Story 138: Status in the Kingdom

Luke 14:1-24catering food table set decoration

The Pharisees were looking for a way to accuse Jesus. If only He would do something that they could use against Him…if only they could get Him to break the Law. Then they could humble Him before the nation, and His troublesome voice would be silenced. So they contrived to draw Him out on the Sabbath. Many stories were told of Jesus violating their Sabbath rules. Surely if they brought a man who needed healing, Jesus would not be able to resist taking care of it. There was something about Him that could not resist the chance to help the broken.

So Jesus was invited into the home of a powerful Pharisee of great influence and name. Other Pharisees joined them. They came in with their fine clothes and their elegant words, each seeking to take the proper position of power at the table to show the honor that their status demanded.

Imagine how simple and contemptible Jesus must have seemed to them in His common carpenters clothes? Imagine how His calloused feet and simple village ways must have irked them. How could this country bumpkin have won such popularity with the people? Where did He get His power to heal, and where did He learn to talk the way He did? It was infuriating that this young Man refused to show respect for the protocols and positions of power long established in Israel.

As Jesus came in, there just happened to be a man who suffered from a disease called dropsy right there in front of Him.

Jesus didn’t hide the fact that He knew exactly what the religious leaders were up to. He turned to the scribes and Pharisees and asked, “‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day or not?’” They didn’t say a word. I wonder why? Perhaps it is because they had learned. They knew better than to try to pick an argument with Jesus.

So Jesus turned to the man and touched Him. He was healed. Then He sent the man home.

The leaders had some choices. They could have allowed their hearts to be amazed at the healing. They could have rejoiced. They could have repented from their anger and pride against the One who healed Him.

Instead, the leaders saw it as a chance to harm the Healer. It shows how hard their hearts were towards Jesus, which means their hearts were hard towards God. It also shows how hard their hearts were toward their fellow people.

Jesus said to them, “‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’” The Pharisees had nothing to say to the obvious truth, so they kept silent.

As the men took their seats at the meal, each worked to make sure that He had the place of highest honor possible for himself. For the Jewish people, the place where you sat around the table said many things about how highly esteemed you were in the eyes of the host and in the eyes of society. Each man wanted to claim the place of highest dignity possible.

Little did their blind eyes see that the Son of the Living God…the One most worthy of honor and praise…was sitting in the very same room, utterly careless of which seat He was given. The honors of this world meant little to Him. He was there to serve.

Jesus also knew that one day, He would be sitting at the right hand of His Father in the throne room of Heaven.   If these men had any spiritual sight at all, they would have offered Jesus the seat of highest honor. They would have listened to His every word with humble, repentant earnest. They would have declared to the nation of Israel and to the world that He was the Savior.

Instead, Jesus watched them in their selfish pursuits. Then He told them a parable:

 

“‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this man your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, He will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts Himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles Himself will be exalted.”’”

Luke 14:8-11

Wow. What a gentle way to help these men understand how to act with humility and grace. What a wise word for us as well as we move out in our world and make choices about how we will relate to others.

Then Jesus turned to His host. There he was, a prominent man, surrounded by other influential men of power and name and fortune. These were the guests that he valued…the ones that made him fell honored and important.  This was the world he wanted to live in. But it was not the world of God’s Kingdom. Jesus said:

“‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite you friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

Luke 14:12-14

Jesus’ parable was such a clear rebuke.  Imagine if they obeyed Him.  What if they started having dinners where they invited the poor and fed them well?  Imagine if they helped the crippled into their homes and washed their feet.  It is such a beautiful image that it is impossible to deny it’s goodness.  Yet the world has heard Christ’s message for 2,000 years and it is still a rare thing.

Imagine how uncomfortable Jesus had made everyone in the room. Their own selfishness and greed was being laid out before them by the man they were trying to have killed. His clean, pure goodness showed the utter shabbiness and filth of their hearts. It was true they had brought a lame man to the dinner, but only to use him to trap Jesus. How kind, persevering, and patient Jesus was with these men of such arrogance and distortion.

Why? Why did Jesus keep trying? What did He see that we cannot? We can see the answer in the words of Christ Himself. He was continually offering the better way, the area of sin and the way of repentance. These men could turn around and be changed, if they would only follow Him! They could fling open their doors to the poor and shine the love of God. They could change their nation! They could embrace their Messiah.

Story 137: Two Kinds of King

Luke 13:31-35

Король

Around that time, some Pharisees came to Jesus. A lot of the religious leaders wanted to see Jesus dead, but these men wanted to protect Him.

They warned Him that King Herod wanted to kill Him. They told Him to leave the area where He was staying and find somewhere else to go. For you see, the region of Perea was under the rule of Herod and, as king, he had the authority to take life. Jesus was not afraid of pretender kings and their malicious, petty ways, though. He had nothing but contempt for foolish and wicked Herod.

He told the Pharisees, “‘Go tell that fox, “I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach My goal.”’” Nobody was going to keep Jesus from doing what the Father called Him to do. Every healing that God had planned, every person Jesus was meant to free from demonic bondage, and the divine plan for His own death and resurrection were the unstoppable plans of the Father.

