Sunday, July 30, 2017


The Cost of Discipleship (Redux)

This is the second time Luke recorded Jesus speaking on this topic. The first time was in chapter 9. Since Jesus preached it more than once, we can assume it is an important message.

We can also assume it is an important message because of the circumstance under which he delivered it. Verse 25 says “now great crowds accompanied him”. They were literally following him, as he had to turn to speak to them.

Many teachers and preachers would respond to a big crowd by saying something that would please the crowd and encourage them to come back. But Jesus did not do that.

Instead, he spoke about the difference between watching the show and being a disciple. Since the teaching is not at all crowd pleasing, we can see that he cared more for real discipleship than attracting crowds.

The church of today needs to follow the example of Jesus. Churches who do not follow his example will end up with a building full of spectators and a staff paid to entertain them.

We must remember that Jesus did not tell us to make converts. He told us to make disciples. The passage that we call the Great Commission tells us this. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)

So, what is a disciple according to Jesus?

Jesus answered this question in the negative and in three parts. First, you cannot be his disciple unless you hate your family. Second, you cannot be his disciple unless you give up your own life. Third, you cannot be his disciple unless you give up your own sense of self direction.

First, Jesus said you could not be his disciple unless you hated your own family. What did he mean by that?  Since we know that the 5th commandment says “Honor your father and mother”, we would not expect Jesus to command us to hate our parents. Jesus made sure his own mother was taken care of by John.

“Hate” was sometimes used to mean to love one thing so much you could give up even what is in second place. Where I am from, we would call it a “distant second”.

Jesus was saying that you must put him above all things, even your family. By using the word “hate”, Jesus made clear that our devotion to him is way above our devotion even to our family. Thomas Boston wrote “no man can be a true disciple of Christ, to whom Christ is not dearer than what is dearest to him in the world.”

This teaching is in line with Jesus’ words in chapter 9. A man said he would follow Jesus, but wanted to wait to bury his father. In other words, he wanted to wait until his father died. But Jesus told him no, saying you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:60)

That is exactly what we ask missionaries to do. They leave their home town, their church, their extended family and their friends to go and proclaim the kingdom in countries other than their own.

Second, Jesus said you must give up your own life to be his disciple. (26) He put this graphically, saying he must bear his own cross. (27) The cross was an implement of suffering and death. Jesus is saying a disciple must be willing to give up his life for him. Jesus walked in the way of the cross. His followers must do so also.

Christian history is full of those who have given up their lives. It was so common in the early church that Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

Cross bearing also includes the lesser trials, any persecution or suffering that comes from following Christ.

Third, Jesus said to be a disciple, you must give up your right to self direction. We see this in his command to “come after me”. (27) Not only are we to take up our cross, but we are to take it up and follow him. We give up the right to say where we are going and we go where Jesus leads us.

Again, we see the most common example of missionaries. They give up the pursuit of career and wealth because Christ sends them to another country to preach the gospel. But all of us will find that when we commit our lives to Christ, he will lead us to places that we did not expect. We go willingly because we are disciples determined to follow after him.

Jesus believed in full disclosure, though. He did not promise that everything would be easy. In fact, he told them to count the cost of discipleship.

He gave two examples to illustrate his point. First, he said no one builds a tower without first determining how much it will cost. If he does not, he will not be able to finish it and will be mocked. (28-30)

Second, Jesus said no king goes to war without first determining if he has enough soldiers to win. If not, he will seek peace to avoid a humiliating defeat. (32)

Every time a believer gives up or falls, it is not just the believer that is mocked, it is Christ and his church. It is, therefore, worthwhile for us to tell people that there is a cost to following Christ, rather than to tell only the good things.

Jesus summed up his requirements in verse 33. He said anyone who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple.

