Story 149: The Coming of the Son of Man

Luke 17:20-37

Anointed One

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time studied the Old Testament, and so they knew many wonderful truths from it. They also had many questions because the Old Testament had left many mysteries. They believed that God was going to come in power to establish the nation of Israel in a special, powerful way. They read their prophets and understood that a king would sit on the throne of David again.   Some of the Pharisees wondered, did Jesus know when this was going to happen? Was He a part of the plan? As Jesus went around doing powerful miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, He reminded the nation of God’s great works of power in the past. So they asked Him when the Kingdom of God was going to come.

Jesus answered, “‘The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’”

What did Jesus mean? Well, the Kingdom was standing right next to them in the Person of Jesus Christ! It had come in a way they had not imagined. Before this point, God had sent His faithful messengers, like Moses and King David and Elijah and Isaiah, to tell God’s people about His plans and to help the nation live in His will. But they were only messengers that pointed to God. Now God Himself had come. The Son of God was the Kingdom! Through His life, Jesus ushered in the first stage of God’s breaking into the cursed world. The mighty Prince of Heaven was invading the Kingdom of Darkness and opening the way for the Kingdom of Light! The reign of God on earth was already happening in the lives of those who were putting their faith in Christ! But the Pharisees refused to believe, so they could not see!

For those who did see the light of Christ, there were even deeper mysteries to learn. It was as if they had walked through a small, hidden gate and taken steps down a small, narrow road. But with each step, new, deep, rich wonders were revealed.

The privilege of learning the hidden mysteries of God’s plan would not be given to people who had no faith. That honor belonged to those who listened to what Christ said and believed. That little step of faith took them on the path to the good things of God that will always increase and have no end (see Isaiah 9:1-11).

The Lord’s disciples had taken those first steps. They had set everything aside to follow Him, even as the powerful men of their nation turned more and more hostile against Jesus. So Jesus began to unveil to them the hidden things about what would happen when the Kingdom of God came to earth in full glory:

“‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”

Luke 17:22-25

Wow. There is a lot of amazing information in those sentences. Jesus was giving a prophecy about the future. There were times ahead when people would long for the return of the Messiah. They would hunger for the days when He would rule in righteousness. People would even point to false Messiahs, claiming that they were the Christ. But the next time Jesus comes to earth, He will not come in secret, or as an infant. Nobody will have to wonder if it is Him because He will split the sky with the flashes of His glory! It will be just as the prophet Daniel described the coming of the Son of Man over five hundred years before Jesus told these things to His disciples:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’”

Daniel 7:13-14

Wow.

Have you noticed how Jesus often called Himself the “Son of Man”? That was His way of pointing to these verses in Daniel. He was saying, “I am this very same Son of Man!” When Jesus described His return, He was making it clear that it would be a fulfillment of this prophecy.

These were the deep mysteries that God knew from before the creation of the world. He has always known exactly how it is going to end, and that Jesus will have complete victory. But the road to victory was going to take a turn that almost no one expected, not even His closest disciples. For centuries, the Jewish people had wondered about what would happen when the Messiah came,  but nobody had guessed that He would come to die. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “‘But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”

For us, that is easier to understand, because we can look back and see what He did for us on the cross. But for His disciples, those words were confusing. They didn’t fit any of their hopes or dreams. The disciples couldn’t imagine a Conqueror whose victory came through the obedience of suffering. But the suffering wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus went on to describe what it would be like when He returned:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“‘It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.’”

Luke 17:26-27

 Do you remember the story of Noah? For a hundred years he was building his ark.   The people of earth knew that he was a righteous man, and he preached to them, warning them to repent. But instead, they ignored him. They kept on living in their sinful patterns right up to the very day it began to rain!

In the same way, Abraham had come to live in the Land of Promise with his nephew Lot. For many years, Abraham stood for the righteous ways of God, but the people of Canaan did not change their ways. They ignored the messenger, and when they least expected it, God’s good and holy judgment came in fire. Only Lot and his daughters were saved.

It is interesting that when Jesus described what the people were doing, He did not list a bunch of terrible sins. Marrying, planting, and building are all tasks that God gave the human race to do. Each of them can be holy acts of obedience. But when life is lived separate from God, even the wholesome duties of life can become a way of rebellion. Humans were created for God. The primary pursuit of life is to love Him…that’s what we were made for. The only right way to lean in life is to lean into Him. Otherwise we lean away, crossing the line into our own determination and pride. All duties must be done out of our desire to serve Him. Everything can be done as an act of holy devotion.

The disciples had left everything to move into that obedience, and because they did, they were learning the great, prophetic secrets of the centuries past and future. But the nation of Israel, from religious leaders all the way down to the most common of people, still had a choice to make. They had been given a breathtaking privilege. The Messiah had come to their generation. Would they honor that privilege by putting their faith in Him?

Story 148: Delighting the Savior: The Power of a Grateful Heart

Luke 17:11-21

pregare

Jesus had traveled throughout the entire nation of Israel, from His early days in the north in Galilee to His proclamation in the south through Judea and Perea. The time had come for Him to take His final journey down to Jerusalem. He took the road between Galilee and Samaria, making His way south for the Passover Feast. There were many other Jews traveling that road for the same reason. As they walked, Jesus and His disciples joined in the great national pilgrimage.

How the people must have stopped and stared as Jesus and His band of disciples passed them by. How they must have whispered. Everyone had heard about how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Then He and His disciples disappeared. Now it seemed He would make an appearance at the Passover Feast, where all of His enemies were waiting to kill Him. Anticipation was growing throughout the nation as the word spread. What was going to happen? Surely this was going to be a Passover to remember.