Did you notice that Jesus did not even try to help King Herod find the way to salvation? With everyone else in every other story, even the horrible religious leaders that questioned Him and wanted to kill Him, Jesus tried to speak to His listeners in a way to break through their doubt or misunderstanding or hardness of heart. Sometimes He confronted them with scorching rebukes, but even that was an attempt to shake them up and get them to repent. Even the harsh words of Christ were a sign of His love and desire to see transformation. Not so with Herod. Jesus wanted nothing to do with him, other than to dismiss him altogether. That is the most dangerous position of all.

Jesus was going to finish His travels in Perea because that was the will of His Father. He still had some work to do there, and He surely would not die. He said, “‘…surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.’” God the Father had decreed the time and place of His death, and it would be in Jerusalem.

His final journey to Jerusalem would begin soon, for He knew that the time of His death was coming.

Then, as Jesus pondered His fate in Jerusalem, He broke into a lament of sorrow over the rebellion of the City of David. King David was the great forefather of Christ, and he had prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. When God promised David that one of his descendants would reign upon an everlasting throne, He was making a promise about Jesus. How deeply sad that the people of David’s city were so blind now that He had finally come!

Imagine the disappointment of hundreds of years worth of grief in Jesus’ voice as He said:

“‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say; “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”’”

Luke 13:32-35

Can you hear how tenderly the Lord wished to care for His people? Can you hear the agony of rejection, not because of His own need for their love, but because of the devastation that their wickedness was going to bring upon them? How He would have loved them, yet they would not receive that love! And when the only Source of Good in the universe is repelled, only catastrophe and tragedy are left! The Lord had pursued His people exhaustively and earnestly, yet they spurned His royal love.

Then Jesus spoke a future truth, about something that was going to happen in years to come. And when He said it, it was as sure as if it had already happened. He would no longer go to Jerusalem to gather the people under His wings like a tender mother. Until the people received Him with singing and the jubilant celebration of a nation who was receiving their Lord, Jerusalem would not see Him at all.

Like many prophecies in the Bible, these words of Jesus might have two fulfillments. The next time Jesus went back to Jerusalem, He would enter on a donkey, the animal of kings. We will read about how the people danced and sang, waving their palm branches and singing “Hosanna!” They gave Him a royal welcome, not knowing that within a week, they would turn on Him and nail Him to a cross. But Jesus would take that great, devastating scene, that utter tragedy, by far the worst sin and the worst crime in the history of humanity, and He would turn it into the finest, more beautiful good of all. He would conquer death completely, and He would pay the heavy price for sin.

Jesus’ mighty work on the cross would pave the way for the second fulfillment of his prophecy. Though God did utterly forsake Jerusalem at that time, one day in the future, Jesus will come back again—on the Great Day of the Lord.

Venice - Exterior mosaic from st. Mark cathedral - Jesus

He will return to Jerusalem in all His risen splendor. The Jewish people will see Him and confess, willingly or not, that He is the Messiah. They will finally know him as King of kings and Lord of lords!

Imagine the glory of what Jesus understood, even as He trekked the dusty roads of Perea! He lived with an eternal vision, and an eternal hope that nothing on earth could touch or destroy. He walked in the perfect humility of absolute obedience to His
Father. How beautiful is He!

Story 136: From Judea to Perea: Persevering Preaching

John 10:40-42; Luke 13:22-35

Ancient Palestine Map Printed 1845

Jesus left Jerusalem to journey around the region of Perea on the other side of the Jordan. The Feast of Dedication was over, and Jesus would not return to Jerusalem for three and half months. It was far too dangerous. The Jews wanted Him dead, and the time that God the Father had appointed for Jesus to give up His life had not yet come.  It is interesting that even though Jesus was confident that His Father’s will would happen just as God intended, He still took precautions.  He got away from the Jewish leaders and went to a region that was full of Gentiles.

When Jesus did go back, it would be the time of the great Passover Feast, when the whole nation of Israel would celebrate the time when God brought them salvation from the cruel Egyptian Pharaoh. At this next Passover celebration, God was going to bring salvation in a whole, new, unimaginable way, and this time the victory would be utterly complete. The Curse that Adam and Eve had brought into the world would be utterly defeated. Jesus would pay the full price for sin…yet He was going to have to die. It would be the worst and best moment in human history.

In the meantime, He went from village to village and city to city teaching about the Kingdom of God.  Think about the wonder of His persevering love.  He was the Son of God, worthy of our absolute devotion and worship.  He is all goodness and light, and He has the power to undo all the horrible corruptions that taints the sinful world of men. In fact, He is the only One who can bring salvation.  He is not only able, He is our only hope.  The people should have been willing to give up everything to come and bow down at His feet…not in slavish servitude, but in the right, whole response of being in the presence of what is beautiful and noble.

Instead…because He is all that is beautiful and noble…Jesus went out, searching the highways and byways for those who might listen and respond to His message.  The most powerful Being in the world did not wait for them to come to Him.  He didn’t assume that they had heard the rumors about Him…He didn’t let that be enough.  Instead, He inconvenienced Himself…chose to spend all of His time and energy…walking miles and miles a day on dusty roads, going after the hearts of every kind of person.

Along the way, someone asked Jesus, “‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’” That is a very good question, isn’t it? It was a question many people were asking in Israel. There were debates about which groups would get in and which groups would be left out. But most people thought that everyone in Israel was a child of God, so unless they sinned really, really terribly, everyone was saved.

