Safe Passage: Luke 17.20-37; 1 Thess 5.2-11

Tough week in the news, don’t you think?

Political instability, an invasion in Turkey and Syria, unrest in Hong Kong. The financial markets don’t like this much, either.

Who’s going to fix this? Who will make all wrongs right? What’s going to happen in the end? How will we find safe passage through turmoil? And, with increasing bias in the media, how do we even find out what’s true?

These are paralyzing questions for those who don’t believe the gospel, because politics seem like the last, best option to those without Christ. They’re pressing questions for those of us who do believe in the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus, because we’re always tempted to forget Jesus and join in the hysterics.

Luke 17.20-37 is puzzling to read and hard to teach. Jesus is traveling to the cross and identifying true followers as He goes. And, in chapters 17-18 in particular, He’s preparing these true followers for the time between His two comings. Among the other characteristics they’ll demonstrate, these true followers will press toward the fulness of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom has come in Jesus (:20-21). When is the Kingdom coming? Jesus’ opponents wanted to know. In other words, When will we finally see God’s reign and rule? When will all wrongs be made right?

Jesus answers in two parts. First, He tells them that His Kingdom does (present tense) not come with a lot of fanfare. In fact, you could miss it. (Kinda like the nine former-lepers missed Jesus in the passage just before this one, 19.11-19). Second, ” … the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (:21). In other words, I’m right here! You’re looking at the very presence of the Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God is always present with the King.

This “NOWness” of the Kingdom is a big deal! And, at different places in His gospel, Luke describes just what takes place, because Jesus is on the scene: the power of Satan is broken (10.18); evil is dealt a fatal blow (11.20); the New Covenant is cut (22.19); the Spirit (soon) will come (24.49). And, throughout, forgiveness of sins is offered, based on Jesus’ gospel cross-work.

All this is true, because Jesus is on the scene. But, for the unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus is curt and cryptic. After this, though, He turns to His disciples in the remainder of the passage. And, for those who believe, He gives more …

The fulness of the Kingdom will come in Jesus (:22-37). Not everything in God’s plan of redemption was accomplished at Christ’s first coming. There’s also a NOT YET part of the Kingdom. These works of God, tied up in Jesus’ second coming, include the complete removal of sin, Jesus’ obvious reign and rule, the restoration of all things, and resurrection from the dead for everybody. And, they include the execution of God’s justice, judgment, and the separation of the righteous and the unrighteous.

In other words, all wrongs will be made right. But, what of Jesus’ followers? In contrast to Luke’s strong emphasis on the “NOWness” of Jesus’ reign and rule that we read about in his gospel, the remainder of this passage provides color and detail about what will happen when Jesus returns. Four questions structure the passage:

  1. When will the fulness of the Kingdom come? (:22-25) Jesus’ basic answer is that He can return at any point after He goes to the cross. (Christ’s return in their own lifetime has been the hope of every generation of believers ever since.) In the meantime, believers (that’s us!) shouldn’t get confused. We’re not to get worked up over blood moons and cryptic readings from ancient Jewish calendars. We’re not to follow rumors from those who think they’ve found Jesus in remote places (See Matt 24.23a … 26). When Jesus comes, His return will be as obvious as lighting: For as the lighting flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day (:24).
  2. How will the Kingdom come in fulness (:26-30). Jesus’ answer is that the Kingdom will come in fulness suddenly, when people are thinking about other things. He then gives two historical examples of how this will be. The first involved Noah (Gen 9). People were having a great time while Noah built his ark, in obedience to God. And, when God’s judgment came, God provided safe passage on the ark through His own judgment. The second example is Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). Once again, people were doing their thing, until God judged these cities, and provided safe passage for Lot. (His wife chose not to follow and became part of the landscape). In the same way, Jesus’ return will catch the upright off guard.
  3. What should you do when the fulness of the Kingdom comes? (:31-36). Jesus answer: don’t prepare … It’s too late for that. Don’t try to rescue your stuff. Don’t try to find some solution apart from Jesus. As Darrell Bock says in his commentary, “If one is not already prepared for the day, there will be no time to prepare. There will be time only to flee.” Two will be in one bed. Two will be milling grain. In both case, one will be taken and the other left. The real answer to Jesus’ question, of course, is each of us should EMBRACE JESUS NOW! Jesus has been saying this all along. In 9.24 He has said, For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? And then in our passage, Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it (:33). The first half of verse 33 describes material things. We’ll lose them, if we try to hang onto them. The second half describes spiritual salvation. If we turn from our sin and trust Jesus, we will be saved.
  4. What will result with the coming of the Kingdom in fulness (:37)? The disciples want to know where this will take place. Jesus seems to believe they’ve asked the wrong question. It’s not that you can leave and avoid God’s judgment. It’s that God’s judgment will be obvious when He comes, like lightning, like a cloud of vultures.

True followers of Jesus cling to Jesus by faith and will find safe passage into the fulness of the Kingdom at His coming. 

In case you’re wondering, this is probably not the first passage I’d share with someone who doesn’t already know Jesus. My conviction is that people seldom do what we tell them to do, and scaring people only produces short-term change. Rather, I want people to see my deep concern for them and (even more!) my love for Jesus—as well as my excited anticipation of His coming.

That’s been the attitude of followers of Jesus since the days of the early church. Glance through the related passage of 1 Thessalonians 5.2-11 and you’ll see that those who trust Jesus 1) aren’t destined for wrath, but have safe passage (5.9), 2) should “encourage one another” with expectation of Jesus’ return, and 3) should look for Jesus (:3), like a woman in labor expects to meet a person at the end of her ordeal.

At Jesus’ coming, wrongs will be made right, injustices will be wiped away, and we’ll be with Jesus.

Now, how does that make you feel?

Here’s a few questions to discuss with others:

  1. This is a difficult passage, for lots of reasons. What about this is new to you? What is unclear? How does reading about God’s judgment make you feel?
  2. How is God’s just, righteous character revealed in this passage?
  3. How does knowing that Jesus will right all wrongs help you when you read or watch scary news from our troubled world?
  4. What should you do to prepare for Jesus?
  5. What wonderful, grand and beautiful aspects of the NOT YET coming of God’s Kingdom are you looking forward to?
  6. How should you, together with others, increasingly pray for our world?

Humility and Repentance: Luke 18.9-14

What do you think of when you think of a self-made person?

Maybe you think of somebody who lives “off the grid,” Amish style. Or, you might think of somebody who doesn’t depend on Madison or Washington; or somebody who doesn’t punch a clock, because their money works for them; or somebody who is prosperous enough to share with others.

