Humility and the Kingdom

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:9-17, “Humility and the Kingdom”

There’s an old country song by Mac Davis that says, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”  That sort of ego can be funny in a song, but it’s downright condemning when it comes to reality.  Egotistical pride kills.  That sort of pride is bathed in self-righteousness, and hell will be full of self-righteous people.

Keep in mind that our culture defines “self-righteousness” differently than the Bible.  To our culture, the self-righteous person is the morally smug person, thinking him/herself better than everyone else.  (And certainly, that sort of attitude is condemned in the Scriptures as well.)  Yet Biblically speaking, self-righteousness is bigger than that.  Someone who’s nice & kind can still be self-righteous.  Self-righteousness doesn’t necessarily define one’s attitude towards other people; it defines one’s attitude towards God.  The self-righteous person believes that his/her own works are sufficient to please God – that he/she has enough righteousness on his own, and does not need the righteousness of God given to them.

Granted, if you do a search within the Bible for the term “self-righteousness,” you won’t find it. (Which itself ought to be a good indication that people shouldn’t have this attitude!)  But if you search for “righteousness,” you routinely find that this is a quality in which men & women fall far short, and it is something that only God is & only God can give.  In short, we need righteousness, and it’s not something we can achieve on our own.  Self-righteousness is no righteousness at all.  That’s why self-righteous egotistical pride kills.  As long as someone believes that he/she is “good enough” to get into heaven on their own, they will never seek the help and grace of God.

That’s where humility comes in.  A person who’s truly humble understands his/her sinful state apart from God.  A humble person sees his/her own sin for what it truly is, and that’s exactly what causes him/her to cling to Jesus.  The humble person knows that our only hope is Christ, and that’s what makes us fully dependent upon Him.

All of this is what Jesus communicates to the people around Him in the 18th chapter of Luke.  Luke’s narrative is drawing nearer & nearer to the cross, and Jesus is pounding home the message that people need to be saved.  No one can work or buy his/her way into heaven – without the grace of God, no one is going into the kingdom.

Remember, the kingdom of God is the context in which Luke has shown Jesus teaching in the last few events, to both the Pharisees and His disciples.  The Pharisees were not ready for the kingdom, because they did not recognize the King among them.  They wanted to see things according to their expectations, rather than how they really were (and according to the word of God).  On the other hand, the disciples did know the King, so they were to be vigilant and ready for His return.  Although every eye would see Jesus in the future, not every person would experience His salvation, and be brought into His kingdom.  Who would be saved?  Those who had faith – those who truly trusted the Lord.  God can be trusted, being the opposite of an evil, selfish judge who has to be nagged into action.  God is good, loving, merciful, and zealous for His people.  Our faith is well-founded in Him.

With all that said, Jesus now describes what true faith looks like.  Those who sincerely trust the Lord, depending upon Him alone to save them from doom understand that they cannot (they dare not!) depend upon themselves.  We have nothing to offer God except faith – and even that is a gift from Him. (Eph 2:8-9)  Salvation – entrance into the kingdom of God comes only through humble trust.  It comes through the humble understanding & faith that unless Jesus saves, no one is saved.

Salvation comes to the humble.  Humble yourself in the sight of Jesus, and receive the gift He offers!

Luke 18:9–17

  • Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (9-14)

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

  • As with the previous parable, Luke gives us the purpose up front – or at least, the intended audience.  In the parable of the widow & the wicked judge, Luke specifically states Jesus’ purpose, with His intent of the parable being that “men always ought to pray and not lose heart.  That’s a clear purpose!  Here, Luke also gives clarity, but it is regarding the audience.  Many people followed Jesus from place to place, listening to His teaching & witnessing His miracles, but only a few had faith.  Apparently there were some among them who had faith, not in Jesus, but “in themselves.”  It was not uncommon for Pharisees to be among the crowds listening to Jesus, but the idea of self-righteousness is not limited to the party of the Pharisees.  Anyone can fall prey to prideful self-righteousness, trusting in themselves, believing their own good works proves them to be “righteous.
    • Self-righteousness is the essence of all works-based religions (which is all of them, except Biblical Christianity).  Boil every other religion down to its bare-bones basics, and all of them are based on some form of self-righteousness.  If you work hard enough, you’ll get into heaven.  If you go through the right rituals, then you’ll experience eternity.  If you’re kind enough to enough people, then you’ll get reincarnated, etc.  Whatever form of salvation other religions teach, it’s all available if a person just does the right stuff in the right way at the right time.  That’s 100% self-righteousness.  It’s trusting in oneself to earn a wage of paradise.
    • And it’s not at all what the Bible teaches!  The Bible teaches that no one is righteous, no not one. (Rom 3:10)  It teaches that even our best attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags in comparison with God. (Isa 64:6)  One of the clearest pictures of the futility of self-righteousness occurs in the Garden of Eden right after Adam & Eve ate of the Forbidden Fruit.  What was it they clothed themselves with?  Fig leaves.  Figs may be tasty to eat, but their tree leaves are woefully insufficient clothing.  God had to clothe them – they had to receive of His work.  Their righteousness failed; only God could provide for them. 
  • Notice that it’s not enough that people justified themselves, but they also had to look down on others.  They “despised others,” treating them with disdain, thinking other people beneath them.  They were proud in their own attempts at righteousness & believed no one else came close to their own superficial standards.  It wasn’t enough for them to blow up their own ego; they had to deflate their neighbor’s ego at the same time. 
    • That’s always the way this attitude works.  These two things go hand-in-hand.  After all, how else could someone believe him/herself to be righteous, unless there’s another person out there that could be compared as a “worse” sinner? We certainly can’t compare ourselves to the true standard (i.e. God & His perfection) – if we did, we all fail.  Thus we’ve got to compare ourselves with one another in order to pat ourselves on the back & congratulate ourselves on our righteousness & good works.
    • The problem?  No matter to whom we compare ourselves, we’re still doomed!  What good is it for one dying man to say to another that he’s dying of a slightly “less” lethal disease?  “Oh, you’ve got cancer…I’m only dying of a heart attack.”  The end result is the same.  Two people on death row have no cause to compare themselves on which set of crimes was worse…they face the same punishment.  Likewise with us comparing ourselves to one another regarding sin.  What does it matter if your neighbor appears to sin more overtly than you do?  The wages of sin is still death. (Rom 6:23)  If you’ve broken the law in one point, you’re guilty of breaking the entire thing. (Jas 2:10)  Comparing ourselves with one another does not prove one person righteous & the other guilty; it just means we’re both guilty!
  • Of course, this is exactly the reason Jesus taught this parable.  This is what people (particularly the Pharisees) needed to understand.  Entrance into the kingdom of God would not come by keeping the law of Moses, because no one could.  If that was the requirement, then the kingdom could not exist…none would qualify as citizens!  The Jews (and everyone else) needed to understand their helpless estate in order for them to cry out for help.  They needed to know that there is no such thing as self-righteousness.  It is an illusion & a lie we sell ourselves to make us feel better about our wretched state of sin.
    • BTW – if this sort of language sounds a bit harsh, it’s meant to be.  Not in a sense of being rude & holier-than-thou, but in a sense of urgency.  We need to wake up to our utter lack of righteousness, and sometimes it takes a shocking splash of cold water to do it.  Jesus did the same thing, shown by the extreme examples He gave within the parable.  Vs. 10…

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

  • There is an immediate contrast between the two men simply by listing them by their occupation.  To 21st century Christians, it may not be so obvious, but we need to try to read the Scripture through 1st century eyes.  To us, being called a “Pharisee” is insulting; to the Jews listening to Jesus, the Pharisees were the pinnacle of righteousness.  They were the ones who kept the law to the Nth degree – they were the ones to teach everyone else how to keep the law.  They were admired, and if anyone was righteous, it was them.  Even Paul recalled how when he was a Pharisee, he considered himself “blameless,” concerning the righteousness in the law. (Phil 3:6)  That was simply the common view of the day.
  • The tax-collector, on the other hand, was the ultimate example of sinfulness.  These were the national traitors to the Jews, being employed by the occupation Roman government, and often swindling their countrymen out of more money than what was due.  Tax collectors were despised by the Jews, and many of them lived up to their reputations.  To the Jews listening to Jesus, they would have automatically have seen the Pharisee as the good guy & the tax collector as the bad guy. [white hat vs. black hat]
  • Notice that they bothwent up to the temple to pray.”  In the parable, both men were Jews – both were covenant members of God’s community & nation.  They start out the same way with the same culture & background, yet it was their lifestyle that differentiated them…or so it would seem.  Jesus will show that they have far more in common than what either of them think, and the one who has more hope is actually the one least expected.
  • Jesus begins with the Pharisee.  Vs. 11…

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

  • Before looking at the content of the prayer, note the audience of the prayer: “himself.”  The Greek is a little difficult to translate here, but it seems fairly certain that out of the possibilities of translation, the one that least fits is that he “prayed thus by himself.”  The grammar really points to this “with himself,” or even “to himself.”  Although it’s true that he mentions God at the start of his prayer, it seems that was mere ritual & formality.  The Pharisee wasn’t really praying to God; he was praying to hear himself talk.  He was praying to hear his own self-justifications.
  • And how arrogant he was!  Standing in near proximity to the tax collector, the Pharisee lists off the worst of sinners, seemingly pointing out that specific tax collector as the bottom of the barrel.  The Pharisee had no hesitation in lumping his neighbor in with criminals and adulterers.  He had no idea what was in the heart of the man next to him; being a tax collector was reason enough for total condemnation.
    • Before we condemn the Pharisee too much, take care…we can engage in just as much arrogance towards others.  How many times have we judged a person simply by his/her looks?  Maybe she’s dressed in a certain way – maybe he’s got tattoos that are unavoidable – maybe there’s a certain smell or demeanor, etc.  Be careful!  We haven’t any clue what is in the heart of our neighbor.  Maybe they are a fellow Christian, or shortly on their way to being one.  We’ll never know if we’re constantly prejudging them.
  • How did the Pharisee (supposedly) prove his righteousness?  By pointing to his works.  Even though the law of Moses only commanded fasting one time per year (the Day of Atonement), Jewish custom developed into fasting twice per week.  That, he did – religiously (in the worst sense of the word).  In addition, he was a faithful tither.  Not only did he give 10% of his income (the Greek word literally referring to “out of 10”), but he gave a tithe out of every possible possession.  As Jesus observed of the Pharisees at another time, this man would have tithed of his spices (mint, anise, cumin – Mt 23:23), and anything else that would have come into his household.
    • Question: are either of those two practices bad?  Are they inherently evil?  Not at all!  The Bible commends fasting & faithful giving…when done rightly.  When done with a humble heart seeking the Lord God, fasting is a wonderful practice as we learn to depend upon Him for daily sustenance and strength.  It can even be an expression of our grief regarding sin, as we turn to Him in confession and repentance.  Likewise, financial giving can be an act of joyful worship, as we thank the Lord for the provision He’s given us.  It can be a sign of our dependence upon God, trusting Him to give us everything we need to live and serve Him in His kingdom.  Truly, these two practices can be good!
    • When do they turn bad?  When (1) they are twisted into legalism imposed upon others, and (2, per the context) when they are used to justify oneself apart from the grace of God.  At that point, what could be acts of worship become nothing more than acts of work, devoid of any real spiritual meaning.
  • Keep in mind that to this point in the parable, it’s unlikely that any of Jesus’ listeners would have thought too much wrong.  Remember, we need to read this through 1st century eyes.  To the Jews at the time, perhaps the Pharisee would have sounded a bit boastful, but they would have readily agreed with the bulk of what he said.  It was good not to be like overt sinners like adulterers & tax collectors.  It was good to fast & tithe.  What was wrong with any of this?  Jesus shows them.  It quickly becomes apparent that all of this was external.  External practices are good, but they cannot replace the internal attitude of one’s heart towards God.  Someone can be outwardly as religious as possible, engaging in all kinds of ritual & good works – but without a humble heart transformed by Christ, everything else is ultimately worthless. 

13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

  • Take a moment to look at the various points of contrasts between the two men.  The first is obvious: one’s a Pharisee & the other a tax collector.  Both have gone to the temple, and both have stood to pray (a cultural norm at the time).  But whereas the Pharisee lifted up his voice in a boast, the tax collector “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven.”  He wouldn’t even look up, understanding that he had no right to seek God in the first place.  Whereas the Pharisee grandstanded in his arrogance thinking himself better than other men, the tax collector “beat his breast,” knowing that he was fully deserving of the judgment of God.  Whereas the Pharisee listed off his various accomplishments, the tax collector labeled himself as he truly was: “the sinner,” as he simply pled for God’s mercy to be extended to him.  Truly, they could not have been more opposed in their approach to God if they tried!
  • NKJV: “a sinner.” A bit of this translation (reflected in most English versions, NASB excepted) can be a bit misleading.  “A sinner (τῳ ἁμαρτωλῳ [tōi hamartōlōi]). The sinner, not a sinner. It is curious how modern scholars ignore this Greek article. The main point in the contrast lies in this article. The Pharisee thought of others as sinners. The publican thinks of himself alone as the sinner, not of others at all.” (Robertson)  Exactly right!  The tax collector didn’t think to compare himself with others.  Knowing himself the way he did, it was as if no other sinners even existed.  He alone was standing before God, and he knew he deserved the fiercest of God’s fury.
    • WE are the sinner!  When men & women stand before God in judgment, not a single person will be judged in comparison with others.  The books will be open, and each one will be judged according to his own works. (Rev 20:13)  There’s no grading on a curve – there’s no sliding scale.  Sin is sin, and we alone are responsible for our sins against God.  That leaves each man and woman as the sinner.  That may be a sobering perspective, but it’s the right one.
  • What was it that the tax collector asked? “God, be merciful to me.”  The Greek word choice is very interesting, as it is not derived from the word normally translated into English as “mercy.”  That word (ἐλεέω) speaks more of kindness, compassion, and pity.  It is frequently an emotional term, often referring to the favor of God bestowed upon His people.  This word (ἱλάσκομαι) is different.  It actually speaks more directly of atonement.  In fact, the noun form of the word can be translated as “propitiation,” or “expiation.”  Here, the verb form is used, and it refers to much the same thing.  Certainly the context can refer to graciousness, but it is graciousness with a purpose: in order to satisfy the righteous anger of God.  The idea here is that this is more than emotion, and asking God to be nice to the tax collector; it’s the tax collector asking God to deal directly with his sin, and remove him from bloodguilt.  He’s asking for pardon – for forgiveness.
    • That is exactly what we need!  We need to have our sins removed from us – we need to be released from the punishment that we are due.  And that’s what Jesus does through the cross!
  • To get to this point, what needed to happen?  The tax collector understood (1) that he deserved the judgment of God, and (2) that his only hope for the future was that God would turn away from judgment. This is completely the opposite of self-righteousness; this is utter dependence.  This is more than needing God to give him a little “push” to get into heaven; this is him needing God to breathe into him life. 
  • BTW – In Evangelicalism, we sometimes talk about the “Sinner’s Prayer,” in terms of conversion.  The gospel is presented, and a person is led line-by-line through a prayer that says something like “Dear God, I admit that I’m a sinner.  I believe that Jesus is your Son who died for me at the cross, rose from the grave, and makes it possible for me to be forgiven.  Right now, I confess to you my sins & commit my life to Jesus, asking Him to be my Lord & Savior…”  That’s not a bad prayer by any stretch of the imagination – the concepts are Biblical, even if the exact phrases aren’t found in the Scripture.  The prayer of the tax collector, on the other hand, is.  (1) He prays to the true God, (2) he makes no pretense about his sinful state, understanding himself for exactly what he is, and (3) he pleads for God’s atoning work for mercy & forgiveness, which we know is only available through Jesus Christ. 
    • We don’t have to quote Evangelicalism’s version of the Sinner’s Prayer exactly right to be saved; we need the heart attitude of the tax-collector with his sinner’s prayer, and the faith that Jesus is exactly who the Bible proclaims Him to be.  Romans 10:9, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  It’s that simple. (Not easy; but simple.)
  • What was the result of it all?  Vs. 14…

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • All of the expectations of the people were flipped on their heads as Jesus wrapped up the parable.  It was the tax collector who was “justified;” not the Pharisee.  The sinner was made righteous, and the self-righteous man was exposed as the sinner he was.  How could this be?  Only one had the right heart.  Only one was humbly submitted to God, thus only one was ready to be justified by God.  The Pharisee never saw the need to be justified, so he never received it.  To be justified is to be made right.  The tax collector knew his life needed to be made right; the Pharisee didn’t, thus he didn’t seek God for it.
    • We cannot offer God any self-righteousness; we must be made righteous, and that only happens through a work of His grace.
  • All of this is wrapped up with an idea that Jesus has repeated on other occasions: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  It may sound like a paradox, but it’s absolutely true.  If we promote ourselves unto God as righteous men & women, then we will be put down – exposed as the unrighteous sinners we are.  Yet if we humbly admit our sin, crying out to Jesus for help, then that is when we will be raised to a position of true righteousness, and even be made into the children of God.   James 4:6, "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”"  The humble receive grace – the humble are exalted. 

It would be easy to stop there, but Luke gives another event that drives all of this home.  To this point, Jesus has taught about humility, but the lesson is sometimes slow to sink into the ears of the people around Him.  That’s where a visual illustration comes into play, and an opportunity soon presented itself in the form of young children.  Vs. 15…

  • Example of the Children (15-17)

15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

  • When exactly this happened in relation to the parable is unknown.  Out of the Synoptic writers, Luke alone gives the parable of the Pharisee & tax collector.  This encounter with the children, on the other hand, is recorded by Matthew & Mark as well.  It’s possible that this happened at the same time, or it’s as equally possible that weeks passed in-between.  Luke doesn’t always provide a straight-forward chronology, but that wasn’t really his purpose.  He wrote to give a full picture of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah/Son of God; chronology was secondary (for the most part).  Everything Luke recorded was 100% accurate, even when time-stamps aren’t easily discerned.
  • The bottom line is that at some point, “infants” were brought to Jesus.  Often, we think of Jesus receiving little children, but we don’t often consider how young some of them were.  The word used by Luke could refer to anything from a babe-in-the-womb to a toddler, “infants” being an entirely appropriate translation.  Matthew notes that the touch of Jesus was intended for Him to pray over the babies (Mt 19:13), whereas Mark says that when Jesus did get to touch them, He blessed them (Mt 10:16).  IOW, the babes were not brought for simple play-time (though there’s nothing wrong with that); there was a purpose in bringing them.  Parents wanted their children prayed over by Jesus & blessed by Him, so they brought them to Him to receive it.
    • In a sense, this isn’t too different as what we do when we have Baby Dedications.  We pray over the children, asking Jesus to bless them, to help them come to saving faith at an early age, and to guide their parents in raising them in sound doctrine.  It’s not infant baptism, and that wasn’t at all what happened in this event with Jesus.  Nowhere in any of this does Jesus pronounce these babies as forever saved, without need for later faith.  He simply desires to receive them, to bless them, and then point to them as an example for the faith we ought to have.
    • With all due respect to otherwise godly teachers who hold to infant baptism, this is a doctrine completely unsupported by the Scriptures.  Baptism is a public declaration of someone’s saving faith in Christ; it neither saves someone through the ritual, nor is it the means by which infants can be received as covenant members of the church.  Biblically speaking, baptism is only shown as received by people who understood what they were doing (of a variety of ages); it’s never something that imposed on someone unable to respond.
  • In any case, Jesus wanted to receive the children, but His disciples were acting as too-strict of gatekeepers.  The disciples “rebuked” the parents who brought their babies.  For those of us who value children’s ministry so highly, it’s difficult for us to understand how the disciples could have acted in such a way, but we need to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Surely they believed they were acting in Jesus’ best interest, trying to keep distractions away from Him.  Children were viewed different in that culture than today, being much more along the lines of “seen and not heard.”  The disciples simply did what most other Jews of the day would have done.
  • Even so, Jesus rebuked the rebukers.  Vs. 16…

16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.

  • Jesus didn’t want to be shielded from the children; to the contrary – He wanted them to come!  His command to the disciples was to let them come, not forbidding them or standing in the way of them.  Who should be stopped from coming to Jesus?  No one!  It doesn’t matter what age someone might be, if they have an opportunity to be introduced to Jesus, then that opportunity should be taken.
    • Obviously these children had a unique opportunity: to be physically held by the incarnate Son of God.  That’s something we cannot experience today.  Even so, we can still be prayed over by Him – we can still be introduced to Him.  And if that’s something we’ve experienced, how could we restrict or hinder someone else from doing the same thing?  It ought to be unthinkable to us!
    • Question: Can we forbid/hinder little children from Jesus today?  Yes – and it happens all too often.  When parents don’t introduce their children to Scripture (even at a level they can understand), they are hindering their children from Jesus.  When parents act as spiritual hypocrites, forcing their kids to go to church while they themselves sleep in, they’re becoming stumbling blocks to faith (i.e., hindering their children from Jesus).  There are all kinds of ways parents (and other adults) and stumble little children away from Jesus…we need to beware!  Jesus desires these children to come to Him, and who are we to stop them?
  • Why did Jesus want them to come?  “For of such is the kingdom of God.”  NASB, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Did Jesus declare these infants to be saved?  No.  Questions regarding the “age of accountability” aside, that wasn’t His point.  He wasn’t saying that these children had expressed any faith in Him, and that their eternal salvation was guaranteed, no matter what age to which they grew.  He was pointing to them as an example of those who do have faith, and enter the kingdom of God.  If there’s any question about what Jesus meant, He clears it up in the next verse…

17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

  • Note: Jesus did not say that every little baby He held that day would most certainly enter the kingdom in the future; He showed an example of how someone does enter the kingdom.  Again, these were not children who were declared automatically saved & ready to be baptized – that is a different issue entirely.  His point is regarding how anyone is saved.  Those who desire to enter the kingdom of God must do so “as a little child.
  • Of course, none of that matters if we don’t understand what Jesus meant when He spoke of receiving the kingdom as a little child.  Are we to regress in our understanding & maturity?  Are we to do (as Nicodemus suggested in John 3) that we re-enter our mothers’ wombs and be physically born all over again?  No.  What Jesus speaks of here is what He spoke of in the previous parable: humility.  How is a little baby brought to Jesus?  He/she must be brought.  A baby cannot walk to Jesus, cannot prove himself worthy of Jesus’ affections, cannot offer anything to Jesus that He does not already have.  A baby is completely helpless in every sense of the word.  Apart from breathing on his own, a baby must have everything else done for him/her: get fed, get changed, get burped, get bathed, etc.  A baby is the ultimate picture of humility because a baby is totally dependent upon his/her parents.  There is zero self-righteousness in a baby.  Not only does the baby not have any righteousness to offer, but a baby wouldn’t even grasp the concept of self-righteousness in the first place!
    • The point?  The one who desires to enter the kingdom of God must receive it as a little child.  We only enter the kingdom by admitting our helplessness.  We have to give up trying to earn it for ourselves, and cast ourselves solely upon the mercies of Jesus, being totally dependent upon Him.  
  • What happens if you don’t?  Then you “will by no means enter it.”  There’s no two-ways about it.  There’s no alternative means into heaven & eternal life.  A person who thinks, “Oh that Jesus-stuff is okay for everyone else, but I’ve got my own way to heaven,” is fooling himself.  There is only one way in: humble, dependent faith in Jesus Christ.  John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."  Jesus is it.  Apart from Him, you will by no means enter the kingdom of God.

