Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW - LUKE 18:1-8

The next two parables told by Jesus and recorded by Luke are a bit different from the ones we have read so far. Both begin with Luke telling us what is going on at the beginning of the parable instead of at the end.

18:1-8
The Persistent Widow

Some call this the parable of the unrighteous judge, but it is usually called the parable of the persistent widow, since she embodies the truth of the story.

In this parable, there is a judge who cares only for himself. He only does what benefits himself. He does not fear God. He does not respect men. As a judge, he has power and wealth.

A widow keeps coming to him for justice. She is his polar opposite. She has absolutely no power and no wealth.

Only the judge can giver the widow what she wants\needs.

The only way the widow can get the judge to give her what she wants is to ask him.

She was persistent, though. She kept coming to him for justice. He finally gave it to her so that she would not wear him out asking. (5)

Jesus presented the Father in contrast to the righteous judge. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater. In effect he said if the unrighteous judge will give in to the persistence of the widow, how much more will the righteous God give justice to his elect.

The assumption is that God is righteous. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways” Psalm 147:17

The to whom God gives justice are his “elect”. The NIV uses the word “chosen” rather than “elect”, but they both accurately translate the Greek word “ekletos”. They are the ones God chose for salvation. He gives justice to his people who suffer injustice in a world that is not just.

The characteristic of these people is that they are persistent in prayer for justice. They cry to him day and night. In fact, Jesus said the Father will give justice to them speedily. (8) That makes me think, at first blush, he means “immediately”. But it does not seem to work that way a lot of the time. Why?

We know that God is just. The Bible tells us that.  Deuteronomy 32:4 refers to God this way: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A Good faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he”.

In Romans 9:14, Paul asked “Is there injustice on God’s part?” and he answered “by no means!”

Since God is just, he will act justly and he will bring justice. But he does not always bring it on our time table. Many of us have suffered injustice and cried out to God day and night only to see the injustice continue for some time. I suffered an injustice 10 years ago that still affects me, and it has not yet been made right. But God will set it right when the time is right. I believe that and I trust him to do it.

Remember also that God often accomplishes multiple things in a situation. He may delay justice for you to extend mercy to someone else. He may use your suffering to encourage someone else. He may also use it to further your sanctification.

Some injustices will not be be made right until Jesus returns. So, when Jesus said God will give justice speedily, he did not mean it will always be soon. He meant that, when it comes, it will come quickly and unavoidably at his second coming. 2nd Thessalonians 1:6-8 explains this to us. It says:
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering-since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to youth are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do uotknow God and on those who do not one the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

We know God will act at the right time because he is wise. Paul wrote “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) He knows everything and he knows what is best.

Finally, we know that God will act in the right way at the right time because he loves us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the power time he may exalt you, casting all you anxieties on him, because he cares for you”. 1 John 3:1 says “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are”.

We do not pray to change God’s mind. But God has chosen prayer as the way for us to communicate with him and, in response to which, he acts.

Yet, we often do not pray. Certainly, we often do not persist in prayer. You may reflect on this and remember how you used to pray for someone or something but gave up after a while. Why do we do fail at this? Here are some reasons.

First, we are weak. We fall asleep as the disciples did. We get weary and cannot go on at times.

Second, we are lazy and lack discipline. We know we should pray. We know how to pray. But we do not make time for it.

Third, we are indifferent. We do not really care about someone else’s need. We get compassion fatigue when several bad things happen. Right now we have seen two hurricanes on the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean sea, and two earthquakes in Mexico. We just get tired of the difficulties or we are just glad it did not happen to us.

Fourth, we feel independent and in control. I hear people say “you go this” all the time. We are not in control. Count your blessings if things are going well for you. Thank God for them. But also pray for those who suffer, especially those who suffer injustice.