All of this self-dependence is a good thing, if you can get it. But, there’s also a kind of self-dependence that won’t work—especially with God. In fact, it will leave you isolated, from God and from everybody else.

Luke 18 records several parables about coming to God. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (:9-14) talks about the heart attitude we must have when coming to God. As it turns out, all this has much to do with how we feel about other people.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (:10). Temple worship in the Old Testament included two daily sacrifices. And, while individuals could pray alone at many other times, the picture here is of public worship.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (:11). Don’t be too crazy hard on this Pharisee. Pharisees were the teachers of Israel. Their job was to model worship and reverence toward God’s Word. This guy got the modeling part right, but it’s his attitude Jesus condemns. Notice how he’s shouldered his way into what was probably the inner court. Now, he stands “by himself,” alone. And, he preaches at the Tax Collector, probably wondering why the most-hated of sinners was in the outer court at all, and not against the eastern wall with the other ceremonially unclean worshippers.

I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get (:12). This is all about comparing himself to others. The Law required fasting once each year on the Day of Atonement. Our Pharisee fasts twice each week. The Law, at that time, required gifts of ten-percent on commodities like oil, grain and wine, but our guy gives ten-percent on everything that enters his mouth—and wants others to know about it. His assumption is that he’s righteous because of what he does. And, what he does is more than what others do and is certainly enough to please God, he thinks.

Notice how the parable leaves him standing by himself. He won’t be accepted by God, and he’s isolated from other people.

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (:13) Perish the thought! But, imagine that Nazi Germany ruled America. And then, there’s an American Nazi who comes to collect your taxes. How do you feel about that guy? That’s how people felt about this tax collector! But, he comes to the Temple. He stands in the outer court. He won’t lift his eyes to God or others. He beasts his chest in remorse, a common practice among women at a funeral, but only seen among men at the account of Jesus’ death on the cross.

But, the Tax Collector falls on God’s mercy.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other … (:14a). The parable began with two going up. Now, it ends with one man going down. And, this one man is “justified” before God. That’s a special word. It’s related to the Hebrew word “to cover” or “to atone for”. God accepted the Tax Collector, not because he turned up at the Temple to sacrifice, but because he threw himself on God’s mercy in humility.

And, don’t miss the detail at the end. The Tax Collector went “to his house”. That’s where his people are. He came alone, stood alone, but received acceptance by God, and then went down to be with others.

Jesus ends this short parable with two lessons: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (:14b). First lesson: those who lift themselves up (think they’re good enough the way they are and are willing to be judged on what they do), these won’t be accepted by God. And, they’ll remain alone.

Have you ever known church people like that? If that’s been your experience, or if you don’t join much with others in church and you think churches are filled with people like that, I (for one) get what you’re thinking. We at Woodland get that too. In fact, many of us used to be like that. But, this parable shows us that it shouldn’t be that way. It’s not the Gospel, and it doesn’t have to be that way!

Lesson two: those who humble themselves will be lifted up and accepted by God. And, they’ll join others accepted by God.

Here’s the Good News! Since the telling of this parable, Jesus took our offense against God on Himself. He sacrificed His own life, and God accepted this sacrifice. And, when we’re willing to be judged on what Jesus has done, we can come to God. Later, in the New Testament the Book of Romans, we learn what this means for everybody: … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3.23-24).

Those who “get” Jesus know they come to God only in humility to be lifted up in Christ. 

A couple of action steps remain for us. In Christ, we get to come to God in humility. If you come to a place like Woodland Community Church, you need to know that you are among sinners. We’re Tax Collectors, not Pharisees. In fact, some of us are recovering from addictions. Some have been in jail. My goodness, some of us even struggle with pride. We like to say that, apart from the work of Jesus, there’s no difference between us and everybody else. And, if you’re ever in the Northwoods and join us, you won’t be judged. God has judged us with Christ, and Jesus’ righteousness is enough for all!

Second action step: we get to come to God with other people. At Woodland, and any other church that “gets” who Jesus is, you don’t have to stand far off. Instead, because of Jesus, you get to stand right in the midst of God’s people.

Now, that’s a good word. So, don’t try to be self-made with God this week. Instead, come to God in humility. And, come into the midst of God’s people, to be lifted up with others in Christ.

Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

  1. Finally, after a couple of difficult parables these last weeks, we have one that at least seems straight-forward. How would we describe the heart-attitude that is contrasted between the Pharisee and Tax Collector?
  2. What are the social implications we see in these two figures? Whom are the two figures separated from? And, whom are they, finally, united with?
  3. What does the commendable response in humility of the Tax Collector show us about true repentance? What does godly repentance looks like? You might want to consider these verses: Lk 3.3; 3.8; 2 Cor 7.9-10; 2 Tim 2.25.
  4. What role does our repentance play in our salvation? How is it different from faith, but also similar to faith?
  5. How do both faith and repentance relate to the  finished work of Jesus?
  6. What has been your experience with Christians in the past? How does this teaching from Jesus about what it looks like to truly follow Him (by faith, and in humility and repentance) encourage you to forgive others and go deeper into Christian community?
  7. How ought we all to respond to this teaching when we are in the midst of God’s people at Woodland (or, some other church)? What does it mean for the way we feel about God, others, and ourselves?

 

 

Too Late! Luke 16.19-31

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I have a reoccurring dream. In my dream, I’m taking a class, but I’ve neglected to attend … for about ten weeks! Is it too late? I hold out hope, but I know in my dream-heart that it’s too late. Then, at that point, I usually wake up.

That’s a dream, but its warnings are real. I’m capable of missing the obvious, and being too late!

Luke 16.19-31, about the Rich Man and Lazarus, is among Jesus’ quirkiest parables, and among my favorites. Its landscape is the imaginative world of parable, but like other parabolic teachings of Jesus (think of The Good Samaritan), it’s points are hard and real and true.

The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (:19-31). In the parable there is a Rich Man. His garments are purple, made from expensive dye. His underwear is fine linen. He’s rich all the way down! And, he spends his days feasting in his sumptuous palace.

There’s also a poor man named Lazarus. He’s commendable, not because he’s poor, but because he trusts in God. Crippled, Lazarus has been laid at the gates of the Rich Man’s house. Dogs lick his sores. He longs for food thrown from the Rich Man’s table. Following the popular religion of the day, those passing by would have passed judgment on Lazarus. Surely, he’s done something wrong, they would have thought. The Rich Man pays Lazarus no attention.

