Lord of the Sabbath

Posted: August 21, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 6:1-11, “Lord of the Sabbath”

Rest can be a rare thing.  For as lazy as our culture can sometimes seem to be, people are getting less rest than ever.  A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours sleep per night, with overall Americans today averaging an hour less sleep than Americans in the 1940s.  Some chalk it up to health problems – others to bad habits (eating, electronics, etc.), but there’s no doubt that many people walk around tired simply because they (we!) are too busy.  Even those who receive 7-8 hours sleep each night often have every waking moment filled with activity.  Facebook is checked upon waking, kids have to be woken & dressed, work is back-to-back meetings that carry over to home via emails, and by the time the daily chores are done, people are simply exhausted.  There hasn’t been any rest all day long.

This same pattern continues over into our relationship with God.  For many, they are so busy doing things for God that they never rest in God.  They want to know they’ve done the right things, prayed the right prayers, read the right Scriptures, etc., in order to be assured that they are in the good graces of God.  And all of that misses the point.  It’s not that any of it is bad (good works, prayer, Scripture are all good!) – but we cannot use them to work into our salvation.  The only way we are saved is through resting in Jesus.  We don’t work; He does – and His work is enough.  He offers us the true Sabbath of God.

It is the Sabbath that becomes the point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees as Luke begins the 6th chapter of his gospel.  Conflict has become a regular occurrence between them as Jesus engaged in His Galilean ministry.  The Pharisees objected to Jesus’ proclamation of a man’s forgiveness in the synagogue, and they were amazed at the type of people Jesus called to Himself.  Not only did this Man have common fishermen as disciples, but He went so far as to reach out to tax collectors & other sinners, even implying that the Pharisees themselves were just as much in need of forgiveness as anyone else.

At this point, the Pharisees were taking a close look at Jesus.  If Jesus was going to make these sorts of claims, then they were going to place them under the closest scrutiny.  They were ready to pounce at the first mistake…the problem was finding one.  That’s what they tried to do with the Sabbath regulations.  They thought they caught Jesus and His disciples in lawbreaking, but didn’t.  They tried to set Jesus up with a trap to force Him to break the law, but they couldn’t.  They worked pretty hard on the Sabbath to get Jesus to violate the Sabbath, but found it was impossible.  Why?  Because they missed what the Sabbath was all about.  The true Sabbath is to rest in the Lord of the Sabbath.  The true Sabbath is to rest in the salvation of God.

Luke 6:1–11

  • Sabbath Day Snacking (1-5)

1 Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. 2 And some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

  • Those following along in translations other than the NKJV (or KJV) might immediately notice a difference in verse 1.  Whereas the NKJV apparently describes a careful chronology, other translations simply say “on a Sabbath.” (NASB, ESV, etc.)  This is one of the instances in which there is variation in the available manuscripts, with the older manuscripts (even a papyrus fragment) strongly supporting the shorter reading.  The longer reading retained in the NKJV is found in the majority of manuscripts, but the reading is truly strange, literally calling the Sabbath day the “second-first,” and the usage is unprecedented.  The majority of scholars believe it to be a transcriptional error as one scribe put in an accidental marking, another attempted to correct it, and it was absorbed into the text.  – All of that is said to say this: although there is a difference in the manuscripts, it doesn’t give us less reason to trust our Bibles; it actually gives us more.  So many manuscripts exist of the New Testament, that when errors do occasionally arise, they become relatively easy to see & correct.  The original writing of the text was inspired by God the Holy Spirit; the multitude of copying the text was not.  Yet even in the copying, there is a miracle in that the Holy Spirit ensured that His word was accurately preserved.  No other book in history has as much manuscript evidence as that of the New Testament – nothing even comes close.  We can know what God inspired for us, and we can have confidence in believing it.
  • That’s all peripheral stuff, and it doesn’t affect the main point of the text anyway.  The main point is what actually took place on that particular “Sabbath” day (whenever it was).  At some point during the day, Jesus and the disciples were strolling through the grainfields having a bit of a snack.  Walking among the stalks of wheat or barley (most likely wheat), they plucked some heads of grain along the way, rubbed off the husk, and chewed it as a small snack.  The practice was not uncommon at all, and even though the disciples were not likely to be the landowners, it wasn’t considered stealing.  In fact, this specific practice is legally permitted in Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy 23:24–25, "(24) “When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. (25) When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain."  The whole idea is that if God’s people were hungry, they should be allowed to eat – but to gorge themselves was to take it too far.  Just eat what you’re hungry for & move on.  (Combines the notions of personal responsibility & loving our neighbors.)
  • Of course theft isn’t the issue here; Sabbath day regulations are.  Whether or not the Pharisees were eyewitnesses to the event, or told about it later, we don’t know – what we do know is that that immediately raised an objection.  What the disciples had done was “not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”  What was the Sabbath law?  The most famous iteration of it is as the 4th of the 10 Commandments: Exodus 20:8–11, "(8) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (9) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. (11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."  All of that is pretty clear, but it is also pretty generic.  The idea is that work/labor is forbidden, but the work/labor is not defined.  It didn’t need to be.  It should have been obvious when someone was working on the Sabbath day, as it was when a man was caught gathering up sticks for a fire (Num 15:32-36).  The focus in the commandment wasn’t so much on what was/was not defined as “labor,” but on the gift of God.  God had sanctified the 7th day, set the example by resting upon it, and His people were to do the same.  Ultimately, this was to be a covenant sign between He & His nation (Ezekiel 20:12), that the Hebrews trusted God alone for their provision and sustenance.  The whole point was for the Hebrews to demonstrate their faith and trust in God; not to impose some sort of bondage upon the people.
  • If the practice was Biblically allowed, where did get the Pharisees get the idea that there was a Sabbath day restriction?  Not from the word of God, but from the traditions of men.  According to Mishnah 7.2, there are 39 activities specifically forbidden on the Sabbath.  This included obvious things such as hunting, slaughtering, and skinning – less obvious things like writing two characters/letters or erasing something in order to write them – and it also included basic farming activities such as sowing, plowing, reaping, threshing, etc.  It was this category of labor of which the Pharisees accused the disciples of doing.  The gathering of wheat kernels in their hand was reaping, the removal of the husk was threshing, and perhaps even the chewing of the grain could be considered kneading (as in bread).  On the face of it, it was plainly ridiculous.  On any other day, no one would have observed Jesus’ disciples and come to the conclusion that they were farming the fields.  Any casual glance would have said they were snacking.  If it was snacking on a Friday, how could it be farming on a Saturday?  Yet that was the claim of the Pharisees.  Contextually, the Pharisees had just found fault with the disciples for eating and drinking (as opposed to fasting), and their objections were easily brushed aside.  Now they continue their attacks (seemingly obsessed with the disciples’ eating habits), and they look for any excuse they could find.
    • How careful we need to be with the traditions of men!  How easy it is to add to the word of God!  This isn’t just a danger with Pharisaic Judaism or even Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy – this is a danger faced among Evangelical Protestants as well.  We throw in all kinds of definitions on what it means to be a “good” Christian.  Do we listen to the right radio stations?  Do we back the right political candidates?  Do we back the right causes?  Do we have our daily quiet time with the Lord in the right quantity?  Do we give the right amount of money to the right organizations?  None of those things are inherently bad, and most of them are very good.  But none of those things ought to define our Christianity.  They certainly don’t save us; nor do they define us as saved.  When we impose those standards upon others (even upon ourselves), we’re leaving a gospel of grace for a gospel of works, which isn’t a gospel at all.  Those things are simply cultural – they are man-made traditions, and they need to have their proper place in our lives: subservient to Jesus.
  • Notice the specific question posed by the Pharisees: “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”  The word “lawful” is a key term in this passage, appearing here 6:2, in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in 6:4, and also in Jesus’ response in the synagogue situation in 6:9.  The word refers to something being right, authorized, permitted, etc., and it’s basically a strengthened from of the word “to be.”  An act has come “out of” something else already in existence – thereby being authorized by it.  What’s the issue?  Authority.  Where is your source of authority – to what do you turn for permission?  For the Pharisees, it was the Scripture plus their tradition – their tradition actually informing how they viewed the Scripture itself.  And that was their problem.  Scripture IS our authority, and although we all have our own traditions and viewpoints, they need to be informed from the truth of Scripture, rather than Scripture being informed by our viewpoint. 
  • So that’s the accusation.  What was Jesus’ response?  Vs. 3…

3 But Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?”

  • Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the events of 1 Samuel 21, when David was on the run from Saul, and came to Ahimelech the priest at Nob.  He and his men were truly hungry, and the only food available was the showbread, recently removed from being in the Lord’s presence in the Tabernacle.  As Jesus properly notes, it was illegal for anyone except the priests to eat, yet this act was never counted as a sin against David.  The priest of God actually brought it out for him & his men to eat.  Why did he do it?  Because it would have been worse for David to starve to death.  All David was trying to do was to stay alive – he wasn’t looking for ways to flaunt the law of God, or disregard God’s holiness.  Relatively speaking, his heart (and those of his men) were pure.  The priest rightly recognized David’s heart, and that of the Lord God: God’s heart was merciful.  He trusted in God’s goodness and grace, knowing that the Lord would rather see David live than die.
    • Does knowing all of that give permission to the priest, or David, or anyone else to reinterpret the law according to his/her own needs?  Of course not.  God’s word is not circumstantially dependent – meaning that if our circumstances are good it is to be obeyed, but if it is beneficial to us & our circumstances that we can ignore God’s word whenever we want to do so.  Heaven forbid that we would treat God’s commands so callously!  But at that point, we’re trusting in our authority, rather than that of God.  When our trust is in God, and in His goodness & character, we can trust that He knows our true heart and motives.  He knows when someone is trying to manipulate Him, and when someone is truly in need.  God does not punish the hungry.  God is not looking for a reason to be angry with us (despite the misconception so many people have of God).  God is looking for those people whose hearts are loyal to Him (2 Chr 16:9).  God is looking for those who desire to worship Him in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-24).  Obviously we aren’t doing that if we’re looking for loopholes, neither if we’re trying to justify ourselves through our own attempts at legalism.  Worship God sincerely – worship Him trusting Him in His goodness, knowing that He will always do what is right.
  • Jesus was not about to be trapped by legalistic tradition, nor would He allow Himself to be caught in or manipulated by a manmade religious loophole.  Instead, He turned it back upon the Pharisees themselves.  Had they never read this account about David?  Were these self-proclaimed Biblical scholars unaware of this event in the Bible?  Were they that ignorant of the character and nature of God?  Yes.  They knew much about the Bible, and could have probably quoted this section of Scripture back to Jesus.  But none of that intellectual knowledge did them any good if they did not know the Lord God who gave them their intellect.  What good does knowledge of the Bible gain for those who do not know the Author of the Bible?  And these men did not.  How can we be sure?  Because they opposed Jesus.  When they rejected Jesus, they rejected God.  Their own lack of faith was demonstrated by the way they treated God Incarnate standing right in front of them.
    • What was true of the Pharisees is true of so many today.  How many times have we heard people claim to worship God, but reject Jesus? (Perhaps that even describes someone here!)  To reject one is to reject the other, for Jesus IS the Incarnate God.  If a person chooses to reject Christianity, he/she chooses to reject the only means by which we can know God.  As Jesus Himself said, He is the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father except through Him. (Jn 14:6)
  • Thus far, Jesus has made His argument based upon the actions of David.  As the example king of Israel, whatever precedent David set carried a lot of weight.  Yet even as king of Israel, David’s authority was limited.  The human king could not claim any authority over the commands of God.  But that is exactly what Jesus went on to do as He claimed something truly shocking.  Vs. 5…

5 And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

  • Why is the “Son of Man” the “Lord of the Sabbath”?  Because the Son of Man is God.  This is a direct claim to deity.  Although it was well known and accepted that the Son of Man (Messiah) would be a son of David inheriting all of the promises and kingdom that God appointed for David, the Messiah was known to be more than just another human king.  David had many sons & grandson & descendants, but the Messiah would stand out as completely different.  He would also be known as God’s own Son (2 Sam 7:14), and was prophesied to come in the power and glory of God (Dan 7:13), ruling over a kingdom that would never end (2 Sam 7:13, Dan 7:14).  As the Son of David, the Messiah had no right to do anything with the Sabbath, other than to observe it.  Neither David nor Solomon nor any of the other kings had any authority whatsoever over the Sabbath.  This had been a gift of God, created by God, and thus only God has the right to do anything with the day itself.  Jesus can do something with it, because as the Son of Man, Jesus is God.  Jesus is the “Lord of the Sabbath” because Jesus is the Lord.  This day was His creation, so He can do with it whatever He wishes.
  • None of the Synoptics tell us anything about the reaction of the Pharisees, but wouldn’t you love to know what it was they did?  Talk about a truth bomb…Jesus just laid a huge one upon them!  Already, Jesus claimed to have the authority to grant forgiveness of sin, and He demonstrated that He had the power to back up His claims (5:23-24).  Jesus had demonstrated massive authority from God as He cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and healed the sick – something He would continue to do in the weeks and months ahead.  There was no doubt that the blessing of God was upon Him – but to claim actual deity for Himself?  Truly that would have shocked the ears of the Pharisees, just as it would shock any of us today.  Yet it was true.  Jesus is God, and that changes everything people think they know about Him.  He isn’t some wise profound teacher; He’s THE Teacher, and what He teaches carries primary authority, not to be ignored.  He isn’t some moral guru; He is the very source of all ethical truth, being the personal embodiment of truth itself.  He is the Lord – the God of the New and the Old Testaments – the God of the entire universe.
  • Because He is, Jesus has the right to describe, define, and even fulfill the Sabbath – which is exactly what He does.  The Pharisees attempted to box Him in with their own regulations of the Sabbath law – Jesus shows them that they don’t even know what the Sabbath is all about, and claims ultimate authority over the day itself.  So what does this mean for Christians today?  Does it mean that the Sabbath is removed & forgotten?  Not at all – especially not in the way that many people might imagine.  The Sabbath is, and has always been the 7th day of the week, and there is no command from Jesus in the Scripture moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Yet Christians routinely work on Saturday, with our day of worship normally being Sunday.  Are we flaunting the law?  Not at all!  Contrary to the claims of the Sabbatarians, Christians are free to worship God on Sunday, or any other day of the week. (Rom 14:5)  The historical precedent for Sunday worship among Christians goes back to book of Acts, with the Christians in Troas gathering with Paul to break bread and listen to his teaching (Acts 20:7).  It actually goes back even further to the reason why most Christians worship on Sunday: Jesus’ resurrection.  He came out of the grave on the 1st day of the week, and thus we worship Him in celebration of that fact.
  • That being said, the Sabbath isn’t so much about the day of worship as it is about rest.  God rested from His work on the 7th day, and gave a gift of rest to His people.  The Jews had a national covenant with God to rest on the 7th day, as they demonstrated their faith that they were resting in Him.  Yet did they ever truly rest?  They may have refrained from daily labors on the 7th day, but they still worked in many ways in their attempts to keep the law & to earn atonement for their sin through ongoing sacrifices.  Even as they lived in the Promised Land flowing with milk & honey, they still did not rest in the Lord as the God of their salvation.  Thus the author of Hebrews writes: Hebrews 4:8–10, "(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. (10) For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His."  If that is the case, then the Hebrews never rested.  So when would they rest?  When they trusted in Jesus.  Jesus gave Himself as one sacrifice, perfect & sufficient, and now anyone through faith in Him can experience the true Sabbath rest of God.  True rest is the ease of salvation – true rest is the assurance of grace.  True rest is only found in Jesus, the Lord of our salvation & the Lord of the Sabbath.  He is our Sabbath rest!
  • Ultimately, that is what the Pharisees missed in their condemnation of the disciples.  They were so busy picking nits from their legalistic tradition that they couldn’t see the true fulfillment of the Sabbath gift standing in front of them.  They were working so hard to prove that the disciple weren’t resting that they themselves missed out on the rest God offered.  (Don’t make that same mistake!)
  • They weren’t done working on the Sabbath.  Look what happens as they attempt to set another trap for Jesus…
  • Sabbath Day Sting (6-11)

6 Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.

  • Another Sabbath, another teaching, another person with a need.  This time, the man seems to have been used by the scribes and Pharisees as a set-up or sting operation.  They were well familiar with what Jesus had done in the Capernaum synagogue (4:31-37) – the news of that event had quickly spread throughout the region.  They obviously knew Jesus’ own response concerning His disciples on the earlier Sabbath controversy.  This time, they wanted Jesus to work on the Sabbath again, and they wanted witnesses.  They would try to force Jesus into action, and make it so obvious that He broke the Sabbath laws that the multitudes would naturally reject Him as a false teacher.  They left only one thing out of their equations & plotting: they were dealing with Jesus.  As has already been seen, the Son of God will not be trapped nor manipulated by the plans of men.
  • Beyond the spiritual blindness & hard-heartedness of the Pharisees, the really sad part is their treatment of this man.  He had a real need.  His hand was “withered” (paralyzed / shrunken).  Was it a life-threatening condition?  No…but it certainly was life-affecting.  How many of us would be able to work with only one hand?  Imagine yourself in 2000 years ago in Roman Judea, where virtually every trade involved manual labor of some sort.  Having only one useful hand made it impossible to work, and he would either have been a beggar, or was fully dependent upon his family for food, clothing, and shelter.  This man truly needed the help that Jesus could give, yet he was being used as a pawn of the scribes & Pharisees.  To them, the man’s individual needs did not matter.  All they cared about was their own reputation & their plot to trip up Jesus.
    • Thank goodness God sees us as individuals!  Each of us matters to Him.  We were made in His image, and He knitted us individually within the wombs of our mothers.  We may be forgotten by the world, or even used as pawns by others, but God knows us and loves us.
  • Notice that the scribes and Pharisees were not looking for the truth – they weren’t interested in the truth.  What they wanted was a trap.  They were hoping to “find an accusation against” Jesus.  Their minds were already made up, being closed to Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God.  What makes this so interesting is that they were already convinced of Jesus’ miraculous power.  They knew that Jesus had the power to heal this man – their only question was whether or not Jesus would do so on the Sabbath in the synagogue in front of the entire congregation.  Yet so opposed were they to Jesus that they ignored the evidence in front of them in their attempt to tear Jesus down.
    • How many people are in a similar situation?  They’ve seen the evidence around them – they know how God has worked among them & even reached out to them in mercy – yet they spurn Him, looking for any excuse to reject Him.  They are absolutely closed to Jesus, no matter how often they see evidence to the contrary.  That is someone whose heart is hard, and someone who will receive a terrible wake-up call on the day of his/her death.  Every single one of us will see God face-to-face, and we will give an answer for the things done in life.  Those who choose to reject Jesus choose to reject their only hope.  Don’t close your eyes to the evidence around you!  Look to Jesus in truth, and believe!

8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood.

  • Jesus “knew their thoughts.”  Does this mean that Jesus used His divine omniscience, or was He just perceptive?  Yes. J  It wouldn’t have been difficult to guess the motives of the Pharisees, but the Son of God has no reason to guess.  He knew what was in their hearts, and their plans to use this man’s misery as a trap for Himself.  That’s one reason why Jesus called the man to the middle of the room.  Think about it: Jesus had other options.  He could have willed the man to be healed without ever saying a word or physically making a move.  The man would have his hand restored, and there would be no public proof tying Jesus to the miracle with any possible Sabbath repercussions.  Problem solved, right?  Only if the man’s healing was the only thing that needed to be done.  But Jesus wanted to make a point.  Jesus wanted a public tie between He & the miracle, because that would be a broader witness that not only is He the Christ, but that He has authority over the Sabbath as God.  After all, God wouldn’t do anything to break His own law.  God values His word far more than we do – even more than the most legalistic of Pharisees.  There is not a person in history who values the law of God more than the Lord God Himself.  So if God blessed a miracle in the synagogue on a Sabbath, it meant that God blessed the worker of that miracle, including His earlier teachings.  A public miracle would not only be a public rebuke of the manipulations of the Pharisees, but it would be a public testimony to Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath.

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”

  • Talk about “lawful”!  The Pharisees were not interested in what was lawful / permitted.  They did not search out what was truly good in the eyes of God.  If they had, they would have recognized & received Jesus!  If they had, they certainly would not have been using this disabled man as bait.  The state of the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees was demonstrating evil.  They weren’t even honoring the heart of the Sabbath law themselves.  Instead of resting in the goodness of God & His provision, they were busy conspiring against God’s Messiah.  They were hypocrites, pure and simple.
    • How easy it is to fall into the trap of hypocrisy!  Instead of looking at how we ourselves might be dishonoring the Lord, we busy ourselves with looking at how everyone else dishonors Him.  Thus in addition to all the other sin we’ve already committed, we engage in even more when we unjustly judge our brother or sister.  Jesus will soon address the sin of hypocrisy later in Ch. 6 in the sermon on the plain: Luke 6:41–42, "(41) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? (42) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye."  Even if the other person is engaged in sin, it’s difficult for us to point it out in their lives when we’ve got sin of our own staring us in the face.
    • What happens when we unjustly judge one another?  We stand in the place of God in their lives.  We set ourselves up as their authority, demanding that they answer to us.  We need to remember that they already have a Master, and we’re not it.  It is to their own Master that they stand or fall, just like it is with us (Rom 14:4).  Life becomes a lot less complicated for us when we remember that we are not anyone else’s Holy Spirit.  We don’t have the right to be their conscience, and we certainly have enough issues of our own that need to be addressed.
    • Does this mean that we do or say nothing when we see Christians heading into sin?  Of course not.  We are supposed to come alongside on another, love them, and help them bear their burdens (Gal 6:1).  But we do so humbly.  We remember that we are no better than they, and that we can be tempted just as easily.  We don’t impose ourselves upon them, nor do we burden them with legalism or guilt them over non-essential issues.
  • The scribes and Pharisees were doing just that, and worse.  They weren’t trying to hold Jesus to the law – they were trying to hold Jesus to their tradition.  In the process, they violated the law themselves when they did not love their neighbor.  They would have rather seen the man remain in his suffering, than to see him healed in the moment.  They would rather see Jesus ignore a man’s need, than see Him address it in the power and love of God.  And Jesus called them on it, by putting the situation in stark terms.  They had the choice on this Sabbath to either do good or do evil – they had the choice to either save life or destroy it.  Certainly the man’s life was not in danger, not at least in the next 24 hours, but Jesus is making a broader point.  Omitting good works we know to do is just as evil as committing evil works we know not to do.  People sin just as much through omission, as we do through commission.  It’s one thing to be ignorant about a need; it’s another thing to stare it right in the face & walk away.  In fact, the scribes & Pharisees went even further in this when they knew a need, not only choosing not to ask God for help, but dared Jesus not to make a move either.  Their motives were downright evil.