Conclusion:
Humble, dependent faith in Christ…that alone is the way we receive eternal life.  That alone is what God uses to justify us – to set us right in His sight.  Any attempt at self-righteousness / self-justification is a fools’ errand – it’s a waste of time.  To think that we’re going to heaven because we’re “better” than the next guy is to claim that the lethal poison we drank is somehow going to leave us “less dead” than the poison the other guy drank.  In ourselves, we’re lost.  The Pharisee in the parable believed himself to be righteous due to his outward actions, but inwardly, he was just as sinful as every other extortioner, adulterer, and tax collector.  Ironically it was the tax collector that understood his own helplessness.  He cried out like a little child to God, humbly asking for true forgiveness…and that is exactly what he received.

That same forgiveness is available to all of us.  Thankfully, we have received it when we entrusted ourselves to Jesus, asking Him to be our Lord & Savior.  We were completely forgiven our past, transformed into new creations, and given a sure promise of eternal life.  So what now?  Don’t get cocky!  How easy it is to take the grace of God for granted, and slowly have our attitude change from that of a humble dependent child to a self-righteous Pharisee, looking down on others.  Yes, we want to rejoice in the salvation we have received, but may we never forget from whence we came!  Even the apostle Paul, after many years of ministry, still remembered how wretched a sinner he was, calling himself the chief of all sinners. (1 Tim 1:15)  He was a man who never forgot his utter dependence…may we be the same way.

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The Day Is On the Way

Posted: September 16, 2017 in Zephaniah

Zephaniah 1-3, “The Day Is On the Way”

Sometimes we have days that we look forward to. Other times we have days that we dread.  Rarely do we have any days we can avoid.  These things are going to come, one way or the other.  This is especially true when it comes to the prophecies of God.  These days are most certainly going to come, without any way of avoiding them.  All we can do is be ready when they arrive.

The short book of Zephaniah speaks of a couple of those days in particular, both of which could be labeled as the Day of the Lord.  Typically, when we think of that concept, it’s in terms of eschatology (end times) – i.e., the final day of God’s judgment when Jesus comes back to earth and sets up His kingdom.  But there’s another way of thinking of that phrase: in terms of the nearer, more immediate judgment of God, as when God judges a particular nation for their sin.

For Zephaniah, both “Days” are in view: near & far; immediate & future.  He gives prophecies regarding the immediate judgment of God that was to fall upon the Jews of Jerusalem (a day which they dread), but also prophecies regarding the future judgment of God that falls upon the rest of the world (a day in which they can rejoice).

Historically speaking, one has already come to pass…one is still on the way.  Are you ready?

Zephaniah 1
1 The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

  • Although we don’t know a lot about Zephaniah, we certainly have more information for him than for other prophets (such as Habakkuk).  His name means “The LORD conceals” or “concealed by the LORD,” which is a bit ironic considering that as a prophet, he revealed the word of the Lord to others.  His family history is interesting in that he seems to have some form of royal lineage, being descended from King Hezekiah.  This would have given him a unique perspective on the sins of the Jewish leaders (which he specifically addresses).  God used all kinds of people as His prophets: shepherds, kings, farmers, unknowns.  It doesn’t matter what a person’s background might be; it only matters what the Lord decides to do with him/her.
  • The “days of Josiah” were significant.  Remember that it was during Josiah’s reign that Hilkiah the high priest discovered a Torah scroll in the temple.  How bad was the spiritual state of Israel?  The Scriptures were completely lost!  Thankfully, they were found, and upon having them read to him, Josiah tore his clothes in shock & repentance, and instituted a series of reforms in the kingdom. (2 Kings 22)  We don’t know exactly when Zephaniah gave this word of judgment, but perhaps this prophecy was given in conjunction with the discovery of the Scriptures.  God’s written word & God’s prophetic word would bear witness with one another in proclaiming His judgment.
  • The Ultimate Day: the world (1:2-3)

2 “I will utterly consume everything From the face of the land,” Says the LORD; 3 “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, The fish of the sea, And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,” Says the LORD.

  • The description of the Day of the Lord begins with a description of the Ultimate Day – the Final Day.  There is a day coming in which God will pour out His wrath upon all the earth.
  • What will be affected?  Everything!  God speaks of “consuming” (bringing to an end) everything in all Creation.  In fact, listing things off in the reverse order of which they were created.  This is affirmed in the NT as well.  All of Creation will be affected, judged, and remade.  2 Peter 3:10–12, "(10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (11) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?"  Everything consumed, burned up, remade.  The Day will come; the only question for people is: how will they be found on that Day?
  • But it’s not just the far future that God has in mind, or pictures for Zephaniah.  There is a nearer Day, in which the kingdom of Judah would be judged.  That’s what the bulk of the prophecy speaks of.  Vs. 4…
  • The Soon Day: Judah (1:4-18)

4 “I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests 5 Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the LORD, But who also swear by Milcom; 6 Those who have turned back from following the LORD, And have not sought the LORD, nor inquired of Him.”

  • Judah and Jerusalem specifically mentioned.  It’s not just the generic “world” that is judged by God; it is His own covenant people.
  • All idolatry among the Jews would be dealt with in the same way God promised to deal with other wicked men throughout the whole earth (vs. 3): it would be “cut off.
  • And it wasn’t just idolatry – double-mindedness, syncretism, and apostasy among the Jews would also be judged.
  • Why?  God’s people are to be holy.  They (we) are to be set apart unto Him, worshipping Him alone.  The Great Commandment is for us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  We can’t do that when we’re constantly giving our heart to other things.
  • Keep in mind that many of the Jews believed themselves exempt from God’s judgment, simply because they were ethnic Hebrews.  Since they had the appearance of belonging to God, they thought themselves safe.  Not so!  It’s no different today.  Many people believe themselves to be exempt from God’s wrath because they have a church membership, or they are from a Christian family.  Yet that’s all superficial – in practice, they give their hearts to other gods, or choose not to follow the true God at all (just like the ancient Jews).  They don’t seek Jesus – they don’t inquire of Him or know Him.  And likewise, they can be assured of judgment.

7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; For the day of the LORD is at hand, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.

  • What is the proper response to the judgment of God?  Holy awe and reverence.  The “sacrifice” spoken of here is not the substitution of Jesus for sinful people; it is the sinful people themselves.  They are the “guests,” in much the same way that a turkey is the “guest of honor” at Thanksgiving dinner.  They were to expect judgment in the Day of the Lord, and it was something to be feared and treated with holy humility.
  • Thankfully, it is different for those of us in Christ Jesus.  He is our sacrifice, our substitution.  Yet we are still to treat Him with holy awe.  He deserves nothing less…
  • This day of sacrifice (i.e. the near Day of the Lord) is described.  Vs. 8…

8 “And it shall be, In the day of the LORD’s sacrifice, That I will punish the princes and the king’s children, And all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. 9 In the same day I will punish All those who leap over the threshold, Who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.

  • The royal family of Jerusalem was not exempt.  They were guilty of just as much sin – the “foreign apparel” perhaps being a reference to foreign religious garb, or reliance upon other foreign gods or political ties.  Whatever the specific reference, they weren’t relying upon the Lord.  They weren’t acting as His people, and thus they would be judged.
  • Their servants were no better, engaging in sin (“violence and deceit”) at every turn.  No person was holy, none was righteous.  The psalms & the apostle Paul affirm the same thing: No one is righteous, no not one!
  • All had sinned, so all would face judgment, wherever they might live within the city.  Vs. 10…

10 “And there shall be on that day,” says the LORD, “The sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, A wailing from the Second Quarter, And a loud crashing from the hills. 11 Wail, you inhabitants of Maktesh! For all the merchant people are cut down; All those who handle money are cut off.

  • Scholars are not quite certain of all of the specific locations, but these all seem to be references to different districts within Jerusalem.  Not one corner of the city was safe.  And indeed, it wasn’t.  When the Babylonians came, the entire city suffered a long siege, and every single citizen within was affected.
  • There would also be no place to hide.  Vs. 12…

12 “And it shall come to pass at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And punish the men Who are settled in complacency, Who say in their heart, ‘The LORD will not do good, Nor will He do evil.’ 13 Therefore their goods shall become booty, And their houses a desolation; They shall build houses, but not inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”

  • Complacency kills!  They didn’t believe God one way or the other.  It was the same as not believing in Him at all.
  • The result?  They would experience a reversal of the covenant blessing.  Deuteronomy 6:10–12, "(10) “So it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, (11) houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—(12) then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."  Moses warned them!  Yet that is exactly what happened.  Now they experienced the consequences of their sin.
    • People have the choice to sin…but choices always have consequences.

14 The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out. 15 That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 A day of trumpet and alarm Against the fortified cities And against the high towers.

  • This is true regarding both the near & final Days of the Lord.  Jerusalem would “cry out” because of the devastation brought to them via the Babylonians, and all the world will cry out because of the wrath of God that falls upon them during the Great Tribulation.  They will not have feared God all their lives, but they will fear His power in that Day!
    • This is exactly what Jesus offers to save us from!

17 “I will bring distress upon men, And they shall walk like blind men, Because they have sinned against the LORD; Their blood shall be poured out like dust, And their flesh like refuse.” 18 Neither their silver nor their gold Shall be able to deliver them In the day of the LORD’s wrath; But the whole land shall be devoured By the fire of His jealousy, For He will make speedy riddance Of all those who dwell in the land.

  • Sin has consequences, and the consequence is death.  Because they sinned against Him, “their blood shall be poured out like dust.”  All sin leads to death…there’s simply no avoiding it.
  • But people do try to avoid it.  They turn to their false gods & false beliefs to save them, but nothing works.  The gods (idols) made out of silver and gold can’t do anything.  They cannot breathe, much less act against the Living God.  Even if we think of silver and gold in terms of money, God cannot be bought off through bribery or other kinds of good works.  The justice of God is not so easily averted.
  • What is our one hope?  Jesus!

Zephaniah 2

  • Call to Repentance: Judah and the nations (2:1-3)

1 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable nation, 2 Before the decree is issued, Or the day passes like chaff, Before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!

  • Judah has been called to the carpet, told of the certain coming of the Day of God’s wrath.  So what should they do?  Repent!  They were to “gather together,” acknowledging the fac that they had become an “undesirable nation,” and seek God “before [His] decree” of judgment went forth.  This was the time to seek the Lord: prior to the moment of His fierce “anger” coming upon them.
  • Too many people want to wait.  They think that they’ll deal with God when they see Him after death.  At that point, it will be too late!
  • The invitation to repentance wasn’t just given to the Jews.  Vs. 3…

3 Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, Who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden In the day of the LORD’s anger.

  • It wasn’t just the Jews, but “all you meek of the earth.”  Technically, this could refer to only the meek (humble) in the land of Israel, but considering the transition to Gentile nations beginning in vs. 4, it seems best to see this as a reference to the entire world. Anyone who was willing to humble themselves before God in repentance were invited to do so.
  • What were they to do? “Seek righteousness, seek humility.”  IOW, they were to humble themselves, seeking the Lord God of Israel in faith.  Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."  That was written to Hebrew Christians, but it applies to far more than only Hebrews.  This promise was written concerning men & women who existed before the global flood, i.e., before the Hebrews ever existed!  The only thing God has ever required of men & women was humble, sincere faith.  From that, everything else follows.
  • What happens when we have humble faith in God through the right revelation of God (Christ Jesus)?  We “will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger.”  We will be saved!
  • That was the invitation, but few would follow it.  Especially in the near future – many nations would continue on their path of rebellion against God & their attempt at the humiliation of Israel.  Thus they would face their own judgment.  Vs. 4…
  • Judgment on the Nations. (2:4-15).  Philistines (2:4-7)

4 For Gaza shall be forsaken, And Ashkelon desolate; They shall drive out Ashdod at noonday, And Ekron shall be uprooted. 5 Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, The nation of the Cherethites! The word of the LORD is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines: “I will destroy you; So there shall be no inhabitant.” 6 The seacoast shall be pastures, With shelters for shepherds and folds for flocks. 7 The coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; They shall feed their flocks there; In the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down at evening. For the LORD their God will intervene for them, And return their captives.

  • The Philistines are listed first, with various cities indicated. The point?  Just as Jerusalem would be searched out, so would the Philistines.  No city among them would be left when the judgment of God fell upon them.  God would ensure that this nation would be driven out & destroyed.
  • And so they were.  Although the modern Palestinians often claim ancestral ties to this group, historically speaking, that is absolutely false.  The modern Palestinians are ethnically Arab, having national ties to the Trans-Jordan region; not Philistia.  The ancient Philistines had their ethnic origins closer to Macedonia & Greece, and they travelled by sea to arrive on the west coast of Canaan (alluded to here by the “seacost” and “Cherethites”).  Additionally, this specific people group disappeared from history, being absorbed by the Neo-Babylonian & Persian empires.  The only reason the term “Palestine” exists at all is because the Romans wanted to rename the land of the Jews after a former enemy of theirs, as a form of national humiliation and subjugation.
  • That being the case, every word spoken here has come true.  Truly the Philistines were destroyed by God, and there is no longer any “inhabitant” from among them.  And likewise, the “remnant of the house of Judah” came back to the land, with the region of Judea stretching fully into the land once home to the Philistines.  The “captives” were indeed returned.
    • Application for today: all the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.  It’s not up to United Nations or anyone else to divide out what was sovereignly assigned by God.
  • Moab & Ammon (2:8-11)

8 “I have heard the reproach of Moab, And the insults of the people of Ammon, With which they have reproached My people, And made arrogant threats against their borders. 9 Therefore, as I live,” Says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Surely Moab shall be like Sodom, And the people of Ammon like Gomorrah— Overrun with weeds and saltpits, And a perpetual desolation. The residue of My people shall plunder them, And the remnant of My people shall possess them.” 10 This they shall have for their pride, Because they have reproached and made arrogant threats Against the people of the LORD of hosts. 11 The LORD will be awesome to them, For He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth; People shall worship Him, Each one from his place, Indeed all the shores of the nations.

  • Moab & Ammon were listed next, being ancient cousins of Israel. They had often warred against Israel & Judah, and it seems that they boasted & gloated over the trials experienced by the Hebrews.  They had cursed God’s people, and thus deserved God’s judgment.
    • God is jealous for His people, and promised to act in their defense.  Genesis 12:2–3, "(2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”"  What God promised here, is what He acted upon against Ammon & Moab.  (And it is what He continues to act upon to this very day!)
  • As with the Philistines, God promised to destroy the Moabites & Ammonites, using the picture of Sodom & Gomorrah for how He would do it, and for the permanent nature of their destruction.  There’s no small irony here, in that it was due to the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah that Moab & Ammon came into existence!  (Gen 19)
  • And likewise with the Philistines, this prophecy also came true.  Obviously the lands once possessed by Moab & Ammon still exist today (being mostly the Kingdom of Jordan).  But the people do not.  The ethnic people that once existed there were absorbed by the Nabatean empire, and they faded from history.  They refused to fear the Lord, and raised threats against the people of the Lord, and they thus faced the wrath of the Lord.  Their false gods were reduced to nothing, just like all the false gods from all Gentiles all over the world will one day be.  Those who refuse to acknowledge the awesome (i.e. terrifying) YWHW of armies today will be overwhelmed by Him later on the ultimate/final Day of the Lord.
  • Ethiopia (2:12)

12 “You Ethiopians also, You shall be slain by My sword.”

  • Only the briefest of lines is given to Ethiopia.  The term actually encompasses a greater area than what we think of Ethiopia today.  In ancient times, it was the general areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, & Eritrea, just south of Sudan (which itself is just south of Egypt).  Here again, the kingdom that once existed for centuries was destroyed by God, falling (like others) to the Greeks in the 5th century BC.  This would have seemed bizarre and unthinkable to the Jews of Zephaniah’s day – yet it proved to be absolutely true. (Just like God’s word always is!)
  • Assyria (2:13-15)

13 And He will stretch out His hand against the north, Destroy Assyria, And make Nineveh a desolation, As dry as the wilderness. 14 The herds shall lie down in her midst, Every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars; Their voice shall sing in the windows; Desolation shall be at the threshold; For He will lay bare the cedar work. 15 This is the rejoicing city That dwelt securely, That said in her heart, “I am it, and there is none besides me.” How has she become a desolation, A place for beasts to lie down! Everyone who passes by her Shall hiss and shake his fist.

  • Finally, a word is given regarding the Assyrian empire, specifically the principle city of Nineveh.  Remember that Nineveh had not only been spared the judgment of God once, after the preaching of Jonah, but they had relapsed into sin & were the subject of a prophecy of judgment by Nahum.  It’s possible that Zephaniah and Nahum were writing around the same time period, which provided a double witness to Nineveh’s soon judgment & fall.  As with Ethiopia, this would have been impossible to conceive to the Jews – the Assyrians were simply too powerful.  They were still the world superpower at the time.   How could they be destroyed?  Easy: by the hand & will of God.  Assyria may have boasted in their own strength, but God is stronger than the strongest of empires.  Their arrogance would be brought low.  Although many of the ruins had been rebuilt in modern time (only to be recently destroyed by ISIS), the city of Nineveh had been so wiped out that hardly any ruins at all remained, and conquering armies marched by it without any knowledge of what had previously existed.  Truly, it became a place of “desolation,” where whole “herds” could lie down without disturbance.

So the nations of the world would be judged by God, but did that mean that God was letting Judah off the hook?  No.  Zephaniah had already declared the coming Day of the Lord for Jerusalem, and now he would write why that Day would come.  Ch. 3…

Zephaniah 3

  • Jerusalem’s sin (3:1-7)

1 Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted, To the oppressing city! 2 She has not obeyed His voice, She has not received correction; She has not trusted in the LORD, She has not drawn near to her God. 3 Her princes in her midst are roaring lions; Her judges are evening wolves That leave not a bone till morning. 4 Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people; Her priests have polluted the sanctuary, They have done violence to the law.

  • Jerusalem had completely rebelled against her covenant God.  God had given the people all they needed to know as to how to follow and worship Him, and they simply tossed it all.  She neither listened to God, received correction from God, nor trusted in God.  They were supposedly the people of God, but there was no faith to be found.
  • This was true in every section of society.  Be it the royal princes, the civil judges, the temple priests – even the supposed schooled prophets…all of them were indicted by Zephaniah as godless and sinful.  Be it the political or spiritual leadership of the people, all of them had failed and walked in terrible, willful, violent sin.
  • How long do we expect God to look the other way when His people sin?  Especially in terms of leadership?  Judgment begins at the house of God. (1 Pt 4:17)  If we do not humble ourselves before the Lord in repentance, then we can be sure that the Lord will take steps to humble us!
  • Why?  Vs. 5…

5 The LORD is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame.

  • God is righteous; we’re not.  God is just; we’re not.  Where mankind fails, God excels.  He is perfectly righteous, and because He is, He cannot ignore the blatant sin of His own people.
  • Does this mean we are to fear the fullness of God’s wrath?  No.  Praise the Lord, no!  The wrath of God fell upon Christ, and now we never need fear His eternal judgment.  But that does not exempt us from His hand of discipline.  Quite the contrary: it guarantees it.  It is because God loves us as a Father loves His children that He disciplines us when we sin.  He gives us the opportunity to humble ourselves, but if we don’t take it, He will ensure that humility comes our way.
  • We ought to know better than to continue in sin.  So did Judah.  But humans being humans, they (we) did it anyway.  Vs. 6…

6 “I have cut off nations, Their fortresses are devastated; I have made their streets desolate, With none passing by. Their cities are destroyed; There is no one, no inhabitant. 7 I said, ‘Surely you will fear Me, You will receive instruction’— So that her dwelling would not be cut off, Despite everything for which I punished her. But they rose early and corrupted all their deeds.

  • The Jews had seen what God was capable of.  They had seen God judge other nations in the past, witnessing it firsthand when they initially came into the Promised Land for themselves.  God cast out the other nations, specifically to give it to the Hebrews.  God destroyed the Egyptian army, on behalf of the Hebrews.  Even among the Hebrews, the people had the opportunity to witness the discipline of God among His own people, as the southern Jews witnessed the conquest of northern Israel by Assyria.  They had seen nations “cut off” by God, and they should have learned the lesson.  They didn’t.  Instead, they continued their sin with all their might, and would thus face their own destruction.

