Thursday, December 29, 2011

Luke Part 52: Stewardships

Text: Luke 16:1-13

In this section, Jesus teaches about the stewardships entrusted to all men.  He gives the parable of the Unrighteous Steward.

First, we must keep in mind the context of this teaching.  Christ is teaching about the Kingdom, a new thing starting.  He is teaching about its divisiveness, the individuality of faith, and the ready reception of sinners.  Now he is teaching about stewardship.

In the story of the unrighteous steward, we see an example of how people in the world know how to take care of themselves.  The master is impressed by the shrewd dealings of the unrighteous steward.

The parable is a bit of a strange one, so it's helpful that the Lord makes some application of the parable afterwards.  We should consider the application and apply it to our own lives.

First, we should consider that God has given each of us a stewardship.  Each of us has been given a body and life in this world.  Each of us will give an account of the deeds done in this body.  At the least, in light of this, we ought to take care of our physical bodies.

Next, consider that each of us has been given an area of responsibility.  All that we possess is really just a stewardship from the Lord.  Those of us who are parents have special areas of great responsibility in our children.  If we have jobs, that is a stewardship.  Our relationships with others, such as friends and co-workers give us spheres of influence that are to be used carefully.

Here are four things to keep in mind in order to be faithful stewards of what God has given to us:

1. Use the things of this world to make friends.  Be generous with what God has given you.  Show love and appreciation within the realm of your responsibility.  Don't bury your stewardship in the ground.  Use what God has entrusted you with for the good of others, particularly fellow believers.

2. There is nothing insignificant in the stewardship.  We must be faithful in all things, even the small things. In order to develop habits of faithfulness, it is critical to develop and establish faithfulness in the small things of life.

3.  We can't compartmentalize our lives.  We can't act like the world in some areas of our lives and act like Christians in others.  You must think spiritually about your job, your housework, etc.  These things have a direct correlation to your spiritual well-being.  And, bring your "secular" problems to the Lord!

4.  You cannot love God and the world.  You cannot serve two masters.  You cannot live a life focused on immediate gratification while maintaining a view for eternal things.

Note finally, that even in our failings, the Lord will get the glory.  He will restore us and put us back on the path, telling us to get going again.  Start afresh and start now!  Put these things into practice!

Luke Part 51: Christ Receives Sinners

Text: Luke 15

This passage contains three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son.  All three stories share common themes.  They portray the horrible condition of mankind in reality, that man is a hopeless sinner. They show that men are received when they come in repentance, and they show the great rejoicing over a redeemed sinner.

In the first two parables, note that Jesus is identifying with the despised people group: shepherds and women.

First, we have the parable of The Lost Sheep.  The sheep who is lost doesn't have the ability to find his way back home.  He's helpless.  He has no self-defense.  See how the shepherd finds him and brings him back.  We don't just need a Shepherd to save us, we need a Shepherd to keep us and carry us home.

Next, the parable of The Lost Coin.  Like the woman, the Holy Spirit will stir things up to retrieve a lost soul.  The coin is like a helpless sinner; it will lie where it is until someone puts out his hand to find it.  The woman uses a light to search for the coin, symbolizing the Spirit bringing truth to bear on a sinner's heart.

Finally, there is the Prodigal Son.  This story is detailed and clear.  The story begins with the son who is not satisfied with his father's provision.  He is greedy, not content.  He wants his portion of the inheritance now.

Like any sinner, the son is an escapist.  He want to get as far away from the father as possible.  He wants to be free from all restraint.  What is the outcome?  The son wastes all that he has and winds up broke and hungry, working in a pig sty.  For the Jew, this would have been the worst place imaginable.

What happens then?  Does the son just pray a little prayer, and all is well?  No!   He comes to himself, he assesses his sad condition accurately, and he makes a radical change, returning to his father in humility.  See how he is convinced of the goodness of the father, how he is certain that his father will receive sinners!

And he is received, with great affection!  He is given a robe, symbolizing the Robe of Righteousness, and a ring, symbolizing the sealing of the Spirit.  He is given shoes to equip him to do the work of the father.

Christ is encouraging all to turn to the Father in repentance.  Do these descriptions fit you?  Come to Him!  He will receive those whom He is encouraging to come!

Luke Part 50: Counting the Cost and Being Salt

Text:  Luke 14:25-35

This section describes the cost of kingdom life.  A humble, committed faith is required to be part of the kingdom.  Are you wanting to rest and take your ease?  Wanting to play and enjoy recreation?

Jesus says, if you really want to follow Him:

You must hate everyone else, in comparison to your love to Him.  Who will you associate with first?  Christ and His followers, or your friends and relatives outside the kingdom.

You must take up your cross.  Everyone will have a cross to bear.  What is your cross?  Your own nature: your pride, ambition, selfishness.  These things must be battled against always.

There is a cost.  Christ tells the truth; He is not trying to "bait and switch".  This is a place of commitment where work is required.

You must sue for peace.  Like the king on the parable, who compares the armies, you must see that you can't win this fight, and you must do it fast.  You must commit yourself to the mercy of the coming King.  Nothing you can bring to Christ will satisfy Him.  Cast yourself on Him and withhold nothing if you are to be His disciple.

Finally, there is the picture of salt.  First, Jesus declares that "salt is good".  It is good to be a disciple of Christ!

Salt was valuable in the ancient world, and was known for several characteristics from which applications can be made:

Salt represented purity.  Salt's glistening whiteness suggests a life of holiness, of commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards.

Salt is a preservative.  Believers preserve society, offering a semblance of righteousness in this fallen world.  Believers preserve the truth of God's Word.

Salt is an antiseptic.  Salt treats wounds and provides (a painful) healing to sufferers -- the witness of believers brings a relief to those suffering with sin.

Salt makes people thirsty.  When the world sees us, we should make them thirsty for what we have.

Salt gives a pungency of flavor.  Salt is a flavor enhancer.  It makes things tasty.  In the same way, Christians should add a certain savor to life.

Note that Jesus didn't say, "You ought to be salt", but that "you are salt".  A true Christian will be salt to the world around him.

How does salt lose its savor?  Much of the salt around the Dead Sea was contaminated with gypsum.  In the same way, a life contaminated with sin will lose its savor.  Let us put away sin and be fully salty towards the world around us!

Luke Part 49: The Parables of the Feasts

Text: Luke 14:1-24

The previous section of Luke emphasized the division between those within God's Kingdom and those without.  This theme is continued in this passage, as Jesus gives two teachings based around the theme of feasts.

The teaching begins as Jesus is invited, on the Sabbath, into the house of one of the Pharisees to eat.  They are watching Him closely, looking for a slip-up.  He begins by seeing a man suffering from dropsy.  Understanding the question in the Pharisees' hearts, He asks if it is permissible to heal on the Sabbath.  Since they do not reply, Jesus heals the man, sends him on his way, and explains that freeing this man from disease was no different than letting loose any of their animals on the Sabbath.

Next, Jesus presents a parable about seeking honor at a wedding feast.  What is this about?  The point of the parable is that, to enter the narrow gate, you must approach god with humility.  Do not take the position of being the Ruler of your soul.  Instead, view yourself as deserving of nothing and bow before the Master, God Himself.

Then Jesus goes on to discuss how they should not invite the wealthy to their dinners, but the poor.  Jesus is describing the correct way to perform charity -- not to perform charity out of self-interest, giving to receive again.  In charity, your motivation should be simply for the good of the person whom you are helping, not for what you can get in return.

This is followed by a comment from a guest: "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" This guest is missing the point: are you going to be one of the ones in the kingdom?  Jesus tells another parable to make this point clear.

In this parable, God the Father is portrayed as a man who has given a great feast, representing salvation.  The prophets have been declaring the invitation to this feast for years, but those who have been invited are saying, "What I want to do with my life is more important to me than my soul.  This is more important than Jesus Christ.  I'm not ready for Christ now."

It's not OK to put it off.  The Father is angry at the spurned invitation.  The man holding the feast invites the crippled and lame, those who were not allowed to enter the temple.  Still, (v22) there is more room!  Consider that there is still room in the kingdom for sinners!  The Master sees that there are still people who need to come into the kingdom.  There is assurance and acceptance for those who come to God.

You may ask yourself, "How can I know if the feast is for me?"  Are you coming to the feast?  Coming to God is a fruit of election; if you are coming, you can have confidence that you will be received.

Come!  What can be more important in your life than this feast of salvation?  Come as you are, acknowledging your sin, knowing you will be received.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luke Part 48: With the coming kingdom will come a division

Text: Luke 13:10-35

In this section we see that Jesus is a separator of men.  There are only two groups of people, only two destinies.  You will either be consumed by or purified by the fire He is bringing.

In this section, we see a few events that teach this great division among min that the Lord is bringing.

First, we have the example of the crippled woman who is healed.  She is a picture of Israel under the Law: bent down, burdened, rather than freed on the Sabbath to pursue good.

Rather than making the Sabbath a time of special condemnation and rule-making, the Jews should have taken the opportunity of the Sabbath rest to see the coming Messiah's deliverance from a striving, works-based righteousness.  They accused Christ of breaking the Law, because He healed on the Sabbath.  But Christ was actually setting this woman free, just as they would set their animals free from the stalls on the Sabbath.