10 And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

  • The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees was not about to stop Jesus from working.  Boldly telling the man to “stretch out [his] hand,” Jesus was already proclaiming the man healed.  After all, the one thing that someone with a withered, shrunken hand cannot do, is to stretch it out.  Yet at the command of Jesus, he could.  What was impossible because possible at the will and word of Jesus.
  • Immediately, the man’s hand was “restored.”  No partial healing – no gimmicks.  When Jesus proclaimed the man’s healing, he was truly healed.  But notice that he still had to believe.  The man still needed to have faith.  How else would he stretch out his hand?  Think for a moment how other people might have reacted: “What do You mean, stretch it out?  I can’t do that!” “First the Pharisees try to use me, and now You too.  I’m done!” We don’t know what was going on in the mind of the man, but it surely wasn’t that.  Instead, he responded to Jesus in faith, attempting to do what he would never have been able to do otherwise.  And he found that he was healed!  If he hadn’t responded, he would have seen nothing.  If he had not acted upon the seemingly impossible command, it’s quite possible that he never would have experienced the healing at all.  Jesus made the miracle available to him; he needed to act upon it in faith.
    • The same principle is at work in regard to salvation.  The miracle of eternal forgiveness, the new birth of the Spirit, etc., is freely made available to the entire world – but we need to act upon it in faith in order to receive it.  God commands us to do something impossible: to turn away from our sins in repentance & be saved – something we cannot do without the enabling of the Lord Jesus.  But that enabling is available to us if we respond in faith.  So respond!  Our healing is available, but we will not experience it unless we stretch out in faith.  God makes His forgiveness available to all through Jesus, but only those who respond to Jesus receive it.  Have you responded?  Do you believe?  You can.
    • Beyond the issue of salvation, when Jesus tells you to do something, do it!  It may seem impossible, but we can trust God to give us what we need at the time we need it.  This man didn’t likely have the strength to stretch out his hand until we actually do it – we likely find the same thing to be true regarding many of the commands of God in our lives.  We don’t think we have the ability to share the gospel with someone until we actually open our mouths to do so.  We don’t think we’ve got the fortitude to forgive someone for their sins against us until we do it.  What God commands, God enables.  When He calls us to something, we can be sure He’ll give us what we need to accomplish it.
  • Scripture doesn’t tell us the reaction of the man (though surely he was overjoyed) – but it does tell us the reaction of the Pharisees.  Vs. 11… 

11 But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

  • Rage.”  They weren’t filled with wonder at the miracle – they had no joy for the man – they weren’t even merely shocked at the response of Jesus.  Instead, they were angry, “they were filled with rage.”  They were furious at how Jesus had outmaneuvered them, and how their hypocrisy & lawlessness was plainly exposed.  They would have wanted to claim fury over how the Sabbath law had been broken, but it hadn’t; Jesus made that perfectly clear.  Jesus had not done any evil upon the Sabbath day, but they had…and it was painfully obvious to all.
    • You can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she respond to the work of God.  Even Paul could rejoice when the gospel was preached by men with evil motives, because at least the gospel was being preached (Phil 1:15-18).  If a person cannot rejoice in the good things God is doing (even through people he/she might not otherwise like), it needs to be questioned if he/she even recognizes the work of God at all.  Christians ought to be able to see the handiwork of our heavenly Father, and we should praise Him for it.
  • As for the Pharisees, they didn’t even have a legitimate reason to oppose Jesus, but they did.  In their eyes, nothing that He did was good, and thus He had to be stopped at all costs.  But how?  So began the conspiracy that led to the cross.  It is only the 6th chapter of the gospel of Luke, the ministry barely begun, and already the Pharisees plot His death.  And just like this failed sting operation, they would get more than they bargained for when they sought to destroy Him.  Jesus would certainly go to the cross, but He would also rise from the grave!  He would give the ultimate proof that the Son of Man is the Lord of the Universe, and that all who find their rest in Him would be saved.

The Lord of the Sabbath offers the true Sabbath of God: salvation.  We have far more than withered hands; we have withered souls.  We are dead in our sin, unable to do anything for our eternity – hopeless to work our way out of our mess.  Jesus offers healing – Jesus offers rest.  Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, which means He is the Lord of our salvation.  He is the Lord God Himself.  When we respond to Him in faith, we experience the true rest that He offers to us when we freely receive His grace & gift of eternal life.

The scribes and Pharisees weren’t resting – they were working as hard as possible to deny the evidence in front of them and discredit Jesus.  It wasn’t working.  Not only was Jesus proven innocent, He continued to claim His deity & demonstrate the power to back up His claims.  He truly is the Lord of the Sabbath, having authority over it, because He is Lord of all the earth.

Maybe you’ve been in the position of the Pharisees, struggling hard to push Jesus away, engaging in hypocrisy in a futile attempt to prove yourself right over God.  Stop the struggling.  As Jesus said to Paul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” (Acts 9:5).  God has revealed Himself to you in the person of Jesus Christ, and it is time for you to respond to Him in faith.  You’ve fought against God for too long.  Stop fighting, and receive the grace that He has always offered.

Maybe you’ve been in the position of the man with the withered hand, kicked around & used by the world.  Know this: Jesus sees your pain, and He hasn’t forgotten about you.  He loves you, and offers you the healing you need.  Receive it!  Stretch out to Him in faith, and believe Him for His promises.  Believe Him to be who He is: God in the flesh – receive Him as Lord.

For those of us who are already believers, may we be mindful to rest in Jesus.  Our natural tendency is to work.  We want to prove ourselves good in God’s eyes – we want to know that we’ve earned our place in heaven.  We want to assure ourselves of what awaits us in eternity.  We can’t.  All that does is to take our eyes and trust off of Jesus, placing it onto ourselves.  That’s not the gospel.  The gospel tells us we rest in the Lord of the Sabbath.  Find your rest in Him.

National Criminal History

Posted: August 18, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 19-20, “National Criminal History”

In talking about the US Constitution & the Bill of Rights, most people are readily familiar with the 1st and 2nd amendments.  For the 1st, we know that we have (or are supposed to have) freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble & the right to petition the government.  For the 2nd, we know that the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  Past that point, our memories get a bit sketchy.  We might remember part of the 5th amendment in that we cannot be forced to testify against ourselves, and that we are owed due process of law – but that’s about it.  The Bill of Rights guarantees American citizens much more.  Did you know that we are also guaranteed the right to not only a speedy trial, but to be informed of the accusations against us?  That’s the 6th amendment.  Without it, Americans might be put on trial & never know if they had ever broken the law or not (and such is the case in other countries around the world).

What is guaranteed to us by our national constitution is what was freely offered by Almighty God to His people.  They had broken His law innumerable times, repeatedly violating the covenant they had with the Lord.  No doubt they knew what they had done, but the always-just God made sure to tell them.  Throughout the prophets, He laid out the criminal charges against the nation – and He does so specifically here through the prophet Ezekiel.

Remember that God’s intent for Israel was for the people to repent.  He wanted them to have a new heart & a new spirit (18:31).  He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but much preferred them to repent & live (18:32).  That begs a question: if someone never understands his sin, how can he turn from it?  We have to first know our crime if we are ever to properly answer for it.  Obviously when it comes to sin, we know it.  Our hearts convict us thoroughly, long before we ever read of it in the Scripture.  Yet God is a faithful and just God.  He ensures that we DO know our sin against Him, and makes it clear that we need to repent and entrust ourselves to His mercy and grace. 

That’s what we find Him doing with Israel here.  God made it clear that He wanted them to repent – now He makes it clear why the repentance was necessary in the first place.

Ezekiel 19 – Sad song for the final kings
1 “Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,

  1. This seems to pick up from the same oracle as the previous chapter (and perhaps the last several chapters), and although it’s a different timeframe than that of Ch. 20, the general theme is the same.  Israel/Judah had sinned against the Lord, and God was going to express that to the people by recounting to them their national history.  Yet He does it in different ways.  Whereas Ch. 20 is going to be a straightforward listing of their sins, Ch. 19 is much more symbolic, being a song of lament.  The “princes of Israel” had a sad history, and it was about to get even sadder.  Although God would be glorified through Israel’s punishment (just as all of God’s acts glorify Him), He took no pleasure in it.  God could mourn over Israel’s loss even as He personally brought in the Babylonians to punish them.

2 and say: ‘What is your mother? A lioness: She lay down among the lions; Among the young lions she nourished her cubs. 3 She brought up one of her cubs, And he became a young lion; He learned to catch prey, And he devoured men. 4 The nations also heard of him; He was trapped in their pit, And they brought him with chains to the land of Egypt.

  1. There are different thoughts among scholars regarding the interpretations of the “mother / lioness” and “her cubs,” but the most likely theory is that this is a symbolic picture of the nation of Israel and her final kings.  Although the final kings of Judah shared a common bloodline, it’s highly unlikely that their physical mother could be described as a lioness with this much power.  It seems far more plausible that the nation itself is the mother-lion, giving birth to the various cubs that become kings.  The kings were products of their nation, after all, even as they continued to lead the people in idolatry and sin.
  2. As for this first cub, this seems to be a reference to Jehoahaz. He was the 3rd to last king of Judah, who was eventually deposed by Pharaoh Necho and taken as prisoner back to Egypt.  The Lord God describes him well as a cub who “devoured men,” in that Jehoahaz was one who did evil in the sight of the Lord.  Although his father Josiah had been a godly man, Jehoahaz was the first in a string of descendants who would choose to depart from the one true God.  His judgment was Egyptian imprisonment & eventual death. (2 Kings 23:31-34)
    1. BTW – for a king to be deposed & imprisoned the way he was ought to have been a wake-up call for the rest of the nation.  Something was terribly wrong for God to have allowed this to happen.  Yet they went on in their self-imposed blindness and continued along the same path.  A similar thing can happen to any nation that chooses to depart from the Lord.  Warning after warning can be ignored, until God finally gives that nation over to the results of their sin.

5 ‘When she saw that she waited, that her hope was lost, She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion. 6 He roved among the lions, And became a young lion; He learned to catch prey; He devoured men. 7 He knew their desolate places, And laid waste their cities; The land with its fullness was desolated By the noise of his roaring. 8 Then the nations set against him from the provinces on every side, And spread their net over him; He was trapped in their pit. 9 They put him in a cage with chains, And brought him to the king of Babylon; They brought him in nets, That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.

  1. God seems to skip ahead directly to the story of Jehoiachin, who was eventually taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar & forced to return to Babylon as a prisoner.  His father, Jehoiakim was actually the successor to Jehoahaz, but Jehoiakim’s evil was such that God allowed him to be killed by raiding bands that God Himself actually brought out against him. (2 Kings 24:4)  As for Jehoiachin, he was another king who did evil in the sight of the Lord, and it could be said of him that he was the last “full” king of Judah.  After imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar, the next king was one personally chosen & installed by Nebuchadnezzar: King Zedekiah.  Essentially, he was a puppet ruler, though he eventually rebelled against Babylon, which was the reason for the final siege against Jerusalem, of which God (through Ezekiel) repeatedly warned the people.
  2. Although the accounts of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin are very similar, there is an important difference between them.  Both of them would die in foreign lands, but Jehoiachin actually seems to have submitted himself to God, and was eventually brought out of prison.  He was never allowed to return to Jerusalem, but he did serve as an advisor to the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30).  It goes to illustrate a couple of things: (1) As long as we have breath in our lungs, we still have an opportunity to humble ourselves before God and repent.  (2) God’s mercy to Jehoiachin foreshadowed God’s promise of mercy for His people.  The Jews would go into Babylonian captivity, but they would not be completely destroyed.  God had a plan for their future – they just needed to trust Him for it.

10 ‘Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, Planted by the waters, Fruitful and full of branches Because of many waters. 11 She had strong branches for scepters of rulers. She towered in stature above the thick branches, And was seen in her height amid the dense foliage. 12 But she was plucked up in fury, She was cast down to the ground, And the east wind dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered; The fire consumed them. 13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, In a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire has come out from a rod of her branches And devoured her fruit, So that she has no strong branch—a scepter for ruling.’ ” This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation.

  1. The nation had been referred to as a lioness; now it was a “vine.”  This has been a standard picture of the nation, most recently in Ch. 15 as a barren vine unfit for anything but the fire & Ch. 17 as a rebellious vine transplanted & later uprooted by the eagle (Babylon).  Here again the idea is one of fruitlessness.  That had not always been the case – God’s original intent for the nation was strength & prosperity.  Indeed, that was exactly what Israel experienced under the leadership of David & Solomon.  These were “strong branches for scepters of rulers,” as were later kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah.  Sadly, they were the exceptions to the rule, and though the Kingdom of Israel/Judah once “towered” among the nations, it would be “cast down to the ground.”  The “east wind” pictured something terrible to the Jews, in that it signified times of trouble.  Winds blowing from the west would bring in Mediterranean moisture for their crops; winds blowing from the east brought desert dryness.  Here, the east wind brought the Babylonians and the “fire” of God’s judgment.  The whole nation/vine would be affected – so much so that there would no longer be a “strong branch / scepter for ruling.”  IOW, there would be no king.  Once Babylon fully conquered Jerusalem, all independent sovereignty would be stripped away.
  2. All of Ch. 19 refers to the recent history of Judah, with the sin of its most recent kings.  Yet this wasn’t something new for the Jews – this is how they had always acted.  God goes on to recount their older national sins in Ch. 20…

Ezekiel 20 – The charges are read
1 It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. 2 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.” ’ 4 Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then make known to them the abominations of their fathers.

  1. The day was August 14, 591BC (just over 2607 years ago to the day!) that the next oracle was given to Ezekiel.  The final siege and conquest of Jerusalem was still 5 years away, and God was doing everything possible to prepare the Jews for what was awaiting them.  They still refused to repent, even though God was giving them every opportunity to do so.
  2. What makes their refusal so interesting is that the “elders of Israel” still came to Ezekiel in order “to inquire of the LORD.”  Obviously, these were elders who were with the prophet, already in captivity, far away from the borders of Jerusalem – but they represented a people who were unrepentant in sin.  Thus on one hand they claimed to want to know the mind and will of God, while on the other hand they continued in pagan idolatry & gross sin.  It’s no wonder God didn’t want to hear from them!  Why would He entertain their questions & inquiries if they didn’t worship Him?  They did not need to inquire of the Lord; they needed to listen to the Lord & obey Him.  They needed to know the “abominations of their fathers” – all of the various ways they had sinned against the Lord in past years, in order for them to repent from those things and change their ways.
    1. It brings up a good point for us today.  How often do people seek God with no plans to actually worship God?  How many people pray to God in the hospital, but give no thought to Him at all when healthy?  This is no different than how the Jews acted with the Lord.  In times of crisis they fell to their knees, but in times of calm they worshipped whatever.  If we want God to be our God in times of trial, then He needs to be our God at all times!  God has no reason to hear the prayers of people in rebellion against Him.  At that point, the only prayer God wants to hear from us is one of confession & repentance.  God wants our relationship with Him addressed first before He has any reason to turn His attention to our circumstances.  In fact, He may have allowed those very circumstances precisely to cause us to seek His face in confession & repentance!

5 “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God.’

  1. At this point, God is going to recount the national history of Israel.  He begins way back in the days of Egyptian slavery.  Obviously God’s promises to Israel began back with Abraham the patriarch, but at that point, the nation did not yet exist.  70+ people went down to Egypt with Jacob/Israel, and it was while they were in Egypt that they grew into a nation.  Thus 400 years later, God “chose Israel” and made Himself “known to them in the land of Egypt.”  It was there that He revealed Himself as their God through the proclamations of Moses & the signs & wonders God did through Moses.
  2. One would think that during the days of the Egyptian plagues, as God repeatedly demonstrated His power & repeatedly demonstrated His grace & preference for the Jews living in Goshen, that the Jews would consistently worship Him – that there would be no way for the Jews to fall into idolatry.  Wrong.  They did it even in Egypt.  Vs. 6…

6 On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands. 7 Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ 8 But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said, ‘I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ 9 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.

  1. It’s amazing to think that the Hebrews would be engaging in idolatry even while God was in the process of delivering them out of Egypt, but apparently that was the case.  The book of Exodus doesn’t give details about what kind of paganism took place, but no doubt it did.  How can we know?  Because while the Hebrews were waiting for Moses at the base of Mt. Sinai, they had Aaron (and others) fashion for them a golden calf.  That was the image with which they were accustomed to worshipping God, though it was a false image (and in spite of the fact they had just received a commandment never to even make a graven image of the Lord).  The Egyptians worshipped pagan gods shaped like all kinds of animals, and apparently the Hebrews picked up the practice in regards to God.
  2. Considering how long the Hebrews were in Egypt, their confusion is understandable, but what ought they have done after receiving true revelation of God through Moses?  Simple: they should have forsaken the rest.  They had the truth right in front of their eyes, and yet they still chose idols.
    1. Before we start pointing fingers, how often do we do something similar?  We have the truth right in front of us, and yet we still choose the stuff of the world.  We choose idols of entertainment over Jesus, or we choose hedonism over holiness, etc.  And we have even less excuse for it than did Israel.  Israel had the miracles of God taking place right before their eyes; we have the presence of God the Holy Spirit right within our bodies.  We have personally experienced the truth of God, and yet we still easily go back to the old idols of the world.  Be careful!  God has called us out of those things – may we be sure to forsake them and follow Jesus alone.
  3. Of course God was merciful to the nation – “for [His] name’s sake,” wanting a witness among the Gentile nations for the goodness He showed towards Israel.  So what did He do?  He delivered them out of Egypt, and gave them the gift of His law.  Vs. 10…

10 “Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ 12 Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.

  1. Question: Is God declaring that a person is justified by works?  I.e. if someone keeps the statutes & judgments of God, that he/she will be righteous in God’s sight & live eternally?  No.  Eternal life is not in view here; life in fellowship with God is.  How were the Hebrews supposed to maintain their ongoing relationship with God?  By abiding by the covenant they had with God, which meant abiding by the laws, statutes, and judgments.  Obviously it is impossible for anyone to keep the law perfectly, but that is exactly why God included so many statutes and judgments about sacrifices & the need for atonement.  God knew His people would need to be forgiven, so He gave them ways of seeking His forgiveness – ultimately with the idea that the people would see the need for eternal forgiveness that comes only through a true, perfect sacrifice: that of Jesus Christ.  But if a man or woman would live humbly with God, submitting to the law of God, routinely offering true sacrifices and worship to God, that person would “live” – their habits would demonstrate their ongoing trust upon the Lord.  Only God can grant eternal life through His grace (Eph 2:8-9), but their physical lives would need to demonstrate their dependence upon Him as well.  That was simply part of their covenant.
    1. Of course, we are in a new, different covenant with God through Jesus Christ, but we have a similar idea.  We are not eternally saved by anything other than the undeserved grace of God, but our ongoing relationship with God is shown in our humble obedience to Him.  We do not obey to earn God’s favor; we obey out of gratefulness for the favor we have already received.  If there is a person claiming to be a Christian, yet not living obediently unto the Lord, there is good reason for that person to examine his/her salvation in the first place.
  2. That’s the “statutes,” but what about the “Sabbaths”?  Remember that the nation of Israel had two signs of their covenant with God: (1) Circumcision for males, which was internal, demonstrating how their flesh was cut away in order for them to serve God alone. (2) Sabbaths for all, which was external, demonstrating their restful dependence upon God for His provision & ultimately for His blessing.  When the Hebrews kept the Sabbath rightly, they had a testimony to all the nations around them of how they rested in their relationship with God.  He had set them apart (sanctified them) from the rest of the world, having put them in a special relationship with Himself.
  3. What did they do with this gift of the Sabbath?  They despised it.  Vs. 13…

13 Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. 14 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 So I also raised My hand in an oath to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands, 16 because they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

  1. The Hebrews’ trouble with the Sabbath is well documented.  First, they disregarded the Sabbath when God first gave them manna to eat in the wilderness.  They were supposed to gather up enough for a daily portion for their families, with the exception of Friday.  That day, they were supposed to gather two days’ worth, in preparation for the Sabbath.  Instead, they first tried to stockpile the bread, only to find that it gathered worms overnight (Exo 16:20), then they tried to go out on Saturday morning to find bread only to see the ground empty (Exo 16:27).  If that wasn’t bad enough (and surely it wasn’t the only event), the Israelites despised the spirit of the Sabbath gift when they stood on the edge of the Promised Land and refused to enter.  Not only was that the sin of rebellion, but it was a defiling of the Sabbath.  That’s the point the author of Hebrews makes: Hebrews 3:16–4:1, "(16) For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? (17) Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? (19) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (1) Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it."  The nation fell short, because they did not trust the rest/Sabbath of God.  Because they did not trust God, they did not walk into the land God provided for them – they did not rest in the Lord by trusting in Him.  Thus they defiled His Sabbath.
    1. Ultimately, the rest of God speaks of something greater than a piece of real estate.  Not even when they entered the Promised Land with Joshua did they enter into God’s rest (Heb 4:8) – the true rest is the rest that Jesus gives when we rest in Him for the forgiveness of sin.  Jesus IS our Sabbath rest!  And yes, people profane that Sabbath rest every day when they despise the sacrifice of Christ, and attempt to earn their own salvation.  Rest in Jesus!  Enjoy the blessed gift of God!
  2. When the Hebrews balked at the edge of the Promised Land, that should have been it.  God had every right to destroy them in His righteous wrath.  Yet He didn’t.  Vs. 17…

17 Nevertheless My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness. 18 “But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; 20 hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’

  1. Again, God appealed to His people.  Do you see the pattern that has developed here?  God reveals His goodness to the Hebrews – they know it, but despise it – they continue in sin & idolatry – God has the right to judge, yet He shows mercy.  And this happens over & over & over again throughout Israel’s history.  Their criminal rap sheet is long, and God’s record of mercy is ever longer!
  2. Even when God judged His people, He was merciful.  Vs. 21…

21 “Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; but they profaned My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness. 22 Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, 24 because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols.