We give up many things to follow Christ, but what do we lose if we do not commit to him and, instead just hang around or pay lip service to him? We lose everything. Jesus said, when salt loses its taste, it is of no value. Salt in Jesus’ time was not refined as it is now. It was dug out of salt deposits and contaminated with other elements. In fact, the salt might wash out of the material and leave it with no taste at all. At that point it was useless and fit only for the compost pile (34)

Similarly, one who says he believes but does not commit to Christ has little or no value to the kingdom. He or she will not be so Christ like that non-believers notice the difference. He will not tell others about Christ or live in a way that honors him. Thus, he has no effect and becomes worthless. In fact, he may be worse than worthless, for he may actually get in the way of the work of the kingdom.

So, we know what we lose. But what do we gain? Jesus did not go into this in this teaching. But it is worth thinking about.

We gain:
eternal life (John 3:16);
adoption into God’s family (John 1:12);
forgiveness of our sin (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7);
fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 14:23) and
the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15).

We gain the knowledge that we only do what Jesus did. He counted the cost long ago and paid it for our salvation. He calls us to imitate him, to follow him.

The gain far outweighs the loss. But the gain comes only with absolute commitment to Christ.

Start on the path today: become a disciple!

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Lament Over Jerusalem

While Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees came to warn him that he should leave because Herod wanted to kill him. It makes you wonder if Herod really wanted to kill him or if the Pharisees were trying to get rid of him.

Nonetheless, Jesus was undeterred. It is hard to deter one who has a mission and is not afraid to die for it.

Jesus referred to Herod as a fox. That is because the Jews thought of foxes as cunning and sly. His message for Herod was that he had a mission to accomplish and a timetable for it. He would not change that even for the king. He would continue to cast out demons and heal until it was time for him to go to Jerusalem.

This was his work: delivering people from the Satan spiritually and physically. He was bringing his kingdom to the people and giving them a picture of life in the kingdom in eternity where there is no evil, no sin and no physical suffering.

This work was also the will of the Father. Jesus said “my food is to do he will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34) Jesus was obedient to the Father, doing all that was necessary for our redemption, as he had agreed to with the Father in “eternity past”. This is sometimes called the eternal covenant. Jesus would do all that was required, all that the Father willed and all he had agreed to do.

Jesus is a good example for us. We get tired. We get discouraged. But Jesus finished his work despite fatigue, opposition and knowing how bad his death would be. We, too, need to finish strong, not giving up or giving in. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

But he had to go to Jerusalem when it was time. He knew that it was there he would be killed.

When Jesus said “it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” in verse 33, he referred to the fact that the Sanhedrin met there. The leaders of the Jews would decide to eliminate him. They would lead Israel to reject their Messiah.

Jesus referred to Jerusalem as the city that kills the prophets and stones them. (34) Many of the prophets were killed. Zechariah was indeed stoned in the temple courtyard at the command of King Joash. (2 Chronicles 24:21)

The Jews were in continual rebellion against God with only a few periods of faithfulness. Jesus said he tried to gather their children together, to bring them to himself. But they were unwilling. (34) They rejected him.

What a terrible paradox it was that God’s prophets and God’s Son would be killed in the city God had designated for his worship.

There were some who believed, as we have seen. Jesus had followers. He had disciples. But the leaders of the nation and most of the nation rejected him. Because of that, Jesus issued judgment upon them. He said “your house is forsaken”. (35) That judgment came with the Romans, who destroyed the city and the temple.

Jesus also said, to the Pharisees, they would not see him again until they said “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. (35) This is a reference to Psalm 118:26. Psalm 118 is the last of the Passover Psalms. It was recited or sung at the Passover and may have been the last Psalm of the liturgy or ceremony.

Passover was a memorial to God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt. Specifically, it commemorated the angel of death passing over the houses of Israel because they took the blood of a lamb and smeared it on the door frames. (Exodus 12) God instructed them to observe the Passover every year.

So what did Jesus mean? Some think he was referring to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem when people lined the road and shouted this verse. But the Pharisees were not saying that and Jesus said they would not see him until they said it.