So was that it?  Was that all to which the Jews could look forward?  No.  Although they would face a near Day of Judgment, there was also a future Day of Judgment for the rest of the world.  And in that Day, they would not experience God’s wrath; they would experience His mercies!  Vs. 8…

  • A restored remnant (3:8-13)

8 “Therefore wait for Me,” says the LORD, “Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All My fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy.

  • Notice the change.  No longer is God speaking of terms of Israel being the object of His anger; now it is the various “nations.”  The Jews could now wait upon the Lord, knowing that He would rise up against their enemies.  He would do it in the near-term, and He would do it in the far future.  Those other nations would be gathered to His “assembly,” to be “devoured with the fire of [His] jealousy.
  • Do you notice the promise included with all of that?  If the Jews could wait upon the Lord to do this act in His timing, it means that they would need to survive His discipline and judgment in order to witness it.  For all of their sin, and all of the reason they deserved to be exterminated from history, just like the nations that surrounded them, they wouldn’t be.  God would preserve them as a people, and they would survive to His vindication of them.  This is God’s mercy & grace!
    • God gives mercy – God gives grace!  Wait upon Him for it!
  • What will happen in that day?  Vs. 9…

9 “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord. 10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering.

  • KJV & NKJV say “a pure language;” NASB says “purified lips;” ESV “pure speech.”  The picture might call to mind a bit of a reversal of the Tower of Babel, but it has less to do with a single unified language around the world, and more to do with the content of the words that are spoken.  Whereas the nations of the world once blasphemed God, worshipping other false gods, in the future they will see God for who He is and worship Him rightly.  They will “call on [His] name,” and “serve Him with one accord.”  People will come from all over the world to pay homage to God, worshiping Him as the God of the Hebrews.
  • This is exactly how the rest of Scripture describes the days of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ.  Jesus will reign as the King of Israel in Jerusalem, but the extent of His kingdom goes to every end of the earth.  People will come from every nation to serve Him & worship Him.  And Israel will be there to witness it firsthand.  (And so will we!)

11 In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds In which you transgress against Me; For then I will take away from your midst Those who rejoice in your pride, And you shall no longer be haughty In My holy mountain.

  • In the past, the Jews had been prideful in their sins & transgressions.  Those days would be gone.  In the soon future for Judah, they would be humiliated and ashamed during their Babylonian captivity.  In the far future, that reproach would be rolled back from them.  All of those things are dealt with by the grace of God.

12 I will leave in your midst A meek and humble people, And they shall trust in the name of the LORD. 13 The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness And speak no lies, Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; For they shall feed their flocks and lie down, And no one shall make them afraid.”

  • The restored remnant would finally be pure, humble, and obedient.  They would finally experience the national peace for which they longed.
  • BTW – vs. 13 makes it clear that the modern state of Israel has not yet experienced the fulfillment of this promise.  Whereas it’s without question that God has miraculously brought the Israeli state into existence, they are as yet still in spiritual rebellion against Him, because they do not recognize Jesus as Messiah (yet!).  Thus, they do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom.  But they will.  Scripture is absolutely clear on this point, and we do damage to the plain meaning & intent if we try to simply explain this away as a metaphor of the church.  Trust the promise of God that all Israel will be saved. (Rom 11:26)  It will come to pass!
  • And because it will, this is something worth singing about!  Vs. 14…
  • Mutual joy (3:14-20)

14 Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more.

  • Sing – shout – rejoice!  Praise the Lord for His grace – for His mercy – for His promises – for His restoration.  Sing to Him for His forgiveness – for His deliverance from every enemy.  Give praises to Him for His presence & His promises!
  • If that’s something Israel could do, how much more the Church!  Let us lift up our voices with praise, and glorify God with our whole heart!  Think of what He has done, and rejoice!

16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. 17 The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

  • Jerusalem would be weakened in the near day of judgment, but in the future Day of the Lord, they would be strengthened.  They’d have no more need for weakness & trembling, but every reason for rejoicing & praise!
  • What was their promise?  The LORD their God was among them – the Mighty One would save them.  YHWH Elohim, Gibor Yoshua (יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהַ֛יִךְ בְּקִרְבֵּ֖ך גִּבּ֣וֹר יוֹשִׁ֑יעַ )  Do you hear the name (or at least a variant) of Jesus in there?  Jesus IS the Mighty One – He is the One who saves His people.  He is the LORD God among them…among us!
  • What does Jesus do?  He rejoices!  The entire Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) rejoices over His people, lifting up rejoicing in song/shouts of joy.  Think of it this way: God cheers for us!  Just as Jerusalem (and by extension, us) is called to shout joyfully over God, God shouts joyfully over His people.  God is excited by our salvation.
    • How amazing is that?  That He would rejoice over people like us?  Talk about mercy & grace…it’s unfathomable!

18 “I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly, Who are among you, To whom its reproach is a burden. 19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all who afflict you; I will save the lame, And gather those who were driven out; I will appoint them for praise and fame In every land where they were put to shame.

  • No one would be excluded in the future.  God promised to minister to humble & suffering.  God promised to exalt those who had been cast out & put to shame. 
  • Again, think of the comfort this would have been to the Jews.  Yes, they had the certain promise of judgment & suffering…but that’s not all they had.  They had the promise of restoration & joy.  They could look forward to their future with God.  (So can we!)

20 At that time I will bring you back, Even at the time I gather you; For I will give you fame and praise Among all the peoples of the earth, When I return your captives before your eyes,” Says the LORD.

  • God said He would do it, and His promise is that the people would witness it.  This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky promise (God doesn’t give those, anyway).  This isn’t some esoteric spiritual philosophy to make people feel better, but not really do anything.  This is the truth.  Israel would be restored, brought back into their land, and given a name among the nations of the world.  That was the sure word of God. (And we’ve witnessed the beginnings of its fulfillment with our own eyes!)

Conclusion:
Terrible days were on the way – but so was something wonderful!  The near Day of the Lord would bring discipline and judgment to the Jews.  It was not what God desired for them, but that’s what they deserved.  Their sin could not be ignored.  Nor could the sin of the nations of the world.  All would be judged by Him in His holiness.

But Israel had a promise beyond judgment.  They had a promise of restoration.  There is another Day of the Lord coming as well, which is another day of judgment for those in rebellion against God.  But for those who trust the Lord, it will be a day of glory!  It will be a day where Jesus is revealed in all of His wonder & power, and He will finally be seen by every eye for who He really is.  In that day, Israel will be fully restored, and the promises of God will be ultimately fulfilled.  In that day, Israel will not only rejoice over God, but God will rejoice over them.

Amazingly, we don’t have to wait for that day to experience God’s joy.  That’s something we experience right now in Christ!  Know it – live it – respond to it!

And in light of it, may we be carefully aware of our own tendencies to idolatry and sin.  May we remain humble, instead of humbled.  May the reality of Jesus’ joy over us cause us to walk in such a way to give Him joy.

Praying Persistently

Posted: September 10, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:1-8, “Praying Persistently”

When & how should we pray? It’s been often said that we should “pray, pray again, and then pray some more!” (Original source unknown) That’s not mere Christian-motivational talk; it’s Biblical. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they should “pray without ceasing.” (1 Ths 5:17) To the Ephesians, he wrote that they should pray “always with all prayer in the Spirit.” (Eph 6:18) Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom during WWII, once told his people “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” The idea was perseverance against the Nazi threat. Britons were never to give up, never to give in – they were to always press forward, holding true to what they held dear. The same thing could be said of prayer. Never give in – never give up – never stop praying – always hold fast to Jesus, and the hope of His return. Always pray, never failing in hope or faith. Pray like you mean it. Pray with persistent faith.

In a nutshell, that is the basic idea of the parable Jesus tells as Chapter 18 of the gospel of Luke begins. He speaks of prayer, and specifically focuses in on the One to whom we pray. Our God is good, and our prayers to Him ought to be prayed with the understanding that He is good. More than that, our prayers to Him ought to be steadfast, having faith to continue to pray until the moment Jesus comes back and receives us to Himself.

In fact, it is the context of Jesus’ return that we need to remember as we study this passage. Yes, as a general rule, we are to continue steadfastly in prayer at all times for all things, not giving into discouragement – but the specific prayer spoken of here is prayer that focuses upon Jesus until He comes again. The picture Jesus paints isn’t so much praying for stuff; it’s about praying for Someone. It’s about holding on by faith to Christ, no matter what.

Remember that Jesus had been teaching of His return when He spoke to His disciples. That was one part of a larger teaching that concerned the kingdom of God overall. To the Pharisees, Jesus taught them that the kingdom had already come. The kingdom was among them, though they would be able to observe it by the usual means. The kingdom was there because the King was there: the Lord Jesus. To the disciples who already recognized Jesus as the King, Jesus taught of His physical return, which would institute the days of the physical kingdom of God upon Planet Earth. This is something that would be observed by all people everywhere. All people would see it, but not all people would be ready. Only those who had true faith would be ready to see the King.

So what does that faith look like? It looks a lot like the widow in this parable. She was persistent, despite her circumstances in having to deal with an evil judge. In contrast, our Judge is good, loving, and righteous – but we still are to seek Him in persistent trust. We aren’t to give up while we wait for Jesus to return. Instead, we are to have faith, keep having faith, and when all is said & done, have faith some more.

Luke 18:1–8

The Parable (1-5)

1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,

We’re told a few things right from the outset, not the least being the fact that Luke actually states the purpose of the parable to his readers. Although the purposes behind parables are usually self-evident, it isn’t very often that it is stated so explicitly. This helps us narrow our focus, interpretation, and application. After all, this isn’t a parable that is open to various points-of-view – it has one point-of-view: the one Luke tells us at the beginning.

BTW – what Luke makes easy for us here, is something we should seek to do with every Scripture we study. We aren’t looking for the interpretation & application that most appeals to us, or seems best in our own eyes & opinion. We’re looking for the interpretation & application that God intended when He had it written. For example, look ahead to Luke 18:27 where Jesus says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” It’d be easy to take that Scripture out of context, asking “What does this mean to me?” and come up with all kinds of ideas pertaining to health, wealth, and prosperity. (And indeed, many people do teach it that way.) Yet, what was Jesus’ reason for saying it? It was in response to a question from the people regarding salvation. With men, it is impossible to be saved, but with God, all things are possible. I.e., God is the one who makes salvation possible. The point? Look for God’s point! Look for what it is He is communicating, and draw your applications from that.

In this particular parable, Jesus had two main points to make, closely related to one another. Point #1: “men always ought to pray.” This might seem like an obvious thing to tell the disciples (and we can know He’s speaking to the disciples because the “them” hasn’t changed since 17:22), but Christians do need to be told to pray. It is necessary for us to pray – Luke writes of Jesus’ intent that we “ought” to do it. This is His command, His desire for us. Prayer is a glorious privilege for a Christian, but it’s one we don’t often use. We have an open invitation to come to the throne of God in prayer, having the Spirit pray on our behalf & the Son continually interceding for us, and yet we often don’t participate in the process. Prayer meetings are the least-attended services of almost any church, yet it is one of the activities we do as Christians that is totally unlimited by the church. Think about it: communion is rightly done as a corporate act of worship – baptism is meant to be public among fellow believers – by definition, evangelism is something we do with others – service can be done alone, but nearly always with others in mind. Prayer is different. Prayer can be done as a church body, or as individuals. Prayer can be done in a building designed for worship, or on a solo walk in the woods. Prayer can be done any time, any place, on any occasion by any Christian…and yet it seems to be one of our lowest priorities. Christian men & women ought to pray!

Especially when it comes to the context of Jesus’ return. That ought to be something we long for, and ask. After all, when we’re praying for Jesus’ return, we’re really praying for Jesus. We want to know Him better, to seek His face, to know His mind, to spend time with Him. The more time we spend seeking Jesus in prayer, the better all of those other Christian activities become. After all, the more we know Jesus, the more we want other people to know Him. The more amazed we are at His love for us, the more we want to demonstrate His love as we serve others, etc. Prayer is an untapped key to much of our Christian life…we ought to do it!

BTW – As a reminder, prayer is simply talking to God. Jesus gives a model for how to do it in 11:2-4 through the example of the “Lord’s Prayer,” and Jesus Himself is seen modeling it throughout the gospel of Luke. Prayer can be formal or casual. It can be according to a pattern or it can be free. It’s always done in reverent submission to God, as we humbly (yet boldly) submit our requests to Him.

Point #2, regarding the act of prayer: “and not lose heart.” I.e. become weary, be discouraged. That is likely the intended meaning, but it is a figurative interpretation of the word. One prominent Greek scholar notes that the literal meaning is “not to give into evil.” (Robertson) How might discouragement with prayer tempt a born-again Christian to give into evil? Contextually, some Christians might often pray for Jesus’ return, but get discouraged when He hasn’t come, then give into the evil of thinking He won’t come at all. In other cases, Christians might often pray for something (not even necessarily something selfish, but something truly good), and when it seems that God doesn’t answer, they get discouraged in their overall relationship with God, falling away from Him. Perhaps they don’t totally apostasize from the faith, but they shove their relationship with Jesus to the back of their lives & start living for themselves again. Real Christians can get discouraged…don’t! Jesus does not want us discouraged in our prayers – that’s the very reason He taught this parable.

The solution? Don’t fix your hope on the prayer; fix it upon the One to whom you pray. If all we’re looking for is the specific answer to our specific prayer request, it’s no wonder we might get disillusioned if/when it doesn’t come. But if our eyes & our hope is upon the Lord Jesus (His goodness, love, grace, etc.), then all of our prayer requests become secondary to His person. It is our relationship with Him that carries us through the times of (seemingly) unanswered prayer. Philippians 4:6–7, “(6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Notice the promise in that verse. Nowhere does Paul promise the Philippians that God will grant every single request down to the last letter. He does promise the peace of God. He promises God’s presence with the believer. In all of our circumstances, what we need most is Him. We need Jesus. Despite anything else that may or may not come, we need Jesus & His peace, and that is guaranteed to us…but we need to seek Him in prayer first.

So that’s the purpose of the parable. As for the parable itself, Jesus introduces a couple of characters. Remember that a parable is not an allegory – we aren’t looking for spiritual parallels to every single item. Especially in this case! The first character Jesus mentions is not at all a parallel with the Lord God; this person is a drastic contrast to the Lord. Vs. 2…

2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.

Character #1: A “judge,” or a magistrate. Jesus describes him in two ways: (1) the judge “did not fear God,” (2) nor did he respect or “regard man.” IOW, this is not a judge anyone would want! In some contexts, it might be thought of as good that the judge did not respect man, in that we want judges to be impartial & without temptation to bribery – but that is not the idea here. In the parable, Jesus describes a judge who is accountable to no one. He neither feared the actions of men in the present, nor feared the judgment of God in the future. Thus, the judge did whatever the judge wanted to do. He regarded himself as his only authority.

Would that this would be a totally impossible scenario, but sadly, it isn’t. All kinds of people today (including many government officials, both elected & unelected) consider themselves accountable to no one. They believe they determine what is right & wrong for themselves, without regard to God or anyone else. People might believe this, but it doesn’t make it true. Even if it is possible to disregard the opinions and response of men & women in our communities, it is fully impossible to escape the judgment of God. The Bible tells us that there is a time appointed for all people to die, then face the judgment. (Heb 9:27) It speaks of a day where all people who have ever died, small and great, standing before God and being judged according to their works. (Rev 20:12-14) All people, Christians and non-Christians alike, will indeed be held to account by God. Not all people fear God, but all people should.

3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’

Character #2: A “widow.” Keep in mind that “widow” doesn’t necessarily mean “elderly,” as a younger woman could have suffered the loss of her husband. The age of the woman is not the issue for Jesus, but her status. As a widow, this woman had no one to stand in her defense. Her only recourse for injustice was to go to the local judge, and this guy was no help. 

We don’t know the widow’s exact complaint, but we can safely assume that she sought true justice for whatever had happened to her. Jesus describes a situation where a helpless widow (exactly the sort of person that God had always sought to protect throughout the pages of the Old Testament) requires justice via the actions of a man to whom justice does not matter. He will not act out of any fear of God or obedience unto God, nor will he act even if pressured by other community leaders. The judge simply doesn’t care. 

So what hope does the widow have? Only one: persistence. The verb tense doesn’t really come through in the NKJV, but it does in the NASB & ESV which both say that she “kept coming to him.” The tense is one of past continual action, which in this case means that Jesus describes her as coming over & over again to the judge. She kept repeating her request time & time again. This judge was her only recourse, so she was going to keep asking until she got an answer. And her strategy worked! Vs. 4…

4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the judge “did not” answer the woman; He says the judge “would not” answer her request. NASB says that “he was unwilling,” and that is perhaps a clearer translation. The Greek word used by Luke refers to a matter of the will/volition. It’s not that the judge couldn’t act, or simply didn’t act – the judge didn’t want to act. He didn’t care about her, or the facts of the case, or even basic justice. He was only going to do whatever it was he felt like doing at the time. Truly, this was the wrong man to be appointed a judge over others!

And this went on as time passed. How long, we don’t know – but that isn’t really the point. Jesus simply shows that this man wasn’t in a rush. Again, the judge neither feared God nor respected men. The judge freely acknowledged that he was unaccountable, and considered himself as his highest authority. It seems like he would have been perfectly happy to simply let this woman’s case linger indefinitely to the point that she never received justice.

What changed his mind? Self-preservation. He said of the widow that she “troubles me,” literally saying that she caused him trouble. She made him uncomfortable – she became a burden to him. IOW, she was an inconvenience, and that was what pushed him into action. Even here, it wasn’t that the judge developed a conscience or a compassionate heart; he was still totally selfish. He didn’t want to put up with her annoyance, so he finally decided to “avenge her,” which would’ve been the right thing for him to do all along.

What had she done? She wore him down: “lest by her continual coming she weary me.” The word for “weary” is interesting, in that (depending on the context) it can certainly mean “annoy” (DBL) or “to bring someone to submission” (BDAG). But due to the etymology of the word, it can literally mean “to blacken an eye.” (BDAG) Although it’s possible that the judge was afraid of a physical assault by the widow, it’s more than likely this is to be taken as a figure of speech. (I’ve known some women that wouldn’t have hesitated to punch the guy’s lights out!) Some scholars have suggested that he was afraid of getting a black-eye to his reputation – but this doesn’t seem likely since he didn’t have any regard of man. If he cared for his reputation, then he’d have acted immediately. It might be better to think of this as him acknowledging that the widow beat him into submission. He couldn’t escape her continual hounding, so he finally acted just to get her off his back.

So that’s the parable. At first glance, there’s not much here that examples anything good. We have a selfish wicked judge, and a widow who has no other option except to nag the judge into action. What spiritual lessons can be learned? Thankfully, this is one of the few parables in which Jesus gives us the interpretation…

The Lesson (6-8)

6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.

Don’t skip this. This ought to be incredibly striking. Jesus uses the unjust judge as an example. “Hear” him – listen to the things the judge said. Take it all in for the wicked selfishness that it is…and then reverse it. What’s going on here is a classic form of Jewish teaching: an argument from lesser to greater. The judge is the lesser, and thus the greater is God. If the worst of men behaves in such a way as the unjust judge, only answering a desperate cry for help because of lazy selfishness, how much more will the righteous God answer, out of good & holy reasons? As evil as the judge may be, God is infinitely better. So listen to the “unjust judge,” because that only serves to highlight the Just & Righteous God.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus puts the focus of His parable on the judge, and not the widow? For many Christians, when we read this particular parable, we look at the way the widow has to petition the judge, and we start drawing parallels with how Jesus might want us to petition God. But that misses Jesus’ main point. Yes, the parable does teach persistent prayer – verse 1 said clearly that Jesus taught this in order that we might pray & not lose heart, and the widow was obviously persistent in her requests. But the main lesson isn’t drawn from the one who prays; it’s drawn from the one who answers the prayer. Jesus wants us to trust the Answerer. Persistent prayer is not about us brow-beating God, or us trying to nag Him into action. In fact, Jesus teaches precisely the opposite! Jesus teaches us that God is not like the judge. The widow had to nag the judge, because she didn’t have any other option. That was the only thing left to her because of how evil he was. But God is good. (All the time!) We don’t have to nag God, because of how good He is.

God is good. Do you believe it? Do you believe that God is better than the evil judge? If so, pray like He is!

7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. …

Will God answer prayer? Yes! Especially in terms of justice. Jesus asks a rhetorical question: “shall God not avenge His own elect?” Of course He will! God will most certainly perform justice, exacting His vengeance upon those who attack His beloved people. The Bible regularly shows God to be a God of justice. One of the regular themes among both the major and minor prophets is the judgment of God. He both judges His people for their sins against Himself, and He judges the Gentile nations for their sins against Israel and Judah. The God we worship is a righteous & just God, and He will surely act in defense of the widow, the orphan, and especially the people whom have been bought with the blood of Jesus: us! “ ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ declares the Lord.” (Rom 12:19) Those are not merely words to stop Christians from taking out our anger on others; it’s truth. Our God is certainly a loving God, but that shows the extent of His love. He loves us so much that He is willing to avenge us upon our enemies!

We get a glimpse of this in the book of Revelation, and the context seems to match much of what Jesus speaks of here. Revelation 6:9–11, “(9) When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. (10) And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (11) Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” Obviously the location is different, as those saints are in heaven & not on earth – but the idea is the same. They seek the Lord’s justice, asking Him to avenge their deaths, and they receive the assurance that God will do exactly that. His plan was in motion, but it would surely come…and it comprises much of the remainder of the book of Revelation! God’s judgment is certain, thorough, and swift!

