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A Story from Beyond the Grave

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:19-31, “A Story from Beyond the Grave”

Funerals are almost always somber affairs.  Out of all the many traditional things that are said & done at funerals, one of the most common is this: “If so & so were here, they’d love this…  They’d say this…”  Whether or not it’s true is beside the point.  We imagine it on their behalf, and we’re comforted by the thought.

Out of everything the Bible has to say about life beyond the grave, it gives us just a single example of what a person would say to his loved ones, if given one more chance: the story of the rich man & Lazarus.  Here, we do not have to guess what the rich man would or would not like, or would or would not say – Jesus tells us exactly.  And what He tells us might not be what we would expect.  The most pressing message from our departed loved ones to us has nothing to do with funeral arrangements or clothing, the food, etc.  All they want is one thing: for us to believe the testimony of the gospel!  All of the other stuff (with all due respect) is fluff.  The one thing we can know with absolute certainty that each one of our loved ones would tell us is that 100% of what the Bible says is true…so believe it!

That is the basic message of the story of the rich man & Lazarus.  You’ll notice I said “story” and not “parable,” because (although there is disagreement on this), it does not appear that Jesus told this as a parable.  Many of the normal indicators of a parable (apart from the very basic fact that Jesus tells the story) are simply not here.  (1) The story has no introduction identifying it as a parable.  By itself, this isn’t all that unusual, especially in Luke’s gospel – Luke 15 & 16 contain true parables that begin much the same way as this particular story.  Even so, an introduction would solidify the argument either way, but in this case there’s none.  (2) Parables typically put spiritual lessons into commonplace events.  A sower sows his seed…  A vineyard owner inspects his land…  A farmer hires workers throughout the day…  And so forth.  Again, Luke 15-16 show a similar pattern.  A shepherd seeks a lost sheep – a woman seeks a lost coin – a father waits for his lost sons.  A steward tries to get himself out of trouble, etc.  These are all very relatable events for the common person of 1st century Judea.  Yet in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, there is little “common” about it!  Aside from a contrast between a rich & poor man, the bulk of the story takes place in the afterlife, featuring things that 1st century Jews would have had very little knowledge of.  (3) Parables typically deal not only with generic situations, but generic people.  In this story, two characters are actually named: Lazarus & Abraham.  This alone sets it apart from any parable contained in the gospels, and is not a fact to take lightly.

By themselves, each one of these things might be a bit weak, but put these factors together & things tend to add up.  Thus, it seems better to think of this as an actual historical account, rather than a parable.  This is something that only the Son of God would know, and He encountered a situation with the Pharisees when it became necessary to share it.

This being said, many scholars assume this to be a parable, and it certainly is not a major area of doctrine where there needs to be division.  There is room for disagreement here.  No matter what one’s stance on the matter, it does not affect the main point/moral of the story – virtually the same application is going to be reached, either way you interpret Jesus’ words.  However, if we see this as a historical account, it does mean that we’re not looking for symbolism, or attribute some of the details regarding Hades or Paradise as simply background.  If this is a historical (though supernatural) account, then all aspects of the story are to be received literally.  That’s the difference the recognition of genre makes.  It doesn’t change the main idea, but it certainly affects the details we know of the afterlife.

Of course, none of that makes much of a difference if we don’t see the main point – and the main point of this story is completely wrapped up in its context.  Remember that tensions had been rising between Jesus and the Pharisees.  It wasn’t the first time it had happened, nor would it be the last.  These Pharisees were completely lost, alienated from God, and they were too blind to realize it.  What they did see was a bunch of sinners being received by Jesus (not recognizing themselves as just as sinful), and it caused them to grumble and complain.  Of course, the Pharisees had exactly the same opportunity as everyone else to be received by Jesus and to receive the word of God through Him, but they were unwilling to do so.  Thus, they were missing out on the opportunity to prepare for eternity.  They were too focused upon earthly things, like mammon & wealth, and believed themselves to be self-righteous already, never needing the work of a Savior.  (And they were wrong!)  Thus they ignored the witness of the Law of God regarding sin.  They used the Bible to justify themselves, rather than letting it lead them to Christ.  Even while they taught the Scriptures to others, they ignored the warning against themselves.

Jesus’ response?  He tells the tale of another self-righteous wealthy man who ignored the warnings of the Scriptures.  Like in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebenezer Scrooge receives a warning from the grave, Jesus gives the account of a different man who wanted to send a warning to his loved ones.  Only the difference is this: (1) the tale Jesus tells is real, and (2) no such warning was given.  Once the man was in the grave, his warning stayed with him.  He, like his family, had all the warning that was needed: in the pages of the Bible.  We have but one opportunity to believe the testimony of the gospel, and it is while we draw breath in this life.  Don’t waste your opportunity!  Believe, while you have the chance!

Luke 16:19–31

  • Living and Dying (19-23)

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

  • Although it begins like several of the other parables in Luke, it soon becomes clear this is not a parable.  At the very least, it is very different from any other parable ever spoken by Jesus.  But the beginning is fairly normal.  There is a generic “rich man,” who is incredibly wealthy even by the standards of his day.  To be “clothed in purple” is to say that he was clothed in purple garments.  Purple dye was extraordinarily expensive, made from certain fish & mollusks in the region.  It was so expensive that it became associated with royalty.  For a man to be “clothed in purple” was for him to be dressed as a king.  Not that purple cloth was his only fabric – he was also clothed in “fine linen.”  According to Vincent: “Some of the Egyptian linen was so fine that it was called woven air.”  Thus, it was as fine as silk – if not even more luxurious.  This was a man dressed to the nines – and this was how he lived every day.
  • Beyond what he wore was what he ate.  When Jesus said that he “fared sumptuously every day,” the description is basically that of a holiday feast on a daily basis.  Every dinner was a glorious, splendid meal, and those who ate were merry & glad every time they sat down.  Again, this was royal living – the rich man lived every day as a king in his hometown.
  • BTW – Is Jesus condemning wealth?  Not at all.  Certainly this particular man let his wealth blind his eyes to the needs all around him, as he selfishly lived for himself & his own glory.  But overall, Jesus doesn’t say anything critical about money in & of itself.  Throughout the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament), wealthy people were used by God for His glory.  All the patriarchs were rich men, as were Kings David & Solomon, and if it hadn’t been for a rich man donating his own personal tomb, Jesus’ body would have had anywhere to be buried.  Money is not the problem; the love of money is. (1 Tim 6:10)  Problems arise when we mis-prioritize money, and serve it, rather than God. (Lk 16:13)  Of course, this is what the Pharisees had done (16:14), and this was the primary reason Jesus told them this story.
    • How can we tell if we’ve come to a place where we’re serving money instead of God? (1) When money & the things we can buy are the first things we desire, and (2) when our spending is totally selfish.  If there’s one thing the rich man in the story demonstrates, it’s that he spent his great riches on himself, rather than having an open hand to God, allowing God to direct him on how to spend his money.  Anytime it’s “all about me,” we’ve got a problem.
  • This rich man is contrasted with someone else: Lazarus, vs. 20…

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

  • First things first – we have a name: “Lazarus.”  The name is not likely to be symbolic, as it was fairly common in the day, being the Latinized version of the Hebrew “Eleazar.”  It is almost certainly not a reference to Jesus’ friend named Lazarus, whom He did actually raise from the dead.  First of all, that particular Lazarus did not seem to be overly poor, as he had a house & a tomb in which he was buried.  Secondly, that Lazarus did come back from the dead – the very thing the Lazarus in this story was not permitted to do.  That being said, it may not be totally unintentional that both men have the same name.  The Pharisees are first warned of their future through the account of this Lazarus, yet it obviously has little effect on them.  How so?  Because later when they actually do see a Lazarus risen from the dead, they don’t believe his testimony, and the priests conspire against him to kill him. (Jn 12:10)
    • That being said, we don’t need to read too much into the name – but we do need to recognize that an actual name is given.  This is in clear contrast to the rich man, although over time, tradition did give him a variety of names. (Dives, “rich” in Latin; Nineveh, via Sahidic mss; Phinehas, in the 4th century.)  Yet the original text is clear: the only name known was that of the poor man, Lazarus.  Whether or not the Pharisees knew of a poor man named Lazarus is irrelevant.  Jesus knew him, and named him specifically.  (Jesus knows your name!)
    • Simply the name itself provides a contrast between the two men.  The rich man who lived as a king among his neighbors is unidentified & anonymous; the impoverished man who had nothing was named by the Lord Jesus.  Which was more exalted in the eyes of the Lord God?  The community may have exalted the rich man, but God Himself is the One who lifted up Lazarus.
      • The most important thing in life is not how many friends you have, or how many people know your name; it’s whether or not your name is written in the Book of Life.  It’s whether or not Jesus knows you as His own.  There are many well-known people (even pastors!) who will one day stand before the Lord Jesus calling to Him for mercy, and He will reply, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”  Jesus knew Lazarus; does He know you? 
  • Not only is there a contrast in the name, but there is a massive contrast in the way the two men lived their lives.  One lived as a king; the other in abject poverty.  Whereas the rich man was dressed in purple & fine linen, Lazarus was dressed in “sores,” so to speak.  Like ancient Job, his body was covered in open wounds, causing him misery day-after-day.  And like Job, Lazarus was also seen by God as righteous, proven by his reception into Paradise.  Suffering in this life is not necessarily tied to our personal sin.  Disease is not indicative of divine punishment; it is simply one more reason to cling to Jesus.
  • Beyond the sores was Lazarus’ treatment by society.  To say that he “was laid at the gate,” is to say that he was thrown to the gate.  He was driven there, or otherwise placed there.  This was not a place Lazarus chose to be; it was the place he was forced to be.  As to why, we aren’t told.  Although our English translations typically label Lazarus as a “beggar,” (which is obvious from the context), technically the word used only refers to his poverty.  The contrast is between the unnamed rich man, and the named poor man.  But again, as to why he was poor, we don’t know.  Perhaps his disease was the reason people cast him away, but he could have developed the sores simply from years of living on the streets in the dust.  It is virtually certain he was not lazy, not wanting to work – that would have been seen as sin, considering God created us to work, and to take basic responsibility for ourselves. 
  • Finally, Lazarus barely lived as a human among men.  Unlike the rich man who feasted every single night, Lazarus was so hungry that all he wanted were the crumbs that fell from the table mere feet away from him.  He scrounged like a dog, with only dogs to keep him company.  In fact, the dogs were his only friends & medicine, as they licked his wounds, keeping out infection.
  • From the perspective of the Pharisees (and most of the people in that culture at the time), it would have been obvious who the hero was…and it wasn’t Lazarus.  To them, those who were rich were supremely blessed by God, having their righteousness affirmed, while those who were poor were being punished by God, receiving their just desserts.
    • This may have been the common thought, but it certainly is not what the Bible teaches.  Yes, sometimes God does bless people with wealth, but God’s blessing is not tied to wealth.  Again, the book of Job demonstrates this – that is actually one of the primary themes!  Sometimes, people just suffer.  Why?  Because we live in a fallen world.  This life is not what it should be – this world is not what God originally created it to be.  Once sin entered the picture, everything changed.  Work became hard, childbirth became painful, and mankind was sentenced to death.  But this is where the beauty of the gospel comes in.  Because of Jesus, everything changes again!  Although we still suffer in this world, all our suffering is limited to this world.  Those who believe in Christ do not have to expect pain & suffering in the future – that is completely removed for us because of the cross and resurrection.  Does God sometimes physically bless us in this life?  Yes.  But in eternity, we have a guarantee of God’s blessing.  The ultimate blessing is being in Christ Jesus!

22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

  • Both men died, like all men do.  It might seem obvious to us, just as it surely did to the Pharisees, but it’s a fact worth pointing out.  After all, the lives of these men were vastly different, but there is a great leveler in the grave.  All people die.  Riches might delay death, due to surgeries & the best medical care, but riches cannot prevent death.  Apart from those who live to hear the trumpet of Christ & experience the rapture, all people will die.  It is inevitable. 
  • In their death, there is a third contrast: one was honored by men; the other attended to only by the angels.  The rich man “was buried,” meaning that he had a tomb and that his body was attended to by others.  He went through the burial process, just like Jesus would later do after His body was taken down from the cross.  Thus, the rich man’s body would have been packed in spices, wrapped, and carefully laid in a tomb.  As for Lazarus?  Nothing is said.  Most likely, his body was dumped in a common grave.  No human took any care in attending to his body – but he had something far better with the angels!  God cared for Lazarus in a way that none else could, and had him immediately carried away to “Abraham’s bosom.
  • What is “Abraham’s bosom”? This is the only time that the term is used in the Scripture, though the basic concept was likely understood by the Jewish culture at the time to be Paradise.  Recall that Jesus gave a promise of this place to one of the men hanging next to Him on the cross.  Luke 23:42–43, "(42) Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (43) And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”"  This isn’t necessarily what we might typically think of Heaven (a place with streets of gold, etc.), simply because that place is the New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21.  That place does not appear until after Jesus 2nd Coming & the Millennial Kingdom.  However, Paradise is in the presence of God.  A similar phrase is used one other time: John 1:18, "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."  This is where the pre-incarnate Jesus was, and presumably where Abraham, Isaac, and the other Old Testament saints went as well.  The whole concept of being in someone’s “bosom” was that of closeness.  During the Last Supper, the apostle John reclined upon Jesus’ chest (leaned on His bosom), as they sat at the table to eat.  Thus, the idea is of one of peace, comfort, security, relationship, and blessing.
    • Even though this is prior to the resurrection of Jesus, please note that when Lazarus dies, he is immediately in a place of comfort, seemingly right in the presence of God.  Even if our knowledge of Abraham’s bosom/Paradise is a bit sketchy, this is exactly the promise we have as New Testament believers, now that Jesus is risen from the dead.  When we are absent from the body, we are immediately present with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8)  At our deaths, Christians are never alone, made to wait, nor forgotten – we are immediately in the presence of our Lord & Savior.

23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

  • A fourth contrast: one is in comfort, the other in torment.  Whereas Lazarus was apparently finally able to relax at a table for a meal with Abraham, this time it was the rich man who suffered…and he suffered badly!  He was “in torments” (plural!), and it means exactly what the word implies: severe pain, brought on by torture or other punishment.  It wasn’t the single burn of a flame – it was ongoing, never-ending (as implied by the present-tense).
  • Although the KJV & NIV state that the rich man was in “hell,” this is an inaccurate translation.  The word is literally “Hades,” (ᾅδης) and it is virtually interchangeable with the Hebrew concept of Sheol (the grave). Culturally speaking, the Hebrew understanding of Sheol is that this was where everyone went upon death – both the righteous and the unrighteous.  It was simply the grave, and all went there.  Even Peter speaks of Jesus as having gone to Hades (Sheol) when Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:31)  That being said, there is no doubt that the area of Hades to which the rich man went, was one of absolute torment.  It may not be the future lake of fire, but it no doubt feels the same way.
  • Some have objected to this, pointing this out as one reason to interpret this story as a parable, saying that this description of Hades could not be literal, because it is in view of Paradise.  How could it be that the rich man suffered in this way in this place, and still be able to see Abraham, and even speak to him in this story? How could the rich man see Paradise, being where he was?  Remember a couple of things:
    • First, Jesus is describing Hades & Paradise; not what we typically think of Hell & Heaven in their eternal states (the lake of fire vs. the New Jerusalem).  Neither one of those locations will be used until after Jesus 2nd Coming.  Thus, we have to expect a few things to be different.
    • Even with that in mind, even eternal Hell seems to be in view of Heaven.  Speaking of those who take the mark of Antichrist & worship the Beast, Revelation 14:10–11, "(10) he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (11) And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”"  Notice where the torment takes place: “in the presence of the Lamb.”  The Lord Jesus certainly does not reside in Hell, but it will be in His sight.  As the omnipresent & omniscient God, it cannot be otherwise.
    • How can this be, when Hell is so often described as a place of outer darkness?  Darkness in one location does not preclude light in another.  The curses placed upon Egypt during the Hebrew slavery demonstrate this. (Exo 10)  People in Hades/Tarturus/Hell can still be in suffering & darkness, all while being able to see Paradise/Heaven in the distance.  They will be able to glimpse the things that they miss.  Surely that will be one of the worst parts!
    • Keep in mind, no one has to go there!  Jesus died on the cross for the specific reason to save us from Hell.  Hell was created for the devil & his angels; not for human beings. (Mt 25:41)  We aren’t meant to be there…so don’t go!
  • 1st Request and Answer (24-26)

24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

  • Being in agonizing torment, the rich man asks for mercy – he asks for Lazarus.  This demonstrates a couple of things.  (1) He recognized Lazarus, knowing him.  It demonstrates that he knew Lazarus in life, although he did nothing to help him.  (2) He remembered Lazarus’ social status, asking Abraham to “send Lazarus” to him as a servant.  It shows that even in torment, nothing in his heart had changed.  The pain he experienced did nothing to transform his character; it was simply justice for what he had done in life.
  • BTW – “flame” seems to mean exactly what it says.  There’s no indication that this is anything but literal.  The fire was the cause of his torment and thirst.  Although it is understandable why some pastors and scholars want to dismiss the idea of a literal place of hellish torment, we do not have the freedom to change the plain meaning of the Bible.  Jesus repeatedly described hell (this part of Hades being included) with this same type of terminology.  It is a place of outer-darkness, of weeping & gnashing of teeth. (Mt 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30)  It is a place where the worm never dies & the fire is never quenched. (Mk 9:44, 46, 48).  Later, in regards to the lake of fire, it is a place where Satan, Antichrist, the false prophet & presumably all with them “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10)  The torments of hell are not invented to “scare” people into obeying the church; they are real descriptions of a real place.
    • Don’t try to explain the torments of hell away; do what it takes not to experience them! As a Christian, let those things drive & motivate you to share the gospel. Help others avoid going there.
  • One other thing: please note that this was all the rich man had.  He was tormented, and that was it.  There is no Purgatory – no chance to work off his sins.  Even though this part of Hades will eventually be emptied into the lake of fire, there is no indication whatsoever that this rich man had any hope of leaving his torments.  He is resigned to eternal suffering, with this being only the beginning.  The Bible gives no indication of Purgatory – no indication of annihilation – no indication of soul sleep – no indication of any of the imaginations of men to make hell less awful than what it is.  Again, don’t reimagine hell; just help people be saved from it.

25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.

  • A fifth contrast: the lives of the two men had been totally the opposite.  Jesus had given us the description earlier, but Abraham summed it up here.  One had “received good things,” while the other had received “evil things.”  Again – nowhere is wealth condemned.  It was actually a good thing!  What the rich man did with his wealth was the problem.  Lazarus’ poverty, on the other hand, was not considered good.  There was nothing sinful about Lazarus’ condition, but there was certainly sin in how he was treated.  He received nothing but suffering throughout his life – both through the actions of the community, and the inaction of the man in front of whose house he sat.
    • The point: God knew the difference!  None of the rich man’s opulence was unknown, and neither were any of Lazarus’ sufferings ignored.  Abraham knew exactly what each had gone through, which means the he must have learned it from the Lord God. God knows our sufferings! … God also knows our sin. …
  • A sixth contrast: the afterlives of the two men were totally the opposite.  Lazarus was “comforted”; the rich man was “tormented.”  We’ve already looked at this somewhat – but the important point now is that just as the torments were ongoing for the rich man, the comforts were ongoing for Lazarus.  The verb used is one we’re familiar with in regards to the presence of God: παρακαλέω, literally “called alongside,” the noun version being “Paraclete,” a term for the Holy Spirit.  Here, the verb is also in the present tense, showing that it is ongoing, without end.  IOW, Lazarus didn’t only have a nice meal with Abraham & sent on his way; he was continually comforted, always being in the presence of God.  The comforts of heaven last as long as the torments of hell: forever.  As believers, we will always be in the presence of our Lord!
  • Bottom line: what is demonstrated through all of this?  Basically what Jesus had taught earlier: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. (13:28-30) The person who exalted himself was now humbled, while the person who was humbled was exalted by God. (14:11)  It is the glorious paradox of the gospel, where Jesus lifts up the one who was put down and the expectations of earth are reversed.  The key is simply this: where are seeking your glories – on earth or in heaven?  One is temporary; the other is eternal.  Seek first the kingdom of God!