Fifth, we lack faith. As Luke said, we lose heart. (1) God did not act as fast or in the way we wanted, so we lost heart, or faith in him. I think that is why Jesus asked “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We need to make prayer a habit. We pray because we believe God listens. We need to spend time alone with God. We need his provision for our daily needs. We need protection from Satan. We need peace of mind. We need victory over temptation and trial. We need God to help others with their problems, too.

And we pray for God’s kingdom to come. That is when ultimate justice will be done and ultimate relief given to those who are persecuted for their faith. Remember the scene in Revelation, when the seals are opened, and the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and their witness cried out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” And, with John, at the end the book, we can pray “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)


Monday, September 18, 2017

“You were made to display the all-satisfying beauty and greatness of God by savoring him as the supreme treasure of your life.”

 

John Piper

Sunday, September 17, 2017

THE KINGDOM & THE 2ND COMING - LUKE 17:20-37

The Kingdom
17:20-21

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come (20) The kingdom was a hot topic at that time. Israel lived under Roman occupation. The Jews longed for restoration of their fortunes, to have a king of their own who would establish God’s righteous rule like king David. They looked for a Messiah who would drive out the Romans and rule on the Davidic throne.

Given how Jesus responded, they must have expected cosmic signs to accompany the coming the kingdom. But Jesus said the kingdom is not coming with sings that can be observed. People will not come and say look, here it is.

The reason for this, Jesus said, is that the kingdom is in the midst of you. (21) The NIV says “within you”. I take that to mean within the presence of those there, or “among” you. It cannot mean the kingdom was inside the Pharisees, because they were not believers.

The kingdom came with the arrival of the king. The king is Jesus. He preached the good news of the kingdom. (Luke 4:43) The first words of Jesus recorded by Mark are “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel”. (Mark 1:15)

Jesus brought men and women into the kingdom as they believed in him. As he told Nicodemus, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)They were delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus, in whom they had redemption and the forgiveness of sin. (Colossians 1:13)

Jesus expanded his kingdom and demonstrated its power when he cast out demons and destroyed the work of the devil. He had already told the Pharisees that his casting out of demons shows\ed the kingdom of God had come upon them. (Luke 11:20)

The Pharisees expected cosmic signs and so missed the real signs. Men and women repenting of their sins and following Jesus, his healing the sick and casting out demons were the signs the kingdom had come. But the Pharisees looked for a different kind of Messiah and different kind of signs.

So Jesus was teaching them that he had brought the kingdom. It was not fully realized, but it had begun.

Jesus Foretells His Departure
17:22-23

Jesus turned from speaking to the Pharisees to teaching his disciples. He foretold the events that would occur next, that is, his suffering and death.

Jesus said the days were coming when they would desire to see even one of the days of the Son of Man. (22) After his death and resurrection, they would not see him. They would long for his return.

And, he warned them, people would say look, for the Messiah is here. (23) Jesus said do not go out to see them, because that is not the way my return will occur. I will not just appear and start walking around.

This happened. There have been many who claimed to be the Messiah returned.

This type of thing still happens today. There have been many false messiahs. There have also been a multitude of false prophets who claimed to know when Jesus would return. Others have claimed that cataclysmic events mean the time of his coming is near. Natural disasters and wars set off many predictions. So do normal, natural events, such as an eclipse, a red colored moon or a comet.

My adult life has been full of these predictions. Many otherwise good ministers and speakers would say they knew they could not know the time, but this has to be it because of the signs we see. Yet, they were always wrong. And, one result of this wrong-headed false prophesy is that it takes away from the real truth and its importance.

What Jesus’ Return Will Look Like
17:24-37

But Jesus said, when he comes back, we will clearly know it. He said “as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day”. (24) The phrase “in his day” refers to his return. His return will be visible and dramatic, not secret.

Before any of this can happen, though, Jesus had to complete his mission. He had to do what he came to do in his first coming, to accomplish salvation. Therefore, he said he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (25) He had to be rejected by his people. He had to die to redeem those he would save, the subjects of his kingdom.