When Jesus heard the question, He did not give a direct answer. He didn’t seem to think it was important for us to be worried about how many. It was more important for each person to ask how to make his or her own heart ready for salvation. He told them it was important to strive wholeheartedly to enter into the narrow door, which is a symbol of salvation.  That striving is not a way of earning salvation…it is a way of expressing the sincerity of our faith in Jesus and establishing Him as the purpose of our lives.

Then He said:

“‘Many will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”

“‘But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

“‘Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”

“‘But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”

“‘There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.’”

Luke 13:24a-28

Wow. That is a very frightening passage. Many people who believe they have salvation will find out that they don’t! When it is time to enter the fullness of the Kingdom of God, where the risen Christ will be at rest…surrounded by His prophets and faithful ones in all of His radiating glory…many will be turned away. Though the great fathers of the nation of Israel and the prophets will be in Heaven, many of the Jewish people would not be allowed in. In fact, it won’t matter what nation or family any person is from. What will matter is whether each person has believed the message of Christ and put her or his faith in Him.

Did you notice that those outside will weep and gnash their teeth? When someone gnashes their teeth, it is not because they are sorrowful and repentant. It is because they are angry. Even then, with Jesus exalted on the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords, they will have an attitude of desperate, hateful rebellion against Him. They will resent His power and wish for a way to thwart His will.

The best picture we have of this might be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  Even as Jesus was performing amazing miracles that set their people…the very ones they were called to shepherd and care for…free from suffering and brokenness, the religious leaders seethed with rage and sought to kill Him.  Sin is not a small thing.  It is powerful, toxic, and aggressive to get what it wants.  We cannot simply layer over our rebel

As we read each story and see how each character responds to Jesus, we learn a lot about what it means to strive after Him wholeheartedly. We also learn what it means when people deceive themselves into believing they are godly, even when they are living in treacherous malice against God! Jesus made it clear that many in Israel would not be saved.

That would have surprised a lot of His listeners. But what He said next would have been an absolute shock:

“‘People will come from east and west and north and south, and take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’”

When Jesus talks about east, west, north, and south, He is talking about all the different nations on earth. He is going to gather people from all over for the magnificent gift of salvation! The Jews expected to be first priority to God. In the Old Testament, He called them His treasured possession! And they were, but not because they were any better than the rest of the people on earth. They were special because God chose them. He made a special covenant with them! He promised to protect them and cause their nation to flourish if they would only obey His covenant.

Now Jesus was bringing a New Covenant. It would bind Jesus to the people who put their faith in Him through the power of the blood He shed on the cross. He would give them a new heart! And at the End of Days, there is going to be a great and lavish feast to celebrate it all!

This amazing blessing did not come by being Jewish. It came by faith in the Son of God, the very One that the Jewish nation was rejecting!

The people of Israel were going to learn a very hard lesson. Those that assumed they were first were going to find themselves dead last. And others, who did not think much of themselves at all, would find themselves first in the Kingdom of God!

Story 135: Unbreakable: The Son, His Love, and His Word

John 10:19-39

Fire fist

As Jesus told a story about a Good Shepherd (see lessons 133 and 134), His listeners understood that He was talking about Himself. They also knew He was claiming to be the Messiah. He was claiming that He was able to give eternal life to His sheep, and His sheep were those who listened and believed.

The religious leaders probably understood that their accusations and rebellion against Him made them the thieves and robbers in the story…and that when Jesus called God His Father, He was claiming to be God Himself.

These were radical things to say in any time of history to any people. If they were true, then it was the most important Truth every spoken. If they were not true, then Jesus was either a horrific liar, or He was completely insane. Many in the crowds, the true sheep of God, did believe. They trusted that Jesus was exactly who He said He was. But others muttered and grumbled in sullen frustration. “‘He has a demon…He’s insane,’” they declared, “‘Why do you listen to Him?’”

Then others would argue, “‘These are not the sayings of someone who is demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

And so the national debate continued, dividing the people into camps. What were the people of God going to decide? Would they finally accept the magnificent gift that they had in the Son of God? Would they put an end to their sin of rebellion and doubt?

It was winter in Jerusalem, and it was the time of the Feast of Dedication. It was a huge festival that brought Jews from all over the nation to the Temple. Jesus was there, too, walking in the courtyard of the Temple named after the great King Solomon.

Imagine the massive Temple walls, thousands upon thousands of people arriving with their sacrifices and offerings, music playing, and all the high energy that comes with an important celebration. Imagine how the people stopped to listen to Jesus…watching to see what He would do next, waiting to see what the religious leaders would do in response.

Some of the Jewish leaders came up to Him with questions. “‘How long will you keep us in suspense’” they asked. “‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”

Jesus looked at them and said, “‘I did tell you, but you did not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’”

Well, now, that right there was a very clear answer for them, wasn’t it? But they did not have ears to hear. Jesus went on: “‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.’”

Wow. Isn’t that wonderful? If you know the love of Jesus, it is permanent and everlasting. He knows you. His love for you will last longer than the earth or the stars! No one can take you out of His hand! Not even death!

The true reason the religious leaders hated Jesus was not because they thought He was spreading lies. They were jealous…it was simply and petty as that. They were afraid He would gain more and more power and take over the Temple worship. They knew that if He was in control of the Jewish religion, He would fire them! They were doing everything they could to protect themselves, and one way to do that was to try to stop the rest of the Jewish nation from following Him.

The Lord made it clear that they had no power to stop true believers from coming after Him. There was nothing they could do to take them away. Jesus went on, “‘My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.’”