When will they say that? There are two options. They will say it if they came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. At the judgment, they will be forced to acknowledge it. This is similar to Paul writing that at the judgment, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10) The Pharisees who reject Christ will be forced to acknowledge him at the judgment.

Luke 14

Another Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus healed again on the Sabbath. This time he was eating dinner at the house of an important Pharisee. Evidently, a man with dropsy was brought in for the purpose of testing Jesus. Luke wrote “they were watching him carefully”. (1)

Jesus again contrasted the Pharisees’ lack of compassion for sick people to their concern for their animals. Again, they had no reply.

The contest over the meaning of the Sabbath continued. It was also a battle between grace and legalism.

Parable - Wedding Feast

After the healing, Jesus told the dinner crowd two parables. The first, was about humility. In the story, a guest took a place of honor, then was told to move to a lesser place. That would be humiliating. Instead, take a low place so that the host will move you up to a better seat and you will be honored before the other guests.

Jesus summed up the lesson by saying he who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (11) This principle resonates throughout the Bible. God values humility. He abhors pride. If we are humble, he will exalt us in eternity. This is a matter of pleasing God rather than ourselves. But if we please him now, he will reward us later.

The second parable involved a great banquet. Jesus first said to invite those who are poor, or disabled or blind and cannot repay you. If you do, God will repay you at the resurrection. (14)

In my city, when the rich and famous host an event, they invite a photographer from the local newspaper to attend. The photographer takes pictures of all the important people and puts them in the paper the next day. Thus the guest feels important because the paper shows all the important people attending his or her event. You do not see such an event with pictures of the poor and disabled. Again, you can be rewarded by men now or by God later.

One of the Pharisees at the dinner decided to sound spiritual. He said “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God”. (15) Jesus could have said “amen” because it was true. Instead, he used it to transition to another story about a great banquet.

It was customary in that day for a wealthy person to invite guests two times to a great feast. He would send a servant to the guests’ homes. The servant would tell them when and where the feast would be. Then, when everything was ready for the feast to begin, the servants would go out again to tell the guests it was time to come over.

In this case, the guests did not come. Rather they made lame excuses. One said he could not come because he bought a field and needed to go see it. (18) The guests would have laughed at this, because no one would buy a field without looking at it first.

The second said he had just bought some oxen and needed to go examine them. (19) Again no one would do that.

The third said he had just married and could not come. But a man with an invitation from wealthy and important man would not decline because he had just married. In that society dominated by men, especially among Pharisees, he would have attended along with other important men. So, the excuses were all without validity. They would have insulted the host.

Indeed, the master of the house did get angry in the story.”(21) He sent the servant out to invite the poor and disabled. He kept sending the servant out until the house was full.

In his anger, the host also said that none of the men originally invited would taste his banquet. (24)

The master of the house represents God. The banquet represents the kingdom of God, especially in eternity. The invited guests were the Pharisees. The Pharisees certainly believed they would be in the kingdom of God and would be prominent in it.

However, the Pharisees refused God’s invitation to the banquet. That invitation was to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God and savior. Because they refused to believe, they would be excluded from the kingdom.

In their place would be all those the Pharisees did not believe would be in the kingdom. They believed the poor and disabled were in their condition because they were not worthy of the kingdom. Yet, Jesus extended the invitation to eternal life to those very people and those who believed joined him in heaven.

Yet, the house was still not full. So the Master sent his servants further out, to the highways, to compel people to come in.

Part of the group the Pharisees did not believe worthy of the kingdom was the Gentile peoples. Yet, they were invited and came in. In Romans 11, Paul used the image of an olive tree. Branches were broken off because of unbelief, meaning unbelieving Jews who rejected Jesus. Gentiles were grafted in.

