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A Night to Remember

Posted: October 18, 2017 in Uncategorized, Zechariah

Zechariah 4-6, “A Night to Remember”

What’s the weirdest dream you’ve had?  Dreams can get rather bizarre at times, to say the least!  Most dreams we cannot remember, but occasionally we have dreams we cannot forget.  Such was the case with Zechariah.  He had one very dream-filled night (if not restful), and it was a night he would never be able to forget.  His dreams were revelations from the Lord, and what he saw was amazing!  God showed the prophet His current plans for His people, affirmed His sovereignty over the world, and gave Zechariah a glimpse of the future glorious Messiah.  Most certainly, this was a night to remember!

Considering that chapter 4 begins halfway through the visions, it’s necessary to back up a bit to remember our context and what God revealed to Zechariah as the night began.  We’re given a very specific timeframe for Zechariah’s writing, with the book opening a mere 2 months after the first two prophetic oracles were given to Haggai.  This had been a time of political hesitation among the Jewish refugees.  A sizable (but relatively small) contingent of Jews had returned to the land after 70 years of Babylonian captivity, and they wasted little time going about the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  They had only just laid the foundation of the building when they encountered opposition from local enemies, and they maneuvered the Persian government to put a halt to the temple restoration (under suspicion of sedition).  Things got bogged down in red-tape (as they typically do), but eventually a new king sat on the throne of Persia, and he granted the Jews permission to restart their rebuilding.

The problem was, they hadn’t done it.  They finally had permission to rebuild the temple, but they lacked the courage.  That’s when God raised up men like Haggai and Zechariah, to help spur the leaders and people into action.  God gave the people an open invitation: if they returned to Him in repentance, He would return to them in relationship as their covenant God. (1:3). He offered them an abundance of grace and mercy, if they but followed Him as Lord (as they were meant to do.)

Around three months following that invitation, Zechariah received a series of dreams during the course of one particular night (February 15, 519BC).  In the first vision, he saw four horses: a man on a red horse, a second red horse, a sorrel/chestnut-brown horse, and a white horse.  These had been sent by God to patrol the earth, and they came back with a report that the nations of the world were at ease, even while the people in Jerusalem were on edge.  God promised to act on behalf of His people, being zealous for them, and He declared that not only would His house be built in Jerusalem, but that He would once again choose Jerusalem for His own, comforting His people.

In the second vision, Zechariah saw four horns, representing the various nations that had scattered the Jews throughout the earth.  Yet in response to the four horns were four craftsmen – instruments of God that would be used to “saw ‘em off” (whoop!), and execute God’s judgment upon them.

For the third vision, Zechariah saw a man measuring the literal dimensions of a future-Jerusalem.  It would be without walls because God Himself would dwell among them and be a wall of fire surrounding them as protection.  (Ultimately envisioning God’s relationship with Jerusalem during the Millennial Kingdom.)

During the fourth vision of the night, Zechariah saw the high priest Joshua as the subject of an argument between Satan and the Angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Jesus).  Jesus defended Joshua, removed his iniquity from him, and clothed him in righteousness.  What the Angel of the Lord did with Joshua was symbolic of what He would do with the entire nation, as God gave a promise of a future Davidic Branch rising up to rule over Israel and to remove her iniquity forever.

Those are wonderful promises for the nation…quite comforting for a fledgling refugee people just starting to get resettled in their home!  But the night wasn’t yet over.  God had more to show His people, so He had more dreams to impart to Zechariah.  There was a wonderful future in store for the Jews.  Not only would the present projects be completed, but the future of the nation was already established.  A glorious King & Priest would be given to the nation in times to come.  For now, the Jews simply needed to hold on.  If they were obedient now, they could trust God’s provision for the future.

Zechariah 4
* Vision of the Lampstand and Trees (4:1-14)
1 Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep.

  1. Again, the night wasn’t yet over.  Zechariah had already been shown four dreams, but there were four more yet to come.  Although it’s almost comical to think of Zechariah dozing off in the middle of a dream, that seems to have been the case.  God had more to show His prophet, and he needed to be awake to see it.
  2. Have you ever noticed how often sleepiness hits during times of prayer or Bible study?  It’s not that we’re bored; our spirits may be willing, but our flesh is often weak.  The devil and his minions are quite skilled in the art of distraction, and he wants to do everything possible to keep our eyes off the Lord and His word.  Don’t be discouraged when you find yourself sleepy or distracted; be encouraged.  It may be that the devil found you as a threat!  Use those times as an extra incentive to seek the Lord!

2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” So I said, “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. 3 Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.”

  1. This is quite the picture, being reminiscent of the lampstand (Menorah) in the tabernacle & temple.  Like the tabernacle Menorah, this also had seven lamps (the tabernacle version mentions six, but there are three to either side of a center lamp, making seven), but this had seven pipes leading to each of the lamps.  The reason for the difference?  Although the original lamps in the tabernacle and temple were fueled by oil, it was oil that needed constant replenishing. (Exo 27:20, Lev 24:1-4). This new lamp had an automatic fuel source.  There was a bowl on top, seemingly serving as a reservoir from which olive oil would flow to the various branches.
  2. That wasn’t all.  In addition to the lamp and bowl were “two olive trees” on either side of the lamp.  On one hand, the olive trees make sense, in that the oil used as fuel was olive oil – but on the other hand, it’s a confirmation that although this was a temple-style Menorah lamp, Zechariah was not looking inside the temple, as there were no trees in the original.  Thus this would have stood out to him as highly unusual, which is the reason he asked the question he did…

4 So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these, my lord?” 5 Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.”

  1. Although Zechariah’s question seems reasonable, the question of the angel is surprising.  Was Zechariah inherently supposed to understand these things? Was the angel taken aback by Zechariah’s lack of understanding?  No.  It’s a rhetorical technique, attempting to enhance the intrigue and tension.
  2. The good news is that although Zechariah didn’t yet understand what he saw, he knew that he had the opportunity to ask.  What he didn’t comprehend, he knew that God would clarify. (Likewise with us!  What we do not understand, we have the privilege to take to our teacher, the Holy Spirit.  Ask Him – seek Him through His word.  We can be sure that our God does not desire us to remain in theological confusion.)
  3. Interestingly, the angel doesn’t directly answer Zechariah’s question…at least, not yet.  First things first: the angel delivers the word of the Lord to the prophet.  The angel could have explained the symbols, but they wouldn’t have made any sense.  God had given His word as a foundation for the vision, thus His word was necessary for the right interpretation. (God’s word always comes first!  We do not rely on ecstatic experiences or emotions; we build our lives upon the all-sufficient word of God.  That’s not to say God doesn’t give us marvelous experiences, but those things are only rightly understood, when they are understood in the context of Scripture.)
  4. What was the word?  Vs. 6…

6 So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.

  1. Zechariah received a word for Zerubbabel, the governor of Jerusalem.  Zerubbabel was a legitimate heir of David, but he was not given power and authority to lead as king.  The Jews may have been returned to their land, but they were still subject to Persia. No doubt, Zerubbabel felt rather tiny in comparison to his heritage.  Yet in God’s sight, those circumstances meant nothing.  God had a plan for Zerubbabel, and it was beyond his comprehension.
  2. What was it?  Zerubbabel was to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God!  The reason he struggled so much in his task was because he was struggling in his own might.  He was (like so many of us) relying upon himself to do what he felt God had called him to do.  Trying to work the will of God in the power of the flesh will always be futile.  What Zerubbabel needed was the power of God…and that’s exactly what God offered to him!
  3. That’s not just Zerubbabel; that’s all of us!  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give us power to live as His witnesses & disciples. (Acts 1:8). Paul commanded the Ephesian church to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, if they were to walk worthy of the calling with which they were called. (Eph 5:18)  We need the power that only God the Holy Spirit can provide. Our works through our flesh will always struggle and fail.  God’s work through God’s power will always accomplish His end.

7 ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” ’ ”

  1. Zerubbabel faced incredible difficulties in the task of rebuilding the temple.  Those challenges would have seemed like impossible mountains to overcome.  Yet nothing is impossible to God!  God can do anything, and when God the Holy Spirit empowers His people, we CAN do anything that He calls us to do.
  2. Do we get the credit?  No!  God does.  This is a work of His “grace.”  Zerubbabel would be well aware that he hadn’t done anything worthy of praise.  In his own eyes, he was weak & small.  It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that these things would happen, and thus it was only by the grace of God.  (Beware that we give glory to God for the things He has done!  If it’s by HIS Spirit, then it is by HIS grace.  We can rejoice that we are used by God, but we are only the tools; He is the skilled worker.)
  3. Not only would Zerubbabel experience the grace of God in building the temple, but he would be a conduit/instrument of the grace of God to others.  They would benefit of the grace of God through the construction of the temple. They would celebrate the grace of God when they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Zerubbabel.  (Use the gifts!  Be filled with the Spirit!  Walk in His power, and be a witness to all.)