  1. God did indeed pour out His fury upon the nation as He sentenced them to a 40 year death march through the desert.  An entire generation would die off before God allowed the Hebrews to enter the Promised Land.  And how could God not punish them?  They had profaned His name in the sight of all the world.  If the Gentiles were to know that God is a righteous God, then they would have to see Him apply His justice equally, even among His chosen people – and that is what He did.  (And it is what He still does today!  Christians are often judged more harshly for our sins.  Why?  Because we’re held to a higher standard, and it ought to be so.  We represent the Most High God!)
  2. So 40 years in, and again, we would think the people would be humbled.  That they would have learned their lesson not to sin against the Lord & commit such gross abominations.  Alas, no.  Like a dog returning to its vomit, so did the Hebrews return to their sin over & over again through the times of the judges & the kings.  Vs. 25…

25 “Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; 26 and I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the LORD.” ’ 27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me. 28 When I brought them into the land concerning which I had raised My hand in an oath to give them, and they saw all the high hills and all the thick trees, there they offered their sacrifices and provoked Me with their offerings. There they also sent up their sweet aroma and poured out their drink offerings. 29 Then I said to them, ‘What is this high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.” ’

  1. That God would give anyone over to their sin is a terrifying thought, yet He did it with His people.  (He does it with people today, as well – Romans 1.)  The history of the judges is downright depressing as the people sin against God, God delivers them to their enemies, the people cry out for mercy, God grants a deliverer, and then the people begin all over again though sinking to an even deeper level of depravity.  By this point in the history of Israel, they were not just worshipping the gods of Egypt, but they were worshipping the gods of the Canaanites (of whom they ought to have destroyed).  This false worship was so depraved that it called for child sacrifice (“firstborn to pass through the fire”), and the Hebrews were so given over to their sin that they actually did it!  (Sin makes us stupid!)  Everywhere you looked, the people erected places of idolatry.  At a certain point the whole land became known as “Bamah,” or “high place of false worship.”
  2. Keep in mind that this was the Promised Land!  This was God’s own chosen nation – and yet they were more famous for their idolatry than for their worship of the True God.  God had repeatedly revealed Himself to His people, and they repeatedly rejected Him.  What option was left to God, other than judgment?
  3. At this point, God turns His attention back to the elders of Israel sitting there with Ezekiel.  They had come to inquire of God, and that’s when God detailed their national criminal history.  But the most galling part of it all was that the nation wasn’t yet done with their crimes.  Even at that moment, while the elders were inquiring of the Lord, the people were continuing in their sinful idolatry and depravity.  Vs. 30…

30 Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? 31 For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you. 32 What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.’

  1. What reason did God have to answer a rebellious people?  What reason does the Lord have to answer prayer from an unrepentant nation?  None.  They plainly wanted to be like the “Gentiles,” to serve their chosen idols of “wood and stone.”  If that’s what they wanted, why should God answer them?
  2. Again, there is only one prayer that needed to be prayed at this point: one of confession & repentance.  Sometimes we get this idea that we can throw Bible promises around like some kind of holy credit card, thinking that God has to honor them no matter what we ourselves might be doing.  How foolish that is!  Think about it: if that is our mindset, then our view of God is not that of a King, but of a servant.  We have given Him a command, believe we have some reason to force Him into it, and expect Him to obey us.  May it never be!  God will not be mocked.  God is God, and we’re not.  God will always honor His word, but God will never be manipulated by it.  We cannot box God in or try to “loophole” Him with a promise that He might have forgotten.  If that’s our mindset, then we ought to remember one other promise that is absolutely clear in the Scripture: James 4:6b, "(6)… God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."  A proud heart is guaranteed to be resisted by the Lord, and thus prayers offered from a prideful person ought to be expected to remain unanswered.
  3. To this proud & rebellious people, God promised judgment.  But He also promised something truly good – He promised them a glorious future.  Vs. 33…

33 “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. 36 Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord GOD. 37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38 I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

  1. Would the Jews experience the judgment of God?  No doubt!  God promised to pour out His “fury” upon them.  The Jews had already experienced a bit of this with the initial waves of Babylonian captivity, but there was another one arriving in a mere 5 years that would truly leave the people “scattered.”  They would be spread among the nations, dispersed among the Gentiles.  But they wouldn’t stay there.  God promised to bring them back!  As much as God would stretch out His arm to scatter the Jews, He would stretch out His arm to regather them.  And more than being reunited as a nation, God promised to be reunited with them as their God.  He said “I will rule over you.”  Finally at long last, God would have the relationship with His people that He had intended from the first.  He promised to rule over them as their King & God.
    1. When will it happen?  The Millennium.  As with many other prophecies, there are parts of this prophecy with a near & future fulfillment.  In the near-term, God would bring them out of Babylon.  Yet we know that historically, the nation of the Jews still did not have true independence.  Their only taste of it would be the Maccabean kingdom, and that was short-lived.  In addition, the nation of the Jews by & large still rejects God as their King today, in that they reject Jesus as their Messiah.  The promise of His rule is yet to be fulfilled, but it will be fulfilled.  Every promise of God is true, including every promise of a future kingdom of Israel with God as the King.
  2. Notice that during the Millennial Kingdom, God will “plead [His] case” with Israel, and they will acknowledge their sin.  The Bible tells us that upon Jesus’ return, the Jews will see Him & mourn over the Messiah they pierced (Zech 12:10).  God will not need to say much for Israel to recognize their sin – all He will need to do is show up!

39 “As for you, O house of Israel,” thus says the Lord GOD: “Go, serve every one of you his idols—and hereafter—if you will not obey Me; but profane My holy name no more with your gifts and your idols.

  1. This seems like a strange command, and it is.  Occasionally, God is known to be sarcastic, and that seems to be the case here.  The nation of Israel had a wonderful future in store for them, but in the meantime, if they were going to disregard God they might as well do it honestly.  Stop riding the fence, pretending as if they were worshipping God, while bowing down to their false idols in private.  Just do it openly, and stop profaning God’s name.
  2. Obviously, God far preferred their repentance.  But repentance needs to be sincere; not a show.  Some people show up for church, put some money into the offering, and think that’s what makes them “good with God” before they go home to continue acting like the world.  That’s just them fooling themselves.  They’d be better off being honest, and acknowledging the fact that they don’t truly worship the Lord at all.  It’s at that point that they can recognize their need, and truly come to Jesus in confession & faith.
  3. Eventually, God knew that Israel would worship Him in truth, which He goes on to proclaim.  Vs. 40…

40 For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel,” says the Lord GOD, “there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things. 41 I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles. 42 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. 43 And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. 44 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,” says the Lord GOD.’ ”

  1. To what “holy mountain” did God refer?  Mount Zion.  Ultimately, true worship is not about a physical location (per Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman – Jn 4), but in a real, literal, physical kingdom, there will also be a real, literal, physical temple of worship in Jerusalem.  During the Millennium, God’s people will bring offerings of worship – much of which will be described in greater detail in Ch. 40-48.  The best aroma, however, will not come from the offering of sacrifice, but from the nation itself.  As God says in vs. 41, “I will accept you as a sweet aroma.”  God takes pleasure in His people!  He delights in our heartfelt worship of Him.  He is greatly glorified when we rightly respond to His outpouring of mercy.  That’s what would happen with Israel.  They would see their sins, remember their ways, and “loathe” the things they had done in the past.  IOW, they would truly repent for their history of sin against God, and throw themselves upon God’s mercy and grace –and God would give it freely!  At that point, His people will finally know Him as their Lord, and He will have their sincere worship.
  2. In the end, that is what God desires from us!  He wants our sincere worship.  No more tiptoeing around sin – no more playing half with the world & half with God – no more taking the grace of God for granted.  He wants us to be sold out to Him, fully invested in grace, fully dependent upon Jesus, being filled with the Spirit.  In that, God is truly glorified!

[vss. 45-49 are a sharp change in subject that more likely belongs with Ch. 21.  Remember that chapter breaks are not inspired.  The standard Hebrew text (BHS) actually includes these 5 verses within Ch. 21.  We’ll cover them next week.]

Israel had quite the history of sin against the Lord.  From their ancient beginnings as a nation coming out of Egypt, to their most recent kings, the Lord’s people repeatedly sinned against the God they claimed to worship.  They may have lost track of their sins (or perhaps wanted to forget), but God knew them…every one.  He listed them off, in order that His people would know the severity of the charges against them & realize that the judgment to come was well-deserved.

We have to know our sin if we are to repent of it.  We cannot confess that which we do not know, or do not agree.  After all, the very idea of “confession” is agreement.  It is to agree with God that our sin is truly sinful.  That’s a hard truth to admit, but it is a necessary starting point.  We cannot turn from sin, if we never acknowledge that we have sinned.

The good news is that God wants to freely forgive us of our sin!  Like Israel, our own individual histories can be described as a terrible cycle & downward spiral.  We commit ourselves to God – start giving into old temptations – fully engage in those things – experience the consequences of our sin – cry out to God – receive His forgiveness, and then start all over again.  At some point, that cycle needs to break.  Instead of returning like a dog to our vomit, let us commit ourselves fully to Christ, freely acknowledging our utter dependency upon Him for all things at all times.

Those People

Posted: August 14, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 5:27-39, “Those People”

Who is it that can never get saved?  Stop and think for a moment of the one person that is least likely to become a Christian.  And not only for that kind of person to become nominally born-again, but someone who is completely sold-out to Jesus, following Him as a true disciple.  Sound impossible?  It’s not.  God can reach anyone, saving them by the grace of Jesus.  No one is too much an atheist, too much an alcoholic, too much a criminal, or too much of any kind of sinner to be saved, when they finally humble their hearts before the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus can reach anyone, even those people that we might otherwise despise.  ‘Those’ people are just as much in need of grace as anyone else, and Jesus loves them as much as He loves us.  After all, Jesus did not die only for a select group of people – He died for the entire world.

And aren’t you glad?  If we had to somehow make ourselves worthy of the love of God, we would all be lost.  For all the criticism we might have of certain people (‘those’ people), we are just as lost as any of them.  Earthly circumstances might divide us, but spiritually speaking, we’re all in the same place: lost.  If we ourselves do not receive the grace and forgiveness of God, we are doomed for exactly the same hell we might believe others deserve.

For the Jews of Jesus’ day, Levi (Matthew) would have fit the bill.  He was one of ‘those’ people – he was one of the worst: a tax collector.  Surely there was no way he could be saved.  Surely the Messiah would not call a man like that to be a disciple?  Or would He?

Jesus was doing all kinds of different things as His Galilean ministry got underway.  He was casting demons out of men in the synagogue in the morning, and healing multitudes by nightfall.  He was calling ordinary fishermen as His disciples, while astounding the religious elite with His claim to be able to forgive.  Although it had been a while, the Jews had seen their share of prophets, but they hadn’t seen anyone like this.  The things Jesus did were new & different.

New isn’t always better, but when Jesus does it, it is.  God was doing something new through Jesus, and it wasn’t appreciated by the religious people of the day.  Praise God He was doing something new in saving ‘those’ people.  If He hadn’t, you & I wouldn’t be saved either.

Luke 5:27–39

  • The call

27 After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” 28 So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

  • It’s one of the greatest conversions in the Bible, and it spans a mere two verses in Luke.  Relatively speaking, that’s par for the course among the Synoptic writers.  Matthew’s own account is a single verse – there’s no mention even by the apostle himself of any surrounding context or background.  It’s as if life began for Matthew on that day. (It did!)  What we do know is that at some point during Jesus’ Galilean ministry, He encountered a tax collector sitting in his booth doing the things that tax collectors did.  Levi had not gone out looking for Jesus, nor does he seem to have been part of the larger crowd that followed Him.  Levi was simply a sinner stuck in his sin – just like we all were when we first met the Lord.
    • Although we often speak in terms of “finding Jesus,” the phrase is inaccurate.  Technically, He finds us.  He is the One who seeks and saves the lost.  When we respond to Christ in faith, it is because He initiated the work in the first place.  We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
  • Who was this man found by Jesus?  Luke calls him “Levi,” (at least for now), whereas Matthew himself never uses the name.  Why two names?  It does not appear to have been an uncommon practice for people to be known by more than one name.  In some cases, one name was used among the Jews, and another among the Greeks/Romans (i.e. Saul/Paul).  Ultimately, we cannot say in this instance.  Some have theorized that “Levi” was his given name, whereas “Matthew” was his new name in Christ.  He is consistently referred to as Matthew after his conversion, but this is still conjecture/speculation.  That said, the Bible is clear that we do have new names and new identities in Christ (Rev 2:17).  Whatever the reason for the name change for Levi/Matthew is that he did have a new identity, new nature, and new calling because of Jesus.  Whoever he was prior to meeting the Lord, that person was gone.  After the call of Christ, the new nature had begun!
    • Praise God for our new start in Jesus!  Before, we were incredibly lost, but now everything is brand-new!  Treasure that freedom that comes with newness – take hold of your new beginning.  Let go of the past – if you are in Christ, you are a new creation! 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."  Who were you?  It no longer matters!  Who you are is a new creature in Christ Jesus.  Praise God!
  • What was it that was so lost about Levi?  He was a tax collector.  He was a Jew employed by the Romans to extract taxes from his own countrymen.  He had a certain quota that he was required to pay, but if he skimmed a bit more to pay himself, the Romans didn’t care.  Thus in the eyes of the Jews, tax collectors were not only traitors working for the unwanted occupying government, but they were thieves enriching themselves off of the labors of their brother Jews.  These were scum – these were people to be despised – people who rightly deserved the judgment of God.  Some individual tax collectors might have been better or worse than others, but none of that mattered.  To the Jews, they were all evil, and they all deserved what they got.
    • Know anyone like that?  Does anyone or any group fall into that category for you?  Be careful!  God may have great plans for them.  He certainly did for Levi!
  • With all of this cultural background in mind, it must have surprised Levi as much as anyone else to see Jesus approach him in his booth.  What was a rabbi doing here?  What did a man so obviously as holy as Jesus want with a man so obviously as sinful as Levi?  Was Levi about to receive a tongue-lashing rebuke?  Was Jesus going to call some sort of demon out of Levi that would have explained his sinful occupation?  As it turned out, it was nothing of the sort.  Jesus does something totally unexpected by walking up to Levi in his booth, and calling him to be His disciple.  All Jesus said was, “Follow Me,” and that was enough.  Levi’s whole life changed in an instant.  Of all of the things & money he could have taken with him, Levi saw it for the dung it was and forsook it immediately.  He left everything to follow Jesus.
  • Consider for a moment was Jesus could have said.  He could have rebuked Levi for his obvious sins against his God and his nation.  He could have commanded Levi to go make restitution before ever thinking of committing his life to God.  He could have ordered some form of penance for all the sin Levi had committed.  But Jesus did none of that.  He simply called Levi to follow Him.  He gave Levi a free opportunity at mercy, with no strings attached.  Jesus simply reached out in love and grace.
    • That’s what He does with us.  When Jesus calls us to be saved, He doesn’t come with all sorts of restrictions and stipulations.  Jesus’ offer of salvation doesn’t come with any fine print of which we need to beware.  We put all of those things upon ourselves.  We believe God wants to beat us up over our past sins – we think that we need to clean up our own lives before we go back to God – we think we need to punish ourselves or undergo some form of penance – all before we are able to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.  Not so!  The only thing we need to do is answer His call.  We need to respond.
    • That’s not to downplay the importance of repentance in the life of a believer (Jesus will get to this in a minute) – but all of our repentant actions come as a result of faith in Jesus.  We go to Him first, and He cleans up our lives.  To believe we need to clean up our own lives first is to get things completely backward.  Our sin isn’t reason to stay away from Jesus – it’s the reason we ought to run to Him!
  • What is involved in responding to Jesus?  Simple: leave everything behind.  That’s what Levi did.  That’s what Peter, James, and John did before him (5:11).  Whatever you have, forsake it for Jesus.  Objection: “But you said it was simple.  That’s too hard!”  It is simple; it may not be easy.  There’s nothing complicated about it.  You know what you were…now leave it behind for the sake of Jesus.  What did you have before?  Sin – death – slavery, etc.  Who wouldn’t want to leave that behind?  As for the other things, we have to remember Whom it is that we’re talking about.  Do you honestly think that God cannot be trusted with your hopes and dreams?  Do we really believe God desires to make life utterly miserable for His beloved children?  Of course not!  No one knows us better than our heavenly Father, and no king is more trustworthy than Jesus.  Whatever our circumstance – whatever our attachment, we can leave it behind for the sake of Christ!
  • The criticism.

29 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. 30 And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

  • We simply have to love the response of Levi!  Once he made the decision to follow Jesus, the first thing he did was to give his friends the same opportunity.  There were other men and women just as lost as he had been, and he knew the One who could save them.  If Jesus had been willing to save Levi, surely Jesus would be willing to save others like him. (And He was!)  So he gathered his fellow tax collectors and other colleagues together to have a “feast” with Jesus.  If they could all sit down for a meal, then they would have the opportunity to see & hear Jesus for themselves, and surely some of them might follow Jesus too.
    • This is all evangelism is: an opportunity for someone else to see Jesus.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be done only by certain people.  There is only one qualification necessary for you to engage in personal evangelism: you need to know Jesus.  It’s difficult to introduce someone to someone else you yourself do not know.  Otherwise, the door is wide open.  You know Jesus – you know your friends – so now, facilitate an introduction.  Maybe it’s through a Bible tract – maybe through an invitation to church – maybe it’s over coffee or a meal.  Whatever it is, it’s intentional.  Levi held his feast specifically in Jesus’ honor among those who would not know Him otherwise.  Our evangelism needs to be the same way.  We go out with the purpose of sharing Christ, and just take a step of faith.
  • Not everyone appreciated Levi’s effort.  He was already considered to be the wrong type of person to hang around a rabbi or prophet, and now he was inviting even more of the ‘wrong’ people to do the same.  Those were the people who were supposed to be ostracized, kept away from the other respectable folks.  And worse yet, Jesus was actually engaging them!  He was freely eating and drinking with them.  Culturally speaking, sharing a meal was considered extremely intimate, and for Jesus to engage with them in such a way was (in their eyes) almost as bad as going out with them to sin.  Just to be around ‘those’ people was bad – spending quality time with them and discussion with them was unimaginable!
  • What did the scribes and Pharisees do about it?  The same thing most self-righteous hypocrites do: gossip and complain.  They murmured and grumbled their disapproval.  The Greek word is actually an onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like its meaning.  For instance, “greasy” sounds slick.  “Murmur” sounds like whispers.  Here, the word sounds like a grumbling noise (γογγύζω) – which was exactly the state of their hearts.  They didn’t even have the courage to take their grumbling directly to Jesus, as they decided to voice their complaints to the disciples instead.  They whispered against Jesus, attempting to impugn His character.  “Good rabbis wouldn’t eat and drink with sinners, you know…especially those claiming to be the Son of Man.  What business do You have hanging around ‘those’ people?”
    • Sadly, that attitude has not disappeared over time.  There are always some folks holding themselves to be holier-than-thou who believe they have the right to decide who can & who cannot become a Christian.  “Some people just aren’t worthy of the gospel, right?  After all, they don’t look or act enough like me.”  How wrong – how foolish – how arrogant!  The Pharisees of then & today forget that all of us are equally lost & equally declared to be sinners in the sight of God.  If Jesus shouldn’t be with sinners, then He has no business being with us.  Praise God that Jesus came for sinners – that’s our only hope to be saved!
    • Jesus makes precisely this point in His response to them…

31 Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

  • A Savior is only needed for sinners, just like a doctor is only needed by the sick.  If a person doesn’t see himself as sick, then he has absolutely no need to seek out medical attention.  Yet those who understand they are diseased or in need of life-saving surgery run straight to the doctor’s office.  The Pharisees didn’t see themselves as sick, and that was their primary problem.  They wanted a Messiah, but what for?  Surely they wanted the King of Israel to come, but the King was also supposed to be a sacrifice, and they didn’t see themselves in need of one.  But they did.  They were just as much in need of the forgiveness and sacrifice of Jesus as anyone else – they were incredibly diseased with sin, even though they were blind to it.
  • Why didn’t they see it?  Because they were self-righteous.  They could not see their own sin because they had convinced themselves they were righteous on their own merits.  Earlier, we suggested thinking of someone who could not be saved, and this is perhaps the only category: the hard-hearted, proud, self-righteous person.  As long as someone sees him/herself in that way, it is impossible for him/her to be saved.  Why?  Because God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6).  The self-righteous man never understands his need to be given the righteousness of Christ, so he never bothers to ask Christ for it.  He doesn’t understand that he himself is not righteous – that when the Bible talks about all of our attempts at righteousness being like bloody filthy rags (Isa 64:6), or that no one is good, no not one (Rom 3:12), that it’s talking about us.  No one is exempt!  We are all dead in our transgressions (Eph 2:1), and it doesn’t matter how righteous we might believe we are compared to someone else, that compared to God we are as filthy as they come.  That is a hard blindness, and it is a blindness that keeps someone from eternal life.  Thankfully, no one has to remain that way – but as long as they do, it will be impossible for them to be saved.
  • If Jesus didn’t come for the self-righteous, then for whom did He come?  “Sinners.”  Those who understand their sinful state are prime candidates for the salvation of God.  Drug addicts – pagans – adulterers – idolaters – rioters – greedy – lazy – anyone lost in any sin can be saved!  Jesus indeed came for ‘those’ people…and those people are us.
  • Of course Jesus doesn’t want us to remain sinners.  He came for sinners to be saved, and that means there needs to be a change.  Only self-admitted sinners are able to receive salvation, but Jesus’ grace is not a license for us to remain as we were.  Jesus specifically said that He came to call “sinners to repentance.”  What is repentance?  It can be a loaded term, and it’s one that is rarely used outside of a church setting.  Often we equate it with sorrow, with the idea that if we’re sorry about an action, then we’re being repentant.  That’s not really the idea.  Godly sorrow definitely leads someone to repentance (2 Cor 7:10), but repentance is more than mere contrition.  A person can be sorry over sin simply because he/she got caught doing it – not because he/she actually wants to change.  And “change” is a key thought here.  The word is μετάνοια, a strengthened form of the word “to think.”  Μετα  = preposition for “around, about, unto” … νοεω  = “to consider, think, understand.”  Think of it as a change of mind that leads to a change of direction.  We used to think one way about a certain act or behavior, but our thinking has so radically changed that we wouldn’t even consider doing it any longer.  For instance, some singles make a practice of sleeping with every person they date.  Once coming to faith in Jesus, that thinking changes because they understand that God has reserved sex for the marriage relationship, so now they no longer do it.  They have repented.  Their thinking changed, and their actions changed as a result.
    • This is what Jesus calls us to!  Can you imagine a scenario in which Levi claimed to follow Jesus, but went on in his career as a tax collector?  Or Paul coming to the realization that Jesus is God, yet still persecuting the church as a Pharisee?  Inconceivable!  How then do we think we are exempt in regards to our own sin? Can we continue in our lust – our greed – our covetousness – our addictions – our rage?  Surely not.  We must repent.
  • Please note that to Jesus, repentance is part & parcel with following Him as a disciple.  He called Levi to follow Him, had the opportunity to call others to do the same at the feast – and what does He do, other than call them to repentance?  Repentance is not an add-on option to our faith in Christ; it’s part of it.  That’s not to say that repentance is a requirement to be saved, as a kind of works-based salvation.  Perish the thought!  Never once does Jesus preach a works-based gospel.  What He does preach is a gospel that affects our works.  When someone gives his life to Christ, his life is ­changed – it is foundationally affected by Jesus.  Our thinking changes, and thus our actions and lives change.  And why not?  After all, we’ve been given a new nature by Jesus.  We are made new creations, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, impacted on a spiritual level by His word.  How could our lives not change?  If we’ve had such an interaction with the personal Creator God of the universe, we ought to expect such a transformation.  There would be something wrong if we didn’t change, and had no sign of repentance.
    • And there is.  If you’re listening to this, thinking to yourself, “I don’t know what this guy is talking about.  I’m a Christian and my life hasn’t changed much at all,” then you’ve got a serious problem.  Paul told the Corinthians the same thing when they claimed to be Christians, but lived lives that were completely carnal.  2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified."  Examine yourself – take the test!  If that describes you, then do something about it.  Surrender to the call of Jesus today, asking Him for His forgiveness, and for His work to make you a new creature.  Ask Him to save you, and He will.
  • Different disciples.