We are descendants of those Gentiles! We thank God for extending the invitation to come into his kingdom.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Nehemiah 9 is a prayer, but it describes many of God's attributes in the form of praise. Of course, praise is the acknowledgement of God's wonderful attributes. Here is a list:

1. The only God (6)
2. Creator
3. Life giver & sustainer
4. Exalted of his name (10)
5. Just (13)
6. Right
7. Good
8. Makes himself known (14)
9. Provider (15)
10. Forgiving (17)
11. Gracious
12. Compassionate
13. Slow to anger
14. Abounding in love
15. Giver of the Holy Spirit (20)
16. Merciful (31)
17. Covenant keeping (32)
18. Great
19. Mighty
20. Awesome
21. Faithful (33)

That should keep us busy praising for a while!

Sunday, July 09, 2017


Jesus Healing on the Sabbath

The key to this story is the time: it happened on the Sabbath. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, showing that he obeyed the Sabbath and that the town was interested enough to hear him.

While he was teaching, Jesus noticed a woman who had a “disabling sprit”. Luke attributes her disability to the cruelty of Satan. Jesus said she was bound by Satan. (16) He noticed her; she did not seek him. She had been bent over for 18 years. Jesus’ ministry was not only teaching about the kingdom, but demonstrating it with his compassion for those who suffer and his conflict with demons.

1 John 3:8 says the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus called her over, laid hands on her and freed her. She was made straight. (13) She reacted appropriately: she glorified God. She understood the supernatural work that had taken place. The last sentence of the story indicates that the people in attendance also rejoiced. (17)

But the ruler of the synagogue was indignant. He was upset that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He did not have the nerve to reproach Jesus, so he told the congregation to come for healing on other days, not the Sabbath. (14)

Jesus reacted to this with a correction to the ruler’s thinking. He called him a hypocrite. (18) He pointed out the they believed you could take care of a donkey on the Sabbath. How much more, then, should they want to help this woman.

He used the same word for “untie” as he did for “loosed”.

He called her a child of Abraham, meaning she had value as a member of the covenant people. And why could be better than freeing her from the power of Satan on the day reserved to worship the Lord? (16)

Here is a little background for this story. “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat”, which derives from the word meaning “to cease”. God rested, or ceased, his labor of creation on the seventh day. Genesis 2:1-3 tells us this. It says:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So god blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

The principle of the Sabbath began in the beginning. But God also imposed Sabbath observance as part of his covenant with Israel. He said:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it shall not do any work…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath was a recognition of God as creator. As he ceased his work on the seventh day, men and women were to cease their work as a memorial to God, their creator.

The Pharisees were concerned to honor the Sabbath as God commanded it. They made up many rules to define work. Sadly, healing was labeled as work. That is why the ruler of the synagogue was indignant: Jesus had worked and he had done it in the synagogue.

Jesus, however, knew there was more to the Sabbath than rest. It was also about redemption. That is because the basis of the covenant was God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God began the giving of the law with these words of redemption:
I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1)

The restatement of the law in Deuteronomy emphasizes redemption with the Sabbath observance. It emphasized that the Sabbath was to be observed by the individual, but also by their servants. They were to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and God brought them out of slavery. Therefore, they were to observe the Sabbath. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

The ruler only wanted to recognize the rest aspect, forgetting the redemption aspect. Jesus emphasized the redemption aspect. He is, after all, the Redeemer.

The law, including the Sabbath, was designed by God to point to the Redeemer. Colossians 2:16 calls the Sabbaths and the feasts “shadows of things to come”. But the Pharisees had come to see the law as and end unto itself. Therefore, they focused on the requirements and not the representations, or symbols, that pointed to God’s redemption.

There is a lesson for us here. We have our rituals. We have our rules. There is nothing wrong with that. But we must always look at what they mean and how they point us to God, and not get caught up in rules that God did not impose.

We must also care for people as Jesus did. It is easier to obey human rules than to care for someone. But it is not what Jesus did and not what we should do.

We want to be those who rejoice in the work of God, not those who carp about the process.

Verse 17 says Jesus’ adversaries were put to shame. Their hard hearts and lack of compassion were revealed.

Jesus’ work of healing was also a sign of things to come. When the kingdom comes in all its fulness, there will be no mental or physical disabilities, no suffering, no deformity.