Then, both die. There’s a reversal. Lazarus goes to Abraham to await Messiah—the hope of every Jew in that day. This is the place of the righteous dead, associated with feasting and rest. The Rich Man dies too. Only, he find himself in Hades, the place of the unrighteous dead before Christ’s coming. (This is where the parable is so interesting, and where we have to be careful. Yes, the story is parable and imaginative, so we don’t want to press every detail to learn things about, say, the afterlife. But, we don’t want to dismiss its truths either. Jesus’ truths are hard and real and arresting.)

Now, in the parable, everything is changed. The Rich Man begs Abraham, three times: Send Lazarus to give me relief! … Send Lazarus to warn my family! … Send Lazarus to give my family a miracle! the doomed Rich Man pleads.

But, each time Abraham responds … It’s too late!

Lessons from The Rich Man and Lazarus. 

  1. Like Lazarus those who trust Christ will be with Jesus at death. This is where the parable is realistic, and a point made elsewhere in the Bible: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise, Jesus told the thief on the cross (23.24). My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, Paul concludes (Phil 1.23). This is true for those who depend on Jesus and His finished work. It’s true despite our earthly circumstances, whether we’re rich or poor. That I will be with Jesus instantly at death is true, no matter what I might lose in this life. That I will be with Jesus is true, no matter what I might give up to follow Jesus in this life. In a somber story, this is hopeful.
  2. Like the Rich Man those who die without trusting Christ will experience irreversible separation from God. Notice, there’s no cleansing of purgatory here. (That’s a medieval development.) There’s no hope, no more chances for the Rich Man who had every opportunity to respond.
  3. God reveals Himself in His Word, so that nobody can say they didn’t know. Therein is the “dig” the Rich Man is taking at God. He’s saying, I didn’t know! Ah, but he did. He had God’s Word with its strong commandments to care for the poor (Is 58.6-7, for example). Paying attention to brother Israelites would have demonstrated a heart yielded to God. Abraham’s final explanation hints at Christ’s future work: If they [the five brothers] do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead (:31).

Those who “get” Jesus recognize their accountability to God from His Word and depend on Jesus … before it’s too late

That’s Jesus’ big point in telling the parable to those who thought they were right with God. And, like the points of a star shooting out from the center, there’s a number of applications coming off this main point. They deal with accountability to God, God’s Word, and our response in faith to Jesus:

Applications from The Rich Man and Lazarus. 

  • We need to recognize our accountability to God, especially regarding the poor. In doing this, we need to understand where we are in relation to Jesus and His cross. Before Jesus God’s people lived in the Nation of Israel. Responsibility to care for the the poor meant caring for brother-Israelites. But at the finished work of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2), God’s people became the international, multi-cultural gathering of those who follow Jesus.

So, we have verses like Acts 4.34: There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

And we have Paul in Romans 15.25-26: At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 

In other words, we need to concern ourselves for the plight of fellow Christians persecuted and impoverished because of their fellowship with Jesus. While this doesn’t save us, we’re accountable to care for these brothers and sisters, and that’s in part what faith in Jesus will look like.

  • Also, we need to take God’s Word seriously. The Spirit works in conjunction with the Word. That’s how God communicates with us today. So, we need to be all about God’s Word—alone, and together in groups. God’s Word is enough. We don’t need extra signs and miracles to testify. We have the testimony of those who knew Jesus. And the Spirit works in our hearts to tell us, It’s true! … It’s all true!
  • Finally, we need to respond to Jesus by faith. The prayer that the Rich Man in the parable didn’t pray is that great prayer God always answers: “Lord, show me my heart. And, show me Yourself. I want to know you.”

If the Rich Man had prayed such a prayer, he would have seen and cared for Lazarus. And, if we depend on Jesus by faith, we’ll recognize our accountability to God, value His Word, and respond to Jesus by faith.

And, we’ll do this … before it’s too late.

Here’s a few questions to get us talking with others:

  1. Like last week this is a difficult parable. What about it still seems perplexing or unclear?
  2. What excuses did the Rich Man make for not caring about Lazarus? How did this reveal His heart? How might such excuses reveal the condition of our hearts as well?
  3. What’s the connection to faith in Jesus and our response to the poor? Yes, we aren’t saved by caring for the poor, but there is a connection. What is it?
  4. What should we do as a result of this teaching by Jesus?

I hope this parable and these questions help you in considering the urgency of Jesus’ teaching. There’s lots of things worth pondering here. And, I hope you have a great week in the Lord as you do.

Who’s with Jesus? The Dishonest Manager: Luke 16.1-13

This week we come to one of Jesus’ most difficult parables, The Dishonest Manager, Luke 16.1-13. Since the world of the story strikes us as both arcane and culturally distant, here’s a modern parody on the parable. I call it “Mr. Thump and the CBO”.

There was once a man named Mr. Thump. Now, with a name like Thump you can’t run for public office. But, you can be a businessman …

Mr. Thump was a big businessman. He ran an international imports-exports business that imported and exported every conceivable product anywhere on the globe. 

But, Mr. Thump wasn’t only a businessman. He was philanthropist. With every profit he gave over-and-abundantly toward a myriad charitable causes that people really cared about: needy children, to be sure, but also endangered snails, rainforests, baby cheetahs, little bugs that people cared about … Mr. Thump knew that both his business and his charitable causes depended on his reputation. 

Now, Mr. Thump had a CBO. CBO stands for Chief Brand Officer. The CBO was responsible for the public image of the business and Mr. Thump. 

This CBO was dishonest, but also very shrewd. Over time, he figured out a way to build hidden fees into the import-export business, which he then harvested for his own purposes. 

Mr. Thump wasn’t fooled. He called his CBO into the board room and said, “Today is the day of reckoning! I’ve hired an independent auditor to examine your work, and you have until the auditor finishes his work to set your accounts in order. 

The CBO knew his professional reputation would be ruined. But, he had a plan. He instructed his accountant to pull up the names of every donor to Mr. Thump’s charity and make an additional donation to that donor’s favorite cause—all in the name of Mr. Thump.

The next day every headline on social media touted the generosity of Mr. Thump. Stock in the company went through the roof as global investors poured in. Mr. Thump’s business and reputation was bigger than ever … 

Later that day Mr. Thump sent out a tweet on his personal Twitter account. “My CBO is a scoundrel,” Mr. Thump said. “But, he’s my kind of scoundrel. He recognizes a crisis when he sees one, and he does something about it. But, more than that, he understands that I am generous, and he enhances my reputation. 

“You’re fired! Mr. CBO. But, you’re shrewd, and you have a future.”