33 Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

  • So Jesus has just shut down the scribes & Pharisees in regards to Levi.  When confronted with the statement that not only was Jesus glad to eat and drink with such people, but that those sinners (‘those’ people) were precisely the type of people He had come to save, one would think the religious snobs might sober up a bit.  Perhaps they would do a bit of self-reflection and see that they were also sick & in need of a spiritual physician.  Alas, no.  Instead, they firm up in their opposition to Jesus.  Again, like so many other religious hypocrites, when rebuffed on one issue, they simply found something else of which they could complain.  Self-righteous people always have to find fault with others.  If they don’t, they might be forced to come grips with the faults of their own.
  • What was it this time?  Spiritual discipline.  Since they were complaining about Jesus’ tendency to eat and drink with sinners, now the complaint was His tendency to eat and drink at all.  Technically, the Pharisees raised their complaint as it concerned Jesus’ disciples, but their meaning was clear.  After all, disciples only do what they see their Master doing.  If the disciples of Jesus ate & drank often, it was because Jesus did it too.  Question: what’s wrong with eating & drinking?  Absolutely nothing.  The Pharisees weren’t complaining about Jesus’ disciples taking daily sustenance as much as they were looking at the disciples’ readiness to feast (per Levi’s feast).  Feasting was done in times of celebration, whereas fasting was done in times of mourning.  The Pharisees and their disciples (as well as those of John the Baptist) fasted on a regular basis.  In fact, the Pharisees were known to fast twice every week, and they held it as a sign of their true spiritual prowess.  Interestingly, fasting was only commanded by the law of Moses at a single time each year (the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur); the Pharisees did it twice per week.  Theirs wasn’t a sign of spiritual humility as much as it was religious pride.  And like the legalists they were, they were not satisfied abiding by their own rules themselves; they had to impose it upon everyone else as well.
  • Jesus responds by pointing out some key differences between He & them…

34 And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”

  • Difference #1: Jesus’ disciples had good reason to feast & celebrate.  They had the “bridegroom” with them!  The long-awaited Messiah was in their midst, walking & talking among them.  Why wouldn’t they celebrate?  It would be inappropriate not to do so.  After all, who goes to a wedding wearing clothes of mourning and publicly fasting from the wedding cake?  Weddings are times of celebration; not weeping.  The Pharisees were basically saying that Jesus’ disciples needed to act like they were going to a funeral.  Jesus knew better – He knew they were headed for the wedding feast.
    • Jesus IS the bridegroom, and we as the Church are His bride.  Ultimately, all marriages are supposed to point to that marriage, which is one reason why it is a sacred institution to God, and one reason why individual marriages are to be treasured and cared for.  As Christians, we look forward to that day of the wedding feast, though we don’t know exactly what it will be like.  Whatever it is, no doubt it will be amazing!
  • Difference #2: Jesus’ disciples would later have a good reason to fast.  Eventually Jesus would suffer & die, and the disciples would have true reason to mourn & fast.  Unlike the Pharisees, it wouldn’t be for religious show.  For the disciples, it would be heartfelt & sincere.  The remaining 11 disciples (as well as the women who followed Jesus) were truly heartbroken and despondent during those three days of death, and although the Scripture never tells us, it’s doubtful they ate anything at all.  Thankfully, it didn’t last long!
    • Don’t miss the prophetic allusion Jesus makes to His death.  His ministry had barely begun – He had not even yet finished calling the 12 disciples, and already He is referring to the cross.  It was always on His mind, for this was the reason He had come.
  • BTW – never once does Jesus condemn fasting & declare it as bad; He simply gives the reason His disciples didn’t do it at the time, especially as a part of a prideful religious practice.  There are times that it is appropriate for Christians to fast, especially when you feel God’s leading to do so.  The key is to do it between you & God, not calling any special attention to yourself.  A fast is supposed to be a period of focused humility as a person calls upon the Lord in prayer.  To make it a public show of supposed spirituality is to miss the point entirely. 
  • Different work.

36 Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

  • Was Jesus doing something different with His disciples?  No doubt.  Was He doing something different in calling people like Levi to be saved?  Certainly.  And that was His intent all along.  Jesus wasn’t interested in reforming Pharisaic Judaism – He wasn’t trying to patch up an old system.  He was doing something completely new & different.  That’s the only way it would work.
  • That’s the point of the parable.  We buy our clothes pre-shrunk for washing, but it wasn’t always that way.  Garments of earlier generations had problems if the material was mismatched, with patches making tears worse than before.  Ancient pigments had issues matching up in the first place.  Likewise with the practice of making wine.  As fermentation occurs, gas builds up in a wineskin, stretching it.  What would happen if the skin was already stretched to the max?  Destruction.  Thus new wine had to go in new wineskins, just like new patches had to go with new garments.  To try to mix the two was to ruin both. The Pharisees were asking Jesus to mix His teaching with their old tradition – it simply wasn’t going to work.
  • And it’s not as if they really wanted Jesus’ new teaching anyway.  Vs. 39…

39 And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”

  • Some people never want to try something new.  No matter what is presented before them, they’ll always choose the old, simply because it is what they know.  Those who drink wine often prefer older vintages, because they assume them to always be better.  True wine connoisseurs know that it all depends on the wine.  Some wine ages well; most others turn into spoiled vinegar.  But if someone has drunk vinegar all of his life, having only known vinegar, how quickly do we think he’ll choose to drink something truly fine?  It takes some convincing.
  • Likewise for the Pharisees.  Jesus was presenting something new to them – truly different, but truly better.  Unlike their old tradition, which was a perversion of the good law given them by God, Jesus offered them a gospel of grace.  Instead of running to it, the resisted it.  Why?  Because all they knew was the old.  They preferred their old traditions because they were comfortable in it, and felt like they could control it.  To receive of the gospel of Jesus meant that they needed to get out of their comfort zone, and surrender themselves to Someone else – and they simply were not yet willing to do it.  They missed out tremendously.

Something different was happening with Jesus – something new & wonderful.  The people to whom He offered the gospel were different than before – the way His disciples followed Him was different than others – but this difference was good.  This difference made ALL the difference in the world!  All of a sudden, the distinction between the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and the true righteousness of God became like night & day.  It became really obvious that what was there before had something wrong (like the green water in the Olympic swimming pool).  There is something wrong with certain people being purposefully excluded from the grace of God – there is something wrong with spiritual disciplines of humility being used as a legalistic hammer against others and being a source of pride – there is something wrong with choosing the vinegar of men over the true wine of God.  Was what Jesus doing different?  Yes – and praise God that it was!

Jesus did something truly different & truly good when He saved us.  Of all the people in the world, He reached out to people like you & me.  There is no way we deserve His grace – we did nothing to make ourselves more pleasing in His sight than anyone else – we were riddled with spiritual disease, in desperate need of a divine Doctor.  And that’s when Jesus saw us, called us, and saved us.  He loved us first, gave us the opportunity to follow Him, and that’s what we did.  Now we are new creations, saved by His grace.  We have a new beginning & a new opportunity to be a part of the work of Jesus.

So be a part!  It would be so easy for us to come to Jesus like Levi, but then settle into the role of the Pharisees.  Indeed, that’s what many people do.  They want to be saved, but they aren’t so sure they want other people saved with them.  Be careful of such hypocrisy!  If the love of Jesus is available to us, it is available to all the world.  That means Jesus extends His same offer of grace to drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, terrorists, republicans, democrats, and every other category of person we can think of.  If we can be saved, anyone can be saved.  So let us be a part in saving them!  We can throw our own feasts, introducing people to Jesus.  We can pray for the lost, make friends with ‘those’ people, and help them see Jesus for themselves.

It’s difficult to do that if we’re still playing around with sins of the past.  Jesus called us as sinners, but He called us to repent from our sin.  Turn away from those things – be done with those things.  Jesus has given you a new nature – allow Him to give you a new way of thinking.  Repent, and walk as that new creation He has made you to be.

Hard Truths; Good God

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 17-18, “Hard Truths; Good God”

Sometimes a lie can be repeated so much that people believe it to be the truth.  They range from the silly (George Washington didn’t lie about a chopping down a cherry tree) – to the trivial (bats aren’t really blind) – to the consequential (political examples).  Once people grab hold of a narrative, it’s difficult to change it in view of revealed facts.

Such was the case with the ancient Jews.  They believed one set of things about their Babylonian captivity, but much of what they believed were lies.  First, they thought that because Babylon was a wicked nation, there was no way a righteous God would ever use them.  Certainly, there was no way that God would use them for the benefit of His people.  Lie.  God did use Babylon as His instrument of judgment, and He also planned to use them for the ultimate benefit of His people.  This was harsh medicine to be sure, but it was needed medicine for a nation as sick with sin as that of Judah.

Second, they believed that God was unjust.  They thought that the Babylonians had come because of the sins of their forefathers, but not their own – thus God was unfair in allowing them to come at all.  Lie.  God is not like man.  Man’s version of justice is often unfair, but God’s justice is always righteous.  He never punishes anyone who does not deserve it.  The fact that the Jews experienced the Babylonian conquest was proof that they did indeed deserve it.  Again, this was a harsh truth to receive, but it was something that needed to be said.  The good news is that God freely implored the people to repent.  They could live, if they but put their trust in God.  The choice was up to them.

What kind of lies about God have we accepted as de-facto truths?  May God help us be aware of them!  May He open our eyes to His truth, and thus the truth.  Ultimately, our eyes need to be open to the truth about our God.  We know Him not through the misconceptions of our culture, but through His revelation of Himself.  Who has He revealed Himself to be?  That’s the God in whom we trust.

Ezekiel 17

  • The parable of the eagle & vine (1-10)

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, pose a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel,

  • Question: “Are there actually parables in the OT?  Wasn’t Jesus the only one who used them?”  Although Jesus often used parables, He didn’t invent them.  All kinds of parables are found throughout the prophets – particularly in Ezekiel & Isaiah.  Parables are often defined as earthly stories with heavenly meanings…and that’s true to a great extent.  God gives a story using common everyday things, and infuses a spiritual point into it.  Does it make the truth more difficult to understand?  Perhaps for some.  Jesus specifically said that He used parables to hide the truth from the hard-hearted, but that those same truths are freely heard & received by the humble.  (~Mt 13:10-17)  God wants us to know His truth, but He also wants us seeking Him in faith.  Parables are the ideal tool to do just that.
  • Two other parables had recently been given to Ezekiel by God.  Ch 15 depicted Israel as a fruitless vine, useful for nothing except the fire.  Ch 16 showed Israel to be an adulterous wife, even worse than a prostitute in how she debased herself with foreign gods.  They were harsh pictures, but they definitely proved their point.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, these were vibrant indeed!
  • Why use symbolic language at all?  God did speak in straightforward ways to His people (as He’ll do again here when He explains the parable) – so it’s not like God was intentionally trying to confuse anyone.  On the contrary – God uses every means possible to reach everyone available.  Different people learn in different ways.  Auditory learners need to be spoken to; visual learners need to see something.  Just as Paul became all things to all men in order that he might save some (1 Cor 9:22), so does God use every avenue possible to reach His people.  In the end, no one is left with an excuse.  If they chose to disregard God, they could not claim ignorance. (Neither can we! …)

3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “A great eagle with large wings and long pinions, Full of feathers of various colors, Came to Lebanon And took from the cedar the highest branch. 4 He cropped off its topmost young twig And carried it to a land of trade; He set it in a city of merchants. 5 Then he took some of the seed of the land And planted it in a fertile field; He placed it by abundant waters And set it like a willow tree. 6 And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature; Its branches turned toward him, But its roots were under it. So it became a vine, Brought forth branches, And put forth shoots.

  • The parable begins with a “great eagle” – a huge bird with huge wings, feathers, talons, etc.  It is shown as mighty & majestic, able to soar long distances with ease.  This eagle takes notice of a vine (remember that Israel has already been likened to a vine in Ch 15 & Isaiah 5), and carries it off to a faraway land.  Although it would be traumatic to be originally uprooted, the vine is replanted (along with some of the original seed), and it eventually becomes healthy.  It may be of “low stature,” (i.e. humble in reputation), but it is alive & flourishing.  It again is able to send out “branches [and] shoots.

7 “But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers; And behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, And stretched its branches toward him, From the garden terrace where it had been planted, That he might water it. 8 It was planted in good soil by many waters, To bring forth branches, bear fruit, And become a majestic vine.” ’

  • A 2nd eagle enters the picture, and it’s to this 2nd eagle that the newly replanted vine appeals.  It stretches up to it, beckoning to be taken away from this new home.  Although it was healthy (yet humble) where it was, it envisioned something better for itself.  The vine believed that this new eagle could take it somewhere that it could become a majestic vine.  In essence, it rebelled against the 1st eagle, and sought a 2nd eagle for deliverance.

9 “Say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots, Cut off its fruit, And leave it to wither? All of its spring leaves will wither, And no great power or many people Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted, Will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it? It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew.” ’ ”

  • Although the focus has been on the vine, God points out the reaction of the 1st eagle.  The 1st eagle had transplanted and cared for the vine – what reason would it have to continue to do so?  What would stop the eagle from uprooting the plant entirely?  The vine’s outreach to the 2nd eagle wouldn’t save it; it would seal its doom.
  • Nice story (if a bit bizarre!)…so what does it mean?  God goes on to give Ezekiel the direct interpretation.
  • The parable interpreted (11-21)

11 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 12 “Say now to the rebellious house: ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Tell them, ‘Indeed the king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its king and princes, and led them with him to Babylon. 13 And he took the king’s offspring, made a covenant with him, and put him under oath. He also took away the mighty of the land, 14 that the kingdom might be brought low and not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. 15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?

  • To Ezekiel, God gives both history and prophecy.  To modern readers, this is all ancient history, but to Ezekiel, these were current events.  Ezekiel had personally lived through the original Babylonian invasions.  After all, that’s why Ezekiel was located in Babylon by the River Chedar in the first place.  But we need to remember that the invasions of Babylon came in stages.  At first, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came against King Jehoiakim of Judah, who died.  Once more, Nebuchadnezzar came out of Babylon against the next king of Judah, Jehoiachin, who was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar & made to return to Babylon with him.  Along with Jehoiachin were many other captives from the people of Judah, as well as many of the treasures of the temple & land.  At this point, Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonian empire, and Nebuchadnezzar installed a new king in Jerusalem: Zedekiah. (2 Kings 24)
  • This was the state of things while Ezekiel received most of his oracles from God.  What God now revealed to Ezekiel were things that were yet to take place (by some estimations, three years into the future).  Although Zedekiah had been personally installed by the king of Babylon, having swore an oath to serve him, the new king of Judah would rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, by “sending his ambassadors to Egypt,” in a futile attempt to get Egypt to deliver them.  Zedekiah may not have liked being the servant of Babylon, but what he did was still treason.  If Zedekiah had submitted himself to the hand of Babylon (and thus to the hand of God), he would have lived & even thrived.  As it was, Zedekiah’s acts brought on the final onslaught of the armies of Babylon.  As God declares in vs. 15, Zedekiah would “break a covenant,” and experience the consequences.  Vs. 16…

16 ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke—with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. 17 Nor will Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company do anything in the war, when they heap up a siege mound and build a wall to cut off many persons. 18 Since he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and in fact gave his hand and still did all these things, he shall not escape.’ ”

  • Right up front, God tells Ezekiel (and thus all of the Jews) that the appeal to Egypt will not work.  The Pharaoh would not be able to deliver Jerusalem from the siege mounted against it by Babylon, which only came as a result of Zedekiah’s faithlessness to his covenant promise to Nebuchadnezzar.  Surely Zedekiah did not like his situation, but this is what he swore to uphold.  By lying to Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah put himself under the discipline of God.

19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “As I live, surely My oath which he despised, and My covenant which he broke, I will recompense on his own head. 20 I will spread My net over him, and he shall be taken in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon and try him there for the treason which he committed against Me. 21 All his fugitives with all his troops shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered to every wind; and you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken.”

  • Whose oath did Zedekiah despise?  That of “the Lord GOD.”  When Zedekiah swore an oath to serve Nebuchadnezzar, in whose name did he swear?  Apparently, that of YHWH.  Even if Zedekiah did not utter the name of the covenantal God of Israel, he swore as a representative of the God of Israel, being the representative of God’s chosen people.  Thus when Zedekiah broke his vow, he broke the vow he made to the Lord GOD.  That’s a serious thing!  That was not only treason against Babylon, but that was treason against the Lord, and God promised to judge him for it.
  • Question: “Don’t we have a right to rebel against wicked governments?”  Not really.  ALL human government is wicked to some extent.  When governments attempt to force us to commit wickedness, or impose itself in the place of God, we certainly have an obligation to obey God rather than men.  But otherwise, we’re supposed to submit to those who rule over us, all the while knowing we serve a Greater King & are citizens of an eternal kingdom.  Both Peter and Paul wrote of the need to honor kings (1 Pet 2:17), and submit to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1), with the full knowledge that their particular earthly king was none other than Caesar Nero.  If there was ever an unjust king of whom apostles could suggest an uprising, it would have been him…but they didn’t do it.  Instead, they entrusted themselves to the hand of God, and attempted to give honor due the king whenever possible.  When forced to choose between testifying of Christ and submitting to the Romans, they chose Christ – and they also chose to endure the consequences that followed.  (That’s our responsibility as well…)
  • As for Zedekiah, he neither submitted himself to his earthly king, nor did he keep the covenant he swore in the name of Almighty God.  Thus he fell under the judgment of God.
    • God wants us to keep our promises!  God is the faithful trustworthy God, and He expects His people to be faithful & trustworthy as well.  If we cannot keep something as simple as a basic promise, than what can we be trusted with?  If we as God’s children cannot keep our word, what does that say about the God whom we claim to serve?  As Jesus taught, we need to let our “yes” be yes & our “no” be no (Mt 5:37).  We don’t need to make our promises extravagant, but we do need to make them true.  God keeps His promises to us; we ought to keep ours with Him & with others.
  • Thus far, this was a pretty hard truth.  God has just prophesied to Ezekiel that in addition to all the suffering that Judah had experienced, there was more on the way due to the ineptness & faithlessness of the king.  The Jews had barely begun to recover & get settled when the Babylonians would come again with terrible destruction.  What would happen next – would the nation be totally destroyed?  No.  That’s the promise God goes on to give in vs. 22…
  • Promise of exalted remnant & Messiah (22-24)

22 Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.”

  • Although God does not refer to Himself as an eagle, He certainly picks up with the imagery of the parable again.  Instead of Israel being a vine, it is depicted as a cedar tree, from which a young tender branch is plucked, and replanted upon the mountains of Israel.  Although the branch would start off in humble obscurity, it would grow to a tree of such size that every bird of the air will find comfort and shade in its branches & all the other trees of the world will acknowledge the hand of YHWH God upon it.
  • What is the branch?  In one sense, it is the remnant of Israel – the portion of the Jews that was not utterly destroyed by the Babylonians or anyone else.  Ultimately, it’s a picture of the Messiah, Who is elsewhere referred to as the Branch. (Jer 23:5, Zech 6:12-13)  Would the remnant of the nation start off small?  Yes.  So would Jesus start out in humility & obscurity.  Yet He would not remain so!  Not only has His influence extended through the ages for all kinds of peoples from all kinds of nation (such as us!) – but His kingdom will one day extend over all the earth during the Millennium.  During that day, every knee will bow & every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!
  • Zedekiah on behalf of the Jews would be unfaithful to his promise to God, but God will always be faithful to His promise to the Jews & the rest of the world.  What God has spoken, He will do.

Chapter 17 dealt with a parable – chapter 18, a proverb.  The parable dealt with false expectations and the faithlessness of men.  The proverb deals with false teaching about God, and His true justice and faithfulness…

Ezekiel 18

  • A false proverb of injustice (1-18)

1 The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, 2 “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. 4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.

  • The proverb was a common one at the time.  The other major quotation of this proverb is Jeremiah 31:29-30 – an oracle somewhat contemporary to Ezekiel’s, as well as a similar context.  The basic idea is that children pay the price for their parents’ sin.  If you’ve ever bitten into a sour grape, you know the weird feeling you get in your teeth as your nerves are irritated.  According to the proverb, the parents ate the grapes, but it was the children who felt the effect in their teeth. 
  • Basically, the Jews were accusing God of injustice.  They freely acknowledged the sin of their parents, but claimed that it was wrong for them to experience the consequences that their parents had earned.  In their minds, they hadn’t done anything wrong, so why was God punishing them?  There is all kind of wrong with that line of thinking, and God addresses it head-on.
  • As He does, God begins by giving them the bottom-line: He doesn’t punish innocent people.  God sees everyone individually – no one is outside of His jurisdiction, and when God judges, He judges justly.  As He declares: “the soul who sins shall die.”  This is a foundational truth when it comes to the gospel.  Paul wrote to the Romans that “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23), for death is the righteous judgment given out to all who sin.  God declared death as the judgment for the original sin in the Garden of Eden, and that carries on to this day.  Those who sin, die. 
    • Considering that all people die, what does that tell us?  All people sin.  There’s not a single person in the world that has lived a perfect life, earning for themselves eternal life.  It simply isn’t possible.  We sin from the moment we exit the womb, having been born with a fallen nature.  No one needs to teach us how to sin – on the contrary, we need to be taught how to live rightly.  Think about what we teach our children: don’t lie – share – stop throwing a fit, etc.  Children naturally gravitate towards sin, and we have to teach them how NOT to sin.  As adults, we’re no better – we just know how to couch our sin in more reasonable terms.  We don’t “lie,” we’re selective with the truth.  We don’t blaspheme – we’re just a little loose with our language.  And if none of that works, we simply water down what sin actually is.  We justify it, saying things like “What’s a little lust? Everyone does it.”  Yes, everyone does it, but we ought to be truthful about what it is we do: we sin.  And sin deserves death.  Big sin, little sin, it makes no difference.  If we’ve broken God’s law in one point, we’ve broken the entire thing (Jas 2:10).  How many times have we only broken one sin in a day?  The weight of judgment that we’ve earned is unfathomable!
    • That’s the point God is going to make with the Jews.  ALL of them have sinned, so all of them deserve death – even death by the hands of the Babylonians.  God certainly cannot be accused of unrighteousness.  He knows the difference between righteousness and wickedness, even if we do not.
  • Example #1: the righteous man (5-9)

5 But if a man is just And does what is lawful and right; 6 If he has not eaten on the mountains, Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife, Nor approached a woman during her impurity; 7 If he has not oppressed anyone, But has restored to the debtor his pledge; Has robbed no one by violence, But has given his bread to the hungry And covered the naked with clothing; 8 If he has not exacted usury Nor taken any increase, But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity And executed true judgment between man and man; 9 If he has walked in My statutes— And kept My judgments faithfully— He is just; He shall surely live!” Says the Lord GOD.

  • God gives a whole litany of things that demonstrate the actions of a righteous man.  By no means is this to be thought of as comprehensive, but generally speaking, if this was the description of a person’s life, this man would be considered to be righteous.  This is a man who steered clear of idolatry, who lived a life of sexual purity, who had a merciful heart compassionate to the poor, was able to judge between right & wrong, who knew and lived out the word of God, etc.  If a man could do these things, he would be considered “just” in God’s eyes & would “surely live.
  • What’s the problem?  There’s no one like this that can be found anywhere.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, no one lives up to this standard.  Surely, there are men in whom God was well pleased – men like Abraham, Moses, David, and others.  But even they sinned against God.  Abraham lied about his marital status with Sarah – Moses misrepresented God in front of His people – David committed adultery, lied, murdered, and more.  Even the greatest heroes of the Bible were men who had sinned.  Not a single one of them could be considered just/righteous in the sight of God, apart from the gift of His grace. (Neither can we…)  But God knows what true righteousness is…apparently He is the only one who does!  Righteousness is perfection, which is why Jesus laid out the standard that we need to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).  The perfect man will live.  It’s just that there’s no one perfect, thus we need to be given the perfection of Jesus Christ!
    • BTW – it is when we are given that perfection that we DO live!  It is the perfection of Jesus Christ that comes upon us when we place our faith in Him that is what God sees as He grants us eternal life.  We have fallen short (infinitely so!), but Jesus has not.  He lived perfectly – He has all righteousness.  And it is His righteousness He places upon us when we trust in Him as our Savior and Lord.
  • So God described the righteous man – what about the wicked one?  That’s what He goes on to address as He looks at the next generation…
  • Example #2: the wicked son (10-13)

10 “If he begets a son who is a robber Or a shedder of blood, Who does any of these things 11 And does none of those duties, But has eaten on the mountains Or defiled his neighbor’s wife; 12 If he has oppressed the poor and needy, Robbed by violence, Not restored the pledge, Lifted his eyes to the idols, Or committed abomination; 13 If he has exacted usury Or taken increase— Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him.

  • This is virtually all the opposite of his father.  In the Jews’ complaint, it was their fathers who were wicked, while they were the righteous ones.  In God’s example back to them, it was the father who was righteous & the children as wicked.  Either way, the point is crystal clear.  The father is not at fault for the sins of his son.  His son chose to engage in this kind of blatant evil (idolatry, adultery, oppression, etc.), and he would be punished for it.  The father bore no guilt – this was all the result of the personal choices of the child.
  • Our own culture seems to have lost the concept of personal responsibility, but this is a concept central to Biblical morality.  In our culture, we’re always looking for someone else to blame.  “I was born into a bad family… I didn’t have wealth growing up… My boss was hard on me… My friends influenced me… The government made me…”  All of those things are smokescreens & excuses.  No one can make us do anything we choose not to do.  We might have some consequences to face for choosing a different course of action, but those are things we need to consider.  In the end, the choice to sin or not to sin is our own.  We have to take personal responsibility for ourselves.
    • BTW – it’s only when we owe up to our own sins that we can come to the conclusion that we need a Savior.  After all, if it’s always someone else’s fault that we’ve sinned, then why do we need deliverance?  In our minds, the “just” thing to do is to save us because we didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.  Wrong!  We have all sinned against God individually and personally.  It is OUR fault, and we bear our own guilt.  Once we confess that, now we are ready to receive of the grace of Jesus, because we understand grace for what it is: an undeserved gift of God.
  • Example #3: the righteous son & wicked father (14-18)

14 “If, however, he begets a son Who sees all the sins which his father has done, And considers but does not do likewise; 15 Who has not eaten on the mountains, Nor lifted his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife; 16 Has not oppressed anyone, Nor withheld a pledge, Nor robbed by violence, But has given his bread to the hungry And covered the naked with clothing; 17 Who has withdrawn his hand from the poor And not received usury or increase, But has executed My judgments And walked in My statutes He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live! 18 “As for his father, Because he cruelly oppressed, Robbed his brother by violence, And did what is not good among his people, Behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

  • God changes around the actors one more time just to make the point.  He started with the righteous father & wicked son – now He suggests a wicked father & a son who made the conscious decision to live his life differently.  The son in this scenario lived his life righteously, and God once more promises that he would “surely live.”  Here, the father bears his own guilt – it’s not passed down to the son.  Again, our God is the righteous God.
  • Appeal to repentance (19-32)

19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.

  • God anticipates their objection.  It was common knowledge that sons experienced the consequences brought on by their forefathers.  God Himself admits this much when He gave the 10 Commandments (“visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations…” Exo 20:5).  Doesn’t this mean that God declares that children will be punished for the sins of their parents?  Not at all.  There are generational patterns that are certainly set up due to sin.  People who are alcoholics are far more likely to have children that are alcoholics – abusers raise up abusers, etc.  Iniquity does pass from generation to generation (though the cycle can be broken through Jesus Christ, praise the Lord!) – but even in these cases, it is each individual generation engaging in the sin.  God does not promise to punish a future generation for something the preceding generation did.  Consequences can live on, but guilt is not inherited from one generation to the next.  Again, God makes it clear in vs. 20: “the soul who sins shall die.
  • You are not to blame for the sins of your parents.  You do not have to engage in the sins of your parents.  You are an individual – someone ultimately made in the image of God, and you have a choice in how you live.  Don’t buy into the lie of believing you have no choice because “you are the way you are.”  Not so!  Especially not in Christ Jesus.  In Christ, you are different!  In Christ, you are a new creation!  2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."  Praise the Lord for new beginnings!
  • Ultimately, God doesn’t want anyone to die.  Vs. 23…

23 Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

  • Ezekiel 18:23 (and 18:32) has got to be one of the greatest verses in the OT regarding the character of God.  So many people look at God as a malevolent being just waiting to see who He can punish because of sin.  Like an immature kid with a magnifying glass & an ant, they see God as desiring to punish us, just waiting for the excuse to do so.  Not true!  God doesn’t want us to die.  God doesn’t want us to perish.  God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  He wants us to live!  He would much rather see a wicked person come to repentance and faith, than serve out the punishment that is fully deserved.  WILL God punish?  Without question, and when He does, it is just.  Does He WANT to do it?  Absolutely not.  Hell is not something that gives God glee.  Death is not something in which God rejoices.  God hates death so much that He sent Jesus to die in order that death itself might die.  And one day it will!  Death will be thrown into the lake of fire, right alongside the devil & his minions. (Rev 20:14)
  • What does this mean for us?  It means God wants us to live!  God desires all men to be saved & come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).  God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  God wants us to be saved!  Are we wicked?  Yes.  Do we deserve death?  Yes – but God desires to give us life.  Turn from your wicked ways to Jesus & be saved!

24 “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.

  • This is the flip side to the argument.  If God desires that wicked people turn in repentance to Him & live, what happens to those who turn from righteousness to sin?  They die.  Again, we have the choice.  We can choose God & live, or we can choose sin & die.  For the Jews to whom Ezekiel was addressing, the idea was that God invited even the current generation to be saved, but if they chose to continue in their wicked ways (even though they didn’t acknowledge their ways were wicked), they would surely perish.  God is incredibly merciful, but He is also just.  Those who choose not to receive of God’s mercy will surely receive of His judgment.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. 28 Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?

  • Again, God anticipates another objection.  In the minds of the people, they might ask, “How is it fair for God to give mercy to wicked people?  Shouldn’t wicked people be punished?”  Of course, God does punish the wicked, but those who are wicked don’t have to remain wicked.  Someone in jail has exactly the same opportunity to come to faith in Jesus Christ as someone who’s never been convicted of a crime.  Sure, the prison inmate may appear to be a “worse” sinner, but the truth is we’ve all sinned & fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  Is it fair for the repentant prisoner to be saved, while the unrepentant “moral” man is judged?  Absolutely.  How so?  Because only one of the two examples sought out the mercy of God.  Someone who dies in his/her sin dies rejecting God, no matter how big/little their sins might be judged by human standards.  ALL sin is sin that deserves death, thus all sin leaves us lost.  That God grants anyone at all the opportunity to be saved is an act of His mercy & grace!  Is it fair?  Not to God, it’s not – but He fairly extends the same opportunity to everyone in the world.  Thus no one can accuse Him of unfairness.  He bears the brunt of unfairness by the fact that it was His Son that died for us!

30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”

  • There is a promise of judgment, but there is also an offer of mercy.  If the soul that sins will surely die, and all souls belong to God (18:4), then ALL souls will surely die!  The Jews may have wanted to blame their forefathers, but they were just as guilty of sin, and they were facing the righteous punishment of God.  That’s what God promised to do, but that’s not what God wanted to do.  He wanted them to repent!  He wanted them to “turn from all [their] transgressions,” and receive the life that only God could give them.  He openly invited them to receive “a new heart and a new spirit.”  Why?  Because He loved them, just like He loves us.  He wanted His people to live.  Contextually & historically, He wanted them to avoid the massive suffering that would come at the hands of the Babylonians.  If they would only submit themselves to God’s will, then they had the opportunity to live & not be destroyed.
  • Ultimately, the application is true for eternal things.  Israel had the opportunity to turn away from their sins and place their trust in the Lord God for salvation & life.  That wasn’t some offhanded throwaway remark from the Lord – that was His deep-seated desire for them, just like it is for us.  God is glorified in His righteous judgment, but He takes no pleasure in punishment.  His desire for us is repentance & life.  So take it!  Turn, and live!

There’s obvious application here to eternal life – but there’s also application here to the already born-again Christian.  Thankfully, we are saved from eternal punishment, but we can still incur the discipline of God when we willfully engage in sin.  Just like no parent takes pleasure in spanking his/her child, God does not take pleasure in spanking us.  So don’t make Him do it!  When you sin (and you will sin at some point), confess it immediately.  Humble yourself before God in true repentance.  Turn away from your sin to the mercies of God, asking forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  God would much rather see your repentance than your punishment…but He will do what is necessary to bring us to that point of humility.

Overall, that was the problem with the Jews.  They were built up in their pride.  They hadn’t believed they truly sinned against the Lord – and they hadn’t submitted themselves into His hand.  King Zedekiah believed that he could throw his promises away to make alliances with Egypt, not considering the vow he was breaking to the Lord.  He & his nation believed falsehoods, not wanting to believe that God would punish their guilt, nor that they were truly guilty.

Through Ezekiel, God told them the truth.  Through both symbolic language & straightforward talk, God told them what they needed to know about humbling themselves in repentance, and trusting Him.  Sadly, history tells us they didn’t listen.  We have the opportunity to make a different choice.  Make it.

Powerful Compassion

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 5:12-26, “Powerful Compassion”

When was the last time you were left speechless?  When you were simply flabbergasted?  Some people are speechless for the wrong reasons.  Gracie Allen is reported to have said that when she was born that she was so taken by surprise that she didn’t speak for a year & a half.🙂 Other people are left speechless just by the different folks they see walking around Walmart.🙂

As for the people surrounding Jesus, they were left speechless, but for all of the right reasons.  They saw the work of God, and they were amazed.  More than that, they saw the compassion of the Son of God, and it left them floored.  This was a Messiah who not only had the power to forgive, but the will to do it.  He was willing to reach out to people whom everyone else rejected – to address needs that no one else saw.  He loved those who were lost, and caused them to glorify God.

We cannot be certain of the exact setting of the events of our text.  Certainly Luke places them early in his account of Jesus’ ministry, but his actual description of each event is almost deliberately vague.  These things happened “in a certain city,” “on a certain day” – with no specific location or date given.  But Luke wasn’t trying to show the chronology of Jesus; he was showing the command of Jesus.  As Jesus’ ministry begins, Luke paints the picture of an authoritative Messiah.  Jesus taught in Galilee with recognized authority – He claimed to fulfill ancient Messianic prophecy & backed up His claims with authority over the demons and disease.  His authority was so great that multitudes flocked to Him to hear His teaching, and His holiness was so evident that it caused Simon Peter to fall to his knees and plead for the mercy of the Lord.  All of this has been part of Luke’s description of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, as the Lord was building His team of disciples, with these men leaving everything they knew to follow the One with all authority – the Christ of Israel.

As Chapter 5 continues, Luke goes on to demonstrate more authority of Jesus, but this time highlighting His compassion in the midst of it.  The greater the authority, the more profound an act of mercy becomes.  If a policeman gives you a warning instead of a ticket, it’s certainly appreciated – but a presidential pardon is far better.  Likewise, when the mercy is shown to us from Almighty God, the scope of that compassion is unfathomable!  And that is exactly what Jesus demonstrates.  He is the authoritative Christ with power over disease & sin, but more than that, Jesus is the compassionate Christ with the will to heal & forgive.  This King of king does not address us with disdain; He has the desire and the will to address our deepest needs – even the ones of which we may not be aware.  This is a Christ to whom we not only bow, but whom we love…and who loves us first.  The compassionate will of Jesus is truly amazing!

Luke 5:12–26

  • Jesus and the leper (12-16)

12 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.

  • Luke may be vague in regards to the physical setting (just a “certain city” – most likely in Galilee), but he is specific in regards to the situation.  “A man who was full of leprosy” approached Jesus.  Today, the disease we commonly refer to as “leprosy” is more technically called Hansen’s disease, but it is uncertain if that is actually the condition referred to at various places in the Scripture.  The Bible tended to have a general category of skin diseases that fell under the umbrella description of leprosy, ranging from common boils to something far more contagious.  Luke’s medical background comes to the fore here, in that instead of simply calling the man a “leper” (as does Mark 1:40), Luke notes that his body was “full of leprosy.”  To Luke, the man’s disease did not define who he was, but it was evident that his body was completely overrun by it.
    • Although leprosy is not always a picture of sin, it certainly reflects the effects of sin in a person’s life.  We get overrun. It consumes us to the point of eternal death.  Without a miraculous intervention, we are entirely lost.
  • So there is this man in a desperate situation.  His disease has run rampant through his body – he has been forced to leave his family & community – he is a pariah among men, commanded to make his humiliation publicly known every time he sees someone approach.  His future is not merely bleak, but hopeless apart from a miracle, knowing that he will most likely die alone with his body fully ravaged by disease.  “Desperate” seems too small a word to describe his situation.  But what happens next?  He sees Jesus, and all of a sudden he sees hope.  Due to his request, it seems likely that he had heard of Jesus’ past miracles, so he would have known something about Him, but what Jesus might be willing to do for him, he would have no idea.  All the man would have known is that alone, he was hopeless, but Jesus offered hope.  (He still does!)
  • Pay careful attention to the man’s request.  Many people asked Jesus for healing; few others (if any) began their request in this way.  “If You are willing…”  Could Jesus heal the man of his leprosy?  Yes.  There didn’t seem to be a doubt in his mind to the contrary.  Jesus’ ability was never in question; the issue was Jesus’ will.  What did Jesus desire to do?  Would Jesus care about this man filled with leprosy?  Would He be willing to have compassion upon the one everyone else rejected?  Would He desire to save?
    • There are several things of which we may not be certain of God’s precise will.  (One job over another – events of the future, etc.)  But there are others of which there is no question.  Does God desire for us to be saved?  Yes!  God desires that all men be saved & come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2:4).  God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  ‘Question: even someone like me?  After all, I’ve sinned really badly…’  Yes!  “All” means all.  God wants YOU to be saved.  God wants YOU to be delivered from sin & death.  He sent His Son precisely for that reason.  This is God’s desire for you & for all people everywhere.  He wants even the most lost of the lost to be saved.
  • That is exactly what the man learned: Jesus was willing!  What was the proof?  His touch.  Jesus touched the man before He spoke the word of healing.  This was an act that would have defiled any normal man, especially a rabbi teaching the word of God.  Depending on the form of leprosy, the disease could be highly contagious, and even a simple touch carried a risk of infection.  But for the Son of God, leprosy posed no risk that was greater than His desire to demonstrate His love and compassion.  Jesus reached out to the man & touched him.  How long had it been since this man felt any human touch other than his own?  Surely his soul was as broken as his body, and Jesus knew it.  Jesus knew this man needed much more than physical healing, but spiritual & emotional healing too.  And Jesus was willing that this man be healed…totally.  That is the love of Christ!   This is His compassion in action.
    • Jesus wills our healing too!  In fact, more often than not, our emotional & spiritual healing is our far more important need, and that is by far the most common healing that Jesus offers.  People are not always healed of our physical diseases in this life (though our freedom from disease is promised us in the resurrection!), but for those who desire it, emotional and spiritual healing IS found in Christ.  He wills that for every one of us, if we are born-again believers.  The only catch?  We have to be willing to go to Him for it.
  • How quickly was the man healed?  “Immediately.”  Jesus needs no waiting time to heal.  He speaks, and illness flees!  How could it be otherwise for the Son of God?

14 And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”

  • It’s always interesting when we see Jesus’ various commands to people not to tell others of the things He did for them, and there are different thoughts as to the reason why.  Many scholars believe that Jesus tried to maintain a Messianic secret, concealing His true identity until after His death and resurrection.  Yet that seems extremely unlikely, considering the number of time Jesus referred to Himself in divine terms (especially in the gospel of John).  Even the gospel of Luke recently showed Jesus specifically stating how He fulfilled Messianic prophecy from Isaiah.  If Jesus desired to keep His identity a secret, He certainly did a lousy job – and He doesn’t do anything lousy!  Other scholars believe that Jesus was attempting to keep the crowds surrounding Him to a minimum – and that certainly is plausible, especially in this particular account (as we’ll see in verse 15).  The greater the crowds, the greater the difficulty in movement and ministry.  Yet there seems to be more to it than only that, and here, Jesus specifically states the reason for secrecy at this time: He wanted a witness to Moses – He wanted a “testimony” to the commands of God in the Scriptures.
  • Why?  Think about it.  If the Scripture was followed, and the commands of Moses obeyed, then the priests would not be able to help but see the power of God and work and give glory to God.  That itself would be undeniable proof of the power of God resting within Jesus.  There are very few instances of leprous healings recorded in the pages of the Hebrew Bible: (1) Moses’ sister Miriam in Numbers 12, and (2) Naaman the Syrian commander in 2 Kings 5.  No doubt the attending priest would need to re-read Leviticus 14 just to find out what to do in regards to the cleansing of a leper.  There’s no way an event like this would stay secret for long.  The priest would be amazed, and ask the man how he was cleansed, and Jesus’ act would be known by that point at the very latest.  But when it was known, it would be known and attested by the priest in addition to the man who had been cleansed of his disease.  The miracle could be testified by a minimum of 2 witnesses (depending how many priests were present), and that would establish it as legal fact.  Because the Scripture was upheld, God would be glorified on two fronts.
    • It’s difficult for us to overstate the value that God puts upon His word.  Psalm 138:2 declares that God has magnified His word above His own name.  That is precious!  When God’s word is fulfilled, God Himself is glorified.  As people respond to the word of God, they respond to God Himself.  Likewise, when people ignore the word of God, it is as if they ignore Almighty God their Creator.  Obedience to the Scripture is never something to be taken lightly or casually.  By it, God can be praised or pushed aside.
  • As for this man, his exuberance is understandable, but he was still disobedient to the Messiah of whom he had just pleaded mercy.  He spread the news, and things became even more hectic.  Vs. 15…

15 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.