Next, we see the pictures of the mustard seed and the leaven.  What is the Kingdom of God, this new thing, going to look like?  It will have a small beginning, like the tiny mustard seed, but will spring up -- as does the mustard seed -- into something great.  It will grow and expand and be visible.  The saints will not blend in with the world; they shall be visible.  Like the leaven, this Kingdom is alive.  It is not a dead lump.

Then, Jesus is given a question: "Are only a few going to be saved?"  Jesus diverts the question -- instead of making it a question about  other people, of another group, he turns is back to the one asking.  He tells them to strive for themselves that they would make it in.

You cannot come through the narrow gate as a group, as a family, as a church member.  Salvation is for the individual.

Then, there is a message for the Jews at that time: the era of the advantage of the Jews was coming to an end.  Even some of the last (Samaritans, for example) would enter in the kingdom.  "What will you do?" Jesus is asking them.  What will you do with all God has given you and done for you?  It is a question for us as well.

The Jews thought they were secure, because they believed they knew all about God.  But it's not important whether you know all about Jesus; it's important that Jesus knows you.  You must come to Jesus, introduce yourself to Him, and not stay in your sin.  Does Jesus Christ know you?  Strive to enter in!  Put forth effort!  In verse 34, we see that He will receive those who come to Him.  If you will not come, it is because you love sin too much.

Finally, we see that some of the Pharisees came to Jesus warning Him about Herod.  Was this for real, or just a ruse?  Either way, Jesus takes advantage of the teaching opportunity.  Jesus says, in effect, "It is a sure thing.  I will work My ministry through to perfection.  Nothing will stop Me from accomplishing salvation."

What will you do with Jesus?  You don't have to consider any else.  There is only one Way, one straight gate.  You must go through Jesus.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Luke Part 47:The Second Return of Jesus

Text: Luke 12:35-48

In this passage, Jesus gives a few parables about His second coming.  Here are some particular bits of information we are given:

  • Jesus will return in a manner like a man returning from a wedding feast.  The servants in the parable didn't know when to expect their master.  Like them, we must be constantly watching and waiting.
  • Like a thief, Jesus will come at a time that is not known to you.
  • He will come at an hour when you think He won't come.
There is a similar passage in Matthew 24:42-51.  Looking at these passages together, we can gain a few insights.  First off, is the reminder that we must be constantly watching and waiting.  Jesus Christ will make His judgment when He returns.  There will be no second chances; there will be nothing more after His coming.

This teaching regarding faithful servants is for all who would follow Christ.  It's not just written for a select few, the super-spiritual elites.  We will either be faithful servants or merely pretending.  In the last day, the pretenders will fall away.

Are you a faithful servant, or just pretending?  Here are some marks of the faithful servant:
  1. The faithful servant has girded his loins.  He's gotten dressed to do some work.  He's active, involved, and has embraced all that God has given Him to do.  He is actively engaged in the stewardship God has given him.
  2. Faithful servants are to give light.  We are to bring light to darkness, living a life of truth as a testimony to the dark world around us.  Light your candle at the source of light: Jesus!
  3. The faithful servant is watching and waiting.  Biblically, waiting on the Lord is what He has called you to do in the interval before His coming.  Be watchful, not forgetful!
  4. A stewardship has been given.  God has given you something to do.  There is a discipline involved.  Self-discipline is the start of all godliness.
  5. A faithful steward takes care of the people under him.  He brings peace, happiness, joy and contentment for those who are committed to his care.
  6. To whom much is given, much is required.  We have all been given very much physically and spiritually; we should see the gravity of that gift.
It will be obvious whose servant and steward you are when God returns.  The unfaithful servant will be totally cast off.  And the more you know, the greater the condemnation you shall receive.

There will also be those who are blessed (verse 37, 38).  There will be a great time of fellowship, and all those who served will be served by the Lord.  He will continue His model of service by serving the servants.  His faithful servants will be put in charge of a portion of this new earth.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Luke Part 46: The Rich Fool

Text: Luke 12:13-34

This section begins with a man in the crowd who asks Jesus to help divide the family inheritance.  Jesus refuses to intervene in this family matter.  There were adequate resources in the civil government of the time to resolve the issue.

Jesus is a judge in greater matters, and He reveals it.  He sees beyond the immediate request to the man's bigger issue: covetousness, desiring more than you need.  Next, He tells the parable of "The Rich Fool."

In this parable, God has given the landowner an abundant harvest.  He decides to build larger barns to contain it, assuring himself that now he will be set for life, and able to live comfortably, needing nothing.

But this rich man was not rich towards God.  God says he is a fool, and that his soul would be claimed that night, and another man would use the wealth that he has amassed.  God will judge him for what he has done with this blessing.

What did he do?  He:

  • Took no thought for God
  • Took no thought for his fellow man
  • Wanted an abundance of provisions
This is our negative example; this is how they act in the world, but not in the kingdom of God.  In the kingdom of God, life is to know God.  Jesus continues on by telling His disciples, "Don't be torn apart by these things."  We must not be worried about riches; it will rob us of our joy.

Jesus reminds us that we really cannot control many, many things in life, such as our height or or our life's span. He tells us to learn from nature -- God will take care of His children, as He takes care of the animals.  Trust in Him; He is great enough to take care of you.

He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God.  Seek first to be righteous, rather than seeking wealth.  God will take care of us.  (Of course, we should not overindulge or live beyond our means.)

What if we have a legitimate lack of what we need?  Verse 32 replies, "Do not fear!"  The first thing we tend to do in a difficult situation is to be afraid.  Fear not!  God will take care of you!

Finally, in this passage, we see a command to sell and give to charity.  This is exactly what the rich fool didn't do.  He had more than he could keep, but desired to hoard it.  Note that this command is not to sell all and take on a vow of poverty.  The command is to be mindful of the needs of others in the kingdom.  Don't be like the rich fool, who what preoccupied only with himself.

These things -- trusting in God and depending on Him for provision, loving our fellow believers materially -- will be true of us.  Our treasure is the Lord, and our heart will be where our treasure is.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Luke Part 45: Beware hypocracy!

Text: Luke 12:1-12

This passage continues Jesus' teachings on kingdom living. Jesus is teaching about how the members of the Kingdom (Christians) will live. The way they live will be seen by the world around them.

The subject of this section is indicated plainly in the first verse: hypocracy. Hypocracy is simply acting differently than what we are. It is one of the most dangerous things in the Kingdom, and is to be constantly guarded against.

The first comment Jesus makes regarding hypocracy is that it is foolishness. All things will be revealed anyway; there is nothing hidden from God. Why act in this way?

Jesus further elaborates that hypocracy is borne from a fear of men's faces. Do we want to play down our relationship with Jesus? Do we want to fit in? Jesus reminds us not to have any fear of men; they can only harm our physical well-being, but they have no power over the soul. Fear, specifically the fear of man, is a danger that leads to hypocracy.

How can we avoid hypocracy? By fearing God, rather than man! We must reverence Him and trust Him. We're reminded that we can trust Him, as He takes care of the sparrow and knows the number of the hairs on our heads. He is kind, loving, and trustworthy. We have great value to Him ("more than many sparrows") because of Christ's work. Christ has brought us near and we have been adopted as sons.

In verse 8, we see that Christ will own His people before the angels. This is not in some future life; this is something that occurs now, as Christ guides the angels to meet our needs.

The next section concerns the so-called "unpardonable sin".  We are told that you can speak against Christ and be forgiven, but a blaspheming the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  This blasphemy against the Holy Spirit represents an unrepentant heart.  An unrepentant heart cannot be forgiven; the self-righteous cannot be saved.  The hard heart refuses the Spirit and goes on in opposition to Christ.

Finally, we have a reminder of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit will help you when you are in a situation where you need to give an account of your faith.  Yield to the Holy Spirit; He will lead you into open confession, not hypocracy!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Zechariah Part 6: Conclusion of the Prophecy

Text: Zechariah 14

This chapter contains the conclusion to the prophecy began in the previous chapters. We can assume that the prophecy is consistent throughout; that the same things are being referred to as in the previous chapters. This prophecy contains a discussion about God as King, and this King's people, and a gathering of people into that kingdom.

As in the previous chapters, this is a prophecy about "that day". Is this prophecy regarding Israel's destruction in 70 AD? It could be. The physical Jerusalem that existed until 70 AD was a representative of the Old Covenant, and it was replaced by a spiritual New Jerusalem, a representative of the New Covenant. There is both a physical and spiritual explanation.

In verse 4, we see the theme of a great wide valley being opened up. This valley is a picture of the gospel truth spreading, and the fleeing is a picture of Jewish conversions, including the great day of Pentecost.

There is a darkness described in verses 6,7 -- but even in the darkest hours of the Kingdom, there will remain a light. There will be an era of incomplete light.

Verse 8 pictures the truth spreading beyond Jerusalem, beyond the Jewish people. The spread of the truth will continue through the hard times (winter) and good times (summer).