26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

  • Literally the “great gulf” = mega chasm.  It was impossible to cross!  Once someone dies, it’s too late.  All kinds of chances are given in this life for people to respond to the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  Once this life is over, all opportunities are gone.
  • 2nd Request and Answer (27-31)

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

  • Most translations say “I beg,” but this is an editorial interpretation rather than a strict translation.  Technically, this could be rendered “I ask/request.”  Translation committees decided on “beg” to the context, but that word is inherently loaded, and might color our view of what the rich man actually said.  There’s no indication that the (formerly) rich man has submitted himself to God or to Abraham – he is still making as many demands in death as he did in life.
  • If he cannot at least receive a drop of water, he asks for a personal warning to be given to his family. Once again, he’s asking that Lazarus be the one to go.  He seems fixated!  Perhaps he was jealous of Lazarus – perhaps he was so stuck in his egotism that he expected Lazarus to serve him.  Either way, it’s interesting that out of all of the people in Paradise, the man could not take his eyes off of Lazarus.  It’s one more demonstration that his heart had not changed.
  • That being said, it was an understandable request.  He wants to warn his family members, so that they don’t suffer the same fate he did.  What he didn’t realize was that a warning had already been given.  Vs. 29…

29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

  • Abraham tells him clearly: they had a warning.  They had the Scriptures.  “Moses and the prophets” is basically shorthand for the entirety of the Old Testament.  What had been given in in the Hebrew Bible was more than enough for people to know how to prepare for eternity.  After all, the whole of the law could be summed up in two commandments: love God, and love others.  This wasn’t just proclaimed by Jesus – this could be known by any of the Jews.  Luke 10:25–28, "(25) And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (26) He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (27) So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”"  The Scriptures testify to the goodness of God & to the value of men & women.  Thus, we are to love our Creator, and those He created.  That is evident throughout the pages of the Bible, from Genesis 1, onward.  Abraham was absolutely correct.  Moses & the prophets were more than enough warning to the man’s brothers.  God had given a warning…He had given 39 books! (We have 66!)
  • The man’s response is telling.  In his mind, the Scriptures weren’t good enough.  Even though what was written down were the very words of God – even though what was written was the clear proclamation of God concerning what He expects of men & women…it wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t enough warning, it wasn’t enough evidence.  In the mind of this man, the things God had provided weren’t enough at all.
    • No matter how much God gives, for some people it’s never enough.
  • There is at least one good thing in the man’s objection (as stubborn as it was): at least he finally understood the need for repentance.  Without a true change of heart & life, his brothers would end up in the same spot he was.  They needed to change their direction in life.  Instead of living for themselves, they needed to live for the glory of God.  Instead of consumption of their lusts, they needed to open their eyes to the people around them that God loved.  But left to their own devices, they were headed straight for eternal torment – just like him – just like the Pharisees – just like all who are self-righteous.
  • In the end, the man’s request & appeal were denied.  Vs. 31…

31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

  • If Moses & the prophets were not heard, what difference would another miracle make?  Someone hardened to God’s word is going to be hardened to other testimony as well.  In ancient Egypt, one could have hardly received more evidence than Pharaoh.  He saw with his own eyes the hand of God, and his advisors pleaded with him to repent & surrender.  But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and it cost him his son.  Someone unwilling to believe, won’t believe – no matter how much evidence is placed in front of him/her.
  • Sadly, this point is proved twice over.  When another Lazarus was raised from the dead (which ought to have been an obvious warning to the Pharisees!), they ignored that message.  And when Jesus rose from the dead, they tried to suppress His news as well.  Their hearts were already hardened to the point of no return…and they condemned themselves.
    • Beware a hardened heart!  Listen to the word of God – know the message of the resurrected Jesus!

Conclusion:
Whatever you believe about the genre of the text (parable or narrative), don’t miss the main point: we have only one life in which to respond to the grace of God through Jesus…don’t waste it!  Listen to the warnings of the Scriptures – know what God has revealed of Himself through His word – pay close attention to the gospel of Christ…and respond!  One life – one chance – that is all that is given to us.  Believe!

If you have, then you can do what was impossible for Lazarus: sound the warning.  Just like we have one opportunity to believe, we also have but one life in which we can tell others about Jesus.  Out of all of the things we do in this life, the one thing in eternity we will never think we did too much is to share the gospel.  If anything, as we gaze around in heaven & think about those in hell, we will think we didn’t do it enough.  Obviously you cannot save anyone – you cannot force anyone to believe…don’t put that level of guilt on yourself.  But we can be a witness to others.  We can tell them of the love of Jesus, and His free offer to save them from the horrors of hell.

So what are you doing with your opportunity?  Use it, for the glory of God!

Men or Messiah? No Contest!

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Micah, Uncategorized

Micah 3-4, “Men or Messiah?  No Contest!”

Kids (and sometimes adults) play a game called “Would you rather.”  It’s a series of questions that gives challenging choices of what would be preferable.  Some of those (when kept clean!) are tough choices.  Other comparisons are no contest.  Given the choice between sickness or health, we choose health.  Between starving or eating, we eat.  It ought to be obvious. 

Likewise with government: on some choices it ought to be easy.  Would you rather be ruled over by God, or by man?  Surprisingly, many people today would choose “man.”  Perhaps they don’t trust God because they don’t know God.  Or perhaps they love sin, so they prefer a government that allows them to sin.

The people of the world might be confused, but for the people of God, the choice is easy.  The very best government is that of God!  When Jesus rules the world as King, it will be wonderful.  It will be government as God always intended it to be.  All of political bickering will be gone – all of the injustice will be answered – it will be absolutely perfect, because we will be ruled by the Perfect God.

This is a promise not only for us as New Testament Christians, but also for the nation of Israel.  This was a day that Micah looked forward to, especially in light of all of the injustice that he saw at the time in his land.  In Chapter 1, he already wrote about the judgment coming to Samaria & Jerusalem because the cities & nations as a whole had sinned.  In Chapter 2, he wrote of the judgment deserved by wicked individuals, and prophets – ending the chapter by giving just a glimpse of the future kingdom of the Messiah.

In Chapters 3-4, Micah writes again of judgment & the kingdom – this time in regards to the contrast of leaders.  The leadership of Israel & Judah had failed.  Princes, prophets, and priests were all unjust, and deserving of the judgment they would receive.  But there was a future kingdom coming – one which would be ruled by God Himself, and that kingdom would be wonderful.

The kingdom Micah longed for is the one we await.  When it comes to the kingdoms of the world vs. the kingdom of Jesus, there is no contest!

Micah 3

  • Woe to the wicked rulers (3:1-4)

1 And I said: “Hear now, O heads of Jacob, And you rulers of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know justice?

  • First thing to notice: this wasn’t limited to either the northern or southern kingdoms.  This word was given to both.  Micah spoke to the “heads of Jacob.”  This wasn’t limited to clan or tribe; this was for all 12 tribes for all the descendants of Israel.  Micah spoke to the heads & rulers – the chief people, i.e. the princes.  All those in leadership positions were addressed by the prophet.
  • What was wrong with them?  Everything!  Their core responsibility was to maintain “justice” in the land, and they didn’t even “know” what justice was.  They should have known better – they had no excuse for themselves.  They had access to the Scriptures – and even if they didn’t use them, they had access to common sense!  The law of God is written upon our hearts. (Rom 2:15)  Deep down, all people know the basics of right & wrong, because God has imprinted that within us.  For the chieftains/princes to engage in wickedness was for them to act willfully against the Lord God.  It’s often said that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”  If we aren’t aware of the speed limit, we can still be legally fined for breaking it.  Even so, the Israelite leaders didn’t even have that much.  They knew justice from injustice, but they acted as if they were totally ignorant of it.  God knew the difference, and He called them out on it through Micah.
    • What goes for princes, goes for people.  Again, deep down, we all know right from wrong.  In his opening to the book of Romans, Paul wrote extensively how God has revealed Himself to the world – even to cultures that are deprived of the Scriptures.  God’s attributes are clearly seen in creation, yet people still deny Him and choose to worship gods of their own making/imaginations. (Rom 1:20-23)  And again, even God’s basic law is written upon our hearts, with our conscience bearing witness against us when we sin. (Rom 2:15)  No one, when standing before God for judgment, will be able to claim ignorance.  No one will be able to say, “I didn’t know any better!”  Yes, we did.  We just chose to run to our sin, rather than to our Creator God.
    • Thankfully, God still sent Jesus as the all-sufficient sacrifice for us.  Even though we knew better – even though we willfully acted in wickedness – Jesus still loved us enough to die for our sins, and offer us forgiveness and life!  We did not act as if we knew justice, but God still satisfied His justice, and offered us grace!
  • Regarding the wickedness of the chieftains & princes, Micah goes on to describe them…

2 You who hate good and love evil; Who strip the skin from My people, And the flesh from their bones; 3 Who also eat the flesh of My people, Flay their skin from them, Break their bones, And chop them in pieces Like meat for the pot, Like flesh in the caldron.”

  • They were haters of good & lovers of evil…not exactly what someone looks for in a leader!  Micah speaks of them as being downright brutal. They are described as hunters, almost like cannibals – skinning their prey, breaking the bones, chopping them up for stew.  No doubt this is figurative language.  For as evil as the kings of Israel and Judah are described as being in the accounts of 1-2 Kings & 1-2 Chronicles, they are nowhere spoken of doing these sorts of things.  Even so, symbolically speaking, this is exactly what they did.  They oppressed the people – they consumed the people – they abused their God-given position to abuse the God-given people.
  • These rulers were totally the opposite of what they should have been: shepherds.  Instead of caring for the sheep of God, they hunted them down & ate their flesh.  They were supposed to lead, to guide, to protect – they were supposed to represent the goodness & righteousness of God to their people, but they did exactly the opposite.
  • Beware of leaders who consume their own people!  Be it in politics, or among the church.  So-called “Christian” TV is filled with leaders of megachurches who fleece the flock of God, rather than feed it.  They consume other Christians in order to enrich themselves, building their wealth & their egos.  These people, like the ancient rulers of Israel, are spiritually abusive, and need to be avoided.
  • The leaders abused the people, but they would soon be judged.  What would happen when they did?  Vs. 4…

4 Then they will cry to the LORD, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, Because they have been evil in their deeds.

  • The ones who acted as if they didn’t know what justice was, would end up crying out to the Lord.  When the Assyrians & Babylonians came laying siege to their city walls, at that time they would pray…but to no avail.  Judah’s judgment would be delayed for a time, but not for forever.  This was what they deserved, and this would be what they received.
  • Question: Does God actually shut His ears to prayer?  Does He hide His face from people who (at least formally) belong to Him?  Yes.  It’s a qualified “yes,” but it’s still a “yes.”  The first thing we need to remember is that Israel was in a different covenant with God than the church is with Jesus.  That God would shut His ears to His people was part of the covenant conditions He made with them back in the days of Moses.  The specific promise to them was that when God brought His judgment against them, no one would save them. (Dt 28:29)  In other words, even prayers for salvation/deliverance would go unanswered, because this was the just response of God to their repeated lawbreaking.  Even so, there was also the promise of a restoration, when genuine repentance took place.  If the people turned back to God with all their heart & soul, then God would restore Israel to their land & covenant position. (Dt 30:2-3)  That’s Israel; our covenant is different.  Their covenant was conditional; ours is unconditional, based solely upon the work of Christ.  Jesus specifically promised that He would be with us, even to the end of the age. (Mt 28:20)  The writer of Hebrews reiterates God’s promise that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. (Heb 13:5)  The Holy Spirit literally indwells us as believers, sealing us for salvation. (Eph 1:13)  As Christians, we most definitely have the promise of the presence of God! – Even so, we still might encounter times when it seems that God is silent to our prayers, or that He does not hear us.  Sin gets in the way of fellowship, and our intimate relationship with God can be broken, which is a signal to us to repent and fall again upon God’s grace.  Peter explicitly tells husbands that our prayers can be hindered because of the way we treat our wives (1 Pet 3:7), so we can expect this principle to be true in other areas.
    • The bottom line is this: God never leaves us, but that doesn’t guarantee He will always answer us.  If it seems that if God does not hear your prayers, one of the first things you ought to do is examine your life/heart to see if there is wickedness there.  God wants to first deal with your sin, before He deals with any other prayer request.
  • Woe to the false prophets (3:5-7)

5 Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets Who make my people stray; Who chant “Peace” While they chew with their teeth, But who prepare war against him Who puts nothing into their mouths:

  • Not only were the princes wicked, so were the prophets!  These were ungodly individuals who took advantage of the people, misleading them from the true word of God.  Although God was clearly giving prophecies of judgment through men like Micah, Isaiah, and Amos, these false prophets (though “professional” prophets) gave a message of “peace.”  They fed the people what the people wanted to hear, as long as the people fed them back with bribes and other gifts.
  • While they chew with their teeth,” is better translated “while they bite with their teeth.”  The word often refers to the bite of a serpent/snake.  The general idea is that while the prophets are being fed by people, they give good news – when the people hold back from them, the prophets proclaim war.  But feeding prophets like this is like putting your hand next to the mouth of a viper: you’re going to get bit either way.
    • Once again, it is a reminder for us as New Testament Christians to be Bereans!  Simply because someone has a platform for ministry does not mean he (or she) has been called & anointed by God for that ministry.  Simply because someone has a title doesn’t mean he/she deserves it.  We have to be careful what doctrine we receive, and the only way we can judge whether or not teaching is Biblical is by matching it up with the Bible.  This cannot be emphasized strongly enough!  We have to take responsibility for ourselves to look into the word of God & discern whether or not the things a teacher is saying is true.

6 “Therefore you shall have night without vision, And you shall have darkness without divination; The sun shall go down on the prophets, And the day shall be dark for them. 7 So the seers shall be ashamed, And the diviners abashed; Indeed they shall all cover their lips; For there is no answer from God.”

  • For those who make their living as “seers,” it’s a pretty sobering thing to be told no “vision” would be given!  Obviously, these false prophets had not received anything from the Lord in the past – otherwise, they wouldn’t have been making up messages of their own.  Even so, it is clear that they wouldn’t receive special revelation from God, but they would receive judgment.  They would have night & darkness & the going down of the sun.
  • The whole idea is that these men would be exposed for the farces they were, and made to be ashamed.  Instead of walking around in pride, they would “cover their lips,” as if they were leprous.  Their words had been unclean, so their mouths may as well have been, too.
    • It ought to be a sobering thing to stand before God’s people & say, “Thus sayeth the Lord!”  The Bible tells us explicitly that teachers will “receive a stricter judgment.” (Jas 3:1)  That is not a warning to take lightly.  Those who knowingly lie about the words of God rightly receive the judgment that comes to them.
  • God to judge wicked princes, prophets, priests (3:8-12)

8 But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD, And of justice and might, To declare to Jacob his transgression And to Israel his sin.

  • Notice that little word, “but.”  Quite often, the translation of conjunctions varies depending on the context, but in this particular instance, this is emphasized.  There’s no question whatsoever that Micah is drawing a contrast.  And rightfully so!  The previous people were wicked prophets, false prophets – prophets motivated by their fleshly lusts and who manipulated the people around them.  Not Micah!  Micah was a true prophet of the Living God, and he had been given a true prophecy from the Living God.
  • What made the difference?  Micah was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The other prophets anointed themselves (so to speak).  They put themselves into office, and gave themselves the words/messages they spoke.  Not Micah.  Micah was a messenger of the Lord, empowered by none other than God the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gave him power, justice, and might – all of the things that the princes & prophets lacked!  The Spirit equipped Micah for the ministry, and Micah went about it boldly.
    • What was available to Micah is available to us!  One of the glorious things about living in the Church Age is the fact that every single believer in Jesus Christ is automatically indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, and has the opportunity to be repeatedly filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The blessing that was once available only to a select few prophets, is available to every single man, woman, and child in Christ.
    • We can be empowered by the Spirit; are you?  Again, every Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling him/her, but not every Christian is walking as empowered by the Holy Spirit.  This is something we’re commanded to do (Eph 5:18), but it is something for which we must ask.  (So ask!)
  • What was Micah’s message?  It was one of judgment; not a false message of “peace.”  The word of God given to Micah concerned the transgression & sin of Israel.  Vs. 9…

9 Now hear this, You heads of the house of Jacob And rulers of the house of Israel, Who abhor justice And pervert all equity, 10 Who build up Zion with bloodshed And Jerusalem with iniquity:

  • The rulers were unjust.  It wasn’t only that they acted ignorant of what true justice was; they “abhorred justice,” treating it as something defiled – as if was an abomination to them.  It came out in their actions.  They were violent – they were greedy.  Vs. 11…

11 Her heads judge for a bribe, Her priests teach for pay, And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us.”

  • Be it the princes, the priests, or the prophets, all of the leadership in the land was corrupt.  They didn’t serve the Lord out of a sense of calling.  They didn’t minister to the people in order to help their nations.  They did it out of sheer selfishness – they did it out of greed and a love of money.  Whoever had the cash could receive the services – whoever paid enough got the message they wanted.
    • Ministry for hire has another name: simony.  When Simon the former sorcerer saw Peter giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, he tried to purchase it for himself. (Acts 8:18-23)  He wanted to buy his way into the ministry, in order that he could make money off of the ministry.  Sadly, people still do this today.  Men & women see the church as a way to get wealthy, and they do great damage to people in the process.  Paul specifically instructed Timothy that bishops/overseers should not be “greedy for money,” precisely to avoid this sort of problem. (1 Tim 3:3)
    • The ministry is not a career path; it’s a calling.  And it’s one that should not be taken lightly.
  • Incredibly, in the midst of all their sin, they still believed themselves immune from judgment. … They were wrong!  Vs. 12…

12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, And the mountain of the temple Like the bare hills of the forest.

  • Notice the specific reference to “Zion,” i.e., Jerusalem.  At the time, it was the northern kingdom that was on the edge of Assyrian conquest, not the southern kingdom of Judah.  The southern Jews might have thought themselves safely immune once they escaped the hand of the Assyrian empire, but Micah is already telling them that they shouldn’t get too comfortable.  The city of Jerusalem would eventually “become heaps of ruins,” and the temple of Solomon, so admired by many in the city, would eventually be laid waste & the mountaintop made “bare.
  • Historically, that’s exactly what happened!  The Babylonians so destroyed the city & the temple, that even the foundation of the temple had to be re-laid once the Jews finally came back to the city with the permission of the Persians.  What would have been unthinkable to the Jews of the day eventually came true to the letter…just like God’s word always does.

Micah 4

  • Messiah’s millennial reign (4:1-8)

1 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And peoples shall flow to it.

