Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

Jesus seeks; Jesus saves

Posted: October 15, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 19:1-10, “Jesus seeks; Jesus saves”

For those of you who were raised in Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools, you probably know the lyrics well: “Zacchaeus was a wee, little man, / And a wee, little man was he. / He climbed up in a sycamore tree, / For the Lord he wanted to see. / And as the Savior came that way, / He looked up in the tree, / And he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down from there," / For I’m going to your house today.”

As great as the song is for children, there’s a glaring problem with it: it stops too soon.  The best part about the story of Zacchaeus is not his tree-climbing to see Jesus; it’s his glorious salvation by Jesus.  Yes, Zacchaeus demonstrates a lot of faith: he climbs a tree, receives Jesus into his home, and gives his wealth away.  But better than what Zacchaeus did was what Jesus was doing the entire time: seeking and saving the lost.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but Jesus was seeking him first.  Jesus knew him, loved him, and sought him out in order that he might be saved…and he was!

But before we get to Zacchaeus, we need to back up a little bit.  Before we ever see this rich man getting saved, we see another rich man who was not saved.  Back in Luke 18, we read the famous account of the rich young ruler: a wealthy young man of privilege and power, esteemed by all who saw him, who sought out Jesus to find final key to his assurance of eternal life.  He was righteous in his own eyes, but upon conversing with Jesus, he soon learned he wasn’t nearly as righteous as he believed himself to be.  He was wed to his wealth, and unwilling to give it up in order to follow Christ as a disciple.  In the end, he showed himself to be a self-righteous idolater, and as long as he was, it was impossible for him to be saved.

This man was soon contrasted with another person while Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, where He had prophesied (yet again) that He would be delivered to the Gentiles, killed, and would yet rise from the dead (a prophecy not understood by His disciples, but something that needed to be said anyway).  Outside of Jericho, a blind man heard Jesus of Nazareth was approaching, and he repeatedly cried out to Him, calling for mercy from the Son of David.  In contrast with the rich man, this blind man was part of the bottom rung of society, yet he saw something the rich man did not: his desperate need for salvation.  Jesus granted it to him, along with his sight, saying (literally) “Your faith has saved you.”  As a result, the blind man (and all those who witnessed the miracle) gave glory to God.

So now what?  Jesus continues His journey to Jerusalem, passing through Jericho, and comes upon a chief tax-collector named Zacchaeus.  This man is desperate to see Jesus, and does whatever he can to do so.  What he didn’t know at the time is that Jesus was seeking him.  Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost, and Zacchaeus happened to be first in line.

Jesus still seeks and saves the lost.  Will we receive Him when He seeks us?

Luke 19:1–10

  • Seeing Jesus / Jesus seeks (1-7)

1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

  • Again, it was just outside Jericho that Jesus encountered the blind man.  Apparently, Jesus had left the ruins of old Jericho, healed the blind man, and entered the newer location of Jericho in order to pass through town.  Why did Jesus need to pass through?  Because Jericho was on the road to Jerusalem.  For all that Jesus said and did along the way, it’s imperative that we remember that the ultimate goal for Jesus was Jerusalem.  That was the place where He would be delivered to the Gentiles, be killed, and rise again. (18:32-33)  Jesus’ ultimate mission was always in sight for Him, and things were starting to come to a head.  Everything He did from this point needs to be viewed with this in mind.  No matter what anyone else was thinking at the time, Jesus was thinking of the cross.  He was thinking of His soon suffering & sacrifice, and the salvation that would result.
  • What does that mean in this particular case?  It means that what Jesus says in vs. 10 was already on His mind in vs. 1.  It means that Jericho wasn’t a random city along the road, nor was Zacchaeus a random sinner.  Jesus was mission-minded.  He came to seek and to save the lost, and He was doing it not only in Jerusalem, but all along the way as well.
    • This is the eternal plan of God at work.  He has always desired for you to be saved, from before the foundation of the world.  This is His love and desire for you – the only question is whether or not you will respond.
  • Within this not-random city was a not-random individual, whom Luke introduces…

2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.

  • The name “Zacchaeus” seems to be derived from the Hebrew word for “pure,” which is a bit ironic, considering his occupation.  He “was a chief tax collector,” which put him at a higher status that Levi/Matthew, whom Jesus called a disciple early in His ministry.  Tax collectors were typically considered to be traitors by the Jews, being that they were employed by the Roman occupation government, but Zacchaeus would have been extra-despised, due to his extra administrative responsibilities.  He was a traitor-in-chief over other traitors.
  • And apparently, he was good at it!  Luke notes “he was rich.”  Considering that the Romans rarely (if ever) paid people to collect taxes, how exactly had Zacchaeus gained his wealth?  By skimming it off the top.  As long as the Romans were paid what they were owed, they didn’t care how much money was actually collected.  Tax collectors could (and would) charge whatever they wanted.  Put it all together, and Zacchaeus was a turncoat to his countrymen, and a greedy crook to boot.
  • Yet something was going on in his heart.  Obviously God had done something within in this man to draw him to Jesus, because as soon as he heard Jesus was coming through Jericho, he did his best to go and see Him. …

3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

  • This is the part most people remember, and for good reason: it’s a bit comical.  Here is this rich man (crooked, but rich), with much influence among the Romans, no doubt well-dressed and carrying an air of authority – yet he’s climbing a tree like a little child in order to catch a glimpse of the Lord.  The crowds following Jesus were quite thick by this point, and it’s not as if there were drone cameras circling overhead, allowing Zacchaeus to watch online.  If he wanted to see Jesus, he needed to take action…especially as a shorter man.  How else would he be able to see Jesus past the crowds, unless he climbed to a higher vantage point?  So that’s what he did, in all of his expensive clothing.
  • In all the humor, don’t miss the main point: Zacchaeus did whatever was necessary to see Jesus, despite the potential ridicule and humiliation. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment.  No doubt people took notice of him everywhere he went – not out of admiration, but out of disgust and hatred.  He would have been used to the looks & sneers, and probably would have adapted to it through his abuse of authority and power.  But in this moment, he had to set all dignity aside, and humble himself in order to climb the sycamore tree.  Whatever were the thoughts of others, he couldn’t care about them.  At the very least, Zacchaeus had faith that Jesus was a man of God, and this was a man he couldn’t afford to have pass by.  He had to see Him, so Zacchaeus was willing to do whatever it took.
    • What are you willing to do in order to see Jesus?  What steps of faith are you willing to take?  Keep in mind that the only reason Zacchaeus (or anyone else) would be willing to do this was because he saw the need.  Whatever it was he understood about Jesus (be it just as a teacher or prophet), he knew at least this much: he had to see Him.  Knowing the sinful position he was in, Zacchaeus understood that if he didn’t see Jesus at this time, he might not see Jesus at all.  Zacchaeus’ need was desperate, so he acted. Many people aren’t willing to steps of faith because they never understand their need.  They don’t understand their desperate situation without Christ.  Without the salvation of God, we are nothing but walking dead.  We are sinners, doomed for the eternal wrath of our Righteous Creator.  That’s desperate!  No one will be able to talk themselves out of hell – they won’t be able to convince God that He was wrong about them – they won’t be able to justify themselves in His sight.  When we stand before God for judgment, He will see us either in our sin, or He will see us in Christ Jesus.  Which will it be?  Much of it depends on whether or not you ever see your need for Christ.
    • BTW – This doesn’t apply only to non-believers; this is just as true for born-again Christians as it is for anyone else.  After all, when do we stop having a desperate need for our Lord Jesus?  Never!  When will we not need to take steps of faith?  Never.  We do what it takes to follow Christ, simply because He is our Lord.  Sometimes that means sacrifice – sometimes that means ridicule – sometimes it means the hatred of the world. Jesus said not to be surprised when the world hates Christians, because the world hated Him first. (Jn 15:18) Our job is not to worry about that; our job is simply to trust Jesus and follow Him.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

  • Notice that Jesus called to Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus had gone up the tree to see Jesus, but Jesus came seeking him.  He even knew Zacchaeus by name. Jesus knew everything about this man, even though there’s no indication that Zacchaeus ever said a word.  Think about it: up in the tree, Zacchaeus was probably hiding from Jesus.  He wanted to see Jesus, but it’s not very likely that he wanted to be seen.  Yet Jesus knew him.  Jesus knew exactly where he was, who he was, and what it was he needed.  Jesus had come seeking him out, and found him.
  • Not only did Jesus seek out Zacchaeus, but He spoke to him.  “Make haste and come down.”  Zacchaeus needed to climb out of his comical watching place, and he didn’t need to waste any time.  Why did Jesus want him out of the tree? It was necessary if Jesus was going to dine with him that night.  “For today I must stay at your house.”  The “must” is definite in the Greek – this was a necessary action.  Why?  Surely there were many other places Jesus could have stayed while in Jericho.  Crowds of people were following Him around, and no doubt any one of them would have found Jesus a room & some dinner that night.  Yet for all of the choices all around Him, Jesus needed to stay with Zacchaeus.
    • Why was it necessary?  How else would Zacchaeus be saved?  Zacchaeus could have remained in the tree, looking onward to Jesus.  It took faith for him to climb up there, but that wasn’t necessarily saving faith.  After all, he hadn’t yet met Jesus – he had not personally encountered Him.  Jesus had come to seek and save the lost, and He knew that Zacchaeus was a lost sinner ready to be saved.  But if Zacchaeus was going to be saved, he needed to personally encounter Jesus.  It was necessary
    • No one is saved apart from a personal interaction with the Lord Jesus.  Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that we need the physical person to show up in front of us like Zacchaeus (or like Saul/Paul, after Jesus’ resurrection) – but we do need personal interaction and faith.  We need to know about Jesus, but no one is saved through knowledge alone.  Zacchaeus knew who Jesus was, and could look upon Him remotely as He passed by…but that’s not what saved Him.  Zacchaeus needed to know the person of Jesus, and so do we.  We are not saved by an idea or a theology; we’re saved by the Living God.  We have to know this God in real faith & that means real relationship.