 

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (:1-8a). Back in Luke 16, the subtlety of the teaching comes from Jesus’ presentation of the central character who is both commendable and unsavory. On the surface, it appears Jesus is talking about money and possessions. But, to think only about Jesus’ own application of His teaching to money and possessions is to miss His more central point—about the character of God, my condition, and the crisis brought about by the gospel.

Read carefully through Luke 16.1-8. Note the pattern of the story in seven points. Verse 1 is about the improper use of resources. That opening verse is paired, logically and structurally, with verse 8a, about the proper use of resources, where the master commends the manager for his schrewdness. Then note that verse 2, about the justice of the master, is paired with verses 6-7, about the (apparent, in the parable) mercy and generosity of the master. Note also that verse 3, about the manager’s recognition of his crisis, is paired with verse 5, about the manager’s response to the crisis. We have a pattern, don’t we? Finally, notice that the one verse left over, verse 4, about the manager’s present resources being used for his future benefit, is left in the center of the pattern, and without a matching verse.

This structure is called a chiasm, because it forms half of an “x” that looks like the Greek letter “chi”. Such structures are frequent in Semitic literature, and they tip us off to what the speaker or writer want to tell us. The meaning of a writing laid out as a chaism is often found right in the center—in this case, verse 4, about the proper use of resources in light of eternity.

Pointing to this main idea, you have the character of the Master, the rich man. He’s both just and merciful. And, while he stands in for God in the parable, he doesn’t represent God in every respect. Still, he does require a reckoning for injustice (like God will). And, his mercy (squeezed out by trickery in the parable) is true to who God is.

Likewise, the manager is commended, because he knows a crisis when he sees one and doesn’t just sit there but responds to the crisis. And, he does so using possessions at his disposal in the present to prepare for the future.

The Point of the Dishonest Manager (:8b). The main idea, hinted at in verse 4,  is stated clearly in verse 8b: The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 

What Jesus is saying is that even godless scoundrels know a crisis when they see one. Even people who are only interested in advancing their own interests know the time to act.

Do you know what time it is? Jesus is subtly asking His followers. Do you know that the crisis is upon you? Do you know what to do in crisis? Jesus is asking us.

The crisis Jesus is speaking of is the crisis of His own coming and the arrival of the Kingdom of God. I am bringing both God’s justice and mercy, Jesus is saying. Turn from your old ways of doing things. Respond to me and be changed! Jesus implores …

Those who “get” Jesus are those who recognize the crisis and fall on the mercy of God in Jesus. 

That’s the point of this interesting and subtle parable—just as true for us at the brink of Jesus’ second coming as it was for those at the verge of His first.

Practical applications by Jesus from The Dishonest Manager (:9-13). Now, we who live after Jesus’ work on the cross respond to Jesus by responding in faith to the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Responding to the gospel reorients every part of our lives. And those who respond to Jesus also, like the screwd manager in the parable, use their earthly possessions to prepare for a future with Jesus.

So, while the parable is really about our response to Jesus, it has implications for our use of money and possessions. This is Jesus’ point in verses 9-13. “Unrighteous wealth” is “unrighteous,” not because money in itself is evil, but because it will fail.

So, what are we to do with money? Jesus says, in so many words …

  1. Be Generous … while you prepare for a future with me (:9)And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth … So, for example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a boat, or a big house, or investing for the future. But, all this will fail. You can’t hang on to them. So, be generous with them. Share. Send the benefits on ahead, where you will meet those with whom you’ve shared—as well as Jesus Himself.
  2. Be Trustworthy … while you prepare for a future with me (:10-12)One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much … The “little things” here are those things that will fail. My handling of these things says much about my response to Jesus. I should be able to look through my bank account register and see where my heart is. Do I care only about stuff that will melt away? Or, am I living for Jesus and His people and things that transcend this life?
  3. Finally, be Single-Minded …. while you prepare for a future with me. This passage, among Jesus’ most practical teachings on money, isn’t really about money. It’s about whether or not we take Jesus seriously and respond to God’s mercy in the gospel. As it turns out, our hearts don’t actually multi-task. We can only serve one master. And Jesus calls us to Himself.

There IS a crisis. And, we CAN fall on the mercy of God who has provided us with Christ. And if we really “get” Jesus we won’t just pray a prayer and remain unchanged. We’ll live for Him. And all of our resources will be handled in the light of eternity.

 

Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

  1. What about this parable still seems mirky, obscure, or hard to understand?
  2. Why don’t people you know respond to Jesus? Do you think people really believe there is a crisis?
  3. What should be our response to the crisis Jesus brings?
  4. In thinking about Jesus’ own application of this parable (about money and possessions), which of the three points hits you the hardest?
  5. Which of Jesus’ three applications is the most difficult for you?
  6. What do you believe the Spirit of God would have you do about this?

 

 

Counting the Cost: Luke 14.25-35

There’s a few things I really don’t want to spend money on. My cats, for one. My phone, for another.

The cats are a story for another time. It’s my phone plan that has me cringing this week. My basic, slider-phone still works, sort of. And, it’s not the up-front cost of replacing that old bomber in my pocket that bothers me. It’s the back-costs, the monthly bump in hard-saved bucks that has me pausing at the trigger.

According to today’s passage, I’m wise to count the cost. Jesus says so. But long before phones, Jesus talked about the cost of following Him, the cost of being a true subscriber to Him, His lifestyle, and His ways.

In Luke 14.25-35, Jesus has just finished a disastrous meal with the Pharisees. He’ll never eat with them again. They’ll never pretend to like Him again. Now, he’s journeying toward Jerusalem. Fickle crowds surround Him, and in the midst of it all, Jesus turns to His disciples. The Pharisees won’t follow Jesus; the crowds will melt away too. What are YOU going to do? Jesus asks His followers, in so many words.

What follows is a short, cryptic passage made up of one point, three examples, and three illustrations. First, the examples …

Counting the cost means a new relationship, Jesus says (:26)If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 

This is strange to us. In so many other places Jesus has commanded love for others, even enemies. And, He’s demonstrated that love Himself. What’s going on here? Well, Jesus is operating from the discipleship model of the time. In that day, young methetaes (“disciples,” or learners) would pledge allegiance to a teacher, adopt that teacher’s lifestyle, and count on the teacher to provide what they needed. This was the model of a young Jew following a rabbi to learn Torah, or a young Greek learning the ways of Stoicism, Epicurianism, or another school of Greek thought. To do this, of course, the student would have to forsake his former way of life, including his family.

That’s the point Jesus is making. We can’t choose Him, but still belong to someone else. This leads to the second example.

