Sunday, May 21, 2017

JESUS: IS HE GOD OR BEELZEBUL - LUKE 11:14-23


In this passage, Luke turns from Jesus’ teaching about prayer to his casting out a demon and encountering opposition. The emphasis is actually on the opposition. The telling of the miracle itself is brief. This is in keeping with the greater context of the narrative. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested and killed. As he gets closer to Jerusalem, the opposition to him increases. This story demonstrates it.

This particular demon inhabited a man and made him mute. (14) Mute means not speaking or able to speak. It is interesting the this story appears right after Jesus taught about prayer. He said for his disciples to speak to God in prayer. He presented the prayer as one we might say together, as a congregation. This man was mute, so he was unable to do that. He could not speak either praise or petition to God.

When Jesus cast the demon out, the man spoke. His speech was proof to all that the demon was gone and that Jesus had cast him out, whether they could see the demon or not. No one questioned that he had cast out a demon.

Casting out demons was not a new thing for Jesus at this point in his ministry. He had encountered the devil in the wilderness and prevailed. (Luke 4) He had cast out demons on several occasions and cast out a legion of demons on one occasion. (Luke 8) 1 John 3:8 says the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Most of the people marveled. But, there were some detractors in the crowd. They were antagonistic toward Jesus. They accused Jesus of casting out the demon through the power of the prince of demons. They called this demon “Beelzebul”. (Note: I am using the English Standard Version. The New American Standard Bible also refers to Beelzebull. If you use the New International Version, it refers to “Beelzebub”.)

In 2 Kings 1:2, King Ahaziah got sick and sent a messenger to Ekron to inquire of their god Baal-zebub” whether he would survive the illness. Ekron was a city of the Philistines at that time, but was an old Canaanite city. It had a sanctuary devoted to Baal.

The name of the god of Ekron was probably “Baal-zebul”. That means “Baal is exalted”. It is thought the Jews intentionally corrupted the name to Baal-zebub as an insult, for that name means “Lord of the Flies”. That is where William Golding go the name of his 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.

By the time of Jesus, however, the name was applied to the so called Prince of Demons, Satan, the Devil. So, the accusation is that Jesus is casting out demons by the head demon.This of course is a terrible blasphemy. To accuse the Son of God to act in the power of Satan is a terrible insult to Jesus. It is also a clear rejection of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.

Jesus could have called down fire on the crowd, thus justly punishing this total disrespect for God and giving the sign from heaven that others wanted. Instead, he countered them with logic. He said that any kingdom or household that is divided will be conquered and fall. Therefore, Satan would not divide his kingdom by driving out his own demons. (18)

Jesus went on to condemn their inconsistency. There were Jews that had the power to cast out demons. When they did so, it was claimed to be the power of God. Jesus said, it is inconsistent to claim power from God in their case and the power of Satan in his case. Therefore, their own sons were their judges in this matter. (19)

Jesus also countered them by pointing out the consequences if what he claimed was true. If he cast out demons because he had the power of God, then the Kingdom of God had come upon them. (20) The saying “finger of God” is a way of saying the “power of God”.

All of the miracles of Jesus were signs that that the Kingdom of God had come. But the casting out of demons particularly showed that Christ had come to begin taking away the kingdom of Satan on earth, reclaiming it for God through the ministry of the Son of God. Each casting out of a demon was a defeat of Satan and a victory for Christ in the battle for earth and for humanity.

Jesus gave an example of this. He said a strong man with weapons guards his palace and protects his goods. (21) But, when a stronger man comes, that man defeat the first man, strip him of his armor and take his goods. (22) In this story, the devil is the strong man. There is another possible play on words here, for the Greek word for Beelzebul means “lord of the house”.

 Jesus is the stronger man. Satan is powerful; Jesus is more powerful.

The hymn written by Martin Luther is about this very battle. Here are the words.

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
.
The prince of darkness grim — We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ Him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

After telling this story, Jesus added two warnings. The first one was that there can be no neutrality in this war. He said “whoever is not with me is agains me”. (23) You must choose Christ or you have chosen Satan. You must gather to Christ or be scattered away from him.

The second warning has to do with what happens after a demon is cast out, but the person does not fill himself with Christ. Jesus said the spirit may not find another place to dwell, so it returns to the person from whom it was cast out. But, he also brings with him seven other spirits who are even more evil and they all possess the person. This leaves that person more miserable than he or she was before.

I do not know if this saying is meant to be literal, or literal for every occasion. But it does point out that you cannot conquer sin simply by trying to get rid of it. You must have your soul filled with the Holy Spirit and you must fill your mind with the things of God.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

OUR DAILY BREAD




As we saw in our study of the Lord’s Prayer in the book of Luke, Jesus taught us to pray “Give us each day our daily bread”. (Luke 11:3) He wants us to trust God to provide for our daily needs and, trusting God, to ask for them. And, of course, at the end of the day, we should thank God for his faithfulness in providing for our needs.