8 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel Have laid the foundation of this temple; His hands shall also finish it. Then you will know That the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

  1. What a glorious confirmation!  What Zerubbabel would start, God would empower him to finish.  God did not plan to begin a work in the Jewish governor that He did not promise to see through to completion.  (How much more is this true regarding our salvation?  Phil 1:6)
  2. Simply the completion of the project would be a witness unto the Lord.  Finishing would be a confirmation of God’s will & work among the Jews.  The people would truly know that their covenant God had not abandoned them, for they would be able to see His active work among them, reestablishing them as a people group, giving them a tangible way in which they could worship them.  (What is our confirmation?  The resurrection!  Being born of the Spirit!  The existence of the church!)

10 For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

  1. Zerubbabel may have a small beginning with a small foundation leading a small people with small influence…but they served a big God!  There would be huge results!
  2. Don’t despise the day of small things!  Small things done for the glory of God is massive work, and leads to eternal results!
  3. Why not despise small beginnings?  Why not be discouraged by tiny things?  Because when we’re being faithful to God’s plan, He’s pleased with us!  He saw what Zerubbabel was doing, and rejoiced!

11 Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees—at the right of the lampstand and at its left?” 12 And I further answered and said to him, “What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?” 13 Then he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.”

  1. Zechariah repeated his question; the angel repeated his own.  Zechariah seemed to be particularly interested in the two olive trees.
  2. Now that he had the word of God, he was prepared for the answer.

14 So he said, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.”

  1. Often, when we hear the term “anointed one,” we think of the title given to the Messiah (which is literally how it can be translated).  Yet the context here is obviously NOT the Messiah, if for no other reason, because there are two trees & thus two anointed ones; not one single person.  But there’s another reason not to think this is a reference to Jesus: the Hebrew term is NOT “Messiah.”  Literally, the Hebrew for “anointed ones” is “sons of oil.”
  2. That being the case, who among the Hebrews would have been known for their association with oil?  Which offices among Israel were anointed positions in the Old Testament?  Kings and priests.  The anointing of oil symbolized the work of the Holy Spirit upon them.
  3. Who exactly were these sons of oil?  Theories abound.  Some believe these to be the two witnesses of Revelation, most likely being Moses & Elijah.  Others believe it to be representative of the Old and New Testaments as a whole.  Contextually speaking, with the word of God regarding Zerubbabel, and the rebuilding of the temple, it is perhaps best to think of these two olive trees as Zerubbabel and Joshua.  One represents the kings; the other, the priests.  Both would be anointed by God, and empowered by the Spirit for the tasks that lay ahead of them.  — Not only would Zerubbabel have the specific promise of being empowered by God the Holy Spirit, but he could know he wouldn’t be alone.  The Spirit rested upon more than just one person among the Jews; God had a plan for all those whom He would use.  (Praise God that the Spirit is given to ALL Christians today!  May we walk in His filling & in His power!)

Zechariah 5
* Vision of the flying scroll (5:1-4)
1 Then I turned and raised my eyes, and saw there a flying scroll. 2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” So I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.”

  1. A flying scroll, like a flying carpet.  We can imagine it, partially unrolled, flying through the air.  And it would have been impossible to miss, as it was a large book!  Basically 32’x16’ – some have noted that these were the same dimensions of the Holy of Holies inside the ancient tabernacle.  It’s unclear from the text if that has any relevance here, but it’s an interesting thought.
  2. Far more important than the size of the scroll is the text written upon it.  What did it say?  We’re given a bit of an excerpt in vs. 3…

3 Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth: ‘Every thief shall be expelled,’ according to this side of the scroll; and, ‘Every perjurer shall be expelled,’ according to that side of it.”

  1. Apparently, this was God’s word of judgment, based on the 10 Commandments, which was the basic covenant agreement between God and His people.
  2. What was read to Zechariah was stated in the negative, speaking of people who would be “expelled.”  The wicked have no access to the kingdom.

4 “I will send out the curse,” says the LORD of hosts; “It shall enter the house of the thief And the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house And consume it, with its timber and stones.”

  1. God promises to judge the wicked ones among the Jews.  “By My name.”
  2. Of course, the promise of judgment is more than to only the Jews; all who treat the name of God lightly will be judged.
  3. Bottom line: God’s covenant law is still in effect for His people.  In all their years of captivity, God’s covenant relationship with them never went void.

* Vision of the woman in a basket (5:5-11
5 Then the angel who talked with me came out and said to me, “Lift your eyes now, and see what this is that goes forth.” 6 So I asked, “What is it?” And he said, “It is a basket that is going forth.” He also said, “This is their resemblance throughout the earth: 7 Here is a lead disc lifted up, and this is a woman sitting inside the basket”;

  1. Literally, the “basket” is an ephah – a measurement of volume.  Apparently that was the size of the basket/bucket.  It was big enough to carry a person, and that’s exactly what happened.  A woman was inside, who was initially covered by a lead lid, until it was lifted up in order for the woman to be seen.
  2. Interestingly, the angel doesn’t want for Zechariah to ask any questions about whether or not he understands this.  Obviously he doesn’t…who would?! 🙂

8 then he said, “This is Wickedness!” And he thrust her down into the basket, and threw the lead cover over its mouth.

  1. The woman had a name: “Wickedness.”  She was the personification of sin – of everything that was evil among men in general, and among the Jews in particular.  The woman was seen for just a moment, and then covered again by the lead disc, unable to leave her place in the ephah-basket.
  2. Bizarre?  Sure…but a good reminder for us to read the Scripture in context.  If we were to stop here, we would be left in total confusion.  Even to quote this one vision without any context would leave us fairly bewildered.  It’s when we see the fullness of this vision within the fullness of the many visions given that night to Zechariah that some of this falls into place.  Context is key!
  3. As for the context here, the woman of Wickedness is not the only female mentioned.  There are two more.  Vs. 9…

9 Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven.

  1. Be careful not to take the Woman as Wickedness too far.  Obviously the vision isn’t showing ALL women as bad.  There was one woman embodying Wickedness, and two other angelic women who were servants of God.
  2. How were they serving?  They had wings like that of a large bird (a stork), and they carried this ephah-basket to a different location, which set the stage for Zechariah’s next question…

10 So I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they carrying the basket?” 11 And he said to me, “To build a house for it in the land of Shinar; when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base.”

  1. Shinar = Babylon. (Genesis 10:10, Nimrod; Genesis 11:2, Tower of Babel; )
  2. Put it together: Wickedness personified is trapped in a basket, and taken out of the sight of a Jerusalem prophet, headed towards the land of Babylon.  God was removing Wickedness  from His people…yet another act of the grace of God.
  3. In addition, we cannot help but see a potential parallel with Revelation 17.  There, another woman of wickedness is described: a harlot, known as Mystery Babylon.  It seems possible that the wickedness once found among God’s people is the same evil that will be found in the future Babylonian city as it rises up against Israel during the Great Tribulation.  (Certainly wickedness is not original to the Hebrews, nor found only in Babylon – but there’s definitely nothing new about sin.  The same temptations and sin that plagued Adam and Eve in the Garden still plague us today.  Thankfully, the solution is the same: the grace of God through Jesus Christ!)
  4. The book of Revelation aside, one thing is clear in the book of Zechariah: God has dealt with the sins of His people!  Earlier, He declared how He would dwell among them, but He would not do so as long as sinful wickedness was rampant.  So He removed it from them by an act of His power and grace.  (That’s the only way wickedness is ever removed: by the grace of God!  This is what Jesus has done for us.)

Zechariah 6
* Vision of the four chariots (6:1-8)
1 Then I turned and raised my eyes and looked, and behold, four chariots were coming from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2 With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, 3 with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses—strong steeds.

  1. Very similar to Zechariah’s 1st vision, only then it was one rider among four horses of three colors, and here there are four chariots with four different colors of horses.  At this point, there’s a more direct correlation to Revelation 6, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, at least in terms of color.  The duties of the horses and chariots/riders still seem to be quite different.  (Be careful with drawing hard conclusions based on nothing but similarities in description.  Satan can appear as an angel of light, but it doesn’t make him good.  Firm Bible interpretation needs to be based on the text within its context.)

4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth.  6 The one with the black horses is going to the north country, the white are going after them, and the dappled are going toward the south country.” 7 Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, “Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.” So they walked to and fro throughout the earth.

  1. As in chapter 1, these chariots were sent out by God to patrol the earth, and to work His will.  The chariots were manned by four spirits – unnamed angels of God, but no doubt His messengers and servants.
  2. Black & white went to the north.  Dappled went to the south.  No mention of where the red horses went.  We might assume to the east (considering that going west led only to the Mediterranean Sea), but the Scripture simply doesn’t tell us.
  3. What did they accomplish?  Vs. 8…

8 And He called to me, and spoke to me, saying, “See, those who go toward the north country have given rest to My Spirit in the north country.”

