Category Archives: Scripture Musings

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – April 9, 2018

Luke 19:39-40 (NIV) Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

To these Pharisees, the shouting and overt joy of the disciples seemed inappropriate. After all, the whole crowd, walking into the city of Jerusalem, the throne of God, for one of the most awesome remembrances of the year, was being swept along in their enthusiasm, and even joining in with the chanting.

And what chanting it was! It seemed to them that Jesus’ disciples actually believed that Jesus Himself was the Messiah! That was entirely inappropriate, not to mention dangerous! They themselves, while they couldn’t deny that Jesus’ teachings were amazing and His miracles spectacular, had rejected Him as the Messiah because He didn’t fit their expectations. But now here He was allowing His followers to get the whole crowd stirred up, believing that He was the Messiah riding into the city to take over!

Something had to be done before things got entirely out of hand. So they demanded that Jesus silence His disciples, that He stop them from proclaiming Him the Messiah!

Jesus’ response is one of His most clear acknowledgements that the Messiah was precisely who He was: “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The Messiah was finally arriving to set men free from the mastery of sin and death, in fulfillment of God’s ages-long prophecies And that required celebration. If the humans were prevented from raising their voices to celebrate it, God would cause the very stones of the city walls to cry out the glad tidings!

Father, this far removed from the event, we have a hard time realizing just how big a deal this entry of Jesus into the city really was. And it is amazing to me that, in spite of the mountain of evidence, the powers that be refused to accept who Jesus was, instead of simply falling on their faces in worship. Help us, Lord to recapture the awe and wonder for ourselves of who Jesus is, and to continually raise our voices in praise, so that the rocks won’t have to do our job for us. Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – April 8, 2018

Luke 19:28-38 (NIV) After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Despite the fact that Jesus’ role as the Messiah was FAR different from what the Messiah had grown to be in the minds and hearts of the people, it must never be forgotten that He did come to fulfill that role as God had defined it over centuries. This included the combined roles of prophet, one who spoke to God’s people on His behalf; priest, one who presented the blood sacrifice before God’s throne; and king, the ruler of God’s kingdom on earth, who would rule forever.

One of the signs of the Messiah that God had given to the people through the prophet Zechariah (9:9) was the image of the Messiah coming into the city of Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey colt, as opposed to riding on a horse like a warrior. And it was now time for that sign to be fulfilled.

All lay in readiness for Jesus’ arrival. Just ahead, right on the near edge of the village of Bethany, was tied a donkey colt. Jesus instructed two of His disciples to fetch it. And when they brought it back, Jesus mounted it, and started down the Mount of Olives into the gates of Jerusalem.

The crowds going down the road into the city for the Passover was enormous, and those around Jesus, caught up in the moment, began singing Messianic verses from the Psalms, and praising God aloud for the great miracles that they had seen through Jesus’ ministry. Word quickly spread among the crows of who this was riding into the city on the donkey, and the imagery was not lost on them. They quickly took up the chants, laying branches and their own cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus as He passed by (Matthew 21:8-9).

This was a pivotal moment for the Jewish people. In fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, the Lord Himself was coming into Jerusalem to begin the process of purifying for Himself a people, the core of His kingdom. And the fate of the whole city depended on their reception of Him.

Father, unfortunately for the high priests, Pharisees, and teachers of the law, they were all blind, and could neither see who Jesus truly was, nor what He was doing by riding into Jerusalem in this fashion. And the consequences were indeed horrific: they ended up murdering the Son of God, and drawing down consequences on themselves that included death for multiplied thousands and the complete destruction of the city and the temple. Help us, Lord, to have eyes that clearly see, and hearts that quickly receive and fall into line behind You in whatever You are doing. Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations