Tag Archives: Jesus

Today’s Scripture – February 19, 2018

Luke 16:15-17 (NIV) He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

In the previous verse we were told that the Pharisees, who loved money, were scoffing at Jesus’ teachings about having to choose whether to serve God or material things. But now Jesus turns his attack fully toward the heart of the matter.

The Pharisees were masters of public opinion. They knew well how to project an outward aura of sanctity that covered up a completely rotten heart. They fooled the people who admired them. But God doesn’t look at what shows on the outside. He looks directly at a person’s heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) And what God saw in the hearts of those men was not just wrong in His sight; it was as revolting as a rotting corpse in a tomb (Matthew 23:27-28). Their bad hearts were so corrupt that just a few weeks later they allowed themselves to railroad Jesus, hire false witnesses, and lie to Pontius Pilate, the whole time convincing themselves that they were still holy in God’s sight.

Jesus’ next statement addressed that fact that the kingdom of heaven had become a reality since the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry over three years earlier, but those self-righteous Pharisees refused to enter it, because to do so would entail believing that Jesus was actually the Messiah, something that they could not bring themselves to do. Meanwhile, people all around them were rushing to get into the kingdom, and were finding peace, power, and salvation, leaving the Pharisees in the spiritual dust, while they moved forward into what God was accomplishing.

In verse 17, Jesus reiterates His assurance that He had not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. (Compare with Matthew 5:17-20.) The law was not something that God gave for a season, but is based solidly on His own character, and so is a standard for God’s people for all time. The difference that Jesus’ coming made was that in the New Covenant no one will be saved by trying hard to keep the requirements of the law. Instead, Jesus fulfilled those requirements in His own life, including the entire sacrificial law. So salvation is now through faith in Him. But, once in the kingdom, God’s people, with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to move us and help us, are expected to live by God’s standards. As Paul put it, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 NIV)

Father, thank You for this clear look “under the hood” of the Pharisees. It shows us clearly that, though our actions must be right before You, it is the heart that You see. Of course, if our hearts are right, our actions will follow suit (Matthew 7:17-18), and we will find ourselves, not striving to do the right things against our nature, but naturally living in ways that conform to Your character out of our transformed hearts. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NIV)

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Today’s Scripture – February 8, 2018

Luke 15:20-24 (NIV) “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Jesus had described the celebration in heaven that happens when a single sinner repents (15:7, 10). The father’s rejoicing in this parable reflects that same celebration.

The returning son in this parable, who had disgraced both himself and his father by his self-centered, self-absorbed actions and attitudes, and who had ruined and disgraced himself, represents the tax collectors and sinners that regularly followed Jesus and listened to Him teach. Like the son, they had decided that it was time to humble themselves before God, and to return to Him, even if it was only as slaves.

But what a surprise was waiting for this prodigal son! The father he had disgraced was waiting for him, hoping for him, constantly on the watch for his return. And when his bedraggled figure first appeared over the horizon, the father leaped from his seat, ran out the house, and ran to his returning son, enfolding him in a warm embrace that told him that he was welcome.

Likewise, God is always on the lookout for the sinner to repent and to turn toward home. When He first sees someone turn, He immediately rushes to their side, providing them with all the grace that they need to complete the repentance and to make it real. Then He embraces them as sons, and welcomes them into His kingdom, now their kingdom.

The son attempts to deliver his prepared speech, begging the father to receive him back, even if only as a servant. But the father doesn’t need to hear the words; he has seen the heart. He interrupts the plea, and commands that the son be restored to the family immediately, and that a great celebration be commenced to celebrate the return of this wayward son to the life of the family.

In the same way, God doesn’t wait for the right words to be spoken in a prayer of repentance, the right “magic formula,” that will convince Him of the sinners’ sincerity. He sees the heart, and He knows when the repentance is real, even if a word is not spoken aloud. When someone returns to Him, they are immediately received into the family, and a celebration begins.

Jesus is trying to help the criticizing Pharisees understand that the fact that these tax collectors are hanging out with Jesus and are repenting and being saved was a cause for rejoicing, not for criticism and self-righteousness. God is rejoicing; they who claimed to love and serve Him should rejoice as well. But this isn’t the end of the story.

Father, it is amazing to think of You watching so diligently for me when I returned from the far country, retracing steps that I had made so long before. But it is the truth. And I will never run out of thankfulness and praise for that reality. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 1, 2018

Luke 15:8-10 (NIV) “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Again, the context of this parable is the Pharisee’s criticism of Jesus for hanging out with sinners. Jesus, through this series of three closely-related parables, is attempting to impress upon those implacable legalists that Jesus cares about sinners because GOD cares about them, and wants them to be rescued from the sin and death that has them trapped.

In this parable, the focus is a woman who has a small stash of ten silver drachmas, each worth about a day’s wages. For someone in those days to be able to save up that much money was remarkable, and would have in involved a lot of discipline and self-denial. But one day when the woman checked the box in which she had stashed the coins, she found only nine. One was missing!

Since the woman had a lot of self-investment in those coins, she couldn’t just shrug and move on, figuring that she still had nine coins left so the tenth didn’t matter that much. It mattered! She simply had to find it.

