open the way for Him to be arrested, tried, and even executed.

But He would not hurry the process. He would not intentionally set Himself up for the fall that He knew was coming. He was in no way suicidal, and would not fall on His own sword. He would simply continue His kingdom work until the very moment that the trap of His enemies was laid and sprung.

On the other side, the Jewish leaders were in a high state of turmoil. Their hatred of Jesus had become all-consuming. But they found themselves completely impotent, unable to move on their hatred. If they confronted Jesus, He calmly cut them to pieces with the words of His well-reasoned and entirely biblical theology. If they laid out the cleverest traps they could devise, He deftly sidestepped them, often turning their own logic against them, sending them away with their tails between their legs.

They knew that their only other option, simply marching in and arresting Jesus while He taught in the temple, would be useless at best. The crowds that constantly surrounded Jesus were so caught up by His teachings that it was most likely that they would turn on them and cause a riot. They had no idea where Jesus was staying at night, although they knew that it was not in the city where He could be taken out under cover of darkness. Unless they caught a break somehow, He was going to escape their clutches again!

Father, I can see two things very clearly here. One is that You were working in this situation the whole time, so that even when Jesus’ enemies succeeded in arresting and executing Him, they had to wait for You to enable it, and then it would happen exactly as You had planned and foretold it. The second is that Jesus had absolute peace, even in the midst of His enemies, because He knew that He was 100% within Your will, and that they couldn’t lay a finger on Him until You orchestrated it. And, even then, He would still remain 100% within Your will. Help me to live every moment of my life that same way, and with that same level of trust and peace. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 13, 2018

Luke 19:45-46 (NIV) Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”

The market in the temple court, actually in the large Court of the Gentiles which surrounded the inner complex where the Jewish people could enter in to worship, was started for good reasons. If someone traveled too far to bring an animal to sacrifice, or if the animal that they brought was defective in some way and couldn’t be offered, having a stock of acceptable animals that could be purchased, sheep, goats, bulls, and even doves, was a good thing. And having tables where people could exchange their Roman denarii , unacceptable for temple offerings because they bore the image of a pagan emperor and pagan gods and temples, for good Jewish shekels without those kinds of images, was a good thing.

The problem arose when the Jewish leadership realized that a handsome profit could easily be made from those good things. Raising the price just a bit above retail on the livestock that was sold (after all, every animal was officially certified to be acceptable to God, which was worth something) could bring in a tidy sum each day. And there was now strong motivation to closely inspect animals that had been brought to sacrifice. Was that a discoloration in the wool? What that hoof a bit malformed? Better to buy an animal that was certified than run the risk of your sacrifice being rejected by God!

And the same thing happened with the money changers. Instead of providing a straight-across trade, weight for weight, the tendency was to charge an exchange fee that was increased occasionally (due to inflation, of course).

Add to that the fact that this livestock market and trading floor, along with all of the noise and smells that went along with it, were taking up a lot of room in the court of the gentiles, the only place non-Jews could come to learn about the true God, and you could drive someone like Jesus right over the edge, which is exactly what happened.

Now that Jesus had taken up the title of Messiah, the first thing He did was to cleanse the temple of all that was worldly and not of God’s design. Of course all of this put Him on a collision course with the Jewish leadership. He was cutting into both their income and their authority structure that had been built up over centuries.

Father, we don’t often see Jesus angry, but we definitely do here. And it is good to understand that it was worldliness and greed in a place that was designed by You to be a place for prayer, worship, and even outreach, that drove Him there. Because none of those things could effectively happen when worldliness and greed had taken control. Help us to keep not only our church buildings, but our hearts as well, free of all of those things, so that You can use us effectively for Your agenda. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 11, 2018

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV) As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Jesus was not the first of God’s holy prophets to weep over the fate of Jerusalem that was hanging over its head. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel wept for the city and its inhabitants, and for the destruction of both that was right on the horizon.

But Jesus’ mourning was of a different character than those who mourned and wept earlier. For one think, at the time that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, there was no visible sign of trouble lurking on the horizon. For both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the city was already under siege. For another, both Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s prophecies of doom were tempered by God’s mercy, as they were given glimpses of restoration a mere seventy years later, after the time of punishment was fulfilled.

But Jesus’ tears were not for a city that would be temporarily laid waste, or a people who would be punished for their disobedience for a short span of time. His tears were for a city that would never be the same again, and that would not be in the hands of the Jewish people again for multiplied centuries. They were for a people who would be nearly wiped out, the remnant of whom would be scattered over the face of the earth for millennia. In His sight, the destruction of the city, terrible as it would be, would only be the beginning of trouble.

And, again, the reason for this impending destruction and scattering was not a mere dalliance with idols, or even the blatant syncretism that had characterized Judah at the time of the exile, worshiping other gods alongside the true God. It was that the leaders of the people had grown so callus, so self-righteous, so distant from any kind of relationship with the God they claimed to serve, that they did not even recognize Him when He came to visit them, and ended up trying Him, condemning Him, and killing Him.

Father, it is scary to think that Your chosen people could corrupt their way so seriously, so thoroughly, and that they did it more than once! Lord, we need Your help today to keep us from falling into the same trap, from allowing our eyes to become blinded by the world, our ears to become deaf from what we listen to more often than Your voice, and our hearts become hardened to Your leading. Keep us all soft, open, and obedient to You. Amen.

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