Next, Jesus told 2 stories of the growth of the kingdom.

The Growing Kingdom

In this passage, Jesus spoke about the kingdom and its growth. He compared it to a small mustard seed that grew into a plant large enough for birds to nest in it. ((18-19) It was like a small amount of leaven that would leaven a large amount of flour. The point of both of these images is growth from small to large. Christ’s kingdom started with just a few followers, but would grow to have millions.

The Narrow Door

This teaching occurred and Jesus continued along his way to Jerusalem. All along the way he stopped and taught.

Someone asked him if the number of persons saved would be few. (23) Jesus answered indirectly, by comparing one’s entry into the kingdom to one’s entry into someone’s house.

He said to strive to enter through the narrow door. A narrow door would imply that everyone does not get in. There is one way in. It is restricted by narrowness.

Jesus said when the master of the house shut the door, others would stand outside and wanting. They would say “open the door” because they ate and drank in his presence and he taught in their streets. But he would say he did not know where they came from. He would tell them to depart and call them evil. They would go to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus is the master of the house. Those outside are those who did not commit their lives to him in faith. Sure, they hung out with church people. They thought Jesus was a good teacher. But none of that was enough.

Hell is the place for those who will be cast out of God’s presence. Here the Master says “depart from me”. He cast them out, just as God cast Adam from the Garden and the Jews from Israel.

Hell will be a place of suffering. There will be weeping. People will gnash their teeth in agony. (28)

Jesus told the crowd of Jews that they would be in that place and would suffer as they saw Abraham, their father, in the kingdom with all the prophets and all believers, but themselves cast out because they rejected Jesus. (28)

And while they would be cast out, Gentiles would come from all directions, pass through the narrow door, and reclining at table in the kingdom of God. (29) Again we see heaven portrayed as a wedding feast.

So, what was Jesus’ answer to the question “will those who are saved be few”? The answer was, and is, only those who enter by the narrow gate will be saved. There will be many that think they are saved for the wrong reasons, but are not.

For this reason, we must be careful to proclaim the gospel as Jesus did. This story indicates that the narrow door means there is one way into the kingdom. That way is repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. We cannot water that down in evangelism or in the face of opposition.

You might be familiar with a recent event where a Christian came under a scathing attack from Senator Bernie Sanders. It occurred during the confirmation hearing for Russell Vaught’s nomination to become Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Vaught had written an article that contained the following statement:
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

That statement is absolutely correct according to the Bible.

Mr. Sanders responded in this way. He said:
“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world”. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

At the heart of Mr. Sanders’ rhetoric is a belief that all religions are equal and we cannot hold out Christianity as the one way to eternal life. That is not, however, the view of Jesus. He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:6)

That is plain. It is the word of the Son of God. We have no authority to change it. And if we do, the blood of those who are lost because of it is on our hands.

Thursday, July 06, 2017


When I was a kid in the early ‘60s, I attended First Baptist Church Small Town. Most every service began with the words “Please stand for the singing of the Doxology”. We never used the hymnal for it because everybody knew it. 

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

These words were written in 1674 by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken.  It actually was the final verse of three hymns he wrote for students to sing in the morning and night as devotions. I did not know that at the time.

I have to admit I did not understand the song then. “Praise” was a word confined to hymns. It held no personal meaning for me.

But years later, we sang it in my big city church and I paid attention to the words. What a wonderful way to start a service, praising the Triune God. When we sing it, we acknowledge God as the source of all our blessings, as worthy of praise from all creation, earth and heaven. We confess our belief in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost\Spirit.

It is also simply a great way to praise the Lord when you want to or when you cannot think of something to say. I confess that I often sing it in the car on the way to work when I am watching the sun come up over the city.

Singing any song frequently can result in our singing without engaging. But it does not have to be that way. Sing it to the Lord intentionally, to praise him. He will be pleased.

And I think you will feel his pleasure.