Tag: Good News

Story 181: The Last Supper: Counselor of Hope

John 16

shining dove with rays on a dark golden background

As Jesus spent His last evening before His arrest with His disciples, He promised that He would send a Counselor to them once He was gone. The Spirit of Christ would come into their hearts and give them guidance and power to continue on the work of the Kingdom. This is what Jesus said:

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.’’

John 15:26

If we stop and think about it, this is a pretty amazing gift. The Spirit of God Himself will empower those who put their faith in Jesus to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s salvation. It is an honor beyond imagination.

 

And yet…the gift of being the bearers of the Spirit in the world of the Curse would have consequences. The people of darkness and the demonic forces that entrapped them would be hostile to the people of Light. Jesus wanted His disciples to be ready, so that when it happened, they would understand what was going on when the tensions rose high and they were being persecuted. He said:

“‘All of this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me. I have told you this so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.’”

John 16:1-4

Imagine the disciples as they listened to Jesus. The things He was telling them were very different from how they had imagined their future. Just an hour or so before, they were arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. Now they were learning that the future held no immediate glory for them. Their role as the proclaimers of Jesus Christ was going to mean a life of challenge, opposition, and suffering. Through the power and guidance of the Spirit, the disciples would give bold testimony in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and death.

As the disciples learned the cost of following their Master, they were also beginning to realize that they would have to follow Him through all of it, even when they could not see Him. Jesus said:

“‘Now I am going to Him who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, “Where are you going?” Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth; It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’” 

“‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what its yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you.’”

“‘In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.’”

John 16:5-16

This must have been confusing for the disciples. There are many things packed into these paragraphs: Jesus would go away, He would send the Spirit, the Spirit that would convict nonbelievers and believers of their sin, yet somehow, after going, a little while later, Jesus was going to come back…and soon. What did it all mean?

The disciples didn’t understand Jesus, so they began to whisper back and forth. Then Jesus said:

“‘Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, “In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me?” I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask Me anything. I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’”

John 16:19b-24

We can see here that Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection. How compassionate He was for the pain His men would feel at His death. He knew how greatly they would mourn Him…but here He gave them hope if they could grasp it. After that terrible day when He would give up His life, a day of everlasting joy would come. It would bring a whole new era for the human race, where the disciples of Jesus would have an entirely new kind of relationship with God. Jesus went on:

“‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about My Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask My Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and will return to the Father.’”

John 16:25-28

These words finally did the trick. Something clicked in the minds of His disciples. They said:

“‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that You know all things and that You do not even need to have anyone ask You questions. This makes us believe that you are from God.’”

Finally! They got it! But notice, what they “got” was not a list of rules or position of power. They did not “get” to their own moral perfection or a perfect knowledge. What was most important was for them to “get” Jesus…to really, truly believe in Him. And we know that they really got it because Jesus agreed. This is what the Lord said:

“‘You believe at last! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with Me.

“‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”

John 16:31-33

In that moment, in the Upper Room with Jesus, those words were probably very comforting. What did those words sound like when they remembered them as He was being arrested…beaten…and hung on a cross? Did they help them hold on to hope? Did they feel empty or even deceptive? In the devastating hours to come, the disciples would have their faith tested on extreme levels. Would they believe their Master when He Himself seemed to suffer the ultimate defeat?

Story 167: Passion Week: Dirty on the Inside

Matthew 23:13-27; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47

Dirty dishes waiting for wash.

As Jesus stood in a courtyard of the Temple, He had already begun to declare His indictment against the religious leaders of Israel.  It was a mighty confrontation.  Here was the Son of the living God, pronouncing God’s rebuke against the leaders of His holy nation…His treasured possession. The abuse of their power over God’s people was great.  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (see Hebrews 10:26-31)

In the last story (see Story 166), Jesus said that while it was right for the common people to follow the teachings of their leaders that came from the Bible, they had to reject their way of life. True followers of God were meant to be people of great humility and service, which was exactly opposite of how those religious leaders lived.

Now Jesus was going to pronounce a declaration of seven woes against the Pharisees and scribes that would utterly expose them as religious frauds. Yet these woes had a far stronger power than mere accusation. Jesus was declaring the judgment of the Most High God on these men. This is what He said:

“‘But woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.'”

Wow.  Not only had these leaders failed to repent and worship their Lord, they did everything they could to force others to turn away from the Messiah as well. Instead of inviting the people into the presence of God’s love, they stood in the doorway and blocked the path.

And so Jesus declared the second woe :

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.'”

Can you hear the righteous anger of the Messiah? Can you understand His holy rage? These were the men who had been given the great and precious promises! Out of all the people on earth, they had the privilege of spending their entire lives studying God’s holy Scripture.  Yet they used their positions of power for selfish ambition. They were such terrible models of God’s righteousness that everyone they mentored became just as despicable as they were.  Jesus went on:

‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the Temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound by his oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold of the Temple, or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the offering on it, he is bound by his oath.” You blind men! Which is greater; the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.'”

This third woe might seem confusing. Jesus was dealing with some very specific wrongs that the religious leaders were committing against the people of His day.  What were these oaths that Jesus was so angry about? Well, the scribes and Pharisees had developed a legal system with oaths. If someone made a promise with a certain kind of oath, it was legally binding. The person who said it had to follow through or receive a penalty. But if they said a different oath that was similar but had a few small changes in the words, then the oath wasn’t binding at all. The oath giver wasn’t legally bound to follow through.