When the Jews heard this, they knew that Jesus was claiming to be God. That was a blasphemy…and it was punishable by death. Finally, they had something they could charge Him with in court! Finally, they could put this brazen troublemaker to death. They began to pick up stones from the ground, ready to throw them at Jesus, right in the middle of the Temple courts. They were going to try to kill the Son of God in God’s own house!

Imagine the tension in the air. Imagine how you would feel if you were His disciple. Imagine what it would be like if you were one of the people He had healed. What if He had healed your child?

Jesus stood there, facing a crowd of raging men with all of His fierce righteousness and self-possession. Against this mob Jesus asked, “‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?’”

“‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”

It was true that in the high, pure, holy Law of God, claiming to be God was a terrible crime, punishable by death. And for any regular human, that was a righteous decree. It is a repulsive and ghastly thing for a person who had been given the priceless, amazing gift of life by God to turn around and claim to be God…the holy, mighty Lord of all. To claim to be God was not just about saying a name that is not your own. It was a claim of power and a right to be worshipped. Instead of pointing to the God who truly is worthy, who truly can help, it is selfishly demanding what is not your own and getting in the way of the good that God can do.

Imagine how normal, sinful men could use the claim of being God to abuse people and force their own selfish desires in the most wicked ways. How despicable to lie about something as sacred and wonderful as God Himself! How repulsive to use something as precious as a people’s trust and hope in God to use them and manipulate them! No wonder it was punishable by death!

But you see, it was only wrong to claim to be God if it was, in fact, a lie. For God to claim to be God was the truth! Jesus had given overwhelming proof that the power of God worked through Him. He had performed miracles that could only be done by God. And you’ll notice, when He pointed them out to the religious leaders, they didn’t deny them. That should have been enough proof. If He claimed to be God, then He was! But Jesus knew that these men were not interested in Truth. They were playing a game. So He gave them an answer worthy of their game:

“‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the words of God came-and the Scripture cannot be broken-what about the One whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe Me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.’”

John 10:34-39

Once again, in the face of their murderous threats, Jesus tried to appeal to them…He tried to persuade. But it did not good. The only thing the infuriated leaders could hear was that Jesus had once again made Himself equal with God, and that was all they needed.

They surged forward, seething with rage, and tried to seize Jesus. They were going to arrest Him, but He escaped their grasp. John doesn’t tell us how or why. It just tells us that He did.

It had become clear that Jerusalem was no longer safe for Jesus. His enemies were sure to hunt Him down. Instead of giving Him a way to preach God’s Good News to the people of their nation, they drove Him away. Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and trekked down from the hill country. They journeyed down through the Valley of the Jordan and crossed the river to the other side.

Story 134: The Good Shepherd Part II

John 10:11-18

Medieval draving "Shepherd with sheep"

 

Throughout time, there have been those who do not care about Truth. Instead trying to make Truth more clear, they use it and twist it for their own power and purpose. As Jesus continued to teach and preach, this what He said about these people:

“‘All who ever came before Me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”

The same thing that has gone on throughout the ages was happening in Jesus time. He was the Good Shepherd, but the religious leaders of His day were more interested in holding onto their own positions than in recognizing the Savior of the world.

The Lord explained to the people that when those who truly belonged to Him heard His voice, they would repent and follow Him, like a sheep follows after his shepherd. Those who fought His message showed that they were the same as all the other people in history that fought against the Truth of God.

A good example of this comes from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Seven hundred years before Jesus came to earth, the leaders of Israel were committing terrible sin. God rebuked these truly evil leaders by declaring that they were terrible shepherds for His people. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said:

“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture,’” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for My people: ‘You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.’”

Jeremiah 23:1-4

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time would have known this passage well. When Jesus talked about the bad and good shepherds, they would have known that this was what He was talking about. Jesus was declaring that the religious leaders of Israel were just like the terrible shepherds of old. He was declaring that siding with them was a choice to side with the enemies of God. There was no safe place in between. The people had to choose.

Jesus was also was proving that those who followed Him were like the great heroes of Jewish history, the mighty remnant, who stood strong in their loyalty to God regardless of the lies and confusion going on around them.

Jesus went on to describe what the Good Shepherd is really like. Not only does He speak perfect truth against the lies of thieves and robbers, He loves with perfect, sacrificial love. His sheep belong to Him, they are His, and He is willing to do anything for them, even if it means laying down His own life! This is what He said:

“‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.’”

John 10:11-13

In this story, the wolf is Satan himself. There are those who come and act as hired shepherds for the sheep. Their hearts do not love the sheep, they are only there to earn money. When the threat of a real enemy comes and there is danger, the hireling will run away. They have no devotion or compassion for the animals. But Jesus is entirely different. He is willing to die for them! He went on to say:

“‘I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me- just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father- and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves Me is that I lay down My life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.’”

John 10:14-18

Wow. Have you heard the voice of Jesus? Do you know what that means? Listening to Jesus’ voice means that you believe that what He says is true.

The blind man got to hear Jesus’ words and feel Him heal his eyes.

Peter and James and John got to hear Jesus say, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

You and I get to hear Him through the Word of God. We hear Him through fellow believers who speak words of truth to us by His Spirit. We hear His still, small voice in our own hearts as He guides and directs (Psalm 25 teaches us how to ask for His guidance). These are the ways that Jesus’ Spirit comes to us and teaches us in our time.

The Apostle Peter wrote about us in a letter. He said, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. And though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Wow!

