Sunday, January 22, 2012

Luke Part 56: Pray and not lose heart

Text: Luke 18:1-14

This passage brings to a conclusion a section of Luke that has started at the 9th chapter.  All through this section, Luke has contained teachings on kingdom life that are mostly exclusive to his gospel.  After this section, Luke tracks along much more closely with Mark and Matthew's accounts.

In this final passage about kingdom like, Jesus is talking about prayer.  He's discussing what our part is in maintaining a relationship with Him, the kind of relationship that enables men to pray and not to faint.

We have two parables presented to us: that of the unrighteous judge and of the Pharisee and the publican.  In both these parables, striking contrasts are shown between the two individuals.

First, we have the unrighteous judge.  This judge doesn't fear God or respect man.  Probably to the Jews, this represented a Roman ruler who was presiding over the Jews, but didn't really care about them.  There is no constraint upon this man; he is a God unto himself.  This despicable individual is the direct opposite of our loving heavenly Father, who does indeed have a regard and care for men.

A widow is seeking justice, or righteous judgment.  Initially, the judge has no inclination to help her, but he eventually relents because she simply refuses to be quieted.  He will do what she has asked, just to be done with her.

Jesus tells us to pay attention to the response of the unrighteous judge, and so see the contrast between the unrighteous judge and our heavenly Father.  We should have a different expectation than the widow.  The judge granted her request out of his own self-interest, but God grants our requests because He loves us and loves righteousness.

The widow had a low standing in society.  Widows were assured of nothing; they were in a precarious position.  But our standing is free access to the Judge of the Kingdom.  We know our Judge will judge rightly.

The widow shows us consistency, an example of coming constantly.  She is an example of constant coming.  Like her, we should pray and not lose heart or "faint".  Why we should always be praying:

  • There are always further things to pray about.  Answered prayer will lead to more encouragement for us, more coming to God, more requests.
  • Our Judge rules according to righteousness, not according to what we might think is right.  So we should not lose heart when we find he has ruled in a way different that what we were wanting.
  • Sometimes, His answer is simply "No" or "Not yet."  He knows what is best for us.
Then there is the question: will Christ find such faith as is taught here?  A faith close to God, a faith that feels on closeness to Him?  This sort of faith requires effort.  It takes time and thought.  It is easy to lose heart!

Then we come to the second parable, of the publican and the Pharisee.  What does Luke include this parable?  Luke is calling us to a closeness with the Lord.  Are we just casually acquainted with Him?  Are our eyes, like the Pharisee, fixed on ourselves on and on Him?

If you think you have an extensive knowledge of the Bible; if you think you have superior doctrine; if you come to God on the basis of those things, you are like the Pharisee.  If you come on no basis, if you see your own sinfulness, you are the publican.  Come to Him with the understanding that He knows you completely, and loves you anyway.

Christians can fall into the trap of the Pharisee.  If you no longer see the need to confess sin and be real before God, coming understanding your own unworthiness, you need this reminder!

Note that the publican asked for something.  Ask!  That is what the Lord wants us to do.  If this wretch can come before God and ask for something, should not his children do the same?

Will we pray and faint not?  Will we be those who humble ourselves before God?  Will we die to ourselves and live for Him?  Will the Lord find "such faith" as seen here in us?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Luke Part 55: Prophecies from the Olivet Discourse

Text: Luke 17:22-37

This section recorded here could also be referred to as the "Olivet Discourse".  Chapter 24 of Matthew contains a more detailed account of this discourse.  Matthew's account is targeted at the Jews, and contains more description to enable them to foresee the destruction in 70 AD.  There is also some prophecy applied to the Second Coming of Christ.  Luke's gospel is targeted primarily at the Gentiles, so the account here is more broadly applicable.

This passage might be considered as "meat"... not the simple "milk" that is easy to digest, but rather a teaching for those who are already strong and wise to digest.  The prophecies contained in this passage are mysterious; there is not unanimity of opinion in these verses.  Some thinks are known and some things are hidden; here are a few observations:

In the first section, verses 22-25, Luke records the words, "days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man".  Jesus' followers will suffer in this life.  A time will come for some of them when they will want for it to be finished.  You may have to suffer greatly in the service of the King.  In all these things, you are expected to be joyful; remembering that it is in trials where you will meet Him.

Note that some will say "Here is Jesus!".  But, where Jesus truly is, you don't need for it to be pointed out.  When Jesus is at work, His people will know it.  When the Son of Man is at work upon the earth, it will be clear for all to see.

The second section encompasses verse 26-33.  It begins with a comparison to the times Noah and Sodom.  From this we see that when the Son of Man is revealed, there will be a sudden interruption of ordinary life.  In a similar way, people who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD found that their lives were turned upside-down.

"Remember Lot's wife."  Those who cherish this life, those who long for this life, who cannot bear for it to be interrupted, these will be those who lose their life.  For Christians, life in this world is secondary -- they love the Lord more than they love this life.