6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

  • Quite the contrast!  Zacchaeus rejoiced; the crowds complained.  Zacchaeus was not ashamed to have Jesus call him out from his humble climbing spot…he was joyful!  He couldn’t come down out of that tree fast enough to respond to Jesus and bring him to his house.  He heard the invitation of the Savior, and responded.  This was Zacchaeus’ 2nd act of faith: not only had he done whatever was necessary to see Jesus – he joyfully received Jesus to himself.  Again, it’s one thing to desire to see Jesus; it’s another to heed His call and receive Him personally.
  • Why did the crowds complain? Likely a couple of reasons: (1) Because Jesus had chosen someone other than them, and most evidently (2) the person chosen by Jesus was deemed less worthy than themselves. Zacchaeus was a tax-collector – a sinner so despised by the people that they wouldn’t even call him by his name.  How could Jesus choose to dine with a man like that?  They murmured & grumbled among themselves in their pompous self-righteousness.  Remember that this was a common complaint about Jesus, recently seen in the circumstances surrounding the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  [Luke 15:1-7]  What Jesus taught in Ch. 15 is lived out in Ch. 19!  A tax collector did draw near to Jesus, and Jesus gladly ate with him – choosing him over 99 of the other townspeople in Jericho.  They were just as lost as this man was, but they didn’t seek Jesus the way this man did.  They didn’t understand how lost they were, the way this man did.  Again, Jesus knew this lost sheep was ready to be found, and He acted accordingly.
    • Did it go against the expectations of the crowd?  Sure…but Jesus isn’t bound to act according to our expectations!  WE are not the determiners of whether or not someone is worthy of salvation.  Newsflash: NONE of us are worthy of salvation!  It is solely by the grace of God that anyone is saved. For those who ask “Why Zacchaeus?”  The answer is simply: Why not?  Why any of us?  None of us deserve to be saved, yet God saw fit to seek us out and save us. We were the one lost among the 99 around us, and Jesus came for us.  This is His mercy, love, and grace!
    • If you’re waiting to prove yourself worthy to Jesus before responding to Him in faith, don’t.  You’ll never do it.  Think of who He is: perfection personified as the Living God – the very definition of holiness.  Who are we in comparison with Him?  Even the best of us fall far short.  In track & field meets, high jumpers compete over inches & fractions of inches.  What do their jumps compare with the height of the stadium?  Jesus isn’t simply a “little holier” than us, with us needing a “bit less” sin in order to be saved; the gap between us is infinite!  For sinners to compare themselves to other sinners, thinking ourselves more righteous than the guy next to us is for us to compete over inches, when there are light-years between us and Jesus.  Stop trying to prove yourself worthy, because you won’t do it.  All you can do is personally interact with Jesus & receive Him by faith as Lord.
  • Trusting Jesus / Jesus saves (8-9)

8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

  • Apparently time passed between vss. 7-8.  One moment, Jesus is inviting Himself to dinner (in a good way!), and the next apparently finds Zacchaeus in his home, standing at the table, responding to the grace of God.  What exactly happened in the meantime, we do not know.  Can you imagine the dinner conversation that night?  It must have been astounding!  Whatever happened, Zacchaeus was overwhelmed by the person of Jesus, and was compelled to respond in some way.  What did he do?
    • Promised to give half of his possessions to the poor.  Considering that he was rich, it would have been quite the act of alms-giving, something deemed to be a sincere act of faith at the time.  Others gave out of their abundance, but Zacchaeus promised to give sacrificially.
    • Promised to restore “fourfold” what he had taken through dishonest means.  No doubt, Zacchaeus had been dishonest!  What he says here isn’t so much “I don’t know whether or not I’ve done this, but if I have, I’ll restore;” it’s a “I most definitely did these things, and I’m resolved to act.”  The “if” used here virtually carries the idea of “since” – it’s a condition that is certain to be true.  Zacchaeus is basically confessing his sin, and promising to make restitution.  Depending on the circumstances, the law of Moses required someone pay back fourfold or fivefold whatever was stolen (Exo 22:1), and that was what Zacchaeus vowed to do.
  • Compare all of that with the rich young ruler from Luke 18.  He had come to Jesus looking for what he could to do assure himself of eternal life, and when Jesus told him to address his idolatry by selling off his possessions & give the proceeds to the poor, the man refused and turned away sad.  Not Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus did what the young ruler could not.  Considering that ALL of the money Zacchaeus earned from collecting taxes was from charging extra on top of what the Romans demanded, virtually every cent he had was gained dishonestly.  Between giving away half his goods, and giving back 4X what he had taken, surely there was little to nothing left.  Zacchaeus actually fulfilled the commandment given by the Lord Jesus to the ruler.  The sinner did what the self-righteous could not…and that’s exactly why only sinners can be saved!
  • What was all of this?  Acts of repentance.  Zacchaeus’ whole life was changing through his interaction with Jesus, and he couldn’t help but respond in some way.  He had met the Messiah – he was dining with the Son of David – he had personally experienced the love of God.  What else could he do, other than forsake his sin?  He was changed on the inside, so it’s only natural that his outside changed as well.  That’s when Jesus gave him grand assurance…

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;

  • Question: Which came first – salvation or repentance?  Zacchaeus announced his repentance first, but by no means did he purchase his salvation.  Salvation was the free gift of God, and Zacchaeus’ repentance was his response to it.  How do we know?  Simple: look at the tense.  If God’s salvation was the response to Zacchaeus’ repentance, it would have made more sense for Jesus to speak in the present tense, saying that salvation “is now coming to this house,” or somehow affirm that Zacchaeus had earned his place through his actions.  Yet that’s not what Jesus said.  The aorist tense indicates that salvation had already come to the house, and Jesus simply announced it.  If anything, the salvation of God was in response to the newly existing faith of Zacchaeus (seen in his persistence and his reception of Jesus); his acts of repentance were simply the outflow of his faith.
    • Beware the danger of making repentance a work that earns salvation.  Are we to repent when we come to faith in Christ?  Without question.  A Christian without repentance is no Christian at all.  The person who claims to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord is a person who has been given a new birth by God the Holy Spirit, and has been made a new creation.  Thus, that person acts differently.  Not every Christian changes in the same way at the same speed, but all Christians change in some way.  The sin that once appealed to us becomes abhorrent, and our hearts start to hunger for the things of God.  This is the essence of repentance.  It’s a change of mind & change of action…and it’s not something that we can do apart from the power of God.  On our own, we’re just as lost & helpless as we ever were.  It’s when we believe upon Jesus that He gives us the strength to repent.
    • Why does this matter?  It’s the difference between legalism and grace. It’s the difference between a works-based faith, and a faith that works.  When people claim “You better clean up your life before you head back to church,” what they’re saying is “You better save yourself before you trust Jesus to save you.”  That’s not the gospel!  The gospel is the good news of Jesus – it is the fact that we simply believe upon Him, and receive the salvation He freely offers.  Repentance certainly accompanies our faith, but by no means does it precede our faith.
    • Again, repentance is necessary.  Real faith in Christ is more than lip service.  It’s more than “praying a prayer,” and checking it off the list.  Real faith in Jesus is entrusting ourselves unto the Living Son of God, knowing that the Risen Jesus is our only hope for salvation.  The way that faith is made evident is through acts of repentance.  We let go of our sin as were grabbing hold of our Savior.  But it is grabbing hold of Jesus that saves us; not the act of letting go of our sin.  That’s simply what accompanies our initial trust.
  • Another thing: Jesus doesn’t even point to Zacchaeus’ actions as a reason for his salvation.  The reason given by Jesus had nothing to do with Zacchaeus’ actions, but his birth.  “Because he also is a son of Abraham.”  Zacchaeus was who he was by the grace of God, and the grace of God had been fully extended to him in Jesus – it was only now that Zacchaeus actually understood it and walked accordingly.  Other Jews at the time did not look at Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham – they would have seen him as a traitor, excluded from the covenant promises of God.  Not so!  Jesus knew who Zacchaeus truly was – who God the Father had intended for him to be from the foundation of the world.  Zacchaeus was a full son of Israel, especially now that he recognized the Messiah of Israel as He truly was.  Zacchaeus may have been lost, but now he was truly found!