What do you think Jesus meant when He said He had sheep “‘that are not from this sheep pen’”? Well, what does “this sheep pen” mean in the first place? From the passage in Jeremiah, we see that it is the nation of Israel. God called Israel to be His treasured possession, and the faithful sheep from that pen were very precious to God.

But now, Jesus was revealing that God’s plan of salvation went much farther than the Jewish people. He was going to bring sheep from other nations as well. In fact, there were going to be sheep from every tribe, nation, and language on the earth! Jesus laid His life down for the salvation of everyone who hears His voice and responds in faith!

At this point there is something we need to stop and think about.

There is something Jesus said that only takes up one, short sentence. But if we realize what it means, it will make us gasp. If we have any heart at all it will make us want to cry and bow down before Him in worship. If our hearts truly understood the magnificence of that sentence, we will want to kiss His feet in adoration and humility and gratefulness.

So here it is: Jesus said that His Father loves Him because He was going to lay His life down. He was also going to take it up again. He was talking about His death and resurrection. If we let ourselves think about that incredible act, it is enough to make us weep with sorrow and joy…for a million reasons. First of all, it means that the God of the universe loves us so much that He was blessed by the obedience of His Son when He gave His life up for us. Second, it means that God the Father and His Son…the Beings that created everything, are not only powerful, they are good. They are sacrificial on levels of breathtaking self-giving. Whatever cruddy things are going on in this broken and fallen world, we can live with unsurpassed joy knowing that at the center of everything is a God of Absolute Beauty, and He will have His way.

Yet there is more. Jesus said something that is breathtaking: “No one takes it from Me, I lay it down of My own accord.”

As Jesus faithfully trudged through this cursed world, living with sinful men, healing them and loving them and teaching truth, He was constantly choosing to go to the cross for them. He understood that the nation around Him, the very people He was spending His days serving, were going to kill Him. He put up with their lies and deception, He healed their children, He persevered over months and years giving the same glorious message of the Kingdom to dead and dull hearts. All the while, He was preparing to bear the full weight of their sin and shame. He was preparing to carry the complete and utter agony of punishment under the infinite justice of God’s wrath. And He was going to do it willingly. He marched through the swarming sin of humanity towards the terrible, horrific act that would bring the cure. He had come with a plan to rescue His sheep, and He not only had the power of love to give His life away, He had the power to raise His life back up again. And all of it was in complete, absolute willingness and delight to obey His Father. Wow.

Story 133: The Good Shepherd Part 1

John 10:1-10

shepherd

Jesus had confronted the Pharisees and religious leaders over and over again for more than two and a half years. It was becoming ever more clear that their hearts were not growing softer and more ready to accept their Savior. In fact, their hearts were only growing harder, becoming more and more confirmed in their rebellion and sin.

It is a very dangerous thing for any human to hear God’s Truth and reject it. Every heart was made to live for the God of Creation, and when someone keeps turning against the Lord, their heart will become harder and harder…and less and less able to respond to God. In His wonderful mercy, God will continue to pursue, but there comes a point when He lets the person have their way. He lets them seal up their hearts in stony rebellion against Him, and it becomes a permanent condition for all eternity. Many of the religious leaders in Israel already had hearts of pure stone, and many others were getting there fast.   They could only see Jesus with eyes of hatred and malice, and their only thoughts about Him were about how they could destroy Him.

In the story just before this one, Jesus had healed a man who was born blind. When the man boldly defended Jesus for giving Him this amazing miracle, the religious leaders were filled with rage. They kicked him out of the synagogue for his loyalty to Christ. And so the tensions continue to build. It was clear that those who followed Jesus were going to face increasing persecution. So Jesus told a parable to help explain what was happening:

“‘I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by their name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow the stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.’”

John 10:1-5

One way to understand this story even better is to put ourselves in it. Imagine if you were a part of this parable. You are a sheep, and you have a very good Shepherd who loves you. You love Him, too. When He calls your name, you feel safe and protected, and you are absolutely sure of His care for you. The voice of anyone else sounds strange and dangerous, and that it good, because it is! They are thieves and robbers who do not love the flock! They are only there to steal something for themselves!

Jesus was saying that those who truly love God the Father will love the message Jesus brought. They would love and follow Him the way sheep follow their shepherd. The people of Israel that did not follow Jesus were showing that they never belonged to God in the first place!

Jesus went on to explain more:

“‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.’”

Wow. Now, this may seem like a simple, quick thing to say, but it is huge. Jesus was not only claiming to be the Shepherd that came to watch over the flock of God’s children 2,000 years ago. He was claiming to be the very Gate of Truth for the people of God for all time! Since before the creation of the world, throughout the history of human time, in the making of the nation of Israel and the writing of the Word of God, Jesus was the Gate through which all Truth came into the world.

Shepherd?

Story 132: On Humility and Boldness: The Case of the Man Born Blind

John 9:8-34

Wonder of Jesus: healing the blind

It was a miracle that nobody had heard of before. A man that had been born blind…that didn’t even have the proper eyes to restore sight to…was given his sight. Once again, Jesus, the radical young preacher that was turning the nation of Israel upside down, had done something nobody could explain. As the neighbors of this formerly blind beggar saw him walking around with full sight, they could hardly believe it. He looked just like the one they knew, but how could it be? “‘Isn’t this the same man that used to sit and beg?’” they asked each other.