Although it’s not the main point of the passage, it needs to be acknowledged that Jesus referred to God’s people as “His own elect.” God sees all the defenseless and needy all over the world, but He pays special attention to His own people – the ones specifically chosen by Him (elected by Him) to be the recipients of His grace & salvation. This is often a controversial subject, and we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. Here, the emphasis is not on the process of election (i.e. the debate between predestination & freewill, each being totally Biblical concepts even though debated on the particulars). The emphasis is on the fact of election. God’s people are elect ones. We have been lovingly chosen by God to belong to God for all eternity. It’s all due to the grace of God, made possible by the sacrifice of the Son of God, and guaranteed through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. Regardless of your understanding of how election came about, if you are in Christ, then you are elect. Don’t debate it; praise God for it!

This by itself is a major difference between the judge & God. The judge in the parable didn’t choose the widow. He didn’t want her around him, and he didn’t want to help her at all until it served his own interests. By contrast, God did choose us. He loves us & wants to help us.

Keep in mind – it doesn’t mean that God always wants to help us in the ways that we want to be helped. God will help us in the ways that He deems best for us. Never mistake His love & compassion towards us as carte-blanche for us to get everything we ever wanted. God is still God, and we’re not.

Note the method of prayer Jesus speaks of here. It may not be what we initially think. In the parable, the widow had to nag & brow-beat the judge. But those are things we don’t need to do to God as Christians. Remember, God is better than the judge (He’s the greater of the two), and so we don’t need to treat God in the same way the widow treated the judge. We are still to have persistent prayer, but our persistency is seen in a different way. As for us, Jesus says of God’s elect that they “cry out…to Him.” The word used for “cry out” speaks of using one’s voice at high volume, or even of a “roar.” Persistent prayer isn’t nagging; it’s passionate. This isn’t some sort of softly muttered prayer; this is a heart-cry – an outpouring of one’s mind & soul to God. This is prayer that matters.

It’s interesting how many Christians say they never see the answers to their prayers, but when questioned about the way they pray, they don’t have many examples to give. Sure, they pray at the dinner table or at bedtime – maybe they even say a quick prayer during some Bible reading or a devotional. But when it comes to heart-felt, passionate prayer – that’s not something they’ve really done. Beloved, we cannot expect God to care more about our prayer requests than we do. If we can’t be bothered to truly pray to God, why should God take the time to act? Pray passionately – pray like you mean it.

How often should we pray this way? Perhaps the better question is when is it not appropriate to pray passionately? Never. We always want to care about what it is we bring to the Lord in prayer, being constantly mindful about going to mere ritual & routine. Whenever it we do it, “day and night,” God will hear us, just like He hears all of His elect saints. God never stops hearing the cries of His saints. No matter where they are around the world, no matter what circumstances or persecutions they endure, God hears them. God never sleeps nor does He slumber – He never takes breaks & steps away from His throne. God never gets sick of our prayers – He “bears long” with us. Unlike the unjust judge, the righteous God will never tire of us or tell us to stop seeking His face.

Not only can we be certain that God hears our prayers, we can be sure that God acts in response to our prayers. As Jesus said specifically in regards to God’s actions on behalf of wounded or persecuted saints, “Shall God not avenge His own elect?” Of course He will, and when He does, He will do it “speedily.” Question: What does Jesus mean by “speedily”? It could be the speed of justice in relation to the request – which would be another massive contrast between God & the wicked judge. The judge delayed action; the righteous God does not. He will and does answer the prayers of His saints. BUT…is that all it means? For many, it would seem this is contradicted by common experience. After all, we all know of prayer requests that (1) were slowly answered by God, or (2) were denied outright by the Lord. We’ve prayed for people to be healed who were never healed. We’ve prayed for people to be saved who were never saved. Did Jesus speak falsely in regards to the promise of answered prayer? No!

First of all, the context is vengeance. Yes, God will act on our behalf. And if it seems as if He does not do so in this life, we can be absolutely certain that it will take place at the final judgment. When God sits on His great white throne judging all of humanity, His vengeance will indeed be swift. His judicial sentence, when pronounced, will be carried out quickly & have impact for all eternity. There is no court of appeals – no trick of the legal system to waste time. There will only be pure, simple justice. When God finds someone guilty, His verdict is final.

Secondly, even in regards to other prayer requests, the assurance that Jesus gives us is that God does hear and God will answer. This is simply what God does in our relationship with Him. He loves us as His elect, and He wants His best for us. We may or may not know what His will might be in any given situation, but He does. And He will answer all of our prayer requests in accordance with His will.

Sometimes Christians get discouraged in regards to prayer (which is the very reason Jesus told the parable!). We pray & pray, and it seems as if God never hears, never answers, and never cares. What Jesus teaches in all of this ought to put those thoughts to rest. The way many Christians think of God’s answers/non-answers to prayer is by thinking that God is like the unjust judge: an indifferent, lazy being who cares of nothing except himself. That might describe a lot of humans, but it certainly does not describe God! God the Father is loving, caring, and willing & able to act. We just need to trust Him to do so.

…Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

Jesus wraps it all up with an interesting twist. “Nevertheless” is a very specific Greek conjunction showing contrast. Unlike some Greek conjunctions that can be translated any number of ways depending upon the context, this one (πλὴν) always shows contrast. Thus, it’s translated as “nevertheless, only, but,” etc. So whatever came earlier is juxtaposed by what Jesus says next. I.e. God does answer prayer, and He will answer His elect who constantly cry out to Him. The only question now is whether or not there will be any saints crying out to Him. Thus, “nevertheless…”

Will the “Son of Man” find anyone like this? There’s no doubt that that the Son of Man will return to earth in power and glory. That was the subject of His previous teaching to the disciples. (17:22-37) So when Jesus does come, will He find anyone like this? Will He “find faith on the earth”?

Obviously Jesus isn’t referring to faith of non-believers. (1) They aren’t the immediate context, and (2) Non-believers have no faith, by definition. Jesus doesn’t expect to find faith among them. (And neither should we. That’s why we share the gospel with them in order that they will eventually have faith.) Instead, Jesus is referring to faith among Christians. Among those who do believe in Jesus (those who have repented & turned to Him in saving faith) are there any who have continual trusting, abiding faith? Do they have faith that God is good, loving, & just, willing to provide for our every need? Will He find faith that goes beyond trusting God for only eternal life, and is willing to trust Him for our present life? Will Jesus find Christians willing to wait on God in faith, waiting up to the point of Jesus’ return?

Will this kind of faith be found in our church? We have the opportunity to walk by faith, seek the Lord in prayer, and know Him better as we live for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Should the Lord Jesus call us home in the rapture tomorrow (or even today!) what kind of faith would He find among the people of Calvary Chapel Tyler? We want to be Christians who actively seek our God. Too many church-going people are satisfied only with fire insurance away from hell, not really wanting anything else to do with Jesus. We don’t want to be church-going people; we want to be the church! We want to be Christians who seek Christ! That’s the sort of faith He’s looking for.

Will this kind of faith be found in your home? Everything that can be said about a body of believers in a church congregation can said about an individual family that follows the Lord. After all, we aren’t only Christians when we walk through the front door of a church building or chapel; we always belong to Jesus, so we’re always to seek Jesus. If you were to stand before Jesus today, what do you think He would say about the faith of your household? Would He find active, persistent faith – or would He be left searching? We are to be a people of faith!

Conclusion:
Jesus seeks persistent faith, so persist! Hold fast to Him, seeking His face in constant prayer. It doesn’t mean that you need to be on your knees 24/7 (though we could stand to be on our knees far more often!) – but our hearts ought to be bent towards God in prayer. Not in order to receive more stuff; simply to be more with Jesus.

Prayer is one of the greatest gifts and privileges given to Christians by God. Combined with the filling of the Spirit and knowing the Scriptures, we are supremely equipped as children of God. Think about it: through the Scriptures, we know the mind of God & He uses it in supernatural ways to transform us into the men & women He wants us to be. Through prayer, we spend time in the presence of God, we’re able to communicate with Him just as He communicates with us through the Bible. Putting it all together in our lives is none other than God the Holy Spirit, who not only indwells us for salvation, but empowers us for service. He makes it possible for us to understand the Scripture, and He is the one who prays alongside us as we pour out our hearts to God. With all of those things, what is it that we can’t do as Christians? Nothing! May God be glorified in it all!

But if we leave out prayer, we’re missing a major component. If we think that prayer does nothing, we won’t pray. If we think that we have to nag God into action, we won’t pray. If we think that God doesn’t care, we most definitely won’t pray. That doesn’t describe God – that describes the unjust judge. Beloved: stop looking at God as if He’s the wicked judge! Our God is good, He’s kind, He’s merciful, He’s just…and He hears & answers prayer. So pray! Don’t be discouraged – don’t lose heart. Continue seeking God in prayer, focusing not so much upon the desired answers, but the Desired Answerer.

Live by Faith

Posted: September 7, 2017 in Habakkuk, Uncategorized

Habakkuk 1-3, “Live by Faith”

When our daughter was younger, long road-trips were often filled with the game of 20-Questions. 

Other questions are not so easily asked & answered.  Sometimes we have questions of God, and what we most want to hear is some sort of answer from Him.  Many times those answers are found in His word – sometimes we get the “still, small voice” of God when we pray – sometimes God answers through the counsel of godly friends & family.  Still other times, it seems that we get no answer at all, and it’s times like those that are most unsettling.

It’s also times like those that faith is most important…and that was the lesson learned by the prophet Habakkuk.  Habakkuk had questions of his own, which he asked of God, and he actually received tangible answers to them in the form of oracles & prophecy.  Yet if Habakkuk thought the questions were difficult, they were nothing in comparison with the answers!  The prophet could hardly believe the things he was told by God.  But that was when he needed to trust God the most.  God had answers for him, but what Habakkuk needed to do in the meantime was live by his faith.

Habakkuk 1
1 The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.

  • As with some of the other minor prophets, this is all the introduction we get…which is to say, not much at all.  No date, no family background – nothing.  What we do know, we can glean from the contents of the prophecy itself.  We know that it was (1) prior to the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon, per 1:6, (2) that the rise of Babylon would come during the days of Habakkuk, per 1:5, (3) that the prophet was familiar with the use of psalms & instrumentation within the temple grounds, per 3:19.  From this, it seems likely that Habakkuk may have been a Levite serving through the latter days of good King Josiah & the early days of evil King Jehoiakim.  The prophet would have witnessed the rise of the Babylonian empire first-hand – he would have seen the reforms of Josiah fail – and he would have witnessed the first tastes of Babylon’s war against the Jewish kingdom. 
  • Question #1: How long? (1:2-3)

2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save. 3 Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises.

  • Habakkuk had seen “violence” in the land, and it grieved him.  Did God hear the prophet’s complaints regarding the people’s sin?  God had not only allowed Habakkuk to see these things, but God specifically showed these things to him.  How long would God allow it to continue?  Had God heard Habakkuk’s cry at all?
  • How long will the wicked prosper?  Does God have a plan?  These are common questions for all of us.  From a national standpoint, we look at how long evils like abortion and greed will be allowed to endure.  As individuals, we might be in a position where injustice is done against us every day, and we ask the same thing: how long?  These are real issues, and it is only right that we take them to God.
  • All of this led Habakkuk to a pretty dark place.  Vs. 4…

4 Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

  • To the prophet, there appeared to be no power in the Torah.  The holy law of God was ignored by the people, and seemingly useless.  Instead of the Jewish leaders abiding to God’s holy righteousness, they led the nation by “perverse judgment.
  • Do you ever lose hope?  What can God’s people do when justice fails?  Trust the Lord!  Jesus alone is our hope.  Our hope is not in a revitalized United States – it’s not even in a more powerful Israel.  Our hope is in the Lord Jesus!
  • Answer #1: Look & be amazed! (1:5-11)

5 “Look among the nations and watch— Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you.

  • Not only had God heard Habakkuk, God had a plan in place all along!  In fact, He was already working, even if the prophet couldn’t see it.  More than that, God had a plan, but Habakkuk wouldn’t like it.  It would be so incredible to him, that the prophet wouldn’t even believe it.
  • For Habakkuk, the plans of God would prove to be something he didn’t want to understand or believe.  For us, the plans of God prove to be so incredible that we do want to believe, we just don’t know if we can.  Think of it: God’s plan for our salvation was for Him to send His only begotten Son on our behalf, die in our place as our substitute & sacrifice, rise from the grave in new life, and then freely offer that new life to all who believe.  There’s no quid-pro-quo – there’s no act we much accomplish to somehow purchase this salvation – all we need do is believe.  God asks nothing from us but our faith.  It sounds too good to be true!  And for that reason, many people don’t believe it.  They need to know that they have done some good, that they have done some sort of righteous act that guarantees them eternal life.  But at that point, God’s forgiveness is no longer a gift of grace; it’s a wage.  At that point, people are no longer seeking the grace of Christ; they’re seeking a bribery of God, which cannot be done.  The gospel of Jesus is the good news of the gift of God.  It may be incredible to believe, but we must believe it, if we are to be saved!
  • What was the news for Habakkuk?  Vs. 6…

6 For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than leopards, And more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead; Their cavalry comes from afar; They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat.

  • The Babylonians were on the rise.  “The Chaldeans” is a reference to a specific tribe within Babylon, of which Nablopalassar & his son Nebuchadnezzar were a part.  At the time of Habakkuk’s writing, Assyria was the dominant empire in the Middle East, but not for long.  Soon, they stretched themselves thin, and the Chaldean ruler Nablopalassar rose up against them, and he won the empire for Babylon.  It was his son Nebuchadnezzar II that would soon send his armies to Jerusalem in conquest.
  • God goes on to describe the fierceness of the Babylonian army.  In every way they were “terrible & dreadful.”  Their cavalry were quick, and their might was strong.  Vs. 9…

9 “They all come for violence; Their faces are set like the east wind. They gather captives like sand. 10 They scoff at kings, And princes are scorned by them. They deride every stronghold, For they heap up earthen mounds and seize it. 11 Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; He commits offense, Ascribing this power to his god.”

  • God makes it clear that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) would succeed in their conquest.  Kings would fall before them, and “captives” would be gathered up & taken away.  The various peoples would fall before them due to long sieges against their cities.  All of this was not only descriptive of Babylon among other nations, but specifically what Babylon eventually did to Jerusalem.
  • The worst part about it?  They were idolators.  This was a nation that God specifically raised up to become powerful within the earth.  This was a nation that God specifically told Habakkuk that He would use as a tool of judgment against the Jews for the violence that was in the land.  This was God’s plan, and it would come to pass.  Even so, this was a pagan people.  God would use them, but the Babylonians would give credit to their own false gods.
  • How could this be?  That’s what Habakkuk went on to ask the Lord…
  • Question #2: How can this be? (1:12 – 2:1)

12 Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction.

  • Habakkuk was absolutely incredulous.  Exactly as God had predicted, the prophet did not believe the word of God, even though God directly told him.
  • No doubt Habakkuk loved the Lord, and thought highly of Him.  After all, he affirms that God is “from everlasting,” and that the covenant-keeping I AM of Israel is the true “Holy One.”  Yet the prophet still directly doubted the Lord, questioning & contradicting what it was the Lord said.  “We shall not die…You have appointed them for judgment…You have marked them for correction.”  This was beyond Habakkuk’s comprehension.  God was too good & too holy to use the wicked Babylonians, right?  The Jews were the ones who had a covenant relationship with God.  How could they die & face judgment?  More than that – how could God allow the Babylonians (of all people) have victory over the Jews?  Vs. 13…

13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?

  • It all comes down to this: all of a sudden, Habakkuk had a theological conundrum (dilemma/sticking point).  On one hand, he’s already acknowledged the violent wickedness of the Jews.  He knows that his people are deserving of God’s judgment, and his first question was focused on the fact that God’s judgment hadn’t yet come, and Habakkuk was wondering how long it would take.  On the other hand, God has told him that judgment would come from an even worse people.  Not only were the Babylonians themselves wicked, but they were total pagans.  How can a holy God use an unholy people for holy purposes?
    • People still ask this question today.  It seems that we have so few leaders in power who follow the Lord.  Some of our leaders even openly oppose God.  Yet God allowed them in power.  The Bible is clear that God is the One who raises up kings & puts them down. (Dan 2:21)  Can God truly use wicked people for His glory?  Yes.  This has been proven time & time again throughout history.  We may not always know how, but we know that He will.  We just need to trust Him in the meantime.
  • Part of Habakkuk’s problem is that he seems to have had a relative view of righteousness.  Notice in vs. 13: “a person more righteous than he.”  Question: Were the Jews really more righteous than the Babylonians?  Sure, they had a covenant history with God, and experienced several revivals in which they sought the Lord.  Yes, they had the Scriptures and revelation of God among them.  But were they really more righteous than anyone else?  No.  Just like every other nation, they had sinned.  Paul addressed this very issue with the Romans.  Romans 3:9–11, "(9) What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. (10) As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; (11) There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God."  Paul goes on to quote more of David’s psalms, concluding that all the covenant & law of God does is demonstrate that “all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom 3:19)  We have all sinned – we all fall short of God’s glory – we all need forgiveness of sin & the free gift of salvation in Christ.  Granted, some people’s sins might be more obvious than others, but all people have indeed sinned.  When two prisoners are on death row, does it really matter that one committed more crimes than the other?  Both were found guilty – both face the same fate.  Likewise with us.  Likewise with Habakkuk in reference to the Jews & Babylonians.
  • Keep in mind that God was fully aware of the Babylonian’s sin.  This is something that God will address through the bulk of Chapter 2.  It’s just that Habakkuk didn’t yet understand this, which is why he asked the question.

14 Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? 15 They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. 17 Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity?

  • Habakkuk pictures Babylon as an idolatrous fisherman, and Judah as the fish.  Why did God make it so easy for Judah to be conquered? 
  • How long would God allow Babylon to continue the way they were going?  After all, if God had a plan to stop the violence of Judah, did He have a plan to stop the violence of the Chaldeans?

Habakkuk 2
1 I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.

  • Habakkuk is absolutely confident on two things: (1) He knows that God will answer him, and he simply sets himself to wait.  (2) He also knows that God would correct him.  With the conclusions Habakkuk drew, he knew he must have gotten something wrong, so he waits for what God is going to say to him concerning his reproof.
  • Just as it’s OK to asks questions of God, it’s also OK to be corrected by God.  It’s a sign that He loves us!
  • Answer #2: Have faith! (2:2-4)

2 Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. 3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.

  • Make the message clear for the future.  Make it plain so that everyone could read it & understand the fulfillment of prophecy in their midst.
  • Be patient for that fulfillment.  It might not come when expected, but it will come.

4 “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.

  • God has a plan for the Babylonians, which He is about to lay out for Habakkuk, but God deals with the more important issue first.  Habakkuk was in the midst of a theological crisis, and the best way to deal with that is not first by addressing the issues of the intellect, but the issues of the heart.  Yes, there were specific answers to Habakkuk’s specific questions, but none of those things would matter if Habakkuk didn’t first trust the Lord to bring these things to pass.  What Habakkuk needed was faith
  • God addressed this by presenting a contrast between the “proud” & the “just.”  It’s not necessarily that God convicts Habakkuk of pride; God simply shows the difference between the two types of people.  The proud person has nothing to rely upon – he has only his wickedness.  The righteous person on the other hand has his faith in God.  Technically, the Hebrew word refers to faithfulness / steadfastness.  Basically, God says that the righteous person lives by steadfast trust in the Lord his God.
    • This was huge for the apostle Paul!  It is not by keeping the Mosaic law that anyone is saved; it is only by faith in Jesus Christ.  Romans 1:16–17, "(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”"  That in turn was huge for Martin Luther & the Reformers!  It’s not by ritual that we are saved – it is not by the blessing of the Roman Catholic church that anyone is salved; it is only by faith in Jesus Christ.
    • It’s still huge for us, today!  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  We know this through the Bible alone, and to God alone be the glory!
    • That’s not only how we are initially saved – this is how we continually live.  Christian, stay steadfast (faithful) to Jesus!
  • Habakkuk may not have been in mind for God as being one of the “proud,” but the same could not be said of Babylon.  They were proud & wicked, and the remainder of Chapter 2 goes on to detail their various crimes…
  • Woes for wicked Babylon & wicked individuals (2:5-20)

5 “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, He is a proud man, And he does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as hell, And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, He gathers to himself all nations And heaps up for himself all peoples.

  • Babylon was greedy.  They were drunk with power, and as Belshazzar demonstrated the night of Babylon’s fall to Persia, they also did not hesitate to be drunk with wine. (Dan 5)  They wanted more & more, gobbling up every nation they could.  Just like the grave is never satisfied, always wanting more dead bodies, so did Babylon continually try to expand its empire, heaping up “all peoples.

6 “Will not all these take up a proverb against him, And a taunting riddle against him, and say, ‘Woe to him who increases What is not his—how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges’? 7 Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, All the remnant of the people shall plunder you, Because of men’s blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it.

  • Eventually the time would come for the various oppressed peoples to taunt their conqueror.  The reign of Babylon would be extensive, but it would be limited.  Remember that the Jews people were home within 70 years.  Babylon came in quickly, but they were defeated just as quickly.  Eventually this plunderer would be plundered.

9 “Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house, That he may set his nest on high, That he may be delivered from the power of disaster! 10 You give shameful counsel to your house, Cutting off many peoples, And sin against your soul. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, And the beam from the timbers will answer it.

  • Again, God was not blind to the wickedness of Babylon.  Yes, God sovereignly allowed the nation to grow to immense power & size, but God also knew that they would go about it through wicked means.  The Babylonians built up their house at the expense of others, and eventually it would come time for them to pay the consequences. 
    • Interestingly, “the stonedidcry out from the wall,” in that there was angelic writing on the wall on the night of Babylon’s fall to the Persians.  God Himself testified against them that they were weighed & found wanting, and that very night Babylon was conquered.
  • BTW – although this was all spoken against Babylon, the truths don’t apply only to Babylon.  Anyone who builds his/her house (family, reputation, business, etc.,) at the expense of others will eventually face some consequence of judgment.  What we reap, we sow. 