  • Chapter 3 left off with the temple destroyed & Mt. Zion laid bare.  Chapter 4 begins with the temple restored on the mountain, raised to new heights.  It’s a complete reversal of the judgment – something equally as amazing.  As unthinkable as it was that the temple would be destroyed, it was also beyond imagination that the temple could be rebuilt, bigger & better than before.  Being “exalted above the hills” is more than Solomon’s temple had ever been, as impressive as it was.
  • When will it all take place? “In the latter days.”  There’s a lot of controversy on this, depending on your point of view.  Some think that the latter days could simply refer to the restoration after the Babylonian Captivity.  But that doesn’t fit the description.  Yes, there was a temple rebuilt, but (1) it wasn’t as impressive as Solomon’s, and (2) it wasn’t an attraction for the nations of the world.  Considering how the term “latter days” is used through the majority of the prophetic writings, it seems best to take it as eschatological.  This is the time after the Great Tribulation, when Jesus returns, setting up the Millennial Kingdom, per the promises made about Jesus as the Hebrew Messianic King (Son of David).
  • Although we typically (and not incorrectly) think of the Millennial Kingdom as being the restored/fulfilled Kingdom of Israel, please note that the reign of the Messiah covers far more than Israel’s national boundaries.  This Kingdom affects all the earth, as Micah notes, “and peoples shall flow to it.”  From all around the world, people will come to Jerusalem to learn from God.  Vs. 2…

2 Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion the law shall go forth, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

  • Nations that never worshipped the Lord will then learn the ways of God.  Peoples that never desired God’s word will want to know it, in order that they might walk in His paths.  And from whom will they learn it?  From Jesus!  The nations “go up to the mountain of the LORD,” to the temple of God (“the house of the God of Jacob”), and there they find personal instruction from the God of Jacob.  How can God (who is spirit) teach man (who is flesh)?  Via His incarnation, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Risen Jesus remains incarnate God to this day, and He will literally physically reside on planet earth during the Millennial Kingdom, and He will personally teach the nations.
    • Prefaced during the reign of Solomon, when nations flocked to hear his wisdom, and see his wealth (1 Kings 4:34).  That was merely a preview of what is yet to come.
    • What the world waits to receive is what we currently experience!  We know the wisdom of God by being taught the Scriptures with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  We know the riches of His glory, being blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Do we walk around today as kings?  Not in terms of earthly wealth, but definitely in spiritual reality!  We are a royal priesthood – a kingdom of priests.  We have today, the relationship with Jesus that all rest of the nations will have to wait until the Millennium to experience.  (So enjoy it!  Relish in it!)
  • What will the reign of Jesus look like?  Like righteousness & peace, vs. 3…

3 He shall judge between many peoples, And rebuke strong nations afar off; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. 4 But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, And no one shall make them afraid; For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

  • Unlike the then-current leaders of Israel who were evil & unjust, the reign of Jesus will be (1) known for His justice.  Jesus doesn’t merely know what justice is; He is the source of all justice and righteousness.  He is the foundation for very statute, because He is the truth and the living Word of God.
  • It will also (2) be known for His peace.  He is the Prince of Peace, and He will enforce His peace all over the world.  Jesus not only makes peace between nations, He makes peace between God & man!
  • Finally, it will be (3) known for prosperity & safety.  The people in Jesus’ kingdom will have their own vine & fig tree – both being pictures of the Hebrew nation.  The Israelites will finally dwell in safety (something which they do not even yet know).
  • This promise is sure!  “The mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

5 For all people walk each in the name of his god, But we will walk in the name of the LORD our God Forever and ever.

  • It’s a bit of a summary of the current condition & future promise.  For now, people walk in their paganism.  They walk following the gods of their own minds & imaginations.  At the time, not even the children of Israel were walking rightly with their God, even though they had access to the true God.  But it wouldn’t always be that way.  Micah looked forward to a day that they would walk with their covenant God forever.  This was a promise for Israel, and it was one to which he clung!  “But we ourselves [emphatic] will walk in the name of YHWH our God forever and ever.”
  • Micah’s certain hope is our current promise!  We already walk with our Lord – and we will forever walk with Him.  We already know Him as King, as Teacher, as Provider, as Friend.  And what we know of Him today is only the beginning!  We will know Him better & better & better, into the Millennial Kingdom & beyond.
  • Being a Jew, Micah is naturally focused on the promises to the Jews.  One such promise is that of restoration.  Vs. 6…

6 “In that day,” says the LORD, “I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast And those whom I have afflicted; 7 I will make the lame a remnant, And the outcast a strong nation; So the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on, even forever.

  • The lame & outcast are the people of Israel.  They will be gathered from the corners of the world, revived into a flourishing nation.  We have seen glimpses of this through history.  There was the regathering after the Babylonian Captivity – there was a brief period of independence under the Maccabees.  There was the miraculous reestablishment of the nation in 1948, with Jerusalem being regained in 1967.  Yet all of this is merely a foretaste of the future.
  • What will happen at that time?  Israel won’t only be an actualized nation, but they will be a Messianic Kingdom.  “The LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion.”  In many ways, we can see the outcast of Israel having been regathered in preparation for the future, but in no way can we say that the fullness of this prophecy has been accomplished.  Not until the LORD God is received by Israel as their King, literally ruling over them from Jerusalem will this be fulfilled.  (Which means the people of Israel will have to come to faith!  Rom 11:26 – all Israel will be saved!)

8 And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

  • At one point, Israel had power & dominion over the region.  They were feared by other nations, as Gentiles heard & saw the power of Almighty God among them.  Eventually, that fear faded because faith in Israel dwindled.  In their disobedience to God, they lost dominion & influence – to the point where other nations freely came in to battle against them, soundly defeating them.  Not so, in the future!  During the Millennium, those days of glory will once again be known.  Israel will not be despised by the nations; they will be admired as the people of God.

Amen!  Of course, that’s the future.  What was there for now?  There was still the reality of an impending judgment, due to all of the wickedness that had been earlier described.  Micah reminds them of this, giving some very specific prophecies to the southern kingdom, all while keeping the glorious promises of God in view.

  • Present judgment; future restoration (4:9-13)

9 Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in your midst? Has your counselor perished? For pangs have seized you like a woman in labor. 10 Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, Like a woman in birth pangs. For now you shall go forth from the city, You shall dwell in the field, And to Babylon you shall go. There you shall be delivered; There the LORD will redeem you From the hand of your enemies.

  • Soon, there would be no king/counselor in the land.  They would be conquered, and the kingdom dissolved.  Judgment would be birthed among them, and the Jews would suffer all the pains of a mother in childbirth.  Like a child pushed out of the womb, so would the people be pushed out of the Promised Land.
  • Where would they go?  “Babylon.” What makes this such an amazing prophecy is that it was given roughly 130-140 years before it took place.  Remember that Micah wrote during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1), putting it sometime in the years of 750-725BC.  This was during the heyday of the Assyrian empire, shortly before the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians.  Babylon was not yet on the scene, from a world-power perspective.  It would take time for Babylon to rise & Assyria to fall, and yet Micah already names Babylon specifically as the nation to which Judah would fall.  That would be the place of their captivity, no matter what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria.
  • What makes this prophecy even better is that not only was Babylon mentioned as a place of captivity, but it’s also mentioned as a place from which the Jews would be redeemed.
    • God redeems His people from their enemies!
    • God redeemed us through the cross!
  • It’s from this position of redemption that Micah sees a day of future strength for the Jews.  Vs. 11…

11 Now also many nations have gathered against you, Who say, “Let her be defiled, And let our eye look upon Zion.” 12 But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD, Nor do they understand His counsel; For He will gather them like sheaves to the threshing floor. 13 “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion; For I will make your horn iron, And I will make your hooves bronze; You shall beat in pieces many peoples; I will consecrate their gain to the LORD, And their substance to the Lord of the whole earth.”

  • For now, Israel & Judah were despised.  The other “nations” of the world thought themselves stronger than the Hebrews – and in many respects, they were!  They wanted the Israelites to be defeated & “defiled,” in order that they could take the land for themselves, and they believed they could do it.  What they didn’t realize is that they could only do what the Lord God would allow them to do.  They were just tools in His hands.  They did not “know the thoughts of the LORD.”  They did not know His ultimate plans concerning His people & His land.  God had plans not only to restore His people, but to defeat their enemies.  Just as God gathered His people back into a cohesive nation, so also did God promise to gather Israel’s enemies like a harvest of wheat: gathered, and cut down, made ready for trampling by the strong ox of Israel.
  • Question: is this a past or a future promise?  Like many of the prophecies in Scripture, there’s probably an element of dual fulfillment.  Certainly, God did redeem the Jews out of slavery, graciously putting them back into their own land.  And yes, God judged the nation that came against them, with the Babylonians being soundly defeated by the Medes & Persians.  Even so, it’s difficult to see how Israel could be said as participating in their defeat.  God’s word to the Jews is that “you shall beat in pieces many peoples,” specifying that they would be pulverizing their enemies – and it wouldn’t just be one nation, but many peoples.  Ancient Israel hadn’t seen anything like that since the days of David & Solomon, and although modern Israel has seen something similar in the Six-Day War, that doesn’t quite fit the picture of a totally restored relationship with God.  It seems best to think of the ultimate fulfillment of this promise still in the future – perhaps even in reference to the battle of Armageddon when Israel will be on the battlefield with Jesus as He brings the ultimate victory as Israel’s own Messianic King.
    • How many of our enemies is God capable of destroying?  All of them!

Conclusion:
When it comes to the comparison between the ancient rulers of Israel and its future ruler, there is no contest…their very best King is Christ Jesus!

He is ours, too!  Hold fast to Him – hold fast to His promises.  Things may be tough today, but we have the promise of a better future.  To look forward to Jesus’ Kingdom is not some pie-in-the-sky idea or escapism; it’s certain hope in a very real promise.  Dark times are easier to endure when you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Suffering is bearable, when we know it has an end.  And it does!  The suffering of this world will forever end when Jesus returns and sets up His Kingdom.  That’s something to which we can look forward!

And it’s a reality that we can taste right now.  Every day you live as a born-again believer in Jesus is a day you live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  Although the physical promises are still for the future, the spiritual promises are already in place today.  You still have the power of the Holy Spirit – you still have the presence of God with you – you still have the Lord Jesus who teaches you, and guides you.  Those are things we have right now, today.  So live in them!  Enjoy them!  Micah longed for what we can experience right now…so take advantage of the opportunity we’ve been given.

Listen to the Law

Posted: August 6, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:14-18, “Listen to the Law”

Lawyer jokes are typically underappreciated.  Lawyers don’t think they are funny, and no one else thinks they’re jokes. 🙂  The reason the stereotype works so well is because deep down, there’s a bit of lawyer in all of us.  We all look for ways around the law – we look for our loopholes in which we can find a technicality – we look for ways to get ourselves off the hook, while hanging someone else upon it.  By no means is that limited to a certain profession; that’s simple human nature!

It certainly was the case for the Pharisees.  These were people who taught the law of Moses, lived in the law of Moses – they were people who dove headlong into it, studying every aspect of it alongside every commentary they could find from the rabbis who had gone before them.  Yet for as much as they knew about the law’s requirements, (broadly speaking) they knew nothing of its heart.  They sought out loopholes and technicalities – they used the law to justify themselves in the sight of God, rather than acknowledging that the law doesn’t justify anyone.  They gave themselves assurance of the kingdom (i.e. salvation), without having any real assurance at all.

Sound familiar?  It is not at all unlike what multitudes of people do today.  They label themselves as “Christians,” and engage in all kinds of “churchy” behavior, but they don’t see the word of God for what it truly is.  They use the Scripture to justify themselves, rather than allowing it to continually drive them to the grace of Jesus.  In the process, they miss the point.  They may label themselves as “Christians,” but they know little of Christ.  If they did, they would cling to Him & His word as tightly as they would a life-preserver or a parachute – for it is only in Him & His promises do we find real salvation.

Luke 16:14-18 can seem like a strange little passage, tucked neatly between two far more famous teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy to treat it as “filler”: random saying that simply round out the longer teachings – something we might rush through in order to get to the next section. (And I would be lying if I didn’t admit I almost fell into that temptation!)  But when we consider the doctrine of inspiration, that every word that is written in the Bible is a word intended to be there by God the Holy Spirit, our perspective changes.  (1) There is no such thing as “filler,” although admittedly some Scriptures are more interesting than others.  The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles surely meant much to the clans & families of the ancient Jews, but it is just a bunch of foreign-sounding names to us today.  Even so, those chapters (and this teaching) are inherently valuable because they are given by God.  (2) The Spirit is not random in His teaching.  What He gives has a point, which is usually very clear in a narrative or gospel account such as Luke.  We simply need to discern what that point is, and then we find the key to the entire text.

In this case, we have some pretty diverse topics: the love of money, self-righteousness, the permanency of the law, and divorce.  Is there a main idea?  Is there a common thread that weaves it all together?  Yes.  As is so often the case, the clue to the common thread is found within the surrounding context – both what comes before, and what comes after.  The best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself, and usually you don’t have look far to find the information you need for the correct interpretation.  In this case, it is simply the text on either side of the teaching.

So let’s look at the context.  Chapter 16 began with the Parable of the Unjust Steward, but that itself came on the heels of three other parables told in the presence of the Pharisees & scribes regarding God’s joy in finding lost sinners, and including them in the kingdom.  In fact, the Pharisees were themselves lost (although they didn’t realize it), and the grace of God was just as available to them as it was from the father character to the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Sons.  From that, Jesus turned to His disciples (while still in the presence of the Pharisees), and gave the follow-up teaching of the Parable of the Unjust Steward.  This house-manager had sinned, and was about to be fired, so he used what little opportunity and influence left to him to fervently prepare for his future.  He was cunning, but he was creative, and even his master commended him on his shrewdness, doing what needed to be done.  Jesus told the disciples to learn the lesson, and to be diligent to make plans for the eternal future, using the items & opportunities at their disposal.  They needed to be faithful with what they had, if they were to be entrusted with more later – all the while being mindful of who they truly served.  They could serve God, or they could serve mammon (money/self/life) – but they couldn’t do both.

This was a testimony of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God, but it was rejected by the Pharisees (as we’ll see).  They consistently rejected the testimony of God, as contained in the law, and this was seen in two examples: (1) their own self-righteousness, and (2) their teaching regarding divorce.

This rejection is illustrated in the story Jesus tells next.  What happens to people who reject the testimony of God?  They are doomed to eternal torment outside the kingdom.  The purpose of the Lazarus story is not only to emphasize how the kingdom will be filled with unexpected people, but also as a warning to the Pharisees, who shared the same self-righteous attitude of the rich man.

So put it all together.  In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus testifies of the need not to waste time & opportunity.  In the story of Lazarus & the rich man, Jesus describes what happens to those who ignore the testimony of God.  With that in mind, what’s the main idea of the verses in-between?  This is the warning.  The testimony of God had been given; it shouldn’t be ignored, although they had a habit of doing so.

Thus, it isn’t about money, nor about divorce – those are symptoms of a larger problem.  The problem was that they ignored God’s word.  They didn’t listen to the law.  Listen to the law of God & let it point you to Christ!  That’s the whole reason God gave it in the first place.

Luke 16:14–18

  • The Pharisees scoff (14)

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.

  • Even though Jesus spoke the Parable of the Unjust Steward to His disciples (16:1), the Pharisees were present & listening the whole time.  It’s amazing how often they could listen to His words, and still miss the message.  It goes to demonstrate that people can be around the things of Christ, and still never know Him as Lord.
  • Their response was one of ridicule & scorn.  They “derided” Jesus, sneering at Him, scoffing at Him.  They looked down their noses at this Rabbi, who had the nerve in His poverty, to talk to others about how to handle money.  What did He mean, by saying “No servant can serve two masters” – what exactly was He implying?  Of course, no subtle implication was needed – what Jesus said was absolutely true!  People cannot serve both two masters.  We will always be torn between one and the other.  We will either serve the God of heaven or the god of our belly (i.e. our lusts, represented by mammon/money/things of life).  If we love one, we certainly won’t love the other.
  • And that was the core issue in regards to the Pharisees.  Luke describes them as “lovers of money” – literally, “lovers of silver,” as in silver coins.  Although they were not all considered as the wealthy elite aristocracy class (as were the Sadducees), there were still very wealthy members among them.  Of course, a lot of money is not required in order to have a love of money.  Someone who is poor can still be ruled by money, with every action being based out of covetousness.
    • Beware of the love of money!  Paul warned his protégé Timothy of the dangers of greed, exhorting him to be content with what he had.  1 Timothy 6:9-10, "(9) But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Note: it’s not money itself that is a root of evil (as it is so often misquoted); it’s the love of money.  (Interestingly, it’s the exact same root of the word Luke quoted Jesus as using right here.)  The love of money is greed & covetousness.  The love of money causes us to desire things (1) we don’t have, and (2) we don’t need.  We want what we do not yet possess, and we lust after things we should not have.  When we love money, then our trust is in our bank account; not our God.  When we love money, our priorities get shifted from where they ought to be, as we depend upon what we can get for ourselves, rather in the grace we can only receive from God.
    • The whole contrast between the Pharisees’ love of money, and Jesus’ warning against being ruled by it brings up a point relevant to modern Christianity.  Again, why was Jesus ridiculed?  Seemingly because He was a poor man talking to others about wealth.  Although Jesus wasn’t technically homeless (He obviously had a home-base in Capernaum, and apparently stayed with Peter on occasion), He certainly didn’t have a consistent roof over His head during His three years of travelling ministry.  Apparently the disciples received donations along the way (with Judas carrying the moneybox), but it wasn’t as if Jesus & the 12 were flush with cash. The lifestyle of Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and most other early Christians ought to do away with the heresy of the so-called “prosperity gospel.”  Those who teach that all Christians ought to be rich, living as “King’s Kids,” surely haven’t read the Bible.  That sort of teaching is exactly what both Jesus and Paul warn against.  It encourages a love of money, and teaches that it’s somehow possible to serve two masters.  It puts a focus on stuff, rather than the Savior…and it ought to be abandoned & condemned.
  • The Pharisees mocked Jesus, but they weren’t the only ones.  People still mock Jesus today.  It might not be over the subject of money, but they still deride Him, scorning His teachings.  Ultimately, it is for the same reason as the Pharisees.  Jesus spoke to an issue that cut the Pharisees to the quick, and their insulting attitude was their defense mechanism.  Likewise with people today.  Something about Jesus brings conviction to their hearts, and that’s something they’ve got to deflect.
    • Don’t deflect it; receive it!  The conviction that comes is a good thing, because that is exactly what is going to bring you to the point of repentance & faith.  A sinner under the weight of conviction is mere moments away from salvation.  All that is needed is surrender to Jesus. 
  • Jesus responded to the Pharisees in vs. 15…

 

  • The judgment of Jesus (15)

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

  • The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus because they thought themselves better than Him.  They mocked Him because they thought they could serve both God and their money.  Most likely (if they were like others in the culture), they believed their money (what they had of it) was proof that God loved them & blessed them.  They made up excuses in their own minds – they justified themselves.  They were self-righteous.
    • If there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s self-justification!  After all, we’ve had a long history of practice.  Adam and Eve were not yet ejected from the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed his wife for his own sin in eating of the forbidden fruit.  “It’s not my fault!  It’s that woman You gave me!”  What Adam began, we’ve been doing ever since.  “It’s not my fault; my parents made me this way! … It’s not my fault; I’m stressed out from my job! … It’s the people I’m surrounded with! … It’s simply what everyone else is doing!”  We find all kinds of excuses for ourselves, and we convince ourselves that we’re okay, being justified in our actions & even deserving of blessing & eternal life.
    • Just the fact that we have to “excuse” ourselves is telling.  The word “justification” directly implies that something that is out of balance needs to be justified – it needs to be made right.  That means that something else is wrong.  The very existence of our excuses witness against us that we’ve sinned, and that we’re in need of forgiveness. 
  • No matter what the Pharisees convinced themselves of, or what they convinced others to think about them, God wasn’t fooled.  He knew the true state of their hearts.  What did God think about their self-justification?  It was an abomination!  The Pharisees had their wealth as supposed proof of God’s blessing; it wasn’t.  They had their societal status as religious scholars that was proof that God approved of them; it didn’t.  They had their internal pride in how they observed every religious tradition passed down by their forefathers as their justification; it wasn’t.  All of what the Pharisees held too may have been “highly esteemed among men,” but God held a totally different viewpoint.  The things that impress men are defiled/defiling in the sight of God. To Him, they were abominations.
    • That’s a harsh word!  Yes, and it means exactly what we think it means.  It is a detestable, loathsome thing.  It is something that defiles.  It is the same word used to describe the horrific work of Antichrist during the Great Tribulation, as well as the word used to translate the Hebrew (תּוֹעֵבָה ) that referred to the various abominations & detestable acts listed in the Mosaic Law.  The very thing that the Pharisees believed themselves justified away from, was exactly what they were.
    • Not that this ought to have been a surprise!  Self-righteousness & justification always falls infinitely short of God’s standard.  This picture of defilement was exactly what Isaiah called upon when describing Israel’s need for grace.  Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away."  How defiled are our attempts at self-righteousness?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but Isaiah literally labels them as menstrual cloths.  This is where mere religious tradition leads – this is what self-justification & excuses does.  Our rituals and excuses don’t clean us up in the sight of God; they only make us more dirty.
    • What’s the solution?  Grace!  We cannot clean ourselves; we must be cleansed by God, through the work of Jesus Christ.  Stop making excuses for yourself, listen to the Holy Spirit speak to you through your conscience, and fall upon the grace of God.
  • Question: How could the Pharisees have been so wrong?  They did not know what God esteemed because they did not value His word.  They may have been experts in the law of God, but they habitually ignored it, which Jesus goes on to point out & illustrate…
  • The fullness of the law (16-17)