In verse 26, Jesus describes life at the time of his coming. First, he said, it would be just like the days of Noah. People in Noah’s time ate and and drink and married until the rain began and the time of destruction arrived. (27) They probably scorned Noah for building the ark when there was no flood. This is what non-believers do. But believers should not fuel their lack of concern by continually issuing false predictions.

Jesus also used the story of Lot as an example. Non-believers ate and drank, bought and sold, planted and built, right up to the time God destroyed the city of Sodom, raining down fire and suffer until they were destroyed. (29)

Jesus said it will be the same on the day when he is revealed, when he returns. (30) People who do not believe in Jesus will carry on their daily lives, not believing in a day of judgment, until the day he actually comes to judge. For believers, Jesus’ return is the best day ever. For non-believers, though, it will be a bad day of judgment. Notice that both of Jesus’ examples ended with destruction.

Once the time comes, there will be no way to prepare. There will be no way to recover. Jesus said the one who is on is roof cannot go back in the house and save his stuff. (31) It will be too late. One will be taken because he or she is a believer. One will be left to face the judgment because he is not a believer.

This is why we should preach the full gospel now. We do not need to say the hurricane is a sign that Jesus will return soon. What we do need to say is there will be a day of judgment and, when it comes, there is no more time to repent and believe.

The time to be saved is now. Repent of your sin, believe in Jesus as the Son of God who died for your sins, who rose from the dead, and who waits in heaven until the day comes for his return. I do not know when that day will be. It might be today. It might be later. The point is not to predict the day, but to be ready for it.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

THE ATTITUDE OF SERVANTS-LUKE 17:7-19

17:7-10
Unworthy Servants

This teaching, and the story that follows, deals with attitudes. Specifically, Jesus was teaching about the attitude one should have if he or she is a follower of Jesus.

Jesus made the point that God does not owe you anything. The Pharisees thought he did. They thought they were righteous and God was blessed to have them, so he should reward them with wealth and reputation. They were not grateful to God for what they had because they believed they deserved it.

Christians are called to spiritual duties. They are called to live holy lives to the glory of God. They are to share the gospel. They are to minister to others. Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

We are to do these duties, not claiming we deserve anything from God, but having faith in Christ and thanking him for our salvation. Paul wrote “Oh foolish Galatians…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3)

Jesus portrayed this idea graphically in his example of a master and servant. It was the servant’s job to serve the master, not the other way around. It would have been inconceivable to the people listening to Jesus to imagine it any other way. A servant did not make demands of his master.

A modern example might be staying in a hotel. If you pay to spend the night in a nice hotel room, you do not expect to find the staff in your room, sleeping in your bed and wanting you to bring them breakfast in bed.

Some people want to hold up to God all they have done for him and demand, or at least expect, him to return the favor with material blessings. Instead, we should say “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what is our duty”. (10)

Because we are unworthy servants! We have no merit of our own before God. We have what we have as a matter of God’s grace.

This is not to say that God is not pleased with the good works of believers, he is. But we do not place God in our debt by doing them. We do them because we are his servants, grateful for our salvation and our relationship with him.

17:11-19
Grateful v. Ungrateful
The Story of 10 Lepers

The next story recorded by Luke demonstrates this teaching of Jesus.

As Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem, we went along between Samaria and Galilee. He went into a village and encountered 10 lepers. (11) The lepers stood off at a distance, as they were supposed to do. In the Old Testament, during Israel’s time in the wilderness, they were put outside the camp as unclean.  (Leviticus 13:45-46)

During Jesus’ time, they were required to live outside of town, avoid contact with clean people, and announce their presence in advance so others could avoid them.

The men asked Jesus to have mercy on them. (13) They wanted to be healed of their disease so they could be healthy and rejoin society.

Jesus showed them mercy. He sent them to the priests, who would have to verify their cleanness before they could interact with people again. (Leviticus 14) While they were on their way, they were healed. (14) Nine of the 10 guys went on to the priests and, presumably, their old lives.