Along the way, Jesus came upon a village. There were ten lepers standing at a distance. They had heard rumors that Jesus was coming, and they were waiting to meet the Man who had worked such magnificent miracles all over the Israel. When they saw Him, they cried out, “‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”

As Jesus came closer to them, He simply said, “‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’” There was good reason for Jesus to say that. In the Old Testament, God said that anyone who had certain skin diseases had to move away from the community so that the disease wouldn’t spread to others. It was a profoundly wise, compassionate command. If at some point, that skin disease was healed, they could go show themselves to the priest. If the priest declared them clean, they could rejoin the rest of the people in normal, everyday life.

Think about what an amazing priest Lord Jesus was. He could do far more than declare that they were clean once it had already happened. He could make them clean while they were still infested with disease! He had power to undo all the terrible things that the Curse brought!

But for these men to rejoin their families and enter community life again, they needed the approval of an official priest. Jesus wasn’t just going to heal their disease, He was paving the way to heal their whole lives. They would be able to go back to their families! They would be able to hug and hold them! They would be able to work regular jobs! Their isolation and loneliness would be over!

When Jesus told the men to go to the priest, it was like a promise that healing was going to take place. They could trust that Jesus was going to answer their petition, though they didn’t know how! Somehow, by the time they got there, the priest would be able to declare them clean.

The men obeyed. It was truly an act of faith. Why go if they still had the disease? But as they walked to the priest, something marvelous began to happen. Their leprosy was healing! They kept walking, and it kept happening!

Imagine what it was like for the priests when ten lepers showed up, utterly healed. Imagine the confusion and awkwardness they faced as they declared that these men were made clean by the very Man their leaders were seeking to kill. They were declaring a miracle that only God could do.

When one of the men realized what was going on, he was filled with utter, exulting happiness. He went back to Jesus, shouting and declaring God’s goodness all the way. He wanted to tell the Lord thank you! It was far more important to him than anything the priest could say! Can you imagine what fun it would have been to watch this jubilant man rejoicing in the street?

When he got to Jesus, he fell on his face, right at the Lord’s feet. His life had been given back to him! He thanked Him and praised Him. What a great scene to behold! Can you imagine the smile on Jesus’ face?

Jesus looked down at the man, who was a Samaritan, and asked, “‘Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was not one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’”  
Now if you’ll remember, the Samaritans were considered outcasts by the Jewish people. The Jews would walk miles out of their way just to avoid going through a Samaritan town. They thought it was shameful to eat with them. Yet of the ten lepers, it was only the Samaritan who showed a grateful heart, the only one who sought to reconnect and give praise to the Giver of the gift. Jesus celebrated his childlike response of love and thankful praise! Jesus said to him, “‘Rise, and go; your faith has made you well.’”

Now, what in the world did that mean? Didn’t all ten lepers get healed? Well, yes. All ten were healed of leprosy. But this Samaritan showed a living faith in Jesus, the Person, that the others did not, and so his healing went far deeper than the outer disease on his skin. He had a healing in his heart. He belonged to God.

Story 147: Despising Life

John 11:17-54

Senior man

It was an interesting moment in the life of Christ. He had spent time away from Jerusalem because the religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed. Yet word had come that His friend, Lazarus, was sick and dying. Lazarus lived in Bethany, a mere two miles from Jerusalem, but Jesus still planned to go to him and his family. What was really strange was that even though Jesus knew the situation was serious, He told His disciples that they would wait a few days until Lazarus had fallen asleep. He meant that He was going to wait until Lazarus died before He went to see Him. It was all a part of God’s plan to give Lazarus the amazing privilege of being a powerful testimony of his friend’s power over death.

Imagine how the word spread. A man who was unquestionably dead had been raised to life by Jesus, the very One everyone was talking about. Jews from Jerusalem had witnessed it firsthand. There was no disputing the facts. Lazarus was gone for four full days, and now he was alive.

The people of the nation of Israel were going to want answers from their Jewish leadership. How was it possible for this Jesus to have such incredible power if He wasn’t from God? If He was from God, and He was the Messiah, then what was wrong with these leaders? Why were they trying to kill God’s servant?

The Jewish Scripture was filled with stories of men who were the heroes of God and others who were His vilest enemies. Which side was Jesus on? Which side were the religious leaders? Were they on the same side as men like Mannaseh, the evil king who killed the prophet Isaiah? The king whose memory had been despised by everyone in Israel for hundreds of years? Were these men on the same side as those who had killed the prophets of God?

As the Jewish leaders went against Jesus and tried to silence Him, and as Jesus stood in His authority as the Son of God and fearlessly proclaimed the Truth, it became increasingly sharp and clear that only one side could be right. Would the Jewish leaders repent? Would they finally accept that the Messiah had come? Would God’s holy people believe?

Many of the Jews who had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and saw what Jesus did put their faith in Him. Others went to the Pharisees. Then the Pharisees went to the chief priests in Jerusalem to tell them about this new development. This was a serious problem. If this Man, Jesus, kept on deceiving the people, there would be no stopping Him. Clearly, the Pharisees could not control Him.

They called together a council of the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land. As the most powefulr men in Israel met together, they debated what to do about Jesus.

“‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs,’” some said. It was an honest question. How could they explain the miracles?

“‘If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation,’” others declared. They were trying to claim that Jesus was such a rabble-rouser that He would force the Romans to move against Israel. They would come and destroy the Temple and lay the nation to waste to quiet things down.

In the next few weeks of our reading, it will become very clear that this was absolutely ridiculous. The Romans hardly knew who Jesus was and weren’t troubled by Him in the least. Pontius Pilate, the governor that Rome sent to rule over Jerusalem, didn’t even know who Jesus was! But these Jewish rulers needed a good excuse to destroy Christ, and they could hardly admit it was because they were jealous!