  • By this point in Jesus’ ministry, healings were certainly not uncommon – but the cleansing of a leper stood out among the rest.  Again, there were only two other recorded instances of it in the Hebrew Bible, so it’s no wonder that news about it spread like wildfire.  And the natural response is that people turned out in droves.  They needed to “hear” this Man, and of course they too wanted to be “healed…of their infirmities.”  If Jesus was able to heal leprosy – if He was able to cast out demons – what would be impossible for Him?  Nothing.  What is impossible with men is possible with God, and Jesus obviously had the hand of God upon Him.  Even if they did not yet believe His own divinity, they could not deny the work of God through Him.
  • This is always the case when people see the true work of Jesus.  Some things simply cannot be denied.  When meth addicts are no longer meth addicts, people tend to notice.  When liars and cheats give up their ways, they attract attention.  When atheists suddenly have faith in the gospel, people know something has happened.  Jesus routinely transforms lives every single day.  Those who know what we were cannot help but testify of something when they see who we now are.  They may not be willing to give full credit to God, but they cannot deny that something happened.  The work of Jesus always leaves evidence.
    • BTW – if it doesn’t, something’s wrong.  Granted, not everyone has what others might consider to be a “dramatic” conversion story.  Some people wonderfully come to faith at an early age, and they live virtually their whole lives glorifying God.  But that itself is powerful evidence of the work of Christ!  It is those who claim to know Jesus but live as if they have never met Him that ought to be concerned.  For those who say, “Sure I accepted Christ – I prayed the prayer,” but show zero evidence of any transformation by God – those are people who ought to take seriously the exhortation of Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5 & examine themselves to see if they are in the faith.  The work of Jesus leaves evidence…always.  No evidence; no work.
    • The good news is that anyone can ask for Jesus to work within them at any time!  No one needs to remain a false convert (or Christian-in-name-only).  Seek Him in faith – seek Him in humility – seek Him in desperation, just like the former leprous man.  You can receive the same transformation!

16 So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

  • This is such an interesting endnote to the whole event.  Because of the news spreading, the crowds increased, and things got even busier for Jesus.  There were more people coming to Him every day with more needs and more requests.  There were more healings – more ministry – and to what did it lead?  More prayer.  That’s exactly the opposite of what we so often do!  We claim that we’re too busy to pray – that there’s far too much for us to do.  Not Jesus.  Because of what the former leper said, things got even busier for Jesus, and He specifically made time for prayer.  He was too busy NOT to pray.  With more work to do, prayer became more important than ever before, so Jesus did what was necessary to ensure that He could do it.
  • What importance do you put on prayer?  Does it have a place of priority in your life?  We make appointments for friends & co-workers – do we make appointments with the Lord?  Many don’t, as it can be a struggle for many Christians.  Sometimes we don’t know what to say – other times we’re just generally uncertain about the whole thing.  We often put unnecessary restrictions or guidelines to our prayers, and because we can’t live up to those guidelines, we end up putting off prayer altogether.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a 2-second prayer, if that’s what the situation calls for.  When Peter walked on water, got scared & started to sink, all he did was cry out “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30), and that was enough.  Jesus was right there to lift Peter out of the water.  We’re exhorted in the Scripture to pray continuously, and that is impossible to do if we do not utter those 2-second prayers throughout the day as the occasion presents itself.  That said – if all we’re doing are 2-second prayers, then we’re missing out.  Again, we don’t want to put any unnecessary restrictions or ritualistic regulations on our prayers – but just like we have extended conversations with our friends & loved ones, so ought we have some extended time with God.  Just talk to Him – listen to Him – spend time in His presence.  How you do it matters far less than that you do it.  Spend time with the Lord, and pay attention to how your relationship with Him grows & how you handle your day and your stresses.  If Jesus thought it was necessary for His personal day, surely it is necessary for ours.
  • Jesus and the paralytic (17-26)

17 Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.

  • Once again, Luke is vague in his chronology showing Jesus on a generic “day,” most likely in Galilee, doing what He typically did: teach.  Jesus’ teaching was so common that it was impossible to record it all.  (Not even four gospels are enough to contain it!)  No doubt Jesus was once more preaching about the kingdom of God (4:43), teaching the Scriptures and their fulfillment as He did so.
  • His teaching always attracted a crowd, but those who were assembled were starting to become comprised of more than just the common multitude.  For the first time in Luke’s gospel, the “Pharisees” and scribes are named – the scribes being more descriptively labeled as “teachers of the law.”  These men did far more than just copy Scriptures and sayings – because of the time they spent in the Torah, Mishnah, and other Jewish writings, they became true experts in the Hebrew law, and they were the “go-to” scholars as questions arose.  The Pharisees were specialists of their own, as a distinct Jewish sect that also valued the Hebrew law.  Although they are typically thought of as the enemies of Jesus, doctrinally speaking, they were closer to Jesus than any other group in Israel.  Their problem was their ritualistic legalism – how they allowed the letter of the law to replace the heart of God, and thus replacing any personal relationship with God with a works-based religion.  In any case, the scribes and Pharisees were each part of the leadership class in Judea, and they came from far & wide to hear what this powerful Rabbi had to teach.
  • Not only did they come to hear Jesus’ teaching, but they had come to witness Jesus’ working, and they were not disappointed.  As Luke points out, “the power of the Lord was present to heal.”  That’s not to imply that the power of God was sometimes upon Jesus & sometimes not.  It’s simply a note from Luke that it was a busy day for healing.  Many came, and many experienced the power of God.  Everything that Jesus taught with authority was backed up with displays of His authority.  There was no doubt that the power of Almighty God was among them that day – something important to keep in mind when the next person is brought to Jesus to be healed.  Jesus’ reaction to him had to be witnessed with the knowledge that Jesus wielded the power of God.

18 Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. 19 And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.

  • Everyone should have friends such as these. J  Not only had they carried their paralyzed friend from who-knows-where, but once they arrived at the place where Jesus was teaching, they didn’t let anything stop them from seeing Him.  Unlike the beginning of Chapter 5, where Jesus taught in the open air on the lakeshore, this time Jesus was inside a house, and people had apparently crowded around the doorway and windows.  We can easily imagine people squeezing through every crack and standing on tiptoes trying to see what Jesus did.  Unable to find a path through the crowd, the friends of the paralyzed man found a way around them.  They climbed up on the roof (which would have been flat), made themselves a hole, and lowered their friend right in front of Jesus.
  • What incredible persistence!  This is faith that pleases God.  This is the attitude that knows that no matter what the difficulty might be, as long as we’re with Jesus everything will be OK.  We might not know what He will do in every situation, but we know we need to be with Him.  We know that whatever He does will be right, so we do what it takes to seek out Jesus Christ.  And the good news is that those who seek, find.  Jesus does not hide Himself from those who genuinely seek Him.  In fact the Bible promises that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6) – this is the result of true persistent faith.
  • Did their persistent faith please Jesus?  Without question.  Vs. 20…

20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

  • Don’t miss the plural pronoun: “their faith.”  It was the single man that needed healing, but it was the faith of all of them that was commended.  Question: did the paralyzed man himself have faith?  Surely he did – there would have been no reason for Jesus to address him otherwise, and he certainly demonstrated faith when he later obeyed Jesus’ command. But his faith alone (however much he had) wasn’t enough to physically bring him to Jesus.  He needed the faith of his friends too, and they had it in abundance.
    • There is power in personal intercession!  We cannot personally save anyone, because we cannot exercise saving faith in anyone but ourselves.  But we can pray that they might be saved.  We can intercede for our friends and family, bringing them before Jesus in faith.  We can help remove obstacles from their lives that would keep them from seeing Jesus in us.  Every single person who is saved is saved by faith alone, but very few people had only their own faith in hearing the gospel of Christ presented to them.  At some point, some person shared it with us – gave us a Bible – invited us to a church service or event – someone prayed for us, etc.  God used other people as His instruments to bring us to faith in Christ.  What they did for us, we can do for others.  You are not able to cause someone to put their faith in Jesus, but you can certainly do much in helping them see Jesus for themselves.  Intercession is itself an act of faith, and it’s one we all have the opportunity to exercise.
    • And yes, it takes persistence.  There are some friends and family members for whom you may have prayed for years – for decades.  You wonder if they ever will put their faith in Christ, and (at the end of the day) you simply do not know if they will.  Don’t let that stop your intercession!  Your prayers are not in vain.  Even if they never individually come to faith, the Lord Jesus sees your faith.  Persistent faith pleases Him, and gives glory to God.
  • The friends showed all kinds of persistent faith to bring the man to Jesus for healing, but did Jesus heal him?  Yes, actually – though perhaps not in the way we might expect.  The physical healing comes in a moment, but the more important healing came first: forgiveness.  Jesus saw the faith of the friends, saw the condition of the man, and then pronounced his forgiveness (which again, is evidence of his own personal faith).  Certainly Jesus saw the physical need, but it was the spiritual need that was far more pressing.  Paralysis, as debilitating as it is, will all be addressed in eternal life – just as all disease will be.  There are no wheelchairs in heaven, no cancer wards, no therapy for any sickness of any kind, for all are healed there.  But we have to first be there to experience it.  This man would not enter the kingdom of God if he was not first healed of his spiritual sickness of sin, and that’s what Jesus prioritized.
  • Question: why?  After all, we do not read of many other accounts where Jesus did this.  He certainly forgave many of their sins, but for most of Jesus’ healings, we simply read of His power to heal.  Even with the man filled with leprosy, Jesus reached out in compassion to heal him, without a word recorded of spiritual forgiveness.  Why did Jesus emphasize this here?  Obviously this becomes a teaching point for the Pharisees, as a way of identifying Jesus as the Messiah, but Jesus could have (and likely did) teach that in all kinds of ways that day already.  Most likely, Jesus saw something specifically in this man that caused Him to speak to his spiritual need first.  That’s not to say the man’s paralysis was caused by sin (which was a common thought both then & today), but perhaps the effects of sin was more evident upon the man’s face than the weakness in his legs.  When Simon Peter saw the power of God upon Jesus, he immediately recognized Jesus’ holiness in comparison with his own sinfulness, and he was ashamed (5:8).  Perhaps it was something similar with this man.  As he was lowered down into the room before Jesus, perhaps he saw something in Jesus’ eyes that immediately convicted him of his sin, and he could not help but express it on his face.  And in the compassion of Jesus, that’s what Jesus saw and addressed.  He pronounced the man’s sin forgiven – completely and irrevocably released by God.
    • That is what Jesus does for us when we go to Him in faith.  He forgives us of our sin.  For the paralyzed man, Jesus could do it as Jesus looked forward with anticipation of His work at the cross – for us, Jesus does it because the work is already accomplished.  We earned death through our sin – Jesus paid the wage, and He paid it in full.  And because He did, now He can pronounce our debts to be paid.  Our sin is forgiven – it is completely released.  It has been cast from us as far away as the east can get from the west.  What freedom!  What grace!
  • In the midst of all of this physical healing, this word of spiritual healing immediately stood out to the religious scholars present, and they began to stir among themselves.  Vs. 21…

21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  • Was it blasphemy?  If Jesus hadn’t been God, then yes.  The scribes and Pharisees accurately assess that it is “God alone” who can forgive sins.  Surely we can (and should) forgive those who have sinned against us (just as Jesus teaches us to do in the Lord’s Prayer), but this man was not being forgiven of interpersonal sins. He had only just been lowered in front of Jesus – there hadn’t been time for him to do anything!  No, the scribes & Pharisees knew that Jesus had forgiven the man of his sins against God, and only God has the right to do that.  For Jesus to pronounce his forgiveness (apart from the priests, sacrifices & law) meant that Jesus assumed to Himself the authority of God and even the personhood of God.  Truly, that was blasphemous…or it would have been if it was anyone except Jesus.
  • But Jesus IS God, and that’s what He will go on to demonstrate.  Vs. 22…

22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’?

  • There are actually two proofs of Jesus’ deity in this passage.  One is obviously His healing of the paralytic – the other is right here in vs. 22.  “Jesus perceived their thoughts.”  This is a reference to supernatural knowledge.  Some might argue that the scribes and Pharisees were verbally murmuring, and it would have been easy for Jesus to listen in & simply address what they were whispering out loud, but that simply is not what the Scripture describes.  These were internal doubts shared by the skeptics, unvoiced by their lips.  Mark’s gospel describes it more definitively: Mark 2:6,8 "(6) And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their heart … (8) But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?"  Would the scholars have exchanged glances?  Sure.  Was Jesus being perceptive?  No doubt.  But Jesus also knew the specific state and arguments within their hearts.  It’s one thing for Jesus to pick up on their doubts for His pronouncement; it’s another thing for Him to key onto the singular reason being an accusation of blasphemy, of Him assuming the authority of God.  Jesus knew their thoughts because Jesus IS God.  He knows all things at all times, because God has all knowledge.  That is just who He is.
    • Which begs the question of why would ever attempt to hide anything from Him or lie to Him.  God knows what we are thinking – we might as well be honest with Him in our prayers.
  • The doubts known to Jesus, He sets up a test.  Obviously both statements are just words – meaning nothing if there is no power behind them.  But only one statement could have visible proof right there in the moment.  Jesus could pronounce the man’s forgiveness, and no one would know about it except the man & God – but if Jesus pronounced the man’s healing, then that would be something everyone could see.
    • Ironically, forgiveness is by far a much more difficult thing than healing.  Each requires a miracle, but eternal forgiveness is accomplished only one way: the grace of God via Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Healings are given throughout the Bible via the pronouncements of many prophets – eternal forgiveness is made possible only through the cross.  If the basis of our forgiveness isn’t found in Jesus, we do not have forgiveness at all.
    • FYI – this strikes at the heart of many people’s false beliefs about heaven.  They think that when they die, God will let them into heaven as long as they’ve been mostly good people.  That is a lie straight from the pit of hell. (1) No one is “mostly” good.  Good by our standard still falls infinitely short of good by God’s standard.  (2) That line of thinking has nothing to do with Jesus.  If God looks at our good works to give us entry into heaven, then why did Jesus need to die at all?  Jesus died because there is no other way.  Thus He is the only basis for our forgiveness, and we must go through Him if we are to receive it.

24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

  • So here is the test.  Jesus could talk all day long, but if there was no evidence to go along with His speech, then words are just words.  But if a man who was not even able to limp to Jesus on a crutch (having to be physically carried by his friends) was able to stand to his own two feet, and carry out his own mat back to his house, then that would be undeniable proof of Jesus’ authority to say the things He did.  If that would be done at Jesus’ word, so would everything else – including forgiveness of sin.
  • Please note that Jesus never backs away from the possible charge of blasphemy.  He doesn’t try to leave any other impression in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees that He is indeed acting on behalf of God.  He doesn’t explain it away, or try to find any other justification.  Instead, Jesus actually doubles-down, calling Himself “the Son of Man.”  This is by far the most common title Jesus gives Himself in the gospel accounts, and there is no mistaking that it is a Messianic title with clear divine implications.  The prophet Daniel writes of Someone he called the “Son of Man,” who approached Almighty God and was given an everlasting kingdom, in which every person in the world served Him as the King (Dan 7:13-14).  Who could do this except a Messiah who would live forever?  That this Messiah was seen coming on the clouds of heaven showed Him coming in the glory of God, something that no one but God could do.  Thus every time Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man,” He is not hiding His identity as the Divine Christ; He’s proclaiming it.  The multitudes might not understand the title, but the religious elite certainly did – which is no doubt why they opposed Jesus from the very beginning.
  • And again, this would indeed be blasphemy, if it weren’t true.  But it was – and the proof was in the pudding.  Vs. 25…

25 Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. 26 And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!”

  • Without hesitation, without weakness, the man formerly paralyzed rose to his feet and obeyed Jesus to the letter, no doubt rejoicing as he glorified God on his way out the door.  He had been carried in on a bed; his own feet carried him out.  How long the man had suffered, we don’t know.  We do know that he left profoundly different.  Not only was he upright & walking; he was forgiven & cleansed.  For all of the focus on the skepticism of the Pharisees, we have to wonder if the man himself had any doubts as to Jesus’ authority to pronounce his forgiveness.  After all, most people want to be forgiven by God, but they also want to know that the forgiveness is real.  Who wants to stand before God on Judgment Day with false assurance?  That would be terribly tragic (and yet it will be the situation for untold multitudes of people!).  But any doubts that this man might have had were all laid to rest in that instant as well.  All of a sudden, he had every assurance that his forgiveness was as thorough as his physical healing.  If Jesus had the power to speak strength to his legs, surely Jesus had the power to speak grace to his soul.  (And He does!)
  • So what did he do?  He glorified God…and so did everyone else!  When God works, people cannot help but notice.  At a certain point, how can someone NOT glorify God?  Some things simply cannot be dismissed.  A man healed of paralysis is one – a Jesus resurrected from the dead is another.  One of the most fiercely hardened skeptics of Christianity was a Pharisee by the name of Saul of Tarsus – but when he became a firsthand witness to Jesus’ resurrection, not even he could deny it.  He also glorified God, and surrendered his life to Christ.
    • What has been your response to the work of God among you?  Have you glorified Him for the amazing things He’s done in your life?
  • What was the reason for the people’s reaction?  The “strange things” they had witnessed that day.  The Greek word used by Luke is actually familiar to most English-speakers: παράδοξος ~ paradox.  It is something that is contrary to normal thought – something that is incredible, or unusual.  We think of a “paradox” as something that is true that seems to be contradictory.  For the Greeks, the word referred to something that was contrary to their expectations.  What were the expectations of the Jews coming out to see Jesus that day?  Who knows?  But Jesus certainly blew the doors off of them!  Perhaps they expected to see healings & hear some preaching – but they did not likely expect to hear a refuted claim of blasphemy & see visible proof of divine power & authority.  Whatever their expectations may have been, Jesus exceeded them immensely.  (He always does…and He is still to be glorified for it.)

Two healings – two accounts of the powerful compassion of Jesus Christ.  With the man filled of leprosy, Jesus reached out to Him & touched him, not only healing him physically, but demonstrating the compassionate will of the Messiah for him.  With the man who was paralyzed, Jesus addressed the deeper need of forgiveness, and then provided assurance of God’s forgiveness by pronouncing God’s healing.

As a result, people were speechless – they were amazed.  The skepticism of the scribes and Pharisees was shut down, and the general expectations of the other witnesses were blown away.  People had come from far & wide to hear a rabbi & perhaps see some miracles, but they didn’t expect anything like this.  They couldn’t help but glorify God as a result.

How about you?  Have you been astounded by the love, compassion, and power of Jesus Christ?  Have you seen His work, submitted yourself into His hands, and given Him glory?  If not, why not?  He has shown that He is not only able, but that He is willing to heal & to forgive.  No one is too far gone to receive of the work of Jesus.  No one has sinned too much or let too much time go by.  Jesus is willing to save you – are you willing to ask?

The leper approached Jesus, even though he wasn’t supposed to approach anyone.  The paralyzed man had his friend bring him to Jesus, not letting crowds nor rooftops get in the way.  Seek Christ!  Don’t let anything or anyone stop you from seeking Him in faith.  Some people let their shame get in the way – others have hurts from the past & people stand as obstacles.  Go past those things!  When it comes to Jesus, nothing is worth letting remain as an obstacle between you & Him.  Jesus is willing that you come to Him, but you have to be the one to choose to do so.  So make the choice.

That doesn’t apply only to our initial salvation – that same principle is true with every aspect of our daily faith.  When there is an obstacle between us & Jesus, we can be assured that WE put it there; not Jesus.  Be rid of it!  Maybe it’s pride – maybe it’s a season of rebellion – maybe it’s fear – whatever it is, cast it aside and seek Jesus with persistent faith.  Those who seek, find – of that we can be sure.

Undeserved Grace

Posted: August 4, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 15-16, “Undeserved Grace”

The best gift is the unexpected one.  The most treasured gifts are the undeserved ones.  Sure, we enjoy the presents we receive on our birthdays & at Christmas, but although we might rarely say so in public, these are gifts we tend to expect.  We give them & we receive them.  But because they are expected, they’re often forgotten.  What are the gifts we never forget?  The ones we never expected & those we know we never deserved.  When it’s completely unmerited, it leaves an impact – just the way it should be.

That’s how God gives His gifts of grace.  The salvation we have through Jesus Christ – the relationship we have with God because of the work done through Jesus at the cross & resurrection – those are things we should not have expected & surely did not deserve.  What we deserved was punishment & damnation because of our sin; what we receive is mercy, love, and life in Jesus.  That’s the sort of thing that leaves an impact!  That’s why we leave our sins behind.  Not because we’ve cleaned up our own act, but because we have already been cleansed by Jesus.  Now we want to live rightly in a way that is pleasing to Him.  It’s not something we’re forced to do in order to earn heaven; it’s something we get to do because heaven has already been promised.

Yet in order for us to rejoice over the free gift of grace, we must first be acquainted with the reason it is undeserved.  We cannot appreciate forgiveness if we are never aware of the judgment we faced.  Like any criminal, we have to be read the charges against us & understand the severity of our sin.  That’s what God does through Ezekiel for the Jews of Jerusalem in Chapters 15-16.  He does indeed promise grace and forgiveness, but God spends far more time detailing their sin against Him.  Why?  In order they would understand their need.  They needed to see how lost they were if they were ever to understand how great the gift of God was.  They needed to see that God’s love towards them was totally undeserved if they were to finally appreciate it for what it was.  They had given God no reason to save them, but He did it anyway.  Likewise, we give God no reason to save us, but He does it anyway.  That’s how much He loves you & me.

Ezekiel 15 – Jerusalem as the dead vine
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 2 “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Is wood taken from it to make any object? Or can men make a peg from it to hang any vessel on? 4 Instead, it is thrown into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both ends of it, and its middle is burned. Is it useful for any work? 5 Indeed, when it was whole, no object could be made from it. How much less will it be useful for any work when the fire has devoured it, and it is burned?

  1. Chapter 15 is short by any standard – it’s completely tiny when compared to Chapter 16!  Though brief, it makes an important analogy and important point.  Jerusalem is compared to a grapevine, which itself is not an unusual metaphor at all.  The prophet Isaiah also compared Judah to a vineyard (Isaiah 5), as will Jesus when He condemns the Pharisees and scribes as being rebellious vineyard workers (Mt 21:33-46).  What makes this slightly different is that in the other metaphors, the nation is an entire vineyard, and the vineyard is alive, if not always producing what the Lord desired (i.e. wild grapes, Isaiah 5:2).  To Ezekiel, the city of Jerusalem (which likely extends to the entire southern nation of Judah) is a single vine, and this vine is dead.  At this point, it’s just a piece of wood.  Thus God asks Ezekiel what good can come from a dried up grapevine.  Can it be made into a piece of furniture?  No.  Can it be fashioned into anything useful?  No.  The one thing a grapevine is good for is grape production, but when that has ceased, so has the usefulness of the vine.  It’s just a twisted, thin piece of wood.  At that point, the only use it has is fuel for the fire.  It’s burned, turned to ash, and discarded.
  2. That’s bad enough for a plant – it’s worse when the plant represents God’s own people.  Vs. 6…

6 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; 7 and I will set My face against them. They will go out from one fire, but another fire shall devour them. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them. 8 Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have persisted in unfaithfulness,’ says the Lord GOD.”