16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

  • Interestingly, there is no verb in the 1st sentence of vs. 16.  Technically, it says: “The law and the prophets, until John.”  Any verbs in our English Bibles were put there by the various translators to help the sentence make sense.  ESV, HCSB agree with the NKJV; NASB, NIV both say “were proclaimed until John,” with “proclaimed” probably being assumed due to the idea of preaching from the remainder of the verse.  Obviously “the law and the prophets” were indeed preached up till the point of John – but it’s difficult to argue that the Hebrew law was not preached beyond John the Baptist as well.  In fact, Jesus was doing it at that very moment.  It’s probably better to think of the law and the prophets being given up till John the Baptist.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, with a new era beginning with the ministry of Jesus.
  • With all of this time and opportunity to hear & know the law, how much of it did the Pharisees receive?  Little to none.  They picked the parts they liked, and did away with the rest.  They flat-out ignored John the Baptist, all the while acknowledging him as a prophet. Prior to Jesus’ arrival on the scene, the religious rulers (including the Pharisees) sent messengers to John, inquiring whether or not he himself might be the Messiah. (Jn 1:19-28)  The Pharisees clearly understood that John had some sort of heavenly authority, but they were unwilling to listen to him. (Lk 20:5-6)  What they did with John the Baptist, they did to the rest of Scripture.  Technically, the Babylonian Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical commentaries on the Biblical Law – practically, it’s a whole bunch of man’s opinion about what applies where, what loopholes exist, and what traditions are added onto it.  This was the lifestyle of the Pharisees & scribes.  They had the word of God given to them, but they spent their time picking around it; not going to the simple heart of it.
    • The word of God is not a buffet line where we can pick the parts we like, and do away with the rest.  People do this all the time. So-called “red-letter Christians” pay special attention to the words of Jesus, disregarding the rest of the New Testament.  Others read only the New Testament, ignoring the Old.  Others value the five books of Moses & the Psalms, but see the rest as irrelevant.  Still others pick & choose which of the Mosaic Laws are valid for today, and which are not (sometimes being side-by-side!).  The Bible cannot be picked apart in such a fashion!  Why?  It’s not ours; it’s God’s.  Those who pick & choose from the Bible set themselves up as the final authority over it; God gave it as the final rule of authority over us.  It’s not up to us to pick it apart; we simply need to receive what it says.
    • That’s not to say that we have no role in discerning the proper interpretation.  Obviously laws given to the nation-state of Israel need to be interpreted within their proper contexts, rather than simplistically imposing them on Gentile-born believers in Christ.  This is what a literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic (Bible interpretation method) is so important…it keeps the focus on the correct context, rather than changing opinions. That being said, the law is bigger than our attempts at general categorization.  It encompasses the heart of God.  (Thus, it cannot be ignored!)
  • What happened with the conclusion of the law being given?  At that point, the “kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.”  The word for “pressing” is interesting, in that it speaks of force/violence.  Scholars disagree as to the meaning, with some thinking that this could speak of people being strongly urged into the kingdom – others thinking that Jesus encourages people to press into the kingdom – still others thinking it is part of Jesus’ judgment against the Pharisees, how they were trying to force their way into the kingdom.  It’s this last interpretation that seems to take the overall context in mind.  The good news was proclaimed, but ignored.  The law had been given, and the kingdom had been preached.  But what was the response of the Pharisees?  They ignored the teachings of God, justifying themselves saying that they were deserving of the kingdom.  They were trying to force their way in, violently, if need be.  As Jesus said earlier, when John the Baptist was still suffering in prison: Matthew 11:12, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."  It’s the same idea/word in Luke’s gospel.  People do violence against God’s kingdom (by rejecting His word), and try to force their way in.
    • It can’t be done!  There is but one way to enter the kingdom of God: you’ve got to be born into it.  Jesus made this point with a different Pharisee, under far better circumstances.  John 3:3–5, "(3) Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (4) Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (5) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."  There’s no manipulation – there is no self-justification – there is only a spiritual birth.  There is only surrender & grace!  (Have you been born again?)
  • No one enters the kingdom by keeping the law because none can keep it but Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that the law has gone away.  It’s still in effect today, as Jesus went on to say in vs. 17…

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

  • What would happen before the law would fail?  Creation would be dismantled.  “Heaven and earth [would] pass away” before even the smallest aspects of the law of God would be undone.  “One tittle” refers to the smallest stroke of a pen.  In English, a tittle refers to small markings over letters, such as the dot of an “i.”  In Hebrew, the term refers to something even tinier: the simple decorative stroke of a calligrapher’s pen.  Jesus basically says that the universe would be undone before even that small stroke from the written word of God would fail.
  • Has the law passed?  By no means!  Because we are New Testament Christians, we have a tendency of thinking that the law of God has gone away.  It hasn’t.  Jesus is perfectly clear that as long as this world exists, the law is permanent.  And how could it be otherwise?  The Old Testament is just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the New Testament.  It is still given by God, and He is still righteous.  He has not changed – God is the same today, yesterday, and forever.  The law of God has not fallen to the ground or fallen into pieces.  It remains.
  • How so?  After all, we do not wear tassels on our garments, nor are we concerned about wearing two different types of fabrics, or trimming the edges of our beards.  Is every Christian in blatant disobedience against the law of God?  Should we all become good Jews in order to be good Christians?  By no means!  This was the very issue faced by Paul when he was repeatedly confronted by the Judaizers.  Those were people (just like many today) who believed that Christians needed to follow all 613 commandments of the Torah, keep all the feast days, follow all of the Hebrew traditions, etc.  Paul condemned this false doctrine in the strongest of terms: Galatians 3:1–3, "(1) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? (2) This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—(3) Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"  Later, he wrote of these false teachers that he wished that they would “cut themselves off” (Gal 5:12)…that they’d go even further with their circumcision!  Works of the flesh cannot complete the work of Christ within us, for the work of Christ is already complete.  We cannot justify ourselves any more than what Jesus has already done on our behalf.  We are saved by grace through faith, with nothing of ourselves helping it along.  It is truly foolish to think otherwise.
  • The confusion arises with a misunderstanding of the use of the law.  The law is never used to justify; it is only used to condemn.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, the law is good, when it is used lawfully. (1 Tim 1:8)  It is good, when it is used to teach people of sin, to convict us of our rebellion against God, and to bring us to our knees.  The law is good because it is holy, as God is holy, and it shows us what true holiness is.  The law puts the lie to our self-righteousness, truly informing us that our best attempts at proving ourselves perfect are nothing but filthy defiled rags.  The law shows us the perfect heart of God, and shows us how short we fall of it.  The law is gift of God to show us our need for Jesus, and when it is used rightly, it takes us directly to the feet of Jesus that our faith might be in Him.  Galatians 3:24–25, "(24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."  The picture is that of a special servant whose role is to walk his master’s child to class, that the child might receive instruction from the true rabbi or scholar.  The law isn’t the scholar; it’s the servant.  The law is simply what walks us to Jesus.  So yes, the law endures.  The law is in effect for the non-believer; it is fulfilled for the believer.  The law shows us our need for Christ, but once our faith is in Christ, He has already fulfilled the requirements of it on our behalf.
  • Of course the problem for the Pharisees was that they hadn’t experienced this.  They had not used the law lawfully.  That was Jesus’ point to them in stating the permanency of the law.  They thought they could use it to justify themselves, when all it truly brought to them was conviction of their own abominable sin.

So that is the importance of the law, and that was what the Pharisees had routinely ignored.  Through their self-justification, they saw no problem with their greed – even seeing their wealth as proof of their righteousness.  Through their self-proclaimed expertise in the law, they invented all kinds of loopholes to justify themselves (and others), by twisting what was written away from God’s intent to their own selfish desires.  Jesus goes on to point out an example of this in regards to divorce.

  • Case-example: divorce (18)

18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.

  • To understand what Jesus is saying, we have to understand what the Pharisees taught about this. At one point the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus in a bit of a no-win situation (a Catch-22) when questioning Him in public regarding divorce.  They asked Him if it was “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.” (Mt 19:3)  The issue was based out of a bit of rabbinical controversy in the Talmud.  One scholar (Beth Shammai) insisted that a man not divorce his wife except for unseemly conduct, whereas another (Beth Hillel) said he could divorce her even if she spoiled his food. (Tractate Gittin, Folio 90a)  The whole of the Talmudic teaching left divorce solely in the power of the man, with the woman having very little to say about the matter.  The Talmud went into considerable detail regarding what grounds constituted divorce, what signatures were valid on a divorce paper, how divorces could be rescinded, etc.  The whole mess goes to demonstrate how much the Pharisees (and the rest of the culture) twisted the law to suit themselves.  They used it to justify their own actions, while condemning others.  Jesus calls them out on it, cutting to the very heart of the matter.  All that their various legal technicalities accomplished was to create more than one way to commit adultery.  Although their traditions tried to do an end-run around the law of God, it only convicted them all the more.
  • By muddying the waters surrounding God’s word & law regarding divorce, they ended up missing God’s heart concerning marriage.  In their attempt to justify themselves, they missed the main point.  Marriage isn’t given as a vehicle for man’s pleasure, to be done away with at any time for any reason in divorce; it’s given as a covenant from God.  Ultimately, marriage is a picture of the relationship between God & His people.  Paul explicitly says this regarding the relationship between Jesus & the Church (Eph 5), and the Hebrew prophets often used the analogy between God & Israel. (Isa 54, Jer 3, Hosea 2).  Divorce between God and Israel was due to the harshest of adulteries committed by the nation against Him (their repeated idolatries) – but even then, God still gave the promise of future reconciliation.  In regards to the New Testament, it is unthinkable that Jesus would ever divorce the Church – we are inseparable from Him, Jesus being the head & us, His body.  Just as God did with Adam & Eve in the Garden, He took two & made one – so is the Church one with Jesus.  That being the case with marriage, what does this say about divorce?  It is abhorrent – it is tragic – it is the worst of all circumstances between a husband and wife, and should be avoided at all costs.  For the Talmudic rabbis & Pharisees to make divorce into something relatively easy for the Jews was spiritual malpractice of the first order!  All they did was cause more Jews to commit more adultery.
  • Question: Is this all the Bible has to say about marriage & divorce?  No.  Matthew provides additional teaching from Jesus.  Whereas Luke records only that marriage of a divorced person is adultery, Matthew records that sexual immorality is a justification for divorce. (Mt 19:9)  Paul goes even further (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), stating that abandonment by unbelievers, or unwillingness by an unbeliever to live with a believer, is also a justification for divorce. (1 Cor 7:12-15)  Solid biblical arguments can be made for divorce under extreme circumstances, but the bottom line is that divorce is never desirable.  It might be unavoidable & even Biblically allowed – but it is never the best option.  (The best option is repentance & reconciliation!)
    • Please note: It also needs to be stated that divorce is not the unforgiveable sin.  Even for those who were divorced for the wrong reasons, or perhaps were at fault for their divorce – these things are covered by the blood of Christ.  We receive His grace, do what we can to be reconciled to others, and keep moving forward.  The law brings condemnation, but Jesus gives grace.
  • All in all, Jesus’ teaching on adultery & divorce isn’t the main issue.  This was simply an example of a larger problem.  The Pharisees ignored the word of God in order to justify themselves, and their self-justification led to a whole slew of problems for others.  After all, what they practiced, they taught.  This doctrine was promoted among all the Jews of the day, and still reverberates even in our own culture.
    • Sin is like a splash in a pond…there’s always going to be ripples.  There will always be other people affected.
    • Thankfully, grace works much the same way!

Conclusion:
The Pharisees heard the teaching of Jesus, and it rubbed them the wrong way.  What He said was the truth, but because of their self-justifying ways, it cut them to the quick & they bristled at the idea that they could be wrong.  What they did with Jesus, they did with all the word of God (which makes sense that they did it with Jesus, considering He is the Word of God!).  They brushed it aside, trying to make themselves righteous in their own eyes…and in the process, they were not righteous at all.

Don’t justify your way around the word of God; listen to it!  Be it the Old Testament or the New Testament, God’s word contains God’s heart.  Used properly, the word of God brings us to the feet of Jesus, where we find grace & forgiveness.  Used rightly, the written word exalts the Word incarnate; it glorifies God rather than man.  That is its purpose, and that is our aim in hearing it.

Listen to the word of God!  Does it bring conviction & rebuke?  Praise God!  It means that you have a heart still softened to the discipline of the Father.  That’s not something to run from; that’s something to run towards.  Don’t forget: as much as it brings conviction, it also brings comfort.  It brings edification – it equips us for every good work.  The only way to receive this from the Lord is to listen to His voice, and He speaks through His Scriptures.  We have to get ourselves out of the way, and submit ourselves to the hand of God.

Listen Up!

Posted: August 3, 2017 in Malachi, Uncategorized

Micah 1-2, “Listen Up!”

When it’s your last chance, there is no time to waste. That’s basically the message of the prophet Micah.  God had repeatedly warned Israel/Samaria about her sins, and they were finally at the point of their last chance.  The Assyrians were at their doorstep, about to conquer the entire northern Hebrew kingdom – there wasn’t a moment to lose!

Of course, the problem wasn’t only in the northern kingdom – the southern kingdom of Judah had its own share of sin, and would eventually receive its own share of judgment.  The Jews may have had a bit more time than the Samaritans, but the need for repentance was still urgent.  God graciously sent prophet after prophet to awaken the people to their need for repentance – the only question was whether or not they would listen & obey.

We need to understand that the righteous God will judge sin.  Be it among the pagans, or among His own people, God judges all sin.  His mercies are not to be despised – His warnings are not to be ignored.  When God speaks, we need to listen – and we need to listen well!

Micah 1

  • Introduction (1:1)

1 The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

  • Micah = possibly a shortened form of the name Micayah, “Who is like YAH?”  It is a fairly common name in the OT, though there is one undeniable mention of this prophet outside his book: when his words are quoted by Jeremiah prior to the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Jer 26:18).  This tells us a couple of things: (1) he was definitely seen by his people as a prophet, even if they ignored his message, and (2) his book (or at least parts of it) was already known & compiled by the time of Jeremiah.  God’s people recognized God’s voice speaking through God’s prophet, and they treated his book as the Scripture that it is.
    • FYI – that’s the basic story behind all of the books of the Bible, including the NT.  Despite popular mythology that imagines that the Biblical canon was established by the pre-Catholic Church, and forced upon the masses after the Nicene Council, the reality is that the books of the NT were already in use by Christians, who had long ago recognized the imprint of the Holy Spirit upon the words of the writers.  The official church council merely ratified what the Christian church had already received.
  • Where was “Moresheth”? About 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem.  This fits with the kings of Judah that are mentioned: Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  This tells us that Micah was a southern prophet living in Judah, even though many of his prophecies concern the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria.  Micah will speak to both kingdoms (as vs. 1 shows), although the timeframe for Israel/Samaria is far more pressing.  Samaria fell to the Assyrian empire in the 9th year of King Hoshea (2 Kings 17:6), which was only 6 years after Hezekiah ascended to the throne in Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:1).  Thus, Micah was truly one of the last prophetic voices to speak to the north, being a contemporary with Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea.
    • A final opportunity (a last chance) was being extended to Israel.  And the lessons that Israel refused to learn were being offered to Judah as well.  Sadly, they would respond much the same way.  May we learn the lessons they did not!  When God speaks to our hearts about sin, we need to pay attention!  When the Lord convicts, listen!
  • God against Samaria/Israel (1:2-7)

2 Hear, all you peoples! Listen, O earth, and all that is in it! Let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, The Lord from His holy temple.

  • Right out of the gate, Micah calls the entire earth to attention, as the Lord GOD Himself is going to state His personal testimony against His own people.  Considering that the vast majority of Micah’s prophecies have to do with Israel & Judah, why is the rest of the planet supposed to listen?  Because if God has this to say about His people, how much more does He have to say against the Gentiles!  If God’s own people not exempt from judgment, no one is.
  • That said, as much as this is a call to all the nations, the two nations that would pay the most attention were Israel & Judah.  They needed to know what God Almighty was saying against them.  Their covenant God had charges with which to indict them, and they needed to know.
    • God still lays out charges against His people today.  Not from the standpoint of condemnation to judgment (that is something that has been placed upon Jesus at the cross), but from the standpoint of conviction.  We, as the people of God, have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and when we sin, He brings conviction to our hearts.  That twinge of guilt you experience when making a choice to sin?  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit calling to back to a place of obedience.  That’s God’s own testimony in your life.  And know this: it’s a good thing!  We need the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  We need His gentle, yet firm nudging like sheep need the staff of their shepherd.  That’s a sign that we belong to Him & that He loves us.  When a Christian sins & knows the conviction of the Spirit, that’s not a bad thing; it’s when no conviction comes…that’s bad!
    • What is the proper response to that conviction?  Repentance – obedience.

3 For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place; He will come down And tread on the high places of the earth. 4 The mountains will melt under Him, And the valleys will split Like wax before the fire, Like waters poured down a steep place.

  • Figurative description of God’s use of the Assyrians (and Babylonians) to conquer His people.  It will be like creation splitting wide open.  Creation melts away before its Creator, unable to maintain its structure in the presence of the infinitely glorious God.  From the perspective of Micah in regards to the northern kingdom, this is all symbolic & a bit extreme, but it certainly gets the point across.  The Assyrian conquest would not be easy, by any stretch of the imagination.  It would be brutal to experience.
  • What was figurative for Israel, will be literal for the world at the end of the age!  The NT also speaks of Creation melting away in the presence of its Creator:  2 Peter 3:10–12, "(10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (11) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?"  We have reason to live rightly: we’re looking forward to seeing Jesus!  We need not fear that day; we will already be with the Lord.  Yet that will not be the case for untold multitudes of unbelievers. 

5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob And for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem?

  • Both cities had been idolatrous.  Both were guilty of sin.  For as much as we think of the ancient Israelites as the people of God (which, officially, they were), their history is far more reflective of pagan idolatry than faithful Hebrew worship.  Their times of faithfulness were few & scattered through the centuries.  By & large, they walked in disobedience, worshipping the false gods of the Gentiles all around them. 
    • The fact that God waited so long to bring His judgment is itself a demonstration of His mercy!  He had every right to exterminate the nation before He ever gave them the Promised Land!
    • Our God is merciful!  I wonder how often we experience His mercies & we simply aren’t aware of it at the time?  Our sin is so subtle, and so frequent – it all underscores our utter need for Jesus.  Without His all-sufficient sacrifice, we would have no hope!
  • Samaria is first to be singled out. Vs. 6…

6 “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field, Places for planting a vineyard; I will pour down her stones into the valley, And I will uncover her foundations. 7 All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, And all her pay as a harlot shall be burned with the fire; All her idols I will lay desolate, For she gathered it from the pay of a harlot, And they shall return to the pay of a harlot.”

  • The book of Hosea showed the prophet taking an adulterous wife to himself, as a picture of Israel’s adultery against God.  In his later writing, Ezekiel described both the northern and southern kingdoms as harlots. (Eze 23)  This is how God sees idolatry.
  • How would God deal with the idolatry of His people?  As the culture of its day dealt with harlots and prostitutes: utter humiliation.  The nation would be “uncovered,” her possessions would be publicly “burned.”  The once-proud nation would be brought to its knees, humiliated in the sight of the world.
  • Interestingly enough, since Israel wouldn’t rid itself of its idolatry, then God would remove their idols by force. All of those “carved images” would be turned into rubble, and made “desolate.”  The Assyrian army would enter the land, destroying everything in its wake – including all of the golden idolatrous images of Israel.
    • If we don’t deal with our sin, God will.  Far better to surrender it to Him, than to have those things exposed!
  • The right reaction to sin (1:8-9)

8 Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the jackals And a mourning like the ostriches, 9 For her wounds are incurable. …

  • How does Micah respond to what was to come?  He howls in grief.  He humiliates himself on behalf of his people.  For him to “go stripped and naked” is not a sign of perversion; it’s one of utter mourning & grief.  He’s so broken over what is to come that he cannot contain himself.
    • This was one prophet living in the southern kingdom, but this is what everyone in the northern kingdom ought to have been doing all along!  They had lost sight of how sinful their sin actually was.  They didn’t grieve their sin; they dove into it, relishing it.
    • We might not need to be as extreme as Micah, but we ought to have the same attitude regarding sin.  It is indeed horrible, and ought to be mourned.  When we allow sin in our life, it ought to cut us to the quick, and send us to our knees.  When it doesn’t, that itself ought to be a red warning flag!
      • Yet never forget the good news: for the Christian, the price for your sin has been paid!  Yes, sin cuts us to the core…it should.  But confess it & be done with it.  We have the promise of cleansing & forgiveness; hold fast to the grace you have been given!
  • It’s not simply the punishment; it’s the sin itself that is so grievous.  The wrath of God is simply the right response to the sin of the people.  If there had been no sin, there would be no “wounds.” Yet, now there are, and they are “incurable.”  Worse yet, it was something that spread.

…For it has come to Judah; It has come to the gate of My people— To Jerusalem.