Finally, Caiaphus spoke. He was the high priest with the most powerful position in the Jewish nation. By the end of his term, he would have held it for eighteen years, longer than any other high priest in his century. But he did not keep his position because of his righteous leadership or because God took pleasure over his rule. He and his father-in-law, Annas, held a dynastic-like power over the Temple and the Jewish religion, using corruption and manipulation to hold onto their influence and power. They used one of the most honored roles God gave to His people for their own selfish gain. With Jesus, they had found a new rival that they couldn’t control. They had no scruples about bringing the full force of their power against Him.

The high priest rebuked the other leaders, declaring, “‘You know nothing at all’” He wasn’t a very polite man, was he? But what he said next was even worse. He declared, “‘…nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’”

Wow. Caiaphus had already decided. Jesus had to die. There was no desire to give Him a fair trial or to seriously consider the facts. There was no move to hear both sides of the argument about who Jesus was and the things He did. The other voices that had voiced those concerns were silenced.

Yet isn’t the way Caiaphas said it interesting? It was true. Jesus did have to die so that the nation could be saved. God had ordained that the high priest of Israel would state this prophesy, whether He followed the Lord or not. Jesus truly was going to die for the nation. As John wrote this story down, he wanted to make sure we understood this. He said that Jesus not only died for the nation of Israel, but for all the children of God who were scattered all over the world. He was talking about us! Caiaphus meant one thing with his declaration that Jesus needed to die, but God meant something far different…far more dreadful and vast in scope, and yet full of the greatest hope the world will ever know.

Another great tragedy and irony in this declaration is that the very thing that Caiaphas claimed he was trying to avoid also came true. John would know all about it when he wrote this story down years later. He must have found it stunning. In 70 A.D., the Roman Empire invaded Jerusalem and utterly destroyed it, and the nation of Israel would not exist again for almost two thousand years.

The Sanhedrin had made their decision with their high priest leading the way. From that time on, they plotted and planned about how they were going to do it. For you see, it was complicated. They had no legal reason to kill Jesus. He had done nothing wrong, They could catch Him in no deception. Not only that, but many in Israel believed in Jesus. If they tried to arrest Jesus in public, there might be a riot. Yet Jesus was always surrounded by people. How could they get a hold of Him without anyone finding out?

Word leaked out about the Sanhedrin’s plan. Suddenly everything became much more dangerous.   Jesus could no longer go out among the Jewish people. There were many in Israel that would benefit from getting on the good side of the Sanhedrin.   So Jesus made His way north to the countryside, out near the wilderness in Ephraim, and His faithful disciples went with Him.

Story 146: The Resurrection and the Life

John 11:17-54

Lazarus and Jesus

Jesus was on His way to Bethany with His disciples. Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, the capitol city where the religious leaders were plotting to have Jesus killed. Going anywhere near Jerusalem was a dangerous decision…except it wasn’t. Jesus knew that His life was in the Father’s hands, and that He would only lay down His life when the right time had come.  When the news came that Lazarus, the dear friend of Christ, was dying in Bethany, Jesus made plans to make His way there, in spite of the danger.   Yet instead of going immediately, He waited several days. He told His disciples that Lazarus was going to go to sleep. It was a way to say Lazarus was going to die. The question we have to ask is why did Jesus wait until Lazarus was dead to show up? Why allow the family and friends of Lazarus to experience the pain of loss?

When Jesus and His disciples arrived in Bethany, they learned that sure enough, Lazarus had died, just as Jesus had said. In fact, he had already been laid in a tomb and had been there for four days. Jews from Jerusalem had come streaming in to give comfort to Martha and Mary. Imagine the deep sadness of these women. Imagine their confusion. Their dear Lord Jesus, who had healed so many, had failed to come on time. He could have saved Lazarus! And now, four days later, He wasn’t even among the first to come and join the mourning.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him. Mary stayed inside the house, sad and hurt and grieving. Martha said to Jesus, “‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give you.’” Wow. That was bold faith! And a bold request!

Jesus told her, “‘Your brother will rise again.’”
Martha said, “‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” She did not understand that Lazarus was going to rise again that very day!

Jesus responded, “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” He was pressing Martha to declare deeper and greater levels of truth…and what a wild truth it must have seemed. Jesus was claiming to have power over death itself. The only requirement was faith in Him. For anyone else, it would be a preposterous lie, a heinous and rather narcissistic deception. But for Christ, it was (and is) true, and so it was all the more critical…of unsurpassed importance, in fact…that His followers grasp it with their whole hearts.
Martha looked at her Jesus and spoke with bold faith, “‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”

As she declared the most important truth in history, it became even more true for her heart than it ever had been before. It was bright, and it was eternal. Christ received her confident faith. How beautiful and simple it was next to the arguments and arrogance and questions of the religious leaders and their minions that were trying to undermine Jesus, the men who had such power and authority in Israel. God does not value what the world values, including positions of influence and status. What mattered was faith, and there in the middle of Palestine, 2,000 ago, it was a woman without a husband, and now without a brother, to protect her, who was given the privilege of proclaiming the testimony of God’s Son.

When Jesus said that those who believe in Him will never die, it might seem like He meant that their bodies will never die. We know that isn’t true, don’t we? All of the disciples ended up dying, and so did Martha and Mary. But their death wasn’t a permanent death. It was merely a passing from this cursed world into the next. And the next world, the one where Jesus rules and reigns and where everyone does His perfect will, is a far better place to be! Those who put their faith in Christ will ultimately die to this world, but they will resurrect to something so much more glorious that it changes the nature of death altogether.