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

  • This isn’t only a summary of what Jesus did with Zacchaeus; it is a summary of Jesus’ mission as a whole.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd: the One who leaves the 99 to go and save the one.  He did whatever it was necessary in order that lost human beings might be saved.  Think of it: Jesus did not just come to earth at a random point in history to wander around Judea for three years and spout off pithy truths; He had a mission.  Break it down:
    • Jesus came.  Just by itself, even that is amazing.  The glorious “Son of Man” – the one who shares eternal past, present, and future with God the Father & God the Holy Spirit – the one who shares in all of the glory of God, because He is God – this Son of Man came to earth.  He willingly left the glories of heaven behind in order to put on flesh and walk as an incarnate man among sinners like us.  What glorious condescension & grace!
    • Jesus came to seek.  What Jesus did with Zacchaeus, Jesus did with all the world.  He came, seeking us out.  We did not search for God – we showed through our rebellion that we wanted nothing to do with God.  Even those who made attempts at some form of religion did not truly seek God; they attempt to justify themselves & make themselves right, rather than falling upon the mercies and grace of the God who has revealed Himself to all the world.  But whereas we did not seek God, He sought us.  Jesus took the initiative to seek out all of those who might be saved.
    • Jesus came to save.  His was not merely a fact-finding mission.  He didn’t come simply to count inventory, taking note of how many people were lost.  He didn’t even come to only tell us how lost we are, without offering any note of hope.  No – Jesus came to do a work: the supreme work of salvation.  Jesus came to save.  Again, this is why He was so singularly focused on going to Jerusalem.  That was the place where the work of salvation would be accomplished.  His death on the cross and resurrection three days later would become the one single act that would make salvation possible for all the world.

Conclusion
That is what Jesus came to do, and that is what He does.  Though He physically resides in heaven today, having forever completed His death and resurrection, Jesus still seeks and saves the lost.  He still calls to people, as unworthy as we are, inviting us to receive Him as Lord & receive His gift of forgiveness and eternal salvation. 

Jesus seeks and saves the lost.  That’s what He did with Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus responded in kind.  Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus, only to find that Jesus had been seeking him the entire time.  Zacchaeus joyfully responded to Jesus, receiving Him into his home, which was exactly what Jesus was necessary to happen.  Finally, Zacchaeus expressed his faith in Jesus, trusting Him so much that he could give away every penny he had in true repentance of his sin – to which Jesus gave him the confirmation that he was already a child of Abraham, truly saved by the grace of God.

You know what the great thing is for a born-again Christian to read stories of salvation?  We get the opportunity to remember our own.  Each one of us was once at the point of Zacchaeus.  Our individual testimonies certainly vary, but we were all sinners – completely lost, and totally separated from God.  Yet Jesus sought us out and extended to us His salvation.  Never forget!  Never take it for granted.  Always remember who you were, and how Jesus changed you.  Although true born-again Christians will never again be eternally lost, it’s interesting that the Bible never tells us to forget what we were.  To the contrary – well into Paul’s ministry, he still referred to himself as the chief of all sinners. (1 Tim 1:15)  Not once did he ever forget who he was or what he did prior to Jesus saving him.  Paul certainly knew he was a child of God & saved, but he never took the grace he had received for granted.  Neither should we.  If you’ve been saved, rejoice – praise God – thank Him for seeking you out and saving you.  Never forget from whence you came, and always walk forward in the grace of God.

For others, you remember a time when you encountered Jesus, but you haven’t remained in that place of gratefulness and repentance.  You’ve wandered away, and perhaps it has become difficult to tell the difference between your life & someone who’s never met Jesus.  No assurances can be given you regarding your past, but something can definitely change regarding your future.  Trust Jesus!  Let go of your sins to grab hold of the Savior…entrust yourself fully to Him without restraint. 

Still others have never had any experience with Jesus in the past…but you’ve got the opportunity to have one today.  He still seeks and saves the lost, and you can be found by Him & experience His marvelous salvation.  Trust Him for who He is (Almighty God the Son) – for what He’s done (the cross & resurrection) – and for what He graciously offers (forgiveness and new life).  Surrender your life to Jesus in true repentance and faith, and receive His salvation!

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Pass Me Not

Posted: October 8, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:31-43, “Pass Me Not”

Every once in a blue moon, I get the opportunity to sit down and play piano through my old hymnal.  One of my very favorite to play is a Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not.”  The lyrics for the 1st verse are: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior | Hear my humble cry | While on others, Thou art calling | Do not pass me by.”  Ms. Crosby’s song could have easily been sung by the blind man in Luke 18.

There are actually two events that take place at the close of Chapter 18 – and like much of Luke’s narration, these things might not seem to be related to each other, but we need to look at why Luke arranged things the way that he did.  There are two conversations, with two titles used of Jesus, each recognizing Him as the Messiah: the Son of Man & the Son of David.  The first event deals with the cross & resurrection, while the second deals with a miraculous healing.  What do the events have in common?  It’s actually more of a contrast.  The first shows Jesus hidden in plain sight from the understanding of the apostles; the second shows Jesus revealed to a man with immense faith.  Jesus was constantly with the 12 disciples, but there was much they could not comprehend; Jesus had just briefly come into the presence of the blind man, and this man saw Him instantly for who He was…and the man didn’t want his opportunity to pass him by!

Contextually, Luke most recently showed Jesus talking with the rich young ruler.  This man had come to Jesus, asking how to inherit eternal life, already being fully convinced of his own self-righteousness & simply looking for the icing on the cake that guaranteed his salvation.  Once Jesus pointed out the idolatry in the man’s heart, it was quickly apparent he wasn’t righteous at all.  Although the man had the opportunity to leave everything behind in repentance & follow Jesus as a disciple, he didn’t do it.  He made the decision to choose his stuff over a Savior, and walked away, sad.

The disciples, on the other hand, had left everything to follow Christ.  They (rightly) understood Jesus was worth it all, and Jesus promised them an amazing inheritance in the future.  Not only did they have the benefits of being children of God in the present day, but they could look forward to living in the presence of God for all eternity.

All of those things are wonderful promises – but there was something else that needed to come first, something that the disciples might not find so pleasing.  The kingdom would come, but first the price of sin had to be paid.  Salvation would be given, but it would come at the cost of the death of Jesus.  That was the reason He had come, and He would see it through.  In the meantime, would the disciples hold to Him in faith?  Would they simply believe Jesus for who He is, and for what the Bible prophesied Him to do?  The blind man would.  Although he knew less of Jesus, what he did know, he believed…and he was going to hold on to Jesus, no matter what!

Luke 18:31–43

  • Soon rejection & resurrection as the Son of Man (31-34)

31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.

  • Notice the audience: “the twelve.”  By this point in His ministry, large crowds were following Jesus, and that would have been the case even among the rich young ruler.  After all, he would have approached Jesus in the crowd to ask Him how to inherit eternal life.  Jesus was talking with Peter & the other disciples in the follow-up conversation, but there’s no indication that they were alone when doing so.  Here, however, Jesus specifically takes the 12 aside to talk to them about what was soon to happen.  This was for their ears, and their preparation. (Not that they would understand – but Jesus still made it available to them.)
  • Notice the mission: “we are going up to Jerusalem.”  This much wasn’t unusual in the slightest.  After all, the Passover was near, and multitudes of Jews went up on a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Jesus and the disciples were not strangers to the city, having travelled there on many previous occasions.  Yet this trip would be different.  This was the end to which Jesus had set His mind, so long ago. (9:51)  The earthly ministry of Jesus was about to come to a climax.  This was the very reason Jesus had come – and this was why He took the time to underscore it with the disciples.  Even if they didn’t understand everything now, they needed to be able to look back and remember what Jesus had told them & how often He had told them.  They needed to know that this was central to everything He did.
    • Don’t miss this aspect about Jesus.  For all that is written and said about His miracles, healings, and other physical acts of compassion – all of those things are secondary to the cross.  Without question, they are important, and they help us understand the loving character of our Savior…but without the cross, Jesus would not be our Savior.  The whole of His earthly life centered on what would take place at the cross & resurrection.  Without that singular event, little else in the ministry of Jesus would matter.
    • This is the lens through which we have to look at Jesus.  He’s a wonderful teacher, but He’s more than a teacher.  He’s the embodiment of love & compassion, but He’s far more than a really nice guy.  He has the prophetic voice of truth, calling out hypocrisy & injustice, but He isn’t a social-justice warrior.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He’s the Son of God, and the sin-sacrifice of God – the substitute for you & me.  That, by far, is His most important role, and the one to which Jesus was singularly focused.
  • Notice the method: “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.”  From the disciples’ point of view at the time, all of this would have sounded great.  After all, the prophets wrote much concerning the future Messiah, His future glories, His renewal of the kingdom of Israel, and His reign over all the earth.  This is what they were expecting, even though Jesus had told them otherwise, having prophesied of His death at least two other times.  This is what the crowds who followed Jesus were expecting, as would be demonstrated on Palm Sunday (19:28-40). All of those things were certainly predicted by the prophets, and these were the promises that the disciples would have loved; it’s the other aspect of His suffering that they wouldn’t have known quite so well.  Yet, it was His suffering that Jesus referenced.  Vs. 32…

32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.