So she stopped everything she was doing and initiated a thorough search. Even though houses were simpler then, and had dirt floors, that didn’t make the job easy. She moved all of the furniture, shook out every blanket and pillow, swept the floors, carefully sifting through the piles of dirt that she swept up, all the while looking intently for a tell-tale glint of tarnished silver. She lit a lamp and began searching the corners of the house, every nook and cranny. Finally, in a corner she saw what she was searching for.

The woman picked up the coin, relieved and joyful. But this was too wonderful to keep to herself! She rushed out of the house whooping with excitement, and when her neighbors looked curiously out of the their windows, she loudly called them to join in her celebration. The lost coin has been found!

Jesus then draws the parallel, tying this parable to the one that came before it. He goes to every dark corner of the town and digs through what others might consider mere refuse, because He is looking for something precious that has been lost: a human soul. It does no good to look in the light places, and the safe places – that’s not where they have lost themselves. Jesus’ concern for the lost is the exact representation of God’s own concern. His anxious searching for the lost ones, regardless of where He has to go to look, mirrors God’s search for the lost. And His rejoicing when a single sinner repents and is saved (for example, see Luke 19:9-10) clearly shows the joy that is sparked in God’s own heart, a joy that spreads out to fill heaven, when a sinner is found and rescued.

Father, how quickly and easily we write off people. But You don’t. You are focused on bringing all who are willing into Your kingdom, rescuing them from sin and death and darkness, and bringing them into Your life and Your light. Lord, give me that same passion for the lost that You have, and that Jesus so consistently demonstrated. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 19, 2018

Luke 14:15-24 (NIV) When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

The great feast in heaven was a theme in Jewish teaching. All of God’s people, those who live in His kingdom and who serve Him wholeheartedly are on the invitation list.

The Pharisees, like the one at whose house Jesus was eating that Sabbath afternoon, were considered by all to be shoo-ins for the feast, as they were known for their conspicuous works of righteousness. But Jesus told this parable to show a different side of the coin. The details are not the critical elements of this parable. Instead, the overarching themes, the junctures of the story are where the meaning is hidden.

The first juncture is where the Master has completed preparation for His banquet and sends out invitations. His planned guest list was quite impressive. And, of course, it is assumed that the Pharisees would all be on the list. The messenger is sent with the urgent invitation: the feast you have been waiting for so long is now ready. Drop everything and come to the feast!

But then the plot takes an ironic twist. The guests won’t come! In the interim, while waiting for the banquet, the had filled their lives with their own agendas, with their own stuff, which had now become more important to them than the feast that the Master had been preparing. They won’t be there. These “too busy” invitees are obviously representative of the Pharisees. Jesus, the messenger of God Himself, had come bearing the invitation for them to follow Him into the kingdom, to the feast prepared for them, but they refused to follow Him. Instead, they were all too busy with their own stuff, the righteousness that they had built with their own hands. They wanted to come to the banquet, but they would only come on their own terms.

The Master is not even mildly understanding about this affront to His invitation; He is angry. So He cancels the invitations of those ungrateful people, and in their places He fills the hall with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These symbolize those whom the Pharisees had written off as cursed by God and unworthy of a seat at the table. When that doesn’t not fill the hall, the Master finishes by inviting those from the roads and country lanes, those far outside the city, representing the gentiles. If those whom God had owned as His own people refused to come, He would build for Himself a new people out of those who were not His people.

Father, it is tragic to see how those people, people who were ostensibly waiting for You with bated breath, refused to come to You when You finally arrived in the person of Jesus. And in doing so, they ended up excluding themselves from all of the blessings You had come to give, including eternal life, a place at Your banquet. Lord, keep my heart soft and obedient, so that I never refuse Your invitation, no matter where it is to, and so that I don’t miss out on Your great blessings. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 17, 2018

Luke 14:7-11 (NIV) When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In every society, many desire to be close to the top, close to those in power, close to where the action is and where the perks originate. So there is usually a constant jockeying for position – a jockeying that becomes more apparent the higher you go in that society.

Even Jesus’ own disciples were not immune to this desire for position and prestige. They were constantly discussing which of them was the greatest of Jesus’ followers, and who would get the top spots in His administration once He took power. James and John even went so far as to directly petition Jesus to be given the two top spots in His kingdom (Mark 10:35-40), making the rest of the disciples indignant (mostly because they hadn’t thought of doing that themselves!).

But, as Jesus points out here, the ways of the kingdom are the polar opposite of the ways of the world. In the world, the tops spots are often given to the most assertive, although that assertiveness does come with some real risk. Whether it is choosing a choice seat at a banquet, or pushing ourselves forward for a position of greater responsibility, there is always the chance that we will be asked to move down to make room for the one chosen by management for that position. Then we will have to move down in front of everyone to a lower position. When James and John tried that kind of technique, Jesus answer was not congratulatory of their initiative. Instead, they were told that, ”these places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Translation: “Not you; move on down.”