12 “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, Who establishes a city by iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts That the peoples labor to feed the fire, And nations weary themselves in vain? 14 For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.

  • Again, in regards to Babylon, God had seen their “bloodshed & iniquity.”  They would face the Lord God to account for these things.  As powerful as the armies of Babylon may have been, they were nothing compared to “the LORD of hosts,” YHWH of Armies!  They would face Him for judgment.
  • As will all people.  As vs. 14 proclaims, all “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.”  One day, every knee will bow & every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!  One day, all people will know Jesus as the King & as the Judge.  Every idle word spoken & every evil deed will be called to account.  Our only hope in that day is to be found as belonging to the Lord Jesus.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness! 16 You are filled with shame instead of glory. You also—drink! And be exposed as uncircumcised! The cup of the LORD’s right hand will be turned against you, And utter shame will be on your glory.

  • Those who shame others will themselves be shamed.  Be it the future nation of Babylon, the current oppressors of Assyria, or the corrupt leaders among Judah, anyone who took advantage of others for their own benefit would be judged by God.  God promised to personally turn against them, and bring “shame” onto what they claimed would be their “glory.
  • Again, this has immediate application to Babylon, but it is not limited to Babylon.  Individuals who engage in similar shaming ought to beware.  One day they will find themselves shamed by God.

17 For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you, And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid, Because of men’s blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it.

  • God specifically calls Babylon out in vs. 17, “for the violence done to Lebanon.”  This seems to be a reference to the Battle of Carchemish in 605BC, during which (and after) the Babylonians ravaged the famous cedar forests of Lebanon.  God saw not only the sin committed against men, but also against land & beast.  The Babylonians were downright brutal in their conquest, and God would hold them to account.
  • Who would help Babylon when the Lord came against them?  Would their false gods assist them?  No.  Vs. 18…

18 “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols? 19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’ To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all.

  • False gods cannot help because false gods are exactly that: false.  They are the works of men’s imaginations.  What good does a piece of wood or stone do against the Almighty God?
  • This final chastisement may not only be against Babylon, but against Judah as well.  After all, despite the brief periods of reform & revival experienced even under good kings like Hezekiah & Josiah – they never lasted.  When evil kings would arise, so would the old high places of idolatrous worship.  And it was all foolish & sinful.  What is needed is not an imaginary god invented by men, but the true God revealed in the Bible!

20 “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

  • This is the true God: the LORD God of Israel.  Babylon may have been ascendant as an empire, but it wasn’t due to Baal or Marduk or any other pagan deity.  YHWH God alone is responsible for the rise & fall of empires.  He is sovereign over the entire world!
  • This was good news for Habakkuk! … This is good news for us!

Habakkuk 3
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.

  • FYI – no one knows what “Shigionoth” really means.  Various studies suggest it might refer to a type of song, but it’s debated if it’s more of a dirge, or erratic beat.  In the end, it doesn’t matter…we only have the lyrics; not the music.
  • Habakkuk’s response to God (3:2)

2 O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.

  • Remember at the beginning of Chapter 2, Habakkuk said that he would wait for his reproof that would come from God.  It came, and Habakkuk responded rightly in all humility.  Like ancient Job who heard the answer of the Lord & repented in dust & ashes, so did Habakkuk hear the response of God & fear.
    • It’s not that the prophet was frightened of God; it’s that he had a renewed reverence & fear of God.  This is a good thing!
  • In his fear of God, Habakkuk (correctly) falls back upon the character of God.  “In wrath remember mercy.” This was his prayer, and it was good!  God’s wrath towards Israel was righteous & deserved.  The Babylonians that would conquer Judah were the right tool for the job, and Habakkuk had the assurance that God still saw Babylon’s own sin for what it was.  That being the case, the prophet was resigned to what was to come, praying only for the mercies of God.
    • Amen!  That’s exactly what we need: God’s mercy – and that is exactly what we receive in Christ Jesus.  In fact, we see all of this in Christ.  God did pour out His wrath, but He never forgot His mercy.  His wrath was completed at the cross, and His mercy is shown in Jesus’ resurrection & grace!
  • God’s glory among Creation (3:3-7)

3 God came from Teman, The Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah …

  • These are both references to the southern areas below Judah.  Habakkuk is going to recall God’s work in freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, His power at Mt. Sinai, and more.  But first Habakkuk describes God in all of His glory.

… His glory covered the heavens, And the earth was full of His praise. 4 His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, And there His power was hidden. 5 Before Him went pestilence, And fever followed at His feet.

  • His glory is abundant – it is everywhere.
  • His glory is amazing – it is truly bright & radiant.
  • His glory is awesome – it is infinitely powerful in its scope, encompassing His wrath as well as His goodness.

6 He stood and measured the earth; He looked and startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered, The perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting. 7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; The curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

  • God merely shows up, and the earth trembles at His presence.  Though the mountains are ancient, they do not compare to the infinite everlasting God!
  • God’s wrath among the earth (3:8-16)

8 O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers, Was Your anger against the rivers, Was Your wrath against the sea, That You rode on Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? 9 Your bow was made quite ready; Oaths were sworn over Your arrows. Selah …

  • When God moves, creation pays close attention!  It was the will of God that caused the waters of the Jordan River to stop, allowing His chosen people to enter the Promised Land.  It was the will of God to cause the waters of the Red Sea to stand on either side, allowing His covenant people to pass through.  At that time, God’s people saw the mighty works of God & swore oaths to Him, promising to follow Him forever.

… You divided the earth with rivers. 10 The mountains saw You and trembled; The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered its voice, And lifted its hands on high. 11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation; At the light of Your arrows they went, At the shining of Your glittering spear.

  • Again, Creation took notice of the mighty move & power of the Living God.  God brought earthquakes when He wanted – He divided the earth in the days of Peleg (Gen 10) – He caused the sun & moon to stand still during the days of conquest (Josh 10:12-13).  When God shot “arrows” of fire & brimstone to destroy cities, they were truly destroyed & people feared.  Vs. 12…

12 You marched through the land in indignation; You trampled the nations in anger. 13 You went forth for the salvation of Your people, For salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, By laying bare from foundation to neck. Selah

  • God had saved His people through miraculous ways in the past, and Habakkuk’s prophetic prayer is his confidence that God would do the same in the future.  He could speak of it as if it was already past-tense.  God had gone forth to save His people, and He would do so again.
  • In fact, Habakkuk looked forward to the ultimate salvation God offers His people: salvation through the Messiah!  “Your Anointed” is literally a reference to God’s Messiah.  Although this could be thought of as a reference to David or any king of David’s lineage, the only Son of David that truly fits the context is the Lord Jesus.  In this, Habakkuk even looks past the 1st Coming of Jesus to His 2nd Coming.  After all, that’s when Jesus will personally march through the land, trampling the nations in anger.  That’s when Jesus will personally judge the nations who have come against His people, as He rules over all the world.  Salvation is found in the Messiah!
    • Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until the 2nd Coming to receive of the salvation of God’s Anointed!  Praise God that we experience Jesus’ salvation right now!

14 You thrust through with his own arrows The head of his villages. They came out like a whirlwind to scatter me; Their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret. 15 You walked through the sea with Your horses, Through the heap of great waters.

  • Habakkuk’s vision goes back & forth through history & future.  He looks ahead to Jesus, while never leaving sight of the past acts of God’s deliverance.  Jesus will truly judge the nations, and He will do it with just as much power as He did when parting the Red Sea (“the heap of great waters”) for Israel.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He will act in His righteous glory in the future just as He has always done in the past.
  • As Habakkuk considers all of this, what does he do?  Fears…just like he said he did back in vs. 2…

16 When I heard, my body trembled; My lips quivered at the voice; Rottenness entered my bones; And I trembled in myself, That I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, He will invade them with his troops.

  • It’s a terrifying thing to witness the wrath of God.  As the author of Hebrews writes, “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (Heb 10:31)  When God acts in His power & glory, it’s enough to leave us all trembling a bit!
  • But though Habakkuk feared, he also had faith. Vs. 17…
  • Habakkuk’s trust in the Lord (3:17-19)

17 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—

  • Simply a description of Israel’s/Judah’s coming barrenness.  Habakkuk was resigned to the destruction soon to come.  In light of all this, vs. 18…

18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

  • Amen!  Habakkuk made the decision to trust the Lord.  He made the decision to live by faith!
  • Whatever our circumstance, we can choose to “rejoice in the LORD.”  Why?  Because at the end of the day, we have Jesus!  Our God saves!

19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.

  • Habakkuk’s faith was in the Lord because the Lord was his strength.  The Lord would see him through.

Conclusion:
Christian: live by faith!  Habakkuk struggled with some difficult questions, and for good reason.  The things he faced didn’t seem to make any sense.  He wondered if God was working at all, and if so, what was His plan?  That’s natural & normal, and it is perfectly fine to present our questions to God.

But as we do, may we trust Him!  Commit to steadfastly believe the goodness and wisdom of God – trust the character and salvation of our Lord Jesus.  He is the same good, loving, powerful, sovereign God that He has always been.  We may not understand everything about our world, but we can know our God.  So trust Him.  Live by faith.

Invisible Kingdom; Visible King

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 17:20-37, “Invisible Kingdom; Visible King”

At one point or another, we’ve all fallen prey to some commonly misunderstood/misstated phrases.  People will say “I could care less,” when they really mean “I couldn’t care less.”  (If you could care less, then you care at least a little!)  Or “for all intensive purposes,” which must mean a purpose to the extreme, versus the correct phrase “for all intents and purposes.”  Young schoolchildren often get the Pledge of Allegiance mistaken.  Instead of saying, “One nation, indivisible,” it becomes “One nation, invisible,” which is a pretty sorry state for our country! 🙂

What is sometimes mistakenly said about the United States of America is actually true when it comes to the Kingdom of God…at least, in a sense.  When speaking about the kingdom and its King, Jesus said that one would be invisible, while the other would be visible.  We cannot see the arrival of the kingdom, but we will see the arrival of its King.

Although Luke puts these two teachings into one section, it actually seems to be two conversations, which is made clear by two separate audiences.  First, Jesus speaks with the Pharisees, and then He speaks with His disciples.  This actually makes a lot of sense in the overall context, as Luke has shown Jesus alternating between the two groups.

To the Pharisees, Jesus has been giving warnings.  Although Jesus had taught much about the kingdom of God, and demonstrated its power, the Pharisees had ignored God’s Messenger and His message.  They showed that they were not included in the kingdom, although many people who were that the Pharisees would have never expected.  Without a radical change, the Pharisees would find themselves doomed to eternal torment, always regretting the opportunities they threw away.

To the disciples, Jesus had given instruction.  These people were included in the kingdom, and thus needed to live as kingdom citizens, albeit all through the power of God.  The duties in front of them seemed impossible: to avoid scandalizing others away from God, and to forgive as they themselves had been forgiven.  Yet this was their duty, and God empowered them to do the miraculous.

A bit of both of these various conversations had been demonstrated when Jesus healed 10 lepers of their disease.  Out of the 10, only one had returned to give thanks.  The nine Jews took their healing for granted (like the Pharisees), whereas the one Samaritan was truly thankful to Jesus, and not only received his physical healing, but his eternal salvation.  The one man least expected to be included in the kingdom, was.  He alone walked by faith (like the disciples).

Put it all together.  The Pharisees were still missing it.  They looked for an outward kingdom in order that they might have their self-righteousness confirmed.  They wanted to see things that matched up with their expectation, totally apart from the grace of Jesus.  The disciples, on the other hand, had faith – but little perseverance.  They needed to steadfastly wait for Jesus, and be ready for Him to come at any time.

This is where Jesus’ two conversations come in.  To the Pharisees, He says that the kingdom is invisible, and it was already in their midst (though they didn’t know it).  To the disciples, He tells them to hold on, because He as the King would be coming again, and His glorious arrival will be seen by all.

We want to recognize the kingdom for what it is – and we want to recognize Jesus as the King.

Luke 17:20–37

  • The Invisible Kingdom (20-21)

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, …

  • It’s truly interesting that Jesus was “asked by the Pharisees.”  Were they genuinely curious as to His teaching – or were they evaluating Him in light of their own understanding?  Luke leaves much unsaid regarding the context of their question. (Technically, we don’t even know the exact chronology of where this question falls within Jesus’ ministry.)  With all of the conflict that existed between the Pharisees and Jesus, it can be easy to forget the fact that the Pharisees were theologically close to Jesus than any other Jewish religious group of the day (with the possible exception of the Essenes).  This might account as to why Jesus reserved His harshest words for them.  After all, the Pharisees out of all people, ought to have known better than the things they did!  Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees awaited a literal restored Jewish kingdom, led by the Messiah whose identity was the Son of David.  Many of the conflicts they had with Jesus came as a result of their resistance to Him being the Messiah.  It rubbed against their expectations – not the least, the ones regarding how the Messianic kingdom would arise.  They watched for a massive military victory, such as what had taken place during the not-too-distant days of the Maccabees.  And, there are indeed Biblical prophecies that speak of this sort of military arrival – a grand appearance of the King of Israel. (Ps 2, Dan 7)  But there are other prophecies that speak of something far more humble & quiet, in which the Messiah would be rejected and killed. (Isa 53, Dan 9) 
    • The Pharisees may not have settled on an acceptable answer to the dilemma, but Jesus had.  There are two arrivals of the Messiah: the first in humility & rejection, and the second in power & glory.  We don’t have to pick & choose as to which Messianic prophecies might fulfill – He fills every one, to the letter!
  • In any case, the Pharisees ask Jesus about His understanding of the kingdom.  The kingdom was a major part of His teachings, so it’s understandable that they ask about its timing and arrival.  When would it come?  What will it look like when it arrives?  What should be expected with it?  Specifically, they seemed to want to know what signs would accompany the arrival of the kingdom.  If they could see the signs, then they could see the kingdom.  They would be able to study it, observe it – and ultimately, evaluate it according to their standards.
    • So many people today look at eschatology (the study of the end times) in the same way.  Instead of approaching God’s word with an open mind, allowing themselves to be instructed by what God has to say, they bring in their own preconceived notions & preconditioned ideas, and try to force the Scriptures to fit their own interpretation.  All Christians (no matter what your theological viewpoint might be) need to let Scripture be the final authority in matters of faith & doctrine.  It matters little what Martin Luther, John Calvin, or John Wesley might think.  In modern terms, it matters little what Chuck Smith, John MacArthur, or even Tim Burns might think.  What matters is what the Bible says.  We evaluate teaching by the standard of Scripture; not Scripture by the standard of what we’ve been taught.  Be willing to change your theological position, if necessary…especially in terms of non-essential doctrines.  If the Bible tells us we’re wrong, then we need to receive it for what it is, and change our position to the Biblical one.
    • A major problem with the Pharisees is that they never did that.  They had their position – they had their tradition – and they refused to see Jesus in the light of Scripture.  If they had, they would have understood that it testified of Christ. (Jn 5:39)  As a result, they missed out entirely.
  • Jesus picks up on their desire to see signs in His response to them…

…He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

  • The NKJV translation is accurate to the text, but it can be a bit difficult to understand Jesus’ meaning in His response.  The ESV puts it this way: “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”  Jesus tells them two main things about the kingdom:
  • First, the kingdom can’t be studied.  The word translated as “observation” refers to a close watch – keeping an eye on something.  Although the word “signs” is nowhere recorded by Luke (which can be a bit misleading from the NASB), that’s somewhat the idea.  The kingdom of God wasn’t coming with all kinds of signs and visible indications of its arrival – at least, it wasn’t coming with the kinds of signs that the Pharisees were seeking.  There was no Jewish army – no overthrow of the Romans – no reestablishment of the Davidic throne in the 1st century – nothing like that of any sort.  Now without question, there will indeed be signs when Jesus returns to Earth in glory.  There will be incredible miracles seen by all the world.  Later, Luke records Jesus speaking of exactly these sorts of things: Luke 21:25–27, "(25) “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; (26) men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (27) Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."  Those are things that will absolutely be seen…there won’t be any way to ignore them!  But for the time being, these things wouldn’t be seen at all.  That’s what Jesus gets to in the second point.
  • Secondly, the kingdom had already come.  The KJV/NKJV “within you” isn’t necessarily an inaccurate translation; it’s simply not the only way the Greek word could be translated.  Considering that Jesus was speaking to Pharisees (i.e., to people who did not believe in Him), it seems highly unlikely that Jesus was primarily referring to the spiritual aspect of the kingdom, saying that the kingdom existed within their hearts & spirits.  That’s a statement that could be spoken to the disciples – but not to the Pharisees.  The ESV “in the midst of you” or HCSB “among you” is an accurate translation that far better fits the context.  The kingdom was already there.  The kingdom of God is wherever the King happens to be.  Jesus brings the kingdom with Him wherever He goes.  Thus, if the Pharisees wanted to see the coming of the kingdom, all they needed to do was open their eyes – the King was standing right in front of them.
    • The problem was that they were blind.  Unbelief blinds people to the truth.  That’s a fact even beyond spiritual things.  Someone who doesn’t believe a road sign saying “Bridge Out” is blinded to the truth that they’re about to have a very expensive car repair.  Someone who doesn’t believe a warning label on a prescription bottle is about to have a very bad day.  Their unbelief (and willful unbelief, at that!) blinded them from the truth that was in front of them.  The same principle applies to spiritual things.  Someone can choose not to believe the gospel…God has given them the right to make that choice.  Someone can choose to believe that Jesus was nothing more than a nice guy, or even that He did not historically exist & is on the same level as the Easter Bunny.  But their unbelief doesn’t change the facts.  All their unbelief does is blind them to the truth of Jesus.  It blinds them to the truth that is freely available to them.  The only thing that stops them from seeing Jesus & experiencing His grace & forgiveness is themselves.  Jesus is there – He is among them…they just need to open their eyes.  (Some of you need to do that today!)
  • All of that is true in regards to the Pharisees & nonbelievers today – but is there any aspect of this that is true for believers?  Yes.  In fact, the two different translations of “within” and “among” apply for born-again believers in Christ.  Because the Spirit of Christ lives within us, the kingdom itself is within us.  Because we have been born-again as children of God, then we are already citizens of the kingdom of God, and we live as kingdom citizens wherever we go.  Thus, the kingdom is among us.  Without a doubt, there is coming a day in which the literal, physical kingdom of God will be instituted on Planet Earth (something which Jesus will address in a moment with His disciples) – but until that day, we can still experience the kingdom of God right now.  The kingdom is “now” as well as “not yet.”  We live as ambassadors of the kingdom now, even as Jesus is not yet reigning from Jerusalem.
    • That has ramifications for how we live.  We are to live as kingdom citizens today.  Just because we’re waiting for a literal Millennial Kingdom of Christ in the future does not mean we have nothing to do in the present.  We can demonstrate our citizenship – we can testify of our King – we can live out the ethics of the future kingdom right now.

That was all for the Pharisees.  Jesus addresses a different aspect of the kingdom with His disciples next…

  • The Visible King (22-37)

22 Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.

  • Because they were already believers, the disciples were already part of the kingdom of God.  No doubt they had much to learn about this & carried with them a lot of misunderstanding, but it seems likely they grasped at least this much.  One of the things they didn’t understand was the timing of it.  They would want to see “one of the days” of the Messiah, but they wouldn’t see it.  They’d want to see it badly – the phrase “desire to see” in other contexts might be translated “covet / long for.”  This would be something that they would really want to witness, but they wouldn’t.  Jesus tells them they wouldn’t “see it.”  Why?  Because it was far off into the future.  It has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, and He still has not yet returned.  All the original disciples are dead & gone.
    • That being said, there’s no question that the disciples will see it…just not from the perspective they had originally desired.  They, like all believers in heaven, will accompany Jesus when He returns in power & glory, and will witness the Battle of Armageddon with our own eyes.  But that wasn’t what Jesus was speaking about here.  He addressed their current desire in their current context.  Like the Pharisees, they wanted to see a Jewish King kick out the Romans, but that wasn’t what was going to happen.
  • BTW – don’t get too caught up on the phrase “one of the days of the Son of Man.”  It’s a bit unusual, in that generally when Jesus’ 2nd Coming is referred to, it is referred to as a single day: THE Day.  But there will be many days that lead up to it.  After all, there are seven years of the Great Tribulation, not to mention the 1000 years of Jesus’ Kingdom after He arrives.  Any of that could be what is included in “one of the days of the Son of Man.”
    • Be careful in Bible study not to miss the forest for the trees.  We want to look for the main point, and the main point is the arrival of the king & kingdom; not the number of days involved.
  • As to when the physical kingdom would actually begin, it all starts with the return of her King.  That’s what Jesus goes on to address…

23 And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. 24 For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.

