Today’s Scripture – March 19, 2018

Luke 18:24-27 (NIV) Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

These words were said to all of those gathered around Jesus, and hit most of them like a ton of bricks. In the worldview common at the time (and not that uncommon today), those who were wealthy were considered especially blessed by God. Even the Pharisees, who loved money and pursued wealth (Luke 16:14), believed that the wealthier they became, the greater God’s favor toward them was.

But now Jesus was torpedoing that whole notion. Instead, He claimed that it was virtually impossible for a wealthy person to even enter the kingdom of God! And, by the way, that was His intent based on His illustration. It is not difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; it is impossible! (Luke, a physician, appropriately used the word for a surgeon’s needle here.)

The reason for the impossibility of a rich person entering the kingdom of God is not difficult to see. For those who pursue wealth, that pursuit quickly becomes all-consuming, leaving no time or headspace for them to focus on God and His kingdom. And for those who attain great wealth, that wealth quickly becomes a god that must be served, protected, and increased, quickly taking that person’s focus off of all spiritual things, and cutting them off from communion with God.

Those who heard Jesus understood precisely not only what He said, but what He meant as well, and were stymied. If even the rich cannot be saved, if even those who have been shown such extraordinary kindness by God cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, then what hope is there for the ordinary, garden-variety person?

Jesus’ short, one-sentence response contains a whole volume of kingdom theology: What is impossible with men is possible with God. What this means is that salvation for anyone is actually impossible. Sin is too horrible, and the rift caused by it between sinful people and the holy God is too wide to ever be bridged by any amount of work or good deeds, or to be filled in by sacrificing any amount of money. But what is impossible for man to achieve by any means God is able to accomplish. His grace sent Jesus to the cross to open the doors of the kingdom to everyone by His suffering a death that would pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. And that massive sacrifice even overcomes the obstacles that worldly riches throw up to block the path into the kingdom for the wealthy, if they are willing to repent and believe.

Father, Your ways are amazing, marvelous, and wondrous beyond description. No sooner is the problem identified than the solution is pointed out as well. Thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your gift of Jesus’ sacrifice that opened the way for me, even me, into Your kingdom. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – March 15, 2018

Luke 18:18-23 (NIV) A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him,
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.

This rich young ruler came to Jesus because he hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and knew in his heart that he wasn’t there yet. True righteousness always begins with both that hunger and that realization, both of which stir in them a search for the real Truth. The man began on exactly the right track.

The ruler had been obedient to the law, especially the commandments dealing with relations with others, his whole life. He would never consider stealing, or bearing false witness, or taking another man’s wife. It wasn’t in his character. From a moral standpoint, this was what most would call a “good man,” and he knew it. And he knew that Jesus was also a righteous man, a good teacher, and addressed Him as such.

Jesus’ pushback against that identification didn’t mean that He was rejecting the idea of Himself being good, or rejecting the sure knowledge that He Himself was God in the flesh. Instead, He was addressing the ruler at his own level. The man was good, Jesus was good, and the man saw that Jesus could help him to become better. But God was left out of the ruler’s equation. He was looking for more legalistic righteousness, more man-based rules he could incorporate into his lifestyle.

But Jesus knew that heart of all people (John 2:24-25), and he knew where this man was falling short. He was a genuinely nice guy, but his relationship with God was non-existent. He believed that if he was nice to people and did good things, that God would be good to him and bless him. But the real love of his life was his stuff. It was what he was focused on, what he really lived for. And so his money, his possessions, became his god, his idol, and the thing that stood between him and eternal life.

Jesus’ command was actually a diagnostic tool for this man. It shone the clear light of God’s truth into the hidden recesses of his heart, so that he himself could see the blockage that existed in his quest for eternal life. His money and possessions were the blockage, his money and possessions had to go. And it had to be his own choice. God would not take them from him. He had to give them up of his own free will.

The man suddenly saw it all very clearly. Jesus had laid his heart open, and he could see the truth. But his money, his possessions, the things that he had spent his whole life amassing, the things that he had always seen as signs of God’s favor and blessing, had too strong a hold on his heart for him to let go of them. He knew the truth, and he suddenly saw his own weakness. So away he went, sad to his very core about what he now knew about himself.

Father, this points out a simple truth: we can have 99% of our lives in line with Your standards, but the 1% that we don’t give over entirely to You can quickly become a snare that will drag us down and block our progress. Lord, help me to hold all things loosely, so that if You ever show me things in my life that are blocking my path to eternal life, I can instantly release them into Your hands. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 14, 2018

Luke 18:15-17 (NIV) People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

It was (and still is) common for parents to bring their children to people who are reputed to be holy so that they can be blessed by him or her. These people brought their children to Jesus not for healing, but simply so that they could receive a blessing.

