Monthly Archives: April 2018

Today’s Scripture – April 30, 2018

Luke 20:41-44 (NIV) Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

Some look at Jesus’ words here and conclude that Jesus is denying being a descendant of David. But in Luke 3:23-31, Luke clearly shows that Jesus IS a direct descendant of David. So what is Jesus actually saying here?

The people were looking for a merely human Messiah, one who would reestablish the line of Davidic kings, and who would lead Israel into a new golden age of world domination. Thus, over the years, strong men who looked like the would be great military leaders had misled the people into following them as potential messiahs, until they ultimately came to ruin.

But Jesus was trying here to help God’s people to see a much larger picture of Who the Messiah was prophesied to be, using Psalm 110, a Psalm that the rabbis and scholars taught was clearly Messianic. Right at the opening, David writes of the Messiah’s commissioning by God. And David uses what appears in English translations to be convoluted language, “The Lord said to my lord,” but which in Hebrew is very clear. The Hebrew reads, in effect, “The declaration of Yahweh to my Adonai.” Yahweh is God’s personal covenant name, the name by which He revealed Himself to Israel. Adonai is the common word for Lord or master, and was widely interpreted, in this case, as a title signifying the Messiah.

Jesus’ point was, if the Messiah was simply David’s son, it would be odd for him to refer to him as “my Lord” or “my master.” So the fact that David used that terminology showed that the Messiah would be much more than a mere human descendant of David. The very words of Scripture indicated that there would be a divine element to the Messiah; an element that was missing in all prior candidates, but an element that was definitely present in Jesus.

Father, it is fascinating how much is hidden in plain sight in Your word, easily missed by those who satisfy themselves with a cursory reading. But Jesus, in reality the co-author of those same Scriptures, knew all that was in them, even those things that were camouflaged, and was eager to reveal them to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. Help me to see clearly all that Your word holds, so that I can know You and Your will better. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 25, 2018

Luke 20:27-40 (NIV) Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Pharisees had fallen before Jesus, as had those who had planned to trick Him into saying something that could be used to accuse Him before the Roman governor. Now came the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the Jewish party from which all of the priests came, and from which the high priests were selected. They accepted only the five books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as authoritative, so their theological perspective was very narrow, and they were unwilling to include later revelations of God, His character, and His plans as revealed through the prophets and the Psalms.

Their agenda was different than the others who had approached Jesus recently, in that it was more theological. Jesus regularly preached on the future resurrection from the dead, which the Sadducees did not accept. In fact, since the Law did not specifically talk about an “afterlife,” they taught that this life was all that there was, and so any blessings or penalties that God wanted to bestow on someone would be given in this life.

They presented to Jesus what they considered the best logical argument against the resurrection. (They had no theological argument, since you can’t really argue theologically from the silence of Scripture.) Their argument was based on the biblical practice of levirate marriage, found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If a man died without leaving any children to inherit his property and to carry on his name, the man’s brother was obligated to marry the woman, and the first child that she had would be considered the child of her first husband for the purpose of inheritance and for carrying on the man’s name in Israel.

The Sadducees presented the case where seven successive brothers had married the same childless woman. Their point was that, if there really was a future resurrection, it would cause all kinds of logistical problems, because all seven men had been legitimate husbands of the woman. So in the resurrection, there would be a terrible tug-of-war for marital rights that could even become bloody – unthinkable in God’s kingdom!

Jesus answer focused on two points. First, the future state of the resurrection is qualitatively different from the present world, and institutions like marriage will not be a part of it. And people themselves will be different, more akin to angels than what we now think of a the human state. They will no longer be subject to death and aging, so they won’t have to have children to support, and eventually replace them. Thus human logic can’t accurately judge or predict the future state of resurrection life.

The second point is that the Sadducees weren’t as familiar with even the Scriptures that they accepted as they believed they were. He directed them to Exodus 3:6 and 15, where Moses encountered God at the burning bush. In those verses God stated, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” As always, God chose His words carefully. He did not say that He WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that He IS their God, clearly indicating that these men were currently alive in His presence, though they had died in the world. Thus their own Scriptures supported Jesus’ theological position, and spoke clearly against their own.

Father, it is no great surprise that Jesus was the ultimate authority on the afterlife, since He came from Your presence to become incarnate on earth. And it is no surprise that He knew the Scriptures better than the Sadducees and all of the scholars of His day, since He had a hand in writing them. Help me to never rely on my own human reasoning or on human logic in spiritual matters or in interpretation of the Scriptures, but to rely solely on You and on the insights that You give through Your Spirit. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 24, 2018

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV) Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Since the full-frontal attack had failed miserably, the Jewish leaders decided to take a more subtle approach (not God’s way of doing things, but satan’s!). They sent some people who “pretended to be honest” to see if they could trick Him into saying or doing something that could be used against Him, either before the Sanhedrin, or, preferably, with the Roman governor.

Their first attempt was to trick Him into sedition, that is, making Himself open to the charge of plotting against the Roman government. And their methodology was amazingly subtle. A simple question on a real hot-button issue of the day: Should the Jewish people pay taxes to Caesar or not?

This question put Jesus in a perfect no-win situation. If He said yes, He would instantly alienate a large number of His followers, who would then denounce Him as a Roman shill. Problem solved. If, on the other hand, He said no, that could be presented to the Roman governor as proof that He was stirring up rebellion against the authority of the Roman empire, and the governor would take swift action to execute Him. Again, problem solved.

But Jesus was immediately onto them. Despite their highly complimentary approach to Jesus, praising Him for His impartiality and wisdom (verse 21), He could see their wolfish teeth showing through their sheep’s clothing. So instead of giving them a simple yes-no answer, He first alerted those around Him to their duplicity (Matthew 22:18) and then gave everyone, including these spies, a lesson that they would never forget.

Jesus first asked for a denarius, a silver coin of Rome, emblazoned with the image of the emperor to authenticate its composition and weight. The denarius was the normal means of exchange throughout the Roman Empire, and thus it was the coin typically used to pay any taxes that Rome imposed. It wasn’t accepted for the temple tax or for any gifts given to God because it bore the image of a pagan emperor on it (hence the presence of the money changers in the temple), but these supposedly devout spies still had some of them in their bags, because it was the standard money of the day.

When Jesus received the denarius, He held it up for all to see, and asked whose image it bore. The spies rolled their eyes and answered immediately. Of course, it was the emperor’s face on the coin. Everyone knew that!

And, with that single answer, the trap closed on empty air. If the coin bore the image of Caesar, then it belonged to him, and had to be given back to him when he asked for it. That was an obligation people incurred for the privilege of using Roman money.

However, it was His final answer, “Give to God what is God’s” that really went to the heart of the matter. The thing that belongs to God more particularly than anything else is the thing that bears His image: people. Everyone, including those who were trying to trap Jesus, is made in the image and likeness of God, though in many that image has become tarnished and bent with sin. But every person still belongs to God, and thus has a primary obligation to yield themselves to His agenda, His standards, and His way of doing things.

No more could be said about the issue, so those who had come to Jesus quietly fell back to listen.

Father, I am constantly amazed at Jesus’ great wisdom and intellect. And I am also amazed at how easily He puts His finger exactly on the trouble spots. These men were trying to trap Him because they had not surrendered themselves to You and Your agenda, but were serving the Sanhedrin and their agenda. What a profound difference! Lord, help me to always keep myself solidly in Your hands, given entirely to You for Your use, all day, every day. Amen.

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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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