  1. The chariots that went north gave “rest” to God’s Spirit.  They gave quiet & calm.
  2. Perhaps indicative of the judgment of God upon Persia and other nations of the north.  The same nations that thought themselves at ease & quietly resting (1:11) are the nations that would be judged, and now God’s own Spirit would be at ease.  While God’s people were restless, so was God as their Chief Defender.  Now that their enemies were judged, God extended His calm peace to His people.  Once again, He shows Himself as their Covenant God, affirming His renewed relationship with them.

With that, the main visions end.  There’s one more revelation given to Zechariah.  It was certainly visual in nature, but it’s unclear if it was included among the eight previous dreams that occurred in a single night.

* Joshua looking to the Branch (6:9-15)
9 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 10 “Receive the gift from the captives—from Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have come from Babylon—and go the same day and enter the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah. 11 Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.

  1. A contingent had arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, and they brought with them a gift of precious metals.  The command from God was for them to use those things to make a royal crown.
  2. Technically, they were commanded to make plural “crowns” – perhaps a reference to a single multi-tiered crown to be set on the head of one person.
  3. Who was the multi-crown for? “Joshua…the high priest.”  Why would the high priest receive a royal crown?  Because this Joshua typified another Joshua-to-come: Jesus!  How do we know for sure?  Verse 12…

12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” ’

  1. In 3:8, God already spoke of the BRANCH, whom Joshua would see.  This was the royal offshoot of the lineage of David, who was to rule over Israel as king.  If Joshua was to look upon that Branch, then Joshua himself cannot be that Branch…and he isn’t.  This Branch is a different Joshua – it is Jesus.
  2. Future Branch, future temple.  Look again at the text: “And He shall build the temple of the LORD.”  Considering that God already made it clear in Ch.6 that Zerubbabel would build the temple through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit would ensure that Zerubbabel saw it through to completion, how could this Branch build the temple?  It will have to be a NEW temple: the Millennial temple.  This Person had not yet appeared (thus the label as the Branch/offshoot), but He would appear, and His work would be evident among Israel.
  3. The Branch would have majestic splendor and royal reign. “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne.”  This is another indication this cannot refer to the then-current Joshua.  Joshua was a Levitical priest; not a Davidic king.  Joshua had no throne from which he would rule, nor did he receive any glory due only to God.  Thus, the Branch is someone different.
  4. Put it all together, and it is evident that the Branch is none other than the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The whole picture here is that the Branch would be both priest and king.  (Hebrews 7, Psalm 110:4, the line of Melchizedek.). This is our Jesus!  He is the King of Israel, and the King of the world.  He is the High Priest for all time, in addition to being the sin-sacrifice for all mankind.  He is all the fulfillment of all the promises of God to all the world.  He is our hope – our Savior – our Jesus!

14 “Now the elaborate crown shall be for a memorial in the temple of the LORD for Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah. 15 Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of the LORD. Then you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. And this shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God.”

  1. The crown was made for Joshua, worn once, and then forever to be placed within the temple as memorial.  Why?  Again, because it wasn’t for this Joshua; it was for the next one.  It would sit as a continual memorial to remind the people to be looking for this King & Priest yet to come.
  2. This is one of the purposes of communion!  It is a memorial for what is yet to come!
  3. Interestingly, some of the names from earlier have been changed.  Speculations abound as to why – ultimately, neither Zechariah nor the angel tells us.  It’s possible that some different people are involved in the memorial, than from those who had brought the gift.  It’s also possible that some of the people can be referred to by more than one name, such as the son of Zephaniah.  Whatever the reason, these were the ones who would witness the memorial crown in the temple, and they would represent Israel in looking forward to the future Messiah-King-Priest.
  4. And the Jews wouldn’t the only ones to look forward.  “Those from afar” would be involved in building this future temple, and thus also know the God of Israel in true faith.  Gentiles would worship the Hebrew God, for the God of Israel is also the God of the entire world.  The Messiah isn’t only the King of the Jews; Jesus is the King of the Universe.  All peoples from all nations are invited to come & put their faith in Him in order to be saved.  (Even people like us!)
  5. The final word to Zechariah in regards to all of this?  Obey.  God had a glorious plan for His people, and would bring forth an incredible King-Priest in the future, but in the meantime, the Jews still had a covenant relationship with their God.  They needed to obey and serve Him.

Conclusion:
The visions and dreams may seem to us to be a bit strange…no doubt they seemed strange to Zechariah, too!  Yet what he saw was truly wonderful!  At this point his people struggled with their identity and mission.  God had brought them back into the land of Israel, but they weren’t sure what they could/should do within it.  They had encountered challenges and struggles…were they on their own?  Did God hang them out to dry?

Not at all!  God was with them, empowering them, acting on their behalf, and providing for their future.  God the Holy Spirit would strengthen Zerubbabel to complete the temple – God would continue to purify His people from sin – He would remove wickedness from their midst through His grace – He would rise up against their worldwide enemies – and His Messiah would graciously rule over them as King & Priest forever.  God had not abandoned them…not by a long shot!

Does it seem as if you’re hanging on by a thread?  Hold fast to Jesus!  Be filled and empowered by God the Holy Spirit, and trust the sure promises of God.  He knows what you’re enduring, and He has never left you or abandoned you.  Rest securely in His love and work for you.

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Jesus seeks; Jesus saves

Posted: October 15, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 19:1–10

  • Seeing Jesus / Jesus seeks (1-7)

1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pass Me Not

Posted: October 8, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:31-43, “Pass Me Not”

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:31–43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visions of Restoration

Posted: October 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

Zechariah 1-3, “Visions of Restoration”

How late is too late?  Some things are beyond our capabilities to save.  The difference between baking soda & baking powder in a recipe, can’t be undone.  Toast can’t be unburnt, no matter how much you scrape off.  Some things simply cannot be saved…at least, not by humans.

God, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  Nothing is so far gone that God cannot restore.  No sinner is too lost who cannot be forgiven and saved.  For God, nothing is impossible!

That’s true on an individual level, and it’s just as true on a national level.  Not only does God give forgiveness and eternal life to people, He also gives forgiveness and restoration to nations – particularly the nation of Israel.  And it’s no less a miracle!  How else can someone describe a nation coming back from the dead?  (And the amazing thing is that in terms of Israel, it’s happened not just once, but twice!  God not only brought back the Jews from Babylonian captivity, but also reformed the nation of Israel after 1878 years following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.)  Our God restores!

That’s part of the basic message of Zechariah.  The God of Israel remembered His covenant with Israel, and restored them as His people.  Zechariah’s own name points to this: “The LORD remembers,” and that is exactly what happened.  Although God allowed His people to be disciplined, He had not forgotten His people nor His covenant promises with them, and He restored them not only in the then-present day, but promised a future restoration that would be fulfilled in the Messianic Kingdom.

By way of historical context, 70 years of Babylonian captivity were now complete.  By the decree of Cyrus of Persia, the Jews & other captive nations were allowed to return to their homelands. (538BC)  An initial contingent of 42000 men (with additional women and children) travelled to Jerusalem, and got things going.  They quickly laid the foundation of the temple, but the Jews ran into political troubles, and construction ceased until things could be resolved.  In time, there was a new king, Darius, and freedom was given to the Jews to build…they just hadn’t done it.  That was when God raised up prophets like Haggai & Zechariah, in order to get the leaders & people moving again.

It’s important to note that Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries – Haggai preceding Zechariah’s initial visions by only a couple of months.  Haggai’s own ministry was brief (only 4 oracles in the span of a few months), while Zechariah’s ministry continued for some time.  Haggai had an almost singular focus upon the temple restoration, whereas Zechariah’s prophecies had a broader view of the nation itself.  In God’s gracious plans, the Jews would receive far more than a newly restored temple – they could look forward to a restored kingdom & Messianic King!

As the book opens, God gives Zechariah a total of eight visions, all dealing in some way with Jewish repentance, restoration, and the Messianic promise.  The first four show God’s desire to resettle the people, getting them back to the place & position with Him that they should have had all along.  The sin of the Jews had caused them to take a bit of a detour, but God was more than able to get them back on track.  Our God is a God who redeems & restores!