Imagine how confusing that must have been for common people who didn’t understand all the rules. The religious leaders who knew what to say could trick the common people into believing they were making a binding oath that they didn’t really plan to keep. They could say, “I swear by the Temple” instead of “I swear by the gold of the Temple,” knowing that it didn’t count. They wouldn’t have to keep their promise.

Imagine how much this added to mistrust among the people of God’s holy nation.  Their own leaders were using the oaths of the Temple to manipulate them! In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said that a true follower of God who lived in His presence would want to speak the truth as clearly and consistently as possible. When he said, “Yes,” it meant “Yes.” When he said “No,” he really meant “No.” Imagine the trust this would build between people if they knew that whatever the other person said was really what they meant. They could be trusted to keep their promises. That is what the religious leaders should have been teaching the nation of Israel. That is the culture they should have been fighting for with everything they did! That is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus went on:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.'”

As Jesus declared the fourth woe, He blasted the religious leaders for their poverty of obedience. It was true that the Old Testament law commanded that they give a tenth of everything to God. The religious leaders were faithful to do that about the smallest things… even garden herbs like dill and cumin. But then they lived as if the great, glorious (and much harder) obedience of showing mercy and establishing justice in their land was as nothing. As leaders with real power, it was their job to protect the vulnerable from mistreatment and shame, but they refused. They made a big deal about the rituals of religious activity from the Law as if they were the most important things, while ignoring the things that were deeply important to God, who loves justice and mercy. They were carefully straining out the gnats of obedience while swallowing the camels of injustice and corruption.

The Lord continued:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.'”

The cup and dish are a metaphor of the lives of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. They made sure that the outside of their lives was squeaky clean. Everything they did in front of people looked very holy and religious. But in their hearts and in the secret places, they were greedy and selfish.  They were filthy with their malice and ambition! Jesus commanded them to clean up their insides, to purify their hearts. If everything they did flowed from a heart devoted to their holy, Most High God, then they wouldn’t have to worry about what they looked like on the outside.

The sixth woe Christ spoke was a lot like the fifth. He said:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'”

In those days, the Jews would often whitewash with chalk the tombs where they buried their dead. By clearly marking the tombs, they made sure that anyone walking by would not defile themselves by touching them. (According to God’s holy Law, it would make them unclean for seven days if they were to touch one.) This was one of God’s wise codes to help protect His people from disease and degradation…to remind them that death had no part in the holiness of their God.  Rather, it was the consequence of the human choice to reject Him, the Author of Life.  These tombs that were marked with white chalk looked like something pure and clean…yet they were still the place where the dead were kept. The bodies inside were rotting away, and all that would remain was mere skeleton. The wicked hearts of these religious leaders were filled with the same death and decay. They looked like they were pure and clean, but it was all a cover up for the rot inside.

Christ was using powerful images in these six woes to provoke the scribes and Pharisees and warn the people. There was only one more woe left. Would the seventh woe bring them to repentance?

Story 160: The Triumphal Entry of a Weeping King

Matthew 21:1-11; 14-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-10

Church of St. Anne - Palm Sunday

The Lord Jesus and His disciples began their trek from Bethany to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Jesus had raised His friend, Lazarus from the dead only a few days before.  Multitudes of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast had gone to Bethany to see Lazarus and Christ.  It was the talk of the nation.  It confirmed to the religious leaders that Jesus had to die.  Now as Jesus and His disciples made their way back to the City of David, the crowds followed them with all the clamor and excitement of high expectations.  What was Jesus going to do when He arrived?  Would there be more miracles?  What would He say to their leaders?

When they arrived at Bethphage, which was on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead. There were special preparations that had to be made. For you see, the events of this day were going to have a high and holy meaning. Events that were predicted hundreds of years in the past would finally come true.

Jesus gave two disciples very specific directions. He said:

“‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her upon which no person has ever sat. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’”

Matthew 21:2-3 and Mark 11:2b

 The disciples went off and did just as the Lord had said. They found the animals tied to a door outside in the street. When they began to untie them, some people standing nearby with the owners asked, “‘Why are you untying them?’”

The disciples said, “‘The Lord has need of them,’” just as Jesus had told them. The owner gave them permission to take the creatures. The disciples lead the donkey and her colt out to Jesus on the Mount of Olives.   Little did they understand the significance of what they were a part of. In fact, it was only after Jesus ascended into Heaven that they would think back on this day and realize the great prophecy they had taken part in. For you see, in Zechariah 9:9, the prophet said:

“‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you,

righteous and having salvation is He,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Zech. 9:9, ESV

These verses are a part of Zechariah’s description of a time when the King of Israel would see that His people were deeply afflicted. God would move in power on behalf of His people to deliver them. After complete and final victory over their enemies, their righteous King would ride into Jerusalem in victory. His conquest would bring peace not only for Israel, but for all the nations of the world. He would be the perfect, ideal ruler, like nothing the world had ever known. He would also be humble. Though He was mighty, He would submit with perfection to the King of Creation, honoring the Most High God with His reign.

Obviously this King would be no ordinary man. These were prophecies of the coming Messiah. As Jesus operated in absolute obedience to the will of His Father, God carried out His plans in perfect unison with the things He had foretold in His holy Word.

As the disciples led the donkey and her colt to Jesus, they had no idea they were swept up in the Great Unfolding of Zecheriah’s words. They just obeyed. When they arrived, they lay their garments across the back of the colt. Jesus sat on the young creature, and they began their procession into the City of David.