  • The Messiah would be humiliated…in horrendous ways.  First, He would be “delivered to the Gentiles.” Jesus would be betrayed by a kiss from one of His own, and although originally taken into custody by the Jewish priests & Pharisees, they would hand Him over to Pilate & the Romans.  Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Hope of Israel – yet Israel would reject Him & send Him to the Gentiles for torture and death.
  • Second, He would be “mocked and insulted and spit upon.”  Although these are distinct verbs, they all refer to the same sort of emotional assault experienced by Jesus at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles.  Before Jesus was ever delivered over to Pilate, Jesus was beaten while still in the custody of the Sanhedrin (22:63-65).  Once given to Pilate, Pilate passed him on to Herod, who proceeded to mock the true King of the Jews (23:11).  And while hanging upon the cross, Jesus was mocked & derided by both Jew & Roman, as they told Him to save Himself, if He truly was the chosen one of God (23:35-36).  Jesus knew all these things would happen – and they did.  The whole idea is one of ultimate humiliation – things that no single person ought to experience, much less Almighty God in the flesh.  And that’s exactly how Jesus painted the picture.  These things were written “concerning the Son of Man” (vs. 31).  That isn’t a title concerning His humanity, but His deity – of His equality with the all-powerful, all-glorious God.  Yet these were the things He would endure.  He ought to have been honored by every human in history, yet the Creator of the universe took upon the scorn of His rebellious creation.
  • Question: Did the prophets really write of these things?  Yes.  None of this should have been a surprise to Jewish students of the Bible.  These may not have been the Bible promises they memorized, but these certainly were predicted in the pages of the Hebrew Testament.
    • Daniel 9:26, the Messiah was to be cut off; rejected.
    • Isaiah 50:6, the Messiah would give His back to those who struck Him, His cheeks to those who pluck out His beard, and did not hide His face from shame & spitting.
    • Psalm 109:25, the Messiah would be a reproach to the people, who shook their heads at Him.
    • Isaiah 53, the Messiah would be despised, rejected, become the lamb of sacrifice, and be killed for the transgression of all.
    • The prophets are full of statements regarding the humiliation, suffering, rejection, and death of the Messiah.  Scripture is incredibly specific as to the detail of it all.  Psalm 22:6–8, "(6) But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. (7) All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, (8) “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”"  This is the scorn Jesus endured for you & me!
  • This is difficult enough for us to comprehend, and we look at it with the benefit of hindsight.  Imagine yourself in the shoes of the apostles.  All of this would have been unthinkable to the 12, in regards to the Messiah.  Surely, this wouldn’t happen to Jesus – to the Messiah?!  Yet, it would.  And it was foretold by the prophets.  More than that, as cruel as this treatment of the Messiah (and any man!) would be, that wasn’t the end of it.  Vs. 33…

33 They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

  • To be scourged was a fate almost worse than death, yet Jesus would endure it.  He could have called down 12 legions of angels to take vengeance upon the cruel Roman soldier who beat Him, tearing into His flesh with the cat-o’-nine-tails whip, yet Jesus said nothing.  His strength could hardly be more evident as when He kept His omnipotent power under control and allowed Himself to be physically tortured.
  • Of course, finally, it would end in death.  The Messiah would be killed in one of the worst ways imaginable.  There would be no quick beheading, or any sort of humane treatment for the time.  He would hang on the cross for hours, slowly suffocating, and finally having His heart rupture under the physical and spiritual strain.
  • Keep in mind, that this is the Messiah – the “Son of Man.”  This is the divine King of kings & Lord of lords who was to come in all of the power & glory of God & reign over all the world.  (Dan 7)  But this Son of Man was prophesied to die!  How could this be?  The better question is: how could it be otherwise?  Without the death of the incarnate Son of God, we have no chance to be saved!  We would have no atonement for sin, because there would be no sufficient sacrifice.  The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away the sin of men (Heb 10:4).  What is needed is an equivalent – and not just the equivalent price for a single sin of a single man, but for all sins of all men & women throughout history.  The only way that can be accomplished is through the death of the infinite God become Man…and that is exactly who Jesus is & what He did! 
  • Jesus gave a lot of build-up in His words – there is bad news on top of bad news.  Yet it all leads to something absolutely wonderful: resurrection! “And the third day He will rise again.”  The prophesied death of the Messiah would not be in vain; it would lead to victory.  His prophesied death would lead to prophesied resurrection. (Ps 16:10, Isa 53:10-11)  This should have been the event the disciples focused upon, because this was the best news!
    • Don’t forget the best news!  Don’t leave out the good stuff!  It is right to remember the cross & all of Jesus’ sufferings that led to it.  That was the cost of our salvation, and we dare not forget it, lest we take our salvation for granted.  But don’t stop your remembrances too soon – the death of Christ leads to the resurrection of Christ.  The very reason we have a Jesus we worship is because He is risen from the grave!  Too many churches/Christian traditions worship a dead Jesus, never thinking of Him beyond the cross. But Jesus isn’t dead!  He was dead, but He is alive!  Never forget the resurrection…rejoice in it! 
  • As for the disciples, all they heard was the bad news, and it left them confused & bewildered. Vs. 34…

34 But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

  • This seems almost inconceivable to us.  How could the disciples be so dense?  How could they not understand?  After all, they had been with Jesus for nearly three years by this point, and Jesus had repeatedly spoken of the cross & resurrection.  The Synoptic gospels record a minimum of three formal teachings (this being the third), with allusions to it throughout His ministry.  How could they miss so much?
  • Be careful not to assume too much of the apostles in all of this.  We look back at Jesus’ words through post-resurrection eyes, having the fullness of the Scriptures in our hands with over 2000 years of Christian theology to explain it.  The disciples, on the other hand, listened to Jesus in real-time.  These things were unfolding before their very eyes, and they had nothing but their own preconceived notions of the Scripture and cultural expectations of the Messiah to rely upon.
  • More than that, there seems to have been some providential work of God in this as well.  Luke mentions “this saying was hidden from them.”  Was it hidden due to their biases & preconceptions – or was it hidden due to the sovereign choice of God?  Luke doesn’t say – but perhaps a bit of both could be at work.  The disciples would understand in time, but Jesus needed to first go through His suffering without interference.  At Jesus’ first formal mention of His suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter pulled Him aside and chastised Jesus for suggesting such a thing.  Jesus’ response to him was to rebuke him as Satan! (Mt 16:22-23)  It’s possible that if the disciples truly understood what awaited Jesus that they might have attempted to interfere, and this was God’s sovereign work to prevent them from acting.  Whatever the reason the understanding of Jesus’ words were hidden from the apostles, it was still hidden, and the disciples were left confused (and would remain so until they actually witnessed Jesus risen from the dead).
  • What were the disciples to do in the meantime?  Trust Jesus.  They may not have understood everything Jesus said & everything that was about to happen, but they could rest in the fact that Jesus understood, and that the plan of God was at work.  They simply needed to trust Christ.  Of course, they would struggle with this as well (quite understandably).
    • What do we do when we don’t understand things?  What do we do when we don’t know why God has allowed our circumstances to be what they are?  Trust Jesus.  Trust that He does know & understand.  To state the obvious: we aren’t omniscient – we don’t know everything.  But God is & does!  We cannot see the beginning & the end, but God can.  Trust Jesus.  Walk by faith – whether in times of understanding or in times of confusion, choose to trust Christ, and follow Him.

What follows at this point is a bit of a scene change, but it seems apparent that Luke included it as a solid contrast to what just happened.  The disciples were left reeling & confused by what was to happen to the Son of Man.  Although Jesus clearly spoke of a victorious resurrection, they would have been almost completely focused on His suffering and death.  The idea that the Messiah would be rejected was tantamount to thinking that the Messiah would be a failure (a blasphemous thought!).  Was He?  Did Jesus truly lack the power to fulfill the role of the Messiah?  Not by a long shot!  Jesus didn’t lack power in the slightest; His power would be voluntarily restrained during His future suffering and death.  His current power would be easily seen in the events that follow.

  • Current mercy & authority as the Son of David (35-43)

35 Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. 36 And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. 37 So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.

  • Before we get too far in this, we need to address a bit of potential controversy regarding the details of the setting.  Each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) records a version of this event. (John also recounts the healing of a blind man [Jn 9], but that’s a different healing altogether.)  Among the three Synoptics, the event is the same, but the details vary.  Mark alone provides a name: Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46-52).  Matthew alone declares that there were two blind men. (Mt 20:29-34)  Both Matthew and Mark describe Jesus coming “out of Jericho,” whereas Luke says Jesus “was coming near Jericho.”  Although many details overlap, there are obviously several that do not.  Is this evidence of error in the Bible?  Is this proof that the Bible contradicts itself?  Not in the slightest.
    • The wording of whether or not Jesus was entering Jericho or leaving Jericho may not be as big a deal as some proclaim it to be. All accounts agree that Jesus was outside the city, and en route to Jerusalem.  It could easily be different ways of saying the same thing, simply depending on one’s point of view.  Beyond that, all of the directional language might be dependent on which Jericho is referenced.  Archaeology has verified the existence of an old city, and a new city.  The old city is known today as Tell es-Sultan, and although it was a large city by the 7th century BC, it was destroyed by the Babylonians when they came through the kingdom of Judah in conquest.  Once the Jews returned to their homeland, Jericho was rebuilt, but in a slightly different location just a bit south.  That was the Jericho in existence & populated during the Hasmonean & Herodian kingdoms – i.e., when Jesus & the disciples walked.  It’s quite possible that Luke describes Jesus leaving old Jericho (which existed in ruins), and Matthew & Mark describe Jesus coming near new Jericho, with the miraculous healing taking place in-between the two locations.
    • As for the other details, it’s not at all uncommon for Mark to include details left out by the other gospel writers, including the name of Bartimaeus.  Perhaps this was man known by Peter or John Mark, which was the reason for inclusion.  Matthew’s detail of the two men is curious, but not contradictory.  Nowhere do Mark or Luke say that only one blind man was present; they just record the actions & words of one.  Perhaps Bartimaeus was the only one who was vocal, whereas his companion simply sat with him in agreement.
    • Keep in mind that the Synoptic gospels provide different perspectives of the same events.  Differences <> contradictions.  The Bible has proven true time & time again; anytime we have a question, we need to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.  Whatever the potential confusion, there is always a plausible explanation.  The Scriptures are trustworthy!
    • This all being said – be careful to read each gospel account for itself.  We don’t need to try to read Matthew into Luke, Luke into Mark, etc.  Each writer speaks for himself, and had his own reasons for including the details he did (as guided & inspired by God the Holy Spirit).  If we spend all of our attention trying to read the gospels totally parallel to each other, then we’ll miss the point that each author makes.  Be sure not to miss out!
  • So what’s the situation?  Jesus & the disciples are walking the road to Jerusalem, travelling between the Jericho’s.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry, it wasn’t just Jesus & the 12; it was a growing crowd of people – many of whom would accompany Jesus into Jerusalem during His triumphal entry.  That kind of crowd would have made quite a bit of noise – something that would have certainly attracted the attention of blind men sitting by the roadside begging.  It got the attention of this one man described by Luke, who asked the people next to him what was happening.  Whoever answered the man told him the basics, and nothing else: “Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
  • What this man had heard about Jesus of Nazareth, we don’t know.  What we do know is that what he heard was enough for him to be convinced that Jesus was none other than the Messiah!  What begins at this point is a marvelous demonstration of faith.  Vs. 38…

