Tag Archives: Jesus

Today’s Scripture – December 11, 2017

Luke 11:37-41 (NIV) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

The Pharisees placed great pride in their external holiness, their conspicuous obedience to the smallest detail of every commandment. This got them great praise from the common people, but, as Jesus was about to demonstrate, it did not earn them any praise from God.

Devout Jews performed a ceremonial washing of their hands before they ate and any time that they came in from the world, in case they had contacted anything unclean. Their fear was that the uncleanness would adhere to their hands, and then contaminate their food, and thus make them unclean when they ate. But this Pharisee noticed and was dismayed by the fact that Jesus did not perform this traditional ceremonial washing before He sat down to eat. His question was, how can someone who is supposed to be such a great holy man not do this small ritual to maintain His holiness against the spiritual uncleanness of the world.

But Jesus knew that physical contact with the world was not what made a person unclean. Instead, it was what came out of a person’s heart that caused them to be seen as unclean by God (Mark 7:14-16). We can scrub our hands for hours and still have a corrupt heart filled with hatred and violence, and thus still be completely unclean in God’s sight, even if our hands are squeaky clean.

And this was the point that Jesus was making with this man. Even though Jesus’ hands were unwashed, His heart was free of pollution from the world. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit so filled Jesus, so forcefully flowed through His life and out of His life, that no spiritual uncleanness could ever swim against the current to penetrate His heart.

If the Pharisee really wanted to stay spiritually clean in the midst of a sinful world, he needed to have a generous and giving spirit that would open a path for the Holy Spirit to penetrate his heart and flow through his life. Then he would not be able to be defiled by the world.

Father, we can still fall into the trap of doing good things on the outside, and believe that that makes us good on the inside. We can surround ourselves with ceremonies, believing that those ceremonies will somehow purify our hearts. But what is really needed is a heart that is open to Your cleansing power, and the sanctifying and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. Help me to keep my focus on the positive holiness of actively living in Your kingdom economy, instead of simply trying to keep bad stuff out or cleaned off. Then I can be truly holy in Your power. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 6, 2017

Luke 11:27-28 (NIV) As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

The crowds recognized that Jesus’ words were true and right, even though the Pharisees did not. The crowd recognized that Jesus’ power came from God, because they saw what He was doing without bias, even though the Pharisees saw everything that He did through lenses tinted by their biases against Him.

One of the women in the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” She was not being impious in the least, nor was she attempting to instill worship of Mary, Jesus’ mother. She was simply stating that Jesus was such an amazing and exceptional person that His mother was blessed to have a son like Him, and even implying that a woman would have to be especially blessed by God to bear a son like Him.

This does not go against Scripture at all. In fact, Gabriel twice told Mary that she was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28, 30), Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, twice pronounce her especially blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 45), and Mary herself understood that she was especially blessed to be called upon to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:48).

Jesus could have taken this opportunity to double down on all of this and affirm the unique blessedness of His mother. But He didn’t. Instead, He turned the focus away from all of that, and toward the key to kingdom life: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, even though Mary had been blessed indeed to be used as a vessel for the birth of Jesus, God’s focus was forward, to the establishment and growth of His kingdom. The blessed ones were not those who had been selected in the past, but those who elected to live in the kingdom in the future.

The people of God’s kingdom, those who are blessed now, are those who both hear God’s word, and who obey it. Who not only know the righteous requirements of the law, but who obey them as well. This is the basis of James’ urging to not “merely listen to the word,” but to “do what it says.” (James 1:22)

In essence, God’s focus on blessedness is not on the saints and heroes of the faith in the past, but on the saints and heroes of the faith in the present. Those who obeyed in the past were blessed indeed. But there are great blessings reserved for those who live in His kingdom here and now.

Father, we do so often get caught up in elevating the so-called saints of the past without realizing that we are called to be saints today – bright lights in our sin-darkened world, beacons that lead the way for those lost and wandering in sin. Help us to live out that calling, not forgetting those who have gone before, but also not elevating them in our own minds above what You are able to do in and through us today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 5, 2017

Luke 11:24-26 (NIV) “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

The tragedy that Jesus is talking about here was experienced by many people in His day, and is still tragically experienced by many people today. Jesus cast out many demons during His earthly ministry, sometimes several from the same person. He did this not only to deliver those held captive, but to show forth the reality of the kingdom.

The tragedy came because some of these people simply returned to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to demonic influences in the first place. So they were easy targets to become “repossessed.” The same old demons that had been cast out returned to find the heart of their victim empty, and so simply moved back in, often with additional demons as well, making that person more wretched and miserable than they were before.

The same thing happens today in a subtly different manner. When someone decides to turn away from habits and activities that have them bound, to start going to church, maybe even to “accept Jesus,” but then go back to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to captivity in the first place, they become easy targets to be taken captive again. May quickly revert to their old habits, and often end up worse off than they were before.