The third section covers verses 34-36.  The basic principle here is that every individual must deal with the Lord on his won.  There are two people that seem identical, working and living together, but only one is taken.  The other is left to suffer the judgment that awaits those who reject Christ.

Finally, we get to verse 37.  This verse is difficult to apply.  Note that the disciples as "Where" not "When" will these things take place.  Jesus doesn't give a direct answer pointing to a particular place.  His response is sort of like a proverb such as, "if the shoe fits..."  The fulfillment of these things may occur in different places and in different ways.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Luke Part 54: The Ten Lepers

Text: Luke 17:11-20

As we have seen in the previous passage, trials and tribulations are inevitable in the kingdom, and it will be necessary for us to ask forgiveness.  In that passage, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus told them to follow Him and trust that their faith would see them through.

This passage (the miracle of the ten lepers) continues on the teaching of the previous one (the story of the unprofitable servant).  Note that these events didn't happen in direct chronological order.  Luke placed this account here in order to show an additional example of the teaching also contained in the parable of the unprofitable servant.

This account begins by showing us the ten lepers.  Remember that leprosy was often used as a picture of sin.  These lepers stood afar off, as they were required to.

All of the ten lepers called out to Jesus for mercy.  All of the ten sought Him.  Jesus reached out to them and told them to show themselves to the priest.  All ten obeyed Him, following His command.  On the way there, a healing occurred, but only one of the healed men returned to thank Jesus.

The nine who didn't return are like the unprofitable servant.  They had done what they were told to do, and they received a benefit.  But their focus remained on themselves.  They showed no desire to have an increased stewardship or a closer relationship with Jesus.  They showed no gratitude.  Only the one who returned showed those things.  Note that the Lord cared about these nine as well.  He was saddened by their failure to return in gratitude.

This one who returned was made a whole man.  He didn't need to have his faith increased; he had been given sufficient faith.

Then, in the 20th verse, the Pharisees demand to know when the kingdom was coming.  They missed the teaching of Jesus about a spiritual kingdom, and were still expecting a physical fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies.  (Note: Asking questions of the Lord is a good thing.  But we must come to Him with a humble attitude; we must never come in a demanding spirit.)

Jesus answered that the kingdom doesn't come with observation.  Jesus was fulfilling these things spiritually, the way they had been intended to be fulfilled, not physically, as they misunderstood.

We are not waiting for a kingdom to come.  God is reigning now.  We're in the kingdom now.  It's not physically observed; there is no pomp and circumstance associated with the true kingdom of God.  If you see that, get away; you can be sure that it is false.  This kingdom is not in a particular place; it is worldwide.

Loving service to God is the word of the kingdom.  Be looking to Jesus the King of this kingdom!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Luke Part 53: A True, Loving, Servant's Attitude

Text: Luke 17:1-7

This  passage continues Jesus' teachings on kingdom life.  In the first few verses, there is a short exhortation regarding trials and difficulties.  Note first that Jesus says that these trials and difficulties are inevitable -- they will come.  Even in this new kingdom of light and love, outcroppings of sin and difficulty will appear.  Yet, we each have a responsibility to govern ourselves and to help others.  Jesus says, "Woe to him" who brings those trials.  We must take heed to ourselves.  A forgiven people is still a vigilant people, taking care not to cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.

Then, we are reminded to be ready to forgive and ask forgiveness.  We are not isolationists; we are living in constant contact with other Christians.  We will all still fall in areas and need to ask forgiveness.  It doesn't matter how often we sin or are sinned against; we must forgive and ask for forgiveness.

The disciples regarding this exhortation to constant forgiveness as a radical and difficult teaching, and so they said, "Increase our faith!"  Jesus responds by telling them that if they had faith as a mustard seed, they could do mighty things.  The teaching here is that the faith that you have if sufficient to enable you to do what God has given you to do.  God equips us completely for his work.

Yet, we still have difficulties.  Why?  The answer is our walk.  To bring this home, Jesus provides the example of the master and the servant.  The servant does a number of chores for the master, but is not praised or thanked for them, because he is merely doing his duty.

This is a negative example, not a parable of life in the kingdom.  The servant in this example was serving only to survive.  He was merely doing what his master had commanded and he was performing his duty slavishly.  Why should he have the attitude that he should be highly commended for only doing what he had to do to get by?

Unlike that servant, we should realize that it is a high honor to serve God!  It should amaze us that we can serve the living God!  Our service, therefore, should be one of joy and gladness.  We are not serving simply to survive.  God has given to us all things, and we serve Him out of gratitude for all He has done for us.  Our Savior Jesus is an excellent example both of a perfect servant and of a reason for our gratitude and love.

We must always stay on guard against a slavish attitude.  When we see added responsibilities piled on us, we shouldn't groan under the load, but see them as an extra privilege for us.  We are serving our King!