  • Sin is contagious.  What was in Israel came to Judah.  This was true in regards to both the sin and the consequence.  The idolatry in the north was practiced almost as frequently in the south, and the Assyrians that conquered Samaria eventually came to the gates of Jerusalem.  It was only by the grace of God that Sennacherib’s army did not conquer Jerusalem at the time, and that the Angel of the Lord killed 185,000 soldiers encamped outside. (Isa 37:36)
  • Sin grows, like yeast in bread.  1 Corinthians 5:6–7, "(6) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (7) Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us."  Why is it so important to deal with sin?  Because eventually it spreads to others.  One person looks the other way, then another, then another…soon an entire congregation simply shrugs & says, “That’s just the way it is.”  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be!  We are supposed to be holy, as God is holy – set apart for His use & His worship.  Obviously none of us is perfect, and all of us fall in major ways on occasion.  But sin not to be tolerated; it’s to be repented.  Sin is something to flee, and thankfully we can flee to the cross! 
  • God against Jerusalem/Judah (1:10-16)
  • Throughout this section, Micah engages in almost constant word-play.  It doesn’t come across in the English, but the Hebrew has words that either sound the same, or mean almost the same thing, with every city being another example of how the people of the south were to be humbled.

10 Tell it not in Gath, Weep not at all; In Beth Aphrah Roll yourself in the dust. 11 Pass by in naked shame, you inhabitant of Shaphir; The inhabitant of Zaanan does not go out. Beth Ezel mourns; Its place to stand is taken away from you.

  • The exception to the rule is “Gath.”  Gath was not a Jewish city, but a Philistine one.  The people of Judah would certainly mourn & be humiliated, but the prayer of Micah was that word would not spread to their enemies.  If all of this had to come to pass, may it not be celebrated among the Philistines in Gath.  The Jews might need to weep everywhere else, but there, they (hopefully) wouldn’t weep at all.
  • Beth Aphrah = House of Dust.  Dust thrown on head in mourning & grief.
  • Shaphir = Beautiful.  The beautiful would be shamed.
  • Zaanan = Going out.  The people named for their coming & going in freedom would be restricted, unable to go anywhere.
  • Beth Ezel = ??  There are some different thoughts for this name.  Some scholars believe it is related to “taking away,” whereas others believe it refers to “beside/alongside.”  Thus, it is either the House of Taking Away, or the Beside-House.  Either way, the idea is that there is nowhere to stand in safety.  Their security has been taken away from them.

12 For the inhabitant of Maroth pined for good, But disaster came down from the LORD To the gate of Jerusalem. 13 O inhabitant of Lachish, Harness the chariot to the swift steeds (She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion), For the transgressions of Israel were found in you.

  • Maroth =Bitterness.  The people were bitter as they “pined” away.  The word “pined” is interesting in that it refers to an anxious waiting – almost like the people were writhing in pain.  They longed so much for something good to come their way, but they waited in vain.  All that they would receive would be “disaster.
  • Don’t miss the fact that this disaster came from the Lord God!  It may have been the Assyrian army in their wickedness, but it was still sovereignly allowed (even intended and directed) by Almighty God.  God allowed the Assyrians to come in, wreak havoc, and then He pulled them out again by His mercy.  They came “to the gate of Jerusalem,” but they were not allowed to go inside.
  • The Assyrians were allowed to conquer the Jewish city of Lachish, a name which sounds very similar to “swift steeds.” (לָרֶ֖כֶשׁ )  The Bible speaks of the disaster that came to Lachish, while Sennacherib was on his way to Jerusalem.  2 Chronicles 32:9–10, "(9) After this Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servants to Jerusalem (but he and all the forces with him laid siege against Lachish), to Hezekiah king of Judah, and to all Judah who were in Jerusalem, saying, (10) “Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria: ‘In what do you trust, that you remain under siege in Jerusalem?"  So proud was Sennacherib of this conquest that the Assyrians had artwork carved of the battle & placed in palace in Nineveh (now housed at the British Museum).
  • Question: Why did God allow Lachish to be conquered & not Jerusalem?  It was a lesson.  It was directly because of the destruction at Lachish that Hezekiah sought the Lord in prayer in the way that he did.  The people of Judah had received a bitter taste of the Assyrian army, and they shuddered at the thought of more.
    • This is exactly the purpose of God’s hand of discipline in our lives.  Is it something He desires to bring?  No – God would much rather we willingly humble ourselves in repentance.  Is it something that we want to experience?  No!  Apart from the fact that it is a sign of God’s love for us (which is good!), no discipline is easy to endure.  But if that’s what it takes to bring us to repentance, then that’s what God is going to do.  He loves us too much to allow us to remain in sin, and He will do whatever is necessary to wake us out of our stupor and to seek His face.

14 Therefore you shall give presents to Moresheth Gath; The houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel. 15 I will yet bring an heir to you, O inhabitant of Mareshah; The glory of Israel shall come to Adullam.

  • Moresheth Gath = possibly means “one who is betrothed.”  If so, than the discipline they experience will be the dowry that is given.
  • Achzib = lie.  The kings/leaders of Israel were deceived by the strongholds there. 
  • Mareshah = possession/inheritance.  God would bring “an heir,” or a possessor/captor to them.
  • Adullam.  This isn’t so much a word-play as it is a reference to Jewish history.  It was to the cave of Adullam that David fled when he hid from King Saul.  David was considered the “lamp of Israel,” (2 Sam 21:17), so it’s probably with a quite a bit of sarcasm that the current sinful leaders of Judah were called “the glory of Israel.”  They would be left without a city to hide and find safety, and like David long-before, they would flee to the caves to hide from the coming foreign armies.
  • This was quite the list of cities!  There would be no safe place for those in the south, when God allowed His judgment to come.  It would begin with the Assyrians, but it would be completed with the Babylonians.  From that, there would be no escape.  So what should they do?  How should they respond?  Vs. 16…

16 Make yourself bald and cut off your hair, Because of your precious children; Enlarge your baldness like an eagle, For they shall go from you into captivity.

  • They were to humble themselves and prepare for captivity.  What Micah did in his mourning is what all of Samaria ought to do as well.  The judgment proclaimed by the prophet was indeed coming, so they needed to get ready for it.
    • Sadly, there’s no indication that they did.  Although the timeframe is a bit different, Jonah showed the entire city if the Ninevites repenting at the single proclamation of God’s judgment against them.  The Israelites received many more proclamations through all kinds of prophets, and they did nothing.  On this, they could have learned a lesson from the pagans.
  • Don’t fight God’s discipline, nor think yourself too good to experience it.  None of us are exempt, and once God declares something, we can be sure that He will move on it.  Our only real option is to humble ourselves & submit unto His hand.  And as believers, when we do we find that even if God does not remove His discipline, He will always give us the grace & strength to endure it.

Micah 2

  • God against oppression (2:1-5)

1 Woe to those who devise iniquity, And work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, Because it is in the power of their hand. 2 They covet fields and take them by violence, Also houses, and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, A man and his inheritance.

  • Description of the plans and practices of the wicked.  “Those who devise iniquity” are those who scheme out their wickedness.  They thoughtfully plan out how evil they will be. Micah specifically lists sins of greed and oppression.  These were people who coveted what they did not have, and plotted evil in order to obtain it.  Verse 2 is so specific, it’s hard to imagine that Ahab’s & Jezebel’s plotting against Naboth isn’t in mind. (1 Kings 21)  These were individuals who schemed evil against a man & his family – likewise, Micah (with the word of God) calls out any & all individuals who might follow in those footsteps.
    • Beware greed!  There is a reason that covetousness is included in the 10 Commandments – when covetousness begins, it leads to a host of other sins.  We want what we cannot have, and that starts our minds down a path of debauchery.

3 Therefore thus says the LORD: “Behold, against this family I am devising disaster, From which you cannot remove your necks; Nor shall you walk haughtily, For this is an evil time.

  • Notice the parallel wording in verse 3 in comparison with verse 1.  God devises disaster against those who devise iniquity.  God schemes against the schemer.
  • Question: Will the schemers be able to avoid God’s judgment?  No.  This is something “from which you cannot remove your necks.”  They would not escape their sin – they would know the judgment of God.
    • God’s judgment can never be avoided.  BUT…God’s judgment can be atoned!  As Christians, we do not experience the judgment due our sin, but that judgment is still doled out – it’s not avoided by any stretch of the imagination.  God gave His judgment, but He put it on Jesus & not us.  The judgment of God was not avoided; it was fulfilled – it found atonement in the sacrifice of Christ.

4 In that day one shall take up a proverb against you, And lament with a bitter lamentation, saying: ‘We are utterly destroyed! He has changed the heritage of my people; How He has removed it from me! To a turncoat He has divided our fields.’ ” 5 Therefore you will have no one to determine boundaries by lot In the assembly of the LORD.

  • A song of mourning and a proverb will be taken up against God’s people.  Once God’s judgment is poured out, it will be recognized for what it is.  The people will see the extent of their ruin, how everything was taken away from them.
  • Sadly, the same thing will take place in the hearts of countless numbers of people in hell.

Thus far, all of this has been the warning of God, spoken through the prophet Micah.  How would these warnings be received?  They wouldn’t be.  Vs. 6…

  • God’s word despised (2:6-11)

6 “Do not prattle,” you say to those who prophesy. So they shall not prophesy to you; They shall not return insult for insult.

  • Literally, “do not drip.”  God’s warnings were seen as a constant annoyance – a dripping to be stopped up & avoided.  It wasn’t seen as a flowing river of blessing, but more like a leaky roof that required repair.
  • People didn’t want the message of Micah (or of Isaiah, Hosea, etc.).  They didn’t want to hear a proclamation of judgment or a description of suffering, despite it being the truth.  What they wanted was something good – they wanted their ears tickled.  Micah spoke of the people receiving humiliation & insult, and the people didn’t want to hear of reproaches and hardships that could not be avoided.  They wanted to hear of good times & blessings & comforts.
    • Not much has changed! This is prophesied as a sign of the latter days (2 Tim 4:3) – even beyond that, people have always wanted to hear good news rather than hard news.  Keep in mind that the Bible does give good news.  It gives marvelously good news!  But we have to hear the hard news of judgment before we can appreciate the good news of the gospel.  That requires that we listen to all of God’s word, and not just get our ears tickled.
  • There’s no question that messages of judgment are difficult to hear. But the truth must be proclaimed!  Woe to pastors who refuse to preach the truth!  Woe to so-called prophets who proclaim nothing but empty promises & ear-tickling to their audiences!  They will face their own judgment by the Lord, and no doubt many will hear the words, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
    • Question: Why are these sorts of false prophets so abundant?  Apart from it being the end-times, and their existence being foretold in the Scripture – how is it that so many of these false teachers exist & have such prominent voices?  Answer: because people pay attention to them.  TV shows that have no viewing audience don’t last very long.  Authors who don’t sell any books don’t write many.  Granted, many people are truly deceived – but if true born-again Christians stopped giving time & attention & money to these false teachers, many of them would dry up almost overnight.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves, and that means we need to be true Bereans – being discerning with whom we listen, and what teaching we receive as truth.
  • The Lord continues speaking to Israel (probably both the north and the south)…

7 You who are named the house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the LORD restricted? Are these His doings? Do not My words do good To him who walks uprightly?

  • Has the Holy Spirit been shortened?  Did He somehow become powerless?  Is His word no longer truthful & trustworthy? 
  • Perish the thought!  God’s word is good & accurate!

8 “Lately My people have risen up as an enemy— You pull off the robe with the garment From those who trust you, as they pass by, Like men returned from war. 9 The women of My people you cast out From their pleasant houses; From their children You have taken away My glory forever.

  • God’s own people were acting like pagans.
  • They committed gross injustice towards women & children – again, calling on the earlier charge of oppression.
  • Worse yet, they destroyed their legacy.  The children would not know the “glory” of God, because they would not know God.
  • For all of these reasons, God declares their judgment. Vs. 10…

10 “Arise and depart, For this is not your rest; Because it is defiled, it shall destroy, Yes, with utter destruction. 11 If a man should walk in a false spirit And speak a lie, saying, ‘I will prophesy to you of wine and drink,’ Even he would be the prattler of this people.

  • The people would depart the land.  It would no longer be a place of rest of them – they had defiled it.
  • God had given them the opportunity to hear the truth, but they didn’t want it.  Again, they wanted a lie.  They wanted someone who would drip promises of parties & wealth; not of sin & judgment.
  • That may have been what they wanted; it wasn’t what they would receive!
  • Judgment was coming in the present, but something better was coming in the future: restoration!  Vs. 12…
  • God’s promise of restoration (2:12-13)

12 “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, Like a flock in the midst of their pasture; They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.

  • Notice the “surely” – the Hebrew grammar shows a definite emphasis on God’s work of assembling & gathering.  IOW, there’s no question He is going to do these things.  This is the sure promise of God!
  • The near promise was for scattering (“Arise & depart”); the future promise was for gathering.  Like the Good Shepherd He is, the Lord would gather His sheep together like flock.

13 The one who breaks open will come up before them; They will break out, Pass through the gate, And go out by it; Their king will pass before them, With the LORD at their head.”

  • Question: Is God presented as a shepherd, or as a king?  Both! The Good Shepherd opens the gate, but He can also be thought of as the Victorious Conqueror who “breaks open” the restraints on His people.  He will lead them as their King – just like He had always intended for them.
  • For as much as Micah will prophesy of judgment, he will also prophesy of the Millennial Kingdom, with King Jesus as the glorious reigning Messiah.  The first taste of it is given here.  He is King, and He is LORD.  He will lead His people, and all Israel will finally see Him for who He is!

Conclusion:
There’s some marvelous symmetry in Chapters 1-2.  Micah begins with God marching out to battle against His people.  Chapter 2 ends with God leading His people as the Victorious King & Shepherd.  There was much judgment awaiting both the Jews & Samaritans – but there was also a promise of restoration, regathering, and grace.  The judgment they deserved; the grace they did not…but that’s what makes it grace!

We too have received the grace of the Lord!  We have drunk abundantly of His mercies, and we rejoice in the fact that Jesus is the atonement for our sins.  He fulfilled 100% of the judgment that we should have received.  Praise God!

Just be careful not to take it for granted.  Do not despise the word of the Lord, nor His conviction.  When the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart, listen.  Pay attention to the things He has to say to you, and respond in obedience.  God doesn’t want to bring His discipline, but He’ll do it if necessary.  Don’t make it necessary.

Can Wicked Be Wise?

Posted: July 30, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 16:1-13, “Can Wicked Be Wise?”

Is it possible to learn something good from something evil?  Is it possible for the wicked to be wise?  Although our gut reaction might be “no,” Jesus gives us an example of the opposite.  In fact, our common experience shows this to be true.  How do most children learn to keep their hands away from the stove?  By burning themselves on it.  How do many drivers learn not to speed?  By receiving a ticket and paying a fine.  Sometimes, good lessons can be learned from bad circumstances.

Such is the case in Luke 16, with what has got to be one of the most perplexing parables from Jesus.  Unlike the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Prodigal Son, each of which have fairly obvious lessons, the parable of the Unjust Steward does not…and Jesus even provides an explanation!  What He teaches seems so unusual – so unlike anything He taught elsewhere.  Does Jesus really commend unscrupulous financial practices?  Is an unrighteous man really praised for his scheming actions?  Did Jesus really tell His disciples to basically do the same thing?

These are all good questions, and fortunately there are good answers…as long as we take the Bible in its proper context.  It is when we rip Scripture from its context that we typically get into trouble, and that is certainly the case here.  It is quite common for this passage to be reduced down to nothing but a tithing message.  It is also common for much of the teaching to be ignored, with focus put only on the “unrighteous” aspect of money, and the warning that it should not be our master.  And to be perfectly clear, there are at least elements of each of those things here…but they aren’t the main point.  As with all parables, we have to interpret it in light of the main point/idea, and we only see it by looking at the entire context.

So what’s the context?  Easy: Chapter 16 comes after Chapter 15.   That may sound simplistic, but it’s easy to forget due to the chapter divisions, which are not original to the text. (These were later editorial decisions.)  Originally, the stories would have flowed seamlessly together, which gives much assistance in our interpretation.

Remember that Chapter 15 contained three parables spoken to the Pharisees, all with one primary lesson: God rejoices in finding lost ones.  The tax collectors & other sinners, of whom the Pharisees were disturbed that they were welcomed by Jesus – these were the very ones over whom the angels rejoiced.  God the Father was overjoyed over every single sinner who repented, because it meant that one who had been lost, was found.  More than that, the Pharisees were themselves lost, though they didn’t realize it.  They had estranged themselves from God the Father, who held out His grace to them…if only they would be willing to receive it.

So it is with all that in mind that Jesus turned to His disciples to teach another parable.  Those who were lost did many things wrong, but there were still some lessons that could be learned from them.  The Pharisees may have missed the main point about the kingdom of God, but at least they were concerned about getting into the kingdom. They may have been trapped in their legalism, but at least it mattered to them how they were seen by God.  They were busy making preparations for the future, even if they went about it the wrong way.

That is the context that cannot be ignored.  Yes, how we handle money is important, but how we prepare for eternity is crucial!  What we do with one goes a long way in demonstrating what we think about the other.

So learn the wisdom from the wicked.  Do what it takes to prepare for the future.  Do what it takes to be ready for eternity.

Luke 16:1–13

  • The parable (1-8)

1 He also said to His disciples:

  • Although it’s not evident in the English, the Greek is pretty clear that this thought it to be connected with the earlier parables.  There are two conjunctions in the original, the first of which is untranslated in the NKJV.  The NASB brings it out by saying, “Now He was also saying to the disciples…”  Although we cannot say with firm conviction that Jesus gave this teaching in the immediate moments following the Parable of the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), there’s no question whatsoever that Luke connected these parables together.  It underscores the need to keep the earlier context in view.
  • Although the general context remains the same, Jesus’ primary audience changes.  Earlier, He spoke the three parables to the Pharisees (although others surely stood around listening).  This time, He spoke this parable to His disciples, even with the Pharisees still present (as seen in vs. 14).  What Jesus was about to teach was not a lesson for unbelievers, but for believers.  The unbeliever needed to repent & come to faith – a person who is lost needs first & foremost to be found.  The believer needs wisdom on how to act now that he/she is in the faith.  That’s what the disciples needed to hear.
  • Although it can sound repetitive, it does need to be emphasized that this is a parable; not a historical account, nor an allegory.  Not every teaching Jesus gives is a parable (something which we’ll see later in Chapter 16 with the account of the rich man & Lazarus), but this one is.  Generic unnamed people are mentioned – a typical earthly scenario is described – and Jesus even follows this particular teaching with (at least a bit of) an interpretation.  Those are all indicators of parables, telling us to look for the main point & not to try to find hidden meanings behind every character & action.
  • Jesus begins by introducing the setting…

“There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’

  • Culturally speaking, a “steward” was a household manager.  In fact, the Greek word says this almost explicitly (“law of the house”).  Just as wealthy people often employ others to help them manage their estates & holdings today, so was the case then.  So far, so good…there’s nothing unusual about any of this.  What happened at this point was that this particular steward had an “accusation” made against him.  The master had heard that his steward was squandering his wealth, and he threatened to fire him.
  • Right off the bat, this seems like an unusual scenario to put forth to the disciples.  After all, those who follow Christ ought to live their lives above reproach.  It’s not that we will never have accusations made against us, but those accusations shouldn’t stick.  Our love for Jesus will be seen in our lives.  In the case of employer/employee relationships, a Christian is to have a solid work ethic, as we do our job as if we’re doing it unto the Lord Himself. (Col 3:23)  That being the case, it’s plain that Jesus does not present the steward as one of His disciples.  So what is there to learn?  It is how the steward handles his predicament that Jesus points out to us.
  • As an aside, the Greek word for “accusation” is interesting.  It is the verb form of the same root that is often used to refer to the devil. (διαβάλλω / διάβολος ~ diablo [Spanish]).  Depending on the context, the word could be translated “slander,” although that’s not the case here as the accusation seems to have been accurate (judging by the steward’s response).  One dictionary notes that the word refers to charges that are made “with hostile intent.” (NIDNTT)  The point?  Whether or not this sort of accusation is true, the people who bring the accusations do so to bring harm. 
    • What an appropriate name for the devil!  He is indeed a slanderer!  Whatever he says against us, he says in order to bring harm.  Keep in mind that it doesn’t meant that what he says is always completely untrue.  Yes, the devil is a liar & the father of lies (Jn 8:44), but the devil doesn’t have to lie in order to bring accusations against us.  We often provide him ample firepower through our sins.  All he needs to do is simply tell parts of the truth to bring condemnation to us.
    • Don’t listen to him!  Yes, the devil accuses, but we have Someone who answers those accusations on our behalf.  The Lord Jesus is our Advocate (1 Jn 2:1) – He comes alongside us in our defense.  Obviously we want to live our lives in such a way that there is no room for accusations, but when there is – when we fall & the devil condemns us and slanderously charges us – remember that you do not stand on your own.  You stand upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will always stand in defense of those who belong to Him!
  • As for the steward, the charges against him were true.  He makes no attempt to defend himself or his actions.  Instead, he starts making plans for the door…

3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.