38 And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

  • He had faith that Jesus was the “Son of David.”  Although the term “Son of David” was a common term for the Messiah, this is the first of only two uses within the gospel of Luke (and Mark).  It refers specifically to the future rule of the Messiah with a restored kingdom and Davidic dynasty.  When God made His covenant with David, He promised David that David’s house (dynasty) would be built by God, and that the throne of a specific future son/descendant of David would be established forever. (2 Sam 7:12-13)  The prophets wrote of this future Davidic ruler: that the people of Israel would return in repentance seeking God & David their king (Hos 3:5), that God would save the glory of the house of David (Zech 12:7), that the Son to be called Wonderful God & Mighty Counselor would be upon the throne of David (Isa 9:6-7), that a Branch to the house of David would be raised for a prosperous kingdom (Jer 23:5), etc.  The Old Testament is overwhelmingly clear that  a physical descendant of David will one day sit on the throne over Israel as a literal king in a literal kingdom.
    • The point?  The blind man believed Jesus to be this king.  Keep in mind that at the time, Jesus had no political power (quite the opposite! He was hated by the Herodians and the Jewish political elite) – Jesus had no riches nor any army – Jesus never made any attempts to take the kingdom, and even when the Jewish people wanted to take Him by force and make Him their king (Jn 6:15), He refused & slipped away from them.  How was it then, that this blind man believed Jesus to be the Son of David, the rightful King over a restored kingdom of Israel?  He had faith.  He saw beyond the immediate surface-level circumstances to the person of Jesus, and knew that no one but the legitimate Son of David would be able to speak and act with the authority that Jesus did.  In other words, the blind man did not see as man sees; he did what God did, and looked at the heart.
  • He had faith that Jesus was merciful.  Though the man believed Jesus to be King, he did not believe Jesus to be uncaring.  He called out to Christ as the merciful King – as someone willing and able to demonstrate true compassion.  The man recognized his own pitiful state, and new that unless the Anointed of God extended the mercy of God to him, he’d have no hope.  And he was right!
    • The same situation exists for all of us.  We are left in helpless states because of our sin, and unless Jesus gives us the mercy of God, we are doomed forever.  But Jesus is merciful!  He is compassionate & kind – He responds to those who call out to Him in faith.
  • He had faith to cry out to Jesus, and to continue crying out despite opposition from the crowds.  The people were annoyed that the man cried out, not wanting any distraction from their own enjoyment of the spectacle.  The man’s shouts were pathetic in their ears, and they didn’t want to be bothered by it (or to be reminded of his presence).  Yet the man was persistent, and “he cried out all the more.” He wasn’t going to let anyone stop him from calling out to Jesus, as he knew that Jesus was worth all the effort and all the scorn of the world. 
  • The man is not yet done demonstrating his faith, but this is when Jesus responds…

40 So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, 41 saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”

  • Jesus did have mercy.  He had the man brought to Him, and Jesus gave the man His complete attention.  Simply to call the man was an act of mercy, in that it gave him an audience.  Ancient kings had the right to execute people who simply showed up before the throne unannounced (such as Ahasuerus with Esther).  Jesus didn’t have to give any attention to the man.  After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem – there were things to do & people to see.  Yet He stopped everything, and brought the blind man into His presence.  Even Jesus’ question to the blind man demonstrated mercy.  He made Himself available to the man, even though this man had done nothing deserving of favor.  The blind man was a sinner (like all other men & women), and neither did anything for Jesus, nor was he capable of doing anything for Jesus.  All he could do was cry out, trusting that Jesus would show him mercy, and Jesus did.
    • Do we understand the privilege we have, simply with the invitation we have to address God in prayer as our Heavenly Father? There is no reason whatsoever that Jesus should make Himself available to us, yet He does.  His mercies are incredible! 
  • Question: Why did Jesus ask what He asked?  As God, Jesus surely knew what was in the heart of the man.  Even from a human perspective, it wouldn’t have been difficult to surmise that a blind man was calling out to a prophet who was known to have power to heal, and wanting to be healed.  Answer: Jesus wanted the man to make his request.  Jesus wanted the man to ask. It’s one thing to have faith to address Jesus; it’s another to have faith to make a request.  Jesus gave the man the opportunity to express his faith, and he did.
    • This goes to the heart of the issue of salvation.  Why is it that some people are saved, and others aren’t?  How can it be that Jesus died for the entire world, yet only a percentage of the people in the world are saved?  Because only a percentage have faith enough to ask.  Jesus makes Himself available to the entire world, but few people ever ask.  Ask!  If you know you have the opportunity to believe, then believe.  Make your request known to God – ask to be forgiven of your sin – ask Jesus to be your Lord & Savior – ask to be made into the man or woman God desires you to be.  Ask!
  • And the man did ask!  Once more, he showed his faith – this time, through his request.  He had faith enough to ask for a miraculous healing. This shows his faith-filled understanding of who the Messiah actually is.  The blind man knew that Jesus as the Son of David was far more powerful than the original David.  The Messianic Son of David wasn’t just someone of the physical bloodline of David like Solomon, Hezekiah, or even Joseph; the Messiah was far greater.  Jesus was no ordinary man & no ordinary king; Jesus has the full power of Almighty God.
  • Not only did the man have faith to ask for healing; he had faith that Jesus is able to heal.  Vs. 42…

42 Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”

  • It’s one thing to ask for something in prayer; it’s another to actually believe you will receive it.  Many people might go through the motions of asking & mouth the words because it’s the religious thing to do; not everyone actually believes.  This man believed, and the result of his faith was his healing.  Without physical eyes, he had seen Jesus as the powerful authoritative Son of David; now he could look upon Jesus with his eyes as well as his heart.
    • Do you want to see Jesus?  Faith comes first.
  • Literally, Jesus told him, “your faith has saved you.”  Without question, the context is that of miraculous healing, but there can be little doubt that a double-meaning was intended by Luke.  This man had a new beginning – not only on his current life, but for eternity.  His whole world was immediately forever changed because of his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of David.  Prior to that moment, he was a blind beggar, hoping for coins from passing strangers on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Now he was a recipient of the mercies of God, seeing Jesus with his own eyes as Lord & Savior, saved from the past with a glorious eternal future ahead of him.  Truly, he was saved!
  • Question: Was there some magical quality about his faith, that it was able to save?  No.  It wasn’t unaccompanied faith that saved the blind man – it wasn’t him believing in himself, willing himself to see.  It was the object of the man’s faith that saved; it was Jesus.  The man certainly needed faith, but he needed faith in the Person of Christ; anything else would have been a waste.
    • This is what too many people get wrong.  Some believe simple sincerity is enough. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you sincerely believe it.  God will see your faith & know your heart.”  God will certainly know your heart, and He will know it to be fully sinful & without an atoning sacrifice!  Belief that sincerity is all that matters is a ridiculous argument on the face of it.  Try it with any other subject, and see how it works. “Just believe that you can fly, and you will!” “Just sincerely believe that eating rat poison will heal your sickness, and it will!”  That kind of wishful sincerity is a quick way to the grave!  “Just believe in your own spirituality!  Be sincere in whatever religion you want!”  Those aren’t statements of compassion; they are lies that doom whomever believes them. 
    • Sincere faith is indeed needed to be saved, but we must have sincere faith in the truth: in Jesus Christ as the Son of God crucified for sins, and risen from the dead.  That’s the sort of faith Paul wrote about when writing to the Romans: Romans 10:9, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  This is real faith, sincere faith – but it is faith in the truth of God.  That is the only type of faith that saves.
    • BTW – that is true regarding all aspects of the Christian life, even beyond our initial justification.  Do we need sincere faith in regards to all our prayer requests?  Yes – but our faith is in Jesus; not ourselves nor our own self-will.  Our trust has to be in Him & Him alone.  Our faith does nothing; faith in Jesus can do miracles, because Jesus does miracles.

