Monthly Archives: March 2018

Today’s Scripture – March 28, 2018

Luke 19:14 (NIV) “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’”

The people who hated this nobleman were not his servants (although one of the servants had a low opinion of his master – verse 21), but were the people who would be subject to him when he was granted the kingship. If the nobleman in the story represents Jesus, which is clearly the case, these people who rejected the nobleman and his claim to rule over them are the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, and the high priests. They continually refused to acknowledge Jesus’ authority to do what God had called Him to do, and their worst fear was that the people would elevate Him to the throne, and then they would have no choice but to acknowledge His authority.

But Jesus was far more than their deepest fears would even consider Him to be. Jesus had no desire for an earthly throne, even the throne of Israel. That would have been an infinite leap downward from the throne that was rightfully His: the throne of the kingdom of God.

But what these leaders failed to recognize was that rejection of Jesus and His authority over the kingdom of God was rejection of God as well (Luke 10:16). By refusing to accept Jesus’ authority, they were rejecting the authority of God, since God had sent Jesus, and since Jesus did all things at His specific direction (John 5:19). By plotting to overthrow the one that God had sent in His name they were actively rebelling against God and against His authority.

But these leaders could not see these realities. They sincerely believed that their resistance to Jesus, their defiance of His claim to the throne, was upholding God’s holiness. They had blinded themselves by their own self-righteousness, and they couldn’t even see the doom that their rebellion was bringing on them.

Father, how many people are incurring the same doom by refusing to acknowledge Jesus’ sovereignty over their lives. They want so badly to keep their own self-sovereignty that they completely reject Jesus and all that He stands for. Lord, help me to see those around me who are standing in such peril, and to show them the great blessings of Your kingdom by my own life, so that they can see, turn, and be saved. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 27, 2018

Luke 19:11-13 (NIV) While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’”

The people looked for Jesus to usher in the earthly kingdom of God as soon as He arrived in Jerusalem later that afternoon. They expected that He would immediately proclaim Himself king, a move that they would gladly support, and kick the Romans out the country, setting them free, and setting the stage for the full restoration of Israel as a superpower.

The kingdom of God in that moment resided in Jesus. But it would come in power into His followers on the day of Pentecost, when all but one of those who had heard Jesus promise its arrival were still alive (Mark 9:1). However, when it came, it would not be at all the earthly kingdom that the majority of the Jewish people were expecting. It would be the start of an eternal spiritual kingdom that would profoundly impact the kingdoms of the world; not the restoration of the old Israel, but a breaking out of a new thing – a kingdom, in fact, that was not of this world at all (John 18:36).

There would come a day though, far in the future from the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when Jesus would return and claim the throne of the kingdom on earth as well as in heaven. But before that day would come, He would have to go away, back to heaven, and then return.

In the meantime, while He was gone, He would leave the riches of the kingdom with His servants, His disciples, expecting them to put those riches to work in His absence so that His kingdom would be even larger and more grand when He returned to receive it.

Of course, Jesus has not yet returned. But the commission to His disicples, His followers, the people of the kingdom, is still in effect. We have all been entrusted with kingdom riches, and are expected to be putting them to work diligently until Jesus returns from His journey “to a distant country” to receive the kingdom back to Himself.

Father, this is a different view than many Christians have. Often our view is that we must simply wait for Jesus, or even just “hang on” while He delays. But there are blessings that we possess, gifts and graces and work to be done with them all the way until He returns. Help us to be faithful in this work, to keep using every good gift You have given us, so that Your agenda of powerful kingdom growth will continue to move forward until Jesus returns. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 26, 2018

Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

The road to Jerusalem passed through the city of Jericho, about ½ mile from the remains of the city destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. Jerusalem was close enough that after lunch in Jericho, Jesus and His entourage would still be able to make it there before nightfall. Luke arranges the telling of the events in Jericho to bring the healing of the blind man and the transformation of Zacchaeus into immediate conjunction to emphasize their commonalities. (Remember that the chapter breaks were not introduced into the Scriptures until almost 1200 years after the gospels were written.)