The nine who went on their way were like most people and, especially, the Pharisees. They were happy with God’s mercy and blessing, but not happy with God himself. They loved the gift but not the giver. They did not have a heart of thankfulness.  They were like a servant who expected his master to wait on him in the story Jesus had just told.

Paul said the lack of thankfulness is the sign of a depraved mind. He said “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Paul told Timothy that the last days would be characterized by people who were ungrateful. (1 Timothy 3:1-2)

One of the 10, who was a Samaritan, turned back when he realized he was healed. Even as he walked along the road back to Jesus, he praised God in a loud voice. (15) When he came to Jesus, the man fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. (16)

Jesus pointed out that this man was a Samaritan. The Jews despised Samaritans and thought them to be heretics. But the 9 Jews did not give thanks, only the Samaritan.

Believers should give thanks to God for all blessings. It is the right thing to do in acknowledgement that God owes us nothing and gives us blessings from his grace. James 1:17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” .

The first thing Christians should thank God for is their salvation, for it is a matter of his grace, not our works. This thankful leper seems to have received not only physical healing, but spiritual healing. He was saved.

Jesus said his faith made him well. The word translated “well” is a form of the word often used for salvation. In the ESV, the alternate translation given in the footnote is “your faith has saved you”. The man believed in Jesus and received salvation. He alone among the 10 saw that Jesus’ healing showed him to be the Messiah and Savior.

If you have been a believer for many years, you may have come to take your salvation for granted. That should not be so. It should still fill you with joy and gratitude. You should thank God for it daily.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

DEALING WITH SIN - LUKE 17:1-6

Luke 17:1-6
Dealing with Sin

In this passage, Jesus taught about sin. Specifically, he taught about how to deal with it.

What is sin? It is a transgression of God’s law. 1 John 3:4 says “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

The first thing that Jesus said about sin in this passage is “temptations to sin are sure to come”. (1) He knew this first hand. He was severely tested in the wilderness. (Matthew 4) We also know he was tempted in every respect as we are. (Hebrews 4:15)

The words translated “temptations to sin” in the English Standard Version, that I normally use, literally mean “stumbling blocks”. It is the picture of one walking down the road, stumbling over an object, and falling. Temptations may cause us to stumble and fall on the road to our sanctification.

Where does temptation come from?

First, temptation comes from within us. James 1:14 says we are tempted when we are lured and enticed by our own desire. Desire gives birth to sin. This is a fishing metaphor. A fish is lured out of safety when when it sees bait or lure that it wants.

Being tempted does mean there is a demon at your door, such as a demon of envy or lust. It is easier to blame our vulnerability to temptation on a demon than to take responsibility for the weakness of our own flesh, but that does not make it true.

Similarly, we can be tempted to covet by seeing something nice someone else has that we think we deserve and they do not. We might be tempted to lust by seeing a beautiful person of the opposite sex.

We can also be tempted by someone who wants to lead us astray. I am sure we have all experienced this. Sinners enjoy bringing others into their sin. Satan also loves to lead us to sin. 1 Peter 5:8 says “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This does not give us an excuse to sin. Proverbs 1:10 says “My son, if sinners entire you, do not consent”.

We also know that God always provides a way out. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13-14)

But the second thing Jesus said about sin was “woe to the one through whom they (the temptations) come”. (1) “Woe” is a pronouncement of judgment. It is a serious sin to lead another to sin. So serious that Jesus said it would be better for that person to have a mill stone tied around his or her neck and be cast into the sea. (2)

A millstone is a large heavy stone used to grind grain. In those days, a donkey would be tied to a pole that turned the stone as he walked around in a circle. If one were hung around your neck, you would sink to the bottom of the sea with no hope of getting to the surface. You would drown and die.

As horrible as that sounds, Jesus said it would be better to experience that than to lead someone to sin.  Therefore, we should never encourage another to sin either by word or action. We should not solicit them to participate in our sins or tell them their sins are ok.

