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.