Verse 12 shows the judgment to come on those who reject these spiritual truths and refuse to enter the Kingdom. They had seen the truth, but rejected it, so their eyes are consumed. They didn't glorify God, but instead rejected Him, so their tongue shall be consumed.

Interestingly, the terrible things prophesied about in this passage did come true in 70 AD. The Zealots within the Temple under siege were fighting among themselves, killing each other for power and authority, and even killing and consuming each other in the famine.

There is the picture of plagues in verse 16-19. There would be no rain on those who didn't come up to keep the Feast of Booths; rain (water) is symbolic of the wells of salvation that will be loosed upon those who recognize the transitory nature of their lives, the symbolic meaning of the Feast of Booths.

Jesus showed the significance of the Feast of Booths when He proclaimed in John 7, "All who are thirsty, come to Me and drink!" as the water was poured out in the ceremony. That is the significance of this feast -- that we are pilgrims in this world, but at the end we shall receive God's deliverance and blessings. We look to a heavenly kingdom, and we are not caught up in the politics and affairs of this world.

Verses 20 and 21 would have been shocking words to the Jewish hearers. In the New Covenant, all things are "holiness unto the Lord." Every person in the Kingdom is involved in the service of the Lord; each of us is a priest to Him. This is not a mixed community, as the Old Covenant was. There are no more unbelievers in the New Jerusalem.

The Lord has won the victory! Do we look forward to the great day coming when His kingdom with have its ultimate consummation?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Zechariah Part 5: Continued Prophecies of the New Covenant

Text: Zechariah 12, 13

This section of Zechariah continues the prophecies from the previous chapter. These prophecies are not in chronological order; they are looking at the same event from different perspectives.

In Chapter 12:1-9, there is a prophecy about an event that will occur "in that day" (v.3). What is the day being referred to here? This can be identified as the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. The day of His coming and establishing His kingdom marked the fulfillment and bringing to an end of the Old Covenant.

The blessing on Israel as a physical nation was ended. The New Covenant spiritual Israel is what is in view in this chapter -- a kingdom that will be trembled at.

There is a blessing here on the house of David. Christ, the seed of David, will be exalted. All of His followers will have the courage and strength to overcome trouble and testing in that day.

Verses 10 and 11 give a better understanding of that day -- it is the day when they will look upon Christ and see Him pierced (His death on the cross).

Verses 12-14 describe a mourning. This will not be a national mourning, but rather a particularized mourning. It is an individual thing, as the New Covenant is made up of individuals. Individuals must each mourn their sin and the death of their Savior by themselves.

Chapter 13:1 identifies the Lord Jesus' death on the cross. He is the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.

Verses 2-6 describe the result of the finished work of Christ. No false teaching will be tolerated in the Kingdom. People will recognize the truth and tolerate nothing that diminishes Christ's glory. Apostles and prophets will demand truth and will refuse to hear false prophets. False prophets will repent and be corrected and ashamed of their false teaching. They will be brought to repentance by their friends.

Verses 7-9 are a section that Jesus quoted. God smote the Shepherd; He slayed His only Son and the sheep were scattered. Note that two thirds were cut off -- but a remnant was saved.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Zechariah Part 4: Further Prophecy of God's Dealings With Israel

Text: Zechariah 9-11

In Chapter 9 of Zechariah, we see prophecies speaking to the coming New Testament time. God told His people of what was coming, regarding the establishment of the Kingdom and the coming of Christ. These words were sufficient for the next 400 years of silence.

A number of people groups are listed -- Syria, Phoenicia, the Philistines -- and their destruction is prophesied. This destruction came 200 years later when Alexander the Great destroyed these groups. But Alexander did not go on to Jerusalem; He received a vision from God that he was not to touch Jerusalem. When the Philistines saw this deliverance, many trusted God -- the remnant here described.

This passage also prophecies how the north and south kingdoms were united by the Macabees and they defeated Antiochus Epiphanes. This was Ephraim and Judea, the "bow and arrow".

In Chapter 10, the prophecy elaborates on the blessings that Ephraim and Judea will receive. Also, we see the introduction of the theme of a shepherd, and that the Lord has a people and will take care of them.

In verse 1, they are told to "ask for rain" -- this is an example for us, to be bold and ask God for blessings. Also, they are told to ask at an appropriate time, at the time for the spring rains.

In verse 6, we see that God will restore His people and have compassion on them. He will call, gather, and redeem. These are the blessings the Jews were to be asking for.

We see the people are in a bad state -- they are "without a shepherd" (without a leader). And God is not pleased with their leaders. He is angry at the shepherds. It's no good to follow the wrong leader. Misguided ritual is of no use. There is no excuse for following someone who is leading you astray; God will not hear of it.

Verse 4 is the key verse in the chapter. Christ is the prophesied immovable, eternal "corner stone", the tent peg holding all together.

Chapter 11 is a prophecy of an upcoming civil war. The leaders were unable to collect their tax monies (the howling of the shepherds), and they asked the Romans to come in and put down the rebellion. In doing so, the Romans ruined the country, destroying the great forests at Lebanon and Bashan.

In verses 7-14, the prophecy discusses the Messiah. God will feed the true Jews (pasture the flock doomed to slaughter). Then we have the prophecy of the two staffs -- "Favor" and "Union". "Favor" represents Israel, and "Union" represents the union of Judah and Ephraim.

Verse 8 speaks of annihilation of the "three shepherds". This is not literally three people, but represents the leaders in three realms: civil, religious, and prophetic -- corresponding to the king, priest, and prophet. These leaders were failing in their duty and would be destroyed.

God shows He no longer has a care for false professors. When Christ was crucified, the "Favor" staff was broken -- the covenant with Israel was over. The "Union" staff was broken as well. Animosity would remain between Judah and Israel.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Zechariah Part 3: A Call to Reality

Text: Zechariah 7-8

This passage begins with men from Bethel asking the priests if they should continue to fast in the 5th and 7th months. They had been fasting in the 5th and 7th months -- as well as the 4th and 10th -- to commemorate different events associated with the fall of Jerusalem.

Years had passed since that fall, and progress was being made to rebuild the wall, so the men were wondering if they should continue fasting, or if it was the time to renew hope and begin rejoicing.

God gives the answer to their question in the following chapters. He is going to show them how to worship, and show that worship is not just a hollow ritual but true worship is combined with a changed life.

Verses 4-7 of Chapter 7 begin with a stern correction for their fasting. Their fasting didn't do any good! It wasn't commanded in the Law; they were adding to the Law. And God speaks directly to their inward motivation, rather than this outward ritual.

Their motivation to fast was to get something from God; they wanted to feel good about themselves. But the proper motivation in worship is always to give something: to show homage and give glory to God.

God said (paraphrasing): "You should have listened to the old prophets! You didn't need to create this ritual." The message: submission unto the Lord and repentance from sin is what God seeks in His worshipers.

In verse 8-14, God makes it clear that what they needed was to have real life in their hearts. Their religious ritual meant nothing because they weren't worshiping Him in their lives. They gave 70 years of fasting, rather than living before God in their lives. Ritual is easy -- do we worship as ritual, or are we coming prepared and ready to meet with God?

In Chapter 8, God lays out the blessing He has in store. He had always purposed to love and bless His people, but He would not have them follow after other gods. God was as determined to bless them as He was to bring curses upon them when they went astray.

This is now a time for rejoicing, not fasting and mourning. God promised to make His people a blessing. They were receiving a down payment on the restoration. And God commanded them to do certain things (v16, 17). God encouraged them in their work, just as He encourages us in our work now.

This prophecy at the end of the chapter is concerned with a future day, "In that day" -- this would be the day when Jesus was to come. A time awaited when the Messiah would come and people would flock to Him. The Jews would be blessed to be the first to receive that message. People from all nations would hear about the Messiah and come to God. The prophecy shows plainly how the Gentiles would take hold of the Jews and become one people, the true Israel, following God.

God blessed the world through the Jews; through the Jewish disciples of Jesus, He brought in many Gentiles. The Jews would be part of the coming Kingdom of the Son, Jesus. They would be the first fruits among the nations.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Zechariah Part 2: A Vision for Zerubabbel: Get up and get working!

Text: Zechariah 4

This passage contains a vision that Zechariah received. The vision is primarily given for the benefit of Zerubabbel, the man who was organizing the effort to rebuild the Jewish temple after the Jews had returned from captivity in Babylon, but we can draw interesting and appropriate conclusions for our life based on the principles conveyed. In this passage, God supplies the interpretation of the vision as well as the vision itself.

One of the key phrases of this vision is, " 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." Israel didn't have any might (wealth and armies) or power (strength, courage, and valor of individuals). God was going to accomplish the rebuilding through Zerubabbel, by the power of His Spirit, not by earthly strength. In the same way, God accomplishes great things through us, by His Spirit, not ours.

There were many at that time who were "despising the day of small things." The new temple they was building was smaller and less impressive than the previous one. But that was the wrong attitude. This temple was where God had chosen to shine His revelation.

This vision was a message of encouragement to Zerubabbel, and a word for all Israel: Get up and get busy! Finish the temple! God had called them to do the work, and was telling them that He would do it, through His strength. In the same way, we are called to do things in the Kingdom, and we shouldn't get discouraged at their smallness or at the difficulties. We should be reminded that God will finish the works He begins.

We can make a few observations from what we read about this vision:
  1. The Lord came to Zechariah -- the vision didn't come from Zechariah's entreaty. God comes to us through His gracious desire to make Himself known.
  2. Zechariah was wakened out of his sleep. God has to awaken us, to put us into our right minds. God has to clear away what is affecting our minds. He makes an appeal directly to our intellectual understanding.
  3. Zechariah was asked what he saw. Zechariah was responsible for passing the vision on to Zerubabbel, and God wanted to make sure he could accurately represent the word given. In the same way, we should be careful to accurately represent the Word God has given us.
  4. Zechariah asked, "What does this mean?" He was willing to say, "I don't know." He was a humble man. We should be humble as he was: if you don't know something, ask God to make His Word plain to you.
Some particulars from the vision:

  1. Candlestick -- represents the nation of Israel. It is gold, showing that they are special.
  2. The Seven Lamps -- like the seven eyes of the stone in the previous chapter, these represent the eyes of God. God will have His eyes on His people; they will have His presence and His guidance.
  3. The Oil -- represents the Holy Spirit
  4. The two olive trees are a topic of some contention, but I believe they represent Zerubabbel and the high priest Joshua, the men who were responsible for the rebuilding of the temple. They were guiding and leading the nation of Israel, bringing forth good fruit by the Spirit.
From a New Covenant perspective, we see Joshua and Zerubabbel as representatives of Christ and the Spirit. And the candlestick represents the true Israel, the people of God: the church.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Zechariah Part 1: The Kingdom is Coming!

The book of Zechariah contains a prophecy about the coming Kingdom that would be initiated by Christ and also some prophecies that relate to events happening at the time of the return from Jewish exile in Babylon.

Zechariah was a son of a prophet, one of the returning ones. He preached a message in the Name and authority of God.

The book of Zechariah can be divided into distinct sections.

  1. First, a proclamation that the Kingdom was coming
  2. Next, an exhortation that the Jews had a part to play -- duties to perform in bringing about that Kingdom
  3. A reminder that the Kingdom of God was bigger than the Jews, and would encompass all nations.
  4. A series of visions (Chapter 6-8)
  5. The first oracle (prophecy of God) -- Chapters 9-11
  6. The second oracle -- Chapters 12-14
The proclamation that the Kingdom was coming was also a word of repentance -- there would be no Kingdom without repentance. People were called to:
  • Believe God's promises; believe that God's way is the right way
  • To do something as a result of His way being true -- for two years the rebuilding of the temple had ceased; they needed to continue its rebuilding
  • To not be discouraged by the smallness of the work; this temple would not be as grand and great as the one Solomon had built, but it was the job God had called them to.
Each individual had his part to do in the rebuilding of Jerusalem; each had his duty in bringing about the coming Kingdom. In the same way, we each have a role to perform in God's Kingdom today.

At the beginning of Chapter 3, we see a courtroom scene, with Satan accusing Joshua, the high priest. God tells Satan that He will not destroy Joshua, that Joshua is a "brand plucked out of the fire". Joshua is full of sin, but God has chosen him; God removes Joshua's filthy clothes and clothes him with clean garments, representing the righteousness of Christ. God promises to Joshua that if he follows God, he will be blessed and rewarded.

Verses 8-10 of Chapter 3 contain a discussion of the Branch, representing Jesus Christ. Jesus is also symbolized in the Stone with seven eyes -- seven being the number of completion, demonstrating complete vision. We read here that when the Branch comes, God will remove all the iniquity in one day (the day of the Crucifixion). And the coming of Christ will result in a reconciliation between people (v 10).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Luke Part 44: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees!

Text: Luke 11:37-54

In this section we read of some events that occurred after Jesus accepted an invitation to dine with a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the main men of the conservative religious scene among the Jews. Jesus accepted this invitation in order to have an occasion to reveal and rebuke their sinfulness. These sins of the Pharisees are also things that we should be on watch for in our lives, and may be things that we need to repent of.

The first incident involved Jesus's refusal to perform the ceremonial handwashing. Jesus didn't do this in order to provoke a confrontation and to engage the Pharisees. He wanted to discuss their underlying sin: hypocracy, putting on an outward show in order to hide what was true inwardly.

They loved to be seen by men, to be well thought of; they treated others as the rabble. They were the academia, the elite. They would tithe minute amounts, but they left the weighter parts of the law undone. They should have been humble, loving, merciful -- all about equality, realizing we are all equal under the love of God.

Next (v45), the lawyers -- the experts on Jewish law -- get alarmed, saying, "Hey! When you say that about the Pharisees, you're insulting us, too!" And Jesus replies, "Woe to you lawyers as well!" The lawyers claimed to honor the prophets who had come before Jesus, but the reality was that they were continuing the tradition of their fathers -- to persecute and kill the true prophets.

These lawyers had the key (the Scriptures) to bring men to God. They were the experts on the Law and the prophets. But they didn't make anything clearer; rather, they hindered those who would enter in, those who were actually seeking God. They put themselves in the place of Christ, telling men, "If you do these things, you will be right with God." This is much like what the Roman Catholic Church does today!

Jesus is making it clear that this religion and nation were going to be destroyed! Yet God, in His mercy, gave them another 40 years after the time of Christ to repent.

In seeing these woes leveled at the hypocritical Pharisees, we should look at ourselves, seeking to purify ourselves and root out all that needs to be changed.

Does our living match up to our teaching? Do we forgive those who have hurt us? Are we helping others to come to Christ through our life or teaching, or are we hindering them? Are we really different from the world? Have we confronted sin in others, and did we do it in love, with the right motive?

Finally, we see the response of the Pharisees -- unbridled anger. If you have accurately proclaimed the gospel, you will receive one of two responses: repentance and faith, or wrath and rejection. There is no middle ground!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Luke Part 43: The Light of the World Has Come!

Text: Luke 11:29-36

In this passage, we see that men were, even at this point in Jesus' ministry, asking for further signs, although Jesus had given ample proof and evidence of who He was.

Jesus says that the sign that will be given them is the Sign of Jonah. Jonah was a Jewish prophet who was sent to Gentiles -- and the Gentiles received the word given. Jesus likewise would be received by Gentiles, though largely rejected by the Jews.

Jesus proclaims that those who received Jonah's message, the Ninevites, will stand up in judgment against that generation. This indicates to us that those Ninevites were truly "saved" -- they were Old Testament saints who will stand in the Day of Judgment.

Likewise, the Queen of the South (The Queen of Sheba) is given as another person who will stand in judgment for that generation. She received the truth, and was humbled by the greatness God had bestowed upon Solomon.

Notice that Jesus is teaching about a Day of Judgment. A time is coming when the Lord will put all things right. Remember that now is the day of salvation!

Then, we have in verses 33-36, the illustration of the light. This is not about us being the light of the world, rather it is a teaching that all men are in need of illumination. Christ is The Light (John 1:1) and he has not hidden the truth -- He proclaimed it! Everything about Him is light, life, love, and vitality.

The problem (see verse 34) is not with the Light itself, it is with the receptors of that Light. Their spiritual eyes refused to see, so they were filled with darkness. The illustration here further describes how if you have to grope in the darkness, you will have problems and make mistakes.

Then, Jesus makes it personal, warning: "Take heed that the light in you is not darkness." Every individual must examine himself and be sure of himself.

the Pharisees had the light of God's Word, but it was darkness to them; they even tried to mis-apply the Scriptures and use them as a weapon to trap Jesus.

Is Christ your all-in-all? Do you have the peace and joy of the Spirit? If Christ is in you, your whole being shall be full of light and truth. It is not a life of absolute perfection, but one of constant drawing to Christ, of quick repentance for sin. It is a life marked by the stirring of holiness, not by hiding in sin and darkness.

The Queen of Sheba is an application: She had heard Solomon had words of wisdom, so she sought him out and came to hear him, a local king. Will we likewise seek out the words of wisdom from Christ, our much greater heavenly King?

She had only heard reports of Solomon; she must have wondered if the reports were true. But we have God's Word, personal testimonies, and our own first-hand knowledge. Our privilege exceeds hers greatly.

She was far away from Solomon, and had to travel a long way to meet him, but Jesus is right here with us. She wasn't invited to come, but we have been invited, by Christ Himself.

What was the effect on the queen? She was awed, humbled before Solomon, and left a great gift. Not because Solomon's riches were deficient, but to show her reverence. Likewise, let us give all of ourselves to our great heavenly King in worshipful adoration!

Luke Part 42: Man Healed, Freed from Demons

Text: Luke 11:14-28

In this passage we see a man who cannot speak (and we are told in a parallel passage in Matthew is also blind) healed and freed from demons.

The immediate reaction to this from the Pharisees is that Jesus must have been casting out the demons by the power of Satan. This just shows the darkness of men's hearts -- they see a wonderful miracle performed, and the first inclination is to say Christ is evil.

Jesus's response is that this is impossible; that a kingdom divided cannot stand. Note that this is as true of Christ's kingdom as it is of the kingdom of Satan. We do not want to be those who are dividing the house of God; we want to live in love, charity, and unity with all our brothers and sisters.

Jesus then gives a discussion in verses 21 through 26, of the kingdom of Satan. He displays the devil as a powerful ruler, an armed man guarding a palace. The house represents people; those who are in the devil's kingdom are bound -- bound by sin and by Satan himself.

Evil everywhere around us; we cannot escape from dealing with the evil one. In 2 Cor 11:3, we see that Satan is deceitful and crafty. He does not appear to be the monster that he is.

The devil is fierce and cruel, and wishes to see men slay one another; he wishes to see men thrown into hell.

The devil has no power before Christ, the "one stronger than the strong man". Christ is a wonderful and merciful master. He displayed His kindness when He saved us through His grace while we were yet sinners. Christ takes the devils' spoils (people under his domain, sinners as you and I were), and "distributes them" -- setting people free and then setting them to work in their positions in the Kingdom of God.

We see a comparison of two kingdoms -- you are either with or against Christ; there can be to neutral position. You are a servant of the devil if you do not know Christ! You can be in one of two positions: safe and secure in Christ, or under the bondage of sin and the devil.

Verses 24-26 describe a person who had a moral cleansing, but did not close with Christ. Ultimately, this person fails to like an upright life and falls back into the bondage of sin.

So in this passage, we see the reality of Satan, that he will attempt to reclaim a loss. To be free of his power, see verses 28 and 29. In these verses, Jesus responds to a woman who gave a blessing upon Him and His mother. Jesus replied that the utmost blessing occurs when we hear the Word of God and keep it.

We must press on, studying the Word and seeking to keep it. In is we will see that the devil cannot harm us; we have been set free from his power. Knowing this, we can live in joy and hope!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Luke Part 41: The "Lord's Prayer" -- a model for our prayer.

Text: Luke 11:1-13

This passage continues with a discussion of kingdom life, specifically in the matter of prayer.

Jesus would have us communicate with Him through prayer. A prayerless Christian is an impossibility -- the importance of prayer cannot be overstated. Remember that Jesus was regularly and frequently in prayer. We, as mere men, have a much greater need of prayer than He did!

So an unnamed disciple asked Jesus to teach him to pray. Jesus responded with this prayer, commonly known as "The Lord's Prayer" -- this is actually a misnomer, as it is not a prayer that Jesus would have Himself prayed; He had no sins to ask forgiveness for! Instead, it is a model prayer for us. It can be referred to as an "index prayer". Each of the phrases in this prayer are a cue to show us the different areas that we are encouraged to pray for.

First, a note on prayer time and frequency. We see in this model prayer that we should be praying for "our daily bread", indicating that we should pray at least daily. But there is no other constraint on when to pray. We may pray in the morning, upon rising, or before bed. In fact, there are many times throughout the day when we have a quiet and can call out to God -- in the shower, on the way to work, etc.

Some characteristics about this prayer that we may learn from:

1. Plural pronouns - "our" Father, forgive "us", etc. Look outside yourself. You are only a part of a whole, not the center of attention!

2. How to address God - He is our heavenly Father. What a blessing that we are encouraged to address Him as such! What kindness He shows toward us as Father!

3. "Hallowed be Thy name" - Are our hearts broken by all the blasphemy around us? Are we hurt and concerned that there is so little reverence for God?

4. "Thy kingdom come" - we can pray for God's kingdom to come within our own heart, for the church to grow, and for missionaries to see success. We can pray that Jesus would come and we would see the final consummation of the kingdom.

5. "Thy will be done" - that rebellion would cease all over the world. Also we can pray this when we don't know what exactly to pray in a situation; just pray that God's will would be done.

6. Our daily bread - our daily necessities, the things we need. We can pray for freedom from the diseases and sicknesses common all over the world as a result of sin and The Fall.

7. Forgive us our sins - come in prayer, knowing that your sin will be forgiven! It is right and just for God to forgive us, based on the finished work of Christ. This is the place in prayer for repentance.

8. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil - This is an admission of our weakness. We can pray for deliverance from evil and protection from Satan, our "defeated foe". We should remember to stay far from every form of evil wherever it appears.

So here we have given for us, the Model Prayer, an index prayer. We have a great warrant to pray. We need the Holy Spirit to help us to pray, to give us a great burden to pray, and to cause us to acknowledge our need of Him.

Each index of the prayer is taught throughout the Bible. Through study, we can find much Scripture to learn -- we can "pray the Bible" in many ways in each of these areas.

Luke Part 40: Mary and Martha

Text: Luke10:38-42

In the previous passage, Jesus was asked by a Pharisee wishing to justify himself what was needed to inherit eternal life. The man replied, "To love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus' response, the story of the "good Samaritan" explained what it means to love your neighbor. This account explains what it means to love God with all your heart.

In this story we hear of how Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha. Mary sat listening to Jesus while Martha busied herself with preparations. This frustrated Martha, and she asked Jesus to have Mary help. Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the best part in listening to Him.

Note first that Mary and Martha were both followers of the Lord. See Martha's responses to Jesus in John 11. Martha was a real follower of Christ.

The point of this passage is: how do those who love the Lord behave? They behave like Mary in the passage here.

Note that all may come to Jesus and sit at His feet. Women, men, children -- all are welcome to receive life from Him.

Martha has gone to great pains to prepare a feast. She complains that Jesus is monopolizing Mary's time. Isn't this exactly what should be said of us? That we are consumed with Jesus, that He monopolizes our thoughts?

Jesus then makes it clear that Mary has chosen the best part. Fellowship with Jesus is heaven on earth! Nothing is of greater importance than choosing to have fellowship with Christ. Mary is occupied with lesser things - not sinful things - but Mary has chosen the better part.

The thing to see here is that there is no comparison between the things of this life and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The important thing is to have a heart disposition to commune with Christ and to get into the position of blessing. You have a need for fellowship with Him; make the choice to seek Him and have that need met.

Also, see that Jesus refused to break the fellowship with Mary. Jesus will not break fellowship with His people; He will not take Himself from them. He is always there whenever we come to Him, as a learner, seeking to commune with Him.

Remember then, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Luke Part 39: The weak will crush Satan's kingdom through God's power

Text: Luke 10:17-24

In this passage, Jesus is giving further encouragement and instruction for kingdom life.

First, we see the results from the 70 people whom He had sent out previously. Remember, these were "just ordinary folk". They returned from their mission exultant in their victory in spiritual battle. They went out in the name of Jesus, and found that the devils were subject to them in His name.

Jesus explains to them in verse 19 that He has given them power in the spiritual world. That is the meaning of the "serpents and scorpions" described here, not literal insects and snakes, but rather evil spirits and men under their control. When men are saved, they are set free from Satan's dominion, and he is beaten. This is what Jesus was seeing when He saw Satan "falling like lightning." (v. 18).

Then, Jesus gives a reminder of their real reason for rejoicing. The real reason for a Christian to rejoice is that he is Christ's, not because of power in the spirit realm. We can rejoice if we know our names are written in heaven. This phrase indicates security -- having your name written in heaven is as if you are already there.

Then we see something quite remarkable in verse 21: we are told that Jesus "rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit". Their victorious mission pleased the Lord! It was a cause for Him to rejoice.

We see that He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. This is the place where true, deep rejoicing is from. And the rejoicing led Him to thank the Father. What was Jesus rejoicing about? What was it that made him so happy? It was that God reveals Himself to the simple, the humble, and the trusting. That it doesn't have anything to do with brainpower. No one is excluded. It is all God's work.

We see here a picture of the Trinity: Jesus the Son, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, thanking the Father for His wondrous work and revealing Him to the world. (v. 22) This is a look into the close fellowship and communion within the Trinity.

Then, Jesus turn to his disciples and tells them they are blessed and privileged to see and hear these things. This is who we are -- we are those who have seen and heard these things as well. Even a "man after God's own heart" such as King David didn't receive the blessing of seeing the gospel fully. The prophets revealing God's Word in the Old Covenant wanted to see these things, but were unable to.

But we have the fulfillment of the promise. We're not living on the promise, as the saints of old did. We are living on its fulfillment, and we are going to crush the kingdom of Satan!

Do you expect to be used? Do we expect results for our outreach and witness? Is God going to use us to crush Satan by saving men, as He did with these 70? It seems to be what this is saying; we can confidently go forth knowing that He will fulfill His work.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Luke Part 38: Jesus’ Words on Judgment

Text: Luke 10:1-16

This section contains some of Jesus’ teachings on the final judgment to come.  A brief listing of some of those teachings is given below:

First, what you do in this life follows you into the next, and the position in the next life is fixed: either eternal judgment or eternal life.

There is a Last Day.  A final Day of Judgment is coming.  A certain day is fixed when this world will end and God will put all things right.  All the dead shall rise and stand before God.  Every man will be there on that great day.

There are only two destinies when we leave this world: heaven or hell.  There is no second chance.  What did you do with your privilege of hearing the gospel?