  • There’s an interesting parallel between vs. 23 & vs. 21. “Look here / there!”  The Pharisees wanted to have people point out signs of the kingdom to them in the here & now, and no one was able to, because of the nature of the kingdom in the now.  The disciples would soon be looking for signs of Jesus, and there would be people trying to show them something, but those claims were not to be trusted.  Keep in mind that when Luke wrote his book, there were already rumors developing that Jesus had come.  Luke’s gospel was likely written in the early 60’s (if not very late 50’s), demonstrated by the fact that his gospel & the book of Acts were written as a two-part series, and it’s evident that Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment.  As for Paul, he had already written to the church at Thessalonica regarding these rumors while he was ministering in the city of Corinth back in the early 50’s.  2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, "(1) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, (2) not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come."  In an earlier letter to the church, Paul wrote of the blessed hope of the rapture, and some of his readers feared that they might have missed it.  In his follow-up letter, he reassures them that it hadn’t taken place yet, and in regards to Jesus’ physical return, there are other things that must still take place.  What Paul wrote to reassure Christians, Jesus taught to warn Christians.  There would be rumors of His arrival, but they were the rumors of con-men & liars.  Don’t believe the rumors!
  • This still happens today.  In 2014, the Washington Post wrote of a Chinese cult that was involved in a murder, which believes that Jesus has returned in the form of a woman. (“The Church of the Almighty God,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/13/the-murderous-chinese-cult-that-thinks-jesus-has-returned-and-shes-chinese/?utm_term=.84aa353ea7d6)  In 2007, CNN ran an article about a Puerto Rican man by the name of Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda who claimed to be the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ. (http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/02/16/miami.preacher/index.html?_s=PM:US )  And it doesn’t stop there.  The whole Mormon faith (Church of the Latter-Day Saints) is based upon the heretical lie that Jesus briefly returned to Earth after His resurrection in order to appear to a fictitious American civilization (not the Native Americans), and that this appearance was detailed in a so-called third testament of the Bible, to be given by an angel to Joseph Smith.  All of it is bunk.  100% of the claims that Jesus has returned are absolutely false.  Jesus knew these rumors would come, and He warned His disciples not to believe them.
    • BTW – Lest we think that as evangelical Christians we’re immune from this sort of thing, there isn’t a lot of difference between following every rumor of Jesus’ return, and following every rumor that someone has figured out a special sign and/or date for the rapture.  There is money to be made off of Christians when it comes to the rapture, and scores of self-proclaimed teachers look to take advantage of it.  It seems that every time we turn around, there’s another person claiming a sign, implying (if not stating outright) a specific date for the rapture to take place.
    • Beloved, let us take Jesus’ words to heart, and stop following the wild-goose chases constantly set before us.  Yes, we desperately want Jesus to return – we cry out with the ancient church “Maranatha!  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”  But the timing of His return is totally in the hands of God.  In the meantime, we’ve got other things to do.  People who constantly watch the skies never take the opportunity to prepare for the future, by sharing the gospel, demonstrating the love of Jesus, and putting their Christian faith into action.  By all means, wait expectantly for Jesus’ call, but don’t run after every rumor.  Be active while you wait!
  • So why not follow the rumors?  Why not follow every potential claim of Jesus’ return?  Because when Jesus does come back, it will be obvious.  Jesus described it as being like “lightning.”  If you’ve ever watched a distant thunderstorm at night or in the early morning, you know exactly what Jesus was talking about.  A bolt of lightning can flash 10 miles away, yet it lights up the entire sky all at once.  All people can see the flash, and all people can hear the rolling thunder that goes with it.  It is obvious & evident.  Jesus’ point is that His return will be the same way: obvious & evident.
    • It will be obvious to present believers, because we will be caught up in the rapture.  This is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in his first letter to them.  1 Thessalonians 4:15–17, "(15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."  Obviously, Paul had hoped to be included in that number, for not even he knew of the date of Jesus’ return.  But whenever it happens, it will be clear to all Christians everywhere.  This is something in which Christians will participate; it’s not something that we perform.  It will be done to us by Jesus, thus no born-again Christian will miss out.
    • It will be obvious for the rest of the world from a different regard: when Jesus comes again in power & might.  No one alive on the planet will be able to ignore the events that take place during the Great Tribulation.  Not only will there be incredible supernatural signs taking place, but there will be zero mistake when Jesus returns on His white horse with the sword coming from His mouth in judgment.  Revelation 19:11–14, "(11) Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. (12) His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. (13) He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (14) And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses."  That’s something that no cult, no person anywhere will be able to fake!  No rumors will suffice!
  • So all that will most definitely happen.  It will be in the future, so the disciples would not live out their earthly lives to see it, but the believers alive at the time would not miss it.  But that all that refers to Jesus’ second appearance.  His first arrival (the one current at the time) had a totally different mission & purpose.  Vs. 25…

25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

  • Before anything dealing with the 2nd Coming & the Millennial Kingdom is the cross.  The plans of God for Jesus’ 1st Coming must be accomplished before anything of the 2nd Coming takes place.  This was what most of the Jews of the day misunderstood, be it the disciples or the Pharisees.  First things first, and the first thing was the cross.
  • Why?  Because before we can be included in Jesus’ kingdom, we must first be able to enter it!  Think of it like a surgical procedure.  The goal for any surgery patient is for he/she to be able to get up & leave the hospital, hopefully better than before…but first, they’ve got to get off the table!  As long as their body is open up & bleeding, they aren’t going anywhere.  Or in terms of the ER – the patients who are brought in from a traumatic accident might have other improvements they want to make in their lives, but the first priority is that they live to see another day.  Likewise from a spiritual perspective.  Yes, we long to see the days of Jesus’ physical kingdom, and those days will be glorious – but until our problem of sin is resolved, then we’ll never see it.  Until then, we are still dead in our transgressions.  The first thing we need is life
  • And that is exactly what Jesus came to accomplish through His suffering and rejection.  The King came to suffer – He came to die.  The King of all the Universe came to substitute Himself for you & me – that He would suffer the wrath of God that we deserved because of our sin.  The King came specifically to be rejected as the King, and be put to death as a criminal – because that is exactly what you & I are in the sight of God, when we are in our sin.  We are criminals.  We are traitorous enemies of God, having warred against Him from our very first sin.  When we enthroned ourselves as the master of our own lives, doing whatever it was we wanted to do, that’s when we dethroned God as our Lord & acted as His enemy.  And yet He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us.  Jesus absorbed our penalty, in order that we might be forgiven & have life.  (And He makes His forgiveness available to anyone – all we need do is ask & believe!)
  • So this was the priority for Jesus.  All of this needed to be accomplished before anything else could take place.  But the timing on this was far more certain: it would happen in “this generation.”  The disciples would not live to see Jesus’ 2nd Coming, but they would certainly see the cross & resurrection!

What would it be like in the day that Jesus returns?  What will people’s response be to the news of His coming judgment?  That’s what Jesus goes on to address with the disciples…

26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

  • Example #1: Noah.  Although the Bible never tells us exactly how long it took Noah to build the ark, the project would have taken many years, upwards to many decades to complete it.  (Some scholars estimate a range of 50-75 years.)  That’s a long time to build a massive boat in full view of all of the people around him.  Not to mention that during the whole time of construction, Noah continually warned the people of what was to come.  The Bible tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. (2 Pet 2:5)  Not only did he build a symbol of God’s salvation from judgment, but he proclaimed the need to be saved from judgment.
  • What was the reaction of the people?  Complacency.  Folks just did what they always did, with no thought at all to the future.  Soon enough, the rains came, the earth opened up & shot forth water (Gen 7:11), and countless lives were lost.  A mere 8 people were saved: Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives.
  • And that wasn’t the only example of people ignoring the coming judgment.  Vs. 28…

28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.

  • Example #2: Lot.  The timeline may have been shorter, but the results were the same.  Lot & his family were told of the coming judgment, and although Lot believed, his sons-in-law did not. (Gen 19:14)  To the very moment that fire & brimstone started to rain down upon the city, people were consumed with themselves, totally complacent towards their sin & the judgment of God that awaited them.
  • People may not listen to the warnings of judgment, but that does not absolve us from the responsibility of telling them.  We who know what is coming need to be faithful to warn others.  When we know of a disaster that others do not, we are obligated to tell them.  If we know of a faulty bridge, we have a responsibility to block it off from oncoming traffic.  How much more when it comes to eternal judgment?  We cannot force people to listen to us, much less believe – but how can we stand by idly & say nothing as people face the righteous wrath of God?  His forgiveness is available; they must be told!
  • BTW – in regards to both Noah & Lot, notice how Jesus treats them: as literal, historical figures.  Jesus doesn’t say “Remember the story of Noah…” – He talks about “the days” of Noah & Lot.  These accounts are not myths or stories designed to scare children; they are actual historical events.  God does judge.  He has done it in the past, and He will do it in the future – and people need to know about it.

30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

  • Here’s the bottom line.  The complacency of the people in the days of Noah & the days of Lot will be repeated in the day of the Son of Man.  Despite the clear signs of Jesus’ imminent return – despite the multitude of preaching that will have taken place – the vast majority of people will do their best to go on with their lives, giving no thought to the judgment that awaits them.  The one time they will finally be forced to fix their eyes upon it is when their eyes finally see Jesus…and by then, it will be too late.
  • At that moment, it will be too late to do anything.  There simply won’t be any time.  Vs. 31…

31 “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

  • The bottom line is that there won’t be time to waste.  There won’t be time to pack, to get ready, or to do anything else.  The time for preparation will have long passed.  When Jesus comes, He will come in a flash, and people will be forced to deal with it in the moment.
    • Question: Is Jesus speaking here of His 2nd Coming, or the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD?  The context is His 2nd Coming.  Later, Jesus does address the destruction of Jerusalem (Lk 21:20) – but there, Jesus tells the future Jews what they will need to do in response to seeing the Roman armies surrounding the city.  Here, Jesus makes it clear there won’t be time to do anything at all.  Thus, this is a different judgment – the judgment of God.
  • What does Lot’s wife have to do with any of this?  Remember that she looked back with a divided loyalty, and was turned into a pillar of salt. (Gen 19:26)  Jesus’ disciples aren’t to look back.  That’s where His statement in vs. 33 comes in.  Jesus had taught this before, in a different context (Lk 9:24).  At that time, He was instructing people on what it meant to follow Him as a disciple.  Here, Jesus emphasizes fundamental preparation.  Those who are Jesus’ disciples have made the decision to be Jesus’ disciples long before the judgment of God arrives.  Disciples don’t look back.  Disciples know to whom they belong.  Disciples long for Jesus, not the things of this world.  When it comes to choosing sides, disciples have already made their choice: they have sided with Christ.  They have chosen to lose their lives for the sake of Jesus, and in the process find that Jesus has preserved their lives for all eternity.
  • What’s the difference between the saved and the lost?  Only their faith in Christ – and God knows how to distinguish between each one.  Vs. 34…

34 I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. 36 Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”

  • Don’t read too much into the circumstances in which the men & women are found – culturally speaking, what Jesus described was normal.  When travelling, two men might share a single bed.  When grinding wheat into flour, two women might do it side-by-side.  The external circumstances don’t matter so much as the internal state of their hearts towards Jesus.  Two people can look exactly the same on the outside, and one be saved while the other is taken in judgment.
    • BTW – Is this a passage on the rapture, or on judgment?  If it’s a true parallel with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:40-41, then it is most certainly a reference to judgment.  If it is taken on its own, then Luke’s context could possibly go either way.  Both Noah & Lot were “taken” away from the judgment, while the people who were left behind were “taken” in judgment.  There are other passages that speak clearly to the rapture, and it’s probably best to refer to those.
  • Some of your Bible translations do not contain vs. 36, or perhaps set it apart in brackets – and for good reason: it is not likely to be original to the text.  Neither the oldest copies of Luke, nor the vast majority of manuscripts contain vs. 36.  It only appears in a relatively small number of manuscripts, as well as the ancient Lectionary of the Roman church.  Most likely, an early copyist made a notation referring back to Matthew 24:40 (where it is original), and that note was carried over to other copies that followed.  The idea is absolutely true & Biblical; the writing is simply not original to Luke.

37 And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

  • Just as Jesus’ arrival will be obvious & evident, so will the results of judgment.  Where would the individual folks be taken to?  Jesus said to look to the skies.  Wherever the carrion birds may be, that’s where the bodies would be found.  (“Eagles” could be better translated “vultures,” in context.)  The book of Revelation tells us the same thing.  Revelation 19:21, "And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh."  The final battle will be bloody, and the conquest will be totally lopsided.  Anyone fighting against King Jesus will be killed, and the birds would feed on the remains.
  • Put it all together.  When speaking to His disciples, Jesus tells them clearly that He will be rejected – the King would be turned aside, and made to suffer and die.  But that doesn’t spell the end of His kingdom; it is only the beginning!  Jesus will come again, and when He comes it will be obvious to all the world.  No one will miss it, but no one knows when it will happen.  So the key is to be ready.  And the disciples were ready!  They had already made the choice to lose their lives for the sake of Jesus, and they would find themselves saved in the day of judgment.  The judgment was real, but so was their salvation in Christ.

Conclusion:
So it is with us.  For those who are believers in Christ Jesus, we have been saved!  We have chosen to be on Jesus’ side, so we can be certain of our eternal life & salvation from the wrath of God.  We are kept & guarded by Him, and one day we will see Him with our own eyes.  And unlike the original disciples, we very well might just be the generation that does see these things come to pass!

We can (and should!) long for that day – but be careful not to get caught up in the rumors about them.  Don’t be distracted from the task of the Great Commission by following every person who believes he/she has a special sign of Jesus.  We can be sure we won’t miss Him; Jesus will personally ensure that He takes each and every one of us.  If we truly know Him by faith (being born-again), then we will see Him face-to-face.  In the meantime, just be faithful.  Follow the example of the disciples & saints of the past like Noah, who proclaimed the righteousness of God, and the gospel of Christ.

Most of all, make sure that you are included in the kingdom!  The Pharisees believed they were, but they weren’t.  They looked for all kinds of signs & proofs, wanting to assure themselves of their own beliefs, but they came up empty.  The kingdom was right in front of them, being among them, but they missed it when they missed Jesus.

Don’t make the same mistake.  So many people show up to church, singing about Jesus, hearing about Jesus, but never truly know Jesus.  Jesus can be known!  And He must be known if you are to experience eternal life.

Nineveh: the Sequel

Posted: August 31, 2017 in Nahum, Uncategorized

Nahum, “Nineveh: the Sequel”

When it comes to entertainment, we live in an age of movie sequels.  Once a studio has found a winning formula, they make sequel after sequel until they bleed it dry.  Sometimes it works; other times, not so much.  Sometimes, it can get downright confusing.  In the case of Star Wars, originally there were two sequels to the original – then there was a prequel with two sequels that technically were all sequels to the original – and now there are two additional sequels that really are chronologically sequels, with another sequel from the third series on the way.

Thankfully, not only is the Bible far more edifying, it’s true, and much simpler. 🙂

The short book of Nahum stands on its own, but could also be thought of as a sequel to an earlier minor prophet: Jonah.  To understand, we need to remember the history leading up to this point.

Nineveh was one of the chief cities of the Assyrian empire, even serving as the capital city during the later years of the empire.  Although the people of Nineveh had sinned greatly against the Lord, they had already been spared God’s judgment once due to the message and ministry of Jonah.  Jonah had lived during the reigns of King Amaziah of Judah & Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:23-25), putting him in the timeframe of ~782-753BC.  The northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria fell to the Assyrian empire in 722BC, during the 9th year of the reign of Hoshea. (2 Kings 17:6)  During all of this, Nineveh/Assyria was rising in prominence, even after the initial repentance under Jonah.

Of course, all of this was due to the sovereignty of God.  God had used Assyria as His tool of judgment against the Israelites.  Even though they were still technically His people, it was in name only.  The northern kingdom had long settled into rebellion and idolatry, and had virtually abandoned the covenant originally received by Moses.  Thus God judged them by the hands of the Assyrians.

That being said, don’t get the idea that the Assyrians weren’t wicked…they were!  They were brutal, vicious, and evil in the worst ways.  They were unnecessarily cruel in their conquests (Israel being merely one nation among the many they conquered), and as a result, God declared their judgment.  Through whom did He do it?  A Hebrew prophet by the name of Nahum.

When Nahum wrote his book, we do not know.  There is no date mentioned in the book, nor any reference to a Hebrew king.  The text itself gives us a clue with the mention of “No Amon” (3:8), which is a reference to the Egyptian city of Thebes, and how Thebes had been conquered by the Ninevites/Assyrians.  Historically, we know that Thebes was conquered in 663BC, and it was only a short time later that Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612BC.  Thus, if Nahum was writing as a prophet in advance of the events (which he was), then that gives a 50-year window of time during which he could have written.

So put it all together.  Almost exactly a century earlier, Nineveh had been spared the judgment of God.  They had truly repented and sought the Lord.  Yet their revival didn’t last.  They continued to sin against God, and had been brutal against God’s people (even in their judgment).  Now the judgment of God was proclaimed again, and this time there would be no escape.

All of this begs a couple of questions: (1) Is there any indication that Nineveh received this prophecy?  That’s totally unknown.  God gave Nahum the vision, but unlike with Jonah, there are no instructions recorded that would have had Nahum deliver it to Nineveh.  The text we have is in Hebrew, so it seems likely that Nahum wrote for a Hebrew-speaking audience, i.e. the Jews.

Question #2: Why write a warning for a people who wouldn’t read it?  There are several things to consider.

  • Whether or not the Assyrians had a written warning does not excuse them from their evil.  Nor does it take away from God’s justice.  As the righteous judge of all the earth, God has the right and responsibility to judge evil wherever it is found.
  • Nineveh had been warned once already, via Jonah.  God is never under obligation to anyone, but especially not to a people to whom He had already sent a prophetic message and representative.  It was their fault they had relapsed into sin.
  • The warning wasn’t necessarily written for the benefit of the Ninevites; it was most likely written for the JewsThey needed to know the justice of their God.  Jerusalem would soon face their own conquest in 587BC (barely 20 years after Nineveh fell to Babylon), and the Jews needed to be instructed and reminded of God’s sovereignty over the nations.  They needed to know how even the enemies God used against them would one day themselves be judged for their own sin. (Which is a theme that continues in the prophecies of Habbakuk…)

So yes, Nahum provides a sequel to what had already been said to Nineveh a century earlier through Jonah.  But this wasn’t so much an opportunity for Nineveh to repent, as it was a message of comfort to God’s own people.  The very name “Nahum” means “comfort/full of comfort,” and this was the message intended for the Jews.  Though they suffered, they could be sure that God saw them, knew them, and would act on their behalf.  God was their avenger, and He could be trusted.

God is our avenger, and we can trust Him!

Nahum 1 – God the Avenger
1 The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

  • Unlike other prophets in the Old Testament, this is all of the background information we have regarding Nahum.  There’s no date reference to a king in Jerusalem – there’s not even any family background by which Nahum could be traced.  The only thing mentioned is that he was an “Elkoshite.”  Scholars are uncertain to the location of Elkosh, with most concluding that it was located somewhere in the region of Galilee.  “Capernaum” could actually be somewhat translated as “House of Nahum,” but that seems more legendary and coincidental than anything.
  • Of course a lack of information about the prophet does not take away from his message.  Again, his name means “full of comfort,” and that’s the message he wants to present to God’s people.
    • As an aside, the word of God is supposed to bring comfort to us.  It convicts, rebukes, instructs us in righteousness, etc., but just the fact that we have any word from the Lord God is a comfort & a blessing.  God didn’t have to reveal His mind to us at all, and yet He graciously chose to do so.  Be comforted by the word – even the parts that prick us to the heart.

2 God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked. …

  • How is God jealous?  He’s jealous for His people.  For us, jealousy can be a bad thing: something that is petty & gets us into trouble.  For God, His jealousy is a holy thing.  In fact, it is so holy that it is part of His name.  Exodus 34:14, "for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,"  He is jealous on behalf of His people.  He wants us to worship Him exclusively – and like any jealous spouse, He will act in our defense when we are attacked.  That was what He did with Nineveh on behalf of Israel.
  • How was God’s jealousy expressed?  Through vengeance.  Forget the movies; God is the ultimate Avenger! J  There is none who acts in such might and power as Him.  Whatever crimes have been committed against His people, He knows them, and rises up against those who perpetrate them.
  • Take note of God’s passion in His vengeance.  He doesn’t merely avenge; He is an angry avenger.  He “is furious.”  He may be “slow to anger,” but He is angry, nonetheless.
  • The bottom line?  God will act as judge.  He “will not at all acquit the wicked.”  Every single one will be judged.
    • Applies to Assyria…  Applies to those who persecute Christians today… Applies to all people who do not know Jesus by faith!

…The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, And the clouds are the dust of His feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, And dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither, And the flower of Lebanon wilts. 5 The mountains quake before Him, The hills melt, And the earth heaves at His presence, Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.

  • Vs. 3 began by declaring God’s great power.  How powerful is He?  He has power over all creation.  He controls the weather and the elements, making His home in the clouds, and having no fear in whirlwinds/tornados.
    • This is a pretty incredible truth to consider in light of the flooding we’ve seen in South Texas, and there are a couple of ways that people generally look at this.  The skeptic hears this & thinks, “If God has power over the weather, then why didn’t He stop the hurricane?  Why didn’t He hold back the floods?”  Could God have stopped the hurricane & flooding?  Without question, yes.  Was it somehow wrong of God not to do so?  No.  Just because God can do something does not mean He is obligated to do it.  Part of what it means to leave in a fallen creation is that we endure some things that are tragic by nature.  God did not originally create the world with hurricanes, tornados, and the like – these are things that are the result of sin.  And God has answered these things through Jesus – and we will see its fulfillment at the end of the age.
    • The Christian can hear this truth and think, “Since God has authority over the weather & the rest of creation, I can trust Him & His provision.”  Amen!  That is exactly the case.  God may allow us to endure any number of trials & challenges – but we can trust Him to provide for us in the midst of them.  He is not surprised by what we face, nor is what we face too much for Him to handle.  He knows what needs to be done, and He will guide us through it when we trust Him.
  • To the point of Nineveh & Assyria: they were no match for Almighty God.  All of creation shakes in fear before its all-powerful Creator.  The sea, the woodlands (Bashan & Carmel), the fields, the mountains – all of it quakes & heaves.  We come from the dust, and will return to the dust.  Dirt doesn’t care about us when we walk in.  When God shows up, dirt trembles.  That’s an awesome God!
    • God is that mighty & that worthy of fear!  Is this how we fear Him?  Too much of modern worship seems to try to bring God down to our level.  Granted, Jesus already condescended Himself when He came to us as a Man – but that’s not how we are to react to Him in worship.  He is to be exalted among us, because He is worthy of exaltation.  He is worthy of our reverent fear, and trembling hands.  Lift Him up, as the God He is!