In the first event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically blind. In the second event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically short. In both cases, the full view of Jesus brought salvation. In the case of the blind man, his faith that Jesus could cause him to see brought him not only sight, but salvation. (The phrase in verse 18:42 often translated “Your faith has healed you,” literally says, “Your faith has saved you.”) In the case of Zacchaeus, his faith in Jesus that obeyed Jesus’ call to bring Him into his house brought salvation and a restoration of spiritual sight that enabled him to see his sin and moved him to make restitution to those he had wronged.

Make no mistake, Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was a divine appointment, orchestrated by the Father. That was why Jesus used the phrase “I must stay at your house today.” See John 4:4 for another example of this kind of language. When Jesus uses the words “must” or “have to” with regard to his actions, it is a transparent way of identifying that He is following direct orders from God Himself.

Zacchaeus was a hated man in Jericho. Not only was he a tax collector for the Roman government, considered a sellout by most of the Jewish people, he, like many other tax collectors, had grown rich by over-collecting the taxes due and keeping the surplus. This resentment by the people was the reason for their shocked reaction when Jesus went to lunch at his house: “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!”

But it didn’t take very long for the mere presence of Jesus to soften Zacchaeus’ heart, and to help him to see himself in a new light. And what he saw dismayed him, and moved him not only to repentance, but to making restitution to those he had wronged. This would have cost him a large portion of his fortune, but in the presence of Jesus, he realized that he stood to gain much more than mere money.

Father, the blind man knew he could not see, which made him pursue Jesus. Zacchaeus believed that he could see, which made it necessary for Jesus to pursue him. But in the end, the presence of Jesus gave sight to both, and brought salvation to both as well. Help me to always remember that Jesus didn’t just come to heal, but to save, so that, as I follow Him, those priorities inform my own ministry. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 22, 2018

Luke 18:35-43 (NIV) As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This blind beggar couldn’t see what was happening, but there was nothing wrong with his ears – he could hear just fine, and he heard very clearly a large crowd coming down the street into the city. When he heard that Jesus was coming through on His way to Jerusalem, his heart leaped up within him. He had heard all kinds of wonderful things about Jesus of Nazareth, that He had done amazing miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead! Surely Jesus could heal him!

He immediately began to cry out at the top of his lungs in order to be heard over the noise of the crowd. Jesus was still far back on the street, but the beggar couldn’t see that. He could only hear that the front edge of the crowd was right in front of him.

His cry was simple on its surface, but rich in meaning and full of faith. The title “Son of David” was the vernacular equivalent of “Messiah.” Everyone had been taught that the Messiah would oust the Romans and the Herods, and take over the throne of Israel. As such, the Messiah would have to come from the line of David. So the beggar immediately affirmed that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

His words “have mercy on me” were similar to his cries for alms that he used every day. But this time they demonstrated an abundant faith in who Jesus was and in what He could do. He wanted more from Jesus that a couple of coins; he wanted Jesus to restore His sight, and in doing so to restore his life.

Those in the front of the crowd tried to shut the beggar up, but his need drove his voice to even higher decibels, until finally Jesus was close enough to hear him, and had His followers bring the beggar to Him. The beggar had been bold up to this point, and his boldness had brought him right into Jesus’ presence. So when Jesus asked, “What do you want Me to do for you,” there was no timidity in his answer: “Lord, I want to see.” Clear, unambiguous, bold.

Jesus never touched the man; He simply pronounced his sight restored, and suddenly the man could see clearly. The beggar realized in a moment that he was a beggar no more, that his life had just been graciously handed back to him. And now he got to make the decision as to what he would do with it. As Jesus and His entourage began to move on into Jericho, his decision was made, and he fell in with the crowd, and began to follow Jesus.

