Thursday, July 29, 2021

"The Good Departure" Acts 1:1-11

John’s insightful gospel hinders the clear connection Luke makes between his gospel story and its continuation through Jesus' followers in Acts. Luke shows the transition between Jesus being physically present to being present with his disciples through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts the good news of God’s kingdom is manifested through God’s restored and reconstituted people. They are to be Jesus' “witnesses” and the Spirit would empower them after the resurrected Jesus ascends to be enthroned as the world’s true Lord (1:9–11).

In Acts, the second part of Luke’s gospel, the ascended Lord Jesus continues his kingdom expanding mission through his Spirit-filled church (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). Those who looked to the coming Messiah were baptized in water by John (Luke 3:16), and now the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. After Jesus instructed them about the Kingdom for 40 days, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6). They had failed to understand Jesus’ crucifixion, and here we see their misguided focus on the national restoration of Israel. They wanted Jesus to throw off Israel’s foreign oppressors and to establish Israel as the world’s leader. While Jesus didn’t deny their hope, he turns their focus away from ‘times and dates’ to empowerment and proclamation. They were to begin in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria and the story of Acts goes on to Rome, but the kingdom mission of Jesus will extend throughout all the earth.

Jesus’ followers receive “power” through the presence of the Spirit to announce that the resurrected Messiah Jesus is the ascended Lord of all the earth. The church is empowered by the same Spirit who empowered Jesus. What the apostles needed was not timetables, but power to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. After being instructed, they watched as Jesus ascended into heaven and were encouraged by the angelic visitors that Jesus would return as they had seen him go. (Acts 1:6-9) The story shows that Jesus was “taken up” into heaven in his resurrected body (9) and that “this same Jesus” (11) would come back physically and visibly as determined by the Father’s authority. Jesus ascends and they stare in amazement, but they needed to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise! Jesus had suffered, and showed himself alive with many convincing proofs and spoke of the kingdom of God. (1:1-3). Luke’s gospel sequel is about what Jesus would continue to do through his Spirit-filled church. He was crucified (1:3), he was resurrected, he showed himself alive (1:3), he spoke of the kingdom (1:3), and he ascended to be enthroned at the right of the God (1:2, 9–11).

The ‘outpouring of the Spirit’ inaugurates the Messianic age of the Spirit that will consummate at Jesus’ second coming. Luke alone among the Bible authors depicts the ascension of Jesus. The ascent of Jesus leads to the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus departed from his original disciples so he could be present everywhere in the world with all his people from all the ages. Jesus, by the Spirit, is present and empowers his people for our kingdom expanding task. Jesus’ death and resurrection means forgiveness and union with Jesus, ascension and Pentecost is about empowerment and kingdom proclamation.

See McKnight, S. (2019). Acts (The Story of God Bible Commentary Book 5) p. 36-45



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Divine Authority? Luke 19:45-20:8

The Coming King (19:12, 35-40) 
Jesus warns that the kingdom would not come all at once and told of a nobleman who went away to be appointed king. His subjects didn’t what him to be king, but he became king anyway. The king returns to reward his servants and judge his enemies. After this, Jesus sends two disciples to untie a colt that had never been ridden and bring it to him. Jesus then rode that colt into Jerusalem among the shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Some Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke his disciples, but Jesus had carefully orchestrated his entrance into Jerusalem. Clearly, he was depicting both the coronation of King David’s son, Solomon, and the coming of Israel’s Messianic King  (Zechariah 9:9, I Kings 1:33-34). So Jesus rides like Solomon on David’s mule into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy regarding the coming anointed king and the people are filled with hope and anticipation (Psalm 118:26).

Not this King (19:41-44) The crowd is shouting and praising God as  Jesus processes into Jerusalem, but Jesus looks out upon Jerusalem and weeps! The crowd is rejoicing at the thought of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but Jesus weeps. Jesus had wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35), while here he overlooks Jerusalem and is overwhelmed with sorrow. They are celebrating, but they are actually blind to Jesus’ way of peace. The crowd sees triumph and celebrates, but Jesus envisions their enemies encircling Jerusalem on every side only to sack the city and destroy the temple. Jesus weeps because Jerusalem would reject his way of peace. Moreover, he envisions their enemies dashing Jerusalem and the children within its walls to the ground and not leaving one stone upon another. Why the horror? It was because they did not recognize that God was visiting them.  