Zechariah 1

  • Call to repent (1:1-6)

1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,

  • Who was Zechariah? We actually receive quite a bit of information about him, including not only his timeframe, but his father & grandfather.  Zechariah was a prophet, who was the grandson of a prophet, who also happened to be a priest.  Iddo is listed among the priests and Levites who came up with Zerubbabel in the initial return to Jerusalem. (Neh 12:4)  This means that Zechariah was both priest and prophet – something that gives special meaning to his visions concerning Joshua the high priest.
    • Interestingly, there is a Zechariah, son of Berechiah also mentioned by Jesus in regards to prophets who were murdered by the Jews. (Mt 23:31-35)  In all likelihood, this is a different prophet who lived at a different time.  These names were not unusual among the people, and it certainly would not have been unusual for them to be passed along within the same bloodlines over the generations.  2 Chr 24 actually describes a Zechariah, son of Jehoiada who was stoned by the people during the days of Joash in Judah.  Considering the term “son of” could just as easily refer to “grandson/descendent” as it could to a true father/son relationship, there’s little trouble reconciling the accounts.  Additionally, it actually makes more sense to Jesus’ own context. Matthew 23:34–35, "(34) Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, (35) that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar."  Jesus’ point is that the Jews rejected all of the prophets of God, from A-Z (so to speak).  The way the Hebrew Scriptures are arranged, this encompasses the entirety of their Bible. (Genesis 1st, 2 Chr last)
    • As for this particular Zechariah, the message he bore to the Jews would have been far more welcomed that that of his ancestor.  Even so, the people would need to listen to God, if they were to benefit from the blessings of God!
  • Although we’re not told a specific day, the timestamp is precise enough to date it within two months after Haggai’s first prophecy – somewhere in the vicinity of October/November 520BC (roughly 2537 years ago this month!).  This was a busy time for revelations from the Lord!  God was speaking to His people, moving in obvious ways.  It’s little wonder that the people responded the way they did.  Ezra 6:14–15, "(14) So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. (15) Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius."  It obviously took a bit of time (~4 years), but the Jews fulfilled the work God had given them to do.  For all of the ways that the Jews had been disobedient to the Lord in the past, it’s wonderful to see them walk in obedience.  They were truly grateful to God for His faithfulness & deliverance, and it was demonstrated in their walk.
    • Obedience always flows from love & gratefulness.  As long as we look at obedience as a burden, we’ll never do it.  But when our love for Jesus is full & sincere, then we want to obey Him.  It’s not a burden; it’s a joy!
  • That’s all the prophet & the time.  What was the message?  Vs. 2…

2 “The LORD has been very angry with your fathers. 3 Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.

  • God had been angry, but not anymore.  In fact, God had been “very angry,” the Hebrew word being repeated twice in the sentence, the first time in the initial position of emphasis.  It could be said that God was angry with a great anger.  But that’s the way it was; not the way it became.  Now the time for God’s anger was past, and God gave an open invitation for His people to return in repentance.  If they would “return,” He would “return.” If they would turn back from their sins, repenting of the things of the past, then God would return to them as their gracious, merciful covenant God.  God had put them away from Him in Babylon (though they were never truly out of His sight), but now He would bring them back in full restored relationship.
  • On what basis could this promise be trusted?  Because it was made in the name of “the LORD of hosts!”  Three times in one verse, God names Himself: “the LORD of hosts” (יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת ).  He is YHWH, Commander of the Heavenly Armies – He is the Almighty Omnipotent God, the Everlasting I AM, Covenant-keeping God of Israel.  God could not have made a stronger oath than what He states here.  YHWH Sabaoth had promised to return to His repentant people, and He would do it!
    • How do we know God will forgive us through Jesus Christ?  Because He said He would!  What He promises, He does!

4 “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.” ’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the LORD.

  • The Jewish forefathers had been warned, but they ignored the warnings.  God told them what they needed to do, but they didn’t do it.  Book after prophetic book in the OT is filled with warnings to Israel regarding their sin, and the many opportunities God had given them to repent.  Of all the things the Jews could say of themselves, the one thing they couldn’t claim was ignorance! (Neither can we!)

5 “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 Yet surely My words and My statutes, Which I commanded My servants the prophets, Did they not overtake your fathers? “So they returned and said: ‘Just as the LORD of hosts determined to do to us, According to our ways and according to our deeds, So He has dealt with us.’ ” ’ ”

  • The forefathers had died.  The prophets had died.  God’s word endured.  Everything God proclaimed through the prophets came to pass exactly as God said it would.  The generations who argued against God had passed away, but God’s word could not be overcome.  What God determined to do, He did.
  • And what He did was just!  Even the Jews acknowledged this, saying that it all had been done “according to our ways and…deeds.”  The very things that God had pled from them to turn, they did not, so they experienced the consequences.
  • Yet there was good news in all of this: it was all over!  Although the previous generations of Jews had not turned from their sin, the current generation had the opportunity to return to God.  And they took it!
    • Don’t turn down your opportunity!
  • The visions (1:7 – 6:15)

7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet:

  • February 15, 519BC.  By this point, all of Haggai’s messages are complete.  Zechariah is barely getting started.  What follows is a series of night visions – prophetic dreams that seemingly all happened during the course of a single night.  Zechariah may not have gotten much sleep, but it was certainly a night to remember!
  • Vision #1: Horses (1:7-17

8 I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. 9 Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” So the angel who talked with me said to me, “I will show you what they are.” 10 And the man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are the ones whom the LORD has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.”

  • Although this is reminiscent to Christians from the Four Horsemen of the book of Revelation, these particular horses are different.  The color scheme is similar, but not exact – there is only one rider among the various horses – the purpose of the group was drastically different.  Apparently there are two red horses (one with a rider), one sorrel/chestnut-brown, and one white.  All four had the same mission, as explained by an angel who was speaking with Zechariah.  They were patrolling creatures, “sent to walk to & fro throughout the earth,” by the Lord.  God used them to investigate certain things.  Why, we’re not told.  After all, God is omniscient, knowing all things at all times.  Yet God chooses to use His creation according to His own will, and does so here through these heavenly horses.
  • They had accomplished their mission, and reported their findings.  Vs. 11…

11 So they answered the Angel of the LORD, who stood among the myrtle trees, and said, “We have walked to and fro throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth is resting quietly.”

  • To whom did these horses answer?  “The Angel of the LORD” = Jesus!  Although it can be argued that occasionally the term sometimes refers to other angels, normally it is a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ, and that seems to be the case here.  This Angel of the LORD has powerful authority, will contend directly with Satan, is seen forgiving sins, and more.  This is the Lord Jesus whom Zechariah saw as Christ appeared in His full unfiltered glory!
  • As to their report, it would seem at first glance that to say “all the earth is resting quietly,” was a good thing.  Yet, according to the Lord’s statement in vs. 15, this is apparently not the case.  It might be better to think of the report as saying that the nations of the world were at ease, while the Jews were suffering.  The political turmoil among the competing empires had ceased for a bit, but meanwhile the Jews were struggling at home, unable to complete the task of temple construction, ever in fear for their lives.  This was something upon which God would act!  Vs. 12…

12 Then the Angel of the LORD answered and said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?” 13 And the LORD answered the angel who talked to me, with good and comforting words.

  • What was Jesus doing?  Praying!  He was interceding on behalf of the people, praying that God the Father would “have mercy on Jerusalem” and the other Jews.  How wonderful to have the Son of God plead their case on their behalf!
    • What Jesus did with them, is what He does with us.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for us. (Heb 7:25)
  • And what was the answer of the Father?  He had plans for good.  The mercy required by Israel, He would supply.  He offered “good and comforting words.
  • What was included in the comfort offered by God?  His promise to rise on behalf of His people.  Vs. 14…

14 So the angel who spoke with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “I am zealous for Jerusalem And for Zion with great zeal. 15 I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; For I was a little angry, And they helped—but with evil intent.”

  • God has a holy jealousy for His people. 
  • In regards to the nations, they had been used by the Lord for His holy righteous purposes, but they went beyond His intent.  They sinned, having “evil intent” towards the Jews, and for that they would be judged.

16 ‘Therefore thus says the LORD: “I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,” says the LORD of hosts, “And a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.” ’ 17 “Again proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “My cities shall again spread out through prosperity; The LORD will again comfort Zion, And will again choose Jerusalem.” ’ ”

  • God promised to return among His people.  Exactly as He promised to do from 1:3, He did.  This wasn’t so much a future act, as something He was already doing.  And how would He come?  In “mercy.”  The very thing for which Christ (the Angel of the LORD) had asked, that was what God gave.  In fact, He gave an abundance of it!  BDAG, “intense compassion.”  God showered His people with mercy, love, and compassion.  What they least deserved, God graciously gave.
  • God gave it, because His desire was that Jerusalem be blessed!  The city of Jerusalem would be totally rebuilt, as would the temple – the nation would be expanded & experience good days of prosperity.
    • God is good, and His desire is for good!  This is what He had wanted for His people all along – it was their own sin that kept them from it.
  • Ultimately, God’s comfort to His people was His renewed choice of His people.  He chose to dwell among Israel, despite their sins of the past.
    • God chooses us!
  • Vision #2: Horns (1:18-21).  The Hebrew text (BHS) actually begins Ch. 2 here, as does the LXX.  The Latin includes it with Ch 1, and our English versions follow the pattern.

18 Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were four horns. 19 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” So he answered me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”

  • Four horns” = four nations “that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”  There are different thoughts as to which nations are represented.  Some suggest that the number 4 is simply symbolic for whatever complete number of nations caused the Jews to be dispersed.  Others see it matched to the listing of the 4 major world empires in Daniel: Babylon, Persia, Greece, & Rome.  Both those options seem less than favorable.  First of all, there’s no reason to believe that “four” is anything less than literal.  Secondly, the reference is past-tense concerning “scattered,” and some of these nations were still future.  It’s probably best to think of them as the four nations that truly had historically either scattered the Hebrew people, or left them scattered for a time: Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia.
  • These four horns were answered by four other beings.  Vs. 20…

20 Then the LORD showed me four craftsmen. 21 And I said, “What are these coming to do?” So he said, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, so that no one could lift up his head; but the craftsmen are coming to terrify them, to cast out the horns of the nations that lifted up their horn against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

  • Just like specialized animal handlers might be employed to trim the horns of livestock, so did God raise up “four craftsmen” to deal with the four horns that had afflicted Israel.  Once again, theologians differ as to what/who the craftsmen include, and the text doesn’t tell us much.  What Zechariah does say is that “the craftsmen are coming to terrify” the nations that had scattered Israel, so two options seem likely. (1) These are the nations mentioned in Daniel that not only judged the empires previous to them, but led to the final consummation of the Millennial Kingdom: Persia, Greece, Rome, and Messiah.  (2) These are the nations that historically supplanted the various empires that had originally scattered the Hebrews: Egypt (over parts of Assyria), Babylon (over the rest of Assyria), Persia (over Babylon), and Greece (over Persia).
  • Whatever the identity of the four craftsmen, this much is clear: God judges the enemies of His people!

Zechariah 2

  • Vision #3: Measuring line (2:1-13)

1 Then I raised my eyes and looked, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2 So I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.”

  • A “measuring line,” or ancient tape-measure was brought out to measure the dimensions of Jerusalem.  Question: was this for Nehemiah’s soon-to-come ministry, or for something else?  Most likely, something else.  The heavenly man was to measure Millennial Jerusalem.  How can we know for sure?  Look at the description. Vs. 3…

3 And there was the angel who talked with me, going out; and another angel was coming out to meet him, 4 who said to him, “Run, speak to this young man, saying: ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it. 5 For I,’ says the LORD, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ ”

  • Nehemiah’s specific purpose was to build the walls of Jerusalem; the angel spoke of a measured city without walls. ….  Additionally, Nehemiah’s Jerusalem was still a city surrounded by enemies.  That was the whole reason walls were necessary.  A future city without walls meant that it would be a city forever at peace without enemies.  Thus, the description cannot even describe the Jerusalem of the present-day.  This is a Jerusalem still yet-to-be-seen – this is the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom.
  • Specifically, it is a Jerusalem personally indwelt by the presence of God.  He is the one to protect her with “a wall of fire” surrounding the city, and He is the one to dwell within the city, in all of His revealed weighty “glory.”  Even as the temple was rebuilt in the days of Zechariah, there’s no mention of God’s glory ever returning to it, as it had when the tabernacle of Moses was dedicated, or when the temple of Solomon was dedicated.  Once Ezekiel saw the glory of God depart, we never read of it returning.  Yet in the future, the glory of God will be there.  (Most definitely a Millennial Jerusalem!)
  • But because God promised to be in Jerusalem in the future, He desired that His people be there today.  Vs. 6…

6 “Up, up! Flee from the land of the north,” says the LORD; “for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven,” says the LORD. 7 “Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.”

  • Remember that only 42,000 Jewish men returned from Babylon, along with their families.  Ultimately, that’s a small percentage of those who were originally cast out by the Babylonians 70 years earlier.  The call from God was for His people to return to their homeland.  This was the everlasting possession He had given to the nation, and they were to dwell in it.  (Even today, the call goes out for Jews to return to Israel!)
  • Question: what would have caused the Jews to remain dispersed?  Comfort – laziness – a lack of devotion to the Lord, etc.  What is it that causes Christians to not walk in faith?  The same things…
    • God calls us to something better!  God calls us to walk by faith!

8 For thus says the LORD of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. 9 For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me.

  • Scholars debate the identity of the “me.”  Some believe it to be a reference to the prophet Zechariah, yet that seems ill-suited to explain how the prophet could be the one to shake his hand against the nations who had plundered Israel.  The NKJV & other translations capitalize the pronouns, interpreting this as a reference to the Messiah, which seems better.  The LORD of Armies sends the Messiah as a conquering warrior-king, to deliver His people from their enemies.  Truly, that is exactly what will happen at the Battle of Armageddon, when King Jesus comes in all His glory.  The nations of the world (who will persecute Israel during the Tribulation) will be defeated at the arrival of Jesus, and Israel will know that Jesus is the Lord God in the flesh.
  • The bottom line in all this: Jesus protects those whom He loves!  No trial we endure goes unnoticed by our Savior.  He will deliver us from all our enemies…

10 “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD. 11 “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. 12 And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!”

  • Again, it is reiterated that God will dwell among His people, and that is a reason to rejoice!
  • It is not only Israel who will recognize Jesus as the Lord, but “many nations shall be joined to the LORD.”  Every knee will bow & every tongue confess!
  • God’s people belong to Him as “His inheritance,” for He has chosen them as His own.  Just like in 1:17, God chooses His people.
    • How amazing is it to have been chosen by the Lord?
  • If this is how God has decided to act on behalf of Israel, what should be the response from the rest of the world?  Silent fear!  They ought not fight against Almighty God, but surrender themselves to the LORD of Hosts!

Put it together thus far: God has called His people to return to Him – God declares how He will return to them.  He has arranged the punishment of the nations who scattered His people, and He has prepared a home for them, in which He will personally dwell with them & protect them.  What’s left at this point?  The people have a home – now they need to be able to worship God.  This is what’s addressed in the fourth vision.

Zechariah 3

  • Vision #4: The high priest. (3:1-10)

1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

  • In the heavenly courtroom, Joshua the high priest is shown to be on trial.  Satan, according to his name as “the adversary” opposes God & His priest, proclaiming accusations against him.  Yet who opposes Satan?  “The Angel of the LORD,” the Lord Jesus.  He defends Joshua, boldly rebuking the devil with all of the authority of Almighty God.
    • In a battle between Jesus & Satan, Jesus wins every time!
  • Notice that although Jesus rebukes the accusations of Satan, Jesus never refutes them, stating that they were untrue.  Joshua was “a brand plucked from the fire.”  Whatever sins Joshua had (as a representative of his nation & of the priesthood as a whole), those sins had truly been committed & were worthy of judgment.  Yet God determined to pluck Joshua out of judgment – he was saved from judgment & wrath.  God intervened on Joshua’s behalf, and thus the accusations of the devil held no merit.
    • Often, when attacked by the devil, his accusations against us might be true.  We are guilty of sin! ….  Yet Jesus still defends us.  He is our Advocate!  1 John 2:1–2, "(1) My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."  Do we deserve judgment?  Yes.  But Jesus took that judgment for us, just as He planned to take it for Joshua.  He fully satisfies the judgment of God on our behalf!

3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. 4 Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

  • That “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments” only goes to underscore the idea that Satan’s accusations against him were true.  Joshua was clothed in the sins of his nation.  As the high priest, he not only represented God to his people, but he represented his people unto God…and they were guilty!  They were defiled, as was the priesthood itself.  They were as dirty as dirty could be.
  • But Jesus dealt with that defilement!  The sin was removed from him, and the righteousness of God was imputed to him as Jesus personally clothed Joshua “with rich robes.”  (1 John 1:9)
    • How clean are we in Jesus?  We couldn’t be cleaner! 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." We are the righteousness of God!

5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.

  • In his vision, Zechariah supervises how Joshua was prepared for the priestly duties of his office.  This was no longer a defiled priest; this was a man ready to serve his Lord & his nation, with all the approval of God.
  • He was also a man charged by the Lord.  Vs. 6…

6 Then the Angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, 7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘If you will walk in My ways, And if you will keep My command, Then you shall also judge My house, And likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk Among these who stand here.

  • Joshua was commanded to be faithful.  “Walk…keep” = know God’s word, and be obedient to it.
  • If he did, he would remain in that position of leadership.  Of course, the implication was that if he didn’t, God would find someone else to lead His people.
  • Even with all the wonderful things God did with Joshua, this was just the precursor for the One yet to come.  Vs. 8…

8 ‘Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.