  1. The point here is that the Jerusalem Jews didn’t leave God any options.  He cared for them as a vineyard, but they turned into a fruitless dead vine.  What could God do with them other than to judge them?  That was the only option remaining.  God promised to set His face against them and use them as fuel for the fire of His judgment.  They would go from one fire to the next, to the point that they were completely devoured – which is exactly what happened when the final siege of Jerusalem took place by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, and the sovereignty of Jerusalem was finally stripped away.
  2. What would happen at that point?  Finally, they would know that God is the Lord.  When? “When I set My face against them.”  When God judged them – when they endured their suffering – only then would they understand the scope of their sin & the reality of God’s judgment against them.  God’s faithfulness to His covenant discipline would testify of the Jews’ own faithlessness against God.  They would be brought to their knees, and that would be the final thing to humble their hearts causing them to seek the Lord.
    1. Can God use our sin to bring us to repentance?  Without question.  We have the free will to sin against God, but that doesn’t mean God will remain silent in the process.  He will chasten us (sometimes severely!), and it is often that very chastening that brings us to a point of humility and repentance.  We don’t have to let it get to that point, but God will do it if necessary.
  3. There is good news for Israel here – even in the midst of God’s promise of judgment.  Would the nation be devoured?  Yes.  Yet they would not be utterly wiped from the face of the earth.  The land would become “desolate” for a time, but there were other promises of God that the land would once more become inhabited and fruitful (11:17-20).  Was the nation a dead, fruitless vine?  Yes – but God is in the business of resurrection.  He can make dead things come to life again…even dead vines and dead nations.
    1. That is exactly the promise that we have in Christ!  In our sins, we are dead.  We have nothing to offer God except our rebellion, and because of it we are all “dead men walking.”  We face a sentence of eternal death, because that is the wages of our sin against God (Rom 6:23).  But in Christ, we have new life!  We are made into new creations with a new future.  No longer are we dried up & dead, fit for nothing but fire – now we are the children of God, bearing holy fruit to His glory.  That is His grace!  That is the wonder of His work among us!

Ezekiel 16 – Jerusalem as the harlot
1 Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,

  1. Chapter 16 is a long one, but it’s long for a reason.  God told Ezekiel to educate the Jerusalem Jews on their “abominations” towards Him, and they were extensive!  Like Chapter 15, it relies on an extended metaphor, and one extremely fitting: harlotry/prostitution.  God frequently compares idolatry to harlotry, in that the worship of false gods is much like soliciting multiple sexual partners, rather than enjoying the safety and joy of a single relationship with the true God.  The history of God’s people is filled with idolatry, and they showed themselves to be a harlot among harlots – and that takes some time to describe.
  2. Again, we need to be aware of our sins if we are to turn from them in repentance.  We don’t like thinking upon our sins.  We’d much rather ask a quick prayer of forgiveness & go on our way as if nothing ever happened, but that’s ignoring the problem rather than dealing with it.  Yes, God offers true forgiveness & healing – yes, He calls us to move on from those things & not to dwell upon the past – but at the same time, if we never deal with the root problem, we’ll end up going right back to it again.  That’s why David asked God to search his heart to see if there was any wicked way in him, even as he called upon God to judge his enemies (Ps 139:23-24) – that’s why we need to do the same thing.  We need to examine our sins honestly as we turn from them to God.  That’s what true confession is all about: agreeing with God that our sin is sinful.  But we’ve got to know what it is if we are to confess it at all.  It’s a difficult thing to ask God to examine our hearts, but it’s needful if we are to move forward in healing & newness of life.
  3. Regarding the parable/allegory itself, please note that this is to “Jerusalem.” What God will describe to Ezekiel is a symbolic/picturesque history of the city itself, which of course stands in place for the nation and people as a whole.  I.e. to refer to “Washington DC” is to refer to the USA, even when speaking about specific aspects of the city of DC itself.  A similar thing will be seen as God introduces the origin of the city of Jerusalem as Gentile.  Vs. 3…

3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.

  1. Remember that when God first formed the nation of the Hebrews, He did so outside of the Promised Land.  The clan of Jacob that descended into Egypt grew into a numerous nation there, and God brought them from that place to the “land of Canaan.”  There were already cities in the land, and Jerusalem (Jebus) being one.  Thus it was a city founded by Gentiles, and remained unclaimed by the Hebrews all the way until David (1 Chr 11).  His army conquered the city, and he claimed it as his capital.  The point here is that Jerusalem had an ignoble beginning.  It was founded by the pagans of the land, and basically rejected by them, without any of even the most basic love and care given to it.  Like a baby abandoned by ancient parents to die of exposure, so was the city of Jerusalem.
  2. That’s when God intervened.  Vs. 6…

6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. 8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.

  1. How did Jerusalem go from the backwater rejected town of Jebus to the mighty city of Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Israel & a respected (and even feared) city among the nations?  It was by the grace of God.  God saw the struggling city, had compassion towards it, and spoke life to it.  As it matured, it thrived, and God took it to Himself as a husband would take a bride.  He “married” the city when He designated it as the city of His temple – i.e. of His presence.  This is the very picture of grace.
  2. This is also what could easily be spoken of each one of us as born-again Christians as we are all part of the Bride of Christ.  We had our own pagan background, with no historic covenant tie between us and God.  We were rejected & wallowing in our own sin awaiting our death until Jesus showed up.  He called us out of sin & to Himself, He gave us life by His word, and He brought us into an everlasting covenant relationship with Him.  We once had nothing & were nothing, but the work of Jesus did something truly amazing: 1 Peter 2:9–10, "(9) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (10) who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."  We know what we were, and now we can rejoice in what we are.  All of it due to truly amazing grace!
    1. Never forget from whence you came!  This is part of the point that God is making with Jerusalem.  They forgot who they were & they especially forgot what God had done for them, and that’s the reason they went so far into sin.  The less we remember the immensity of God’s grace towards us, the greater our propensity to sin against Him.  Be ever amazed at His grace, His calling, and His love towards you!
  3. God goes on to describe the blessings He poured out on the city.  Vs. 9…

9 “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.

  1. God cleansed the city from what it was, and beautified it.  He loved the city, and treated it as a king would treat his favored queen.  She was beautiful, lacking nothing.

14 Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD.

  1. How true this was, especially during the reigns of David and Solomon.  Silver and gold flowed freely into the city, and people from all over the Middle East came to see the riches of Jerusalem & be astounded at the wisdom of Solomon.  Ultimately, all of it was the “splendor” of God.  It was His gifts, and His blessing.  Jerusalem prospered because God desired that it would.
  2. Yet it would not last.  Although Jerusalem reached the height of its glory in the days of Solomon, those were the days that also led to its downfall.  As Solomon’s eyes became entranced by foreign women, his heart became entranced by foreign gods, and so began the long descent of Jerusalem into idolatry.

15 “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. 16 You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. 17 You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. 18 You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. 19 Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was,” says the Lord GOD.

  1. Although Jerusalem was the city of God, having His own temple within, its kings and citizens were given over to idolatry.  Enamored with their own wealth, they put their trust in the gifts instead of the Giver.  Their hearts turned from God, and they began to worship the false gods of the nations that surrounded them.  The Lord graphically depicts the spiritual whoredom of Jerusalem as the city is described using gold statues as sexual items.  All the blessings that had been given them by God were used by the people in committing spiritual adultery against Him.  God had blessed them with gold & oil & food – and instead of it being dedicated to Him in worship, it was given over to the false gods of their neighbors.
  2. Keep in mind that we don’t need a statue in order to engage in idolatry.  We do exactly the same thing when we take God’s gifts and use them for our own lusts or false worship.  Instead of blessing God with our income, we give it to the idol of entertainment.  Instead of devoting our time to worshipping Jesus, we give Him the leftovers (if that).  Thankfully, that’s not descriptive of all the church at all times, but it is a danger.  We can easily walk the same road as ancient Jerusalem if we are not careful.  Jesus saved us for an active, vibrant relationship with Himself.  The moment it becomes passive as we take Him for granted is the moment we open ourselves up to the danger of idolatry.

20 “Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, 21 that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire? 22 And in all your abominations and acts of harlotry you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood.

  1. It got even worse for Jerusalem.  Not only did they worship other gods with their bodies, they sacrificed their very children to them.  This is a reference to the pagan practice of sacrificing human babies to the false god of Molech.  It was an abominable ritual repeatedly condemned by God, but repeatedly engaged by the people of Israel.  By this point, they had completely forgotten the Lord their God, forgotten where they had come from, and were given over to the pagan practices of their neighbors. 
    1. The Hebrews were supposed to be an influence for good; instead they became influenced for evil.  Which are we?
  2. God goes on to describe more of their sin.  Vs. 23…

23 “Then it was so, after all your wickedness—‘Woe, woe to you!’ says the Lord GOD— 24 that you also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street. 25 You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry. 26 You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger. 27 “Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. 29 Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied.

  1. Over and over again, the Jews were influenced by their pagan neighbors.  They immersed themselves in idolatry as they built specific places dedicated to false worship (even in the city of God, with some pagan altars even inside the temple itself!).  God had called His people out of the land of Egypt centuries earlier, but they went back to Egyptian practices.  Finally, God was forced to act in some measure, and He even allowed the Philistines to claim some of the things of Jerusalem for themselves (the reign of Jehoram – 2 Chr 21:16-17).  He allowed them to be troubled by Assyria, though God eventually delivered them.  Even then the people did not learn their lesson.  They kept on in their sin, the rumors of it extending all the way to the land of Chaldea (Babylon).

30 “How degenerate is your heart!” says the Lord GOD, “seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.

  1. The word used for “degenerate” is interesting.  אמל – it literally refers to being hot with a fever, and thus being weak & ill.  God was saying that the Jews were sick with sin.  They were completely overtaken by their depravity, much like a person with the flu is overtaken with a virus.
  2. Sin makes us sick.  It deludes us – it deceives us.  It makes us think we’re going to prosper, when it only leads to our destruction.  How many times do we need to doubt “the wages of sin is death,” before we finally realize the Bible is true?  It is a sickness of the soul, and the only cure is found in Jesus.
    1. Are you given over in sickness?  Are you degenerate & feverish with your lust?  Throw yourself upon the mercies of Christ, asking Him to save & deliver you.  That’s exactly what He promises to do!
  3. To what extent was Jerusalem ruled by her lust?  God goes on in vs. 31…

31 “You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. 32 You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband. 33 Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. 34 You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.”

  1. Jerusalem was a harlot, but she was worse than a harlot.  At least a prostitute gets paid.  Jerusalem acted like a person so consumed by lust and sin that her idolatry was an addiction.  She would gladly pay for the opportunity to commit adultery against God, no longer able to act or think rationally.  Like a meth or crack addict, Jerusalem’s existence revolved around her sin.  At this point, the people couldn’t even blame temptation – they blew right past that into openly inviting sin.
  2. This is what a lifestyle of sin does to a person.  When we give way to temptation once, we’re willing to do it again a little more, a little more, a little more…and before too long a story ends up on the evening news regarding another church goer or pastor who has fallen into utter corruption.  Sin can blind someone to the point where he/she is consumed by it.  Beware!  Keep your heart humble, and your eyes upon Christ.  We don’t beat temptation by building up our resistance; we find victory only in surrender (our surrender to Christ Jesus).
  3. God had given Jerusalem a taste of judgment and discipline in the past.  Now He declares how He would allow them to experience the fullness of His wrath.  Vs. 35…

35 ‘Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD! 36 Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, 37 surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. 38 And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. 39 I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare. 40 “They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers.

  1. Jerusalem would experience the judgment of God, and it would be both harsh and humiliating.  Because Jerusalem had sought out her Gentile neighbors and Gentile gods, the true God would allow her to be punished by the Gentiles.  The city would be judged as an adulterous wife, because that is exactly what it was.
  2. Although the Bible repeatedly uses the analogy, we don’t often equate idolatry with adultery.  Most of us would rebel at the very thought of committing adultery against our spouse, but probably think of idolatry as a “lesser” sin.  After all, everyone engages in it now & again.  While that may be true, it doesn’t make it any less sinful.  If sin could be compared (which itself is questionable), it would be truly worse.  When people commit adultery, it is a sin against another human; when we commit idolatry, it’s a sin against Almighty God.  Even so, God sees them as the same, for they are.  A wandering heart is a wandering heart, irrespective of the relationship – be it between husband and wife, or humans and God.  It undercuts every other aspect of our relationship, eroding the very foundation of any relationship.  Thus it is to be avoided at all costs.
  3. God promised to judge Jerusalem for its spiritual adultery, delivering her over to the Gentiles.  Thankfully, it wouldn’t last forever.  Vs. 42…

42 So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more. 43 Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head,” says the Lord GOD. “And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations.

  1. God’s judgment was to be sincere, but successful.  Once His wrath was poured out, it was done.  He was jealous for His people, and once their attention was once more upon Him, His great anger would quiet.
  2. Question: when does this take place?  In part, we can see it historically in the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.  Ultimately, this is fulfilled during the days of the Millennium Kingdom when the hearts of Israel are truly turned towards the Lord in faith.

That was Jerusalem as the unfaithful wife of God.  At this point, God continues to detail the sin of Jerusalem, changing the picture slightly.  The city is still pictured as a woman, but this time as one of three sisters – each of them unfaithful to the Lord, with Jerusalem being the worst.  Vs. 44…

44 “Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’ 45 You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 “Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters. 47 You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.

  1. The sins of Sodom and Samaria are legendary.  Sodom is infamous for its destruction, whereas Samaria started out as part of the people of God, and fell into total disarray and basically lost its identity.  Here, God lists them as sisters with Jerusalem.  As with Jerusalem, both Sodom and Samaria had pagan beginnings, and lived out their days in idolatrous sin.  Yet Jerusalem went on to even greater sins.  As God spoke of her, “you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.
  2. Question: Is this even possible?  Sodom is the poster child for sin and perversion even to this day.  How could Jerusalem make the sins of Sodom look small by comparison?  Answer: because Jerusalem knew better.  Sodom had the general revelation of God in creation, and they had a single witness of the Living God in the person of Lot.  Jerusalem had the prophets, the kings, the Scriptures, the temple, the priests, and more.  Although Sodom could not claim complete ignorance, Jerusalem couldn’t claim it at all.  They knew the blessings they had received from God, and completely rejected God in the process.  Their relationship with God was greater, and thus so was their sin even worse.
    1. This is one reason it’s so tragic any time professing Christians get caught up in a scandal of sin.  We know better, or at least we’re supposed to.  Our sin not only demonstrates the sinfulness of all humans, but it brings a stain upon the reputation of Christ in His church.  Thus as Peter writes, judgment begins with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17).  We have all the more reason to walk rightly, because we walk as living witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ.

48 “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

  1. We tend to remember the sin of Sodom as being purely sexual, but it was far more than that.  This city was proud & selfish, oppressing the poor, allowing them to be exploited.  This was all in addition to their other “abomination.”  We ought to be careful when we treat sexual sin as worse than every other sin in the Bible.  God specifically calls out the “pride” of Sodom.  Under that charge, we are all guilty.  (Thus we are all desperate for the forgiveness and grace of Jesus!)

51 “Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done. 52 You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.

  1. God doesn’t detail the sins of Samaria to the extent that He did Sodom, but history shows terrible idolatry taking place in Samaria.  They also engaged in child sacrifice, and multitudes of evil.  Yet again, Jerusalem is shown to be worse.  Because this was the city of God, Jerusalem seemingly “justified” the sin of her sister cities.  After all, if Jerusalem could get away with her sins, why should not the lesser sins of Sodom and Samaria be excused?  Jerusalem was meant by God to be an example to all the world of what it was to be in a covenant relationship with God, and yet they treated God as if He did not exist.  If God did not act, what would that mean for the nations of the world that He did judge?  A just judge must punish crime wherever it is found – even when it is found among those whom he loves.  Justice is blind, and all must be treated the same.  Vs. 53…

53 “When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them, 54 that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them. 55 When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state. 56 For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride, 57 before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere.

  1. When the Babylonian captivity ended, it did not end only for the Jews – it ended for all of the peoples of the Middle East.  Thus all people were allowed to return.  Even so, we know that Samaria did not return to the influence it once had, and Sodom is hard to find anywhere in history at all outside of Genesis.  So when will they be restored to this extent?  This is likely another reference to the Millennial Kingdom.  The Lord Jesus will rule from the nation of Israel, specifically from the city of Jerusalem, but there will be other cities as well.  Apparently, God will allow Sodom and Samaria to be rebuilt, though they will be ruled over by God’s people.

58 You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations,” says the LORD. 59 For thus says the Lord GOD: “I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.

  1. All sin has a price, and Jerusalem will have “paid” dearly.  They had broken the “covenant” God made with them in the past, and it would be easy to end the account there.  They were beloved by God – they betrayed God – God delivered them over to judgment – and that’s it, right?  Wrong.  God had a wonderful future in store for His people & favored city.  He dealt with them justly in the past, and He will deal with them mercifully in the future.

60 “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you.

  1. Would Jerusalem be punished?  Yes.  Would they stay punished?  No!  Although Jerusalem had repeatedly forgotten God, God promised to “remember [His] covenant” with them.  In fact, God promised to go beyond the old covenant, and “establish an everlasting covenant” with the nation – the same “new covenant” spoken of by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31) and officially instituted by Jesus during the Last Supper.  This is a covenant that would never end, and never be broken.  Of course God would always be faithful to Israel, but in this new relationship, Israel would always be faithful to God.  Although this is already in action for the church today, when will it happen with Israel?  Most likely it will begin during the Great Tribulation when Israel finally comes to faith in Jesus, and it will continue on into the Millennial Kingdom and beyond.  During those years, they will be able to look back on their days of rebellion, see them for what they were, and be ashamed.
  2. Yet God is not limited to the terms of the covenant – He can even go beyond it in His grace, as He promises to do with Jerusalem’s “sisters,” Sodom and Samaria.  These cities will be given to Jerusalem in grace, just as God referenced in vs. 57.
  3. If the state of Jerusalem’s former covenant with God could be characterized as rebellion, how will the state of its future covenant be?  Faith.  Vs. 62…

62 And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, 63 that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord GOD.’ ”

  1. Finally, they will know God as their God!  This is the constant theme throughout Ezekiel, and there will be glimpses of faith as the Jews see the outpouring of God’s wrath & discipline, but the fullness of their faith finally comes when they experience a renewed covenant and relationship with God with Jesus Christ as their King.  When they finally see Jesus in faith, they will finally know God as the LORD, the covenant-keeping I AM of Israel.
  2. And what will they have in that day?  “Atonement” – peace – a covering over of their sin.  Finally their sins of the past will remain in the past as the blood of Jesus covers it.  What Jerusalem is promised is what we already experience.  Our sins are covered – we have atonement with God (at-one-ment).  There is no separation between us because Jesus bridged that separation at the cross & resurrection.  Praise the Lord!

It was a long list of sin, with just a few glimpses of grace.  Yet that long list makes those glimpses all the greater!  Did Jerusalem deserve any mercy from God, any renewed covenant with Him?  Absolutely not.  They had already received mercy, and they despised it.  They sunk lower & lower into sin, being completely consumed by it – driven sick & feverish over it.  God rightly promised their punishment, and so it came.

That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.  God went up & beyond!  He promised grace – He promised renewal – He promised a forever future. 

This is our promise as well!  We deserve nothing from God except punishment.  We give God no reason to save us, but He reaches out to us through Jesus anyway.  That’s how much He loves us – that is the extent of His grace.  The darkness of our sin is overwhelmed by the light of God’s glorious love, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

Changing Majors

Posted: July 31, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 5:1-11, “Changing Majors”

Every college student knows what it’s like to change majors.  Or at least those who were like me do. :)  When I was an undergrad, I changed my major three times.  Each time was like starting over in many ways.  Because the fields were so different, the various curriculums required that I take a different math and science for each one.  As you might imagine, changing majors was not a decision to take lightly, nor did I want to do it more often than necessary.

For Simon Peter and his partners, they were not at a university, but they were about to become students in the most prestigious and exclusive seminary in history.  Yet it meant changing majors.  No doubt there was some overlap – they would no longer fish for fish; they would fish for me.  Yet in many ways it was like starting over.  They needed to leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus.

But the sacrifice was worth it.  When it comes to Jesus, it always is.

In regards to Luke’s gospel, Dr. Luke has shown how God publicly affirmed Jesus at His baptism, and the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Upon His return, His ministry officially began, and Jesus announced His fulfillment of Messianic prophecy in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  The people there initially rejected Him, but Jesus remained in Galilee where the rest of the people were amazed.  Luke describes one particular day in Capernaum as an example of a typical day in the life of Jesus.  He taught with authority, demonstrated His right to teach in such a way by demonstrating divine power, and the multitudes turned out in droves to see Him for themselves.  As much as there was to do in Capernaum, Jesus couldn’t stay there forever.  After all, He hadn’t come simply to perform miracles – He came to preach the gospel of the kingdom.  The only way others would hear of it is if Jesus went to them, and that is exactly what He did.

That was Luke’s overview of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  What happens next?  He has to call co-laborers to come beside Him, and that’s where the narrative picks up with Simon Peter and his friends.  There was indeed much to do & many who needed to hear the gospel – and Jesus would be around forever in order for them to hear.  Other people needed to be trained up to do what Jesus was doing: fishing for the souls of men and women.  Who better to call than a bunch of fishermen?

As we’ll see, Simon Peter believed himself to be thoroughly unqualified – as would any of us.  And we would all be right.  But it’s not what we’ve done that qualifies us to be used by Jesus; it is what Jesus does.  His call is all that matters, and His call extends to you & me.

Ultimately, Jesus was fishing for fishermen, and that’s what He found in Simon Peter & the others.  Not only did each of them need the forgiveness of Christ, but they needed the calling and purpose than only Christ could give them.  They would find it if they found Him – but they needed to leave everything they knew in order to do so.  Would they be willing to change majors – to abandon their lives for the sake of Jesus?  Are we?

Luke 5:1–11

  • Jesus teaches (1-3)

1 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.