The King's House (19:45-47, 20:1) So Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and enters the temple. Is this not what Malachi 3:1 and what John the Baptist had foretold? Malachi talked of God’s messenger going ahead and preparing the way for the Messiah. They longed for the Messiah and Malachi said that the Lord would return to his temple. All is good, until Jesus foresees the temple's destruction and then enters the temple only to drive out those selling there. Jesus says, “My house is a house of prayer,’ but you’ve made it a den of robbers.” (19:45-46) My house?

Matthew says that Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Matthew 21:12–17). Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus referenced Isaiah 56:7 about the temple being called a house of prayer, but that they had made it a ‘hideout for bandits’.  Jesus’ comment about a house of prayer was from Isaiah 56; where Isaiah spoke of foreigners binding themselves to the Lord in covenant and the temple being a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:6–8). Yet, the religious leaders of Jesus' day had turned the place where Gentiles could approach Israel’s God into a marketplace. So Jesus cleanses the temple, his house, of the misuse that excluded the Gentiles and he replaces it with his teaching and preaching of the gospel. The people are hanging on Jesus’ every word; but the religious leaders want to destroy Jesus. The crowds are gathered because Jesus is in the temple teaching and preaching the gospel. What is Jesus gospel? Well, Jesus’ gospel was God’s gospel announced in advance to Abraham which Paul says was: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8) All nations would be blessed through Jesus, Abraham’s seed, the prophet like Moses, the greater son of David; God’s anointed Davidic and Messianic King!

The King's Authority (20:1-8) So Jesus cleaned out his house, Lord’s house is Jesus’ house, and Jesus replaced the robbery with his kingdom teaching and gospel preaching. But the religious leaders question Jesus’ authority to do such things by asking Jesus, “by what authority you are doing these things,” and “who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2) Jesus responds by asking them a question and if they will answer Jesus’ question, then Jesus will answer their question. But if they answer Jesus’ question, then they will have actually answered their own question. Jesus asks them if John’s baptism was from heaven or man. Now these religious leaders who opposed Jesus find themselves in a bind. If they say ‘heaven’ then Jesus will ask why they didn’t believe John. But if they say ‘man’ then crowd will revolt because the crowds were convinced that John the Baptist was a true prophet. Remember that John introduced Jesus as the ‘one coming after him’ (Luke 3:15-17) The people thought John might be the Christ, but John’s answer was that a more powerful one would come after John who would baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The ‘one greater than John’ would come and gather God’s harvest and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Moreover, the Spirit had anointed Jesus as God’s Messiah (anointed) and the voice from heaven had confirmed that Jesus  was God’s Son (2 Sam.7:14).

The passage makes it clear that there can be no Messianic celebration apart from the crucifixion. Jesus would go off to a ‘far country’ and be appointed King (cross, resurrection, ascension) and then he would return to reward his servants and judge his enemies. God so loved the world that he sent his one and only unique son, Jesus, but those who reject King Jesus will face the severity of God. Jesus is the true temple; the very embodiment of Israel's God. They rejected Jesus and the Romans came and destroyed their temple which was being rendered obsolete. The question remain for us even today? Do we want Jesus to rule over us? Are we blinded by our own expectations about Messiah as Jerusalem was in Jesus’ day? The question remains for us; ‘by what authority did Jesus do these things? God or man?


Thursday, March 25, 2021

'The Challenge of Delay'

 Luke 19:11–27

The crowd and the disciples have heard Jesus’ statement that salvation had come to the wealthy tax-collector Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor and is willing to repay fourfold anyone he had cheated. Jesus calls Zacchaeus a ‘son of Abraham’ and declares that the ‘son of man’ had come to seek and to save what was lost (19:10). Now Jesus tells a parable because they were thinking that the kingdom of God was going to come all at once. Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God would be established all at once; Jesus would be enthroned and Israel would be liberated from Roman oppression. Jesus tells a parable warning them that the Messiah would be rejected and then go away for a time and his followers were to remain faithful and be useful in the master’s absence until his return (19:11).

In the parable of a man of noble birth goes to a far off country to be appointed king and then return. He calls ten servants and gives them ten minas which they are to put to work until he returns. His subjects hate him and send a delegation after him saying they don’t want him to be there king (Luke 19:12-14). The story would remind them of how Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, went to Rome be confirmed as his father’s successor. But a delegation of Jewish leaders protested to the emperor: ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’. The emperor Augustus decided to severely limited Archelaus’ powers. Jesus was likely drawing on this incident, though Jesus’ parable ends very differently.