Father, this beggar’s boldness in prayer, his importunity that would not stop until he received what he desperately needed from Jesus, is exactly what Jesus taught about persistence in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). He prayed, he persisted, even in the face of strong opposition, and he received. Help me to put that same lesson into practice in my own life, so that I can receive what I need each day from Your gracious hand. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 21, 2018

Luke 18:31-34 (NIV) Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

If this scene was not so tragic, if there had not been so much riding on what Jesus was telling them, the incredulity of the disciples would be humorous. Events were taking place around them at a furious rate, plans were being made and attacks planned virtually in front of them, and they were completely blind to it all, focused only on the hero’s welcome that they believed was waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem.

The amazing thing is that, though they were trying hard to decode Jesus’ words to them, to dig below the surface, to decipher the deep meaning of what He was saying, Jesus wasn’t speaking in code. He was laying His meaning right on the surface, accessible to anyone who would simply listen.

They were headed up to Jerusalem, and would get there later that day, before sunset. And when they got there, all of the events prophesied for the suffering and death of the Messiah would quickly unroll, just as He had been teaching them over the last several weeks. And, in case they hadn’t been paying attention (they hadn’t), He laid it all out for them in a nutshell: He would be handed over to the Romans, who would mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him and flog Him. Then they would kill Him. But He would rise again on the third day.

Again, this was about as clear as anyone could possibly say it, and it wasn’t even the first time He had told the disciples what was coming. But their hearts were hard, their minds were closed, and they couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell them. It was only after He rose from the dead that they would finally see that Jesus really had clearly foretold every event before it happened.

Father, I’m afraid we do the same thing today with Your word. Even where the words are perfectly clear and the meaning obviously, we ignore the plain meaning of what You say, and instead we look for hidden meanings that must be intricately interpreted. And when we can’t find any, we deem the words too deep for us, and move on, completely overlooking what You simply said. But, Lord, You most often say exactly what You mean, and You mean simply what You say. Help me to understand the clear meaning of Your word, to have eyes that clearly see, ears that clearly hear, and hearts that understand what You are saying to me each day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 20, 2018

Luke 18:28-30 (NIV) Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth, “Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

Far from being rich, the disciples of Jesus had left all that they had, wealth, jobs, family, to follow Him. Economically, they lived in a completely different universe than the rich young ruler who began this conversation. For them, riches weren’t a god, and their prospects for ever becoming wealthy were slim to none. So what did Jesus have to say to them in their situation?

Jesus did not point out any fault in what Peter claimed, no shading of the truth. The disciples really had left all behind to follow Jesus. In a sense, they were like the widow who had put two lepta (thin copper coins) into the temple treasury, and then, to the astonishment of the disciples, was proclaimed by Jesus to have given more to God than those who had thrown in several silver or gold coins. They had given some of their excess, but she had given all that she had to live on, and was relying on God to provide for her (Luke 21:1-4).

Peter and the rest had not given Jesus a few hours of their spare time, but had given Him all that they had, all that they were. And, as such, they had placed themselves directly in the path of God’s provision. Though they had given up much, God would see that their needs (and the needs of their families back home) were met out of His abundant kingdom provision (Matthew 6:33). He even promised to provide them with abundant homes and families to replace those that they had sacrificed by following Him. And they had already experienced that. They had stayed in homes in every town they visited, people who opened their doors and provided them with places to stay and food to eat. And they had abundant family, brothers and sisters, fellow followers of Jesus, to accompany them on the way.

And, because they had already done what Jesus had demanded of the rich young ruler, turn away from worldly riches and be completely devoted to God and his cause, they also had treasure in heaven, and eternal life waiting for them when their work on earth was completed. They never had to worry about the future as long as they continued to follow Jesus, and as long as they kept their priorities in line with His.

Father, this shows so well how everything fits together. The disciples had already received what the rich young ruler had been promised, but had refused because the cost to himself seemed so high. But all he could see was the loss of what he had devoted his whole life to amassing. He couldn’t see the blessings that would amass all the way to eternity, if only he would obey Jesus. Help all of us, your people, to never go astray, to never make anything in this world, home, wife, brothers, parents, or children, more precious to us than You are. Amen.

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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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