We can lead our brothers and sisters to sin by complaining and making them discontented. We can lead them to sin by speaking falsely about a person so that they will despise them or see them as an enemy. There are many ways and I am sure you can think of them.

A more subtle way to lead another into sin is to cast doubt on the Bible and God’s standards that are set out in it. There are several popular writers and theologians today that interpret Scripture through the lens of Post Modernism. They teach that the Scripture is not necessarily completely true and that we can interpret it differently as society moves on. In other words, they make Scripture accommodate the sins of the culture by redefining God’s standards. Since God says he does not change, that approach is a fallacy.

The third thing Jesus said about sin was that it must be confronted. He said “if your brother sins, rebuke him”. (3) Believers have a responsibility to confront sin, especially a sin that leads others astray. We do this for the glory of God, for the good of the sinner, for the protection of other believers and for the integrity of the church.

An example is in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. The Corinthian church tolerated a man in their fellowship who had a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Paul told them they should be mourning, not tolerating. They should remove the man from the fellowship.

This is not a popular thing to do these days, but the church cannot thrive if sin is allowed to thrive. Jesus rebuked the church in Pergamum because they allowed false teaching in their church. (Revelation 2:14-15) He threatened to war against them if they did not repent.

How we confront the sinner is important also. We must do it with courage and truthfulness, saying what needs to be said. But, we do it gently, not harshly. Galatians 6:1 says “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Remember that the goal is repentance and restoration, not condemnation.

The fourth thing Jesus said about sin was that we must forgive the sinner when he or she repents. As many times as he sins and repents, we must forgive him. (3-4) That is hard to do, isn’t it? It is hard to forgive a person who sins once, especially if that sin is severe or hurts us personally. But Jesus commanded it. And Jesus lived it. He forgave his enemies even before they asked for forgiveness. As he hung on the cross, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they known what they do”. (Luke 23:34)

Jesus used an extreme example to illustrate his point. He said, even if the person sins against you seven times in the day, and repents seven times, you must forgive him. (4) You might think that his or her repentance was not sincere if it happened seven times, but that is God’s concern, not ours. Our concern is forgiveness.

The Corinthian church provides us another example here. After they confronted and removed the man who sinned, he repented. But the church did not restore him to fellowship. Paul told them in 2 Corinthians 2:5 to forgive and comfort the man, lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

The disciples heard this and seemed to see it as difficult, if not impossible, to do. So they cried out “increase our faith”. (5) This was a good thing to do, because they realized they did not know how they could do this on their own. So, they asked Jesus to help. They needed faith to forgive.

It takes faith to forgive, because it means we let go of our anger and our desire for revenge. It means we are vulnerable to the person who wronged us or who is sinning. It takes faith any time the task the Lord gives us seems impossible.

We often will not find the strength to forgive someone in ourselves. We need God’s supernatural work of grace in our lives. He can give us a forgiving heart as a matter of is grace, which we receive by faith.

One way we learn to forgive is by looking at Jesus and the cross. He had been terribly wronged. He was innocent of all charges against him, yet condemned to die a painful and humiliating death. And yet he forgave those who put him there. He forgave us whose sins he bore. He forgave the Romans who nailed him to the cross and the Jews who urged the Romans to do it.

Some time later, Peter preached a sermon to a crowd of Jews. Some of them must have been present at the crucifixion. Peter said “…this Jesus…you crucified and killed”. (Acts 2:23) He told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they did. Some 3,000 people received Christ and were baptized, receiving full forgiveness for what they had done.

How did Jesus answer their request for more faith? He said ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you”. (6)

This verse is often quoted and taught out of context. Jesus was not telling us to use our faith to do something useless or trivial. He was using the illustration to say we need to trust God to do what only he can do. Faith means we believe God can do what we cannot do. If he calls us to do something that seems impossible, like forgiving someone seven times, we must trust him to give us the power to do it.