Some were sure it was. Others were sure it couldn’t be him. “‘It just looks like him,’” they said. But then the man spoke up. ““‘I am the man!’” he declared.

“‘How then were your eyes opened?’” the people asked.

He said, “‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’”

The people asked him where Jesus went, but he didn’t know. So they brought him to the Pharisees. You see, Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath. It was the day of rest that God has set aside for the people as a blessing. It was the day they were meant to spend with Him. But the religious leaders had turned it into a day of rules and fear for the people. If they were caught doing anything that could be defined as work, they were in big trouble. They expected the people to cower into submission. But the Son of God was not subject to their added rules and control issues. He would have nothing to do with their misuse of His own Laws. And so He healed the man anyway.

When some of Pharisees learned what happened, they instantly saw this as a way to get Jesus. Here was a violation they could really punish Him for! So they asked the man how he had come to see. The man explained that Jesus had put mud on his eyes.

Many of the Pharisees must have been delighted…Jesus had worked on the Sabbath!

Then the man who was born blind said that Jesus told him to go wash it off, and when he did, he could see.

Aha again! Now Jesus was commanding other people to work on the Sabbath!

Yet other Pharisees were still wondering who Jesus was. After hearing the story of this stunning miracle, they began to argue between themselves. Some said that Jesus could not be from God because He broke the Sabbath. Others said that if Jesus was a sinner, He wouldn’t be able to do such amazing signs. There was no easy answer for them because they weren’t willing to accept the truth. So they turned to the blind man and asked him who he thought Jesus was. The man said He was a prophet.

This didn’t make anything better for the Jewish leaders. If Jesus was a prophet, then they were guilty of fighting against God’s chosen messenger! They were the bad guys in the story! They were like all the evil men they had hated in the stories of the Old Testament!

At that moment, they had choices that they could have made. They could have realized their great sin and repented. They could have gone to Jesus and declared their allegiance to Him. They could have brought Him before the nation of Israel at the Feast and proclaimed to all the people that that their Messiah had come.

But they didn’t. Instead, they decided to prove that the man was lying. He must not have been blind to begin with! They brought his parents in to question them…and to intimidate them.

“‘Is this your son?’ they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it now that he can see?’”

The parents were afraid. These Pharisees were powerful men. They had already announced that anyone who said that Jesus was the Christ would be kicked out of the synagogue. If the blind men’s parents said anything that made Jesus look good, they would be declared outcasts. The rest of the Jewish community would have to reject them, too, because the religious leadership would demand it. It would be considered everyone’s religious duty to refuse to socialize with them. Imagine what that might have been like for their business, for selling the crops of their farms, or for finding spouses to arrange for marriage to their other children. When the Pharisees denounced a person or a family, it became a shameful thing to even eat with them! Can you understand why the blind man’s parents were terrified? It was a devastating thing in the eyes of their world to be on the bad side of these leaders!

“‘We know this is our son’” his parents said, “‘and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’”

Wow. Jesus had given their son sight, but the power of social pressure was too great. They would rather protect themselves than trust God and honor the man who gave them a miracle.

So the Pharisees called for the man who had been born blind once again. They told him, “‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.’” Wow. Before, they simply asked who Jesus was. Now they were declaring that he was wicked. Do you see how their hearts are hardening?

When the man born blind heard this, he refused to let their intimidation have it’s way with him. He said, “‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’” The man who was blind could clearly see how ridiculous the Pharisees had become. Here was an amazing miracle, and all they could do was fuss and fret!

The Pharisees asked again how Jesus healed him, and he said, “‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?’”

That made the Pharisees really angry. They began to throw insults at him and threaten him. “‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are the disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’”

Can you imagine what these men would do if they knew that Moses himself had come to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? And Elijah was with him!

The discussion was getting more and more intense. The man who was born blind answered them back, “‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’”

Wow. That was bold. That was amazing! This man had the courage to do what nobody else had done! He declared the truth of Christ in the face of the Jewish leaders without apology!

The sniveling leaders replied, “‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’”

Oh, the arrogance of these men. And yet oh, how very wrong they were. Jesus had already told His disciples that this man was born to give great glory to God…and how he shined! For the next two thousand years and counting, the story of his courageous loyalty to Christ would be told millions of times, leading the way and strengthening others all over the world to stand with Jesus in the face of trials. He was faithful to the Lord, as the Lord has been very faithful to him.

But at the time, there was a price to pay for his faith in Christ. The Pharisees kicked him out of the synagogue. As he built a new life for himself as a man who could see, he would be wholly without the support of his religious community, and in Israel, that included everything. He might have felt very vulnerable. When Jesus heard about how this man had taken such a bold stand for Him, He went to find him.

“‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’” Jesus asked.

“‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’”

Jesus told him, “‘You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.’”

The man answered, “‘Lord, I believe.’”

Wow. Then he fell on his knees and worshipped Jesus. WOW! Beautiful surrender! So different from the rest, and so wonderfully simple!

Then Jesus said, “‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’”

There were some Pharisees standing there watching all of this. They heard what Jesus said, yet they did not fall on their knees. It was an opportunity, a moment, when they could have confessed their blindness…they could have repented of rejecting God’s Son. But they didn’t. Instead, they asked Him, “‘What? Are we blind, too?’”