43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

  • There’s one more demonstration of faith from the formerly-blind man: he had faith to follow Jesus as a disciple.  Granted, we don’t know what happened with the man after this point.  Scripture doesn’t tell us for how long he followed Jesus – though considering Mark mentions the man by name, it seems likely he became a life-long disciple.  At the very least, this one moment shows the follow-through to his faith.  The blind man did what the rich young ruler could not: follow Christ.  The young ruler had all kinds of things that the blind man could only dream about: power, wealth, and comfort – but those were the very things that blocked him from following Jesus in faith.  The man-once-blind had nothing but misery, and he gladly left it all behind.
    • Truth be told, the rich young ruler had just as much misery…he just couldn’t see it.  His circumstances blinded him to the spiritual things that Bartimaeus saw clearly.  The ruler was just as sinful, just as desperate for eternal salvation.  He had the same opportunity with Jesus, having been given an audience with the Lord.  Jesus’ mercy was extended to him, just as it was alongside the road to Jericho.  The rich man never saw his need.  Between the rich man & the blind man, which was more blessed?  The one who was saved!
  • What was the result of Jesus’ interaction with this faith-filled formerly blind man?  Not only did the recipient of the miracle glorify God, but so did everyone else!  His joy was contagious!

Conclusion:
Do you believe upon Jesus?  Do you hold fast to Him in faith?  The disciples were confused by what they heard, and although they spent much time with Jesus, they still lacked a full understanding.  To be sure, these things would be revealed in time, and God had His plan at work – but the disciples still needed to make the choice to walk by faith, trusting Jesus for who He is, and for what the Bible said about Him.

The blind man had known far less of Jesus…but what he knew was enough!  He had faith that Jesus is the rightful King of Israel – he had faith not to be hushed by the crowds – he had faith that Jesus is compassionate & merciful, who not only gave him the opportunity to ask, but had the ability to act – he had faith that Jesus could save…and that is exactly what Jesus did!

Do you have this kind of faith?  It’s not faith for faith’s sake; it’s faith in Jesus – that He is who the Bible says that He is, and does what the Bible says He does.  This is the faith that God desires for us, and this is the faith that saves.

Perhaps you find yourself somewhat in the shoes of the apostles.  You already believe upon Jesus for eternal life, but you’re a bit confused about other things.  You’re unsure about what is going on in the present – about God’s will for you right now.  Trust Christ!  You trusted Jesus for your salvation, so now trust Him for the present day.  Trust that He knows what He’s doing, because He does!

Perhaps you’re more like blind Bartimaeus.  You’ve known a bit about Jesus in the past, but you’ve never had a true encounter with Him.  You’ve got the opportunity today…don’t let it pass you by!

Humility and the Kingdom

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:9–17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Example of the Children (15-17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying Persistently

Posted: September 10, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:1-8, “Praying Persistently”

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:1–8

The Parable (1-5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesson (6-8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invisible Kingdom; Visible King

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 17:20–37

  • The Invisible Kingdom (20-21)

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Visible King (22-37)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful for Grace

Posted: August 27, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 17:11-19, “Grateful for Grace”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 17:11–19

  • Ten lepers healed (11-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith to Forgive

Posted: August 20, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 17:1-10, “Faith to Forgive”

Parents of small children know well the song from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other… Which one could it be?”  Sometimes we run across things that simply look like they don’t belong.

We can run into a similar sort of situation with the Bible.  We can be reading along in our text, following along quite nicely, and all of a sudden come to a sharp change of subject, as if it was a total wipe-style scene change from the movies.  We’re left reeling a bit, wondering how it fits together.

For some, Luke 17:1-10 might fit that description.  It seems to be such a drastic change of subject & direction, and not only are we wondering how these statements all fit together, but how it fits in with Luke’s gospel narrative as a whole.  Not even the editorial headings in our Bibles help.  The NKJV isn’t too bad, but the NASB typically says “Instructions,” the ESV titles it “Temptations to Sin, Increase our Faith, Unworthy Servants,” and the Greek USB is probably least descriptive of all: “Some sayings of Jesus.”  Is this all random?  Did Luke simply gather a few pithy sayings of Jesus, and lump them all together?  No.  Granted, Luke did not necessarily write his book with a massive outline already in his head, following the plot up & down throughout the earthly ministry of Christ.  In all likelihood, he simply started writing.  After having done his historical research (which is quite extensive), he sat down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and put ink & quill to paper (papyrus).  That said, Luke still has a point to everything he wrote, and nothing is in the book that is there by accident, or simply because Luke had nowhere else to put it.  It may seem random, but it’s not.

So what ties all of this together?  Faith.  These are not random instructions given to the disciples; these are specific instructions as to what it looks for Christian believers to walk in faith.  Born-again Christians strive not only to refrain from sin, but to not cause anyone else to stumble into sin.  When sinned against, born-again Christians forgive.  And as difficult as these things might seem to be, obedience in them is nothing special – it’s simply what we do as Christians through the power of God.

To get the full idea, look at the context.  Jesus hadn’t been (primarily) talking to His disciples, but to the Pharisees. Even when Jesus did briefly address His disciples about preparing for eternity, the Pharisees were listening the whole time, scoffing.  They were self-righteous, having deluded themselves about their relationship with God.  In their own eyes, they were just; in the eyes of God, they were just as lost as anyone else.  They believed themselves to be the only ones truly assured of salvation, when the reality was drastically different.  They loved themselves and their money, and as a result, Jesus told them the story of another self-righteous man in love with himself & his wealth.  This rich man suffered his afterlife in torment, while the formerly homeless man Lazarus was comforted in Paradise.  This didn’t have to be the fate of the Pharisees – they could still turn in repentance, if they but heeded the warning.  Sadly, most of them would not.

So now what?  Jesus turns His full attention to His own disciples.  If the Pharisees demonstrated what it looked like for religious people having no true faith, what does it look like for people who actually do have faith?  What does the Christian life look like for true Christians?  It looks like one of forgiveness.  We have been forgiven, so we forgive.  It may seem impossible, but we have the power to do so through faith.

Luke 17:1–10

  • Scandal and Forgiveness (1-4)

1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

  • Before we get too far, note that Luke specifically states that Jesus spoke to “the disciples.”  Again, this is an intentional turn from His previous audience of the Pharisees.  Regarding those who justified themselves, loved their money, and the story of the rich man in Hades, those things were all spoken to people who did not believe in Jesus, nor followed Him.  Now He speaks to people who do believe.  This isn’t necessarily limited to only the 12 (as we’ll see in vs. 5); it includes all who followed Jesus at the time.  Again, Jesus is speaking to those who have faith – He teaches the Christian life to Christians.
  • What did Jesus say to these believers?  Expect “offenses.”  It is “impossible” to avoid them.  Some translations say that they are “inevitable,” (NASB) and that’s basically the idea.  The idea that a person becomes a born-again believer, and never experiences heartache on the account of others is a pipe-dream.  Yes, we get offended – we will be sinned against.  That’s life.  The only place free from sin is heaven, and we’re not there yet.  Interestingly, the word for “offenses” is the same term from which we derive the English word “scandal.” (σκάνδαλον)  Originally, the word referred to snares & traps, and it became known as something that would ensnare someone else.  Potentially, this could be either good or bad.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is a stumbling stone to those who don’t believe, hopefully tripping them to the point that they understand the reality of their sin & finally surrender themselves in faith.  Otherwise, it is a snare in a wrong direction.  It’s an enticement for people to fall into sin, to trip people away from Jesus. 
  • Offenses are bound to come, but that doesn’t make it a good thing.  Those who trap & trip up others into scandalizing sin are to be pitied.  Jesus declares “woe to him” who does this.  The same interjection of horror and dismay that the prophets declared over those suffering the wrath of God is used by Jesus for those who stumble others through scandals and offenses.  How bad is it?  Death is preferable…and not just any death, but terrible death of drowning, assured by being weighed down with a stone used for grinding wheat into flour.  Having that sort of stone tied around your neck is the ancient equivalent to being tossed into a river with “concrete boots.”  There’s no coming up again!  Yet as terrible as that is, it’s better than facing the wrath of God for stumbling one of His people into sin.
  • Question: Why?  What makes this so awful?  All of us have been sinned against at one point or another.  Why should any of those sins/offenses be thought of as damning offenses?  Answer: that’s not really the point.  Yes, all sin is damnable.  Any sin is ultimately sin against Almighty God, and is punishable by death. (Which is exactly why Jesus came to die on the cross!)  But these particular sins/offenses seem to speak to something beyond the norm.  These aren’t just regular “sins” – these are scandals & stumbling blocks.  These are sins that stumble “little ones” – the children of faith.  IOW, these are offenses that stumble people away from Jesus.  One Greek dictionary notes that the word used for “offend” can also mean “cause of ruin,” (Kittel) – thus, speaking of apostasy away from the faith.  All of a sudden, Jesus’ declaration of “woe” makes sense.  In Luke 16, Jesus just got done describing what torment in the afterlife looks like.  With that in mind, the very last thing a Christian would what to do is offend someone away from Jesus!  Far better to die an early death than to cause someone else to miss out on eternal life!
    • Would a Christian do this?  Potentially, yes.  Remember that Jesus is speaking to “the disciples.”  Why would He warn them of a woe impossible for them to experience? That’s precisely the point Jesus goes on to make in vs. 3…