This parable addresses the rebellious subjects but emphasizes the ten servants that were each given a mina. A mina was something like three months wages and the servants were to use it to make a profit while the master was away. The citizens hate the nobleman and they sent a delegation to saying that they don’t want him to rule over them. The nobleman was made king, and he returned home. The king sends for his servants to find out what they had gained with their mina. The first servant gained ten more mina and the master rewarded the servant’s faithfulness in a small matter by putting him in charge of ten cities. A second servant earned five more mina and was put in charge of five cities. Each servant was given one mina and each servant had faithfully put their mina to good use and both were generously rewarded (19:12-19).

Then another servant came, but this one hid the mina away in a cloth because he saw the master as a hard man. The servant described the master as someone who took what he didn’t put in and reaped what others had sowed. The master called the servant ‘wicked’ and said that the servant’s own words condemn him. If the master was a hard man, then the servant should have put the master’s money on deposit, so the master could have collected it with interest (19:20-23). The master tells those standing by to take is mina away and to give it to the servant with ten minas. Although he already had ‘ten mina’ the master said that those who have will be given more, while those who have nothing and what they have will be taken away from them. Then master also called for his enemies who didn’t want him to be king to be brought before him and killed. (19:24-27) The two useful servants were generously rewarded, while the one who hid the mina and criticized his master for being a harsh man had his mina taken away from him.

Luke presents a “delay” between Jesus’ enthronement and his return to reign and rule. Luke makes it clear that Jesus taught there would be an interval between their arriving in Jerusalem, his enthronement as God’s anointed king and his return when servants are rewarded and enemies are judged. The kingdom of God would not come immediately or all at once (19:11; cf. Acts 1:6). They should be aware of the “delay” during which their faithfulness would be tested. Matthew also talks about a delay and that Jesus would return “after a long time” (Matt 25:19). Luke elsewhere talks about faithful servants being “watchful” (12:37) and “ready” (12:38). In this parable Luke’s emphasizes that each servant was given the same investment and were rewarded for their putting it to use between Jesus’ enthronement and Jesus’ return. This parable also addresses Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership of his day which is the reason for the judgment and their exclusion from the kingdom.

Like the delegation of Jews who pleaded with Rome that they didn’t want the son of Herod the Great as king, so to the Jewish religious leadership didn’t what Jesus to be their king. The resurrection evidenced that Jesus was God’s Messiah and in his ascension he was enthroned at the right hand of the throne of God (Rom. 1:4, Heb. 12:2). We live in this time when Jesus is enthroned as the world’s true Lord, which we confess by faith and not be sight. In Luke’s parable of the ‘ten servants’ or the ‘ten mina’ each servant received the same thing. The each received one mina and they were expected to use it to produce more. The master entrusted the servants and they were responsible to put the ‘mina’ to good use in the period between the master’s being made king and the king’s return to reward his servants and to judge his enemies (19:27). The mina is likely the gospel message; Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Messiah who is the ascended Lord of all the earth. We know this by faith and are entrusted to make this message known!  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Mission Impossible" Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus the Tax-collector. Jesus had restored the sight of a blind beggar who cried out to the ‘Son of David’ for mercy. The blind man received mercy, just like the repentant tax-collector in the temple in Jesus’ story who cried out for mercy and went home justified before God. Now Jesus is passing through Jericho and Luke tells us of a wealthy chief tax collector named Zacchaeus (19:1-2). Luke has just told us of a rich ruler who had chosen to hold on to his riches instead of giving his money to the poor and following Jesus. Jesus told the astonished crowd that it was easier to thread a needle with a camel than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says that this is impossible for man, but that it is possible for God (Luke 18:24-25). This rich chief tax-collector, Zacchaeus, wanted to see who Jesus was. But Zacchaeus was short and couldn’t see over the crowd (19:3-4). Evidently the crowd refused to let Zacchaeus through to see since he was despised for collecting taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of their Romans. So there is a big crowd there following Jesus and the determined and resourceful Zacchaeus runs on ahead where he climbs a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he was passing by (19:5).

Zacchaeus is an example that what is impossible with man is possible with God (18:27). The Romans sold the task of collecting taxes to the highest bidder and that was Zacchaeus. He would collect as much money as he could and then keep whatever was left over after the Romans took their share. Moreover, Zacchaeus was a chief tax-collector which made him an overseer of tax-collectors and a very wealthy man. Zacchaeus seeks to see Jesus, who had a reputation of befriending tax collectors (7:34). Surely Zacchaeus would have known that the former tax-collector Levi was now a follower of Jesus (5:27-28). Perhaps he would have heard Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector as well (18:9-14). Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree and says to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down out of that tree, for I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus gladly.  And when the people saw this, they all grumbled because Jesus was going to go to be the guest of a tax-collector who they considered a sinner (19:8).  Luke tells us that the crowd was appalled that Jesus would stay with a rich sinner like Zacchaeus.