Counting the cost means enduring suffering (:27). The disciples’ new allegiance to Jesus will mean that she will suffer the same rejection Jesus did. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Important to recognize is that Jesus is emphasizing the process of following Him, not the act of entering. We aren’t saved by taking up our crosses. Jesus saved us by taking up His. But, in coming to Him, we ought to expect the same reception He received. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (Jn 15.18).

Finally, counting the cost means releasing hold of possessions (:33)So therefore, if any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The word “renounce” here means “take leave of” (read, “say bye-bye”). It’s a travel word. Paul is seen in Acts saying “bye-bye” to companions (i.e. Acts 18.18). And, we’re to say “bye-bye” to possessions we once considered our own.

Note the logic of the passage so far. Counting the cost means pledging allegiance to Jesus, suffering in the manner He did, and giving up your possessions with the confidence that what He gives you will be enough.

Woven into passage are three illustrations. The tower (:28-30) teaches us recognition. The king teaches self-awareness (:31-32). And, salt teaches perseverance (:34-35). Of the three, salt rounds out Jesus’ meaning most fully. Salt had numbers of purposes in the ancient world. Making food taste good, of course. Retarding and managing the decomposition of manure in producing compost, for another. And, most importantly, preserving food. But, when salt became corrupted by getting wet or being mixed with impurities, it had to be discarded. So it will be with those who don’t properly reckon what allegiance to Jesus actually means. They take off, leaving Jesus, and become useless.

This is a hard teaching from Jesus. He’s saying that, unlike the fickle crowds, His followers need to recognize what it will cost to enter into relationship with Him. Then, they need to persist in following Him.

Count the cost … Keep on with Jesus.

Read in isolation, there’s not a lot of comic relief or comfort in this passage. In fact, my unstudied reaction is to withdraw, so I don’t mess up. But, that’s not to be how we apply this Scripture to our lives. Here’s a couple of critical thoughts to help us:

  1. In this passage, Jesus hasn’t been to the cross yet! That’s critically important for us on this side of the cross, because it means that we’re further along in God’s plan of redemption than those disciples who walked with Jesus in His earthly ministry. At that time, Jesus’ hadn’t yet paid the penalty for our sin. And, in a very real sense, the gospel hadn’t happened yet. We know now that since Jesus has been to the cross He has secured redemption for all who depend on Him by faith. His Spirit has activated the saving power of the preached gospel, so that those called to faith understand and believe (i.e. Acts 16.14). Just as wondrous, God guards those  who have believed, so that we will come into our inheritance at the return of Christ. (See 1 Pet 1.3-9). Taken in light of the overall plan of redemption, there’s certainty here!
  2. In calling us to Himself, Jesus invites us on a journey with Him through the Spirit. Importantly, none of Jesus’ early followers counted the cost. They all fled. But, when the risen Jesus appeared to them and then sent His Spirit, they flourished. And, Jesus sustained them.

When we come to Jesus we enter relationship by faith as an event. Then, we go on with Jesus in the process of sanctification. This passage is about what we learn along the way. We don’t renounce our families, cars, bank accounts and houses at the moment of salvation. But, we continually ask God to show us what it means that all these things belong to Him.

And, as we travel with Jesus, He sustains us and gives us what we truly need in Him.

Count the cost … Keep on with Jesus

Here’s a few questions to consider with others along the way:

  1. What about this passage is most cryptic or hard to understand?
  2. How does the picture of the teacher providing everything the student needs help you make sense of what Jesus is telling us to do in this passage?
  3. What things are most difficult for you to “renounce”?
  4. What does it look like for you when Jesus “calls in” something that you know already belongs to Him?
  5. How does the overall plan of redemption we read about in other places in the New Testament, like 1 Peter 1.3-8, provide you with security and make you thankful?

 

Celebrating with Jesus: Luke 14.15-24

Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God, the invited guest shouted.

This interjection must have seemed strange and misplaced, uttered suddenly by the man lying at table with Jesus, His Pharisee host, and the others who had shouldered their way to places of importance.

But Jesus thought the interjection important, so important He told a parable, recorded for us in Luke 14.15-24.

A certain man prepared a really lavish feast. Ahead of time, he sent servants to invite guests of his choosing. All were impressed. But, months later, when all was ready, these same invited guests didn’t want to come. The same servants went. But, the invited guests begged off. One had purchased land, another some oxen, a third had just married. Basically, they had other things to do. 

The master of the house grew angry. Refusing to postpone or cancel his feast, he sent those same servants to collect others who couldn’t even pretend to match him in wealth and grandeur—the crippled, blind, and lame. 

When the new guests had arrived, there was a new problem. There was still room in the host’s house! His glory exceeded the number of guests! So, he told his servants, “Go get some more.” So, these same servants left the city and went to the highways leading away from the city and to the hedges where foreigners lounged. 

At first, this final group of guests couldn’t believe they were invited! But, the host had instructed his servants to “compel” (:23) them to come. And so, finally, the banquet hall was filled, but not by those who had been originally invited. 

Jesus ends his instruction with the telling words, For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet (:24).

Jesus’ purpose in speaking this parable in the midst of His enemies isn’t hard to recognize. The Nation of Israel, represented by its teachers, was in the act of rejecting Him as Messiah. Though they’d been called to God for ages, they would find other things to do, rather than trust Messiah. Meanwhile, others (Gentiles, pictured by the guests who came to fill the hall) would accept Jesus, and enter into Kingdom celebration with their Lord.

Taken in the midst of Jesus’ teaching in this section of Luke, this passage isn’t hard to figure out. But, there’s more than we realize here. One of the fascinating things about parables is that, unlike teaching in the epistles, for example, they can teach multiple points. Like a diamond that reflects light through multiple facets, parables reflect truth through their different characters. So, consider the following:

  1. The Master of the Feast. This figure clearly stands in for God, the Father (or, perhaps, Jesus Himself). Important is that He doesn’t NEED any of the guests. He doesn’t need His first invitees, who blew Him off; and, He clearly doesn’t have to have the crippled, blind and lame who come to fill His hall. But, He WANTS to include them. He WANTS to display His glory and grandeur and generosity. In fact, it’s fitting and proper that He do so.
  2. The Original Guests. These guys miss out, because they THINK they have the right to blow off the host, and because they WON’T make the host a priority. So, they just miss out. The host doesn’t postpone for them. He goes on without them. Fully invited, they exclude themselves.
  3. The Servants. These figures, representing the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles (and us!) after the cross of Jesus, have the responsibility of bringing the message. (It’s Interesting that their work spans the whole program of redemption.) And, in the second and third invitations, they go to those who have to be FOUND. Did you get that? Those foreigners lounging under hedges and alongside the road leading away from the city probably couldn’t even imagine that they would ever be invited to share in the glory of the master host. How like our work today, in telling others about Jesus? How like our task in “compelling” and convincing those who don’t know Jesus that our great, glorious God wishes to include them in His banquet.
  4. Finally, there’s the New Guests. These are those who, doubtless, felt unworthy to share in the glory of the master. They didn’t know how to dress, how to act, or what they were supposed to do in the master’s presence. But, He wanted them, so that He could fill His house. Why? Because that’s the kind of kind, generous, glorious master that He is!