  • The steward knew he was in trouble, so he starts thinking through his options, only to find that he doesn’t have many.  Although the Temptations sang that they were “ain’t too proud to beg,” that wasn’t the case for the steward! J  He was “ashamed to beg.” We can imagine the irony!  He would have gone from collecting debts for his master to begging money for himself.  Neither did he believe he could “dig.”  Either he was too weak, too lazy, or too proud for that sort of work.
    • Although the point of Jesus’ parable was to show the shrewd plan of the unrighteous steward, what else could the steward have done?  He could have taken responsibility for his actions, attempted to make things right, and done some honest work.  Would it have been difficult?  Yes, and a humbling experience as well…but it would have been the right thing to do.  Too many people look for someone else to bail them out of trouble, rather than just doing the hard work that is necessary.
  • As the steward sat pondering all of this in fear, he had a sudden brainstorm.  Vs. 4…

4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’

  • Although he was certain to get canned, he hadn’t gotten fired yet.  So what does he do?  He comes up with a plan to curry favor while he still has the opportunity.  The steward figured he could ingratiate himself to others, to buy a bit of friendship for himself, so that when he was put out of one house, he could find provision in another house.

5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

  • Much has been said about the types of measures that Jesus described, and there are indeed very specific descriptions in the text.  Both are Greek transliterations of the Hebrew measurements: the liquid “bath” for the olive oil & the grain measurement of “kor” for the wheat.  Yet the type of measurement isn’t really the main issue at the end of the day, nor is the fact that the measurements cut don’t appear to equal out.  One was cut in half, whereas the other was cut by 20%.  According to some scholars, the monetary value of each cut was the same…but again, it misses the point.  What was the point? That the amount was cut at all.  This was the whole plan of the steward.  He took the opportunity he had to make friends with his master’s business partners.  If they saw him as doing them a favor, then they would be more likely to do him a favor when the time was needed.
  • Question: Was it illegal? Probably not.  That’s not to say that what the steward did was ethical, but it whatever the surrounding circumstance, it was probably legal.  Remember that he was commanded to “give an account” of his dealings, and he was already being watched & reported by others in the community.  If the servant had tried to swindle his master out of money, no doubt he would have put himself at risk.
  • So what was he doing?  That much is debated.  Some believe that the steward was knocking off his own commission from the transaction.  Others believe that he was getting rid of illegal usury.  Some theorize that he had already bumped the price illegally, and was getting it back to where it was supposed to be.  Still others suppose that the steward was trying to make his master look generous, and have other people speak well of the steward himself.  In the end, all the guesses are simply that: guesses.  In Jesus’ interpretation, He tells us none of these things.  The only thing we can know for certain is that this was the plan of the steward to be received into the houses of other people – this was his exit strategy as he looked at the very real potential of getting fired.
  • And it worked!  Vs. 8…

8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

  • The master “commended” him!  He praised this servant who had been accused of wasting his wealth & resources.  At best, the steward had been irresponsible with what was not his own – at worst, he had been guilty of embezzlement.  Yet the master praised him, even expressing admiration for him.  Why?  Because he was wise.  “He had dealt shrewdly.”  We don’t use the word “shrewd” too much anymore.  One English dictionary defines it as “1. Having keen insight; astute. 2. Artful; cunning. 3. Sharp; penetrating.” (American Heritage)  The Greek word is directly related to wisdom.  Yet how was this wise or astute?  We typically think of Biblical wisdom as relating to righteousness – and rightly so, for that is what the Bible teaches.  Proverbs 2:6–7, "(6) For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; (7) He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;"  Someone who is truly wise in the Biblical sense is someone who follows after the Lord God.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).  It is when we know God and worship Him rightly that we can start walking in the ways He wants us to walk, i.e., in wisdom.  So how could the actions of the steward be considered wise?  Why would he receive praise?  This is where our English word helps clarify the context.  The steward was not wise in a moral sense, but he showed insight in a financial sense.  He was cunning in his plans.  That was the reason for the master’s praise.  This wasn’t an endorsement of his past, nor was it necessarily an endorsement of his scheming.  It was simply an acknowledgment that the steward had taken the initiative & thought creatively.  The steward had thought ahead to his future, and took decisive action to get there.  That much (at the least) could be admired.
  • What does Jesus say about it all?  He agrees with the shrewdness of it.  People of the world sometimes act with more creativity and wisdom than the people of God.  At least from the perspective of insight and understanding, “the sons of this world” often have more effectiveness “than the sons of light.
    • We don’t want to be like the world, but we can certainly learn from the world.  Why is it that people pack out football and baseball stadiums, but churches are not filled?  Why are the Coca-Cola & Nike logos more recognized than the cross, in regards to its actual meaning?  The corporations of this world have made themselves known – they have actively reached out to every corner of society.  The church?  Not so much.  This wasn’t always the case!  When the church first began, it was so influential that people were getting saved on a daily basis. (Acts 2:41)  When the gospel started to spread beyond Jerusalem, the reputation of the apostles was that they were people who were turning the world upside-down. (Acts 17:6)
    • So what happened?  The church learned the wrong lessons.  Instead of maintaining the insightfulness and fervor of this steward of the world, the church adopted the identity of the world.  At a certain point, the church became indistinguishable from the world.  Once Christianity became the established official religion of the Roman Empire, it was watered down and had become political.  By the time of the Middle Ages, the Catholic church owned an incredible amount of land, and acted just like many of the other European lords: trading titles, favors, and politics.  (In point of fact, the Roman Catholic church is still incredibly wealthy in terms of land.  A 2011 Business Insider article listed the pope as the 3rd in the world in regards to landholdings, having less land only than the king of Saudi Arabia & the queen of England. http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-biggest-landowners-2011-3/#pope-benedict-13 )  The church went from turning the world upside-down to being the world, and thus it lost much of its true influence & purpose.
    • What was needed was a return to the gospel – a return to the foundations of the Christian faith.  That’s exactly what took place during the Protestant Reformation, and (hopefully) is still taking place today.
  • Again, Jesus is not commending the worldliness or wickedness of the steward in the parable, or of the “sons of this world” in general.  He simply makes the point that they have been shrewd in their dealings.  Like the ancient sons of Isaachar, they understood the times & knew what to do. (1 Chr 12:32)  Christians likewise need to have insight as to what needs to be done, and have the zeal to go about doing it.  This is how Jesus sets up the three lessons to be learned from the parable.  Vs. 9…
  • The lessons (9-13)

9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

  • Lesson #1: The best present use of worldly money is for eternal causes.  The steward used the means he had at his disposal to make friends for the future.  He was about to be put out of one household, and so he did what was necessary to prepare for a future one.  Likewise for us.  For now, we are given charge over worldly stuff: “unrighteous mammon” – and Jesus never once tries to whitewash it to make it sound better than it is.  If it’s not of God, then it is not of true righteousness.  If it is of the earth, than it is worldly/unrighteous.  That’s not a judgment so much as it is a plain fact.  But worldly stuff can be used for our eternal futures.
  • Question: Is Jesus saying that the kingdom can be bought?  Is He saying that someone can give so much money (or possessions) that he/she can purchase his/her way into heaven?  Absolutely not!  He’s saying that the stuff of earth can be used with people of the earth in such a way that it opens the way for heavenly things.  Money is not a key into heaven; it’s a tool that can be used by people going to heaven.
    • It’s been often said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”  You can’t take money with you to heaven, but you can invest in heaven while you’re on earth.  To some extent, the thought that we can send our wealth ahead of us is true, but people often get the wrong idea about it.  It’s not that we can build up a heavenly bank account with our name on it – we’re not looking forward to an eternal IRA.  What we can do is use our resources for kingdom purposes.  We cannot purchase ourselves a home in heaven, but it’s possible to use our resources in such a way that it helps someone else go there.  When we support missionaries or give money to evangelistic causes, we’re using unrighteous mammon in a righteous way.  When we use our money to share the love of Christ, helping other people see Jesus, then we’re helping them to receive an “everlasting home.
  • BTW – what on earth is “mammon”?  The first time the Greek word appears is actually in the New Testament, and it seems to have been a loan-word from Aramaic. (ממון )  One dictionary notes that when the Aramaic word appears in the rabbinical writings, it is “not merely money in the strict sense but a man’s possessions, everything that has value equivalent to money, and even all that he possesses apart from his body and life.” (NIDNTT)  So it does refer to money, but it doesn’t only refer to money.  Yes, cash can be used for the kingdom of God, but so can many other things.  How is your home being used for the gospel?  Your car?  Your cell phone?  That’s not to say that everyone is commanded to give everything away and live with nothing.  Granted, if you are ruled by your possessions & your wealth is keeping you from faith in Jesus, then yes – by all means, get rid of your stuff.  That was the lesson Jesus said of the rich young ruler. (Mt 19:21-22)  But if you can serve Jesus with your possessions, then by all means, do it!  Use them to help someone else come to faith.  Use them to help you live your life as a witness of the Lord Jesus.  Money/mammon is a tool; use it for the glory of God.

10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

  • Lesson #2a: Faithfulness is demonstrated.  The servant didn’t have faithfulness in the beginning, neither did he have it in the end.  He was unjust through & through, even though he was cunning in the way he carried out his plans.  If we want to be thought of as faithful by others, then we need to be faithful in the way we act. 
  • You can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she begins a project.  The way someone begins is often the way they finish.  If someone is careful in the beginning, they will likely be careful through the end.  If someone is lazy in the beginning, that isn’t likely to change partway through.  First impressions are often accurate as a whole.
    • It doesn’t have to be this way.  This is the good news of the gospel!  Through Jesus, our lives change.  Though we began as unjust, we do not have to remain unjust.  We can have a new start because we are made new creations.  Just keep in mind, that doesn’t happen without Jesus.  On our own, we most certainly will remain unjust & unfaithful.  It is only in Christ that our outcomes change (both for the present & for eternity).
  • On a purely practical level, there’s something to be said about starting small.  Many people want life to be handed to them on a silver platter.  We want to hit the lottery, and be given massive amounts, with no work going into it beforehand.  That’s not usually the way life works.  Those who want larger responsibilities have to start with smaller ones.  That’s true in business as well as ministry.  It is when we prove ourselves faithful in smaller things that eventually we are given larger things.  When the word of the Lord was given to Zechariah regarding the rebuilding of the temple, he was told not to despise the day of small things. (Zech 4:10)  Yes, the new temple was starting out small, but it would eventually get bigger.  It’s a similar principle here.  Be faithful with the little things, and trust God to give you more as He sees fit.

11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?

  • Lesson #2b: Faithfulness in worldly treasure demonstrates capability with heavenly treasure.  Things go from lesser to greater.  This goes hand-in-hand with vs. 10.  Those who are faithful with little are given the opportunity to be faithful in much – and that directly relates with the “true riches,” the things of God.  Again – this is not a reference to salvation.  Be careful about equating “true riches” only with the promise of eternal salvation.  Salvation is a gift; not a wage.  Salvation is grace; not something that be earned.  We are not looking to prove ourselves worthy of the gospel, because we can never be worthy of it…all we can do is humbly receive it through faith in Christ.  So – if it isn’t the gospel, what are the “true riches”?  Jesus does not tell us directly, but He likely refers to kingdom responsibilities: ministry opportunities, and the like.  Are we faithful to demonstrate the love of Christ to those around us?  If not, why would we expect a larger platform?  Are we faithful to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has entrusted to us?  If not, why would we expect anything beyond what He has already given?  Again – first, we use what we have.  Only after that, can we be trusted with more.  Whatever resources you have, first use those things for the glory of God, and see what happens from there.
  • Question: Does this mean we have to be competent money managers to be competent in the kingdom?  Does this mean that unless a person has made wise investments & has gained worldly wealth, that they will not be granted responsibility from God in the future?  No.  It does mean that we need to be faithful stewards of what we’ve been given.  Not everyone has been entrusted with a skillset for the stock market, or the wealth to invest if he/she wanted to.  But we’ve all been entrusted with something.  God has given us skills, gifts, resources, and abilities.  How have we used those things for His glory?

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

  • Lesson #3: Money cannot be our master.  In all of this teaching about money & the use of it, we have to remember: it’s not about money; it’s about Jesus.  The unjust steward was commended for his ingenuity; not his love of money.  His love of money is seemingly what got him into trouble in the first place!  That’s what caused him to be wasteful and have the accusations come against him.  If he had loved God more than money, he would have avoided all of the other stuff altogether.
  • If there’s one thing we know as American evangelicals, it is that money is constant temptation. This isn’t true only for Americans – this is true the world over.  People in every culture and country throughout history have sought wealth, which is evidenced by the fact that the Bible has so much to say about it!  According to some, money is the subject of nearly half of Jesus’ parables, and the Bible has nearly 2000 verses regarding money (as opposed to 500 verses regarding prayer). (http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/money-and-motives-11581312.html )  Whether or not the statistics are truly accurate or not, it is clear the Bible has a lot to say on the matter, for the plain reason that money is a stumbling block to many.  We look at wealth as an idol, and for many people, that is exactly what it becomes.  And it’s not only the rich that do it; it’s the poor as well!  Anyone who thinks about money from morning till night, who desires all that money can provide, who covets what they do not have, etc., that’s a person who worships money (despite whether or not they personally possess it).  And just like all idolatry, it is something that needs to be eradicated.  Why?  Because as Jesus said, it is impossible to “serve two masters.”  If our master is money, then it is not the Lord.  If our master is our bank account, our job, our possessions, or even our dreams & desires, then we are serving those things, and not God.
    • Question: Is it really that drastic?  Is it really an either/or choice?  Yes.  Think about it: we cannot travel both east and west at the same time – we have to choose a direction.  We cannot follow two different sets of direction at once.  It’s no different with our directions in life.  What we serve dictates what we will do.  What our goals are determine how we will act to achieve them.  Even if you have two goals, one will always be subservient to the other.
  • We have to choose whom we will serve!  This was the question posed by Joshua to the children of Israel when they had entered the Promised Land, and it is the same question that faces us today. Joshua 24:15, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”"  Choose whom/what you will serve!  You can certainly choose to serve wealth, if you want…it wouldn’t be unusual at all if you did.  After all, that’s what many other people in our culture choose to serve.  But there are consequences with that choice.  A choice to love money means that you will come to despise Christ, because no one can serve two masters.  If you choose to serve comfort, you will resent the difficulties you face as a Christian. If you choose to serve your ego, you will rebel against making Jesus first place.  If you choose to serve physical pleasures, you will reject purity and serving the Lord with your body.  Whatever other master you choose, if it is not the Lord God, you will eventually end up hating God.  It’s no different with money.  If you choose to serve wealth, riches, and mammon, then that is what you will love, and any professed love you have for Jesus will take a backseat and eventually turn to resentment.  Thus you cannot serve both.  You must make a choice. Choose to serve Jesus!

Conclusion:
Is there any wisdom in the wicked?  In a sense, yes.  The unjust steward was not wise in the way he got himself into trouble, but he was certainly cunning in the way he dealt with it.  He saw his need for the future, and did what it took to provide for himself.  He took the opportunity he had remaining to him, and he ran with it.

Those are the lessons we need to learn as Christians.  No, we are not to be like the world in their actions.  We aren’t to look like them, nor seek after the things that they seek.  But as far as them trying to provide for themselves and using the opportunities they have at their disposal – yes, we can do likewise.

First, we are to recognize we face an eternal future, and we need to be prepared for it!  Most importantly, this means we need to belong to Christ as one of His own, choosing to follow Him as our Lord & Savior.  Do what it takes to follow Christ, letting nothing hold you back.

Second, once we belong to Christ, we need to be faithful stewards of what He’s given us.  Use what He’s given you for His glory.  Money isn’t to be our master; it’s to be our servant.  It’s a tool that can be used to share Jesus around the world, and around the corner.  God has given us all kinds of opportunities…let’s not let a single one pass us by!

Resisting God’s Mercy

Posted: July 27, 2017 in Jonah, Uncategorized

Jonah 3-4, “Resisting God’s Mercy”

Perhaps the only size numbers that receive more exaggeration than fish stories are church attendance figures.  Pastors (and deacons, etc.) sometimes get a bit zealous with the numbers, and move from evangelistic fervor to “evangel-astic" stretching. 

Whatever records are kept by some churches regarding attendance and conversions, surely no ministry has ever had the singular success of Jonah.  He had one outreach to one city, and the response rate was 100%.  Jonah wasn’t even preaching to an easy crowd, but to complete pagans happy in their sin.  More than that, Jonah didn’t even want them to repent!  Yet they did, much to the prophet’s chagrin.

That set off a series of events between God and Jonah in which Jonah received a first-hand lesson from the Lord about the nature of true compassion and pity.  As a prophet of the Living God, Jonah should have done more than simply repeat the words of God; he should have reflected and modeled the character of God.  He didn’t.  Instead, he was angry & vindictive, going so far as to blame God concerning His goodness.  As had been the case at other times, the pagans acted more godly than the prophet…and that was a problem.  Yes, God was merciful towards Nineveh, but He was also merciful towards Jonah.  None of them deserved God’s mercies…but that’s what makes it “mercy.”

Remember what had led up to this point.  In the midst of the rise of the Assyrian empire, not long before Israel’s fall to the Assyrians, God called Jonah to go to one of the capital cities of Assyria and preach a message of judgment to them.  It was unusual enough for a prophet of the Lord to be sent to another country, but it was even more strange to have a prophet sent to an outright enemy of God’s people.  Jonah didn’t want to do it, and he rebelled, fleeing in the opposite direction.  Instead of going 550 miles northeast by land to Nineveh, Jonah hopped a boat out of Joppa and sailed due west to the furthest port known to the sailors: Tarshish (perhaps on the coast of Spain).  Jonah was so consumed with himself and his rebellion that he was willing to endanger the lives of those travelling with him, if it meant he could avoid going to Nineveh.

As Jonah would learn, no one can forever avoid God.  It is impossible to run from the God who is everywhere.  God prepared a terrible storm, and the sailors were forced to make a choice between their lives & Jonah’s, and (per Jonah’s instruction) they tossed the prophet overboard only to find a supernatural calm.  The Scripture indicates they came to faith, all while Jonah was splashing in the sea.

Jonah wasn’t afloat long, as God prepared a giant fish-like creature (perhaps a whale, perhaps a shark) to swallow Jonah & give him the first submarine ride in recorded history.  The prophet was supernaturally protected within the creature’s gullet, and Jonah prayed a humble prayer of repentance and faith towards God.  Three days later, he was vomited up on land, and that’s where the story continues.

At this point, the question is: what will Jonah do now?  When initially called by God, he ran.  This time, he would physically obey, but his attitude wouldn’t improve.  Jonah still hated these people, seeing them as deserving of God’s judgment, despising the mercy he was certain God would give. What Jonah didn’t understand was that he was just as deserving of God’s judgment, and it was only due to God’s wonderful mercy that he was alive.

Don’t despise the mercy of God; instead, rejoice in His goodness!