And Jesus so said, “‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”

Wow. Did you catch that? Jesus was untwisting their horrible distortions and showing the gleaming, bright truth of Heaven…but all in the form of riddles. He said that if the problem of the Pharisees was really that their eyes were blind…if they really couldn’t understand spiritual truth or were simply ignorant of it, then they would not be guilty of sin. They would be innocent in the midst of the grinding suffering caused by the curse. But they didn’t have that kind of humility…they were busy everywhere making sure to let everyone know just how well they could see. That in fact, their sight was so great that they could sit in authority over others. And so they were all the more guilty that they were choosing to be blind to the work of God through His Son.

What is interesting is that what Jesus said is the opposite of what they were teaching the people. They taught that people were blind because of their sin or the sins of their family…that is was a sign of guilt. In their thoughtless, loveless arrogance, they added to the pain of those already suffering deeply by heaping false shame and accusations on them. The Son of God was not pleased with them.

In the face of this societal mess, Jesus brought His cleansing light. The one who had been humbled by physical blindness was the one that could recognize the Savior. Aren’t you glad that the God who made all things is a God of justice and mercy? He protects and rebukes and saves. Through the confusion of sin and chaos of the cursed world, He can be depended on to draw clear lines of Truth for us all. His ways are perfect.

Story 131: The Feast of Dedication: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

John 9:1-41

Venice - Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind i

Three months had passed since the Feast of Tabernacles, and the time had come for the Feast of Dedication. Once again, pilgrims from all over the nation of Israel would journey to Jerusalem. The events of the last feast were still fresh in people’s minds. Jesus had made stunning declarations right in the courtyard of the Temple. Despite rumors that the religious leaders wanted to arrest Him, nothing seemed to happen, and the people wondered.

Since then, Jesus and His disciples had fanned out all over Judea, preaching about the Kingdom of God and performing glorious miracles that nobody could deny. How many hundreds or thousands in Jerusalem had been healed by Jesus or one of His followers? How many of their family members and friends were there, too?

The whole of Jerusalem was talking about Jesus. But the Lord Jesus wasn’t worried about the crowds or the religious leaders. His constant focus was to do the will of His Father. In the midst of vicious arguments against Him, the surrounding mobs of people, and rumors that the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill Him, what did God the Father ask of His Son? What was His priority? Here is a beautiful story that shows us…

Jesus was going along the road in Jerusalem with His disciples when He saw a blind man. It was obvious from the shape of His eyes that this man had been blind since the day he was born. Can you imagine the grief of his parents that day? The struggle of daily life for this man must have been great.

Not only did he have to suffer from a crippling handicap, he had to bear the shame of disgrace. For you see, everyone would look at his blindness as a judgment of God against his family. Their neighbors, their leaders, and even their own extended family would wonder what they had done to deserve such a fate. They would whisper about secret sins and try to figure out who had committed them. How could it be the son’s fault if he was blind before he was even born? No, it must be the parents fault. What had they done, and which one did it? And so the great pain of the family was used for the the evil pleasure of gossips who cloaked their malice by pretending genuine, spiritual concern.

The terribly sad thing is that the man and his parents probably believed the same thing, too. Without knowing why, they lived with a constant burden of shame. Somehow, they must have brought this on themselves. Every sin they ever committed would bear down on them with extra agony. They would imagine the face of God as stern and unforgiving. But that was not the truth about God the Father of Jesus Christ, and His Son was about to reverse the terrible lie.

When the disciples saw the man sitting on the side of the road, they asked Jesus a question that was typical of the thinking of their day. “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”

Jesus answered them with a stunning response, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’”

Wow. In God’s eyes, it was not a shame that this man was blind. It was a privilege! God Himself was about to receive glory and honor through this man. That is the highest calling of all! And the man would be rewarded richly…for the next two thousand years, his story would be told in connection with the Savior of the world.

Jesus said, “‘As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’”

What do you think Jesus meant when he said that night was coming? If daytime was a symbol of the bright, amazing time when Jesus walked the earth and did wondrous miracles, what did it mean that darkness was going to come? Jesus was pointing to His death on the cross. As long as He was on earth, He would break into the power of the curse and heal those who were damaged and broken by it.

Did you notice that Jesus said, “we”? The work does not belong to Christ alone, but to all who follow Him. His disciples were going to be a part of His plan. They were going to show Jesus’ transforming power!   But then He warned: one day He was going to leave, and there would be a time when no work was done at all. Jesus’ time on earth was getting shorter.

Jesus spit on the ground and mixed it with dust. He took the mud and put it on the eyes of the blind man. Then He said, “‘Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.’” The man did just as Jesus said. When he came back home, he could see!

Can you imagine how excited he was? He had never seen anything before! Suddenly, all the sounds he had listened to and voices he heard had faces and shapes and colors! He could see that the sun was not only warm, but bright yellow and shining against the deep blue sky! What a world of discovery lay before him!

Story 130: The Wild Beauty of Truth: Images of Grace and Wrath

Luke 13:10-17

Woman Dancing Silhouette

There are some things that are so purely beautiful that the goodness in them is obvious. There is no need to explain that a night of brilliant stars against an inky black sky is glorious, that crashing waves are magnificent, or that a rose is an image of elegance.

When a person who has suffered from long years of pain is set utterly free, it is a profound, deeply rich good. It is obvious. There is something about it that rings of eternal rightness, and any arguments that come against it fall flat against the reality of what has happened. Only those whose hearts are extremely hardened against the concerns of others can stand by unaffected by a miracle.