3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

  • This is a specific warning to the disciples.  They were to guard themselves.  Not only would they be tempted by others to stumble, but they themselves could tempt.  They could act in such a way that someone else would be stumbled away from the gospel, wanting nothing to do with Jesus.  They could even set a stumbling block in front of weaker Christians, causing their own faith to be disrupted and derailed for a time – potentially causing them to follow false doctrine.  How many false teachers have stumbled Christians away from the gospel?  Instead of pointing people to simple faith in Jesus, they’ve given false promises of health & wealth.  Unsuspecting Christians who truly wanted to be healed were told that they didn’t have enough “faith,” and thus missed out on their miracle.  Other people might be stumbled because they encountered a so-called Christian who was hyper-legalisitic, and hypocritical to the core.  Based on the way some supposed-Christians act, it’s no wonder that some people want nothing to do with the gospel!
    • Take heed!  Be mindful!  Think through your actions and words.  Do you point people to Jesus, or away from Him?  This isn’t only a danger for the heretics & false converts among greater Christendom; this is a danger for any born-again believer in Christ.  Jesus told His disciples (thus He tells us) to “take heed to yourselves.”  Be mindful.  When we take the name of Jesus to ourselves (as Christians), we are naturally going to be witnesses of Christ.  Whether or not we’re good witnesses is another story altogether.  Take heed that you represent your Lord rightly.
    • BTW – what happens if you’ve messed up in this area?  Maybe you’ve been a poor witness in the past – maybe you can think of a specific person that you’ve stumbled in the faith.  Are you under the “woe” of God – have you lost your salvation?  No.  To be sure, it is sin & it needs to be confessed & dealt with as such – but it is not the unforgiveable sin.  Jesus died for that sin, just as much as He died for all of your other sins.  Confess it to Him, repenting from it, and receive the forgiveness & cleansing He offers. (1 Jn 1:9)
  • How does this tie together with forgiveness?  Our unwillingness to forgive might be a stumbling block to the gospel.  Think about it: what does it say about our own faith in Christ when we claim that He forgives us, if we refuse to extend forgiveness to other people?  At best, it makes us hypocrites – at worst, it makes us liars.  We’re either lying about what we received from Christ, or we’re lying about what is able to be received from Christ.  Scandal, indeed!
    • It’s no wonder that Jesus tied our willingness to forgive with our own reception of forgiveness!  Matthew 6:14–15, "(14) “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."  Serious warning!  Of course, we do not lose our ultimate forgiveness & eternal salvation every time we’re guilty of holding a grudge – the saving work of Christ is not so easily invalidated.  But (1) those who falsely claim to be saved demonstrate they are not saved through their persistent unwillingness to forgive, and (2) born-again believers do have broken fellowship with our Father when we withhold forgiveness.  So yes, Jesus gives a serious warning because it deals with serious issues.
  • So how does a Christian deal with sin?  Not only is there the enticement to cause someone else to sin, but there is also the sin that takes place against us.  How do we deal with sin, when we are the ones offended?  Jesus tells us in two basic steps: (1) rebuke, (2) forgive.
    • Before we get there, you need to know that there is a textual variant among the many NT manuscripts regarding the words “against you,” which is why your Bible translations might vary here.  Is Jesus talking about when another Christian sins in general, or just when another Christian sins against us personally?  Although the words are questionable in vs. 3, they are undisputed in vs. 4.  Even the immediate context of vs. 3 implies it, considering Jesus was warning them to guard themselves from scandalizing sin.  Jesus is not commissioning the disciples as sin-deputies or “fruit inspectors” to go and spy on everyone else’s sin.  This is how we are to deal with personal offense.
  • Step #1: handle it yourself.  It’s interesting that even though Jesus is speaking to a group of His disciples, the grammar is singular (not plural).  The group is not to go rebuke the brother; the individual is.  When someone sins against us, the first step does not belong to the church congregation, not to a group of like-minded friends, not even to you & the pastor.  You go, and you rebuke.  If the issue is important enough to address, then it is important that you address it.  If we expect others to take responsibility for their actions, then we have to be willing to take responsibility for our own.
    • Question: how are we to do it?  With truth, love, and humility.  To rebuke someone is not to throw a temper tantrum or rain insults down upon our brother/sister.  Just because we have been sinned against does not give us free reign to say whatever we want to the person who sinned against us.  Part of the function of the Scripture in our lives is to rebuke us (it’s profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness – 2 Tim 3:16).  The Bible doesn’t rant & rave against us; it gives us the clear truth of God in a way that speaks to us through the loving voice of the Holy Spirit.  That’s our model on how to rebuke others.  Go in love – go with Scriptural truth – and go with humility, for the One whom we all serve is the Lord.
  • Step #2: “forgive.”  If the offending brother should receive your rebuke & repent (i.e. turn away from that sin, seeking to be reconciled with you), then “forgive him.”  Upon the authority of Christ Jesus, we are commanded as individual Christians to forgive our repentant brothers & sisters.  Grammatically, this is an active voice imperative mood verb, meaning that it is a command we are to do as the opportunity arises.  Forgiveness is not optional for the born-again believer; this is a directive from our Lord Jesus.
    • What is forgiveness?  Simply put: release.  If you owed debt to a hospital, and they forgave your debt, then they released you from any financial obligation towards them.  That is the essence of forgiveness.  We release people from anything we might otherwise hold against them.  The same word could be used in other contexts in reference to leaving or abandoning something.  Think of that in terms of sins committed against you.  When you forgive someone their sin, you are abandoning that sin, leaving it in the past.
    • Sounds nice enough, but how exactly are we supposed to do it?  How do we forgive others?  Especially when it comes to heinous, hurtful sin – how are we supposed to leave it behind?  (1) By the grace and power of God – something that will be addressed in verse 5 & following, and (2) by following the old Nike slogan: just doing it.  Forgiveness takes an act of the will.  If you’re waiting until you feel like forgiving someone, that feeling might never come.  There’s really only one way to forgive, and that’s simply to forgive.  You have to take the active role, and purpose in your heart & mind to release that person from his/her debt.  That’s what Jesus did for us; that’s what we’re to do for others.  How long did Jesus make you wait for forgiveness when you asked Him for it?  No time at all.  Jesus purposed to personally pay the entirety of your debt against God, and He did it through the cross.  And once you asked Him for forgiveness & new life, He immediately granted it.
      • Objection: But He’s God!  Sure…and as a born-again believer, you have God the Holy Spirit indwelling you.  You follow Christ Jesus as one of His disciples, doing the things He does, obeying the commands He has given.  Thus, we forgive like He forgives: actively, and fully.
  • Notice what Jesus does not command.  Jesus does not call us to seek out punishment against our neighbors for personal sins against us, taking our “pound of flesh” first before we extend forgiveness.  Granted, if a law has been broken, certainly the authorities should be contacted.  That is why God gave them to us. (Rom 13:4)  As long as the issue is personal offense, hurt feelings, wrongs done to you – anything perhaps immoral but yet still legal – then we are to (1) rebuke, and (2) forgive upon repentance.  If you are not willing to confront, then you have no sin to blame upon them.  If they apologize & repent, then you are obligated by your Lord Jesus to forgive them.  There is no middle ground.
    • Is it that cut & dry?  Yes.  Again, this is an imperative command from our Lord & Savior.  Christians who hold grudges (especially against repentant people) are themselves in sin.
    • Keep in mind that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness or ignorance; it means release.  It means that you choose not to hold that person’s debt against them.  It doesn’t mean you let them have access to your bank account, that you give them free reign with your family, etc.  You can set boundaries and still freely forgive someone. We just have to be willing to do it.
  • How often do we have to forgive?  As often as it takes.  Vs. 4…

4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

  • If there was any doubt about what Jesus meant regarding forgiveness, He just underscored it all through repetition & increase.  To forgive someone once is difficult enough – multiple times is something else altogether.  According to Jewish law, a person seeking forgiveness had the responsibility to ask for it three times, before it was no longer their responsibility.  Here, Jesus gives the example of someone seeking forgiveness seven times for seven sins in one day.  And still, forgiveness is expected.
  • Interestingly, the grammatical construction of the verb changes.  No longer is “forgive” a command (imperative), as in vs. 3; now it is a future tense personal action (indicative).  It’s the difference between a command and an assumption.  In vs. 3, Jesus tells the disciples to forgive the repentant.  In vs. 4, Jesus says that as Christians, they will forgive the repentant.  This is what born-again believers do: we forgive.
    • Parable of unforgiving servant… Matthew 18:32–35, "(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ (34) And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (35) “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”"  Jesus makes it perfectly clear: an unforgiving Christian is a walking contradiction.  We have been forgiven, thus we extend forgiveness.
  • Just because forgiveness is commanded does not make it easy.  What do we need in order to forgive others in this fashion?  Faith.  Vs. 5…
  • Faith and Service (5-10)

5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

  • Question: Do we know for certain that this question came immediately in the moments following the conversation in vss. 1-4?  No.  But this is where Luke chose to put it, by the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Luke obviously saw a connection between faith & forgiveness, and that’s the point he’s making.
  • Please note the change in audience from “disciples” to “apostles.”  Potentially, this could be the same group of people.  From a technical standpoint, the apostles are limited to the 12, whereas anyone following Jesus at the time could be a disciple.  It’s possible that Jesus spoke about forgiveness to the general group, with the 12 asking their follow-up request later.
  • In any case, the 12 apostles understood they needed help to forgive.  What they needed was “faith.”  Thus they asked Jesus, their Lord, to add to their faith – to give them what they needed to walk in obedience to His command to forgive.
  • What they didn’t understand was that He already had.  Vs. 6…