  • Joshua, the priests, and all in Judah were to watch for “My Servant the BRANCH.”  I.e., the Messiah.  The lineage of David would sprout again, and bear fruit.  Not only was God restoring the priesthood under Joshua, God looked forward to a day that the Kingdom would be restored with a Messianic king.  The Davidic dynasty, once thought dead, would be resurrected, and the Branch would burst forth in life!
  • Of course, ultimately Jesus fulfills both the role of King and High Priest.  Jesus is the Branch, but He is also “Joshua,” “Yeshua – YHWH who saves.”

9 For behold, the stone That I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. 10 In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor Under his vine and under his fig tree.’ ”

  • Jesus is both Branch and seven-eyed Stone.  He is the stone of stumbling & rock of offense for those who do not believe, but also the Chief Cornerstone upon whom we are built.  He knows all, sees all, and is filled with the seven-fold Spirit of God.  Jesus is absolutely perfect in every way.
  • And one day, everyone will know Him as that perfect King & Priest!  When Jesus returns in His 2nd Advent, the iniquity of the land will be removed, and Israel will not only worship Him as God, but they will live in peace & blessing in the Millennium kingdom.

Conclusion:
As with any dream, Zechariah saw some things a bit difficult to understand, but they were wonderful, nonetheless!  God’s plan was to return to His people, judge their oppressors, give them a home, and give them a priest & King.  All that seemed impossible during 70 years of Babylonian captivity were now again within reach – all because of the miracles and grace of God.

Our God is a God who restores!  What is it that you have lost due to sin?  Time from the past cannot be erased, but God can do amazing things with our futures!  And He’s already done so for every single born-again believer in Christ.  We have:

  • Our sins forgiven
  • The righteousness of Christ
  • Adoption as sons & daughters
  • The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
  • Power for living righteously
  • Grace to endure every trial
  • Constant intercession on our behalf by the Lord Jesus & the Holy Spirit

And that’s just a fraction of what we have in this life as believers…not to speak of what awaits us in eternity!  If this is not restoration, what is?

Beloved, trust Christ to restore!  Turn to Him in full faith, knowing that He turns to us in faithfulness.  Follow Him as the good God that He is!

The Danger of Riches

Posted: October 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

Luke 18:18-30, “The Danger of Riches”

We live in a land of riches!  While there’s no doubt that the US economy has seen its share of ups & downs, and many people struggle on a month-to-month basis to pay bills, the United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world today, and likely the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.  Case-in-point: the Pew research firm notes that in 2011, the US poverty line worked out to be an income of a little over $15 per day for a family of four; across the globe, the lower threshold for entering the middle class is $10 per day.  True poverty is seen among those making less than $2 per day, and although that is experienced by roughly 2% of people living in the US, it is experienced by 15% of the people living around the world. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/09/how-americans-compare-with-the-global-middle-class/)  We don’t have to hire a research firm to tell us these things – anyone who’s travelled globally to third-world nations often find people living in homes with dirt floors and without indoor plumbing.  That’s just the way life is for them.  Of course, Christians are not exempt from these conditions.  Some of the people who have the deepest faith in Jesus in those lands have some of the smallest income – many times, having career opportunities limited to them because they follow Jesus & not the religion of their neighbors.

With all of that in mind, what does that say about the so-called “prosperity” gospel that’s often preached in America, and around the world?  Among other things, the men & women that proclaim it have to blind themselves to reality.  God obviously doesn’t want everyone to be wealthy beyond imagination, or there wouldn’t be this level of poverty found in the world, especially among born-again believers.  Dozens of examples of the Scriptures can be cited to show men and women of God living among what would be considered the world’s-poor, up to & including the Lord Jesus Himself.  Prosperity teachers are blind not only to the world, but to the Bible!

Why point all of that out?  Because our text today is one of the strongest texts against the prosperity gospel found in the New Testament.  Ironically, it’s one of the most-quoted, used as an example to say that the rich young ruler should have given away his wealth, in order to have received a 100-fold financial blessing from the Lord Jesus.  They say that if the young man had humbled himself, like a camel getting down on its knees to crawl through a small gate, then Jesus would have made him rich.  In their opinion, that’s why everyone should give to God (meaning their ministry or church), in order to receive that blessing for themselves.  If the pastor just happens to be the recipient of those funds, then that’s just another blessing from the Lord, right?

Let me be perfectly clear: I believe the prosperity gospel is an outright lie & heresy, meant to distort Scripture and take people away from Jesus.  It is pyramid multi-level marketing in its very worst form, and it perverts the gospel of Jesus Christ from a message of salvation & reconciliation with God into a cheap how-to-get-rich-quick scheme.  The Benny Hinns & Creflo Dollars of the world will have a truly terrible awakening when they finally come face-to-face with Jesus, and they will face a strict judgment.

So if the prosperity teachers get this story so wrong, we need to ask ourselves: what does it say?  Simple: riches aren’t an attraction to get into the kingdom of God; they can actually be a danger that keeps people out.  Not only is it impossible to buy or earn our way into heaven, but a focused pursuit for wealth can blind us to our need for Jesus, forever keeping us out of heaven.  From that perspective, riches can be downright dangerous!

Obviously, money is not inherently evil; it’s simply a tool.  The Bible never says that money is the root of all evil, but that the “love of money” is. (1 Tim 6:10)  The Bible never says that it is sinful to be wealthy – on the contrary, there are many wealthy people in the Bible who were specifically blessed by God (Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, etc.).  But the key point is that money is secondary to Jesus.  Our love for God is to come first – everything else follows from that point.

That’s what the rich young ruler missed, and that’s what Jesus goes on to point out to the disciples in their follow-up conversation.  The disciples did the very thing that the rich young ruler had been invited to do: abandon everything for Jesus.  In Him, they found everything…so do we!

Let’s set the context:
In the grand narrative of Luke, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, ultimately heading to the cross.  Luke included quite a bit in this section, likely combining many events from Jesus’ travels all into one large narrative – even covering quite a bit of ground that the other Synoptic Gospels (Matthew & Mark) did not.  All of that is starting to come to a close, as Luke rejoins the other Synoptics, and will show Jesus approaching the Jerusalem area before Chapter 18 ends.

Most recently, Luke has shown Jesus teaching about the kingdom, specifically the reality of His return, and search to find those who are faithful to Him.  Part of that faithfulness is found in humility, as demonstrated with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector.  Although the tax collector humbled himself before God and appealed to God’s kindness & mercy (having faith like a child), the Pharisee believed himself to be sufficiently righteous, earning his way into the kingdom, looking down upon others who were supposedly more sinful than himself.

That Pharisee was about to be mirrored in the young man who approached Jesus.  Although his manners were certainly better, his self-righteousness was not.  He thought himself good enough for heaven; he was about to learn very differently.

Luke 18:18–30

  • The ruler’s request (18-23)

18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

  • It’s interesting that although most Christians know this person as the “rich young ruler,” nowhere does the Bible actually call him that.  Luke calls him a “ruler,” Mark says little about him other than his wealth as a part of the story, and Matthew refers to him as a “young man.” (Mt 19:20)  Put it all together, and we have a “rich, young, ruler.”  But that’s all we know of him.  What position of authority he had is unsaid – how old he was is unknown, etc.  Some have supposed him to have a position of authority in the synagogue, though that would seem unlikely for a young man.  It’s possible that he had some form of civil authority, but again, the Bible is silent about it & any guess we might have is simply that: a guess.
    • The fact that the Bible leaves him anonymous is somewhat telling in itself.  As we’ll see, this young man had the opportunity to be included among the other 12 disciples, but he didn’t take it.  His name could have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but there’s no indication it was.  He was just a “certain ruler” who had authority and wealth in this world, but nothing in the next.
  • Whoever he was, the ruler approached Jesus with what seemed to be a lot of respect, and a good question.  The problem is that he didn’t think either one through.  He used good sounding words & spiritual language, but it’s unclear that he truly understood what he was really saying.  What did he mean by “Good Teacher”?  (Jesus will ask him directly about this in a moment!)  What did he mean by “inherit eternal life”?  The phrase is appropriate & correct – but notice what he’s asking along with it: he wants to know what his actions ought to be to achieve it.  Right of the bat, he has a problem.  By definition, inheritances are given; not earned.  The only thing a child does to “earn” his/her inheritance from his parents is to simply live.  The child was born into the family; any inheritance that comes is a loving gift from being part of that relationship.  Eternal life works the same way.  It is indeed an inheritance – it must be given.  We cannot do anything to achieve it, other than be born into God’s own family.
    • That’s exactly what Jesus promises to those who respond to Him in faith!  When talking with Nicodemus, Jesus said that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3)  We are born-again through faith.  It is when we believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God who died for our sins at the cross & rose from the dead three days later – when we entrust ourselves to Him, believing upon Him as our Lord & Savior – that is when we receive this new birth.  And that is when we receive the promise of a marvelous inheritance!  John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:"  There is only one thing to “do” in order to receive the inheritance of the kingdom, and it’s not an action at all: believe upon Jesus!  (You’ll have an opportunity to do that later today.)
  • The young man may have been using polite religious language, but Jesus saw it as an opportunity to get him to think about what he was saying.  It wasn’t unlike a lot of people who show up in church & say the right words without considering the meaning.  What had he really said – did he really mean it?  If so, what were the ramifications?  Vs. 19…