Jesus was always surrounded by people crushing in on Him, trying to get their needs met, so sometimes the disciples were a little over protective, trying to shoo away those whose needs did not seem urgent. And healthy children waiting to be blessed seemed to them to definitely fall far down on the list of those who needed access to Jesus.

Jesus Himself, though, took a different view. His view, the viewpoint of the kingdom, was frequently different than that of His followers. When Jesus saw these children, He didn’t see an annoyance or a burden. He saw young people whose whole worldview was bathed in trust and innocence. He saw young people who did not live in rebellion against God, but who greeted every new discover of God’s creation with awe and wonder. Instead of an annoyance, these children were the very model of the innocence and awe that is to typify the people of the kingdom, and so were to be welcomed and blessed, both as people in their own right, and as models to be emulated.

Children can be corrupted, they can be emotionally damaged and scarred to the point that they lose those natural characteristics of the kingdom. And if they are, those responsible for the damage will be judge and held accountable by God personally. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:6-7, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”

Father, it is so easy to push past children in their innocence and awe without seeing them as models for us as kingdom people. And it is easy for us to be so preoccupied and distracted by our projects, our jobs, our stuff, and even our ministries, that we lose that innocence and awe ourselves, and never realize it. Help me, Lord, to actively cultivate that childlike spirit in myself, so that I can walk and work in Your kingdom every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 13, 2018

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is a well-known parable of Jesus. But the context and target audience of any parable must always be kept in mind, including this one. Too often neglecting those two key parts of this parable has led to a theology where people believe that we must constantly emulate the tax collector, claiming forever to be miserable sinners, utterly unworthy to even lift our eyes to heaven.

But the target of this parable is not the average person, but those who were so confident in their own self-righteousness that they have forgotten about the grace of God entirely. They pat themselves on the back for their success in achieving what they consider to be their own right-standing before God, and look down with scorn on those whom they see as less righteous than themselves. Such were many of the Pharisees.

In the parable, Jesus draws a strong contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee (not a parody, by the way; this really was how many of them thought!) who marched into God’s presence believing that they have earned the right to be there, and that God is glad that they showed up, and the lowly, lost tax collector. The Pharisee’s sneering prayer leaves no room for God’s grace, either in his own life, or in the lives of those he so freely denigrates. It is, instead, a hymn of praise to his own righteousness, his own fastidiousness in keeping all of the minutiae of the law.

The tax collector, though, had not come to gloat, but to repent and to seek God’s grace and forgiveness. In place of the Pharisee’s self-assurance, he has only self-awareness of his lost state. In place of the Pharisee’s list of accomplishments, he could only identify himself with the simple label of sinner. Instead of pride, he has only heart-wrenching grief.

The moral is not that we always need to come before God’s throne like the tax collector, in shame and disgrace (unless, of course, we come with a load of sin to confess). It is that no one should ever strut into God’s presence like the Pharisee, proud of our own self-accomplished righteousness. Once we have truly repented and become one of God’s people, the proper way to approach God is neither strutting nor groveling, but in a spirit of grateful thanksgiving for the grace that enables us to be forgiven, to be holy, and to draw near to God in the first place.

Father, thank You for this vital lesson. It really is easy to hold up the tax collector as a positive role model for all Christians instead of just turning away from the model of the Pharisee, Jesus’ stated purpose for this parable. Help me to always approach You appropriately, with gratefulness and thanksgiving for Your grace that saves me and that operates in my life, forgiving me, empowering me, and enabling me to serve You without fear in holiness and righteousness before You all my days (Luke 1:74b-75). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 12, 2018

Luke 18:1-8 (NIV) Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”


Luke gives the context for this parable right at the start: it was told specifically to Jesus’ disciples, and it was told to them to urge them to keep on praying and not give up. When we are praying, and an answer does not seem to be forthcoming, it is easy to grow discouraged and give up on the prayers, sometimes deciding that God’s answer much be no.

In the parable, the judge does not represent God, except as a point of comparison. Some teach that this parable shows that God won’t answer a prayer unless the pray-er keeps bugging Him about it, finally deciding that He had better give the answer so that He can get some rest. But, again, the judge is only a point of comparison.

The real truth is in Jesus’ closing lines. If even an unjust judge who cares very little for people can be moved to action by the persistence of those bringing their pleas to him, how much more will God, the God who powerfully loves all of those who pray to Him, be moved by persistent prayer!

But also note that the context of the prayers discussed here is not simply a list of wants. Sometimes God will say no to those requests, if saying yes won’t help that person to be more holy or more effective for God’s kingdom. And it’s not about prayers for those things that are essential for life and for ministry. Those prayers are covered in Matthew 6:33-34, where God promises to provide abundantly for those who seek first His kingdom and his righteousness.