It’s hard to put a main idea to this parable, at least without going on at length. It teaches us so much about God, about ourselves, and about our task in following and serving Jesus. Here’s my attempt at this teaching’s main idea:

Those who come to celebrate with Jesus are those who put Jesus first and accept His invitation.

Or, better yet:

Drop everything … Come to JESUS!

What do you think? Do you agree?

What facet of God’s plan of redemption do you see in this teaching that you’ve never seen before?

And have a great week, in the LORD.

Striving for Jesus: Luke 13.22-30

Growing up in Dallas, Texas with the city skyline in my front window, there were things I didn’t know about blessing and bounty. There was the time when, as an older elementary-aged student, I got it into my heart to plant a garden. I plowed (by hand), sowed, and waited. Nothing happened. When, after a time, nothing had happened some more, my mother got involved.

“Bryan,” she said, “Maybe, October isn’t the right time to start a garden.” (I wonder still today what she—having been raised on a farm—had been thinking while standing in the kitchen window, watching me miss my window of opportunity all those golden-brown weeks of autumn.)

Luke 13.22-30 is about the narrow door of blessing and opportunity that Jesus instructed His followers to enter. Ah, but not just to enter—to strive for!

The setting of this often-overlooked little parable is in the midst of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The major theme of this section of Luke’s gospel, between chapters 9 and 19, is the nature of discipleship, and that in light of both Jesus’ death and His approaching kingdom. In this passage, somebody raises a question: Lord, will those who are saved be few? (:23, ESV).

Now, somebody is finally thinking! The Rabbis of the day taught that at the coming of Messiah all Israel would be saved. It’s those rascally Gentiles who will be rejected! But, while enduring continual opposition from the religious leaders of the day, Jesus will transform the question. Instead, He will point to the narrow door of opportunity that His very presence offers and, in effect, ask: Are you among the saved?

One Present Imperative (:22-24).

In the key verse of this teaching unit, Jesus responds to the initial question: Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (:24).

This verse contains one of my favorite Greek words: agonizomai. It means “to strive earnestly, fight, struggle, serve as a combatant in the public games.” Picture two Greco-Romans wrestlers, naked, covered in dust, grasping at body-parts, biting even. This is serious. But, that’s how serious Jesus says that we ought to be in seeking salvation. The narrow door pictures the way of salvation that is only open for a short time. Do everything necessary to get through that door! Jesus says.

Two Future Responses (:25-27)

Then, Jesus expands the parable. He pictures the time when His kingdom will have come in fulness. It’s the restoration of all things. The dead have been raised. All wrongs have been made right. Those fit for salvation have entered through the door of blessing and bounty. But, here come those who weren’t trusting in Jesus. And, you know what, the master (standing in for God the Father in the word picture) doesn’t even recognize them.

Lord, open up! They will shout. But, you know what, the Father won’t even recognize them (:25).

Then, in another attempt, those who weren’t fit for blessing will recall all those times they ate and drank with Jesus. But, they will be cast out (:26). They learn, too late, that the issue isn’t familiarity with Jesus, but their response to Him.

Those of us who await Jesus’ second coming—not His first, like those in the passage—should be likewise sobered at Jesus’ warning. How many of us put stock in our church involvement rather than our actual relationship to Jesus by faith. Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small groups, adult education—everything gets cranked up at Woodland here in the next couple of weeks. Outstanding stuff, and I’m all in! But, hanging around Jesus, associating with Jesus and His people, won’t, in the end, substitute for having trusted in Jesus and His work.

Three Surprising Outcomes (:28-30)

The final section of the passage gives three surprising outcomes—one negative, one positive, and one just plain ironic. Verse 28 is the very picture of blessing to every son of Israel in Jesus’ day—a sumptuous banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the nation. But, the door will be closed for many who missed their invitation because they missed Jesus. Weeping and gnashing of teeth is stock imagery for extreme anguish (:28).

In contrast, there will be those from all nations—north, south, east and west—who will be invited. These are Gentiles, who have no business being there, except that they responded to Jesus and strived to get through that door of opportunity (:29).

And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last (:30). So ends the passage in irony. It isn’t that there won’t be many who join Jesus in the end, it’s that there will be many missing who thought they’d be included, but who strived for the wrong thing, missing Jesus.

That’s what the passage means. But, as I drive around on our country roads and dig up Northwoods potatoes this week (planted in season, back in the spring), I’ve been asking how this teaching ought to work in my life.

Here’s two questions I’m thinking about:

  1. Am I striving for Jesus? Make no mistake. We’re saved by Jesus and His work on the cross—that’s the gospel. We receive the benefit of the gospel by trusting Jesus. But, the evidence that I’m trusting in Jesus is NOT that I work to be saved, but that I strive to listen to Jesus through His word … I strive to respond to what He wants for my life … I strive to understand how the gospel works in every part of my life … and, I strive to care about Jesus and His things. This is what Paul referred to as “living by faith”. As Romans 1.16-17 goes, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”. 
  2. Am I focusing on the gospel, so other people will strive for Jesus? I don’t actually know anybody who’s driven by a desire to lunch with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But, I do know lots of people who think they’re being saved apart from Jesus and His work. Every worldview has its picture of blessing, bounty and salvation. Our wider, post-modern culture is no different. Opposing gun violence, combating climate change, increasing literacy—depending on your political persuasion, some or all of these causes are good. But, they won’t open the door of God’s blessing once Jesus returns. That door will close.

But, until it does close … it’s open. And that ought to motivate me to be laser-sharp clear about the gospel in my interaction with others. Jesus isn’t messing around in this parable. He’s urging, persuading, and offering blessing and bounty to those who enter God’s kingdom through Him.

Those who will enter God’s blessing soon strive to enter through Jesus today.

Enjoy the blessing and bounty outside. And have a great week, in the LORD.

 

 

Getting Ready for Jesus: Luke 12.1-12

Well, they did it! In a newsworthy comeback, even missed by the Medford Star newspaper, the U11 Blue Bolts have turned their season around, made their way through to the championship game this past Monday night, and won the big game 2-0 on the main field in Medford Wisconsin, population about 4,000!