Then Martha went off to get Mary, her deeply grieving sister. She took her aside and spoke to her quietly so nobody else would hear. “‘The Teacher is here and calling for you.’” When Mary heard that Jesus had come, she went to Him as quickly as she could. When the rest of the crowd saw her get up so quickly, it made them curious, so they followed her out of the house. Jesus was still in the place where Martha had met Him, so He hadn’t even entered the village yet. When Mary saw Him, she went bursting towards him and fell at his feet. “‘Lord,’” she said in disappointed tears, “ ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”

Oh, the grief of these two dear friends as they waited on Jesus. How greatly they had suffered! Jesus looked down on His dear friend and wept at the cost of the curse. He looked around and saw the other dear family members and friends who were also grieving the loss of Lazarus, and their sadness affected Him. The Bible says that Jesus was, “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” How He was moved by their suffering! Yet even as He was saddened by the hard moment right then and there and had tremendous compassion for them, He also knew that joy was on the way.

The people who saw Christ’s tears wondered. “‘See how He loved him!’” some of them said. But others just complained, “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of a blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” they grumbled. They did not understand that God had a much higher purpose that was about to unfold. For all the grief that had come to Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, they were going to give great glory to their Lord!

When Jesus arrived at the tomb, He was moved deeply in His heart again. There in front of Christ and all the people that had followed Him was a great stone that had been rolled over the mouth of a cave. Lazarus was somewhere inside. Jesus told them to take the stone away. Martha spoke up. She didn’t want the memory of her brother to be shamed.

“‘Lord,’” she said, “‘by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’” Jesus looked at His friend and said, “‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’”

It is interesting to think about what Jesus might have been feeling at that moment. Was His still raw from the grief of seeing His friends suffer? Was He experiencing growing delight at the wonder that was about to come?

They rolled the stone away. Jesus lifted His eyes up towards Heaven and said, “‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they might believe that You sent Me.’”

Wow! This prayer shows us an amazing insight. Jesus spoke out loud the conversation that He was always having with His Father in silence. Jesus was showing that the raising of Lazarus was part of His response to the will of His Father, and that He was absolutely confident that the Father would give Him power to do it!

“‘Lazarus, come out!’” He commanded. And then, from within the darkness of the cave, something began to move. There he was. Lazarus was walking, wrapped from head to toe in burial cloth. The Lord said, “‘Take off his grave clothes and let him go!’”

Lazarus was alive! There had been grief for a moment, but in a total reversal of everyone’s expectations, joy had come. Can you imagine how Martha and Mary felt? Can you imagine how they ran to their brother…how they danced? Can you imagine the questions everyone had for Lazarus? Can you imagine how ridiculous those who had been criticizing Jesus must have felt?

The curse of death had brought terrible pain for the friends of Christ, but the Lord brought life. As He reversed the powerful effects of the Fall, Jesus gave a shining illustration of His glory for all of Israel to see. This was the Kingdom of God! It was the friends of Jesus who had the honor of being among the first whose lives would bear the cost of suffering for the sake of honoring His name.

Jesus was going to offer Himself as a sacrifice, and already it was becoming clear that His followers were being called to the same obedient surrender to the will of God. It was with breathtaking humility and a deep surrender to faith. A point comes in the heart when it decides that the eternal things are more important than the things of this world. There has to be belief that God is powerful, that there is life everlasting beyond this world, and assurance that He will richly reward those who earnestly seek Him (check out Hebrews 11:6).

When Jesus spoke with Martha and asked if she believed, it was not as if she had no faith before. It was like He was gently drawing a thread around her heart and drawing her into deeper faith in Himself. She had to trust Jesus even when the thing most precious to her was bound up in a tomb! And as the whole family moved from death to life through Christ’s power, their identity and purpose became more deeply identified with Jesus Christ Himself. He was becoming their life and hope! What an amazing image of the hope we all have in the resurrection life that will one day carry us to eternity.

Story 145: Journeying to Lazarus

John 11:1-16

The Jordan River looking towards Bethany, the town where this story took place.

Jesus and His disciples made their way towards Jerusalem from the region of Perea. Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Him. The religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed, but the Lord was responding to the will of His Father, and so He set His face like a flint to the City of David (check out Isaiah 50).

Meanwhile, in the town of Bethany, about two miles away from Jerusalem, a man had become very ill. His name was Lazarus, and he was a good friend of Jesus. Lazarus’ two sisters lived with him, and they loved the Lord as well. We have met them before. Their names were Mary and Martha (see Story 122).

Lazarus’ illness grew more and more serious, and finally, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus. “‘Lord, He whom You love is ill.’” When Jesus heard the news, He understood more than what the messenger told Him. The women and the messenger could only see things from a human’s point of view. Jesus listened through the power of the Spirit, and He understood God’s will perfectly. He said, “‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”

It is interesting what the author, the Apostle John, wrote next. He said that Jesus greatly loved Martha and Mary and their brother, so He stayed away from them for two more days. Instead of going to His sick friend immediately, He stayed out by the Jordan River. Doesn’t that seem strange? If He loved them, why didn’t He rush to their home as soon as possible? Why didn’t He heal Lazarus right then and there so that he wouldn’t have to suffer? He had healed others, like the centurion’s servant, from far away.

But Jesus didn’t choose to do any of these things. Instead, it says that because He loved them, He stayed away. Why?

After two days, Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea. They were finally going to visit their sick friend. The only trouble was, that meant they were heading back towards Jerusalem. All of his enemies were there, ready to kill Him! It was very, very dangerous.

Hadn’t Jesus stayed away to avoid the danger? And if so, why go now?