Instead, these are prayers for deliverance from the hands of the adversaries of the gospel, prayers for spirit-fired boldness that makes the pray-er a force to be reckoned with. This was the kind of prayer that was prayed by the disciples when Peter was imprisoned awaiting execution (Acts 12:5). It was not enough in that circumstance for the Church to say a “quick prayer” for Peter; they needed to pray, and to persist in prayer until they saw the answer. And God performed a mighty miracle in response to their persistent prayer.

Father, this parable, and Jesus’ instruction afterwards, gives us a solid middle ground between believing that shooting off a quick prayer is sufficient, and believing that we must beg and plead and somehow pry the gift of deliverance from Your reluctant fingers when we are in trouble. Help me to never fall to one side or the other, but to simply walk down the center, as You instructed us through Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 8, 2018

Luke 17:26-37 (NIV) “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
“Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied,
“Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

Jesus uses two distinct events, the flood of Noah and the destruction of Sodom, as illustrations of what it will be like when He returns. The first thing that both events have in common is that God’s judgment was poured out on many people living outside of His law – in Noah’s day, on all humanity, and in Lot’s day, on all of the people of the plain near the Dead Sea. The second thing is that, in both cases, God removed the righteous people (as well as some of their family members who weren’t necessarily righteous, but who were saved by grace) before His wrath arrived on the rest.

In Noah’s case (Genesis 6-9), God warned Him in enough time to build the ark, and used it to save not only Noah, but representatives of all of the air breathing animal kinds. Noah and his wife were saved, along with three of their sons and their wives, so that they could repopulate the earth after the flood.

In Lot’s case (Genesis 19), Lot was saved by being led by two destroying angels out of the city at daybreak, along with his wife and two of his daughters. He was told to flee to the mountains, but was fearful, and begged to be allowed to flee instead to the smallest of the five cities of the plain, Zoar. The angels graciously allowed it, and Zoar itself was spared from immediate annihilation because of Lot taking refuge there, although the people who lived there didn’t realize how close they had come to sharing the fate of Sodom. Lot’s wife was lost, turned into a pillar of salt when she turned back toward Sodom, and Lot’s daughters turned out to be very worldly and corrupt. But Lot himself was protected from the destruction.

The point Jesus was making was that His return would resemble those times of judgment. In both cases, the judgment that fell caught the vast majority of people by surprise, completely destroying them in the midst of living out their day-to-day lives, leaving no survivors. And, in both cases, the righteous were taken out the way before the destruction hit, so that they were not destroyed along with the unrighteous.

Jesus warned that His coming would arrive suddenly, while people were going about their normal lives, thinking it is just an ordinary day. But before the disaster hits, God will take His people out of the way, so that they will survive. But the destruction of those who do not follow Jesus, and any who turn away at the last minute (“Remember Lot’s wife!”) will be complete. They will be swept away just as surely and completely as those left outside of the ark, just as surely and completely as those left in Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain.

Father, I have read and been told about many different scenarios of Jesus’ return. But He Himself didn’t give a great many specifics. This, though, tells us all that we need to know. It tells us that when He returns the people of Your kingdom will be saved, and those not in Your kingdom will be destroyed. So we know that we need to make sure that we belong to You, and to urge those that we love into Your kingdom before that day, so that they can be saved as well. Thank you for this clear warning. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 7, 2018

Luke 17:22-25 (NIV) Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

Jesus turns away from the Pharisees who were questioning Him and addresses His disciples. The cross is looming directly ahead of Him, and He is aware of the long and often painful mission that He will be leaving in the hands of these men when His work here is done.

Jesus realized that in the space between Jesus’ ascension and His return, there will be a tendency for His followers to grow discouraged and to jump at every sign that His return might be imminent. But that will be a weakness for them, a distraction, not a strength. So He warned them away from that.

Even today many are claiming that the end is near. It is absolutely nearer than ever. But Jesus clearly warned His followers: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8 NIV) He was directing them away from analyzing signs and timelines, and back focusing on the vital work of expanding the kingdom of God that He had commissioned them to do. And through these words, He is steering today’s disciples back to the same focus.

Jesus Himself was not immune to longing for His ultimate return to come. But even He knew that there was work to do to fill up the time until then. In His case, the work involved the suffering and rejection that was waiting for Him in Jerusalem in just a few days. To get to the one required steadfast commitment to go through the other.

Father, Your guidance in this is good and necessary. It really is easy for us to get distracted, pulled off message, by our vision of Jesus’ return. But, like Jesus Himself, we have a vital job to do here and now, before that vision can be realized. Walk with us, Lord, as we do the work of growing Your kingdom, and of being Your representatives until Jesus comes, so that when He does return, we may be glad, and not ashamed. Amen.

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