Then, most likely, while they were at Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus stands and tells Jesus, “Look Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold.”   And Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since this man is also is a son of Abraham (19:9-10). God has done the impossible. Salvation has come to this rich man’s house for even this formerly greedy tax-collector is now a repentant and restored child of Abraham. Jesus tells us that Zacchaeus has entered the kingdom and is now rightly related to God. We see Zacchaeus demonstrate his new allegiance by giving half his possessions to the poor and being willing to repay fourfold anyone that he has cheated. Clearly God was working in Zacchaeus’ heart for all we know is that Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house and as a result of that visit Zacchaeus volunteers to give away half of his possessions and with what remains he was willing to repay those he had cheated fourfold!  The reason for Jesus passing through Jericho was for the Son of Man to seek and to save the lost. (19:10) The good shepherd, Jesus, goes and looks for lost sheep to rescue and this now this repentant and transformed tax-collector is a son of Abraham (15:3–7; Ezk. 34:16).

Again we ask, ‘Can the rich be saved?’ Can a camel go through the needle’s eye (18:25)? Luke makes it clear that the rich Zacchaeus (19:2) whose name literally means ‘righteous’ or ‘clean’ is a restored child of Abraham. Zacchaeus was a collaborator with the ‘enemy’ and so Zacchaeus was neither considered to be ‘clean’ nor a good Jew (19:7). The wealthy are not unlike any other sinful persons. We are all in need of salvation, but their money can easily become an idol and a stumbling block to genuine faith in Christ. Wealth can be a false comfort or security and a source of self-contentment and of feelings of superiority. Yet, by the working of God’s grace Zacchaeus is willing to here and now give half of his possessions to the poor, and repay anyone he had cheated out of anything four times over (19:8). His attitude contrasts with that of the rich ruler, who found it impossible to share his possessions and he walked away from Jesus ‘very sad; for he was a man of great wealth’ (18:23). Jesus welcomes this wealthy ‘sinner’ Zacchaeus and sees him not as a Roman collaborator but as a son of Abraham (19:9). Thus, Zacchaeus becomes clean and lives up to his name. That very day salvation had come to Zacchaeus in the person of Jesus. How different our world would be if more of us in the church could be like Zacchaeus and voluntarily declare, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of all I have to the poor.’


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

“See What I Mean?”

 Luke 18:31-43 

Jesus tells his Twelve hand-selected disciples they were going up to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the ‘Son of Man’ would be fulfilled. He tells them that the ‘Son of Man’ would be handed over to the Gentiles who would mock, insult, spit on, beat and kill him. Moreover, on the third day he would rise again. Yet, the Twelve did not understand any of what Jesus was saying. The meaning of the ‘Son of Man’ being turned over to Gentiles to be killed was hidden from them. That Jesus would rise on the third day would have made no sense to them since in their thinking the Messiah would defeat the Romans, not be killed by them. Moreover, the resurrection was understood to be on the ‘last day’ and not in the middle of history (John 11:24). We are told the Twelve didn’t understand, it was hidden from them and so they didn’t know what he was talking about (Luke 18:31-34). Ironically, Jesus had told them about his suffering and death twice before, but they still didn’t grasp it! (9:22, 43-45) Remember that Israel had been turned over to their Gentile oppressors (Assyria, Babylon) because of their sin and idolatry. Now Jesus would be handed over to Gentiles to bear God’s wrath, but not for his own sins, but as a substitute for the sins of his people.

Then Luke tells us how Jesus drew near to Jericho. Jericho is where another Jesus, Jesus is Greek for Joshua (Jesus = Joshua), began to take possession of their ‘Promised Land’.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to bring about a ‘New Exodus’ (Luke 9:31). His enthronement on a Roman cross would be followed by his bodily resurrection which would bring about the beginning of the ‘New Creation’.  So as Jesus approaches Jericho he encounters a blind man begging by the side of the road. The blind man hears the crowd and when he asks about it, he is told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The blind man cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those there rebuke him and tell him to be silent. Their rebuke of the blind man is not unlike the disciples rebuking those who were previously bringing their babies to Jesus (Luke 18:15). Despite the opposition, the blind man cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Ironically, this blind man sees very clearly that Jesus is the Davidic Messianic King that God had promised David (2 Samuel 7:14). Jesus stops and commands that the blind man be brought to him. When the blind man came near Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man wants to recover his sight so Jesus tells him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” The blind man, known as Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46, sees Jesus very clearly as the coming Davidic king and has faith enough to ask Jesus to restore his sight. Surely he is contrasted with the Twelve disciples who could not see or comprehend the death and resurrection of Jesus even though Jesus had told them twice before. They were essentially blind to what the prophets have foretold about the ‘Son of Man (See Daniel 7:13-14).