A mustard seed is small. If the have even small faith in a great God, we can do what seems impossible to do. We can forgive someone who has sinned grievously, who has hurt us or who has hurt someone we love.

Faith also allows us to trust God to take care of the “fall out”: our loss of revenge, our loss of power, our superiority and our fear of vulnerability.

This is a very pointed and personal teaching. It is not an abstract principle. So, having studied this passage of Scripture, you should ask who you need to forgive. You may also need to repent of your failure to forgive in the past.

While you are thinking of these things, the Holy Spirit may also lead you to remember sinning against someone in the past. He may show you your need to repent and ask forgiveness of someone.

Do not resist the Spirit. Submit to him. It will be worth it.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

GOD'S WAY V. MAN'S WAY - LUKE 16:14-31

God’s Way vs. Man’s Way
16:14-15

The Pharisees thought this teaching was stupid. They ridiculed Jesus for it. (14) Luke wrote that they reason they ridiculed Jesus’ teaching as that they were lovers of money. They proved Jesus’ point. You cannot both serve money and serve God.

They saw wealth as God’s recognition of their righteousness. Yet, they often pursued wealth at the expense of others. On another occasion, Jesus said they devoured widow’s houses. (Mark 12:40)

Jesus said they justified themselves before men. At the heart of this struggle is a rejection of God’s plan of salvation.They sought to justify themselves by their works rather than accept grace through faith. And, if men justified them, they were reassured that God did also.

We do the same thing, also. We justify ourselves before other people. We justify luxuries, self indulgence and wealth by saying we earned it or deserve it or even God wants us to have it because we are special. If we, at the same time, refuse to give meaningfully to the work of the kingdom and to help the poor, we are just like the Pharisees.

Jesus said that what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Abomination is a strong word. It means something God hates or loathes. The world exalts wealth and luxury. But, just because the world values wealth above almost anything does not mean we can adopt that standard in violation of God’s will.

The Bible says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

We cannot expect unregenerate people to understand God’s thinking in these matters. Remember, Paul wrote “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

God himself said “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Paul also cautioned us against adopting the standards of the world. He wrote Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by sting you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (Romans 12:2) If you refuse to conform to the world’s thinking, and allow the Holy Spirit to renew your mind, you will be able to know and understand God’s thinking on these matters.

The thinking of sinful men and women does not align with the will of God. Therefore, we must be careful to find God’s thoughts on this matter and not the thoughts of men who live in rebellion against God.

Getting Right With God (or, being justified)
16:16-17

Sadly, for the Pharisees, no one is justified by their works. “For by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight”. (Romans 3:20) Jesus did not confront the Pharisees just to make enemies of them. He really wanted them to see the truth.

Jesus said the law and the prophets were until John. (16) The Old Covenant was in force and operative until John came, followed by Jesus, proclaiming the arrival of Christ’s kingdom that we enter through grace by faith. That is the good news of the kingdom that was, and is preached.

Paul said it succinctly: for by grace you have been saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) If the Pharisees had stopped attempting justification by works and believed in Jesus, who stood right in front of them, they could have been saved, justified by God, and come into the kingdom. Then they would have begun to understand the mind of God and live to please him.

But the law still existed. It did not become void, as Jesus said. That is because it remains as the expression of God’s will for his people. His moral and ethical standards are captured there. One who lives to glorify God will be holy as God defined it. God does not change.

Jesus gave an example of the moral standards of God embodied in the law, one the Pharisees did not observe. He called divorce a sin that leads to adultery. (18) God’s desire is that married people remain married to each other.

In contrast, the Pharisees created many grounds for divorce for husbands. One rabbi wrote that a man could divorce his wife is she ruined his dinner. Jesus was showing the Pharisees that their claims to justification were invalid, because they did not obey God’s law where it was inconvenient. They could not be saved by works because their works fell short of God’s standards.