One Sabbath day, Jesus was preaching in a synagogue. Imagine the crowd of townspeople listening in rapt attention to the radical young preacher who was causing such a national stir.

In the midst of the people, there was a woman there who was crippled by an evil spirit. Her back was bent over and she could not stand up straight. She had been that way for eighteen years. Imagine her discomfort and grief. How could she help her family?  How could she look people in the eye?  Imagine the pain in her back and body as it carried her in such an unnatural state for so many years.  Who could help her in her pain?

Jesus saw the woman and called her to Himself in front all the people. When she came forward, He said, “‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’” Then Jesus took His hands and laid them on her body. She stood up immediately under the power of His touch and began to give praise to her Lord.

Wow. Can you imagine if this little, broken woman was your neighbor? Can you imagine how her discomfort would sadden you as you watched her back bend lower and lower each year? How helpless those around her must have felt. But then, right before your eyes, this Jesus, the One that all the rumors were about, was able to change all that. In a moment and with a Word, she was able to stand!

Can you imagine the whispers of awe across the room?

It is a joy worth pondering…Can you imagine her cackle of delight as she gave praise to God? Can you imagine the smile on Jesus’ face?  The shalom blessing of God had come to this woman! It was a sweet and true sign of God’s ultimate plan to bring restoration to the world through His Son.

Can you imagine the depth of your joy if you had any love for this woman at all? Can you imagine the electric power in the room as the miracle of life totally transformed began do dawn on the people?

What would you do? Would you clap or sing or shout? Wouldn’t you want to dance?

Well, that is not how the ruler of the synagogue felt. He was angry that Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. Though this woman was probably his neighbor, and though he was her spiritual leader, her relief did not penetrate the hardness of his heart. There was no compassion in him to overwhelm his bondage to the rules. He told the people, “‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’”

When Jesus heard this, He was enraged. And as usual, He was fearless. He looked right at the ruler and said, “‘You hypocrite!’” Gulp. Wow. Can you imagine the power of His wrath bearing down on you? It must have been a sight to see! “‘Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’”

Imagine the silence…the tension in the room.  Imagine the people staring back and forth between Christ and their leaders, wondering what would happen next.  Imagine how right the ways of Jesus would have felt in that moment as the absolute beauty of His grace stood side by side with the total rightness of His stern, stark judgment against sin.

Jesus’ rebuke left His opponents utterly humiliated. Their pathetic, petty game was exposed for all to see. They cared less about the dear, crippled woman whose need was so great than their own animals. They pretended that their passion was for the Law of God and the Sabbath, but it was really to use the Law to control the people and destroy the Man who threatened their power. It was hypocrisy on the most revolting level.

But the people, those who had to live under the oppressive leadership of these men, were delighted by wonderful things that Jesus said and did…and they rejoiced!  Oh how He let the glory of truth out to shine!

New 129: The Pursuing Love of God

Luke 13:1-21

いちじく

As Jesus continued to preach, He kept untwisting the horrible distortions and lies that kept the people living in fear and false belief. How offensive it must have been to Him that these lies were being told about His Heavenly Father!

At one point, some people told Jesus about something terrible that Pontius Pilate had done. Pilate was the Roman ruler who held power over Jerusalem, and the Jewish people hated him for it. He was a murderous, cruel man, and he despised the Jewish people and their religion. His oppressive rule extended all the way to the inner courts of the great Temple. One day, when some Jews from Galilee were offering sacrifices to God, Pilate sent in his soldiers in to massacre them. The blood of the holy sacrifices of animals was mixed with the blood of the Galileans who had brought their offerings . What an evil invasion of death and malice, right into the inner courts of the palace of God!

The people wondered why this had happened. They thought that perhaps the people that Pilate killed were guilty of some horrific sin. They must have done something to deserve it! Jesus set the record straight:

“‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.’”

Luke 13:2-5

As Jesus saw those terrible events befall a small number of the Jewish people, they were like a mini picture of the terrible things to come if the nation didn’t repent of their rebellion against the Messiah. The people that died were no worse than the rest of the Jews. Their death was simply a part of the great evil of a world under a curse.  But the fate of those people was a warning. The same thing was going to happen on a much greater scale against the Jewish nation, and nobody would escape. Jesus went on to tell a parable to show them that there was still time:

“‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now, I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

“‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’”

Luke 13:8-9

In this story, the man is like God, and the fig tree is like the Jewish people. For three years, Jesus had preached to the people, and like the fig tree, they bore no fruit. There was no widespread repentance or belief. God’s hand of judgment was threatening, but it had not fallen against them yet. He would hold off for one more year…and that is not all…

Consider what would happen in the year that followed this story. Jesus would be crucified.   The people would feel the great earthquake that came at the moment of His death. They would learn about how the veil in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom at the very same moment. Then Jesus would rise again. Hundreds of Jews would see Him and testify that He was living and breathing. Then mysterious rumors would flow all over Israel about how He ascended into Heaven. Ten days later, at the great festival of Pentecost, the followers of Christ would boldly flood the streets of Jerusalem, speaking foreign languages with perfect clarity, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Spirit of the Lord would be upon them, and thousands would put their faith in the risen Christ. The prophecies of the Old Testament would come alive before them, giving the nation of Israel yet another chance to put their faith in Christ.  All of this was part of God’s lavish pursuit of His beloved people…and the beginning of His pursuit of you and me.

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