My Henry’s team. Summer fun. Great stuff. Loved coaching this rabble. Time to sit back and think about life lessons, I suppose …

Why did things suddenly turn around for the Blue Bolts, just in time? Well, they started listening to their coach (happens to be me). And, they knew the day of reckoning was upon them in that big game!

In Luke 12, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His coming—His coming that we now understand consists in two stages: He was to go to Jerusalem (9.51), die for the sins of all those who would trust in Him, be raised, and then return to the Father, Stage 1. And then, He was to return, gloriously, Stage 2. You and live between Jesus’ two comings. And what He has to teach His disciples in Luke 12.1-12 is every bit as relevant for us as it was for them.

So, how do we get ready for Jesus’ coming? 

Not in appearance only, but with sincerity (:1-3).

Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees … Jesus teaches (:1). Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed (:2). The idea here is that there will be a day of reckoning. Nothing we’ve said or done in secret will be unexposed. Every “bubbler” (Wisconsin word for water cooler) conversation will come to light. Nothing will be hidden. And, those who merely appeared to follow Jesus but did not serve Him in their hearts will have to give account.

Sobering stuff. So, while we press forward to Christ’s return, we’re to let God prune our lives. We’re to search our hearts letting the light of God’s truth in His Word and the gospel expose those little creases of self-dependance. We’re to confess our sins.

What will happen to us in society? Well, we won’t be appreciated by those not looking forward to Jesus. We’re to get ready …

Not with fear of man, but with reverence for God (:4-7).

Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. Jesus doesn’t promise to deliver us from trouble. Jesus does remind us that men have limited ability to hurt us. So, you might have a gun put to your head. You might get bullied for your faith and excluded from the “tribe.” How are we to receive this?

We’ll we’re to reverence God. But I warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! And, as we reverence God who controls not only the events of our lives, but where we go and what we experience in eternity, we’re to remember that God sees all. He knows every sparrow. He knows each hair of our heads. He even knows how many gum balls are in the gum ball machine in the True Value hardware store in Rib Lake.

Finally, we’re to prepare for Jesus’ coming …

Not by denying Jesus, but by confessing Jesus in the Spirit (:8-12).

This includes our speech (:8-9). … everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 

Acknowledging here involves confession. We’re to say throughout our lives, “I’m with Jesus!” That takes place at baptism and the Lord’s Table, in a formal way. But, also in informal, more routine ways. The point is that there’s going to come a day of reckoning when we’ll be accountable for how we have responded to Jesus.

Such teaching arrests us, makes us feel uncertain even. But making us uncertain isn’t Jesus’ intent. That’s why Jesus will send His Spirit. Verse 10 needs to be seen in context then, And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 

How does verse 10 add to our certainty? Well, we need to know that such “blasphemy” against the Spirit isn’t an utterance, but a permanent rejection of the Spirit’s message about Jesus. It’s not “a denial of nerve, but a denial of the heart” (quoting Darrell Bock in his Luke commentary, vol. 2). It’s possible to curse Jesus in a moment, but then be convicted by the Spirit and call Him Lord. Think of Peter who got this right, eventually.

But, more. We’re to acknowledge Jesus through the Spirit (:11-12). Instead of blaspheming the Spirit, we’re to speak through the Spirit. Jesus says, You’re going to give an account of me before men. Don’t panic … don’t worry … don’t even reason out a defense … acknowledge me.

This is contemporary material here. How many times in my work as a pastor do I get in too deep for my own little self? While I’m listening to peoples’ thoughts about their situations, I frequently ask the Lord, “What do I say here? How do I respond?” I’ve noted that in such instances the times I’m helpful always involve helping people understand how the gospel relates to their situations. And, any helpfulness includes wisdom from Scripture that comes from outside myself … Really!

We prepare for Jesus’ coming by living life focused on the day of reckoning.

This includes living in sincerity, non in appearance only; reverencing God, not fearing men; and, confessing Jesus in the Spirit.

Summer is a great time to kinda take our minds out of gear. All good, in its time. But, let’s not forget that the day of reckoning is coming. Let’s confess Jesus and live daily in the Spirit.

Have a great week, in the Lord!

BLUE BOLTS!

Much Boldness, More Generosity: Luke 11.1-13

Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples (:1b, ESV).

This strikes me as a strange request from one of Jesus’ early followers. Think about it. The earliest disciples were actually with Jesus, and yet they wanted to learn a prayer that would establish them as a group, that would kinda make them legit … like John the Baptists’ followers.

Jesus’ response is wonderful. Yes, He does teach them a prayer. Known typically as The Lord’s Prayer, many people repeat what Jesus said to help them … well … feel legit, or religious. Pater noster, qui es in caelis … (“Our Father, who are in heaven …).

After spending the week in Luke 11. 1-13, I’m convinced that Jesus intended something entirely different. If we pay attention to what Jesus emphasizes in this prayer, and pay attention to the prayer’s themes, we don’t get a group prayer by rote, we get … well … God Himself. And, we learn to pray like Jesus.

The prayer itself has one address, two declarations, and then three requests. 

Father … God is not addressed here as one far off; nor is He approached as Creator or Ruler, though He is. Rather, there’s family intimacy. Hallowed by your name. This is a plea for God to make His uniqueness be ever more visible in creation. Your kingdom come … This looks forward to when Jesus returns and makes all wrongs right. It’s not a process; it’s a future event, the culmination of God’s rule revealed.

I’ve got to ask myself: do my prayers involved God’s revealed holiness filling the earth? Or, is my imagination too small?

The requests involve provision (give us each day our daily bread), forgiveness ( … and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us), and spiritual protection ( … and lead us not into temptation).

Much could be said here about the prayer itself, but in Luke’s account Jesus doesn’t stop. Instead, he follows up the prayer with a parable, confusing at first blush (:5-8). It’s humorous and involves a host who receives an unexpected guest at midnight. In that face-saving culture, the host would be expected to provide thee loaves of bread, but he has none. Faced with this quandary, the unprepared host needs to knock on the door of his neighbor’s house. When he does, his normally friendly neighbor, who has just bedded down with his animals and children, goes stingy: … I can’t get up and give you anything! (:7). Even so, the host gets what he needs, not because his neighbor is his friend, but because the man wants to get back to bed without a ruckus.