The solution today is the same one that was necessary in Jesus’ day. That is, to realize that it is not enough to simply cast out the old evil spirits. The empty space then needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that when the old spirits return, they do not find an empty space simply waiting to be refilled. They will find a holy occupant filling every space in that person’s life, leaving no room at all for them. And they will go away, and not return as long as the Holy Spirit is in residence.

Father, this is an all-too-familiar story. We see it happen all the time that a person “gets saved,” but then turns away soon after, often falling deeper into captivity to sin than they were before. We write them off as “shallow soil,” but the reality may simply be that we stopped too soon, and did not ensure their stability and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts before we left them on their own. How many of those “relapses” could have been prevented with better, more intentional discipleship and mentoring? Help me, Lord, to walk more closely with those who are new to the faith, to ensure that they are well-discipled, well-rooted, well-established, before I move on. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 4, 2017

Luke 11:23 (NIV) “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

Jesus is still addressing these words to the Pharisees who have accused Him of being able to cast out demons only because He Himself was possessed by the king of demons. In the previous two paragraphs, He has successfully rebutted their accusation, as well as credibly painting Himself as being personally much more powerful than the demons, and even more powerful than the king of demons, satan himself.

Now Jesus goes on to make two self-confirmatory statements that speak not only to His power, but to His identity.

The first statement, “He who is not with me is against me,” seems strange for him to have to verbalize. Isn’t it obvious that if someone is not for a person, they are on the opposite side?

But Jesus is not being philosophical. He is actually challenging the Pharisees to choose one side or the other. And in the light of the previous discourse and the power that He has demonstrated over the demonic forces that had stymied the best efforts of the Pharisees, this statement has an extra impact.

Jesus has shown that He is more powerful than the demons, because He is literally driving out the demons by the finger of God, and as a sign that the kingdom of God was present in His own life (verse 20 above). That means that if the Pharisees continue to work against Jesus, they are aligning themselves with the demons that His is defeating, and ultimately against God Himself.

The second statement nests neatly with the first: “He who does not gather with me scatters.” If Jesus really is the messenger of God’s kingdom, which the miracles and His ability to cast out demons proves, the He is at work gathering God’s people into God’s kingdom, the work to which He was called (Luke 19:10). And, consequently, any who oppose Him, who try to cast doubt on who He is and on where His power comes from, are frustrating His efforts. And, if they succeed at all, they will only succeed in scattering those that God is trying to gather to Himself through the work of Jesus. Thus, again, they will find themselves working against God, and against what He is trying to accomplish through Jesus.

Father, Jesus’ strength in the face of this opposition came from His sure knowledge that He was doing Your work in every detail. There was not a speck of His own agenda in there, so He could actually say that to stand against Him was to stand against You, and that to frustrate the work that He was doing was to work against what You were doing through Him. Lord, help me to do Your will as completely, as selflessly, as passionately as Jesus. Help me to so identify with You, to so commit myself to Your agenda, that Your purpose becomes fully my own, and Your own passion fully consumes me, so that Your kingdom work will advance powerfully through me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 2, 2017

Luke 11:21-22 (NIV) “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.”

Jesus continues to teach those who accused Him of being able to cast out demons only because He Himself was possessed by the king of the demons. Jesus had already challenged that idea successfully, effectively showing where His ability did not come from. Now He moves on to show how He was able to do what He did.

The key point in this paragraph is that, even though satan is strong and has the ability to lock a person up in sin and bondage, and even to possess them and take their freedom and autonomy away, Jesus is stronger than satan. He is, in fact, strong enough to attack satan where he lives, to overpower him, and to take away every defense in which he trusts. Then He is able to take away his spoils, the people that he had taken captive.

This is key for Christians, as much now as at any time in the past. Today, thanks in large part to poplar novels, movies, and television shows, most people, even many Christians, see satan as an unbeatable foe that must be feared. Borrowing from Gnosticism and Greek philosophy, many Christians see satan as the opposing force of evil to God’s goodness, and equal to God in strength, but in the opposite direction. They see him as a fearsome enemy that, if he can be defeated at all, can only be beaten with great expenditure of power, and likely great loss.

But the reality is that satan is a created being, as far below God and His power as an ant is below human beings. Even though an ant is amazingly strong, and can lift many times its own body weight, it is so small that, when attacked by a human being, it has no adequate defenses, but ends up squashed on the pavement. Jesus never had any problems defeating satan and withstanding his temptations in the wilderness. Instead, He said no to every one of them, and when He commanded satan to leave Him alone, satan had no choice but to slink away without a word. And Jesus had the same authority and power over demons as over satan himself. Even when He approached the man possessed by a whole legion of demons (Luke 8:27ff), the demons didn’t fight against Him, but fell immediately to begging for their very existence before He cast them out into a nearby herd of pigs.