Jonah 3

  • Jonah’s 2nd chance (3:1-4)

1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”

  • God gave Jonah a second chance.  God had spoken to Jonah once, and Jonah ran.  There was no earthly reason for God to speak to Jonah again, but He did.  In the counsels of God, He had a purpose not just to use Jonah for His word, but to teach Jonah His character.  God had more than one purpose for this prophet, and He was going to see it done…even if Jonah was resistant along the way.
    • Praise God for the mercy He showed Jonah!  Praise God for the mercies He shows us!  Just be sure not to presume upon those mercies.  Just because God sometimes gives us second chances doesn’t mean He always gives us second chances.  Certainly, we always have the opportunity to repent and receive the mercies and grace of God – but we might not get the chance to relive an opportunity we once missed.  Sometimes we have to start anew from wherever we find ourselves, and the consequences we’ve received.  Someone convicted of a crime is not automatically released upon his/her conversion to Christ; they simply have to start living for Jesus from their prison cell.  Likewise for us.
    • That said, sometimes God does give second chances.  Treasure them!  Don’t waste them!  When God gives you an opportunity, go for it!
  • What was the message?  We find out in vs. 4, but for now notice the difference between this calling and Jonah’s initial calling.  Jonah 1:2, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."  Then, Jonah was commanded to generally cry out against the city for their wickedness.  Now, Jonah would be given a specific message from the Lord God.  It’s quite likely that if Jonah had been obedient the first time, God would have revealed to him a specific message along the way, but it is explicit here.  Jonah was to proclaim God’s word, and God’s word alone.  No commentary from the prophet was wanted nor needed.
    • People still need the word of the Lord rather than the thoughts of men. This is why we place such a high value upon the Bible.  It is God’s word that changes lives; not our opinions.

3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.

  • How big was it?  Pretty big!  Scholars are divided over the reference to “a three-day journey in extent.”  If 20 miles is a days’ journey, it seems unlikely that it was 60 miles in circumference.  One ancient writer declares it was indeed that size, but archaeology has shown foundations of a much more reasonably-sized city.  That said, if the reference is to the general area surrounding Nineveh, as opposed to just what was contained within the city walls, this is certainly a possibility.  Or, perhaps it is a reference to the total length of the streets & alleyways contained within, which Jonah may have walked.  Whatever the precise reference, the bottom line is clear: this was a big city!  This was no minor village with a small population; this was a major city, even by ancient standards.
  • In contrast to what happened earlier, this time Jonah obeyed.  When he “arose” from wherever he had landed, Jonah made his way to Nineveh.  Jonah’s attitude still needed a lot of work, but he at least took the first steps of repentance in actual obedience.
    • Sometimes (though not always, as seen with Jonah) our attitudes follow our actions.  If we have a difficult time feeling loving towards someone, start by acting loving.  Actually make the effort to show compassion, and quite often we’ll begin to experience that compassion along the way. 
    • On the flip side, if we never act according to repentance, can we truly say that we’ve ever repented?  Words are never a substitute for obedience.

4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

  • That was it.  That was God’s message for Nineveh.  Was this all?  Perhaps not.  Jonah surely summarized the message for his writing, and almost certainly he proclaimed it more than just once during his three-day journey through town.  Even given those possibilities, there’s still not a lot here.  This isn’t exactly a barn-burner of a message.  It is a mere 5 words in Hebrew (though it’s unlikely the Hebrew was used for a bunch of Assyrians).  There is no identification of God, nor any mention of the possibility of grace.  All Jonah gives (or, at least, all that he recorded) was a message of judgment.  The people had 40 days to prepare themselves, and then the whole city would be overthrown/overturned.  Life was about to change drastically for the people, and it was only be the mercies of God (though unidentified) that they were even told this at all.
  • Is there mercy in the proclamation of judgment?  Yes!  Think of it: God doesn’t have to warn anyone at all.  He could (and has every right to) judge anyone and everyone on the very first occasion of sin.  He is not under any obligation to allow anyone to wake up tomorrow morning.  Those who have sinned (i.e. everyone) deserve immediate judgment.  But God gives mercy.  He allows people the opportunity to wake, to seek His face, and to ask His help for change.  His proclamation of judgment is exactly what we need to awaken us to our need for change.  As Paul makes the point to the Romans, we wouldn’t even know what sin was, unless the law had been given. (Rom 7:7)  God’s declaration of judgment is what lets us know that we face His judgment, and that in itself is His mercy!
  • Beyond that, even if God’s mercy isn’t explicitly proclaimed, it is inherently implied.  After all, why warn anyone 40 days prior to destruction, unless there was an opportunity for the people to avoid death?  Obviously, the city could be evacuated, but that doesn’t really solve the problem.  God could bring judgment to the city as a congregation, or He could bring individual judgment if the people were dispersed.  The only reason for so much warning to be given is for people to turn from their evil and repent…and that was exactly what the people did.
    • That said, even though Jonah never spoke of the mercies of God, we should!  We have been given more than five words to proclaim to the world; we’ve been given the full gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We can, and should, let people know of the grand mercies and grace available to them in Jesus.  Do we tell them the law at all?  Yes – it brings conviction.  But when the time is right, we can move on from the law all the way to grace.  It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. (Rom 2:4)  Let people know of His goodness!
  • Nineveh’s repentance (3:5-10)

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

  • How many people responded to Jonah’s lackluster message?  All of them!  “From the greatest to the least of them,” from the king of the city on down to the lowest of servants – every single one of the people came to a point of repentance.  As prolific an evangelists as DL Moody, Billy Graham, or Greg Laurie have been, not a one of them have ever seen 100% response.  The repentance of Nineveh is the greatest Gentile revival in all history!
  • Notice their repentance had two parts: (1) they believed, and (2) they acted.  Even with as little as Jonah said, they still “believed God.”  Different theories have been proposed as to why they believed.  Perhaps Jonah had the scarring and stench of being left in a fish for three days, and the people who worshipped a fish god (Dagon) were awed by the power of Jonah’s God.  Perhaps they had heard the story of Jonah’s revival from the fish, and they put their faith in the God who could raise a man from the dead.  Or perhaps Jonah said little to nothing about his story, and it was just the sovereign work of God among the people of Nineveh.  Whatever the case, they did believe, and it drastically changed them.  Beyond believing in their hearts, they took definitive action: humbling themselves through fasting and wearing sackcloth.  Thus internally they believed, and externally they took action. 
  • Apparently it began as a grassroots movement, but it made it all the way to the nobles and leader of the city.  All of these actions were detailed in the proclamation of the king.  Vs. 7…

7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

  • They proclaimed a fast.  They willingly gave up their food in order that they might seek the Lord.
  • They demonstrated humility. As with their food, they gave up their comforts, understanding that their position needed to be one of mourning.
  • They cried out to God in prayer.  The first two actions mean nothing without prayer.  Fasting & sackcloth are not magic rituals that force God into action; they are external indications of an internal attitude – one that is dependent upon the Lord for sustenance and life.
  • They instructed the need for repentance.  More than prayer was needed; action was required.  The explicit decree of the king was for people to “turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.”  The king & people were (by this point) well aware of their sins, and they understood it needed to stop.
  • They held out hope in God, having faith in Him.  Even though this was the opposite of the proclamation of Jonah, this was the desired outcome for the Ninevites.  And, it was reasonable to hope for – after all, sincere repentance and mercy is at the heart of God. Ezekiel 33:11, "Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’"  Contextually, this is a word given to the Jews, but the principle applies to all.  It is far better in God’s eyes for people to repent, than for Him to judge them in His wrath.  He will judge, when necessary – but He prefers to show grace.
    • And praise God that He does!  If God did not desire to show mercy, none of us would be saved!

10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

  • Nineveh repented; God relented.  God “saw their works,” and God showed mercy in response.  Nineveh turned from its path, and God turned from His own. … God responds to repentance!  This is His desire for us, and what He explicitly commands us to do.  Why would He not respond if we actually did it?  How it all works together in the eternal counsel of God is something that cannot be answered from this side of eternity.  All we can definitively say is that God commands us to repent, and He responds to people who do.
    • The problem is that most people don’t do it!  God gives the opportunity for people to receive mercy – He wants people to respond to His offer of mercy…but He isn’t going to force anyone to do so.  We’re the ones that need to make the choice to repent.  But when we do, we find that God is good to His word.  He will respond to our repentance.
  • Question: Did God’s response make Jonah a false prophet?  No.  While it is true that Jonah proclaimed certain judgment upon the city, remember that there was an implicit offer of mercy simply by the time-window of 40 days.  Thus, the promise of judgment was conditional; not unconditional.  If the city had not repented, the wrath of God would have surely been poured out.  As it was, the city responded to God’s message to them, and He responded in kind, through His mercies.
    • Beyond that, Jonah’s word of the city being “overturned” (literal translation) is still true.  40 days had not passed by before the city was turned upside-down in repentance.  They weren’t the same people as they were before.  They had experienced a glorious transformation – which is what God desired for them all along.

Jonah 4

  • The response: Jonah’s anger over Nineveh (4:1-4)

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.

  • The Hebrew is interesting here.  A more wooden word-for-word translation of this might be: “And it was evil/bad to Jonah, great evil, and he burned [with anger].”  God’s goodness was evil in Jonah’s sight.  How backwards things had become! The Gentiles were repenting in faith, while the Hebrew prophet was responding with anger, basically accusing God of evil.  (This is what selfishness does to us.  It consumes us!)

2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

  • What was Jonah’s complaint?  God was too good!  Jonah knew the truth about God’s character, and God was so good that it displeased him.  What Jonah said about God is what God basically declared about Himself to Moses: Exodus 34:6–7, "(6) And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, (7) keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”" Jonah was hoping a bit more for the latter part, and less of the former!  In actuality, God’s nature cannot be so easily divided.  His mercy does not exist without His judgment – His wrath is not known apart from His love.  How do we know?  The cross.  At the cross of Jesus, the nature of God is fully revealed!  His wrath towards sin must be satisfied by a sufficient death, and His love is demonstrated in the fact that He sent His own Son to be that sufficient death for us.  What might seem impossible to reconcile in God’s character is fully reconciled in Jesus!  (Which is why Jesus is the only way to God!  We cannot be saved apart from Him!)
  • Jonah understood this, even in his ignorance of Jesus.  Jonah understood that God’s mercies are greater than can be imagined, and that if given the opportunity, God would turn from the harm He otherwise promised to bring.  Without the message of judgment, Nineveh would have never have known to repent, and they surely would have been destroyed.  That was the entire reason Jonah didn’t want to go in the first place.  He never wanted his enemies to know the goodness of God.  All he desired was their destruction.
    • Is there anyone you want to see destroyed?  Is there anyone you believe should never hear the message of the gospel?

3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4 Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

  • How much did Jonah hate the Assyrians?  He would have preferred death than for his enemies to experience the mercies of God.  Jonah would have rather drowned in the Mediterranean Sea than to live to see the day that Nineveh escaped judgment.  
  • That’s when God asked Jonah a probing question – one which He will come back to later on.  Was Jonah “right” in his anger?  Was this morally & ethically correct for a supposed man of God?  The answer ought to be obvious (and the question obviously rhetorical), though apparently there was nothing obvious to Jonah about it.
  • Before we get to the lesson, stop to consider the irony of all of this for a moment.  Yes, Nineveh had been spared the judgment of God, which was infuriating to Jonah.  But why had they been spared?  Because they had a message proclaimed to them by a prophet, who himself had been spared the judgment of God!  Did Nineveh deserve destruction?  Yes…but so did Jonah, the moment he disobeyed God.  Yet God allowed him to live while upon the boat – God allowed him to live the moment he was cast overboard – God allowed him to live when swallowed by the giant fish – God allowed him to live even when spit back up on the shore.  God even gave Jonah a second chance at preaching His word.  And even after all of that, Jonah objects at the fact that God allowed an entire city to live and have a second chance of living apart from evil.  For a prophet of the Living God, Jonah was a hypocrite of the highest proportions!
    • Knowing that we ourselves are the recipients of God’s mercy & grace, how can we possibly deny it to others?  Beyond that, how can we possibly refrain from sharing it with others?
  • An object lesson: Jonah’s anger over the plant (4:5-9)

5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.

  • Apparently, Jonah still held out hope for judgment.  Perhaps he thought that God might rain down fire & brimstone, as in the judgment of Sodom & Gomorrah.  It seems that he picked out a prime spot for viewing, and waited for it to come to pass.  He’d be waiting a long time! 
  • God used the opportunity to teach him a lesson. Vs. 6…

6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

  • Notice the repeated word “prepared.”  It is the same word as used in reference to the giant fish (1:17).  God had ordained all kinds of things for this moment.  He prepared (ordained/appointed) a plant, a worm, and a wind.
  • Jonah was grateful for the plant, but not so much for the worm, and he downright hated the east wind.  All the comfort that he had experienced from the previous day was gone, and he was now baking under the hot desert sun, being blasted by this wind from the east.  It surely felt as if Jonah was in a furnace, and it made him miserable.  Ever-prone to exaggeration, Jonah thought it better “to die than to live.”  Keep in mind that he had been in this place barely 24 hours, and already he’s wishing for death.  It just underscores how self-centered Jonah had become by this point.  From a literary standpoint, he has become a ridiculous figure – almost comic-relief.  That’s a pretty sad position for a prophet of God!
    • That said, it’s difficult for us to point too many fingers.  How many times do we start whining when things don’t go our way?

9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

  • God asks the same question to Jonah about the plant as He had about His mercies.  This time, Jonah responded, saying yes, it was morally right for him to be angry.  Jonah believed he had every reason to complain about the death of the plant, even though it had been an obvious gift of grace, one that Jonah freely acknowledged had come from the Lord.  If the plant had been there, Jonah would have been sheltered from the sun & the wind.  Jonah surely knew that just as God had provided the plant, God had also provided the worm & the wind.  In essence, Jonah wasn’t angry about the plant; he was angry with God.  He was upset that God would choose to remove a blessing from his life – even if it was a blessing Jonah did not deserve, nor even one that he requested.  Jonah was upset at God’s sovereignty and the application of God’s mercy.  He was upset that God was God, and he was not.
  • If we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t this the main reason we find ourselves upset with the Lord?  God has chosen to act in a certain way, and we wanted Him to do something else.  And like a child throwing a temper tantrum, we throw our tantrum with the Lord.  Never mind that the Lord has been nothing but gracious with us – never mind that He has showered us with mercies, and made us His children – never mind that we have the seal of the Holy Spirit and a guaranteed eternal future with Jesus.  We didn’t get our way, so now we’re upset.  We think we know better than God, and He should have done things the way we wanted Him to do.
    • Oh, the foolishness of men!  How dependent we are upon the grace of Jesus!  If it weren’t for His ongoing mercies towards us, none of us would be saved!  Beloved, never forget that God is always good, and that He is always right.  He knows the end from the beginning, and He knows what fits best within His eternal plans and counsels.  God is God & we’re not.  We need to trust Him.  He knows what He’s doing!
  • This is the point God drives home to Jonah.  Vs. 10…
  • The moral: God’s pity for Nineveh (4:10-11)

10 But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?

  • God points out the selfishness and foolishness of His prophet.  Jonah had more pity on a withered plant than he did on a city full of ignorant people.  The plant lasted less than a day, yet God had known all of the individual Ninevites since before the foundation of the world.  So many people in that city were desperately lost.  They knew nothing of God, apart from what Jonah had revealed to them.  They were so spiritually ignorant that it was as if they didn’t know the difference between their right & left hands.  (Some believe this is a reference to the number of young children in the city, but the number seems a bit excessive.  Either way, the picture is one of ignorance.)  These were people doomed to destruction.  Where was Jonah’s love?  Where was his compassion & pity?  If he had so much care for a single plant, did he not even care about the animals in Nineveh?  At the very least, he should have considered all of the death of the livestock.  Yet he didn’t.  Jonah was consumed for himself & his selfishness, and the prophet of God demonstrated none of the character of God.
  • That’s not the way we ought to be!  As God’s people, we are to be His representatives – His ambassadors.  We ought to care about the things God cares about, and show mercy the way God shows mercy. 

Conclusion:
And that’s how the book ends.  The narrative leaves off with Jonah being chastised by the Lord God in the middle of the Assyrian desert outside the city of Nineveh.  The last words spoken by the prophet were words of selfishness, with no sign of repentance.  There’s no wrap-up, no happy ending. 

At least, there was none that was written.  The fact that this book exists at all is evidence that Jonah lived to tell his story, if not write it down himself.  And in all likelihood, he did write it himself, because no one else would have been able to write his prayer inside the fish with the same detail Jonah did.  Thus, something happened in the life of Jonah after this encounter with the Lord, and the evidence points to a sincere change of heart for the prophet.  He didn’t write any more to the story because God did not have him write further – but what he wrote was refreshingly honest.  Jonah never attempts to whitewash his attitude or make himself look better than he was.  He shows himself in all of his selfishness and sin, and provides a great example to the rest of us of what not to do.

Beloved, be like Jonah in who he became; not who he was.  Don’t be upset at the goodness of God, rejoice in it!  God’s mercies are incredible, reaching out to people who do not deserve them at all.  We ourselves are living proof!  We didn’t deserve God’s love & grace, yet we received it.  We didn’t deserve the sacrifice of Jesus, yet He gave Himself for us.  If we can be saved, anyone can be saved.  They just need to be told.  Tell them!  Don’t hold the good news of Jesus back from anyone.  Even the least likely of people still have the opportunity to come to faith in Christ – so let us be those who give them that opportunity.

What’s the opportunity?  Repentance.  God responds to repentance!  When an entire city demonstrated sincere repentance, God relented from His judgment, and they were saved.  Sadly, this wouldn’t be a lesson that Nineveh would remember for long – the book of Nahum speaks of their confirmed judgment and destruction.  But it is a lesson that we shouldn’t forget.  When God gives us the opportunity to repent, take it – and remain in it!

Parable of the Lost Son(s)

Posted: July 23, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 15:11-32, “Parable of the Lost Son(s)”

It is one of the most famous parables of Jesus, and it has inspired countless works of art and other symbols of devotion.  One of which is Rembrandt’s masterpiece, “Return of the Prodigal Son,” which hangs in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  When viewed in person, the painting truly shows the pathos of the moment: the grief of the younger son, and the overwhelming compassion of the father.  Even for those of us who know little about art (myself included!), it is easy to lose yourself in the work, and hear the words of Jesus in your mind as you study the painting.

What is it about this parable that is so captivating?  Perhaps it’s because we cannot help but see ourselves in it.  Maybe we are like the younger son – one who wasted much, and feel as if we have no right to ever approach God.  Maybe we are like the older son, hardhearted & frustrated by others who seemingly take advantage of a free gift of grace.  Whatever our background, it is perhaps impossible not to be overwhelmed and even a bit confused by the love of the father.  How can someone so good love someone so lost?  How can someone forgive others so freely and so readily?  And perhaps most importantly: how can we receive that kind of love & forgiveness?

I believe that Jesus describes the love of the father in a way to purposefully overwhelm us.  He wants us to be blown away with this kind of love and forgiveness.  Why?  Because it’s real.  The sooner we realize the reality of the availability of God’s grace, the sooner we will seek it.  The more we are overwhelmed by His love & grace, the more we will share in it.  After all, the grace that we have received from God is the same grace that anyone can receive from Him.  And that’s something in which we can rejoice.

Before we get to the parable, it is important that we pick up on the context.  It is always important to see any Scripture in context, but especially so here.  This is the third of a series of parables that all teach the same thing.  Remember that tensions had begun to escalate between Jesus and the Pharisees, and that He began warning them that they might not be included in the kingdom of God, despite their self-confidence to the contrary.  The people who would be included would be those that the Pharisees least expected: the blind, the maimed, and those who were generally helpless.  In other words, those included in the kingdom would be those who knew their only hope was the grace of God.  Those would be the people who truly counted the cost of discipleship, surrendering their lives to Jesus to follow Him in sincere faith.

Thus, it was only natural for Jesus to spend time with them, teaching them the things of God.  This made the Pharisees terribly upset.  They couldn’t understand who Jesus as a rabbi (even an informal one) could receive/welcome people like tax collectors and other sinners.  In their minds, these were people in need of punishment; not joy and the grace of God.

That’s when Jesus began this series of parables, telling how God rejoices in recovering things (people) which once were lost.  First, it was the parable of the lost sheep, where the good shepherd was willing to leave ninety-nine behind, if it meant that the one who was lost could be found.  Likewise, heaven rejoices over every individual sinner who repents.  Second, it was the parable of the lost coin, where a woman basically tore her house apart searching for a coin that was lost.  Just as she rejoiced in finding it, so do the angels rejoice over repentant sinners.  There is joy when lost ones are found!

That brings us to the third and final parable in the series.  It is often called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but in keeping with the theme, it is better called “The Parable of the Lost Son,” or better yet, “The Parable of the Lost Sons.”  Why?  Because there are actually two sons which are lost, though their depravity is expressed in different ways.  Two sons lost; one son found.  The love and grace of the father was available to each, but only one son is shown receiving it.

Beloved, there is more than one way to be lost.  Thankfully, God still seeks after and rejoices over lost ones.  We simply need to be available to be found.