His disciples said, “‘Rabbi, the Jews are just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?’” It must have seemed crazy! They would all be risking their lives if they went with Him. Imagine how terrifying that would be. What would you do?
Jesus said, “‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”

Jesus often used light to describe Himself. If the disciples trusted Him, that also meant they had His light. They could go wherever He went and know that they would not stumble. The religious leaders were living apart from Jesus, and so they were like those who stumble around in the dark. In other words, the Lord and His disciples had nothing to fear from them. The only thing they needed to worry about was obeying God. God wanted them to go to see Lazarus in Judea! So Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’”

For you see, the Lord knew that Lazarus had already died. God had prepared a great miracle for Jesus to perform. He was going to raise Lazarus to life. The Lord Jesus already knew exactly what the Father had planned, and He was totally confident that God would do it through Him. But His disciples didn’t understand at all.  They couldn’t imagine that Lazarus was already gone. Even after seeing all the miracles, it didn’t cross their minds. “‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, then he will recover.’”  So Jesus told them plainly, “‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”

Why did Jesus say He was glad He wasn’t there? Well, if He had been there, He would have healed Lazarus before he died, and then the miracle wouldn’t have been so clear and obvious. He wanted His friends to see the greatness of His power so they would believe in Him. They could not only be free from fear of the power of their religious leaders…they could be free from the power of death.

It wasn’t as if His disciples had no belief in Jesus at all. They were already willing to risk their lives for Him! When they first started walking with Him, they had no way of knowing how famous He would become and the breathtaking miracles He would perfrom. They also didn’t know that the religious leaders would turn on Him, and that following Him would mean becoming their enemies as well. They already believed…but had room to grow deeper still. True belief is something that keeps growing deeper and more certain over time. In God’s discipleship of those who follow Him, He crafts situations and circumstances in life that grow their faith.

As Thomas listened to Jesus, he still didn’t understand. He knew that heading back to Jerusalem was dangerous. He also knew that he was willing to risk his life for the Lord. So he declared to his fellow disciples, “‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him!’”

Wow. The disciples were convinced that going back meant certain death! Yet they all agreed to go with Jesus anyway. They still didn’t have faith to believe Him when He said he was in control of time and life. They didn’t believe Him when He said there was nothing to worry about. But they believed in Him enough to offer up their lives for Him.

Imagine if you were living in that moment with Jesus. Here He stood, your beloved Teacher…the perfect One who spoke words of such beautiful truth that you were willing to cast everything aside for the sake of His calling. Imagine knowing that there were powerful people who wanted to destroy Him and His message. Imagine having to decide if you were going to let Him go down among those wolves alone…or if you were going to go there with Him and take a stand, right beside Him.

When the time came, would the disciples really be able to do it? Would their courage stand or fall?

There are people all over the world this very minute who are having to make that decision. They are being persecuted for their faith, losing their jobs, homes, family, and sometimes, even their own lives for the sake of their devotion to the Lord Jesus.

If you are one of them, please know that your brothers and sisters stand with you and pray for you.

If you would like to know more about how to pray for the persecuted Church, you can go to Voice of the Martyrs to get your start.

All of us have ways that we can decide if we are going to stand with Jesus or with the world that hates Him. We take a stand every day by the way we treat others, whether we choose to soak our minds in His Word or in the things of this world that act like a toxin to our souls, in how we spend our finances, in how we choose to spend our time…the Spirit of the Lord wants to draw us into deeper, richer, ever-growing depths of Christlikeness. This surrender is the way we are meant to stand with Him…it is the simple surrender of faith in every aspect of our lives. Do we want to be like the religious leaders that attacked Him?  Or the people that stood by and watched?  Or like Thomas who chose in that moment to stand with his Lord regardless of the cost?  The choice we make about this is the most important choice we make each day: Will use our time for Jesus…to be with Jesus..in His eternity, constant goodness and presence with us?  Or will we spread our focus out all around, on broken and deceptive things, and choose that which is untrue, unlovely, or meaningless…the Kingdom of Darkness?

Story 144: Reflecting the Relentless Forgiveness of God

Luke 17:1-10

Sinking with a millstone.

As Jesus continued to travel through Perea on His way to Jerusalem, He gave His disciples more lessons about what it meant to follow Him. His time was growing short, and He knew these men would be the ones to carry on His message after He was gone. Part of what Christ wanted to show them was how different the leadership of His Kingdom would be from the way the religious leaders in Israel behaved. He gave them some warnings to help them understand. He said:

“‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come!

“‘It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

Consider how much attention the Lord must be paying to the ways we treat each other…and how protective He is of the vulnerable. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. All the more reason that when we are feeling drawn to sin…or when we are in a situation where someone else is sinning, we aren’t meant to go along with it:

“‘Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

“‘And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” forgive him.”

Aren’t the ways of God wonderful? We are not meant to give in to sin…and we must confront it when we see it, but we are also to offer lavish amounts of forgiveness when there is repentance. Over and over again, day after day, we must continue to go through the process of addressing our issues of sin and that of others. We have to respond to their responses and discern their repentance. And we have to offer forgiveness over and over again.

When the disciples heard this, they said, “‘Increase our faith!’” They knew how tremendously hard these sayings were going to be to obey!

To this, Jesus said, “‘If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you.”

“‘Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he came in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat?” Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink?” Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.”’

Luke 17:6-10

In other words…it might seem to the disciples like Jesus was asking for too much. Christ was saying that He was not. The work of relationship…of choosing to protect the vulnerable, refuse sin for ourselves, rebuke our brothers and sisters who are giving into sin, and giving them room to fail and seek forgiveness over and over again…is not something we can simply choose not to do. It is an important part of showing our devoted love to Him.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbXMsiPtLnc

 

Story 143: On Treatment of the Poor

Luke 16:1-13

Mendicante

As Jesus continued to go about the countryside of Israel healing and teaching and offering the Good News of God, the religious leaders were becoming more and more offended.  Some of them wanted Him dead.  Others were nitpicking at everything He did. The latest critique was that He was spending far too much time with the tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so He addressed it by telling them stories to break them out of their rigid mindset and help them see the bigger picture of God’s love.  He told the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin to show the lengths that God will go to reach the lost…and the rejoicing that happens in Heaven when they are found.  He told the story of the Prodigal Son where the father sees his reprobate son returning home in rags and goes running…imagine the undignified act of running!…to him and throws his arms around him.