Immediately the man received his sight, followed Jesus and glorified and praised God. The man’s confession shows that Jesus is the ‘Son of David’ and also Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ (2 Sam 7:12-14, Daniel 7:13-14).  Clearly the disciple’s preconceptions about the Messiah had blinded them to God’s plan for the ‘King of Israel’. By contrast, ‘Blind Bartimaeus’ saw clearly by faith and praised God having experienced the ‘mercy of God’. Just as previously the ‘humble and contrite’ tax-collector who had cried out in the temple received mercy (Luke 18:9-14), now the once ‘blind man’ is apparently healed spiritually. The blind man’s spiritual sight or faith had made him well. The man’s response to the miracles working of Jesus becomes the source of spontaneous praise and all the people also praised God! (Luke 18:35-43). 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Let Them Come to Jesus!

Luke 18:15-17 

Luke alone in his account of this story (see also Mt. 19:13–15; Mk. 10:13–16),  refers to the children as babies. People are bringing their babies to Jesus so that Jesus would place his hands on them and give them his blessings. Luke’s lesson seems to be that the kingdom of God is only for those who are prepared to receive it in humble dependency like a little child (see Luke 18:14). In the previous story a Pharisee is prideful at the temple before God because he sees himself as faithful in tithing and devotedly fasting twice a week. He sees himself as worthy of being blessed by God, but by contrast the despised tax-collector humbles himself, confesses his sinfulness and pleads for God’s mercy. Here the disciples of Jesus think that Jesus has no time for insignificant children. They try to deter people from bringing their infants to Jesus for Jesus to touch them. By contrast Jesus calls for children to come to him and he says to let the children come to him and don’t hinder them. These parents are bringing their children who are incapable coming to Jesus on their own. Here, after a long travel section in which Jesus is headed to Jerusalem (a section unique to Luke 9:51–18:14), Luke makes it clear that Jesus is saying that God’s kingdom is for children and for those who humble themselves like little children. In fact, unless we see ourselves as utterly dependent upon the blessing of God we cannot enter the kingdom. Note also that coming to Jesus is synonymous in this story with receiving the kingdom and entering it (18:16-17). 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

LOOK to the LORD!

Luke 18:9–14  

Jesus tells this story for those who look down on others and are sure they’re right with God. They compare themselves to those they despise and they think of themselves as righteous in their own eyes. So these two men went up to the temple to pray. The temple was elevated from anywhere in Jerusalem, and the elevation depicts that God is far above all of us (18:9-10). Both these men went up to the temple to talk to God and the temple was that special place at that time where God could be approached. The temple was where people could come and meet with God. 

So these two men who went up to the temple to pray and one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax-collector. The Pharisee was a religious leader who was part of a popular holiness movement. They sought to strictly adhere to the law and their oral tradition about what the law really meant and required. There strict conformity was there way by which they thought to please God. They considered themselves to be ‘righteous’ and they were typically admired in society for their zeal for the law. The other man was a tax-collector and tax-collectors were widely regarded as traitors to the Jewish nation. They were considered to be collaborators with their Roman oppressors. They were considered traitors because they collected taxes from their fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. They were widely regarded as corrupt and were considered to be more than willing to cheat their fellow Israelites. (18:9-10)

This zealous religious leader, the Pharisee, stands by himself and he prays to God. He begins by thanking God that he isn’t a thief, an evildoer or an adulterer. Let’s not be too quick to ‘look down’ on this Pharisee. He doesn’t take what belongs to others. He is concerned about what is moral and seeks to avoid evil. He is also faithful to his wife and he is faithful in his giving. Not only that, but he is engaged in self-denial in that he fasts regularly and it looks like he is not ruled by his appetites. By any human standard he is a devout person. His commitment to the God of Israel is seen in his work, his ethics, his relationships, his diet, his religious practices, and his finances. Moreover, he prays and he is thankful to God. On the other hand the tax-collector would be considered a collaborator with Israel’s Roman colonizing oppressors. The tax-collector makes his money by collecting taxes from his fellow Jews. Whatever he collects above what the Romans expect from him he gets to keep. Most tax-collectors where known for cheating and making money at the expense of the common Jewish people. How can Jesus say that it was the tax-collector and not the religious Pharisee that went home right with God?