There will be degrees of punishment.  Some will receive a greater punishment.  The punishment will be perfect, exactly fitting the situation.

The degree of punishment, we read here, will be based on the amount of truth is rejected – not on what bad things the person did in his lifetime.  What a fearful thing to consider here in America where the gospel is so well-known, even treated as commonplace!

Jesus cites three contemporary cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum) and compares them two three ancient cities that had long-since been annihilated.  The contemporary cities that He mentioned had seen much of Christ and His teachings.  Then He compared them to Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon – dreadful places known for their wickedness – and said that these horribly wicked ancient cities would have repented long ago if they had seen the gospel.

Jesus discusses Capernaum specifically.  The parallels to the United States are clear.  It is a city that has been incredibly blessed, but now they are “lifted up” – at least they think of themselves as lifted up.  Their religion is a civil religion; it will get them nowhere.  How can our country, who is so much like this city, continue on?  We need a revival of true heart religion!

From this section in Luke, we must take away the certain knowledge that we are carrying the most important message – the gospel.  This is the message of judgment and life eternal.

Note that Jesus is entrusting this word to just normal people.  Each of us is responsible to pass the word of the gospel along.  Remember that men cannot be convinced through reasoning.  Salvation only comes through the working of God, and God works through His gospel.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Luke Part 37: Ten principles for sharing the gospel

Text: Luke 10:1-16

In this passage, Jesus appoints 70 additional disciples and continues His teaching by telling them how they are to go out and spread the word. His instructions are full of good advice for leaders and pastors, but also for us today, considering that the 70 sent were just ordinary people, as we are ordinary people as well.

Here are ten principles drawn from the text, for us to consider today as we share with the world around us:

1. The work is toilsome; it is a labor (v. 2) Spreading the gospel will be a battle. It will not usually be easy. Have the proper expectation.

2. It is dangerous -- the 70 were being sent out "as lambs in the midst of wolves". (v.3)

3. We must be single-minded (v.4). Our single focus must be on sharing the gospel. Don't get distracted from your purpose! You must depend upon God.

4. Be plain and straight-forward in your presentation of the gospel (v.9). Don't try to sugar-coat it or address it obliquely. Proclaim the gospel, the Word of God!

5. Be a positive and not a negative work... the 70 were instructed to say, "Peace be upon this house" (v.5). The gospel is good news! The gospel is the power of God.

6. The laborer is to initiate the contact. We don't have to sit and wait around for someone to contact us, we should take initiative and reach out to others.

7. Jesus sent them into places where He was going to come later (v.1). This should be a great encouragement to us! Jesus has put us into places where He will come. Be confident that He will follow and bring fruit when you sow.

8. Evaluate and understand where He has sent you. Do the same people keep coming across your path?

9. Recognize the importance of the responsibility Christ has placed into your hands. He has said, "When they hear you, they hear Me." (v.16) God will have a witness, even if the rocks and stones must cry out! He has sent us as His ambassadors; we speak for Him.

10. It is a tremendous privilege to be entrusted with the gospel. We are the ones who have been privileged to represent God on earth.

Pray, plan, and speak! You must make a plan in order to accomplish anything, especially gospel work. You have been sent to particular people at a particular place; make a plan to speak. If you don't make a plan, you won't share the gospel. Forget the small talk, go directly to a single-minded, simple and straightforward presentation!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Luke Part 36: Principles of the Way of the Kingdom

Text: Luke 9:51-62

This passage continues on with Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom. These teachings have been grouped together for our edification; they are not in chronological order. Also, the people described in these incidents remain unnamed and are not important. Each person's path is unique. We are all going the same direction, yet we have different experiences, experiences, and flaws. These principles must be applied to our own lives as they fit.

This passage contains four incidents from which principles may be seen.

First (v. 51-56), we see Jesus and the Samaritans. Jesus was passing through Samaria and sent the apostles ahead to prepare for Him a place to stay. But the people in Samaria would not receive Him, because of their religious bigotry. The Samaritans were a mixed group of people who had cultural and religious differences from the Jews. The had their own center of worship, so they rejected Jesus because He was going on to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship. The disciples wanted to respond by calling down fire, but Jesus said no -- that was not why He came.

The principle to be gained from this passage is that rejection is to be expected. Jesus was rejected. You will be rejected upon sharing the gospel. It is not due to our failure, a lack of providing the correct information to the hearer. Rather, it is due to a moral failure on the hearer's part. What is our response? Not to be angry and wish them harmed, but to love them and continue on.

Next (v57, 58), we have the example of the willing follower. A man tells Jesus he is ready to follow Him, so Jesus explains that he will have to live an unsettled existence.

The principle? We are traveling through this life. We shouldn't be trying to find a settled, permanent comfortable home here. This life here is a short stop. It will not always be a comfortable existence -- we must be stepping out of our comfort zone.

In verses 59 and 60 we have the example of a man who was called to follow Jesus, but first asked to bury his father. Now, in the culture of the Jews, burying a father was the highest responsibility of the oldest son. This was a very important thing. But Jesus taught the principle that nothing -- even this thing -- was to take precedence over the commands of Christ. This was no minor issue, but still it held no comparison to obeying Christ's commands.

The final example (v61, 62) is of a man who wanted to follow Jesus, but first he needed to say goodbye to his family. This was a man with a mixed love. He was saying, "I love the Lord, but I love my family equally." The point here is that our love for Christ must be supreme. Our eyes must be fixed on Christ. We must serve Christ with singleness of heart and singleness of mind.

Note that Christ does not condemn normal life experiences. These things are used as teaching tools, for us to apply these principles and keep proper perspective in our relationship with our families and our Lord.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Luke Part 35: Final teachings of Christ before Jerusalem

Text: Luke 9:37-51

In this passage we see that there is still some work for Jesus to do: teaching his disciples, revealing more of Himself. Some of that work is recorded in this passage. The great need of this teaching is evident. The disciples needed that teaching at the time, and we need that teaching ourselves today.

First, we have the situation in verses 37-42. The disciples were stumped by a demon they were unable to cast out. We know that Christ had previously given them power to cast out demons, and they were previously rejoicing in their success. What was the problem?

The problem was presumption. They had previously had success. They got their eyes off of Christ, yet presumed that Christ would be with them. They assumed that they could cast the demon out in their own power. We must be on guard for the same thing... presuming that since a meeting or conference was good last time, that God will bless us in the same way this time.

Do not assume based on past successes. Instead, we need faith. Each time, we must come to God seeing our dependence on Him. Jesus said in another passage that, "This kind does not come out without prayer and fasting." The "prayer and fasting" is a demonstration of faith. The mere act of praying or fasting proves nothing; it must be accompanied by faith.

Next, we have this saying of Christ's: "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." Jesus was telling the disciples plainly about His upcoming death. But they were afraid to ask Him about it, so they didn't "get" it! What was the matter? Were they afraid they might look stupid? Clearly, Jesus was wanting them to understand this; He began by saying, "Let these words sink into your ears."

The lesson for us is: when we don't understand something, we have to seek it out. We are so often full of complacency, full of satisfaction. Never be satisfied; never quit learning, never quit inquiring of the Lord. Christ could teach us all things at the moment of salvation, but instead He has set it up so that we would have a lifetime pursuit of seeking Him. It is not His program for us to sit around and do nothing!

Then, we come to the disciples -- in the presence of Christ! -- discussing who among the them would be the greatest. Christ rebukes them by showing them a little child, and saying that the least among them will be the greatest. He is teaching humility. Jesus came to serve, and the one who comes to be the servant of all is the one whom Christ will receive.

Christianity is all about being committed to a lifetime of humility and service to others, expecting nothing in return. We must have the right attitude of service, especially in "lost causes". We should not be trying to build up our church or build up ourselves, but only to bring the Gospel to the world around us.

Next, we see a situation where John sees a man casting out demons in Jesus' name, but not following along with the disciples. John told him to stop doing this, because he was not of John's group. This is exclusionism, or denominationalism. We must be on guard against this! While we should certainly recognize false ministries as such, me should see good Christian labors in other groups, and pray for them and recommend them. Let us never fall into a spirit of narrow exclusion, thinking our group is the only group holding to the truth of God!

Luke Part 34: The Mount of Transfiguration

Text: Luke 9:28-36

This passage begins with a description of Jesus praying. Our King, Jesus, the perfect Son of the Father, needed to pray and prayed fervently and frequently. He should be our example in this regard; surely in our weakness we have more need of prayer than He did.

While He is praying, a transformation occurs. His garments became bright. In the parallel account in Matthew (Matt 17:1-8), we are told that His face shone like the sun. Next, two men "appeared in glory" -- Moses, who had been dead for 1400 years, and Elijah, who had been dead for 900 years.

Jesus had been praying, probably about His future work to be performed on the cross, and this was the answer to His prayer. God was sending His Son an encouragement about His work, as Moses and Elijah were talking with Him about the the death He was to die in Jerusalem.