6 Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, And the rocks are thrown down by Him.

  • The question is obviously rhetorical.  Who can stand before the Lord when Almighty God rises up in anger?  No one!  Can Nineveh?  No.  Can Babylon?  No.  Can Satan?  Absolutely not.  No one can stand against God!  Think of the Red Sea – think of Sinai.  That God is this God.  That God is our God. (Amen!)
  • And the fact that He is our God is a good thing!  Vs. 7…

7 The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, And darkness will pursue His enemies.

  • What a contrast!  To God’s people, He is a trustworthy place of safety.  He is “good” – He is a fortress, “a stronghold.”  He is our place of refuge & our defense.  He loves us, and wants us to hide ourselves in Him.  He will always protect us, and Jesus has assured that no one is able to pluck us out of His hand.
  • Yet things are different for the Assyrians.  To God’s enemies, He is vengeful.  He may be a fortress for the Jews, but He is a flood to those who would come against Him.  We’ve seen the damage that the waters of a raging flood can bring.  That is simply a minor picture of the overwhelming power of our God!

9 What do you conspire against the LORD? He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time. 10 For while tangled like thorns, And while drunken like drunkards, They shall be devoured like stubble fully dried. 11 From you comes forth one Who plots evil against the LORD, A wicked counselor.

  • It is useless to fight God!  What God has decreed will be done.  In regards to Nineveh, they had experienced God’s mercy once, but now their judgment was decreed.  It was a done deal.  There would be no escape.
    • All people everywhere will eventually be judged.  Again, all wickedness will eventually find an answer.
  • Contrasting promises starting in vs. 12…

12 Thus says the LORD: “Though they are safe, and likewise many, Yet in this manner they will be cut down When he passes through. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more; 13 For now I will break off his yoke from you, And burst your bonds apart.”

  • Promise #1: to Judah.  They would not be destroyed by the Assyrians.  Although the Assyrians would come against them (as they did during the days of Hezekiah, Isaiah, and Sennacherib), there would be no permanent yoke of bondage from the Assyrians.
  • There is perhaps even a glimpse of a promise to the further future, when the Jews would finally be released from their own Babylonian captivity.  Although there would be bondage for a while, it would not last.  God would burst them apart.

14 The LORD has given a command concerning you: “Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the molded image. I will dig your grave, For you are vile.”

  • Promise #2: to Nineveh.  Destruction was coming to them.  Once that generation had ended, their “name” would be forever cut off.  And come, it did!  The city was destroyed to such an extent that later conquering armies led by Xenophon and Alexander the Great didn’t even realize they were near Nineveh.  All that was left were mounds in the ground.
    • What came to Nineveh is promised to the enemy of our souls: the devil!  He is the ultimate “vile” one, and his grave has already been assured: the lake of fire in hell.

15 Behold, on the mountains The feet of him who brings good tidings, Who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, Perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; He is utterly cut off.

  • Nahum seems to quote Isaiah 52:7, which Paul does again with the Romans.  Romans 10:15, "And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”"  God promises good news!  What’s the news?  Peace!  (1) In the near-term, it is Judah’s freedom from Assyria & eventual freedom from Babylon.  (2) Ultimately, it’s Christ!
    • BTW – Evangelism is good news – glad tidings.  We ought to be excited to share it!
  • What were the Jews to do in the meantime?  Exactly what they were always to do: worship God, be faithful, perform their vows, etc.
    • What do we do until the return of Christ?  Exactly what we’re always to do.
  • How was it that Judah could keep on keeping on?  Because the promise from God was that He would take care of the rest.  God already declared their enemy to be cut off.
    • Likewise with us.  We earnestly await Jesus – we are expectant & hopeful for His rapture at any moment – but we don’t need to spend all of our time trying to guess when He’s going to call us home.  That’s in God’s hands – those are the things God will do.  Our task for the time being is to be faithful with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Nahum 2 – The Day of Vengeance
1 He who scatters has come up before your face. Man the fort! Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily. 2 For the LORD will restore the excellence of Jacob Like the excellence of Israel, For the emptiers have emptied them out And ruined their vine branches.

  • The day of Nineveh’s destruction had come.  This was their call to arms.  God had come (using the Babylonians as His tool), and Nineveh was to man-up for battle.  Their efforts would be futile, but as they continued in their sin, the battle must still be fought.
    • It would have been far better for them to surrender to the Lord in faith!  Yet that day had passed.  Once, the opportunity was there & they took it.  Now it was gone. (Don’t harden your heart!  When Jesus calls you to be saved, you need to listen while you have the opportunity!)
  • Yet this didn’t only speak of the day of Nineveh’s destruction – it also was the day of Israel’s restoration.  Question: how?  The northern kingdom of Israel was still scattered, and the southern kingdom would soon be conquered.  Answer: It prophetically looks forward to the future full restoration.  God’s act of vengeance in that day was a preview of what He would do in a future day.  The nation would be restored.  What was once emptied would be refilled.  Israel would once again have national life.
    • Can God bring whole nations back from the dead?  Absolutely!  Nothing is impossible for Him.
    • If God can do that with nations, just think of what God can do with people!
  • So the call to arms has sounded – the reason for the Lord’s vengeance has been stated – what follows next is a prophetic description of what the day of battle would be like.  Vs. 3…

3 The shields of his mighty men are made red, The valiant men are in scarlet. The chariots come with flaming torches In the day of his preparation, And the spears are brandished. 4 The chariots rage in the streets, They jostle one another in the broad roads; They seem like torches, They run like lightning.

  • It’s bloody & violent.  Picturesque description of how the Babylonians would run rampant in the streets, plundering the city and burning it to the ground.  Soldiers would be everywhere, overwhelming everyone in their sight.

5 He remembers his nobles; They stumble in their walk; They make haste to her walls, And the defense is prepared. 6 The gates of the rivers are opened, And the palace is dissolved.

  • Interestingly, when Nahum wrote that “the gates of the rivers are opened,” that is exactly what took place.  The Babylonians purposefully flooded a river that flowed through the city as a way of forcing the Ninevites out of their homes.  The river was actually used as a weapon of warfare, to great effect.
  • That’s a pretty specific detail to include in a prophecy written 50 years before the events took place.  To skeptics, that’s reason to look at Nahum as having been written as a retrospective.  To anyone who recognizes the inspiration of Scripture, it is simply one more affirmation that we serve the God who knows all things.  God is not ignorant of future details, or making things up as He goes along.  He knows the end from the beginning, and can tell us very specifically what will happen – and He does so repeatedly through Biblical prophecy.

7 It is decreed: She shall be led away captive, She shall be brought up; And her maidservants shall lead her as with the voice of doves, Beating their breasts. 8 Though Nineveh of old was like a pool of water, Now they flee away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry; But no one turns back. 9 Take spoil of silver! Take spoil of gold! There is no end of treasure, Or wealth of every desirable prize. 10 She is empty, desolate, and waste! The heart melts, and the knees shake; Much pain is in every side, And all their faces are drained of color.

  • The total defeat of Nineveh had been decreed by the Lord.  There would be no mercy shown to the people – everything would be plundered – the people would be broken and destroyed.
  • Question: Is this cruel on the part of the Lord?  No – it is just!  This is His righteous response due to sin.  Think of it in human terms: if a man was locked in a cage for 30 years to the rest of his life, we could consider it cruel & heartless…unless we learned that the man was convicted of murder & sentenced to jail.  Then it is justice.  Likewise with Nineveh.  The violence they experienced on the day of their conquest was the righteous sentence handed down by the Judge of all the Universe.  God knew the extent of their sin, and punished them for it.
    • It is the same way with every expression of His wrath – even that lasting into eternity.  The idea of eternal hell is truly awful, and is meant to be!  But it is the righteous justice of God, meted out on those who deserve it.  Sin committed against God is infinite rebellion and treason, and eternal punishment fits the crime.
    • Thankfully, it is a punishment not a single person need endure!  Jesus died precisely to save us from that fate!

11 Where is the dwelling of the lions, And the feeding place of the young lions, Where the lion walked, the lioness and lion’s cub, And no one made them afraid? 12 The lion tore in pieces enough for his cubs, Killed for his lionesses, Filled his caves with prey, And his dens with flesh.

  • Once, Nineveh was filled with brave lion-like warriors.  Where were they now?  All of them were gone.  They either fled or were destroyed.
  • Man’s strength & power is fleeting!  Empires rise & fall – people gain & lose influence.  The only One who is truly everlasting is the Lord!

13 “Behold, I am against you,” says the LORD of hosts, “I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.”

  • How terrifying the words are: “Behold, I am against you.”  If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)  Yet, if God is against us, we have no hope!  No one can thwart the plans of God or win in battle against Him.  When God sets His face to do something, it will be done.
    • If that’s the case, why do so many people try?
  • So that was what the day of battle would look like.  Why would it come?  God gives the reason in Chapter 3, while continuing to describe & decree Nineveh’s destruction.

Nahum 3 – Vengeance Deserved
1 Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs.

  • Here it is: Nineveh was a “bloody city.”  Not only was it bloody from the day of battle, but it had been filled with the bloodguilt of its own sin.  It was “full of lies and robberies,” with a never-ending parade of victims. 
  • The Assyrians were profoundly cruel.  They had an “atrocious practice of cutting off hands and feet, ears and noses, gouging out eyes, lopping off heads, and then binding them to vines or heaping them up before city gates [and] the utter fiendishness by which captives could be impaled or flayed alive through a process in which their skin was gradually and completely removed.” (Maier, quoted by Johnson, Bible Knowledge Commentary)  Truly, they were horrible, even by the standards of ancient warfare!
  • This is why God judged the city (and the Assyrian empire as a whole).  Not only had they acted in excessive cruelty towards His own people, but that was just how they acted as a whole.  This sort of evil is not ignored by God – eventually judgment will come.
    • Question: Always?  Yes, always.  Sometimes it comes in this world, but we can be assured it will come in the afterworld.  Think of it: in the 20th century, the Nazis were truly evil, but eventually fell in defeat – likewise with the totalitarian Soviet empire.  It took time, but it happened.  That’s little different than what took place with the various ancient empires of the world such as the Assyrians and Babylonians.  Eventually, that sort of gross evil comes to an end.
    • And beyond political & military upheaval, there is the certainty of the ultimate judgment of God at the Great White Throne.  One day, every perpetrator of a war-crime will look Jesus in the eye & have to answer for his evil.  Each and every sinful act will face the wrath of God – not a single one is ignored or overlooked.
    • This makes us beyond grateful for the cross!  At the cross, all of our sin is answered!  The wrath of God has already been poured out upon our sin – Jesus took it in our stead.  Praise the Lord!
  • Nahum goes back to the prophetic preview of Nineveh’s own day of wrath.  Vs. 2…

2 The noise of a whip And the noise of rattling wheels, Of galloping horses, Of clattering chariots! 3 Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, A great number of bodies, Countless corpses— They stumble over the corpses— 4 Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, The mistress of sorceries, Who sells nations through her harlotries, And families through her sorceries.

  • The sound & sights of war….everything was truly awful.  So many are slain, all because of sin.  Sin kills.  Whether it is violence towards us or others, it always brings death.  (But Jesus brings life!)

5 “Behold, I am against you,” says the LORD of hosts; “I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, And the kingdoms your shame. 6 I will cast abominable filth upon you, Make you vile, And make you a spectacle. 7 It shall come to pass that all who look upon you Will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?”

  • God promised to humiliate them.  They would serve as an example/warning to the nations.  Like a prostitute exposed for all to see, so would Nineveh be in the sight of the kingdoms of the world.
  • Some might object to this, thinking that it could never come to pass.  Nineveh was too mighty – Assyria too strong.  How could this great city ever fall in such absolute defeat?  How could they be reduced to such a humiliating state?  God answers in vs. 8…

8 Are you better than No Amon That was situated by the River, That had the waters around her, Whose rampart was the sea, Whose wall was the sea? 9 Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, And it was boundless; Put and Lubim were your helpers. 10 Yet she was carried away, She went into captivity; Her young children also were dashed to pieces At the head of every street; They cast lots for her honorable men, And all her great men were bound in chains.

  • No-Amon = Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt.  At one time in history, Egypt had seemed unstoppable too.  They were the undisputed world superpower, yet all of that changed.  Their power & influence had waned over time, and it was the Assyrians that conquered them, dashing the Egyptian children to the ground in 663BC.  The Ninevites assured that the Egyptians of Thebes/No-Amon were taken as captives, being bound with chains.
  • The point?  If it could happen to Egypt, it could happen to Assyria.  Vs. 11…

11 You also will be drunk; You will be hidden; You also will seek refuge from the enemy. 12 All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: If they are shaken, They fall into the mouth of the eater.

  • Nineveh/Assyria would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians.  They would be plundered – they would seek refuge.  They were like ripened figs ready for the harvest: plump & ready to fall.
  • No nation is too strong to be taken down by the Lord.  No individual is too mighty to be humbled by God.  The moment someone believes him/herself to be untouchable by the Lord is the moment they are about to learn a very hard lesson.
  • Of course what most people don’t realize is that everyone is like a ripened fig, ready for the harvest.  Hebrews 9:27, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,"  Are you ready?  Nineveh wasn’t.

13 Surely, your people in your midst are women! The gates of your land are wide open for your enemies; Fire shall devour the bars of your gates. 14 Draw your water for the siege! Fortify your strongholds! Go into the clay and tread the mortar! Make strong the brick kiln! 15 There the fire will devour you, The sword will cut you off; It will eat you up like a locust. …

  • The Ninevites believed themselves immune from conquest, but they would find out differently!  Their people were totally weak in comparison to the warriors who would come.  Their defenses were down.  Even as they hid behind their city walls to endure the Babylonian siege, they would still find themselves devoured.  Nothing they could do would help them.

… Make yourself many—like the locust! Make yourself many—like the swarming locusts! 16 You have multiplied your merchants more than the stars of heaven. The locust plunders and flies away. 17 Your commanders are like swarming locusts, And your generals like great grasshoppers, Which camp in the hedges on a cold day; When the sun rises they flee away, And the place where they are is not known.

  • Although a swarm of locusts can be devastating, they are always temporary.  Locusts & grasshoppers don’t permanently dwell in a place for years at a time, always swarming over everything.  That’s the way the military strength of Assyria was.  Yes, they had been powerful, but the time of their power was over.  Any trust the people of Nineveh had in the Assyrian army would be futile.

18 Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; Your nobles rest in the dust. Your people are scattered on the mountains, And no one gathers them. 19 Your injury has no healing, Your wound is severe. All who hear news of you Will clap their hands over you, For upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually?

  • The final proclamation over Assyria.  Nineveh & the whole empire would be defeated.  There would be no coming back from this battle – they would forever be destroyed.
  • Unlike prophetic messages given to Israel, this prophetic message given regarding Nineveh did not end on a note of hope.  There is no thread held out of a future – no oblique promise of a Savior or redemption.  Why?  There was none.  This was a message of judgment declared upon a people not only in sin against God, but against a people who had no covenantal relationship with God.  With the various messages to the Hebrews, the prophets could always fall back onto the covenant; Nineveh had no such relationship.  All that awaited them was judgment and destruction.
    • Once this life is past, there are no more second chances.  Those who perish without a covenantal relationship with God through Jesus perish without hope for eternity.  All that awaits them is judgment.
    • The point?  Don’t put it off!  Mercy is available now, so take it!

Conclusion:
At one point, Nineveh had known the glorious mercies of God.  They had humbled themselves, repented of their sin, and called upon the one true God for help.  And God had given it!  It wasn’t something He had to do, nor was it even something that He hinted He might do.  But He did it anyway – simply because He is good, gracious, and loving.  He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

But just because He held off once didn’t obligate Him to do it forever.  God does not delight in judgment, but He is glorified by it, and will do it when necessary.  How could it be otherwise?  God is righteous & just, and that means that justice must be done in regards to evil.  The Ninevites had been truly evil, and they fully deserved the wrath of God – and that was exactly what God both (1) said would be poured out, and (2) actually was poured out via the Babylonians.  The Assyrians who had conquered so many other people were themselves conquered, and they finally experienced the humiliation they had forced upon others.

It is a harsh prophecy, no doubt…but it is harsh for the enemies of God; not for His people.  For His people, it is a message of comfort & hope.  God avenges us!  He pours out His wrath upon our enemies.  And not just our physical enemies, but our spiritual enemies as well.  God specifically prepared the lake of fire to be the eternal place of suffering for Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet.  Even death itself will be cast there!  All of our enemies will be overwhelmingly defeated by the Lord God, as He rises up in our defense for His own glory.

That is our God!  This is whom we trust!  What is it that overwhelms you today?  Trust the God who knows the beginning from the end.  Trust the God of whom even the created elements of earth fear.  This is our God.  He loves us, and He cares for us, because we belong to Him through Jesus.

Grateful for Grace

Posted: August 27, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 17:11-19, “Grateful for Grace”

Why be grateful?  Gratitude stops us from taking things for granted.  We see this all this all the time with kids.  Children who don’t appreciate the things they’ve been given don’t take care of them.  That’s why iPhones are left lying around – expensive games are thrown to the ground, etc.  And it doesn’t stop with kids…some adults act the same way.  Instead of being grateful for gifts or assistance, they believe they are entitled to those things, and treat them (as well as those who give them) with little to no respect.

If it happens in the way we treat one another, surely it can happen with the way we treat God.  In fact, it takes place far more often between humans and the Lord than it does between people.  After all, everyone has a reason to be grateful to God, and few actually are.  God gives gifts to all men & women, regardless of whether or not they know & worship Him.  Every man, woman, and child owes his/her daily life to God, yet the vast majority never come to know Him.  And out of these, very few attempt to offer any gratitude.  They choose to give thanks to gods of their own imaginations, if they think to give thanks at all.  As Paul wrote: Romans 1:21, "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

Biblical thankfulness guards us against that.  When we are truly grateful, then we see ourselves in the right relation to the real God.  Grateful people realize their utter need for Jesus.  Grateful people realize their predicament without God.  Grateful people understand their need for grace, and as a result, don’t take it for granted.  How can such a marvelous gift be abused – or even ignored?  It cannot be!  Without Jesus, we have no hope – so we are sincerely grateful for the certain, sure hope we have in Christ.

This is the distinction shown between the men in our text.  Ten lepers are miraculously healed.  Nine take it for granted; one did not.  That one man understood how incredibly lost he was, and how undeserving he was of mercy from the Jewish Messiah.  He alone was grateful – and he alone experienced grace that not even the other nine Jews received.

As with the first part of Chapter 17, it can be difficult to see how this all fits together with the overall context, but it becomes clear.  Up to this point, Luke had shown contrasts between the Pharisees & the disciples.  The Pharisees didn’t realize they were lost, never understanding that they were just as much in need of forgiveness as everyone else (including the so-called “worst” in their society).  The Pharisees were self-righteous, ignoring the warnings & testimonies of God, and as a result (without change) they were doomed.  The disciples, on the other hand, believed God, and now needed to walk by faith.  They were called to forgive others as they had been forgiven.  This was an impossible task, but it was made possible by the power of God.  All they needed to do was to walk in faith – to walk according to their Christian duty.

At this point, there’s no question Luke changes the scene, but there is still a flow to the context.  To the disciples, Jesus had spoken of miracles such as replanting a mulberry tree in the Mediterranean Sea.  Now, there are kingdom miracles done in front of them with lepers being healed.  Earlier, Jesus had spoken of faith the size of a mustard seed, and now there was evidence of at least that much – and far more among one of the men who was healed.  Jesus shows that it was possible to live as members of the kingdom in the here & now, and that the kingdom included far more people than either the Pharisees or the disciples expected – it was open even to Samaritans.

This one man was truly grateful for the gift he received, showing himself truly grateful for Jesus.  Be grateful for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Be grateful for grace!

Luke 17:11–19

  • Ten lepers healed (11-14)

11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.