19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

  • Jesus gets him thinking: what exactly is good?  Why did the man call Jesus good?  Was any man truly deserving of the label?  If God alone is truly good, and Jesus is good, then what does this mean about Jesus?  The man was likely just being polite (perhaps even overly flattering), but there was more to what he said than what he realized!
  • God is good (all the time!) – He is the very definition of good.  We only know what “good” is, when we look to God.  For instance, we define justice by the standard of God’s perfect justice.  We define love by looking to Jesus’ ultimate example of love.  When we see love & justice in the world, we see them as good because they are reflective of God’s character & nature.  Murder is wrong, because God is the author of life – therefore life is good & murder is evil.  Marital purity is good because God is holy, etc.  God is perfect in all of His ways, thus ultimate goodness = perfection.  That’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48) From that perspective it’s true that good people go to heaven…it’s just that no one meets the standard of “good” other than God! 
  • Men & women aren’t good – either in action or in nature.  We sin from the moment we’re born, because that is how we are born.  Obviously babies don’t realize what they do, but there’s no question that babies sin.  They might look cute doing it, but they sin nonetheless.  How else would you describe a person that demands the whole world revolve around them – that they get fed when they cry, throw fits when they don’t immediately get what they want, expect other people to wait on them hand & foot, etc.  Babies are inherently selfish, demanding creatures.  Adorable, yes, but sinful. J  But that’s just their human nature coming out.  We don’t become sinners when we commit a sin; we commit sins because we’re sinners.  That’s all part of the fall of Adam.  Human nature fell when Adam fell, and that nature has been passed on to the rest of us ever since.  That’s why even the best among us can still never truly be called “good” on our own.  None of us will ever be perfect, because we didn’t start out perfect.  Only God is perfect from beginning to end, thus only God is good.
    • But that leads us to the gospel!  What we could not have on our own is given to us by Jesus.  By ourselves, we’re not good – it is Jesus who makes us good in the sight of God.  He gives us His own righteousness, so that God the Father sees us as He sees His own Son.
    • This is what the rich young ruler had the opportunity to experience, but he wasn’t quite there yet.  He still needed to understand his own need for salvation, which Jesus attempts to point out to him.  Vs. 20…

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

  • The Ten Commandments are often divided into two tables (tablets): the first four dealing with our relationship towards God, and the remaining six being our relationships with others.  Jesus lists off five out of the six on the 2nd table: #7, #6, #8, #9, #5.  Why these particular commandments in that order?  As for the order, the Bible doesn’t say.  Some have suggested this was a common grouping of the day, but we cannot know for certain.  As for the commandments themselves, it’s not that Jesus was saying these were the only five that mattered – He probably picked out the outward commandments that were often quoted by the culture as a standard.  IOW, He probably picked the group that most of the Jews would have immediately picked.  It establishes a bit of common ground as a starting point for discussion.
  • In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered which of the Commandments Jesus listed.  Any one of them (when seen rightly) should have pointed out the man’s sin to himself.  After all, no one is justified by the law – the law brings only the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)  Those who look to the law to justify themselves fall far short when they finally start seeing how God sees the law: according to His perfection.  This was one of the things that Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount.  Perfection is perfection: both with external actions and internal attitudes of the heart.  That’s why when we look at others with lust, we’ve already committed adultery with them in our hearts. (Mt 5:28)  That’s why when we are angry with our brother without cause, we’ve committed murder against him in our heart. (Mt 5:21-22)  The commandment against theft does not apply only to items of large monetary value; we can steal time from our employers or even God of the things we are to give Him.  When we engage in rumor-telling, we’re bearing false witness, and we can dishonor our parents in all kinds of ways apart from simply being rude to their face.  Again, the law condemns; it doesn’t justify.  Even if we kept the law perfectly to every point, if we fail in just one single instance, we’re guilty of the whole thing. (Jas 2:10)
  • For all that this particular young man claimed to know about his religion, all of this should have been obvious to him.  It wasn’t.  Vs. 21…

21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

  • Right here, the ruler is exposed in all of his self-righteousness.  He’s so confident, yet so wrong!  Granted, according to the standard of the Jews, there is little doubt that this young man could make his claim with a clear conscience.  After all, when Paul looked back on his life as a Pharisee, he was able to say much the same thing about himself.  Paul had all kinds of confidence in his flesh, and concerning the righteousness he had in the law, he considered himself blameless. (Phil 3:6)  But that was all according to the standards of men, and we are not judged by the standards of men.  Our eternal judgment comes according to the standard of God, and that standard is perfection.  On that, we all fall short.
  • The young ruler may have had great self-esteem, but he had a terrible problem: he was lost, and he didn’t even know it.  That’s what self-righteousness does: it blinds people to their own depravity.  This was the same thing seen in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax-collector.  Relatively speaking, in terms of his culture, the Pharisee was a decent guy.  He wasn’t outwardly as sinful as the extortioners, adulterers, or tax-collectors in Judea.  He hadn’t gone out to commit robberies and murders.  He wasn’t worshipping at pagan temples.  If the Pharisee in the parable was like other Pharisees, then he went to synagogue, worshipped at the temple, gave alms to the poor, and memorized tons of Scripture.  He even taught the Bible to other people.  By all kinds of cultural norms, he would have been considered as a good man.  Likewise with this young ruler.  Looking upon the standards of the Jews, he was a good Jewish boy, even having a supposed sign of God’s outward blessing in his wealth & position.  After all, how many young man are extremely rich & in positions of leadership?  He (and others around him) would have thought himself to be in a great position, spiritually speaking.  He was blind.  He was lost, and he didn’t even know it.  He was headed for death and destruction, even though he believed himself just shy of the kingdom of God.
    • How many people today are in the same boat?  They show up at church every week (perhaps even here!) – they’re kind to their neighbors, and even to their adversaries – they pay their taxes, provide for their families, and give to charitable causes.  Relatively speaking, they’re decent folk.  But…they’re still lost!  And worse yet, most of them are blind to the fact that they’re lost – they don’t know that they need to be saved.  That’s why we’ve got to stop comparing ourselves to the standard of the world, and start looking at ourselves in the light of God.  That’s the only way we’ll understand our need to run to Jesus & cling to Him & His mercy!
  • Jesus gives him a wake-up call.  Vs. 22…

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

  • One thing”?!  Jesus was well aware that the man had broken the law on many occasions.  No one (apart from Jesus) is able to keep the law perfectly, and no doubt this young man had broken all 10 of the 10 commandments on many occasions, at least in spirit – including all 5 of the commandments that he boasted in keeping.  How could Jesus say that the man lacked only one thing?  (1) It was an expression meant to get his attention, (2) truly the man did lack one thing: faith in Jesus.  It wasn’t obedience to the law that would get the man into heaven; it was Jesus.  The man’s false impression of his obedience is what was keeping him out of heaven, and that’s what Jesus needed to show him.
  • The man had asked for actions, and Jesus gave him two. (1) Sell all his possessions, giving the money to the poor. (2) Follow Jesus as a disciple.  Question: Is this legalism?  Did Jesus tell the man how he could earn his way into heaven?  No.  Jesus did not provide rituals or good works to be performed as a way of earning eternal life; He gave the man a practical way to repent of the sin he didn’t even realize he had committed.  It interesting that although Jesus could have rebutted the man on every one of the commandments point-by-point, showing how he never kept even the smallest of the outward commandments regarding loving our neighbors as ourselves, Jesus didn’t do it.  Even if the man had perfectly obeyed Commandments #5-9 (which he didn’t, but grant the argument), he still hadn’t obeyed Commandment #1: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  He hadn’t kept the greatest commandment: Deuteronomy 6:5, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."  This man (as will be seen) lived for his wealth, valuing it more than the Lord, and was thus found guilty.  One simple examination of his priorities was all that was needed to make it evident.  So no, Jesus wasn’t giving a legalistic requirement for this man (and everyone else) to be followed in order to get into heaven.  Jesus was simply illustrating that the man wasn’t nearly as righteous as he believed himself to be.  He was a selfish sinner…just like everyone else. 
  • Selling off his possessions wouldn’t gain him heaven; he needed to follow Jesus.  Selling his possessions was just the step this particular man needed to take in order to follow Jesus.  This was his stumbling block – this was the thing that kept him back from true faith & discipleship.  Selling off his possessions would have been a sign of the man’s repentance, but following Jesus would have been a sign of faith.  Faith in Christ is what causes us to be born-again; repentance is merely what accompanies that faith.
    • For some people, that might mean giving up their wealth.  For others, it’s giving up a career – future opportunities – selfish pleasures, etc. [testimony – future decisions]  Whatever it is, if something is holding you back from Christ, it needs to be abandoned.  Jesus is worth it!