Anxiety comes from lack of faith in God to provide. In contrast, trusting and asking result in mental peace. That is why Paul writes “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be known to God”. (Philippians 4:6)

God does not want you to worry! He wants you to ask and trust.

Once you have made your request known in faith, you can relax. You will have peace. Paul went on to say “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4:7)

The peace of God is supernatural. It “surpasses all understanding”. That is why some will question your peace. But this peace is a fact, it is a promise made in scripture.

Practice this and see that it is true. Ask, trust, and relax. 

And let the peace of God guard your mind from the attack of anxiety.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

GOD'S RESPONSE TO PRAYER - LUKE 11:5-13


After teaching the disciples the form of prayer, he went on to teach them about God’s response to prayer. He did this in a parable recorded at Luke 10:5-13. This parable only appears in Luke’s gospel.

In this parable a person has a friend arrive at his house around midnight. The friend likely traveled at night to avoid the heat. He may have had problems that caused him to arrive very late or even miscalculated how long the trip would take.

Even though the friend arrived very late, the duty of hospitality required the man to welcome him into his home. It also required him to provide food. The problem was, he had no food.

Since he had no food, the man went to his friend who lived nearby and knocked on the door. No one likes to have someone knock on their door at midnight. But he did knock and he asked to borrow three loaves of bread.

This story reminds me so much of my childhood, when most women stayed home with their children and, in our economic class at least, did not have cars. So, it was very common for a neighbor woman to knock at the door and ask for a cup of sugar or an egg or something like that. My own mother sent me on such errands several times.

On this occasion, though, the neighbor was already in bed. Probably, the big room was a family bedroom and the whole family was tucked in to sleep. If he got up to get the bread, the might wake up the children, which would mean then trying to get them back to sleep so he could go back to sleep himself. The man really did not want to get up. He gave two excuses: the door is shut and the children are asleep. It was not really that the man could not get up, but that he did not want to. It was inconvenient.

Jesus said the man would not normally get up and grant this request, but he would do it because of the man’s impudence. “Impudence” here means a lack of sensitivity to what is proper.

A parable normally has one main point. It often contains a comparison for emphasis. We do not look at every item of the parable for a symbol as we would with an allegory.

Since the context of the parable is Jesus’ teaching on prayer, we immediately understand that the man asleep with his children represents God the Father. This does not mean that God sleeps, or sleeps with his children, or is annoyed if we pray at night. Rather, it means that, as the neighbor has the means to provide for his friend, God has the means to provide for his disciples who ask.

Here is the comparison. The man only answered his friends’s request because the friend would not stop knocking on the door. God, however, is always available and always receptive to our prayers. And further, he gives good gifts. Jesus said, if we who are evil by nature give good gifts to our children, how much better gifts will God give? In fact, he will even give us the Holy Spirit.

Since God is willing to answer our prayers and able to provide for us, we should not hesitate to ask. For us, impudence means something like “holy boldness”. It is not irreverent or demanding. Jesus has already said to pray that God’s name is “hallowed” and that his kingdom come. But, we do not have to be timid or “beat around the bush”. For example, once when we were really struggling, I asked God for a certain sum of money I needed to pay our bills. He answered my prayer by sending a man to pay back part of the money he owned me for work and had never paid.

Jesus tells us to ask and God will give it to us, to seek and we will find and to knock and it will be opened to us. This is a parallelism, saying the same thing three times: ask God and he will answer and provide for our needs.

A second message in the parable is that we should be persistent in prayer. We should pray until we have an answer. This is not about God changing his mind, it is about our earnestness. It is about caring. It is one thing to dash off a one sentence prayer and then forget about it.  That does not show that we care much about it. But when we pray continually about something until God answers, it shows we really do care about this thing and we really want God to answer.

God is there, he is approachable and he cares.


Tuesday, May 09, 2017



God would not exhort us so earnestly to pray, unless he was ready to grant our petitions. Let us blush at our sloth: he is more ready to give than we are to receive. (St. Augustine)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

THE LORD'S PRAYER - LUKE 11:1-4


The Lord Teaches About Prayer
Luke 11:1-4

This passage begins with Jesus praying. This was common for him. Luke has already shown us six times Jesus prayed. This time the disciples were watching and listening. Evidently, the disciples were not know for their prayer lives at this point. Back in Luke 5:33, a Pharisee criticized them, saying “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink”.

One of the reasons the disciples did not pray often was that Jesus, the Son of God, was with them 24 hours every day and they talked to him all the time. He explained that to the Pharisee in Luke 5.

At least one of the disciples wanted more, though. He asked Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. (1) The Pharisees disciples prayed Old Covenant prayers. John disciples likely learned Old Covenant prayers slanting toward the coming of the Messiah. This disciple wanted a prayer that was for Jesus’ disciples.