  • Jesus certainly never had trouble attracting a crowd.  When He taught, the multitudes gathered.  They recognized His inherent authority, and understood that what He taught was the truth of God.  Of course that doesn’t mean they always received His teaching gladly (at some points, many were willing to throw Him off a cliff!) – but they couldn’t deny the power of His word.  And how could they?  It was the word of God.
    • People don’t always like God’s word, but when it’s presented clearly & truthfully, it cannot be easily ignored.  When skeptics voice their objections today, often they’re really objecting to a false characterization of God’s word.  They’ve either been taught an unfair bias, or perhaps they’ve imagined one for themselves.  Other times, they’re imposing what they know of a certain Christian upon Jesus Christ Himself, but either way the truth of God is distorted.  It’s the distortion to which they object – not Jesus Himself.  That’s why it’s so important for us to get the focus off of us or whatever arguments we might have, and put it back on the Lord & His word.  Let Jesus be the One to draw them. 
  • Where were they?  Luke calls it the “Lake of Gennesaret,” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee or Sea of Tiberius.  The various names ought not to surprise us – we do the same thing with streets and other things.  The different Biblical authors wrote during different years and wrote to different audiences.  It only makes sense that they would use the descriptive labels that their own audience would know best.  Technically speaking, “Gennesaret” was the name to one of the southern regions of the sea/lake, but considering Jesus’ call to Simon Peter & the others, along with the fishing boats and equipment they had with them, it seems reasonable to assume that Jesus had either returned to the Capernaum area, or had not yet left from the events of Chapter 4.  (Luke’s chronology isn’t always easy to follow – he has a tendency of arranging his gospel account more thematically than according to date.) 
  • In any case, the setting is clear: it’s a lakeshore with a crowd and some fishermen currently in-between excursions.  This isn’t the Sabbath day – it isn’t one of the Jewish feasts – it isn’t the theologically important city of Jerusalem with the priests – it’s just a normal day among normal people.  And that’s when Jesus showed up, choosing to do something extraordinary!
    • Isn’t that the way it so often works? Who was Abram other than one of the normal idolator shepherds in the land of Ur?  Or Gideon, who was just a regular Hebrew attempting to hide from the Philistines?  The so-called “giants” of the faith often didn’t start out as giants – they were just normal everyday people.  The situations in which God manifests His glory are often the same way: normal, everyday days & circumstances.  There’s nothing special about them until God makes His move…but when He does, it’s amazing!  Abram becomes the father of faith & the ancestor of Jesus – Gideon became judge and deliverer of the Hebrew people.  What made the difference wasn’t the individual or the circumstance, it was the will of God.
    • Do we trust God with our everyday things?  Do we even look for Him there?  Jesus showed up on a boat in Capernaum to preach the gospel and call people to be saved.  Sure, He did it in synagogues & gatherings of the “religious,” but He could (and did) do it anywhere with anyone.  Today, His call can come just as easily in a church service as it can in a grocery store.  It can come in a lunch between friends, or in a conversation with a random stranger.  All that is needed is someone willing to be used by Jesus.

3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

  • We can easily imagine how the crowds pushed in around Jesus, and how He needed a bit of space in order to teach them all.  So what did Jesus do?  He got a bit creative & made His own floating pulpit. J  Since Simon wasn’t currently using his boat for fishing, Jesus figured He could use it for a bit of fishing of His own.  They didn’t likely go far – probably a few feet.  It was just enough to get a bit of space between Jesus & the crowds in order for Him to teach everyone who had gathered.  That Jesus “sat down” isn’t necessarily an indication that He was trying to keep the boat steady & not fall overboard – it was the typical position for a Jewish teacher at the time.  They taught sitting down, so that’s what Jesus did.
  • Wouldn’t you love to know what it was Jesus taught? J  As with many other times, Luke and the other gospel writers don’t give us a transcript – they simply give us the fact.  He “taught,” and that’s all we’re told.  From the end of Ch. 4, we can assume that the general subject was the kingdom of God, but what specifically, we don’t know.  What we do know is that it grabbed the attention of the people who listened – yet it didn’t grab them to the same extent as Simon Peter & the others.  How can we tell?  This is the last mention of the crowds at the time.  From here on, the focus shifts to that of Jesus, Peter & the fishermen – the multitude (however big it was) eventually dispersed.
    • It goes to demonstrate that someone can be captivated by Jesus without being captured by Him.  Someone can listen to Jesus without inviting Him to be Lord.  Out of the vast multitudes that followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, how many stuck by Him until the moment of His death and resurrection?  Only a handful.  Even His own 12 disciples scattered for a time, though 11 returned.  Being around Jesus saves no one; we have to belong to Jesus to be saved.
    • So many people believe they’re going to heaven based on being around the church.  They show up a few times a year, throw a couple of $20s into the offering plate, and still fully believe that they are Christians, saved & bound for heaven.  That’s a works-based salvation – and there aren’t even that many “works” of which to speak.  None of that saves anyone.  In fact, you could show up in church every Sunday, write 90% of your paycheck over to the Lord, volunteer at the homeless ministries every week, and more, and still not go to heaven.  All of those things are very good things, but none of it saves.  It’s still being around the stuff of Jesus; it isn’t Jesus Himself.  Jesus’ stuff doesn’t save; Jesus saves.  We have to personally know Jesus & be known by Him as one of His own.  We have to believe upon Him & His work, trusting Him alone to save us…and He will.  (If you haven’t, you can.)
  • Jesus acts (4-7)

4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”

  • So the crowd is gone, or is at least dispersing, and Jesus & Simon Peter are still on the boat.  We haven’t any idea how long Jesus had taught, but it was enough for Jesus to consider the lesson completed.  At this point, He’s ready for something different.  The crowd had been taught something; now it was Peter’s turn – only Simon Peter didn’t know it yet.
  • What Jesus suggested to Simon would have sounded ridiculous to him.  Jesus was the teacher / the rabbi; Simon Peter was the fisherman.  The man Jesus might have been a carpenter by trade, but as God, He is fully competent in every occupation.  There is nothing He cannot do.  At the time, Simon didn’t fully grasp this, but he was willing to honor Jesus’ request, if not at least humor Jesus a bit.  Simon & the others had unsuccessfully fished all night long (surely much to their frustration), but they had done all the right things in the right ways.  Now here comes Jesus telling him to sail to the deep water & let down the nets again in the heat of the day when normally no fish could be found.  It was totally backwards – and yet, Simon did it anyway.  Why?  Because it was Jesus who asked him to do it.
  • In fact, Simon specifically said the reason: “nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net.”  The word of Jesus made all the difference in the world.  Keep in mind that this was not the first meeting between Jesus & Simon Peter.  Depending on how we count the events, this is quite possibly the third major encounter between the two of them.  First was during the heyday of the ministry of John the Baptist, when Simon’s brother Andrew (who had been a disciple of John) came and excitedly told Simon that the Christ had been found, and basically dragged his brother off to meet Him (Jn 1:40-42).  It was at that time that Jesus first gave Simon his new name of Cephas/Peter.  Next was shortly after Jesus’ return from the wilderness temptation, as Jesus walked along the seashore, came across Simon, Andrew, James, and John, and called them all as disciples (Mt 4:18-22).  Finally, we have Luke’s account.  Although some scholars believe Luke to record the same event as Matthew & Mark, there seem to be enough differences to think otherwise.  In any case, we know from Luke that Simon Peter and Jesus were already familiar enough with each other for Jesus to stay at Simon’s home, where Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38-39).  So Simon Peter knew at least a little about Jesus – enough to call Him “Master,” and to fully trust the spoken word of Jesus.
    • Jesus’ word can be trusted!  When Jesus speaks, there is power.  That much has already been seen in His teaching, but it is true in whatever He speaks.  Jesus does not have to teach a lesson on the kingdom of God in order for Him to have authority in speaking forth the word of God.  Whatever it is Jesus speaks IS the word of God!  Thus, whatever it is He speaks can be trusted and obeyed.
    • What does that mean for the Christian today?  It means that the written word of God ought to have the supreme authority in our lives.  What the Holy Spirit inspired to be written is what Jesus would speak today to our hearts, despite whether or not your Bible edition of choice puts it in red ink or black.  God’s word is God’s word, period.  It needs to be given the place of ultimate authority in our lives.  What He says, we should do.  That means we need to forgive the way He says we ought to forgive – that we should flee temptation the way He tells us to – that we should love our enemies the way He taught us to – that we should share the gospel, trust God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and generally live as He has commanded that we should from the pages of Scripture.  Follow Him – obey Him – trust Him.  We might not always understand how it will work out in our particular circumstances, but neither did Simon Peter when he launched out into the deep.  But the only way to find out is to step out in faith.  So forgive someone for the 70th time – trust God with your marriage and your kids – follow Jesus in whatever He has placed in front of you, believing that God is going to be glorified…because He will be.
  • Peter certainly wasn’t disappointed.  Vs. 6…

6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

  • The differences between Dr. Luke and Fisherman John come to light here.  John records a similar event after Jesus’ resurrection in which Jesus restored Peter to ministry, but not until after Jesus provided a miraculous fishing haul.  In that instance, John recorded that 153 fish were caught (Jn 21:11) – and as a fisherman, his attention to that kind of detail might be expected.  Luke, on the other hand, simply notes that it was “a great number of fish” that were caught – so much so that “their net was breaking.”  It seems that originally, it was only Jesus and Simon who had set out, and due to the size of the catch, they had to somehow signal the other boat back on the shore to come out and help.  As it turns out, they probably could have used a third boat in addition, as the two boats that were there were so overloaded “that they began to sink.
  • That’s a big catch!  Of course, it was a big God on board.  God can (and does) do the impossible.  Heal the sick?  Give sight to the blind?  Provide a huge haul of fish?  It’s no problem for the Lord God.  He can do it.  A far greater miracle is done every single time someone comes to faith in Christ Jesus as Lord.  How so?  At that point, a dead person is brought to life.  Someone who was eternally lost in sin, destined for a death separated from God is now completely forgiven, granted a new spiritual birth & new internal nature, even granted a new inheritance as he/she is made a child of the Living God.  That is a miracle of miracles!  A few hundred fish pale in comparison to that. 
    • Chew on that for a moment.  Do you belong to the Lord Jesus – have you surrendered your life to Him in faith, believing upon Him as your Lord & God?  If so, you’ve been the recipient of a miracle!  You’ve experienced the supernatural, being individually and personally touched by Almighty God Himself.  That’s amazing!  Sometimes we lose sight of that.  When we think of miracles, we tend to think of stories of healings or provision or some other sort of sign or wonder.  And no doubt, those can be wonderful – but each one is temporary.  Every provision eventually needs to be replenished, and every individual who is healed eventually dies.  What are the only permanent miracles?  Salvation & resurrection.  Every born-again Christian has experienced the first, and we’ll all eventually experience the second.  If you are saved, you’re the product of a true miracle.  Praise God as such!
    • BTW – when you share the gospel with others, you’re participating in the work of miracles.  That’s a privilege few others can claim!  God is the One who does the supernatural, but He invites us to come alongside with Him as we share Jesus with our friends, family, and total strangers.  When we do, the Scripture pierces their hearts, the Holy Spirit convicts them of their need to be saved, Jesus is lifted up before them, and God draws them to Christ.  That’s a direct participation in the work of God.  What a humbling privilege – what an amazing opportunity.  May we take advantage of it every chance we get!
  • The miraculous catch was amazing, no doubt – but it was only an attention-getter.  Something far bigger was taking place at that moment, and it didn’t escape the notice of Simon Peter.  Vs. 8…
  • Jesus calls (8-11)

8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

  • When Peter initially humored Jesus by going out in the deep, he acknowledged Jesus as his “Master” – someone with authority over him, like a boss-man.  Now Peter fell to the floor, calling Jesus “Lord.”  Was this a confession of faith, or simply a term of respect?  Although κυριος could go either way, the context strongly argues for confession – at least to some extent.  Simon Peter had witnessed the miracles of Jesus in the past – recently with his own mother-in-law.  He had been drawn by the power in Jesus’ presence & teaching, having left his fishing boat on other occasions to follow this Man.  But here & now, with Jesus in the boat with him, Simon Peter recognized that this was no ordinary Man.  Jesus was holy, endued with the divine perfection and power of God, and Simon Peter had no business being in His presence.  In that boat were two extremes: the extreme holiness of God, and the extreme sinfulness of Peter.  Peter’s only hope (so he thought) was to have Jesus leave him, and perhaps he would live.
  • This is a natural response to the holiness of God – and it’s actually based in the right perspective.  Although what Peter needed was more Jesus (instead of less), at least he understood that the sinfulness of man cannot remain in the presence of the holiness of God.  The more holy we understand God to be, the more glaring our sin becomes, and the greater the need for it to be addressed. The same idea is seen with the prophet Isaiah, as he receives a vision of the glorious throne room of God.  As Isaiah looks around, the first thing he notices was the Lord God on His throne, high & lifted up, surrounded by seraphim –heavenly creatures described as burning with the glory of God.  These multi-winged seraphim fly around the temple, covering their faces and feet, all the while crying out about the ultimate holiness of God.  And what they proclaimed, they proclaimed loudly: Isaiah 6:4–5, "(4) And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. (5) So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”"  In that moment, Isaiah was overcome with the reality of God’s holiness.  If those magnificent creatures so strongly affirmed the perfect holiness of God while in the temple of God, then Isaiah’s previous concept of God was far too small!  Just being in the presence of such a God ought to have sealed Isaiah’s doom.  No background as a Hebrew, not even as a prophet, was enough to save him & he proclaimed his own woe.  Thankfully, that’s when God acted, and He sent one of the seraphim to purge the sin of Isaiah from his lips.
  • This is the same basic reaction had by Peter when he realized he was in the boat with not only Jesus, but the Lord Jesus.  He recognized Jesus’ holiness & his own sinfulness, and it caused his knees to buckle.  Question: how do you see Jesus?  How do you see yourself?  If we’re being honest, most days we don’t see our sin as all that bad, and we don’t see Jesus as all that good.  If we did, we’d have the same reaction as Peter.  Instead, we take things for granted, feeling free to engage in some of the same sins and behaviors we used to do before we knew Christ.  We start to go down the same roads because we start to lose sight of the awesomeness of the God who called us out of that way.  How important it is to maintain/recover a proper perspective of the holiness of God!  We need to see Him as He is – to maintain a righteous reverent fear of Him, ever deepening in our grateful love for Him.  That happens through a right perspective of His holiness.  He really IS that holy, and we really are that sinful.  When Peter described himself as a “sinful man,” he wasn’t pointing out one or two flaws in his character – Peter was referring to his totality.  That is exactly the way we all are apart from Christ.  We are truly sinful men & women.  We engage in the things of our flesh, desiring to please ourselves first before we ever give consideration to the God who granted us life.  Our hearts and minds are corrupted, and even the good things we attempt to do become tainted by our selfish motives.  On the contrary, God is holy – He is perfectly good & righteous – He is the very definition of goodness.  We only know what good is by first looking to God – and likewise with love, righteousness, and justice.  He is so good that the only justice that is equal to the sin against Him is eternity.  That is holy.  And that is what Jesus saves us from.  How important it is for us to remember that!  This needs to be impressed on the backsides of our eyelids, in order that it would never be beyond our sight.  The more we know the holy goodness of our God, and the depravity of our sin, the more dependent we will be upon our Jesus…and that is exactly the way it ought to be.
    • For some, you’ve not yet come to the same realization of Simon Peter & Isaiah, in which you’ve truly seen your sinfulness in the light of God’s holiness.  Know this: that is where a relationship with God begins.  Just like you cannot complete a race without first getting to the starting line, the acknowledgement of our sin is the starting line.  We have to see our sin if we are to understand our need for a Savior.  We have to see our death if we are to cry out for life.  We cannot look upon Jesus casually and expect to be saved.  Many people add a bit of church to their lives & call themselves Christian – they look upon Jesus as giving them an extra bit of help to get them through the door of heaven, but nothing more.  That isn’t saving faith.  That isn’t even the starting line.  Who is Jesus – who are you?  He’s the holy God – you & I are the sinners in need of His grace.  That’s where it begins, and that is what you can acknowledge today.

9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. …

  • The action has focused upon Simon Peter, but he wasn’t the only one there – nor was he the only one impacted by Jesus.  James & John, the two brothers who eventually formed the rest of Jesus’ inner circle along with Peter, were there as well.  They were apparently partners in business long before they were partners in the gospel.  Interestingly, Simon’s brother Andrew is not mentioned along with the rest.  Surely he was with the group (perhaps part of the “all” of verse 9), but for whatever reason, Luke remained silent about him despite Andrew’s own importance in the original introduction between Peter & Jesus.
  • Whoever was present, there were all “astonished” at what Jesus had done.  The word used here is exactly the same word used in 4:32 in regards to the reaction of the people of Capernaum to Jesus’ authoritative teaching.  They were blown away – put out of their senses by what Jesus had said and done.  In this case, they were supposed to have been the experts.  They were fishermen by trade, whereas this other Man was an informal rabbi, and the only occupational training He had was that of a carpenter.  What did He know about fishing?  Yet He didn’t just lead them in a good fishing trip – He led them to the catch of their career.  This told them what it told Simon Peter: this Man was no ordinary Man!

… And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

  • Jesus tells Peter two things here.  First, not to be afraid.  Simon Peter’s fear was understandable.  Again, he had just come to grips with being in the boat with the Lord, the Son of God.  Like Isaiah, he was thinking “woe is me!”  Peter had every reason to believe he would die, being a sinful man in the presence of God – and he would have been right, apart from the grace of Jesus!  No sin can remain unpunished in the presence of God – it’s going to be addressed one way or the other.  Either the individual will be punished in hell, or our punishment is put upon Jesus at the cross.  For Simon Peter, he was to receive the grace of God, so he didn’t need to be afraid.  Peter had a proper fear of God and was entering into a proper relationship with God, so the fear of punishment was no longer needed.
  • Second, Jesus gave Peter a new calling: “From now on you will catch men.”  This was basically the same thing He told Peter & Andrew earlier as Jesus walked by their boats, and He reaffirms it here.  Mark 1:16–17, "(16) And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. (17) Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”"  Same calling, different circumstance, different time.  Earlier, Jesus was preparing them for the day – now He was introducing them into it.  This was now the time of which Jesus had earlier spoken.  It was time to go out & “catch men.”  Interestingly, the particular word for “catch” speaks of catching something alive.  Unlike fish, which Peter & others would catch to kill, the men would be caught alive, purposefully to remain alive (everlasting life).  This would be a far greater catch Peter had ever done in the past – one with eternal value.
    • Question: If Jesus gave Peter a new calling into ministry, does that mean Peter’s old life as a fisherman wasn’t valuable?  Not at all!  Please notice that Jesus says nothing about Peter being in a certain building or occupation as he was to fish for men.  Certainly Peter did eventually serve God in full-time occupational ministry, but that wasn’t always the case.  It’s not a person’s occupation that determines whether or not someone is in ministry; it’s whether or not a person is saved.  ALL Christians are ministers in that all Christians serve Christ.  Truck drivers and teachers can use their occupations to serve Jesus just as much as pastors and missionaries.  What Jesus did with Peter wasn’t so much as to give him a new vocational career, as it was to give him a new purpose & life-calling.  Now, whatever it was that Peter did from day-to-day, his primary focus was to be on catching men for the glory of God.

11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

  • Every call needs a response – every invitation needs an answer.  That’s what happened as the men returned to shore.  Boats, nets, family businesses, even the fishing haul for that day – everything was abandoned as Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John followed Christ.  They could leave it in the past because there was something far more glorious ahead: life with the Son of God.
  • What have you left to follow Christ?  Have you left anything at all?  If not, you either haven’t realized that you did, or you might want to re-examine whether or not you truly followed Jesus in the first place.  Everyone leaves something: your life direction, your sin, perhaps some friends or family members.  Maybe you simply understand that you left your own personal sovereignty behind as you surrendered yourself to Jesus as your Lord & King.  Whatever the case, everyone who follows Christ has left something in order to do so.
  • If you haven’t, you need to determine who or what it is that you’re following, because it isn’t Jesus.  Those who know Him have heard His call & obeyed – just like Peter and the others.  Those who don’t might have heard His voice, but their lives didn’t change in response to it – just like many of the multitudes on the shore.  The good news is that Jesus still calls people today.  You still have the opportunity to respond to Him…so take it.

Life changed for Simon Peter that day.  He had known of Jesus – he had heard and seen Jesus in action – he was even willing to humor Jesus for a bit of fishing.  What he didn’t realize was the depth of Jesus’ holiness, and the reality of his own sinfulness in contrast.  When he did, he was profoundly and permanently impacted, and that’s when Jesus could use him.  Jesus had a plan for Peter all along, but the calling didn’t come until Simon Peter came to the right perspective.  When Peter finally humbled himself in the light of Jesus’ holiness, that’s when Jesus gave him a new calling and a new identity.  That’s when Peter was fully ready to leave everything behind, as he understood that nothing compared with that of Jesus.

How have you seen yourself in comparison with the Son of God?  Is He a good teacher – but just another teacher?  Is He just a bit of help to give you that extra push into heaven?  Or is He the Holy God come in the flesh?  A bit of perspective makes all of the difference.  It’s only when we see Jesus rightly that we’re finally ready to hear His call and abandon everything to follow Him.

For some of you, this is the day you change your major.  Perhaps you’ve acknowledged Jesus as your Lord & Master, but you haven’t been living as though He is.  He may not be calling you to vocational ministry like Peter, but He is calling you to service.  How will you take part in fishing for men?  In what ways will you practically follow Jesus as your Lord?  Get involved!  Opportunities abound all around us, if we would but open our eyes to see.

For some, this is the day we stop going down the old roads of old sin.  This is the day we remind ourselves of the holiness of our God, and our utter desperation for Him.  Confess your sin to Jesus, and ask for the Spirit of God to impress upon you His holiness, His goodness, and His love.  See Him as ever-high, and cling to Him.

For others of you, this is the day you finally surrender your life to Jesus.  No more games – no more casual flirting with the things of God – no more sitting on the side and simply going your own way.  This time, you see Jesus for who He is, and you cannot help but be changed.  Admit your sin to Christ, and tell Him your need for His help, grace, and salvation.  Throw yourself upon the mercies of Jesus, and He will save you – that is exactly what He has promised to do.