Peter saw all this and was amazed. He thought it was great and he wanted to make three tents -- for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He was putting Christ on the same level as Moses and Elijah. God immediately quashed that idea. The purpose of Moses was Elijah was to reveal Christ. They had served that purpose, and they were taken back, leaving only Jesus and the disciples. God spoke from a cloud and reveals Jesus as "The Christ". The disciples are terrified and fall down at the voice.

Two interesting points: First, the cloud that fell upon them was referred to in Matthew as a "bright cloud" -- not a dark, ominous cloud to keep men away. Not like the Old Covenant, where a cloud over Sinai terrified the people. The New Covenant is bright, inviting, ready to give revelation.

Secondly, we see in the beginning of this passage that Jesus took the disciples up the mountain to pray with them, but they fell asleep. Had they stayed asleep, they would have completely missed the amazing blessing that God had prepared for them! Pray through with God. Fight against the flesh, engage in the battle -- there may be a blessing awaiting at the end!

However, even though the disciples had fallen asleep and full of fear, Jesus is gentle with them in their weakness. His response is full of grace; we are told in Matthew that He touched them and told them not to be afraid. What kindness and grace!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Luke Part 33: Feeding of the Five Thousand

Text: Luke 9:10-17

This section continues the theme in Luke, where Jesus is describing the kingdom of God and the King of that kingdom. Remember that this is a spiritual kingdom; the kingdom is the people of God, Christians.

In the first two verses of this section, we see Jesus' approachability. He had withdrawn from the crowns, taking His disciples off into a desert place. But the people found Him our and came after Jesus -- this is an example for us to never let anything stand in our way of getting to Jesus. And Jesus' response was not to drive the crowds away and tell them He wanted to be alone. He welcomed them -- Jesus receives all who come to Him! And He taught them about the kingdom of God and healed them.

So what was Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God? What is new about the New Covenant?
  • Being right with God depend's on God's grace. (In the Old Covenant, men had to perform (circumcision, sacrifices) in order to be in the Covenant.)
  • There is love and acceptance in Christ Jesus. (The Old Covenant was one of fear and doubt.)
  • Christ is the light of the world; the darkness of the Old Covenant is lifted and God is made known in all His glory.
  • Sin has been slain. In its place is peace, unity, comfort, and purity.
  • The King of this kingdom has come as a servant, to serve others.
  • Humility is the rule, rather than pride and religious pomposity and display.
  • The Law says, "You must"; Jesus says, "Only trust."
In verses 12-17, the apostles see that the huge crowd of people who have come to see Jesus have no way to be fed. They suggest that the crowds be sent away to go eat. But Jesus says, "You feed them." Jesus has given them a task that they are unable to do, so they respond that they cannot do it.

Jesus was teaching an important rule: as Christians, we are responsible for ministering to our brothers and sisters in Christ -- we are responsible for their welfare. But the job is too much for us, we cannot do it! And that is exactly what God would have us to learn -- that the task is beyond our strength and requires His help.

Note the disciples first response at seeing the hungry crowd. They did not come to Jesus with a problem, they came to Him with a solution! And we are often tempted to do the same. We decide all of our plans for how to execute a ministry objective, deciding entirely in our own wisdom and maybe a book or two. Then we show our plan to God and ask Him to bless it. This is completely wrong! Bring the problem to God, and ask Him what you should do.

Next, Jesus gives the disciples a ministry. He gives them something to do, and they do it, in an orderly fashion. The apostles ministered by arranging the people into groups of 50. Jesus takes the small food that they do have and blesses it; then, the food is given to the apostles who distribute it among the groups of hearers. All are fed and twelve baskets are needed to contain the leftovers.

There are several lessons for us here. First: Nothing is too big or difficult for Jesus. He will take care of all aspects of His work. Next, we see that God tends to use human means. Jesus could have made everyone attending instantly full, or miraculously distributed the food among the hearers. Instead, He used His disciples to pass the food around and feed the people. We see that God met the disciples in their need. When they realized that the work He had given them was beyond their ability, He equipped and enabled them to do the work.

Finally, we see that God gives an abundance of blessing. Twelve baskets of leftovers! God will give so that His people do not lack. If you lack anything spiritually: Joy, assurance, faith -- ask Him and He will give, and give abundantly!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Luke Part 32: Who is Jesus?

Text: Luke 9:7-9, Luke 9:18-22

At this point in Luke’s gospel, he is summarizing all of what Christ has been doing, and the emphasis is shifting to what Christ is teaching.  This section begins to discuss truths about the Kingdom of God, and about the King of that kingdom, Jesus.

At that time, there was a question raised about who Jesus was.  This is the question of the ages: “Who is Jesus?”

Like many in our society, Herod thought Jesus was just an ordinary man, and many of the people of that day thought so too.  This is an inaccurate description, the thought of Jesus being a great teacher who died a tragic martyr’s death.  This is wrong and dangerous – following this belief will get you into hell.  This “ordinary” view of Jesus is just a cover and excuse for sin.

Peter, as spokesman for the disciples, gave the correct answer: “You are the Christ of God!”  The Anointed One, the One who has come from God.  This view of one Man in whom salvation can be found, one true Messiah, flies in the face of the world.  Of course, this is to be expected – we are not of this world, and shouldn’t be expecting anything from the world.

Jesus then tells the disciples not to tell this to anyone.  This is quite remarkable.  Why did He give this command?

  1. First, the Jews were looking for a political Messiah to liberate them from the Romans.  They may have interpreted Jesus’s claim to be a Messiah as an announcement that He was establishing a physical kingdom, when He was in fact establishing a spiritual kingdom.
  2. Second, this was not the time for public acclamation.  This was not a time for great crowds and a mixed multitude.  Jesus wanted to spend this time with His people, giving them the truths they needed to hear and learn.
  3. Third, this was during the time of His humiliation.  It was not yet time for Him to be praised and recognized.

The question of “Who is Jesus” also asks, “What kind of Messiah is He?  What is He going to do?”  Jesus explained this in verse 22: the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, must die, and must rise again on the third day.

Must suffer – it is a necessity that Christ’s sufferings would happen in order for Him to be a Messiah.  This was the Father’s will and the Son’s promise.  Christ willingly came and suffered.  The Law demands perfection and requires a penalty for failing to meet that perfection.  Man is required to pay that penalty, and, apart from Christ, he cannot.

Must be rejected – Christ was to be rejected by the religious leaders.  The Elders (the elite families, the ruling class), the Chief Priests (the families within the Levitical Priesthood), the Scribes (the theologians and interpreters of the Law) – all of these thought Jesus was just an ordinary man, and all rejected Him.

Must die – the Sacrifice must be slain.  Death is not uncommon, but Christ’s death is unique.  He died after living a sinless life, and He died alone, cut off from God by our sins which He bore.

Must be raised on the third day – This death is a victorious death, a temporary death.  Christ rose victorious over the grave.  After He rose, He discussed the Scriptures with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, saying, “Isn’t it right that the Christ would suffer these things?”

Christ is celebrated now in the heavens as the One who has triumphed.  Paul saw this glory (but he was not allowed to speak of it.)  We can’t know the glory of Christ in heaven – it is beyond us.  But the glory of Christ on earth is us, His children.  We are His people, an example, the testimony of the work that He accomplished on Calvary.  Let us live mindful of that!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Luke Part 31: Sending out of the Twelve

Text: Luke 9:1-6

This chapter represents a turning point in Jesus' ministry. Many have referred to this as the "retirement period", as Jesus began withdrawing from cities to less-populous areas and focusing more on teaching, rather than performing miracles. Previously in Luke, we see a great emphasis on the manhood and divinity of Christ. Luke was showing that He had come as a Savior, and was careful to show that He was to be a Savior for Jews and Gentiles.

This chapter can be divided into six sections. The first, third, and fifth sections are primarily discussing the Lord's people, and the second, fourth, and sixth sections discuss Jesus Himself directly. In this first section, consisting of the first six verses, we read of how Jesus sent out the twelve apostles.

Jesus sent out these twelve as representatives of the called out people of God, otherwise known as the church. The commission given to these men is passed on down to all of the people of God, every Christian. Some will have greater involvement in the spread of the Gospel and some will have a lesser involvement. Some will spread the gospel just through their lives and contacts with people they know; others will go out as evangelists.

We note that this passage doesn't say to whom Jesus sent them. He didn't set up a grand missionary strategy; He didn't tell them to try to first convert the leaders of the societies, but just to speak the gospel to all, to whomever they encountered.

Jesus told them to take no possessions with them. He wanted them to be completely reliant upon Him. He wanted them to see that this was His work, and that He would take responsibility to supply all of their needs.

Jesus told them to go to whatever house would accept them, and stay there. They weren't to move about trying to angle for the most advantageous position. They were, again, to remember that this was the Lord's work, His doing. They needed to stay where they were accepted and allow Him to do His business. This was also an encouragement to them. They could be assured that someone out there would accept them, that there would be some out there who would be receptive to the Gospel.

Jesus also told them that some people would reject them. Yet this was no cause for great alarm. They were only to shake the dust off their feet and continue on. We can consider this that we are not required to convert everyone we share with. We are not required to have the perfect answer to all the objections and arguments that may be brought. We are only to speak the Gospel clearly and accurately, and if it is rejected, we should not worry and move on.