  • Before we get too far, notice that Luke gives a mention of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  This has been such a long section that it can be easy to forget that this has been a travel narrative.  The last mention of it was in 13:22, with Luke reminding the reader that this was Jesus’ ultimate goal.  He had set His face to go towards Jerusalem (9:51-52), His eyes being fixed upon the cross.  Whatever happened along the way was good & wonderful, but it wasn’t anything compared to what was yet to take place.  All of that is soon to come, and Luke’s mention here is his way of reminding his readers of the ultimate goal.
  • Although Luke mentions a specific destination, he gives no specificity on the route.  Jesus is said to go “through the midst of Samaria and Galilee” and arrive in “a certain village.”  Some have debated whether or not Jesus travelled straight through Samaria on His way to Jerusalem (as the wording might imply), and if that somehow is geographically incorrect, considering that Galilee is north of Samaria, rather than the other way around.  In all likelihood, the debate misses the point.  Luke isn’t mapping out Jesus’ specific travel route; he’s simply saying where Jesus travelled along the way.  Considering how long ago in Luke’s narrative that he showed Jesus heading towards Jerusalem, it seems more than likely that Luke compiled a whole bunch of southern trips together in one “travel narrative,” rather than give a day-by-day chronological account of Jesus’ journey.  The main reason Samaria is mentioned at all is probably to set the stage for the one leper who returned to Jesus (vs 16).  Otherwise, this is a general journey, with generic places, such as this “certain village.”  Luke is more concerned about the fact of the miracle, than the timing & location of it.  This fits many of Luke’s main themes.  He has shown many other incidents where grace was given to unexpected people & even to Gentiles, and the same thing happens here.  In the midst of all of these conversations with the hyper-religious Pharisees & other sincere Jewish believers in Christ, Luke gives an account of Gentile faithfulness. 
  • Far more important than the location of the village are the people Jesus encountered there: “ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.”  Ten men, with terrible diseases of the skin – men who had such contagious diseases that they were basically forced to be cut off from the rest of society.  Today, we typically think of leprosy as Hansen’s disease.  According to the CDC, Hansen’s disease is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose.  Untreated, the disease can result in paralysis of hands & feet, with multiple injuries caused to a lack of sensation in the affected areas. (https://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/about/about.html)  Thankfully, today the disease is treatable, and people can be easily cured if the disease is caught early enough.  In ancient times, however, things were quite different.  To contract leprosy was considered devastating, basically with the idea that the person was considered untouchable and alone.  Even if the disease did not directly cause death, in essence, it was a fate worse than death: complete isolation and exile from life.
  • Whether or not the ten men actually had the specific infection of Hansen’s disease is unknown.  The Biblical term referring to leprosy encompassed quite a variety of skin diseases.  Some might be strictly temporary – others were known to last for years, if not a lifetime (or whatever was left of one).  Due to the highly contagious nature of many skin diseases, the Old Testament law was very specific on its instructions in dealing with leprosy. (Lev 13-14)  Affected persons were to be examined by the priest, who were to make the final determination as to whether or not an individual was truly leprous.  If they were, they were to be cut off from the rest of society. Leviticus 13:45–46, "(45) “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ (46) He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."  Horrible!  Yet, such actions were required at the time in order to keep the disease from spreading.  This is why the ten men kept their distance, standing far away from Jesus & the others.  They knew they needed help, but they were unable to come close to anyone in order to get it.
    • Question: Why did the Law command the person to be inspected by the priest? (1) From a practical standpoint, this was the person that most Hebrews would naturally look to for help in healing, considering that he was God’s representative to the nation.  Very little is said in the Old Testament about physicians – the first mention of physicians being among the Hebrews is found during the reign of King Asa (2 Chr 16:12).  That’s not to say that medical doctors were completely unknown – but they certainly were not a major feature among the ancient Hebrews.  That was a role more often left to priests and prophets.  (2) Leprosy can often be thought of as a picture of sin, and sin is a spiritual disease. Just as leprosy affects a person’s whole life, starting small & spreading, likewise with sin.  A little sin easily spreads (like yeast), soon affecting a person’s entire life.  Sin leaves a person unclean, defiled in the sight of God.  Sin leaves a person as one of the walking-dead – the pronouncement of death ever over us, apart from an utter miracle.  Sin is a spiritual disease of the worst sort.  Spiritual diseases require spiritual cures, and the cure for sin is Christ!
  • If leprosy can be likened to our sinful condition, then the fact that the ten men had to stand far away from Jesus demonstrates something true about every sinful individual: separation from God.  This is seen from the very first chapters of the Bible.  When God originally created Adam & Eve, they had unrestrained access to God, and God habitually walked with them in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden.  What happened as a result of sin?  They were ejected from the garden, and their relationship with God was permanently changed.  Thankfully, God still reached out in His mercies & grace – but otherwise, they were “afar off,” with no access to the God who created them.
    • That’s exactly the way all people are in their sin.  Sin separates us from God, and apart from a miracle (apart from Jesus!), we have no access to Him.  Zero – none.  Although people might think that they’ve got a great relationship with “the big guy upstairs,” or have their own individual “spirituality,” the reality is that they have nothing.  This is the result of sin.  We are defiled, dead in our trespasses, separated from our Creator.  What we need is a miracle.  We cannot reach God; He must reach us…and that is exactly what He did when Jesus came to us.
  • If the men were separated from society due to their disease & separated from God due to their sin, what could they do?  Only one option remained: cry out for help & mercy.  Vs. 13…

13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

  • The men couldn’t get close to Jesus, but they could shout loud enough for Him to hear them. “They lifted up their voices” and began shouting – crying out from a distance, because that was the only option they had.  And it was good!  At this point, they are together reaching out to Jesus in faith.  How much faith is questionable, but at least they had enough to ask.  It was a starting point.  (And at least one of the men followed the starting point all the way to the conclusion.)
  • Note: All of them called out to Jesus.  As we’ll see, the men had some fairly serious differences between them, particularly nine-to-one.  Yet this did not stop them from finding some sort of bond together in their suffering, nor did it stop them from calling out with one voice for help.  Whatever differences they had in life, their disease of living-death put them on equal footing.
    • Sin & the consequences of it is a great equalizer.  All people have sinned – all are in need – all are headed to the grave.  As Romans famously says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)  Each one of us is at the same point without Jesus.  We are all spiritual lepers in need of healing.
    • That fact makes attitudes like racism and prejudice utterly foolish.  Our blood is all the same color, and our need for forgiveness is all the same level of desperation. 
  • All of them called to Jesus in the same way: as “Master.”  The Greek word isn’t exactly what we might expect.  Luke has shown others calling Jesus “Lord” in the past, but that’s not the word used here.  Other times, Jesus has been called “Rabbi,” or “Teacher,” but even that’s a different word.  Here, the word is not a religious title at all, but a civic one. (ἐπιστάτης)  The form is unique in the Bible to Luke, and in other literature it’s typically used of governmental leaders & administrators.  The point?  The ten lepers are in spiritual need, but they do not use spiritual language.  It is unclear at this point what kind of faith they had in Jesus.  They saw Him as someone who could help, but not necessarily as anything more.
    • Not a few people see Jesus in the same way.  To them, Jesus is perhaps a miracle-worker – a guru of some sort – but that’s it.  He has a bit of authority, but not lordship.  They will ask Him for physical healings & temporary helps, but not for forgiveness & salvation. They don’t believe Him for that much.  Jesus doesn’t merely have some authority – He has all authority!  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. (Mt 28:18)  We all have to start somewhere in faith, but true faith moves beyond seeing Jesus as one of many people with authority, to seeing Him as God.
  • All of them called to Jesus for the same thing: “mercy.”  If they didn’t look to Jesus as a spiritual leader, at least they understood they needed someone with authority to show kindness to them, and that’s what they asked for when they asked for mercy.  And this was a good thing – it was a starting place.  We need mercy!  We need kindness to be shown to us – especially when we understand our spiritual depravity and sin.  Obviously not all of the 10 men were thinking of their spiritual need at this point, but when we consider ours, then our need for mercy is at the top of the list!  If God gave us what we deserved, we would receive death.  For God to show us kindness is for God to withhold His wrath – it is for Him to give us one more day – for Him to turn away from judgment. 
    • That’s what we need, but our God gives us more.  We need mercy, but we get more than mercy – we get grace!  God doesn’t only withhold His wrath; He takes it upon Himself when Jesus dies on the cross in our place.  We require a bit of heavenly kindness, but God bathes us in grace when He makes us His children.  In His mercy, God gives us what we ask for, but don’t deserve.  In His grace, He gives us the things for which we could never ask. 

14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

  • Jesus saw them and spoke to them.  Here alone was evidence of His mercy.  He took notice of them and responded to them.  This was more than other members of the community were required to do, and probably far more than most people ever did in regards to this men.  The lepers were the outcasts.  They had to constantly proclaim themselves as unclean in the hearing of others, but no one else was required to acknowledge them – much less be friendly with them.  Jesus showed kindness & mercy merely in His attention.
  • Jesus instructed them.  This is another act of mercy, but it is also a bit unusual in regards to Jesus’ previous acts of healing.  Although Jesus had physically touched other lepers in the past (Lk 5:13), there is no indication He did so this time.  He spoke to them, telling them what needed to be done, but it was up to them to actually go and do it.
    • It is reminiscent of Elisha and Naaman, the prophet of God & the commander of the Assyrian army. …  Elisha told Naaman what to do, and Naaman almost didn’t do it!  There were better, bigger, cleaner rivers in Assyria than the Jordan in Israel.  To Naaman, this was disgraceful & a waste of time.  He actually had to be talked into obedience by one of his servants.  2 Kings 5:13–14, "(13) And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (14) So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean."  Naaman almost missed out on his healing!  It was freely available to him, but he had to respond to the offer of grace. The cleansing was available – all that was needed was a response.
    • This is no different with eternal salvation.  Jesus freely offers to save anyone who asks, and He has already made all of the provision necessary, but we still need to respond.  Think of it: when Jesus died on the cross, He died for all the world.  100% of the work was completed when Jesus died on the cross & rose from the grave.  Now, anyone can be saved.  So why isn’t everyone?  It is because not everyone has responded in faith.  God has told us what need to be done: believe.  Now people just need to do it.  We need to follow Jesus’ instructions.
  • What were Jesus’ instructions to the men?  They were surprisingly brief!  Unlike Naaman who had an action to perform, the only thing the ten men were to do was to present themselves to the priests, according to the Law of Moses.  No dipping – no marching around the temple seven times – no actions of any sort.  Jesus doesn’t even tell them to present themselves in a certain way.  He simply tells them to show up.  He doesn’t even promise them a result!  Just go to the priest, per the Biblical instruction, and see what would happen.  They had to trust Jesus’ character, having faith in His kindness if they were to know the true extent of His mercy. (So do we!)
    • Interestingly, the same instruction applied to the one person we know was not Jewish.  The Samaritan was included among the ten to go present themselves to the Jewish priests (wherever the local priests happened to be).  Why would a non-Jew present himself to priests of Israel, according to the law of Moses, all on the basis of a prophet among the Jews?  There must be faith at work! 
  • What happened when they went?  They were healed.  “As they went, they were cleansed.”  The cleansing came to them while they were on the way.  Again, like Naaman, they needed faith to obey.  The ten men may not have known what to expect, but they followed through on the instructions given them.  And while they walked (or ran!), they were healed.  Can you imagine it?  The men would have felt sensation coming back into their fingers & toes.  White spots and patches on their skin would have shrunk and healed.  Whether it was gradual with every step, or instantaneous we don’t know – but this much is clear: before they ever presented themselves to the priests, the men were already healed.  The priests were not there to witness the healing; they would certify the fact that the men were already clean when they arrived.
    • From that viewpoint, it’s not unlike the ordinance of baptism.  We aren’t baptize in order to cleanse us from sin; we are baptized because Jesus has already cleansed us.  At that point, the church witnesses the faith that we’ve already expressed in Jesus.
    • In regards to the ten men, it demonstrates that they needed to start walking in faith even before they saw any benefits or blessing.  God values our faith more than our comfort.  He wants our obedience more than our mental acknowledgement.  People often get this backward.  They want God to bless them, but they aren’t yet willing to walk in obedience.  Reverse it.  True faith expresses itself in obedience.  Someone who isn’t willing to act likely isn’t really willing to believe.
  • One leper grateful (15-19)

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

  • Out of all the men that went, one came back.  One returned.  Upon evidence of his healing, he “glorified God.”  And he did it passionately!  “With a loud voice [he] glorified God.”  How loud was it?  We could transliterate the Greek as “megaphone.” (φωνῆς μεγάλης)  There was no restraining this man in his worship.  God had healed him, and God was worthy of great, mega-praise!
    • What a great picture of worship!  Worship is supposed to be passionate!  Just think about some of the psalms: Psalm 96:4, "For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods." – Psalm 98:4, "Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises." – Psalm 100:1–2, "(1) Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! (2) Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing."  How much of that do you believe was originally sung softly & tenderly? J  There’s certainly a time for soft, quiet, intimate worship – but there is also a time for loud, exuberant, joyful praise.  Loud or soft, passion is the key – sincerity of heart.  This is what the Lord wants & this is what He deserves.
    • Is this what we give Him?  Or do we just show up giving Him the bare minimum?  Perhaps we sing, but it’s only half-heartedly & only because that’s what is expected of us at the beginning of church.  Or maybe we read the psalms and say “Thanks” to God, but we don’t really give Him a second thought as we do.  Where is the passion?  Where is the true “megaphone” praise?  Don’t hold back – be unrestrained in your glory to God!
  • Along with giving glory to God, the man gave thanks to Jesus.  He fell down at Jesus’ feet (an act of worship) and declared his gratitude.  Interestingly, the word used for “giving Him thanks” is the verb form of the word we translate “Eucharist.” (εὐχαριστέω)  Although the word is often associated with the Roman Catholic Church & their faulty theology regarding the Lord’s Supper, the word itself simply speaks of thanksgiving.  The fact that Jesus gave His body & blood as a sacrifice for our sin is the ultimate reason to give thanks to God! Biblically observed, the act of Communion is a marvelous remembrance & worshipful, thanks-filled ordinance.
    • It is good to give thanks!  It’s Biblical, the exhortation to give thanks to God repeated over & over in the Scripture.  In almost a national-hymn, Israel is regularly told to “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. For His mercy endures forever.”  They were to be reminded time & time again of God’s good character, and the necessity of giving Him thanks.  The root of the Hebrew word actually speaks of “casting, throwing,” with this particular construction implying “casting thanks” upon the God of Israel.  And it’s not just the Old Testament!  The New Testament is filled with instances of God’s people giving thanks.  Christians are to give thanks for all things at all times in the name of our Lord Jesus. (Eph 5:20)  Whatever we do, in word or deed, we are to give thanks. (Col 3:17)  In everything, we are to give God thanks, for this is the will of Christ Jesus for us. (1 Ths 5:18)  Get the picture?  Give thanks!
    • It may be good to do, but it is often ignored…even among born-again Christians.  Sure, we’re grateful for the grace we’ve received in Christ, but after a while it becomes old-news.  It’s just something we have – something we don’t really think about – something that inevitably gets taken for granted.  It’s like what happens when we pray at the dinner table & “give thanks.”  All too often, it becomes the same prayer we always pray, and we utter the words without thinking about it.  It’s all ritual, and no sincerity of heart.  Are we truly thanking the Lord for providing the meal in front of us – or are we just saying what needs to be said just so we can start eating in polite company?  The same thing happens in regards to our relationship with Jesus.  Some people have been saved for so long they just take it for granted.  Maybe they put their faith in Jesus at a young age, and as an teenager or an adult, they don’t really give it a lot of thought.  Or maybe life got in the way, and after facing challenge after challenge, they’ve forgotten what it means to be truly born-again and saved.  Whatever the case, they’ve lost their gratefulness & God is taken for granted. 
    • Beware!  A lack of gratefulness is a sure gateway to sin.  When we take our relationship with God for granted, that’s exactly the point we start to get into trouble.  King David was a man after God’s own heart, passionately praising Him, writing multitudes of psalms expressing his sincere gratitude.  Yet what happened when he took God’s blessings for granted & stayed back at his house when the rest of his nation was at war?  That’s when he gazed with lust upon Bathsheba, and his whole life changed. (2 Sam 11)
    • How do we keep ourselves from taking Jesus for granted?  By remaining consciously grateful.  Think through the blessings you’ve received in Him – make a mental list, and meditate upon His goodness & grace.  In Christ, we have gone from death to life – we have 100% of our sins forgiven – we have 100% of our penalty paid – we have been made the children of God through both adoption and birth – we have become a royal priesthood – we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit – we have constant access to God in prayer – we have been given spiritual gifts – we have the promise of an eternal inheritance, and more.  The list could go on & on.  How can we not be grateful when thinking upon these things?  Just thinking upon the incredible goodness & character of Jesus is more than enough to give Him thanks.  How do you avoid taking Jesus for granted?  By looking upon Him.  Gaze at Him long enough, and you cannot help but be grateful!
  • The ironic part about all of this is that the one person who returned to give thanks wasn’t even Jewish!  Luke makes a point of identifying him as “a Samaritan.”  Who were the Samaritans?  These were the descendants of those who had been conquered by the Assyrians in the northern kingdom of Israel.  The fate of the north was far different than that of the south.  When the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon, the Jews were displaced – taken captive (mostly) as a whole to land of Babylon, with only a small remnant remaining in the land, which was later repopulated by the Jews.  In the north, some of the nation was carried away, while others had been intermingled with Gentiles.  From a religious standpoint, the northern kingdom had always struggled with idolatry, but after the Assyrian conquest, things collapsed altogether.  What resulted was a mixture of pagan and Hebrew worship practices.  Some of the culture of their Hebrew ancestors was kept, but most was lost.  The southern Jews viewed the Samaritans as fallen & defiled – half-breeds unworthy of God.  Yet who was it that returned to give thanks to the Son of God?  This hated half-breed – this one who was raised on terrible theology & partial Scriptures (at best) acted more like a true son of Abraham than anyone else!
    • Jesus came as the Messiah for the Jews and to be the ultimate Sacrifice & Savior of Israel.  But He wasn’t given only for Israel.  Anyone from any nation can be saved when they look to Jesus in faith!  This was always God’s plan from the very beginning.  It was too small a thing for the Messiah to save only the Jews; God gave Him for the entire world.  (Isa 49:6)
    • Jesus came for you, too!  If Jesus can save the Samaritans, He can save anyone.  There’s no one “too far gone” to be saved!

17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

  • Jesus immediately noticed who was missing.  Ten had received a blessing – ten were cleansed – but nine had gone on their way.  They received a physical healing from the Lord and were satisfied with that alone.  They wanted nothing more substantial, and received nothing more than what they got.  They were healed for a moment, but missed out on eternity.
    • This is the case with so many!  They have a bit of faith, but their faith is temporary.  Perhaps they have faith for a healing & pray for it.  Or they have faith for a financial situation & pray for that.  Perhaps they even pray to the one true God through the name of the Lord Jesus.  And sometimes God even answers those prayers!  That’s all well & good, but what happens when the situation is no longer there?  What happens when the crisis is resolved?  All of their faith dissipates.  It was a temporary need, which required temporary faith.  Once it was gone, it was gone.
    • We need something more than temporary faith.  We need saving faith in Jesus as God.  We need to trust Him alone for eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.  We need faith in Him that extends beyond temporary situations & stretches into eternity. 
  • The one man who had this kind of faith was a “foreigner.”  The Samaritan alone had “returned to give glory to God.”  This one who had come from another nation was the only person to give glory to the God of Israel.  And as a result, the Samaritan was the only one who pleased the God of Israel.  It’s not the most outwardly-religious person that glorifies God; it’s the person of faith.  Who cares how religious a person might seem to be, if he/she doesn’t have faith?  I’ve met people with multiple degrees in religion & theology, yet without faith.  There are professors as major seminaries without faith – they just happen to more culturally identify with Christianity than anything else, so that is what they teach.  Religion has never saved a single soul – all that matters is real faith in the real God.  It matters not how much information you know about God if you don’t know God. 
  • The Samaritan had been a foreigner to this point, outside of the promises & covenant blessings of God.  But he wouldn’t remain that way much longer!  Jesus made this Samaritan a child of God.  Vs. 19…

19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

  • Question: Why does Jesus tell the man that his faith had made him well?  After all, he had already been cleansed of his leprosy. (vs. 14-15)  That much had been seen in his earlier act of obedience & faith.  More than that, the same thing could have been said of the other nine men.  All of them had faith in Jesus’ initial instructions & had been cleansed of their leprosy.  How was this situation any different, that now the Samaritan man had been made well?  Answer: Jesus was no longer speaking of a physical healing, but a spiritual one.  The Samaritan experienced an additional miracle unknown by the other nine: he had been saved.  “Your faith has made you well” could be translated “Your faith has saved you.” (“made well” = σῴζω = “to be saved.”)  The Samaritan was saved/delivered not merely for the moment or from a skin disease; he was saved for all eternity.
  • If the Samaritan was saved in addition to being cleansed, it means that the Samaritan had faith beyond the temporary.  He had faith in Jesus not only as an authoritative healer, but as God.  And that faith can be seen, demonstrated through his act of worship.  When the Samaritan glorified God, he also fell down at the feet of Jesus to give him thanks.  A skeptic might look at that as two different acts, but Jesus saw them as one and the same.  After all, no one is saved (born-again) apart from faith in Christ.  He is the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father except through Him. (Jn 14:6)  For Jesus to declare this Samaritan saved means that Jesus knew the motive behind this man’s worship and gratitude.  When the Samaritan fell down at the feet of Jesus as he was glorifying God, the Samaritan fell down at the feet of God Himself. 
    • Faith saves.  Not faith in faith – not faith in ourselves – but faith in Jesus as the one true God.  When we know Him in that way, we can be sure that our faith has made us eternally well.  That is a gift that cannot be granted by any religion or priest.  It is only by the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God. 

Conclusion:
Are you grateful for grace?  It seems amazing that out of ten men healed of the horrible disease of leprosy, only one would return to give glory to God & thanks to Jesus as the God who healed him.  Yet what happened then is simply a microcosm of what happens every single day.  All kinds of people receive daily mercies from God, and they never stop to thank Him as God.  They want Him to provide their daily food, their daily breath, their jobs, their health, etc., but they don’t want to see Him as their eternal King.  They might have enough faith to ask for something for the moment, but they don’t see Jesus for anything beyond the moment.

As a result, they miss out on eternity.  Multitudes of people will go into the Day of Judgement having known something about the Lord, but never knowing Jesus as Lord – and they won’t be saved.  They will have received countless blessings from His hand, but they never glorified Him as God or gave Him thanks.  And just like the nine, they will have missed out.

Not that the opportunity wasn’t there!  Like the Samaritan, the nine had the same grace available to them, having even received of the same healing.  They just didn’t come back to Jesus to experience its fullness.  They took their healing for granted, and missed out on salvation.  Not the Samaritan!  The Samaritan recognized the grace that had been offered to him, and he was grateful.  He poured out his heart to God in worship, and received the salvation for which he had no right to ask.

How about you?  Perhaps you’re someone who, to this point, believed you were too far gone to be saved – that God would never want to save someone like you.  How gloriously wrong you are!  Jesus does want to save you – He offers to save the entire world, and had already made it possible for anyone anywhere to be saved.  The work has been done – all you need to do is respond to it.  Take that step of obedient faith, and surrender yourself to Jesus.

For the rest of us, be careful not to take the grace of God for granted.  It’s so easy to get so used to the idea of being saved & forgiven that we become complacent.  Remember what it was like the day you first met Jesus – remember what it was like in the moment you went from being lost to being found.  Think through the many blessings you have in Christ, and be grateful.