23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

  • How tragic!  The man finally understood his sin & his obstacle to eternal life…and did nothing.  He wanted eternal life, but not bad enough to surrender his current one.  He wanted to live in the future kingdom of God, but not enough to follow Christ the King in the present day.  It left him “very sorrowful”…just not sorry enough to change.
  • It’s not enough to be sorry over sin; we need to surrender our lives to Jesus!  We need to believe upon Him as Lord, and follow Him as such.  What good is sorrow if you’re still bound for hell?  What good is regret if you do nothing about it?  If you see your need for Jesus, then take the opportunity He has given you, and be saved!
  • Entering the kingdom (24-30)

24 And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

  • Jesus knew the man was sorry, but it didn’t change the facts.  The man, no matter how sorrowful he was, still did not choose to follow Jesus, so Jesus did not save him.  He didn’t run behind the man, force him to turn around & demand him to submit.  Apparently the young man walked away…and Jesus let him.  Did Jesus love him?  Of course!  Was Jesus’ offer to save still valid?  Absolutely…but it was up to the man to exercise his own free will and respond to Jesus, and he didn’t do it.  The man understood his sinful condition, looked straight into the eyes of the Savior clearly knowing what needed to happen in order to be saved, and yet he still turned away.  Jesus knew the man loved his wealth more than God, and He let the man make his decision & face the consequences.
  • For this man, and for many wealthy men & women, it was truly difficult to enter the kingdom of God.  How hard is it?  Impossibly hard.  It’s not merely difficult – not incredibly challenging – not it-just-takes-a-bit-of-humility hard; impossible.  It is unless-God-does-a-miracle-it-isn’t-happening hard.  That’s the point about a camel going through the eye of a needle.  Any “Needle” Gate in Jerusalem didn’t exist until the Middle Ages, and it defies logic to think that people would force a camel to its knees to go through it…especially when there were so many other gates to the city.  Besides, what Jesus says seems to have been a common proverb at the time to refer to the impossible (other versions use elephants rather than camels).  What Jesus used as an illustration, He meant.  Giant camel + tiny needle = impossible.
  • And the disciples understood exactly what Jesus meant.  Vs. 26…

26 And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” 27 But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

  • Again, not hard; impossible.  People who trust in riches instead of God aren’t going to heaven.  People who trust in religion instead of Jesus aren’t going to heaven.  People who trust in their winning personalities instead of Jesus aren’t going to heaven.  All these things are obstacles to faith, and they form impossible difficulties.  Riches are especially hard.  How so?  Because in that culture (like today), riches were often seen as God’s blessing.  The believed that rich people were already experiencing the blessings and favor of God, so if anyone among Israel was already headed towards heaven, it would have been the rich.  So if they’ve already got that going for them, why should they look to a Savior?  What need does someone have to be saved, if they don’t believe they are in danger?  The reason why over 430 people in the US accidentally die each year of carbon-monoxide poisoning is because the victim never realizes he/she is in danger.  It’s an odorless, colorless gas, and people will feel flu-like symptoms, not recognizing the issue for what it is.  It kills people without them knowing it.  That’s the way wealth works for many.  It blinds them to their need for Jesus.  It kills them without them knowing it.
  • Of course, this was why the people listening to Jesus were so appalled.  If the rich were in that much danger, what did this say about everyone else?  They believed the rich were virtually guaranteed heaven, because they were already blessed by God (supposedly).  If they weren’t, who else had a shot?  And that was Jesus’ point.  It impossible for the rich to earn salvation, just like it is impossible for anyone to earn salvation.  Salvation itself is impossible.  That’s why it takes a miracle of God.  God does the impossible – He makes the impossible, possible!
  • Question: If God can do the impossible, why wasn’t the rich young ruler saved?  Again, it comes down to a matter of freewill.  The man wasn’t willing to abandon his life to follow Jesus.  God could have saved him, and would have saved him, if he had but asked.  The man simply wasn’t willing.
    • Are you willing?  It is possible for God to save rich, poor, and anyone in-between.  No one is too lost to be found by God!  No one is too much a sinner to be saved!

28 Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

  • Peter notes that the 12 had done what the ruler did not.  They truly had left everything to follow Jesus.  They may have had less when they started, but they still gave it up.  Some left their family fishing business behind – Matthew left a lucrative (though sinful) job as a tax collector.  Peter (if not others) had a wife waiting for him at home.  Nothing was held back in their pursuit of Jesus – they understood He truly is worth everything.  (For all the flack Peter gets, he’s a great example on this point!)
  • Note: there was one among the 12 who seemed to follow Jesus without restraint, who really lived only for himself: Judas Iscariot.  The physical act of forsaking the world means nothing without the spiritual faith of actually following Jesus as Lord.  Judas may have walked the earth with Jesus, but in no way was his heart knit to Jesus.  Judas is the ultimate example of a false convert: everything looked great on the outside, while on the inside he remained sinful & separated from God.  In that respect, he & the rich young ruler weren’t too different.  At least the rich young ruler was honest as he turned away from Christ; Judas couldn’t claim the same thing.
  • In any case, 11 out of the 12 did forsake everything.  Each of them had put their lives on hold as they followed Jesus in faith.  Jesus knew it, and promised them it was worth it.  Vs. 29…

29 So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

  • The sacrifices of the 12 had not been in vain – what they left, they would receive in abundance.  In fact, Jesus promised that whatever was left behind, the disciples would receive far more than they ever surrendered.  Question: Is this the prosperity gospel?  Not in the slightest!  This is the kingdom – this is the abundant life, both now & in the future.  When Jesus promises more houses & parents & siblings, etc., He’s not promising the financial portfolios of these men will increase, no more than the number of marriage licenses or number of names on their birth certificates will increase.  Peter was not promised a literal increase in wives or children, thus he wasn’t promised a literal increase in homes and wealth.  To turn Jesus’ statement into a promise of financial prosperity is to rip it from its context and rob it of all meaning.  What Jesus does promise is inclusion in His kingdom.  No matter where a born-again believer goes in this world, he finds he always has family – he always has a home.  Wherever other born-again Christians gather, that’s where the family of God is.
    • Question: Does Jesus actually ask us to give up our families?  In some cases, yes.  It’s difficult for us to imagine in the United States, but it’s par for the course around the world in countries where Christianity is a persecuted minority.  When people in Hindu India follow Christ, or when people in Saudi Arabia follow Jesus, quite often families are left behind.  Christians are disowned by their parents, divorced by their spouses, even find their lives physically threatened by the ones who formerly loved them the most.  What would cause Christians to endure all of this?  Jesus.  Once you know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, where else can we go?  Nothing compares with Him.
  • Even better than what we gain in the now (inclusion in the universal church, the overarching family of God around the world) is what we gain in the “age to come”: “eternal life.”  The very thing longed for by the rich young ruler is what was received by the apostles.  It wasn’t something they had earned, but it was something they gained.  Life would be given to them: eternal life – life that lasts into the eons.

Conclusion:
This is what we receive in Christ: eternal life!  Follow after Jesus today, and you are promised to dwell with Jesus forever.  What can compare with that?  What can compare with Him?  No possession, no amount of wealth, no earthly relationship is worth it.  Abandon it all for the sake of Jesus!

The rich young ruler had it all…yet he had nothing.  The one thing he claimed to want the most, he had the opportunity to receive, but he turned it down.  Wealth blinded his eyes to Jesus, and turned into an idol that kept him from salvation.

How many people find themselves in the same boat?  They say they want to go to heaven – they think they’ve done all the right things in order to go to heaven.  The one thing they lack is faith in Jesus…and that’s only thing that counts.

What’s holding you back from Jesus? It’s not worth it!

Even as born-again believers, what holds you back from Jesus?  Don’t fall into the mistake of thinking that this text is only for non-believers coming to faith; it’s also for those of us who have faith.  Just because we abandoned all to follow Christ doesn’t mean that we’ve continued that way. We get so easily distracted…beware.

Humility and the Kingdom

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:9–17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Example of the Children (15-17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying Persistently

Posted: September 10, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 18:1-8, “Praying Persistently”

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:1–8

The Parable (1-5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesson (6-8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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