A problem with legalism is that we make up rules that make us look righteous. Then you obey the rules to impress others, to justify yourselves before men. But your heart is not given to Jesus. The rules become a burden that steal your joy and drive you away from Jesus, not to him.

But those who come to Jesus in faith realize their inability to keep the law. They rejoice in the grace of God that brought them into the kingdom. Jesus said the good news is preached and everyone forces his way into the kingdom. (16) Those who understand the good news of salvation by faith will do whatever they can to come to Jesus and stay there. They will deny themselves, they will follow Jesus to any end and they will rejoice all the way.

One example is Zacchaeus. This short tax collector would climb a tree to see Jesus. He would bring Jesus to his house and invite all his tax collector friends to meet him. He would give away his money to make things right according to God’s standards.

The Great Divide
16:19-31

To drive home his point, Jesus told a story, as he often did. The main characters are a rich man and a poor man.

The rich man had it all: beautiful clothes, expensive food and an expensive home protected by gates.  He was self indulgent. The rich man did not use his money to help the poor man, he kept it all for himself.

In contrast, the poor man had nothing. He laid at the gate of the rich man to beg, he likely was crippled, and he was sick, having sores all over his body. He was hungry. He wished the rich man would let him eat the scraps that fell from his table, but he did not.

The rich man represents the rich Pharisee that Jesus criticized, shrewd in the ways of the world, but not using his money to make friends in eternal places (9), building the kingdom and helping those in need. The poor man represents those in need and one who would be a friend in eternity.

Then came the event that changed everything: they both died. The poor man, named Lazarus,  was carried to heaven. Jesus emphasized his blessing by calling it the side of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Now the poor man has everything. Abraham said he was comforted. His suffering is over.

The rich man, in contrast, went to Hades, the place of torment. Now he has nothing. He suffered anguish in the flames.

The rich man was still arrogant. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. Abraham said that could not be done. So, he asked that Lazarus be sent to his brothers to warn them so they would repent. Again, Abraham refused, because they already had the law and the prophets to warn them. In fact, he said, they would not repent even if someone came back from the dead to warn them.

Again, Jesus was calling out the Pharisees. They had the Law and Prophets, what we call the Old Testament, and they studied it. But they failed to see Jesus as the fulfillment of its promises. And when Jesus returned from the dead in resurrection, they still refused to believe.

Death is the great divider. The poor man was a believer. His name was written in the book of life. Notice that his name is given to us in the story. He is Lazarus. But the rich man is not named.

Lazarus, who had nothing on earth, was carried by angels into heaven. Isn’t that a great picture. Death makes us all nervous, doesn’t it? But this is a wonderful picture of one whom God loves carried by glorious angels into the glory of heaven. All pain is gone, there is no sorrow or crying, just joy in the fellowship of the Lord and all who believe. As Paul said, being away from the body is to be at home in the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

The rich man, undoubtably one who justified himself before men, died and went immediately into torment. He suffered the torments of hell.

The tables had turned. The fortunes of the two men were reversed. It illustrated what Jesus said earlier, that what is exalted among men is an abomination to the Lord.

Jesus also showed that death is the end of opportunity to repent and believe. The rich man wanted mercy in Hades, but could not get it. And there was a chasm fixed between Heaven and Hades; no one could cross from one to the other. People on earth cannot be baptized for you to get you out of suffering and into heaven. People on earth cannot pray you out of hell. Death makes your choices final.

The point of this story is not that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. The point is that we get to heaven through God’s grace, accessed by our faith. We do not get there by works. If we are rich, it is not because God said we were worth it. It is because of his grace. He graced us with money and we should act accordingly. We should use our money as God wants. When we do, it is the sign that we are saved and are citizens of his kingdom bound for eternal life with Jesus. At our death, angels will carry us to Jesus and the fellowship of all who have believed over the centuries, including those whom we helped with our money on earth.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017



“You were made to display the all-satisfying beauty and greatness of God by savoring him as the supreme treasure of your life.”

John Piper