This prayer is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, but you could call it the Disciples’ Prayer. It is a prayer the congregation of believers can pray and pray together in community.  It may also be prayed individually.

Another term used today for this prayer is The Model Prayer. The person teaching this will usually say something like this: this prayer is not meant to be recited as a chant, but is a model of how we pray. The version in Matthew does indeed record Jesus saying “pray then like this”. (Matthew 6:9) Luke writes that Jesus said “when you pray, say…”. (2)

They prayer is a good model, but it is more than that. It is a prayer Jesus gave to his followers. We should not chant it without thinking. That is true. But we can pray this prayer together. Notice the prayer uses the word “us”, not “I”. That is another evidence of this being a corporate prayer.

The first thing we see here is that Jesus says to address God as Father. Jesus is thought to have taught in Aramaic, the common language of the area. In Aramaic, the word for Father is “Abba”. In Greek, it is “Pater”. It is a term that acknowledges a loving, caring relationship between disciples and God. The Old Testament prayers do not usually address God as Father. This is, therefore, a significant change in prayer as the disciples had known it.

Jesus addressed God as Father, except once on the cross while he bore our sin. (There he said “my God.)  Jesus tells us to pray the same way, as God’s children. John 1:12 tells us that when we receive Christ, and believe on his name, he gives us the right to be called the children of God.

It is not a term of irreverence, however. Adults, as well as children, used the term referring to their fathers. God is still God, though he has allowed us great privilege in our relationship to him in Christ.

Reverence is shown by the next phrase, “hallowed be your name”. (2) In the Bible, the name of God refers to all that he is. It is not that God’s name is a magic word. It represents him. For example, when David said “we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7), he did not mean he trusted that name as a word, but he trusted God.

This is a request that God and God’s name be held in reverence and honored. That is is because God is holy. I don’t know about you, but I am often grieved to hear people use the name of the Lord without reverence. In American, even Christian people can be heard to say “oh my God”, not as a prayer, but as an exclamation of surprise or excitement. Any use of God’s name outside of reverence is, as the Commandments would say, in vain. And so we pray that God’s name would be held in high esteem all over the earth.

The second petition is “your kingdom come”. This can have two parts. First, we pray that the kingdom of God will be spread all over the earth by the preaching of the gospel. Each new believer is a citizen of God’s kingdom. Second, it is to pray for the consummation of the age that results in the visible rule of God. This is what John prayed at the end of the book of Revelation, when he said “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

The third petition turns to our needs. We pray “give us this day our daily bread”. (3) Even though most of us do not count on bread to be the major source of our nourishment, we pray for God to provide for all of our needs. Notice the use of “us”. When we pray this corporately, we not only ask God to provide for us individually, but for the needs of the whole congregation.

We show our trust in him by asking for provision for each day as it comes, not for enough to never want again.The example of this was shown in the wilderness when God provided manna every day and commanded the Israelites to only gather for one day except Friday, when they could gather for that day and the Sabbath. (Exodus 16)

The next petition is for forgiveness of sins. (4) This is not a prayer for salvation. Remember, this prayer is given to believing disciples. Rather it is a relational prayer. We confess our sins and ask for forgiveness daily to keep our close relationship with God. Sin always distances us from God.

1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You may have heard someone says the Christian life is a life of repentance. This means that we constantly confess our sins to God, repent of them, and ask for forgiveness to stay in fellowship with him.

This petition is different than the others in that it is tied to something we must do. Verse 4 says “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us”. This sounds like a condition to forgiveness. But, it is more of a fact statement. We forgive who sin against us as people who are forgiven for sinning against God. “Indebted to us” here is a synonym for “sinned against us”.  God granted us mercy; we extend mercy to others.

Forgiving others is difficult. I have struggled with it many times. But Jesus said to do it, so I will leave you with that. If you want to obey him, you must forgive. If you want to demonstrate his mercy to sinners, demonstrate mercy to sinners.

Finally, the prayer in Luke’s version asks that the Father not lead us into temptation. What does this mean?

James gave us very clear instruction on this issue. He wrote:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12-15)

So, if God does not tempt us to sin, what does the petition “lead us not into temptation” mean? It is a request for mercy. For, although God does not tempt us to sin, he certainly allows us to encounter difficult times that could cause us to sin. This prayer is asking God to mercifully help us to avoid those tests and to help us through them when we must go through them.

Jesus himself asked the Father if he could avoid the cross. He prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”. (Matthew 26:39) Yet, he did not sin, for he also prayed “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”.

We also know from scripture that God is always faithful to provide a way of escape from sin. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Look back on the times you have fallen and you will see there was a chance to avoid it, a way of escape. You just did not take it because you succumbed to the temptation.

Many churches start their service with a prayer of repentance or a prayer for forgiveness. The congregation prays that prayer together, out loud. It is a corporate prayer.

This prayer first addresses God’s holiness and sovereignty. It then addresses our needs. That is a good way to pray, whether you pray this prayer or use it as a mode.