Jesus had another story, and so He began to tell His disciples:

“‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

“‘The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

“‘So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

“‘ “Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied.

“‘ “The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.”

“‘ “Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

“‘“A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied.

“‘“He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.”

“‘“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

“‘“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

“‘“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”’”

Luke 16:1-13

As Jesus said these things to His disciples, the Pharisees were listening in. They loved their money, and as the story unfolded, they began to sneer at Jesus. So the Lord turned to them and said, “‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of man, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’”

Wow.  

Then Jesus went on to tell another parable.  This one would highlight what He was saying in the last one:

““There was as rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury ever day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

“‘“But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received our good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

“‘“He answered, “Then I beg you Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

“‘“Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them”

“‘“No, Father Abraham,” he said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

“”He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.”’”

Luke 16:19-31

 The wonderful thing about stories is that they can show so much truth as it plays out in the dynamics of real life.  Jesus could have told the Pharisees that they weren’t compassionate enough, that they loved money too much, or that they were ruining their chances to be with God for all eternity.  He could have said that their ways of greed and hard-heartedness towards the poor was destroying them, and that God would not allow them to force their way into the Kingdom by obeying their own notions about the Law. They allowed all sorts of things that violated the heart of God, yet put oppressive burdens on the people about Laws that were not important to God at all.  And what was worse, they were rejecting the Giver of the Law.

Jesus was God…He was there when Moses received the Law, but now as He was among them, they were rejecting what He said about it.  Yet they thought they could have all of its blessings.    This story highlighted all of those truths in a way that Jesus never once said directly to the Pharisees.

 

 

 

Story 142: The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

IMG_0522

Sometimes it is hard to accept Truth…especially if it goes against everything we thought we were fighting for.

The religious leaders were upset at Jesus again.  As Christ journeyed across the countryside, He spent a lot of His time with sinners and tax collectors, and they didn’t like it.  They couldn’t see the beauty of His pursuing love for the lost. They couldn’t see how their own vision was bent and distorted from their own pride and malice. And they certainly couldn’t see the many ways He kept pursuing them with His love.

So Jesus taught parables to show the bright, true hope that God the Father offers to every repentant sinner. He taught the hope of the Kingdom of Heaven:

“‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

Imagine the selfishness of this son. He was not only abandoning his family, he was dividing the family wealth. Instead of building and contributing, he was taking and shaming and rejecting.

Imagine how the neighbors talked as land was sold off to give the son his part.  Imagine the pain of his father as he watched his son leave.

The son was determined to do things his own way, but things only got worse for him:

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son.”

But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.’”

Wow. Isn’t the love of the father in this story amazing? That is the love our heavenly Father has towards all of His children.

Spend a minute and imagine yourself in that story.  Think about all your imperfections…all the ways you feel broken and unworthy. Now imagine going on a journey to God. And when you arrive…instead of condemning you, instead of pointing out your faults, God the Father comes running. He kisses you, embraces you…holds you in the arms of His powerful love.  Look at the picture above and imagine that you are the one being held by the man with so much compassion and love on His face.

Did you notice the spirit of the son as he came back to his father? Was he demanding and rude? Did he expect to have all the rights and wealth of a son? Was he full of self-pity? Or did he admit that he had been terribly wrong?

When the son returned to his father, he came with a truly repentant spirit, full of remorse. He knew he had lost his inheritance. He expected to bear the consequences for what he had wasted. The old, sinful way of life had been left behind. He came with humility…and was restored his humanity.

One of the reasons stories are so powerful is because they highlight truth in a way that engages our minds and our hearts as we think about the way the world really is.  The sort of sin this son was involved in can be portrayed in the movies and on TV, as very glamorous…even sophisticated.  As genuinely good as those sins might feel in the moment, the story of how the partying ended for the Prodigal Son has been retold in the lives of thousands upon thousands who have been decimated by the lie that sin is worth it.  When he was at his worst, his wild friends were nowhere to be found, and he was living in humiliating degradation.  God is not mocked.  We reap what we sow.  And yet this story also shows the incredible, wonderful truth on the other side of that…there is a God who, though He sees us at our worst, will come running and will embrace us when we turn to Him in repentance.

The story could have ended there…with a delighted and relieved father and a son restored.  But they weren’t the only members of this family.

The older son wasn’t so happy with the new developments.  Jesus explained:

“‘Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving away for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brothers of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’”

Luke 15:11-31

Would you have been mad if you were the older brother? Do you understand why he was upset? It would be frustrating to serve so many years, only to have your brother receive a mighty celebration after abandoning the family! But the son was forgetting the bigger blessings that he was always receiving. He got to be near his father! He had worked many years doing vigorous, worthwhile things for the family. That is the rich stuff of life! And he stood in the position to receive all that was left of his father’s inheritance. It was well earned, but it was also a huge blessing.   He would never have to feel the agony of the bad choices his brother had made.

But the really big thing the brother missed was something the father understood very well. When his brother was in rebellion, he was living in a way that can very quickly lead to death. Sinful behavior lead to friendships with other people who want to share in sinful deeds, and it leads to areas of greater destruction and danger for the body and the soul. In his rebellion, his brother was as good as dead, and it was a true miracle that his circumstances became so miserable that he finally made his way back home.