A corollary of this fact of Jesus’ superiority to satan is that anyone in whom Jesus lives is also more powerful than satan, and never has to run from him or his forces, no matter how many, no matter how fiercely they roar. Neither Peter nor Paul ever fought against demons; they simply commanded them to go, and they left without a word. And that same authority is available today to all of those who belong to Jesus.

Father, our thinking in this area really has been tainted by movies and television shows, making us fearful, and driving the truth of these verses out of our minds and hearts. Help us to think in kingdom ways about these things, too. Help me to be a strong warrior whenever I have to stand against temptations, against demons, against evil in any of its forms. Help me to trust not in my own strength, but in the truth that the one who is in me, Jesus, is far greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 1, 2017

Luke 11:17-20 (NIV) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of being able to cast out demons because He was possessed by Beelzebul, the king of the demons. It was a combination of ignorance and jealousy that cause them to make this accusation. Ignorance because they were spiritually blind, and could not see at all what was happening right before their eyes. And jealousy because, even though they had theological degrees and the admiration of the people for their wisdom and righteousness, they were powerless against demons. If they ever were successful at casting them out, which was rare, it was a difficult process instead of the effortlessness of Jesus’ example.

It was because of their spiritual blindness and their powerlessness that Jesus took pity on them and patiently explained to them why their reasoning made absolutely no sense at all. First of all, there were only two possible sources for Jesus’ authority over demons: God or satan. But if Jesus’ authority came from satan, and if satan was therefore casting out his own soldiers in the name of the kingdom of God, he would have been cutting his own feet out from under himself, devastating his own forces to build up the reputation of his enemy. A very little thought shows that that idea made no sense at all. Besides, if only the king of the demons could cast out demons, that meant that every time the Pharisees were successful at casting out a demon, it proved that they themselves were in league with the devil!

That left the only other possibility. Jesus’ authority came from God, and his every defeat of a demon was a defeat for the kingdom of darkness by the kingdom of light, and proof that the kingdom of God had come into the world. That also meant that Jesus had a relationship with God that those Pharisees did not have, despite their reputations. It meant that the appropriate thing for them to do was to humble themselves and enroll as Jesus’ apprentices, so that they could learn about God and His kingdom through His teaching and His example. And, if that were true, it meant that the Pharisees had to admit that they were wrong. And they weren’t about to do that!

Father, it is sad when I see someone who is willfully blind like those Pharisees, who cannot see Your works for what they truly are, and who will not see You for who You truly are. Save us, Lord, from all such blindness. Instead, help all of us, Your people, to see You and Your kingdom every day, and to share in Your power every moment, just like Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 13, 2017

Luke 10:22-24 (NIV) “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

The seventy-two had returned to Jesus with great rejoicing and reports of their successes in healing diseases and casting out demons. Jesus rejoiced along with them, praising the Father that these “little children” (v21) had “gotten it,” while the truth about who Jesus was and what He had been sent to do continued to elude the wise and learned religious leaders of the day.

But Jesus also realized that who he really was was in fact known only to the Father. Those followers, even His closest disciples, had only seen the faintest outline of His true nature, because, even though He existed in a human body at that time, His true identity was the eternally existent Son of God (John 1:1-5). Jesus’ followers knew that He was the Messiah, and they had started to see traces of what that meant. But more than that they could not even begin to imagine.

They also had a growing understanding of who the Father was, because Jesus had been revealing Him from His earliest days with them. God, the God of Israel, was barely known by the people of Israel. They had know Him by reputation; they had heard of all of His amazing acts in the days of their forefathers. But none of the religious leaders, none of the priests, not even any of the high priests, had a real relationship with the God that they served so diligently. Their knowledge of Him was limited to what He had revealed of Himself in the Old Covenant, and they refused to receive the messenger of the New Covenant. So Jesus refused to reveal more of God to them than what they already believed.

Jesus also pointed out that the things that the people of the Old Testament times never go to see the things that they longed to see, and they never got to witness the fulfillment of the promises God had made to them, because those things were not for their times, but for the future. But the disciples were living in the days of the fulfillment of all of those prophecies and promises, as was evidenced by the abilities that Jesus had, and that they had through association with Him. They needed to realize that fully, and to praise the Father who Had enabled them to be a part of all that He was doing in the world right then.

Father, that last part really hits me right in the heart. As a Christian, it is easy for me to take my salvation for granted, and to wish that I had lived in the “glory days” when Jesu walked the earth. But I need to be reminded that for me to know You at all is an amazing miracle, an act of grace on Your part, and I need to thank You for that frequently. (Thank You!) I also need to be reminded that with me living actively in Your kingdom, with Jesus in my heart and the Holy Spirit directing my steps and empowering my life, these can be the “glory days” as well, where You will continue to show me things that people in other ages could only wish to see, and to hear You speaking things to my heart that they could only wish to hear. O Lord, make it so! Amen.

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