Jesus tells this parable as a lesson in contrasts. God is exactly the opposite of the stingy neighbor! Then, Jesus makes a clarifying promise (:9-13):

… ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 

God wants us to come to Him. So, ask and pray boldly. Seek, and don’t quite coming to God. Knock, and you won’t find a barred door. God is not a lofty ruler or a stingy neighbor. He’s a good father.

As delightful as this truth about our good, Heavenly Father is, there’s a bonus point at the end of the passage. Verse 13 reads, If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? 

If God is not stingy but generous, then how much more should we go to Him? If God will not only give us what we need but His own Spirit, then how much more bold should we be!

Much boldness in prayer is right, because God is outrageously generous and loves to share with those who ask. 

Wonderful truth that this is, I still need to know what to do with this in my prayers. I recognize that this is not a blank check. God’s purpose isn’t to make me comfortable so I forget Him. Rather, I want to use the themes of the prayer to inform my prayers. Here’s a few questions I’ve settled on asking as I talk to God:

  1. How do You want to expand Your glory in my situation? This is not the same as just asking God for things because I want to. It is about being alive to how God would expand His glory in my life. So, I won’t (just for example) ask for a new house just because I want one. But, I might consider adding on to my existing house, IF I sense that God desires to use my house to meet the needs of my family, or enhance service for Him.
  2. What is it that You want me to be content with? This is challenging and, again, involves me thinking through the reason I want some things and not others. So, for me, it involves asking myself if I should be content with my old, basic cellphone when I could get a smartphone. Maybe I should be content. Or, maybe, the newer, better phone would be used to help me pastor our church better.
  3. Where do I need to be led by Your Spirit? Without the Spirit of God, I want my own glory, not God’s. Without the Spirit, I don’t want to be content. Without Him, I won’t have power to imagine anything greater than myself, and I won’t live a forceful life for God.

So, the Lord’s Prayer is hardly a prayer for rote memory and repetition, is it? The disciples weren’t super clear on how they were to come to God, but Jesus in His kindness showed them. Likewise, He shows us, along with much more about our Heavenly Father.

Have a great week, in the Lord!

Good Portion: Luke 10.38-42

Two Sisters … many distractions … one good portion.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ quick dialogue with His friend and follower Martha (with Martha’s sister Mary sitting silently at His feet) is among the most-preached gospel accounts. On the surface its meaning appears simple. But after a week of study and reflection, I (speaking for one Bible reader) am still growing into its application.

Two sisters (:38-39). You know the story in Luke 10.38-42. Jesus is visiting Martha and Mary. Martha just has to be the older sister. She’s entertaining, hosting, and appears to run the house. Looking at the other two accounts that include Martha and Mary (in John 11 and 12), we see a scrappy, assertive and even forward Martha. She’s a black-and-white thinker with good theology. After all, she’s the one who points out “I know he [Lazarus] will rise again at the resurrection.”

Her sister Mary is different. In the three gospel accounts where Mary appears she comes off as retiring, contemplative, and always close to tears. When, in John 11, she, like Martha, says to Jesus,  … if you’d been here my brother wouldn’t have died, Jesus doesn’t respond with a theology lesson; He says “Where have you laid him?” Jesus responds to Mary with Himself. And, in John 12, it’s this Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet to prepare Him for burial.

While the rest of the disciples struggle with Jesus’ message of Cross first, then glory, Mary gets it.

Many distractions (:40). The crisis comes in this passage when Martha is preparing a meal for Jesus, and Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” 

Martha’s problem here isn’t her serving; it’s her heart. She clearly wants to serve Jesus in a manner appropriate to His person, but she expresses her distracted heart by lashing out at Mary for leaving her “alone”, and even at Jesus for not pointing out to Mary what she, Martha, believes to be obvious. Martha is running over people in her frantic effort to do the right thing.

The Good Portion (:41-42). Jesus says to Martha: Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. In other words, you’ve got a lot on your plate, Martha. There’s lots of good things to do, but you’re missing the one thing that will bring it all together.

And what would that be? Jesus continues: Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. 

It’s helpful to note here that this account takes place in a kitchen. The word “portion” is often used of food. Martha is in the kitchen consumed with producing food that will be gone in a few moments. Mary has connected with something deeper.

What is it that Jesus said when tempted by the Devil in Luke 4.4? It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Left unsaid to the Devil in that earlier passage is the full citation from Deuteronomy 8: … man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 

Martha did the right thing, but Mary did the thing right. Mary understood that Jesus’ teaching (found for us in God’s Word) is the Good Portion that will nourish His followers always. 

Now, a shallow reading of this passage might lead us to the wrong response. We might think that the proper response to Jesus is the six-hour quiet time. “Let somebody else do the work,” we might say. “I’ll just reflect on Jesus.”

We know better, don’t we?

Martha’s problem isn’t that she’s working too hard serving; it’s that her service to Jesus has become one means among many to an end she can’t even find. In doing many things, she’s missed the one thing. She’s missed Jesus’ teaching. The “good portion”. And in missing Jesus’ instruction, she’s missed Jesus! And in being distracted she’s worn herself out.

In wrestling with what my response to this passage needs to look like—busy husband, father and pastor that I am—I’ve come up with four practical questions to ask myself. May I share them with you?

  1. Am I really desiring Jesus as the Good Portion? If I desire Jesus among other things, I’ll become distracted. Then I’ll probably blame other people for what I think they’re supposed to be doing. I might even blame Jesus for what I think He should being doing through other people. And it all started with a heart problem on my part. Nothing good happens when we fail to regard Jesus with focused devotion.
  2. Am I preoccupied with other people in my service? Where do my thoughts range? Am I consumed with Jesus’ word, and with His estimation of my life. Or am I so managing things that I can’t forget about what I think others should be doing? This question is a flash-point question. It ought to sound like buzzers and sirens in my head when I get this wrong.
  3. Am I serving so that others can enjoy the Good Portion? One sure-fire way to know we’re serving Jesus is when we don’t get any immediate benefit for ourselves. So, watching kids so that our Woodland women can sit at Jesus’ feet in study is a great way to serve, for example.
  4. And, finally, Am I content in Jesus at the end of the day so that I trust Him with what I couldn’t do? This is a hard one, a discipline even. But confessing my inner Martha has much to do with ceding control to God for my limitations, which become, if I do this properly, matters that will wait.

This is the kind of passage that we’re not done studying until we’re done living. Why don’t you meditate this week on these five short verses in Luke. Make up some practical questions of your own, why don’t you? Sit at Jesus’ feet, in your times of reflection, and in your times of joyful serve to Jesus. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be frantic. Choose the one thing. Choose the Good Portion, and be joyful in Jesus.

And have a blessed weekend, in the Lord!