The brother might have asked himself why he was more worried about his position and honor in the family than he was about the life of his own brother? Why wasn’t he excited to see his long lost brother alive?

The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ time might have asked themselves the same question, especially after hearing this revealing parable.

Story 141: His Searching Love for the Lost

Luke 15:1-32

Jesus as a good sheperd in stained glass

Sometimes when we read about the life and words of the Lord Jesus, He can seem wild and untamed. He is unpredictable. He does what we would never expect. It is almost as if He came from another world and brought all of its strange customs and beliefs with Him.

It seems that way because it is true. Jesus came into our world from a place of perfection.  Our world, the realm of human life where God gave us the responsibility of stewardship at the beginning of time (see Genesis 1-2) is distorted and twisted with sin and pride. Even things that should be righteous and good are used for wickedness and wrong. But the King of Heaven came to our world and brought with Him His perfect, straight goodness. When He began to speak, many of His listeners knew that they were broken and bent, and they were overjoyed to learn how to become straight. What a relief to have a Teacher who could help make things right.

But many in Israel truly believed that their were already okay. In fact, they were quite proud about how much better they were compared to everyone else. Jesus came to them and said, “Nope, you’re crooked, too.”

They weren’t happy about it at all. The Jewish leadership was enraged that anyone would dare challenge them, and so the great conflict began.

For the religious leaders, the worst part was that this arrogant young Jesus spent all His time healing and teaching all the really messed up people…the sinners they thought He should reject…and the people loved Him for it. These were the folks the Pharisees and scribes kept a wide distance from. They refused to teach them because they were unholy, and they would never, ever dream of eating with them.  What was wrong with Jesus? Didn’t He know these people were sinners? Didn’t He know the rules of the game?

The truth is, the tax gatherers and sinners in Israel really were despicably bad.

The tax collectors were terrible cheats. They went around collecting tax money from the Jewish people in order to give it to their harsh and oppressive enemy, the Roman Empire. That alone made them traitors. But then they made it worse by raising the taxes even higher to fill their own pockets. They were extremely greedy and often grew very wealthy by forcing their neighbors to give far more than they really owed.   Imagine how angering it would be to watch these men take the money that you needed from your own family in order to make themselves rich.

The people that were called sinners in the Bible stories were people that did genuinely bad things…the kind of things that Christ followers are truly meant to stay away from. Some of them took the sacred, private act of love that is meant to happen only in marriage and they bartered it around with others, sometimes even paying for it. While many sinners cheated on their sacred covenants, others could not be trusted with money and gambled it away.  Others stole or were abusive or gave themselves over to excessive drinking and recklessness. Some of them refused to work, and some abandoned their families and children in order to pursue their own selfish pleasures. They were not a pretty sight. Their sin was real, and the effects of their sin on their own lives, the lives in their families, and the life of their community was evil.

And yet, these sinners and these tax collectors were still drawn to Jesus.  Somehow, His presence did not overwhelm them with shame.  Why? Why would they want to be near the Holy One, the Man of sinless perfection?

Moreover, why did Jesus give them His time? And why in the world would He eat with them? In Jewish culture, that was like declaring that He accepted them!

The relationship that Jesus had with sinners was unheard of in the nation of Israel, and it infuriated the Pharisees and the scribes as they watched Him. They sat back in their little huddles and judged Him, critiquing His words and rolling their eyes at His foolishness. If He were truly sent from God, He would know better.

Jesus knew what the religious leaders were saying against Him. He also knew that their complaints were a sign of how darkened their own hearts were.  Their sin was just as great…and perhaps even worse.  While a tax collector was bent by pride and greed, the religious leaders were bent and broken by pride and malice. So Jesus explained Himself to the Jewish leaders through parables. Once again He was offering them a chance to see the Truth and repent.

In the first parable, Jesus said:

“‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”’”

Luke 15:4-7

Can you see how good and wonderful it is when everyone rejoices over the one who was lost and has been found? Instead of holding his sin against him, instead of resenting the cost of her freedom, the pure response of simple delight?  That is the way of God’s heavenly Kingdom. The angels shout for joy and the Father delights on His throne…one of His children has come home! That amazing scene has already happened for every one of us who has given our lives to Jesus.

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine the Most High God and His glorious angels throwing a party over you. That is what Jesus said you are supposed to imagine and believe happened when you gave your life to Him.

But as Jesus told the story, the Pharisees did not rejoice. As sinners and tax collectors listened to Jesus and repented, all they could do was gripe and judge. How bent, broken, and twisted they were! They were the religious leaders! It was their job to lead people back to God!

In the last sentence of this parable, Jesus says that Heaven will rejoice more about one coming to salvation than for the ninety-nine who do not need to repent. Do you think there have ever been ninety-nine people that don’t need to repent? Everyone needs to repent. Everyone sins. (Check out 1 John 5:1-10).  Only One Person in history is free from sin, and that was Jesus Himself. The ninety-nine in this parable are there to show us just how much God delights when someone who is lost is brought back into His fold…He knows every person on this planet, whether they have given their lives to Him or not, and He loves them (see John 3:16).  He longs to give the gift of salvation.

Do you think this parable helped the religious leaders see how sweet the repentance of every sinner is to God? Do you think they saw how ugly their contempt for the lost was? Do you think it helped them realize how lost they were? Jesus went on to tell another parable to help them understand:

“‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’”

Luke 15:8-10

Wow. In the perfect, bright, and true ways of God’s Kingdom, the transfer of a lost sinner from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light brings on a party! The Father and the heavenly host know exactly what is at stake. They know how magnificent the change is when someone that was in rebellion against God and headed for wrath turns towards His glorious light.  It is the breathtaking gift that Jesus knew He was going to make possible when He gave up His life on the cross.

