Productive Faith: James 1.1-4

This week begins a new season in the life of our church in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. We’re one week away from the beginning of the process that will lead to regathering.

For reasons that everybody can imagine by now, that’s a big deal. And it’s because of the immensity of the project that I’m super happy we’re beginning a summer study in the Book of James.

James is about faith producing spiritual fruit. In the keynote verses that we’ll look at tomorrow (1.1-4), we’ll see that TESTING of our faith can result in either fruit or failure. A consistent pattern of ENDURANCE results in MATURITY that leads to JOY in trials. The whole book is about individual case studies of what that spiritual fruit leading to maturity and joy looks like.

James is just the place for us to be for our present test at Woodland Community Church!

Right along with our study, we’ll be doing what I call the James Projekt. Below is a sample of what that project will look like. We’ll see a great many of you on the stream tomorrow.

Have a blessed week in the Lord!

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God’s Plan in Jesus’ Resurrection: Luke 24.36-49

I love the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. It’s like a great movie, a masterful symphony, a finely crafted novel. It depicts its original participants traveling through all the stages of despondency, disbelief, wonder and euphoria.

The chapter is really about God’s plan. How does God accomplish His plan? … How does God restore people to His purpose? … How does God put people back in the place He’s designed them for?

We join Jesus in the latter half of the chapter, 24.36-49. The two men from the Emmaus Road have rejoined the disciples, and Jesus appears. The passage deals with the reality of the resurrection and the results of Jesus having been raised.

Reality of Jesus’ Resurrection (:36-43). Peace to you! Jesus begins. And He means it, but the disciples are dismayed. To their fallen minds Jesus has blurred the distinction between the living and the dead. But Jesus isn’t either fallen pre-resurrection flesh or a disembodied spirit. He’s resurrected, and He offers them proofs.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. I’m body and soul, undivided, Jesus is showing them. Resurrection is a new category for the disciples. Jesus’ body isn’t a different body. There’s continuity between this life and the next. And Jesus shows this by the scars in His hands and feet.

And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And then He ate. Jesus is really asking them to measure Him against the material substance of the fish they hand Him. Believe that fish is real? He’s saying. Well, watch me eat it. Either the fish isn’t real, or you’re all seeing things together, or I’m resurrected and real.

Something has happened, and it changes everything. That’s what the resurrection is all about.

Results of Jesus’ Resurrection (:44-49). These amazing verses are about God’s plan and what the resurrection has to do with that plan … everything, in fact!

      1. Scripture is fulfilled (:44). The word used here means “something anticipated in God’s plan that has come to pass”. This includes everything pointing to Jesus in the “Law” (first five books of the Bible), “prophets” (including all the books we’d consider “histories”, like 1 and 2 Kings), and Psalms (the “writings” or wisdom books). The Old Testament. It all points to Jesus.
      2. The minds of Jesus’ followers are opened (:45). Jesus did this while in the Scriptures with His followers.
      3. God’s plan is made clear (:47-48). Jesus was to suffer … to be raised … and to be preached. This would be a message of repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2.38). And Jesus would be preached to the nations (Is 49.6; Acts 13.47).
      4. Finally, God’s Spirit will be sent to help (:48-49). The disciples’ job won’t be to serve as organizers, but as witnesses. Tell people what you’ve seen me do, Jesus is saying. Notice, we’ve just gotten a preview to the Book of Acts.

So, how does God accomplish His plan?

The way God accomplishes His plan is through the resurrection of Jesus. 

We today are much like those in this passage. For starters, we’re in quarantine. (Maybe not important, but it’s a curious point.) We’re despondent because our plans haven’t worked out. And, we need to recognize that something has happened … the resurrection of Jesus!

And that great work of God changes everything. Now we have a place in God’s plan. We’re witnesses to what Jesus has done. And, if you’ve trusted Jesus by faith, you have the Spirit of God who helps us.