As Christ and the multitudes with Him moved towards the high walls of Jerusalem, the great crowds inside the city heard that Jesus was on His way. They began cutting the branches of palm trees to wave for the royal procession. Then they rushed out to receive the One they had been waiting for. Imagine their joy and excitement as they all began to shout out praises from their sacred book of worship:

“‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Psalm 118:26

 The crowds that had followed Jesus and the disciples from Bethany walked along behind Jesus as He rode on the colt. They had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and they were full of hope for the great things that He would do. Pretty soon, the masses from Jerusalem joined them in one great throng of vibrant energy and celebration as Christ rode the hill up into the City. The people began laying their cloaks and garments out on the road ahead of Him. It was an act of humble submission. They were physically showing their homage to the Man they were calling their King.

Imagine the fervor and joy! Thousands of years of national longing was pouring out in a lavish display of thankful praise. They had seen the miracles! They had heard the stories of His powerful works! The Great Day had arrived!

The entire city was alive as even more people rushed out to see the Man who had raised Lazarus from the dead.

The religious leaders heard the commotion and joined the throng of jubilation. When they heard the people give praise to Christ as King, they began to grumble to one another. “‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!’”

Then some of the Pharisees went to Jesus as He rode through the shouts and praise of the crowd. “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!,’” they demanded.

Jesus looked back at them and declared, “‘I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones will cry out!’”

Jesus was not only the King of Israel, He is King of the universe, and every part of it is called to worship Him!

But even as the Lord rode through the excitement and clamor, He was flooded with a deep, inner sorrow. He looked up at the great walls of Jerusalem, the City of God’s special choosing, and wept, saying:

“‘If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you in the ground, and you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’”

Luke 19:42-44

This terribly sorrowful saying was a prophecy. “If only you had known what would bring you peace.” Consider the sorrow of Jesus, reconciling His rejection with the vast and breathtaking consequences that were to come. The city of Jerusalem was going to be so devastated that every building would be crushed to the ground. But Jesus was not only mourning the future of Jerusalem. He was mourning the future of the whole nation. Jerusalem was the capitol, where God had set His special, intensified presence on earth. It was also a symbol for Israel, His treasured possession.

Even now as the people joined in wild celebration, Jesus knew what lay ahead. This moment of righteous glory would not last long. The nation that refused to repent through the Lord’s years of wondrous ministry would not stand with the Messiah in the end, either. The consequences would be great. Within the lifetime of the children who walked the streets of Jerusalem that day, the Roman army would come. When they were finished brutalizing the City and its people, there would be nothing left to call a city. The nation of Israel would disappear from the face of the earth for thousands of years.

With the rejection of their Messiah, the Jewish people were about to choose the ways of God’s enemy over the way of God’s righteous plan. And so the Lord would give them their way. Instead of having this humble King on a colt, they would have the malicious ways of the world, and it would devour them. The mighty Roman Empire would crush them. The depths of grief in this Son of David, this Son of God’s holy love, must have been great as He wept on His way into his City.

Picture the moment…the eloquent mourning of the King for the deep tragedy ahead in the midst of the jubilant crowds, waving their palms.

Yet in the midst of the disaster that faithless Israel was bringing upon themselves, Jesus carried a much deeper hope. He would have victory in spite of their betrayal.   It would be nothing like what they were hoping for. Through His perfect life, Jesus had been conquering the powers of sin and death by making the way to become the perfect, spotless Lamb. Now the time of His sacrifice was upon Him.

The grandeur of what He was going to do was far more vast and deep and high than anything they could comprehend. His deliverance was not for the nation of Israel alone. It was not merely for all the nations on earth for all time. Jesus had come to redeem the entire created order! His death would purchase the entire universe. He would make all things new!

As the throngs of people entered Jerusalem with their Messiah, they had no idea of the greatness of what they were celebrating. But the ruckus they caused stirred the rest of the city. “‘Who is this?’” was asked as the loud parade made its way inside the walls.

“‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth!’” the crowds proclaimed back to them.

The crowds journeyed with Jesus all the way to the Temple. The blind and the lame were there among the people, and an outpouring of healing came through Christ, making them whole and strong. What a delight and absolute thrill to watch men and women who were bound up and deformed jump up and dance and sing! What a marvelous party they were having, right on the steps of God’s holy Palace! The children were so swept up in the excitement that they were jumping and crying out with happy exaltation, “‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’”

In the midst of this unimaginably boisterous and absolutely appropriate happiness, the religious leaders and Pharisees grew bitter with indignation.‘Do you hear what they are saying?’” they demanded to Jesus “. They were red hot mad. The people were calling Him the Messiah, and Jesus wasn’t doing anything to stop them. It was as good as if Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah Himself.

Fortunately, Jesus was the Messiah, so He told them, “‘Yes! Have you never read:

‘From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise’”?

Wow. Now Jesus was quoting Psalm 8. If we read a little bit more of the Psalm, we will understand why this made the Jewish leaders even more angry:

“‘O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens,

From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise.

because of your enemies,

to silence the foe and the avenger.’”

Psalm 8:1-2

 Jesus didn’t have to quote the whole Psalm to these men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. The children who give praise in these verses are giving praise to God Himself. Jesus was making it very clear that He was the divine Messiah. He was also making it clear that King David had foretold this very event.

The children were proclaiming the praise of Jesus against the religious leaders who had made themselves Christ’s enemies. These men should have led God’s nation to worship their Messiah. They had failed, and now the children cried out in their place.