We see in verse 6 that they did exactly what Jesus had told them to do. They obeyed His word, even though they had never done anything like this before. This is an example to us. These simple fishermen, at Jesus' command, went out into distant cities with only the clothes on their backs and proclaimed the good news of Christ to all they came in contact with. Just like them, we may not be trained missionaries. But the harvest is all around us, and we can do the Lord's work, knowing there is no discouragement for us when we do what our God has told us to do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Luke Part 30: Lessons from the stilled storm and the delivered Gerasene

Text: Luke 8:22-39

At this time and throughout Jesus' ministry, He has been preparing His apostles for their future leadership role in His church. They are learning about Jesus and about His kingdom. In this section, two lessons are presented for Him.

The first lesson occurs during the boat ride in a storm that blows up suddenly. The disciples panic and are afraid they are perishing, so they wake Jesus, who calms the sea. The lesson for the disciples was that their faith was lacking. Jesus had told them to go across the lake. They were doing just exactly what He had told them to do. And Jesus was right there in the boat with them. The main problem, what Jesus rebuked them for, was the way they came to Him in a panic. They should, like us, have had faith that they were doing exactly what He had given them to do, and approached Jesus with confidence and assurance, rather than panic.

The second lesson occurred after they reached the end of the boat trip, where they were immediately met with a demon-possessed man. This man had a reputation for being extremely violent and breaking his bonds. The demons within him immediately recognized Jesus and knew they were helpless. They entreated Jesus to send them into a herd of swine (what were these Jews doing raising swine?) and Jesus consented. The swine rushed into the river and were drowned; the man was completely restored. The people of that area were greatly afraid and urged Jesus to go away. So Jesus decided to leave, but the man who had been healed asked to go along with Jesus. Jesus told him to instead stay and tell all in that land what had happened to him. And the man obeyed.

What are the points to be learned from this lesson? First note that all Christians will suffer tribulations. Each of us will be confronted with sin. Many of the people in the world around us are, like the man in this story, not in their right minds. There is great crime and wickedness in the cities around us. All over the world we hear of Christians being killed for their testimonies. Even now there is demonic activity. The devil will use the sinfulness of man heart to his own advantage. Evil breeds more evil and sin grows to deeper sin. We, like, the apostles, will be confronted with it.

However, in ever tribulation, we know that we shall conquer. Jesus is near us, and He is our shield, hiding place, rock of refuge, our defender. We know that He is:

Lord of the Present -- whatever we are doing, we must do it with Jesus. Whatever we do through the day, we do in faith knowing it is the thing that God has given us to do. We approach every aspect of our lives: our work, our recreation, our relationships, knowing that we are doing what He has given us to do, and we are doing it to please Him.

Lord of the Past -- Jesus knew the storm was coming when He had the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee. He know all about everything that comes into our lives. He is the Author of our stories, and the Planner of our lives. Note that the Lord set off across the lake in order to save only one man -- a man who was not at all seeking Him. This is grace!

Lord of the Future -- We don't know what God will do. But we do know that He works good for His children through all the evil and tribulation in this life. We can go to Him in trouble. But we need not go in a panic, as the disciples did. But rather than being scared in difficult circumstances, we need only lay out before Him these principles in total confidence that He will answer.

See Christ's mercy in this passage! He works toward one man at a time. He saved this man and sent him as the "first gospel missionary". He had compassion even on these Geresenes who had rejected Him and told Him to go away -- He left a man to share the gospel with them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Luke Part 29: The Parable of the Sower

Text: Luke 8:1-18

This passage begins with Luke telling us that Jesus is preaching the gospel of the kingdom. In the two years or so of His ministry up to this point, He hasn't changed the message. He's not trying to alter the message to make it more palatable to His hearers, as so many preachers today might be. The problem is not with the message; the problem lies in the hearers, and that is what Jesus deals with in this section. This is called The Parable of the Sower, but it could be more accurately called The Parable of the Hearers and Listeners, because that is its primary topic.

The parable is described in the text, and Jesus later explained it to His disciples. To understand the parable, remember that:

The Seed is the Word of God
The Sower is the on proclaiming the Word of God faithfully, in this case Jesus, but today it could be anyone preaching or sharing.
The Ground is the substance of a man, his capacity to think and feel, his heart.

Now, there are four groups of hearers, and Jesus discusses them all:

1. The Wayside Hearer. This person is compared to the heavily-traveled hard path at the side of the field. This is the hard-hearted hearer. He is not interested at all in the Word of God. The seed just bounces off. This is not the original state of the hearer, but this state of hardness is arrived at through a sinful life and a seared, guilty conscience.

Note also that the devil is involved (v. 12). This is a spiritual warfare and we must not underestimate the power of our adversary.

2. The Rocky Soil. This is the picture of a thin layer of soil over a large stone. This is the emotional hearer. He receives the Word gladly and with emotional expression. But this emotion is not based on true belief and conviction; it is a emotion apart from the mind. Later this emotional hearer falls into temptation, and eventually denies the Lord through his lifestyle and continues to engage in the same old pattern of life as before.

3. The Thorny Ground. This is the hearer who receives the Word and reacts positively, committing to follow it. But he soon returns to his worldly life: his job, family, investments, sports. Whatever the cares of his life are, he ends up seeking them instead of God, and he finds he has no devotional time, no time for the Lord at all.

4. The Good Soil. This is the good and honest heart. Note that it is not natural in fallen mankind, but it is given by the mercy of God. This hearer keeps the Word. His heart was prepared to receive it. The Word becomes a part of him. He is moved to change his lifestyle and abandon his sin. He keeps what he has heard and what he knows to be true.

The lesson of this parable is to ask yourself: what kind of a hearer are you? Christ says, "Take heed how you hear!" and "He who has ears to hear let him hear!" You are in one of these groups. If you are in one of the first three, you need to repent be coming to the Lord to be made a Christian.

Also note: Jesus states in verse 18: to him who has shall more be given. As you keep what you hear and walk in the light you are given, more shall be given to you. You will have further understanding of how to live; you will see further sins to be fought against. God will lead you on to further holiness and closeness with Him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Luke Part 28: A sinful woman forgiven; a proud Pharisee rebuked

Text: Luke 7:36-50

In this passage, we see Luke in the role of a portrait painter, giving us lots of details about particular people Jesus dealt with in His ministry. This passage is found only in Luke, not in the other Gospels. This is a story of two sinners: one who knows she is a sinner, and one who is blind to his sin.

We first see Simon inviting Jesus to his house for no good reason. We know that the Pharisees had already conspired together against Jesus, and were looking to trap Him in something He would say. Simon was waiting to accuse and discredit Jesus. This is apparent because he didn't even extend the common courtesies of a host to Jesus.

There is much speculation about the woman in this story: Who is she? What is her sin? She is not identified here, so speculation is pointless. Her sin is likewise not identified, although it must have been a known, external sin. These details are left blank so each of us can identify with her. She represents every sinner who acknowledges his or her sin and receives deliverance.

The scene at Simon's house was like this: there was a large room; invited guests reclined around a table in the center of the room, and uninvited observers could sit around the outside and partake of the conversation. The unnamed woman summoned great courage to come into this assembly, and stood back behind Jesus in a position of humility. She did several things that would have been unthinkable in the culture of that time, letting down her hair, kissing and wiping Jesus' feet. Then finally, she broke a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on Him.

Simon thought he had Jesus right where He wanted Him. He thought Jesus was proving He was no prophet by allowing the woman to continue, not knowing that she was a sinner. However, the reality was that Jesus had Simon right where He wanted him! Jesus proved that He was a prophet and that He can save people from their sins. Jesus showed Simon that the woman loved much, in response to her sins being forgiven. The forgiveness was completely an act of grace. However, Simon misses the point of the story. With the other Pharisees, he continues to try to make himself right with God through outward obedience. He doesn't recognize that he too has sinned much and needs to be forgiven of much.

We can see five points in the woman's example, things we should follow in our lives:
  1. Her faith - Faith is visible, you can see it. The church is made up of visible saints. She risks all to get to Jesus; faith knows it will be received. She entrusts herself completely to Jesus. If the Spirit moves you to Christ, get to Him! You can know you will be received.
  2. Humility - She takes the lower position. She doesn't assume a familiarity with Jesus. She's not afraid, but she is also not arrogantly bold and presumptuous.
  3. Repentance - She cries over a life wasted in sin and cries rejoicing that her sins are forgiven. This is an act of the heart as well as the mind. This is not a dryly mechanical response; her whole person is involved.
  4. Service - She performs an act of loving service in washing Christ's feet and anointing Him with perfume. She did what Simon should have done. She serves her Lord.
  5. Her best - She gave her best, an entire bottle of costly perfume. She wouldn't hold back and give Christ second best, or second place.
This woman's actions said, "I believe - that You are the Messiah, that You can forgive sins, and that You have forgiven me." And Jesus responds by giving her assurance. She knew her sins were forgiven, but now she has the word straight from Jesus. She has got peace with God; she has everything.

May all follow her example in love to Christ and receive forgiveness and assurance directly from the Holy Spirit in response!