Looking again at the Pharisee’s prayer we see that he thanks God, but he thanks God that he is not like other people. Is he trying to remind God that he doesn’t steal; that he avoids evil and is faithful to his wife? Why is he telling God that he gives a tenth of all he gets, and even fasts twice a week? Why is he comparing himself to others who are lawbreakers and to the tax-collector across the room?  This Pharisee fasts twice a week, even though the law required only one fast per year and that on the Day of Atonement. So this Pharisee prays to God, thanks God that he is not like other people who are lawless, especially like this tax-collector. His sense of being right with God is based on a comparison to others. He sees himself as going beyond what the law requires, but of course this is only in selective areas. Moreover, he seems to be reminding God of what he thinks he deserves and oddly he doesn't ask God for anything. (18:11-12)  

Now in contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector stood at a distance and he wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He stand back away from people, he looks down and beats his chest. He prays to God and he asks for what he doesn’t deserve. He confesses himself to be a sinner and in humble dependence he asks for mercy from God! As a sinful person he asks God for what he needs most; the mercy of God. He looks at himself in relation to the Holy God of Israel and he asks for what he does not deserve: he asks for mercy. (18:13)

Now Jesus gives his evaluation of the story by saying that it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who went home accepted by God or justified before God. It was the tax collector who Jesus said was rightly related to God. Jesus sums up the parable by saying that, ‘whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” (18:14)

Jesus’ verdict was that the tax-collector went home justified by God, and not the Pharisee. The parable demonstrates Jesus’ concern for outcasts, in this case a tax-collector. Jesus calls us to be humble and contrite before others and before God in prayer. God is ready and willing to receive the unrighteous who are humble, contrite and repentant. But God closes his ears to those who are prideful about their own religious practices. We can't obligate God to bless us. If we are just trying to get God to bless, then who are we actually serving. Are we serving God or are we simply serving ourselves? God doesn’t owe us anything. If we were to get what we deserve then we would have to face the just judgment of God for our sins. What we need is the forgiveness and therefore we must look to the Lord, who is gracious and merciful. God in his grace sent His Son to live the life we should have lived and to die the sinners death that we deserve to die. We can find no comfort in looking down on others or in comparing ourselves to others and thinking of ourselves as superior to other. This is a false sense of righteousness. However, the good news is that we can humbly look to our merciful God for what we do not deserve. When we as sinful people humble ourselves and ask for mercy we shall receive the riches of God’s grace at Christ’s expense!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

“Timely Justice from the Just Judge”

 Luke 18:1–8                     

Jesus tells his disciples a story about a widow who wears out an unjust judge who is reluctant to give her justice against her adversary. This judge doesn’t fear God or respect people. The widow has an adversary who is doing her wrong by treating her unjustly. The widow apparently has no advocate and so she pleads with the judge to make things right for her. Jesus, we are told, tells this story to his disciples so that they will always pray and not be discouraged, lose heart and give up. He wants them to prayerfully, persistently and continually go to God in prayer. No matter the injustice or the mistreatment they can speak to God who is available and ready to hear from them. This man is a judge, but he is not a judge whose administration of justice reflects the just and fair judgments of God. He doesn’t respect or care about people. Deep down this judge didn’t love God and as a result he didn’t care about people who are made in God's image (18:1-2).

A certain widow who lived in the same town as the ‘unjust judge’ was being treated unjustly by her adversary. She was being oppressed and so she went to the judge. She knew this judge didn’t fear God or respect people, but having no advocate she kept repeatedly going to the judge and pleading for justice. Even though she begged the judge on numerous occasions to give her justice the judge refused to do anything to help her. Finally the unjust judge said to himself, “I don’t fear God, and I don’t respect people but this widow keeps on bothering me. I will give her justice because if I don’t she will keep coming here and she’ll beat me down!’ ”. Jesus told his disciples to listen to the unjust judge who was essentially annoyed to the point that he gave in and gave the widow justice against her adversary. The judge is annoyed, beaten down and worn out so that he gives up his resistance to giving her justice (18:3-6). The word Luke uses can be translated literally to give one a black eye. This little old powerless widow seems to put the fear in this arrogant judge who doesn’t fear God or respect people. He doesn't care what God thinks, or what the widow thinks but he doesn't want the shame of suffering a black eye at the hands of a widow who he has provoked by denying her justice. 