Luke 15:11–32

  • Sin of the younger son (11-16)

11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

  • Jesus provides the setting, telling of something shocking.  Out of a father’s two sons, the younger son asked his father directly for his portion of his future inheritance.  Legal?  Yes. Loving? No. Normally, an inheritance is received upon the death of another.  Basically, the younger son was treating his father as if he was dead. Already, the son is in sin (in heart, if not in legal technicalities), breaking the 5th Commandment by dishonoring his father.
  • How much was the portion? Probably one-third.  As the father had two sons, the older often received a double portion.  How much this works out to monetarily is unknown and irrelevant.  The bottom line is that whatever the younger son had coming to him later, that was what he requested and received.
    • Although it’s not the main point of the parable, there’s something to be said here regarding patience.  Had the young man been willing to wait a few years, his entire life would have been different.  As it was, his whole future changed on the basis of his impatience and lust for fleeting pleasures.  It may not be a Biblical proverb, but the phrase “patience is a virtue,” is nonetheless true!
  • Interestingly, the word translated “livelihood,” could also be translated “life.” (βιος) The father gave of his wealth – but more than that, he gave of himself.  Whatever he had, and whatever consisted his daily living, that was what he gave to his son.  Contextually, the meaning of “wealth” is clear, but considering the love of this father, the deeper meaning is surely hinted at as well.

13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.

  • It took time to gather everything together, sell off things he couldn’t take with him, etc., but as soon as he got the opportunity, the younger son was out the door.  Many young people have been impatient to leave home; this particular son couldn’t get out fast enough.  What was the rush?  Jesus never says.  All kinds of scenarios might be imagined, but there’s no hint of anything but a loving home life, based on the father’s later reaction.  This son simply wanted to leave, and start his life of debauchery.  In doing so, he added further insult to injury: not only did he wish his father dead, but he indicated that he never wanted to see him again.  He went to a “far country.” Perhaps he wanted as few ties as possible to his former home?  Where he was, there would be no friend of the family to report back as to what he was doing.  There would be no colleague or business partner to relay news.  The young man left, and apparently he attempted to leave no trace behind.
  • Once there, he wasted it all.  Everything he had demanded from his father was eventually gone.  We rarely use the word “prodigal” apart from a reference to this parable – what does the word mean?  “Prodigal living” = irredeemable living.  The word for “prodigal” is the negated form of the word meaning “to save.”  Whatever lifestyle is the opposite of salvation, health, deliverance, etc., that was what the younger son did in his sin.
    • Again, the son’s childhood is not described for us, but from the characteristics of the father & the complaint of the older son, it seems obvious that this was not the way the younger son had been raised. He had fallen far! He abandoned everything of what he knew to go off and live the way he wanted…to terrible results.
    • Many young people go through periods of rebellion – and some take longer to grow out of them than others.  Know this: there may not be anything redeemable about your way of life, but there is something redeemable about you.  The Lord Jesus is our grand Redeemer.  There is no person so lost that He cannot save.  There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive.  You might have a past of which you can do nothing about, but the present & future can most definitely change.  Receive the redemption of Christ, and start anew!
  • Once the money ran out, that’s when the consequences came.  Vs. 14…

14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

  • How much did the son waste?  Everything.  He “spent all,” leaving nothing left to feed himself. He ended up putting himself into indentured servitude, “[joining] himself to a citizen of that country.”  Basically, this young man went from living like a king to that of a slave. The only employment he could find was the most degrading thing possible for a Jew: serving swine.  He had to handle defiled flesh day-in and day-out, ever reminded of how far he had fallen.  This was humiliating to the extreme!
  • The “pod” referred to was most likely the seed pod from the carob tree. Carob trees grow wild all over the Eastern Mediterranean lands, and the seed pods were often used to feed livestock, which saved the more valuable cultivated crops for humans.  The ripe pods are actually quite nutritious, but the thought of eating the same dinner as the pigs was revolting to the son.  This only added to his humiliation.
  • Repentance of the younger son (17-21)

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!   

  • Finally, he experienced a moment of clarity.  He “came into himself.”  This was the moment he woke up & wised up!  He realized (1) what he had done, and (2) who he was supposed to be.  Even the “hired servants” ate better than he did.  The hired servants were the day laborers – the lowest on the hierarchy among the people working his father’s land.  Some servants lived on the property, and were treated almost as family & other members of the household.  These were people in & out through the course of a day.  Even so, they still ate better than he did.  This was the instant the son realized how low he had sunk.
  • Ever have a moment when you wake up & realize the state in which your actions have put you?  Looking around at your life, you think: “What have I done?  This isn’t what I thought I wanted at all!  I wish I could do it all over again, and differently!”  It’s good (and necessary) to get to that point of clarity, though it would have been far better for it never to have been needed in the first place.  Keep in mind that no one hits bottom overnight – it takes a series of steps to take us there.  Little decisions stacked up on one another leads to big consequences.  The key is to change the little decisions early on, before things get worse.  How to do it?  By always remembering your dependency upon Jesus. More often than not, we end up making sinful decisions because we believe we’re not going to sin when we do it – or, at least, we can moderate the amount of sin in which we can engage.  Reality check: we can never moderate sin.  We are sinful beings, living in a world infected by sin.  Even as born-again Christians, this is a struggle.  Yes, we have new natures able to say “no” to sin (something we were unable to do prior to believing upon Jesus) – but we still have the old man within us, battling against us.  If we give that old nature a taste, we will inevitably go further than what we intended.  This is why we have to daily crucify our flesh, always counting ourselves dead to our former selves.  Romans 6:11, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Give your flesh no quarter, so that the opportunity is not given for small decisions to lead to terrible consequences.
    • And when/if you do…fall upon the grace of Jesus!  The ability to walk apart from sin is 100% dependent on Jesus.  We are dependent upon Him for the little decisions, and we are dependent upon Him for forgiveness in our failings.  The moment we believe we can do it on our own is when we will fail.  Thankfully, Jesus’ forgiveness is bigger than our failures!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’

  • Realizing the depths to which he had fallen, the younger son made a decision.  He committed himself to repentance.  Repentance (as we know) is far more than words & intents, but it starts there. If we never make a decision to repent, we won’t.  He did.
  • First, there was an admission of sin.  His sin was vertical (“against heaven”) and horizontal (“before you”).  Important realization!  The son’s sin was not only against his father – in fact, it was not primarily against his father; it was against God.  David affirmed this same concept in his confession to God regarding his sin with Bathsheba.  Psalm 51:4, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge."  Question: Were there other people against whom David sinned?  Surely Uriah the Hittite tops the list, having been killed upon David’s command!  Yet David is not discounting the murder; he is acknowledging the truth of his sin.  All sin is sin against God.  Sin is primarily an offense against our Creator, and it needs to be acknowledged as such.
  • Second, there was an understanding of his consequence.  He was “no longer worthy to be called your son.”  People today have a difficult time taking responsibility for themselves.  There’s almost always someone else to be blamed, and demands to be made.  In true repentance, there are no demands.  Forgiveness is not a right to be demanded.  When we have sinned, all of the “rights” belong to the other party, i.e. God. 
  • Third, there was a plea/request.  He wasn’t asking to be made part of the household; to be a day-laborer was more than enough.  Again, the son wasn’t demanding anything; this was a heartfelt plea for mercy.  If he could simply have permission to come on his father’s land during the day and work for minimum wage, that would be far more than what he currently have – and infinitely more than what he deserved.  In his plea, he had the right perspective of humility.
  • Although many people have prayed one, the “sinner’s prayer” is nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Yet if someone wants a good pattern as to how he/she might pray to God, asking for forgiveness, the intended speech of the younger son is a good example!
    • Admit your sin against God.
    • Understand the judgment you deserve, knowing that it has already been received by Jesus.
    • Request God’s forgiveness – not for your sake, but for Jesus’.

20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

  • Up to this point, the son’s repentance had been theoretical.  He had the right words & (apparently) the right attitude, but nothing else.  The only way to discern whether or not his heart was real was to look at his actions.  And his actions followed through: “he arose and came to his father.”  He left where he was & what he was doing, and went home.
    • Remember that Biblical repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change of direction.  That is exemplified through the son.
    • Question: Does this mean that someone has to completely change his/her life before he/she can receive the forgiveness of God?  After all, the son had to walk a long way home before he ever saw his father.  No.  Remember that this is a parable; not an allegory.  We need to be careful not to push the symbolism beyond what is actually being taught.  Yes, sincere repentance goes hand-in-hand with true faith, but the fruits that accompany repentance are not the things that save us.  If they were, that would turn salvation into something earned by works, rather than a gift of grace.  The Biblical model is that we believe Jesus, repenting towards Him in our hearts, and it is after that that the sincerity of our repentance is demonstrated through our actions.  We are saved by grace through faith. (Eph 2:8-9)  That always comes first.
  • In fact, that principle is demonstrated through the father’s actions.  Yes, the son acted in his walk home, but it was the father who took the initiative in actually receiving him home.
    • The father “saw him” a “great way off.”  He was watching.  Whether or not the father was daily scanning the horizon for a hoped-for glimpse of his son is unknown (despite many well-preached sermons along this line!) – but what Jesus does say is that the boy’s father was watching that day.  For whatever reason the father had looked up at that moment, he did, and he sprang into action.
    • The father “had compassion” upon his son.  He was moved in the deepest way.  The same word is used of Jesus when the gospels say how He had compassion upon the crowds.  This father was filled with pity for his younger son; the very opposite of what others might have expected.  The Pharisees would have expected anger, or at least indifference.  Not so – this loving father was filled with compassion.
    • The father “ran” – something a rich landowner would not normally do, especially when dressed in long robes.  Yet this father was so overcome with joy that decorum flew out the window.  At this point, Jesus’ description (purposefully) goes into extravagance.  This would have been almost as shocking to Jesus’ audience as the initial description of the boy’s decadence.
    • The father “fell on his neck and kissed him,” treating him as exactly who he was: a long-lost son.  The son hadn’t had a chance yet to say anything, and the father already received him as family.  The father was overjoyed at the mere presence of his younger son.
  • How this reflects the actions of God the Father towards repentant sinners!  He watches for us, has compassion upon us, takes the initiative in our salvation by reaching (and racing) out to us, and treats us as His children – long before we are able to do anything for Him.  To those who believe they can never be forgiven – to those who think they can never turn back to God – listen to the words of Jesus regarding the prodigal son!  The heart of this boy’s father is magnified many times over in the heart of our Heavenly Father!  God does not turn away repentant sinners; He runs for them!

21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

  • The son’s confession…or at least, part of it.  This was the first part of the speech the son had prepared, but he wasn’t able to get too far into it.  This was all the son was able to say before his father cut him off and showered him with grace upon grace.
  • Before we look at the father’s response – was what the son said true?  Absolutely.  He denied nothing, assuming full responsibility for his actions.  That’s how confession works.  Confession isn’t our opportunity to make excuses for ourselves & blame others.  It’s not even really the process of detailing every act of sin we’ve ever committed.  Notice that the son doesn’t list out the various ways he lived as a prodigal; he just confessed his total sin against God and his father.  If confession was detailing out everything, none of us would be able to confess fully, because none of us would remember everything!  No – confession is simply this: agreeing with God that sin is sin.  Confession is honest acceptance and admission of our actions, thoughts, and words.  We’re not blaming anyone or any circumstances; we’re taking the blame because we were the ones who did the sin.
    • Too often, people (even born-again Christians) don’t confess; they make excuses.  They do whatever they can to avoid true confession…and then they wonder why they still deal with guilt and unresolved sin.
    • Christian: confession brings cleansing!  1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  There is only one way for a Christian to be done with sin: confess it…so do it!
  • Response of the father #1 (22-24)

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.

  • Did the father chastise the son for all the things he did wrong?  No.  Did he lay into his son for leaving the way he had?  No.  Did he even agree with his son about the son’s unworthiness, and treat the young man as a hired hand?  No.  The father treated him as he was: a son.  And just to make sure the son (and everyone else knew it), he even ensured the boy was dressed as a son.  No rags, but a robe.  Slaves might be barefoot, but sons wore sandals.  Best of all was the ring, giving him the seal that belonged only to family.  This was grace on top of grace.
  • This is how God treats us!  He clothes us in the righteousness of Christ (i.e., the robe).  He cleanses us from the shamefulness of our sin (i.e., the sandals). Sealed with the guarantee of the Spirit (i.e, the ring).  We don’t want to turn a parable into an allegory, but the parallels are fairly clear.  The bottom line is that just as the father treated his son like family, so does our Heavenly Father do with us.  Before we believed upon Jesus by faith, we were the enemies of God, but once we believed, we became family.  God treats us as His children, for that is what we are. (Jn 1:12)
  • And if all that wasn’t enough, the father threw a party!  Vs. 23…

23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

  • This is what was mirrored in the earlier two parables.  The shepherd called his friends and neighbors regarding his recovered sheep, and the woman did the same with her recovered coin.  Now the father celebrates with others with his recovered son.  This was not a private dinner with the father and the boy; this was a public celebration.  All people would know the extent of the father’s forgiveness, thus the son would be fully restored.
  • There is one slight addition from the first two parables, but extremely important.  This son was not simply lost & found; he was dead and then made alive.  Physically?  No – but figuratively speaking, it was true.  Although it was the son who treated his father as if he was dead, in actuality it was the son who “died.”  He was the one who left home, behaving as if he had never been a part of the family.  The son had died to everything he had previously known, but now he was back.  In seeking (and most importantly, in receiving) forgiveness, the son who was once dead was now alive.
  • That’s the reason for celebration!  When a sinner repents and puts his/her faith in Jesus, that person isn’t merely found & included in the kingdom of God (which is wonderful enough) – that person moves from death to life.  For us, that isn’t simply a figure of speech; it’s reality.  Spiritually speaking, all people are dead in their transgressions & sins. It is only by faith in Jesus that we are made alive. (Eph 2:1)  When we receive forgiveness, we receive life: abundant for the present, and eternal for the future.

If this final parable was to completely parallel the first two, then Jesus would have stopped the lesson at verse 24…but He doesn’t.  There’s more to say, because there was more than just the one son.  Remember that this was all told in the context of the Pharisees’ disapproval of those whom Jesus welcomed.  The first two parables (along with the third) drove home the point of joy in recovering those who were lost – but Jesus also has something to say about those who disapprove.  If the Pharisees couldn’t see themselves in any of the earlier categories, they would surely see themselves in the final description.

  • Sin of the older son (25-30)

25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’

  • So far, so good.  The older son appears to have been doing what would have been expected of him, and even at the time of celebration, was working “in the field.”  He was far enough away from home not to know what was happening, so he had to ask one of the “servants” what was going on.  The servant filled him in on the details, telling him (without bias) what had happened.  That’s when things began to go wrong…

28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.

  • Instead of rejoicing over the reception of his brother, he was “angry.”  At first glance, that might be understandable (though there’s foundational issue behind it that soon becomes clear), but notice what his anger led him to do: stay away from the house.  He “would not go in.”  Thus there were two sons who went away from home; only one went back.
    • Objection: but the elder son didn’t go far!  He didn’t have to.  The end result was the same: he still removed himself from fellowship with his father.  He didn’t want to be in the house with his family, and thus his relationship was broken.
  • Yet notice what the father did.  Just as the father sought out the younger son, so did the father seek out the older son.  Just as the father took the first steps with the younger, so did he with the older.  He “came out and pleaded with him.
    • God always takes the first steps.  He always takes the initiative.  He comes to us, and woos us, and reasons with us, and convicts our hearts, all to help awaken us to our need for grace.
  • At this point, the older son does not receive the grace of his father, and his true colors come out with four main problems.  Vs. 29…

29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

  • Problem #1: the older son saw himself as a slave, rather than a son.  This speaks to a lack of relationship.  Apparently, he did not stay at home out of love for his father, but out of obligation.
  • Problem #2: the older son was self-righteous.  Granted, in his bitterness the son might be prone to exaggeration, but even so, it is a stretch to say that he “never transgressed…at any time.”  Never once?  Doubtful.  On our best days, we still sin against God.  This older son did not see himself as he truly was.
  • Problem #3: the older son was selfish.  He wanted to celebrate himself; not rejoice in repentance.  He doesn’t say anything here about rejoicing with his family, not even including his father.  He just wants to “make merry with [his] friends.”  How different is that from his younger brother?  This older brother wanted the same wasteful life; he just stopped himself from leaving home to find it.
  • Problem #4: the older son was separated from family.  He hadn’t referred to himself as a son (thinking of himself as a slave), but he dismissively called his brother “this son of yours.”  This underscores a broken relationship with his father.
  • Question: what in all of that diatribe indicates a saving relationship with God?  Nothing.  The elder brother had all the outward trappings of a true son of the father, but his attitude made it clear that he saw himself as anything but.  He may have remained at home, but he was just as lost as his brother ever was.
    • That would have been quite the warning to the Pharisees!  Were they as outwardly as bad as the tax-collectors?  Not according to their traditions and customs.  Outwardly, they were upstanding members of the community, fully “righteous” in the ways of their religion.  But the reality was quite different.  Regarding their relationship with God, they were just as lost as anyone else, fully in need of forgiveness and reconciliation.
    • That should be quite the warning to a lot of other people today!  There are a lot of people in middle-class suburbia that may not look like other “sinners,” but are still just as lost.  They may not have the tattoos, the criminal record, obvious sexual sin, or whatever (name your sin of choice), but they are lost nonetheless.  Pornography separates someone from God just as much as homosexuality.  Self-righteousness has the same spiritual end-result as drug addiction.  All sin leaves us lost, separated from God, doomed for hell.  Jesus came to save us from that, but we need to wake up to our need!
  • Response of the father #2 (31-32)

31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”

  • Just as the father did with the younger son, he gave his older son grace.  Or at least, he gave his older son the opportunity to receive grace.  Grace cannot be forced upon anyone (otherwise, it’s a burden; not a gift), and it wasn’t forced upon the son.  Everything that remained the father’s was already the inheritance of the older son – it was there as soon as he was ready to receive it.  What was missing was something that the younger son had already learned: a heart of humility and repentance.  This son could enjoy joyful fellowship with his father, just as his younger brother did…but he needed to be willing to accept the grace of his father.
  • Why celebrate the repentance of his younger brother?  Because it was “right.” More than that, it was necessary.  The word could be translated “needful.”  Rejoicing over sincere repentance is the right thing to do.  How so?  Because it’s what God does.  Those who share God’s heart celebrate the things that God celebrates.  Those who don’t, demonstrate that they don’t have a heart like God’s.
  • So what happens after this?  How does the elder brother respond to the grace of his father?  Jesus doesn’t say…and that was probably His point.  The Pharisees still had the opportunity to respond to the grace of God – to be themselves forgiven by God, and to rejoice in the things that the Father rejoiced in.  God had already taken the initial steps towards them…but they needed to respond.  The choice was up to them.

Conclusion:
Two sons were lost; one son was found…so far.  Jesus left the end of the story hanging, giving the Pharisees (and others) the opportunity to find the grace of God that was freely available.  God was willing to receive them, just like God is willing to receive any sinner who repents.  He rejoices when lost ones are found!  And those who belong to God rejoice with God.

Where are you in the parable?  All of us are somewhere, because all of us have sinned.  Apart from Jesus, none of us is truly righteous before God, despite what we might otherwise believe about ourselves.  What was the difference between the two brothers?  Both sinned; one admitted it.

Sin doesn’t have to be obvious for it to be deadly.  There’s more than one way to be lost.  For some people, it is truly obvious, and so is their need for forgiveness.  For others, sin might be more subtle or hidden – but the need for forgiveness and restoration with God is the same.  In a sense, perhaps the subtle sins are the more dangerous ones.  Like a person who dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, they don’t realize their need for help until it’s too late.

Recognize your need!  If you have never believed upon Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, turn to Him today.  Don’t fall back on the “I’m not as bad as others” excuse, because newsflash: you are.  I am – we all are.  All of us are equally lost, and all of us need to be found by Him – given life by Him – made into a child of God.  So respond to His offer of grace today, and be saved.

If you know you’re already saved, then remember why you’re saved: because you were shown grace you did not deserve by a God whom you previously did not love.  All we have is because of the love of and grace of Jesus.  So stay in Him!  Don’t get cocky – don’t become hypocritical – don’t be stingy with the grace that we so freely received.  It’s when we forget our own dependence upon Christ that we engage in our own sin, starting down the road of the older brother.  Beloved, our Heavenly Father loves us…rejoice in that love!