Jesus spoke the truth boldly to them, and it was a kindness and a grace. There was still time, this was fair warning. They were on the wrong side of God’s holy plan. Would they repent?  They wouldn’t. They did just as the Psalm foretold. They were silenced in their rebellion, and they went away to plot once again about how to destroy the Son of the Living God.

The evening was drawing to a close on that remarkable day, so Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and went back to Bethany to stay for the night.

 

Story 139: A Feast for the Broken

Luke 14: 15-34

Road in the evening

Jesus sat at the table of a powerful Pharisee. The influential, honored religious men of the region had joined them. Normally, an invitation to dinner is meant to be a sign of friendship, but in this case, it was quite the opposite. These men had invited Jesus to trap Him so they could silence Him. They wanted Him dead.

As usual, the Lord turned the conversation upside down. How He longed for these men who claimed to love His Father to be the men of humility and justice that God required. So He confronted them through stories that told about characters that were committing the same kinds of sins to provoke new ways of thinking. He was trying to help them look at their old, entrenched ways from another direction, trying to help them see. These men were trying to kill Christ, but He was offering them new life.

In Jesus’ last parable, (see Story 138) He said that if they wanted to truly honor God, then when it came time for them to throw a dinner party, their guests would be the poor and the lame and the blind. As the religious leaders, they were meant to show the love and grace of God; they would open the doors of their homes to comfort the people whose lives who were most crushed by the Fall. It was a beautiful idea, and the very purity of it made the flashy, presumptuous tone of the feast glaringly obvious. It was so obvious, in fact, that it became very uncomfortable in the room.

Imagine how tense and annoyed these leaders were. Nobody had ever dared to challenge their ways like this before! Who did Jesus think He was to confront their honored host like that? This was no time to be talking about the poor! Didn’t this Jesus have any manners?

One of the men tried to change the subject. He said, “‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.’”

Jesus wasn’t about to let it go. He replied with another parable. This time He told about a great banquet. It was something like the feast that the Jews believed God was preparing for the righteous at the end of time. Of course, these Pharisees assumed that they would be there among the Lord’s most honored guests. Imagine their shock as this parable unfolded:

“‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet He sent His servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

Now, it is important to realize something. This was no ordinary dinner party. It was a great banquet. The host had invited his guests many weeks ahead of time.   His family had gone to great expense, sacrificing other treasures so that they could shower blessings on their friends. They turned over their time and energy for weeks to make it a great day. In the days that led up to the party, great packages and carts full of wine and oil and food had arrived at the house. Everyone in the region had been be talking about it.

For a large feast to occur, it took dozens of busy hands many days to cut and slice and mix the many dishes. They would have to hire outside workers to come and help. The ovens would be going night and day, baking and roasting and grilling all of the rich delicacies that the host would offer his friends in celebration. Tables would be set out and covered with the finest of linens. lamps would be filled with oil so that the banquet could go on long into the late night hours. Imagine how the excitement would grow and build in the house as they prepared.

As Jesus told the story, He explained that when the day for the banquet finally came, the master sent his servant out to his guests, telling them that the awaited time had come. But when his servant met with the guests, something strange began to happen. This is what Jesus said:

“‘…the [invited guests] all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

“‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

“‘Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

Can you imagine? What ridiculous excuses! Why couldn’t the man go check on his field another day? Why couldn’t the oxen wait? Or why hadn’t they done these things ahead of time, knowing that this was the day of the banquet? Was the honor of the man who threw the grand feast of less value than a pack of animals?

It was clear that these reasons were not reasons at all. They were giving bad excuses on purpose, and the worst part was they probably weren’t each working alone.

They were probably working as a pack. For some reason, they had planned to humiliate the host with the most public, shocking rejection possible. In their malice, they had waited until the very last minute, when the food was cooked and the tables were all set, to let the host know they weren’t going to come.

There would be no refunds for the money he had paid for the banquet. There would be no one to eat all that food or dance to the music.   How the guests must have sneered and cackled at the thought of those grand, elegant tables sitting empty as the master and his family realized that everyone had turned on them.   The people they had counted as their greatest friends were revealed as their greatest enemies.

As the servant went from house to house to house, he found that every single one of the invited guests had joined the refusal. How heavy-hearted the servant must have felt as he carried the terrible messages back home:

“‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”

“‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has already been done, but there is still room.”

Wow. Rejection was not going to stop the master from having a feast, and his servants knew it! The new guests would be those whose lives were crushed and broken. They were the last people anyone would think to bring to a glittering, fancy affair. Imagine the blind and lame  and poor men and women as they were escorted to the brilliant tents and all the fine table settings. Imagine how they delighted in the gifts of the host! They would truly enjoy the wonderful delicacies that had been so carefully prepared! Imagine how wonderful it would all taste to those who were truly hungry.

Sometimes the greatest blessing is brokenness.  It crushes our love for the things of this world, the positions of power and pride, and helps us appreciate the deep beauty of spiritual things and our need for Christ.

What did the guests who were first invited do? When they learned who was invited in their place, did they squeal and laugh? Did they sneer because the host shared his table with people of misfortune?   Did they run to each other’s homes with the gossip, mocking the banquet where the guests were dressed in rags? Whatever they did, their wretchedness had no effect on the master of the party:

“‘…the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:16-34

Wow, now even the travelers and outsiders along the road were invited to come in. But the malicious noblemen who had been invited first were barred completely. In their mutiny, they had excluded themselves from the grand celebration. The happiness of feasting and music and dancing was given to the ones who said “Yes” to the master of the party.