Jesus, however, is drawing a contrast between this unjust judge and God. God is not like that unjust judge. God is good and God is just and he will give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night. The good and just God will not put off his own chosen ones who are able to come and speak to him because they are his beloved who belong to God. God, who is merciful and just, will hear their pleas and he will answer their prayers. The good and just God will give them justice. Therefore, Jesus tells them to pray and to keep on praying and not to give up in their pleading for justice. Luke even says that God will do this quickly. This creates some tension for us as we appeal to God and wrestle and plead with him for justice. Again, we're not trying to wear down a distant God who is reluctant to answer our prayers. God is good and just as well as all-knowing and he knows what is best. We are never to give up or quit but we should continually go to God is prayer knowing that God will do what is right even if he doesn't do what we want when we want it. When the timing is right God will do what he has determined is best and when its right he'll do it quickly! Then Jesus leaves them and us with this question, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” This is persevering faith that makes one's request known to God and trusts patiently for God's answer in God's timing and it continues in the attitude of heart until the 'Son of Man' comes again and sets everything right! (18:7-8)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

A 'Grateful Samaritan' Luke 17:11-19

 Backstory: God promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. They multiplied in Egypt, but became enslaved. God raised up Moses and delivered them with miraculous signs and formed them into a ‘holy nation’. God gave them His law and instructed them to build the Tabernacle as a mobile sanctuary for God to dwell among His people. They entered their promised land under Joshua, but they didn’t take full possession of it until the time of David. David made plans for and Solomon his son, built the Jerusalem temple as a more permanent sanctuary for God to dwell in their midst. They were to be a ‘light to the nations’ they became idolatrous like the rest of the nations. The Northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians and scattered, while the Southern Kingdom was taken into 70 years of captivity in Babylon. God preserved them because he had promised to bless the world through Abraham and He had promised David a perpetual kingship over God’s people. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, God’s people were allowed to return to their land, but the return from exile and the rebuilt temple fell desperately short of the ‘kingdom’ promised by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others. They remained in their land, but they dominated by various ‘pagan empires’. At the time of the Roman Empire they were longing for God to send them an ‘anointed conquering king’ and God sent them JESUS!

 John the Baptist introduced Jesus at his baptism and the voice from heaven confirmed Jesus to be the ‘Son of God’. The Spirit anointed him to preach ‘good news’ to the poor, liberation for captives, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set free the oppressed and to proclaim the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’. The Spirit led him into the wilderness were he overcame Satan’s temptations. Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit preaching God’s kingdom, and demonstrating his authority over demons, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, and even raising the dead. Yet, he incited the religious leaders against him by claiming authority to forgive sins, failing to adhere to their Sabbath regulations and eating with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus formed a new 12 around himself and when his disciples recognized him as ‘God’s anointed King’ he proceeded on a journey to Jerusalem.

Luke 17:11–19    Jesus was continuing on his way to Jerusalem to fulfill his Exodus in his death and resurrection (Lk 9:31). Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee and making himself accessible to both Galileans and Samaritans. Jesus entered a town which was his normal practice since he had come to preach the kingdom of God (Lk 4:43). As he enters this town he met ten lepers who were keeping their social distance. They were shouting out in a loud voice, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”  They cry out to Jesus to pity them and to show them mercy; hoping to be cleansed by Jesus. Jesus sees them has pity and says, “Go. Show yourselves to the priests.” They are challenged to go to the priests and even though they were still leprous they went and as they went they were cleansed. They hear Jesus and they obey what Jesus told them to do. As they went, they were healed (Luke 11-15). One of the ten, a Samaritan, saw that he was healed and he returned to Jesus praising God in a loud voice. He had cried out with the ten for mercy, but he alone cries out in praise to God for the mercy he had received (17:16). This grateful man throws himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks Jesus. The man was a Samaritan (17:17).  Jesus asks him about the other nine?  Jesus is curious why only the Samaritan had returned to give praise to God (17:19). Jesus tells this formerly leprous now cleaned Samaritan to get up from his prostrate position on his face at Jesus’ feet. But he tells him to rise up for the Samaritan’s faith had made him well. But, what about the other nine; hadn’t they obeyed Jesus’ word? We know that Jews and Samaritans had no fellowship together at that time (John 4:9). But would that Samaritan have been accepted at the Jerusalem temple among the Levitical priests? What about the fellowship the ten had in their shared leprous condition? They were outcasts bound together, by their shared uncleanness! Now that the ten were clean would the racial religious barrier between Jew and Samaritan be restored in the lives of the ten? Would the nine return to the old order and the old ways of the Pharisaical Jews and would the racial barrier between Jew and Samaritan be restored? The story shows us that Jesus is God’s Messiah and the savior of Jews and Samaritans. There is a new allegiance that supersedes the alliance to the Mosaic system, the Levitical priesthood and the Jerusalem temple. There is a new order and a new people with primary alliance to Messiah Jesus! God is working his restorative healing power through his Messianic King Jesus who has ushered in the new Messianic age and alliance to Jesus must be our supreme alliance. Jesus is the savior of Jews and Samaritans and Gentiles as well. Jesus becomes God’s new dwelling place where we can meet with our God! King Jesus has broken down the barriers to genuine fellowship with God and with God’s people. Jesus becomes the embodiment of Israel’s God and the very presence of God and we are to fall at his feet in grateful praise and rise up in obedience to his word (Luke 17:17-19)! 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Unworthy Servant!