 

Story 140: Counting the Cost

Luke 14:25-33

Abacus

As Jesus went around Perea proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, great crowds began to follow Him wherever He went. A great line of hostility had been drawn by the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem against Jesus, but He was still the most popular teacher in the nation. Many of those among the people had come to believe that He was the Messiah.

As Jesus traversed the towns and villages of Perea, He began to make His way towards Jerusalem. Everyone was watching His moves, and everyone knew that a major crisis was on the way. When the time of Passover came, there was bound to be a terrific clash. The entire nation was talking about it. Would they try to arrest Jesus? Would He bring some fantastic miracle and assert His power over Jerusalem? So far, Jesus’ miracles had been used to show compassion for others. When would He use His power for Himself?

The Old Testament told stories about angelic armies and miraculous victories for the nation of Israel over nations with far more powerful armies (Check out Exodus 14:12-31 or Isaiah 36-37). Would Jesus somehow come against the Romans and establish a throne of His own?

Many in the crowds believed Jesus was the Messiah, and they didn’t want to miss the blessings that would surely come when He chose to act. They were expecting Jesus to somehow take His throne in Jerusalem as the rightful King. They expected Him to build the Kingdom He was always talking about, and they wanted to be a part of it.

They didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about a spiritual Kingdom. They didn’t yet grasp that the Great Enemy that Jesus was going to have victory over was far greater than the Roman Empire.

Human empires may have their day in the sun, but they always fade away eventually. The real oppression of human history does not start with human leadership. It starts with Satan and the powerful grip of the Curse. That is what Jesus came to destroy, and it was a far deeper victory than anything the people of His day had imagined.

Christ’s victory would open the gates of Heaven, God’s eternal Kingdom, for all who believed in Him.

What the crowds, including Jesus’ own disciples, did not understand was that living for the Kingdom for Christ on earth was not going to look like victory…at least not right away. It was going to look like the cross.   This was not only going to be true for Jesus. It was going to be true for His followers as well.

The blessings of God’s Kingdom in this world are often the very things most people view as a curse. For the past 2,000 years since Jesus died and rose again, His followers have made major sacrifices to establish God’s Kingdom to further and further regions of the world. In fact, more people have died for the name of Jesus in our time than in any other.  It is happening today…it probably happened somewhere in the world as you were reading this post.

As His faithful ones have proclaimed the Good News, they have often come against very same hostility that Jesus was facing. Following Jesus often brings suffering and hardship. Like Jesus, the true hope of His disciples is in a world they cannot see. Someday, all who have stood faithful with Jesus will live in the lavish blessings of a Perfect World with a Perfect Savior. It will make every moment of suffering for Jesus here on earth worth it, but it will not necessarily be easy in the meantime (Check out 1 Corinthians 4, Revelation 6:9-11, and 12:10-12 ).

The Lord wanted to make the cost of following Him very clear to the crowds and His disciples. He wasn’t afraid to challenge them with choices that were meaningful enough to cost them something.  He had no intention of hiding what true devotion looks like.  In fact, He demanded it as a central  imperative for a life of true faith.

So He said:

“‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, even his own life- he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.’”

Now, do you think Jesus really meant He wanted His followers to hate their families? This was the same Jesus who told the people to love their neighbors…and their enemies. When the Jewish people used the word “hate” in the way Jesus was using it, they meant that you had to choose to love something less in comparison to how much more you loved something else.

For example, it is okay to love ice cream, but that love should be nothing close to how much we love our families. Compared to our devotion to parents or children, our love for ice cream should be so much smaller that it is almost like hatred. In fact, if we ever have to choose between family members and ice cream, we would “hate” or reject ice cream so that we could express love to our relatives. They are a lot more important.

As much as His disciples were supposed to love their families, their love and obedient devotion to Jesus had to come first. And if it ever came down to choosing between making family happy or honoring Jesus, obedience to the Lord had to be the most important thing. The Lord Jesus was demanding first loyalty from those who wanted to follow after Him. That meant being willing to obey all the way to death. That is a lot to ask. It is radical love. But it is no less than the radical love He has shown for us.

Then Jesus said:

“‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays down the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “this fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’”

 Luke 14:28-33

Wow. Jesus was challenging each of His followers to sit down and think: “Am I really willing to give up everything for Jesus? What if He asks for my house? My job? What if I have to suffer to proclaim His name? What if nobody understands what I am doing but the Lord? What if they all think I’m crazy? Or stupid?  What if I have to die? Is it worth it? Can I truly follow Him to the end? Can I really give Him everything?”

The scary thing about these questions is that they demand a real answer. And as extreme as these questions seem, they aren’t anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to do for us Himself. These were all things Jesus willingly gave to God on our behalf.

The life of Christ was being poured out for the people of His nation, even as they rejected Him. And His blood would be poured out to bring salvation to the world. He was the model and the hero that all who believe in Him can follow. He created the door with His own body, and then led the way through it. And He is so beautiful, so pure and so good…so not like the confused and dark things of this world, that the more we gaze on Him, the easier that becomes.

In the end, the thing that stokes the soul and makes it radiate with passion is not the vapid mediocrity of ease and compromise or selfish pleasure, but the ringing, powerful call to something greater than ourselves…and nothing is greater than Christ.

Those that truly want to be identified with Him must be willing to surrender to the Father as completely as He did. It is their radical surrender to God and their carelessness about the things of this world that testifies to the watching world that there is something far greater they are waiting for.

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was preparing…challenging…each person to search their own heart. Would they count the cost? Were they willing to pay the price? Many would have that question answered for them when Jesus was arrested. Even those with the best intentions would find themselves faltering and failing in the face of death. Would any be left when all was said and done?

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