6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

  • How much faith is needed in order to do the impossible?  Just a smidge.  It doesn’t take much faith to do monumental things.  The apostles thought they might lack the “extra” faith do walk as steadfast obedient disciples; Jesus tells them they already had all that was required.  To be sure, they didn’t have much faith – Jesus pointed this out on several occasions. (On the stormy sea, Mt 8:26; Peter walking on water, Mt 14:31; the disciples’ lack of bread, Mt 16:8)  Faith was a struggle for the 12, just like it can be a struggle for us.  But for as little as they had, they had at least this much.  What they lacked was the confidence (perhaps even the will) to walk in it.
    • What was a struggle for the disciples is still a struggle for us as modern-day believers.  We know what the Word of God tells us, but we have difficulty walking in it.  We pray, “Lord, grant me the faith,” when perhaps that isn’t so much the issue.  If we have faith enough to trust Jesus alone for our salvation, then we at least have faith as small as a proverbial mustard seed.  What we need is the confidence (or the willingness!) to walk in the faith that we have.
  • Again, a little faith can do big things.  To throw a “mulberry tree” into the “sea” was no small task!  The tree is common in the Middle East, grows between 20-30 feet tall, and has an extensive root system.  Just uprooting the tree was itself a laborious thought – to replant it in the Mediterranean Sea was something else altogether.  What Jesus described was nothing less than a supernatural act – and that was His point.  Faith is needed to do the impossible, but even the smallest amount of faith is all that is necessary.  As others have pointed out, when it comes to faith, it’s not quantity; it’s quality.  Is faith present at all?  Good!  That’s what you need.
  • Be careful here.  Throwing a tree into the sea has everything to do with faith, but nothing to do with the power of the individual.  Faith is required, but not faith in faith.  It’s not faith in ourselves, our will, our hard-pressed desires, etc. – we need to have faith in God.  It’s not about believing you can do it; it’s believing God can.  If God wants it done, it will be done.  Faith is never self-existent or self-sufficient.  Faith always has an object. When we fly in a plane, we have faith that the engineers at Boeing designed the aircraft correctly, that the construction team did their jobs, that the pilot is well-trained & rested, etc.  We have all kinds of faith/trust extended before we sit down on the plane and launch down the runway.  We don’t get up in the air by the power of our faith alone; we have faith in many components.  When it comes to eternal life & other spiritual issues, God is the object of our faith.  We aren’t granted forgiveness & eternal life simply because we believe the best about ourselves; it is only because we have faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  Miracles do not occur because some guy on a stage waves his handkerchief around – if miracles take place, they do so because of the power & will of God. (And they hardly ever take place in those arenas with the false teachers, simply because God is not the focus!)  Contextually, Jesus described a supernatural act, and what is needed is the smallest faith in the biggest God.  It’s not our faith that does it; it’s the Lord, the object of our faith.
  • So what does any of this have to do with the previous teaching?  In regards to some sins, forgiveness seems impossible.  How do you forgive a rapist or murderer?  How do you forgive acts of hatred or racism?  Humanly speaking, this sort of forgiveness is impossible.  Our gut reaction with these things is to seek justice & retribution; not repentance & forgiveness.  And justice is important – it is so important to God that He demonstrates it through the cross. (That’s the essence of what the Bible talks about when it describes Jesus as the propitiation for our sins.  His sacrifice perfectly satisfies the righteous wrath of God.  God’s justice towards our sin is accomplished because our debt has been paid – by Jesus.)  But true justice is something that only be exacted by God; not man.  Everything we do is imperfect, including our justice system (even though it is the best in the world).  Not every criminal is caught, not all crime is reported, and even some reported crimes go unpunished.  And remember that not all sins are even labeled as criminal, even though they might be incredibly unjust and hurtful.  That’s why we need to understand that these things are left to God.  “Vengeance is mine, declares the Lord.” (Rom 12:19)  He sees what the courts do not – He avenges what corrupt governments hide.  There is no sin that will not be addressed at the final judgment.  So if vengeance, retribution, and justice are left to God, what is left to the individual born-again Christian?  Forgiveness.  We have no control over the actions of others, but we can control our own hearts and minds.  We can release others (especially repentant people) of their sins against us, just as we are commanded to do.  And when we do, we find freedom!  We’re no longer weighed down with anger & hurt feelings.  We’re no longer bearing burdens that Jesus does not intend for us as His followers.  Forgiveness is freeing, but it can still be extraordinarily difficult.  That’s why we need faith.  The only way to truly forgive is through the power of God.
    • When our faith is in Christ, forgiveness becomes feasible.  How so?  All we need do is consider what He did for us.  Again, think of the parable of the unforgiving servant.  The reason he was condemned by his king was because he had already been forgiven an unimaginable debt, yet this servant wasn’t willing to extend even 1% (or far less) of that same forgiveness to someone else.  So heed the lesson.  Think of your own sins against God – consider how many ways you rebelled against Him…and then think of your forgiveness.  You’ve been released from your debt, been made into a child of God, indwelled by the very person of God.  God did all of that for you, making it available to you for the asking.  That is our model & our motivation for forgiving others.  By faith, we forgive when we understand how much we have been forgiven.
  • Question: If we forgive others as Jesus forgives us, does this make us super-Christians?  No – it just makes us normal.  We’ve got to keep things in the right perspective.  Vs. 7…

7 And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.

  • In this mini-parable, Jesus gives an example easily understood by the culture at the time.  Between slaves & masters, who served who?  Easy – servants (slaves) served their masters.  The masters weren’t the ones to sit their slaves down to the dinner table and bring them something to eat – it was always the reverse.  The master gave the command & instruction, and it was they who were served by their obedient servants.
    • FYI – this isn’t an endorsement of slavery; it’s simply a description of the time.  Slaves served their masters, plain & simple.
  • Not only did the slaves serve – they did so without any expectation of thanks or gratitude.  They did simply what was expected of them.  Think of it in modern terms: what solider expects compliments from his/her drill sergeant?  What employee expects gushings of thanks from his/her boss?  The boss might be nice, but a paycheck is all the “thanks” required.
  • The bottom line?  Slaves serve without expectation of thanks or favors.  That was just what they did.  Likewise with us.  Vs. 10…

10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”

  • Christians who forgive & walk in faith are simply being obedient.  This is what is expected of us.  This is our obligation (duty) – it’s the bare minimum.  Doing the impossible through faith (like forgiving offenders) doesn’t make us super-Christians – it just makes us Christians.  It’s the least we can do.  Again, this is what Jesus did for us, so it’s only natural we do it for others.
  • Why?  Because of who we are in relation to God.  “We are unprofitable servants.”  We are slaves unworthy of praise.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  It’s not that we are worthless or trash in the sight of the Lord.  After all, we were so valuable to God that He sent Jesus to be our redemption.  We are more valuable than gold or silver to Him – we are so precious to Him that the blood of Jesus was shed for us.
    • That’s not all that we are.  We are slaves, but we are children of God. (Jn 1:12)  We are friends of Christ. (Jn 15:15)  We are joint-heirs with Jesus. (Rom 8:17) We are a royal priesthood. (1 Pet 2:9) Our roles in Christ are amazing!
    • Just keep it in perspective.  At the end of the day, God is God & we’re not.  He is the Lord, and we are His servants.  When He tells us to do something, we do it without expectations of thanks or special favors. 

Conclusion:
Our Lord & Master has commanded us to do something: forgive.  He’s also equipped us with the power to do so: by faith.  Forgiveness may seem impossible at times, and from a human standpoint it may certainly be.  Some sins seem unforgiveable.  We’ve told the story before of Corrie Ten Boom, a survivor of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.  After the war ended & she gained her freedom, she met a guard who had worked at her camp.  This guard had repented of his sins, come to faith in Christ, and sincerely asked Ms. Ten Boom for her forgiveness.  Though she initially reeled, she prayed for help.  In her words:
———
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
(“I’m Still Learning to Forgive,” reprinted in Guideposts Magazine)
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If it seems like it was a supernatural act, that’s because it was.  But miracles are possible through mustard-seed faith.  Ms. Ten Boom had faith in the Christ who had forgiven her, and Christ made it possible for her to forgive her tormentor.

If she can do it, so can you.  So can I.

Beloved, keep in mind this is a command from our Lord & Savior.  King Jesus has explicitly told us to forgive, so we are to forgive.  So do it.  Pray for help – pray for courage – but don’t use prayer as an excuse for your lack of obedience.  At the end of it all, it comes down to a choice.  Will you, or won’t you obey the Son of God?  Walk in obedience; walk in faith.

For some of you today, you’ve been hanging on to grudges and unforgiveness.  Someone scandalized you in the past through horrendous sin, and the scars of that act affect you to this day.  You have had every right to be hurt, but as a born-again Christian, you have every obligation to forgive.  Especially (and contextually) when the other person is repentant.  If they seek forgiveness, showing fruits of repentance, then you need to make the choice to forgive.  Today, make that choice.  Commit to the Lord today that you forgive that person.  Tell Jesus how you release that person from that sin – all the while asking Him for the help to do so.  And then at your first opportunity, tell the other person.  Make it real. 

When you do, you will find freedom! For most people, the reason why they still hurt even after carrying grudges for years is because they’ve been hurting themselves.  It’s not the former sin that still hurts; it’s the grudge.  It is when we forgive as Christ has forgiven us that we finally find healing.  That’s when we’re walking as His disciples, and that’s when we most experience His grace and power.