As the Pharisees listened to Jesus, they could not have missed His point. For three years, the religious leaders of Israel had been given an invitation from Jesus, and not only did they refuse it, they denounced it!   They joined forces and turned their backs on the Messiah as a united and hostile enemy. Then they tried to convince the people that this man who worked such startling miracles and told such astonishing Truth was operating in the power of Satan.

They were like the noblemen of the story, and during the time of Jesus’ life, they were doing everything they could to shame Him. But in truth, it would be to their own everlasting shame and sorrow. Unless, of course, they would repent, which was the very reason Jesus told the story.

How patiently Jesus continued to express to these men the catastrophic error they were making. How relentlessly He tried to help their blind eyes to see! But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t, and they were going to miss the banquet.

Jesus ceased preaching in their synagogues to go out to the roads and hillsides of Israel to declare the nearness of God’s Kingdom. He proclaimed good news to the poor and set captives free from every bondage. And now, in this parable, Jesus was hinting at an even greater ministry. The servants of the Master would go out into all the world, inviting people from every tribe, nation, and language group.  For there truly is going to be a Great Feast at the End of Days, and those who say “Yes!” to the invitation of Christ will join Him in a celebration that will last for all eternity.

 

Story 134: The Good Shepherd Part 2

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 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!

Story 128: The War

Luke 12:49-13:9

Middle east earth.

The Day of the Lord is going to come and even as Jesus walked the earth, He longed for it. It will be the great Day of Salvation for all who put their faith in Him. It will also be a Day of Judgment and fire against rebellion and the darkness of this world. It will bring a final end to the curse, and will usher in a new era of everlasting joy and light.  The Bible says we are all to long for that Day to come.

Jesus had come to earth on a rescue mission to save His chosen ones from the grip of the Kingdom of Darkness. In order to do so, He was going to offer Himself up as a sacrifice in obedience to His Father.   This is what He said:

“‘I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.’”

Do you hear Jesus speaking about His dread as He prepared to die? Imagine the agony that Christ went through in that time. He knew that in the next few months, He would be offering Himself up to bear the horrific suffering of death on a cross. He would allow these malicious, selfish rulers to have Him beaten and nailed to wood. All the while, He would be bearing the terrific force of God’s cataclysmic wrath against the sin and evil of humanity. The cross loomed over His life like a constant shadow. What He was preparing to do as He went about teaching and healing is incomprehensible to us. What a wonderful Savior, that He would bear that burden for us.  It is just another reminder of the unimaginable good of Jesus, magnificently selfless…utterly worthy of our love and devotion.

With His life and death and resurrection, Jesus would forge the way for the glorious path of God’s grace. He was purchasing salvation, and making a way to Heaven for all who believe in Him. How could anyone refuse His gift? But then again, how could Adam and Eve reject their God? Why does anyone turn from God and cross over the line of His will into sin? Why do you and I sin?  It isn’t rational…it doesn’t make sense.

Humanity is utterly sinful, and Jesus knew many would not receive the gift that He purchased with His blood. He knew that they would not only refuse His mercy and grace. but they would join the ranks of God’s great enemy and fight against Him. With Christ’s victory on the cross, Satan was utterly defeated, but that wasn’t going to stop him from doing as much damage as possible until Christ returns. Jesus knew that Satan was going to do everything he could to wage war against the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He was going to deceive and draw as many people into sin and darkness as possible so he could use them to wage war against God. From the time of Christ’s life on earth to the time when He would return, there would be a deep divide in the human race between the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light. This is how Jesus described it:

“‘Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”

Luke 12:50-53

The dividing line of the Great Battle would be drawn at the foot of the cross. The great distinction in humanity would be between those who received the sacrifice as a covering for their sin, and those who refused this marvelous grace. The great division between the two would drive right through the most intimate relationships, invading even the heart of families.   It would divide through the heart of each person as well, as they wrestled with the purity and faith that Christ commanded. It was the same divide that was working through the listeners of Jesus during His time and during our time as well.

As Jesus preached through Galilee, He kept coming up against the foolishness of the people. Here He was, their own Messiah, and they refused to recognize it. The Kingdom of God was near, and the time for great revelation of God’s Salvation was on the way, but the people were completely missing it. This is what Jesus said:

“‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It’s going to rain,” and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?’”

Luke 12:54-56

Jesus was rebuking the people. How could they be so sensitive to something as fleeting as the weather, yet so dull to the great and mighty work of God among them? The storm clouds were rising over Israel. Judgment was on the way. The nation of Israel would not stand if it rejected the Messiah! These people were living in an illusion if they thought they could go on after so great a sin! Can you hear Jesus’ frustration? Can you hear Him trying to prod them awake?

Then He said:

“‘Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’”

Luke 12:57-59

In this little story, you have to imagine a man who has been accused of a crime. He is guilty, and his accuser has full, complete proof. Once they get to court, that accuser is going to show the judge all the evidence and the man will surely go to jail. What is the smartest thing for the man to do?

  • Should he lie and pretend to be innocent?
  • Should he fool himself into believing that the judge might let him off in spite of his crime?
  • Should he carry false hope that there is some other legal system that he can go to?
  • Should he reject and abuse his accuser on the way to the judge?
  • Or should he plead with his accuser, confess his sins, and hope for a more lenient punishment?

As Jesus spoke to the Jewish people, He was calling them to repent and seek God’s grace before it was too late. God had full proof of their sin and their need for grace, and Jesus was there, willing to give it. But once the time of God’s judgment came, it would be too late.