 Luke 17:1-10

Jesus is talking to his disciples and he brings up the things that entice others to sin or cause people to stumble in their faith. These enticing things Jesus says are inevitable, they are bound to come. It’s even impossible for them not to come in one form or another in this fallen world. However, Jesus warns his disciple that it would actually be better to drown in the sea tied to a large millstone than to be the source or cause of the stumbling of a ‘little one’.  Jesus warns his disciple to watch themselves so that they do not become the means through which a temptation or enticement comes in the lives of others. Jesus says watch out that you don’t become someone else’s excuse not to worship and serve the Lord. (17:1-3)

Now Jesus after warning his disciple against negatively influencing others, he then gives some teaching on sin and forgiveness. First Jesus says that when your ‘brother or sister’ sins against you, then you have an obligation to confront them by rebuking them. This is not heavy handed or harsh, but it gives the offender the opportunity to take responsibility for their sinful actions. We can’t simply avoid them and hold resentment in our hearts, but we must confront for the sake of the relationship and for the good of the offender. Then when they do acknowledge their sin and repent it becomes our responsibility to extend the grace and forgiveness that we have experienced from God himself through Jesus Christ. So we are to rebuke and when they repent we are to forgive. However, we are to continually and repeatedly forgive even when our brother or sister offends us over and over again. The Rabbis of Jesus day said you should forgive up to three times. However, here Jesus says seven times. Also in Matthew 18, when Peter asked if he should forgive seven times Jesus said that it should be seventy seven times. Seven, being a complete number, is however as many times as it takes and this not above or beyond what God extends to us. After all we struggle and fall in the same areas again and again and God forgive us over and over again.

5 The apostles found the confronting, rebuking and forgiving of others to be a rather difficult command to accept and so they asked Jesus for more faith. They felt they needed great faith to forgive so many times, but Jesus said that they only needy faith as small as a mustard seed. If they had faith in the right object, faith in the person and work of Messiah Jesus, then they could say to a mulberry tree be uprooted and be planted into the sea. In others words, if someone continually repeats the same sin against us again and again we only need a ‘little gospel faith’ to extend the forgiveness we ourselves have received. This is because God extends his forgiveness to us ‘in Christ’ again and again for we all struggle and sin in the same ways repeatedly. God does not keep a record of wrongs, but he removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:11-12). The apostles need persevering and empowering faith to be bold to rebuke and to be patient enough to repeatedly extend the forgiveness of sins to our offenders. We forgive because that is what God has done for us in sending Jesus to live the life we that we should have lived and die the death that we deserve to die.  

Note that this is not about doing impressive miracles such as clearing a piece of property of trees for timbers or in order to construct a building without the need of earth moving equipment. As far as we know, no one has ever literally done that. However, no impediment remains for the extending of the forgiveness of sins for those who have received that abundant grace and forgiveness that is ours through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. In the light of the abundant provision of grace and forgiveness that God has poured out freely upon us ‘in Christ’ who are we to withhold what we have freely received (See Matthew 18:32-33)?

Now Jesus goes on to say that this takes only a little faith placed in the right place, and he also implies that this is not above the call of duty for his followers. He says that a master doesn’t say to his servant who comes in from the field or from watching sheep to sit down and enjoy their dinner. No, the master rightly says, ‘Get things ready, prepare my dinner and wait on me while I eat and drink; then after that you may eat and drink’? In summary Jesus says that the servant ought not to expect to hear their master say thank you for doing what the servant was commanded to do. In other words, we are commanded to rebuke our offenders and to extend forgiveness whenever and wherever it is needed. We are commanded to forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven God (Luke 11:4) and when we do this we are like the ‘unworthy servant’. We are commanded to watch least we cause others to stumble, to rebuke those who sin against us and to extend the forgiveness of sins we have received from God ‘in Christ’. When we do this we have only done our duty! Praise God for enabling us by his grace to obey, but let us not think that we have gone above and beyond what God requires of believers. God forbid, that we think that we have put God in our debt. No, we have only done what God requires of us and we ought to thank him for his super abounding grace!  (17:7-10)