Instead, the way of the kingdom is for all of us to realize that everyone in the kingdom is a servant of God, and, even though we might have different jobs in the body of Christ, and different responsibilities, we can’t actually place ourselves above another in the kingdom organization. No human will be able to improve on God’s agenda or His priorities. No human will be able to point out to God a detail that He overlooked, or remind Him of something that He has forgotten. And no human will be able to wow God with their creativity and potential that He hadn’t noticed. So instead of pushing for a higher position or greater recognition, the best way to operate in the kingdom is for each person to humbly do the job that God has given to each of us, to humbly fulfill that calling that He has placed on our lives, and leave it up to God to decide when more responsibility or greater recognition is appropriate. Then such additional responsibility and recognition won’t prove to be a corrupting influence, but will greatly enhance the success of the work of the kingdom in the world.

Father, we are so used to working in the ways of the world, blowing our own horn for fear that we and our accomplishments will be overlooked. But in Your kingdom, nothing is ever overlooked by You. You know precisely what we are fitted for and when we are able to handle additional responsibilities. Help us to be content with that, to humbly focus on doing what You have directed until new orders come from You, in Your perfect timing, or until we stand before Your throne to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 16, 2018

Luke 14:1-6 (NIV) One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.

Jesus had several run-ins of this kind with the Pharisees over His healing on the Sabbath. Jesus saw nothing wrong with it, but the Pharisees listed healing as an activity that they always considered work, hence one that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

The situation that day was a total setup, and Jesus knew it. It would be extremely rare for someone with dropsy, extensive fluid retention, to be on the Sabbath dinner guest list. And the fact that the dinner guests were watching Jesus carefully showed that this was an orchestrated meeting – a trap.

Far from shying away from the conflict, Jesus actively entered into it as a teachable moment. And He did that by cutting right to the chase, asking the key question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” Everyone in the room remained silent. They couldn’t say yes and be consistent with their own theology. But if they said no, they could end up deterring Jesus from healing the man, and spring their own trap on empty air. So they sat there silently.

Jesus allowed just a few seconds before He touched the man, instantly healing him, then sending him on his way home. The man had just received a great blessing, but it was not necessary that he be part of the conversation that would follow.

Jesu’s point was made again with a single question that attacked the heart of the Sabbath controversy. If a child or an ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, nobody, even the staunchest Pharisee, would refuse to pull it out. The life of a child was precious; an ox was valuable – one’s whole livelihood could depend on it. So they all would definitely pull either one out of the well immediately, Sabbath or no Sabbath. The point was immediately clear: there was scant difference between saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a well, and saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a desperate illness or demon possession. If the one was okay, logically the other had to be okay as well.

The dinner guests realized that they had lost the argument without even entering into it. They silence now was not out of rebellion, but out of frustration. There really was nothing left for them to say.

Father, Your priority is always quite clear: loving people. Not a doting love that refuses to acknowledge or punish sin (that would violate Your justice), but a love that most naturally results in good being done to the bodies and souls of people seven days a week, with You acting directly in some cases, and through the hands of Your people in others. Help us to never limit what You are wanting to do, to never put You into a box of our own prejudices or rules, but simply to love others with Your love every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 15, 2018

Luke 13:31-35 (NIV) At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day–for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Jesus was almost to Jerusalem, His final destination. His face was set steadfastly toward that final goal, including toward the suffering and death that He knew was waiting for Him there.

Herod was waiting for Him too, but not to kill Him, as this Pharisee indicated. Herod had been trying to see Jesus for several months (Luke 9:9, 23:8), hoping to witness a miracle. The Pharisee was being deceptive, because He had been watching the excitement grow among those who were following Jesus as they got closer to Jerusalem. They believed that Jesus was going there to set Himself up as king, and the Pharisees wanted nothing to do with that.

But Jesus responded to the urging of the Pharisee on its face. Suppose Herod really was trying to find Jesus to kill Him. It did not change Jesus’ plan one iota. Jesus had two more days on the road, days that would be filled with driving out demons and healing people, in precise obedience to His Father. On the third day, Sunday, He would enter Jerusalem in triumph, and set events in motion that would lead to His arrest and crucifixion. Nothing, no plans of men or kings, could move Him away from that course now that God’s plan had entered its final stages.

In any case, Jesus knew that no assassination attempt on Him could succeed outside of Jerusalem where He was destined to die. Jerusalem, the city where God had chosen to manifest His presence 1000 years before, had a terrible reputation. Many, many prophets had been killed there by wicked and rebellious kings. And now the leaders there were going to kill the very Son of God who was coming to save them, but whom they were rejecting, just as they had rejected Him over the previous three years.

Surprising to some is the fact that this rebellion broke God’s heart, and Jesus accurately expressed that heartbrokenness in His lament over the city. God loved His people. They were the ones that He had chosen to be the channel through which salvation would come to the people of the earth. But they were still stiff-necked and rebellious. And that rebellion would, in the end, lead to their destruction.

Father, Jesus was single-minded and totally focused on Your agenda. How I wish that all of us, Your Church, were the same today. But we tend to let our hearts be pulled in all different directions. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to catch Your vision for the kingdom, and to translate that vision into concrete action every day. Amen.

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