Story 123: Blocking the Doorway to God

Luke 11:37-54

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Jesus continued to go through the region of Judea, preaching and teaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The Scribes and Pharisees continued to accuse Him of being an agent of Satan. Even as Jesus cast out evil spirits and healed the blind and lame with breathtaking miracles that filled the crowds with joy…even in the face of the bright clarity that He brought with every lesson He taught, they refused to repent. Yet He continued to persevere, enduring their hardheartedness and rejection in the hopes that some might be saved.

After one of Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders, a Pharisee invited Jesus into His home for lunch. Jesus came and sat down at the table to share a meal with him. In those days in Israel, the tables were very low to the ground so that the diners could sit on pillows on the floor. They would lay across on the pillows, half sitting and half lying down, talking over their food.

When the Pharisee saw that Jesus was reclining at the table, he was surprised. The Pharisees had a whole washing ritual that they had to do before they could eat. Jesus had skipped it completely. Those rituals were the extra rules that the Pharisees had made up. They were not required by the true Law of God, but the pressure the religious leaders put on each other to follow them was intense. If one of them did not follow these made-up rules exactly, the rest felt free to judge him with great smugness and self-satisfaction.

As a group, the Pharisees looked down on the common people who did not hold to their rules with the perfection that they did. Their devotion to the Law…even the laws created by men…blinded them to the fact that their devotion was really to their own pride and accomplishment. It had nothing to do with love for God or love for their neighbors. In many ways, these rules were powerful instruments of sin and isolation. The Pharisees believed it was right to despise those who did not follow their codes instead of seeking to love those in need…and grace was nowhere to be found.

Jesus would not allow Himself to be dragged into false displays of religious fervor. He loyalty belonged to God the Father and His perfect Word. But the Lord also knew exactly what the Pharisee was thinking, so He said, “‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.’” Wow.

Imagine hearing the radical, popular young preacher call you out and say your insides were toxic with sin. Jesus certainly wasn’t letting the growing threat against His life stop Him from speaking the truth. Yet Jesus also gave a very simple antidote to cleanse them of that inward poison: Take care of the poor…somehow it has a purifying power…somehow this goodness would do something in them that would change them.

But Jesus wasn’t done yet. He had more to say to these Pharisees. He issued six woes, or severe warnings, that judgment was going to come if they didn’t change their ways:

“‘Woe to you Pharisee, [here comes “woe” #1], because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.’”

“‘Woe to you Pharisees, [this is “woe” #2], because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.. Woe to you, [#3], because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.’”

As Jesus was saying these things in the Pharisee’s home, the religious leaders were getting more and more uncomfortable. This was an absolute, total confrontation, directly challenging their whole way of life.   As religious leaders they felt justified…even obligated, to take the place of honor. They made sure they tithed every last thing…even the seasonings from their garden.  They were great at following the technical rules, but they didn’t take care of their people.

If they were were truly seeking God’s will with purity of heart, they would have been humbled by these Words of God.

We can see how Peter did this when Jesus called him to be a disciple. Jesus had done a great miracle by causing boatloads of fish to fill up Peter’s net after a long night of catching nothing. Peter recognized the miracle and fell on his knees before the Lord.

By this time in the story, Jesus had performed many, many miracles, including raising a man from the dead, yet these religious leaders were still treating Christ with contempt.

If their hearts were right, they would have been cut to the heart with Christ’s Words. They would have humbled them and made them want to make their way straight and right and good. But their first devotion was not to Jesus or even to the God of the Bible. Their first love was to their positions of power and their own honor and glory. Honoring what Jesus said would require that they leave behind the sinful patterns of their elite class in order to obey Him.  It would mean losing the things that were most precious to them….so they had to fight it.

One of the scribes said, “‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.’”

How interesting that these men were affronted by the honest words of Jesus. These were men who ruled the entire Jewish nation with oppressive laws, demanding that everyone follow the rules they created. Yet their own arrogance and presumption had grown so great that when even God Himself told them they were wrong, they treated it as an insult instead of righteous discipline.

Jesus would not back down. Instead, He turned up the heat:

“‘And you experts in the Law, woe to you [that is “woe” #4], because you load the people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift a finger to help them.

“‘Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them [Woe #5]. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you built their tombs. Because of this, God in His wisdom said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute. Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that have been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yet, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.’”

Luke 11:46-53

Wow. Did you catch that? The Pharisees and Scribes spent their whole lives studying the Law of God. They believed they taught it just as God wanted them to. They were certain that they were on the side of all the good guys in the Old Testament stories. They thought they were on the side of Moses who gave the Law to the Israelite people, and the prophets who came and preached to the people when they were not obeying it.

But Jesus said these leaders were mistaken. They were actually on the side of the bad guys who persecuted their heroes! They were on the side of the men who made Moses’ life miserable in the desert. They were like the evil kings and men who put the prophets to death. They wanted all the honor and glory of the prophets of God, so they built tombs for them and claimed exalted respect from the common people of their nation. Yet they did not draw the people to their Lord. In fact, they blocked the way to Him. And now, as the Son of the Living God traveled their nation, they created confusion and doubt. The Messiah had come, and His greatest opposition came from these men who were meant to welcome His message and help Him teach it to God’s people! So Jesus issued one final woe:

“‘Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered in, and you have hindered those who are entering.’”

As Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, it had no affect on the religious leaders. They didn’t want to honor their God, but stood in the way of the rest of the people in understanding the goodness of God and the beauty of His ways. They were poisoning the people of God with their unrighteousness, and Jesus stood in the power of Truth against them. They gave Him no choice but to blast them with the raw truth of their horrid behavior. Would they allow the Word of God to soften their hearts? Would they listen to these warnings and grieve their sin?

The Bible says that they did not. The rebuke of Jesus only made them treat Him with more contempt before the people. In the secret places, they began to plot against Him, wanting to see Him die for the words He said against them. So they created questions to badger Him with, hoping to catch Him in a lie or a false teaching. Then they could discredit Him before the whole nation and destroy His ministry.

The remarkable thing is that they couldn’t do that. Imagine all the hours Jesus spent with people every day. Imagine the amount He taught! Yet He never said anything that they could accuse Him for. Every Word Jesus spoke was from God the Father, everything He did was in the power of the Holy Spirit. They were going to have to come up with another way to find something to accuse Him.

Story 121: The Good Samaritan: The Best Goodness Out of the Worst Ugliness

Luke 10:25-37

the Good Samaritan

The story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan is one of the most famous stories in the world. Part of the reason for that is simply because it is beautiful. This old black and white picture was created to show the goodness of the story many years ago…and Jesus told it for the first time almost 2,000 years before. Yet across all of these ages, the Truth has remained the same. Each generation, and each individual, has to decide if they want to be on the side of that Truth…if they want to stand with God in how they spend their lives. Imagine the world if everyone decided to do things His way.

 

Who do you love? It’s a hard question. It may be easy to name the people we feel love for in the moment. It might seem obvious to list the people God has put in our lives like our family and friends. But what about how we handle the idea of love towards the vast sea of humanity that exists in our time? How can we ever love them all? And since we can’t, how can we decide who to love and when?

As the Lord was preaching in one the towns of Judea, a lawyer stood up from among the people who were listening and asked Jesus a question. Another name for a lawyer in the nation of Israel was a scribe. These were men who spent their whole lives studying the Law of God in the Old Testament. He was an expert, someone that everyone else turned to for learning about God’s ways. He had not come to Jesus because he needed help with an answer. He came because he wanted to test this radical young preacher who was turning his nation upside down.

“‘Teacher,’” he asked, “‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Jesus turned the question around and asked him right back, “‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’”

The lawyer said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’”

The scribe was pulling these words from the Old Testament Law:

Deuteronomy 6:5

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

And:

                                                                                Leviticus 19:18

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Jesus told the lawyer that he was right. If the man did these things, he would live!

But the man wasn’t happy with that answer. Loving other people with the same love that we love ourselves is an incredibly high standard. Surely there were limits to who he should have to care for! The scribe wanted to make himself feel better about picking and choosing who he had to be kind to.

Instead of telling the lawyer what to do, Jesus told a story. This was a very clever way to share a lesson. Instead of confronting us with a hard truth, a well told story woos us and persuades us by drawing us in…and even the most secular literary critic will tell you that the Bible tells the best stories of all.

When we get involved in a story, our hearts naturally get involved with the characters. Some of the characters might be good or bold or brave or kind, and as our emotions and our intellects are engaged, we relate to them. Everyone from neurobiologists to the best in psychology will tell you that we can’t think our way into changing…if our emotions are not involved to strengthen our motivation, it simply won’t happen. Stories are a powerful way to engage both our minds and our feeling. When they work together, we become capable of greater transformation. A strong, beautiful, or noble character can engage us to want to shine in our own story just like he or she did in their story. They model for us the kind of people we want to be and give us new options for new choices and new energy to live them out.

Other characters in the story might be cowardly or corrupt, and we naturally despise them. We can see clearly all the ways that their poor behavior brings harm and destruction, and it makes bad choices less appealing. We become quicker to identify sin in our own lives and are more motivated to move in new directions.

As you read the story that Jesus told, consider how easy it is for you to understand what goodness looks like…and how it affects the kind of person you want to be.

Here is what Jesus said:

“‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed onto the other said. So, too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

Luke 10:30-35

Before we go on in the story of Jesus and the scribe, let’s dig a little deeper into the story that Jesus told him. The priest and the Levi were both religious leaders in the nation of Israel. God had raised each of them up and given them the role of caring for the people on His behalf. They received a great amount of honor every day from their fellow Jews because of their sacred positions of authority.

Yet in this story, when they see a man left bloody and half-dead on the roadside, they simply walked onto the other side and went their way. What other choices did they have?

They could have stopped. They could have turned around and sought help. They could have hurried on ahead and sent someone back. Instead, they allowed this man to suffer alone, vulnerable on a dusty road miles away from any city.

What does the choice they did make tell us about these men? What words can we use to describe them? Kind, generous, full of love and compassion? Selfish, cruel, arrogant?

Then Jesus describes the choice of another man…though He adds a special twist to the story. This man isn’t a Jewish leader with responsibility for the Jewish people. He’s a Samaritan…the group of people that the Jews hated. They disliked them so much that they would go miles out of their way just to avoid travelling through Samaritan territory. It was true that the Samaritans had taken parts of the Old Testament and distorted them. They worshipped falsely, and they truly dishonored God’s Word. Yet in this story, it was a Samaritan who honored God’s compassionate heart with his actions.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus chose to tell this story with a Samaritan man as the hero?  He not only stops to help the bloodied and beat-up Jewish man on the road, but takes overwhelmingly wonderful care of him. He tends to the wounds with his own wine and oil, which was a messy business, no doubt. Then he takes him to an inn and not only pays for everything, he promises to come back and cover any other costs that might come up with his care. It was a huge investment of both time and money for a man who, as a Jew, might not have even acknowledged him had they had met on the street.

After telling the story Jesus asked, “‘Which of the these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’”

The actions of the Samaritan are so kind and good that the answer is obvious. And somewhere deep in our souls, not matter how hardened we are, we feel his goodness. We know what the best in ourselves understands to be true…and we know how we would want to be treated if we were ever found lying broken and bloody on the side of the road. God’s definition of love is doing whatever good we would want our neighbors to do for us. That’s our measure. It’s as simple as that.

In this story, the scribe wanted to scrimp on the definition of what a neighbor is. Jesus made it clear that our neighbor is whatever person God brings across our path. The lawyer asked who he had to count as his neighbor. If he was right in his heart, he would have asked who he could be a neighbor to! The opportunity to love someone in need is a gift from God. Through our compassion, we display the tender purity and beauty of His compassion and grace.

When we read this story, isn’t it natural to want to be like the Samaritan? And if we don’t…shouldn’t that bother us a little bit?

In the end, the scribe had to agree. A neighbor was not simply the person who lived next store, had the same color of skin, the same status, or was from the same religion. The person who wants to shine the character of the God will see any person that God brings along in their life as their neighbor. We are not to ask who we have to serve, we are to ask who we get to be a neighbor to. And if we want our hearts to match that request, then maybe we can ask for a purer heart, too. That’s the kind of prayer request we can be sure that the Lord loves to bless.

Story 120: Watching Our Enemy Fall

Luke 10:17-20

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The seventy disciples journeyed out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the towns and villages of Judea. Can you picture them? What would happen? Would they be accepted and welcomed? Would they be silenced? Would they be driven out? What miracles would God empower them to do?

Imagine how they wondered as they obeyed! Jesus followed along behind His disciples and began preaching in the towns they had prepared with the message. When each disciple finished their assignment, they would find their way back to where Jesus was on His journey. As the men returned, each was filled with excitement over the stories they had to tell their Master. They said, “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!’” Jesus had come to set the captives free, and now His power was flowing out through His faithful followers!

How different these men were from the ones who fought and badgered Jesus in the Temple courts of Jerusalem. As the religious leaders plotted murder, these common men responded with faith. And so Jesus added and strengthened their faith by drawing them into the liberating, glorious work of the Kingdom! They were endowed with magnificent power from Heaven itself.

Jesus told them:

“‘I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy: nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.’”

 Wow. Something remarkable had just happened. A powerful moment in the epic battle against evil came when the disciples of Jesus…these common, ordinary men…went out and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus had come to earth on a divine rescue mission to conquer sin and death. These were the two things Satan brought into the world after he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden. As the followers of Christ proclaimed the Good News of Jesus’ coming victory, it struck a major blow towards Satan’s defeat. The Kingdom of Light was breaking into the Kingdom of Darkness!

As Jesus spoke of snakes and scorpions, He was using the names of creatures that most of us are afraid of to describe something far more dangerous and hateful. He was talking about demonic spirits. The stories in the Gospels show us how demons were responsible for making people sick and holding them to terrible bondage, such as insanity. Jesus had given His disciples authority over them.

As amazing as that power is for setting captives free, Jesus said there was something far more valuable that these faithful men should rejoice about. In the Bible, we are told that there is a special book in Heaven where the names of all God’s children are written. It’s called the Book of Life. Anyone whose name is in that book will have everlasting life. They will spend eternity with Christ in a place of total joy and peace.

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, your name is written there, too. Have you ever had a moment or a day where you were so happy, so full of bright, light, wondrous bliss that you might split apart with exhilaration? That is how Heaven is going to be, only we will all be feeling it together, and it will never, ever end. That is the promise. That is what we are waiting for. That is the true reason for all of His disciples to rejoice, no matter when in time they have lived! It is the greatest, most remarkable, unimaginably wonderful hope in all of history.

The idea filled Jesus with such overwhelming, happy delight that He began to rejoice right then and there! He declared, “‘I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure.’”

He went on, “‘All things have been committed to me by my Father.’” Wow. Now we know why Satan fell from Heaven. When Adam and Eve sinned, they plunged the world into a terrible curse. They handed tremendous power over to the Evil One. But the coming of Jesus was going to reverse all of that, and this was the beginning of that reversal. Satan’s reign of evil will come to an end someday. While he still has power, his doom is certain. God the Father committed to put all powers and dominions under the full authority of Jesus!

Then Jesus went on: “’No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’” Wow. The disciples of Jesus understand who He is because He has shown them. What a high and holy privilege it is to know Jesus as the Son of God!

Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them privately, “‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’”

What was it that the kings and prophets longed to see? What wonderful things did God reveal to Jesus’ disciples that He kept hidden from His faithful servants in the past?

For centuries the saints of God had wondered how God was going to fix the terrible problem of the curse. They knew the Law, and they offered up sacrifices for their sin. They told about the coming of a Messiah and of a great King who would sit on David’s throne. They prophesied about a Son of Man who would come in total victory over God’s enemy. They spoke of a Suffering Servant who would bear terrible wounds, and that by His wounds, He would heal many. Yet they did not know how it all was going to tie together to bring about God’s magnificent plan, and they longed and yearned to know this Great Mystery! Now these rag-tag disciples were not only witnessing the One Man who was all of these things, they were taking part in His epic work defeating God’s mightiest enemy! Wow. The amazing thing is that if we so choose, you and I get to be a part of it, too!

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