First Corinthians 15.20-28 is Paul’s recasting of Luke 24. He begins in verses 20-22: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead …

So, if you’ve trusted in Jesus, keep trusting in Jesus. A million years from now we won’t be talking about the Coronavirus, but we will be talking about Jesus’ work of redemption punctuated by His resurrection.

And, if you’ve not trusted Jesus, do it. Receive that message of repentance and forgiveness. Enter God’s plan that is all held together by the fact that Jesus is alive!

Really finally, if you have interest in what we’re talking about here, why don’t you join us tomorrow at 9:00 on the Woodland livestream? We’ll look at this passage more in depth, and with a thought to where we are in our present situation as a nation and a people.

Have a great week in the Lord! …

Resurrection Life: Luke 24.13-35

While the turning seasons and longer days do much to lighten the mood, we have a long way to go before we emerge from our Coronavirus crisis. And, as I talk with different ones of you, I feel your strain from social isolation, your struggle for purpose in life, and your stress from financial burdens.

All this makes for a great time to return to our study of Luke where—after our Easter Sunday study in 24.1-12—Jesus is alive! Even so, in our gospel account, nobody has seen Jesus. Luke is crafting a cliffhanger, and by verse 12 of chapter 24, we’re left to wonder what difference resurrection makes, how Jesus will reveal Himself, and even how Jesus’ new life will affect our present purpose and place with God some millennia later.

Luke 24.13-35 finds two men walking to an unimportant village named Emmaus. On the surface the passage is about a walk, a conversation, a meal, and a community. But it’s about far more than that. We’re about to rediscover our present purpose and place with God. We’re about to trace the different stages in which we become acquainted with resurrection life.

Jesus unrecognized (:13-16). The passage opens with two men walking the three and a-half miles to Emmaus (the distance taken as a round number). They’re in intense discussion about Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus joins them. Only they don’t recognize Him. There’s something about resurrection life that we in our fallen state can’t grasp without help. (So Mary in John 20, the disciples in John 21). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15.50).

Even so, none of us starts out recognizing Jesus. We have our notions of Jesus, don’t we? He’s an historical or religious figure, an idea, or a real person whom others have used to manipulate or shame us. But He’s anything but the risen Savior … when we start out.

Jesus revealed in Scripture (:17-27). Next follows the conversation. Jesus, unrecognized in His resurrection state, draws the men out. He wants to know what they’re discussing. At first they “stood still, looking sad”. They’re crestfallen, disappointed in their purpose, disillusioned about God’s plan and their proper place with Him.

Then one of the men, Cleopas by name, wants to know how his new companion couldn’t know about Jesus. Jesus draws the men out further. And Cleopas unloads with his account of recent events. In this description we see  Jesus described as a great leader on par (it was hoped) with Moses. Jesus was thought to be a prophet “mighty in word and deed”. It was hoped He would redeem Israel. But Jesus was killed, and now confounds everyone in the disappearance of His body, as reported by otherwise trustworthy women known to the two men.

And it’s in Jesus’ response to the men in verses 15-17 that we learn what the men (and us, if we’re honest) are missing. There’s suffering before glory. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (:26). And then Jesus starts from the beginning of what we’d call the Old Testament, and he interprets the entire Bible, showing the men how all of it pointed to Him, and can’t be made sense of without His work on the cross.

Like the two men, many of us grow in our understanding of Jesus but then somehow miss the cross. This won’t work. We’ll be disappointed in Jesus. We’ll blame Him for not being the Savior we’d expected. So it was with the men. And—crazy thing, even after hearing this first preaching of the gospel from Jesus Himself—they still haven’t recognized Jesus!

Jesus recognized in relationship (:28-32). Now the men invite Jesus home to lodge. They share a meal. And it’s in the act of being served by Jesus that they’re no longer “kept from” recognizing Jesus. They suddenly know Him in His resurrection body, just before Jesus vanishes. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (:31a). The same language of “opening” is used twice more in the passage (verses 32 and 45) to describe Jesus revealing Himself to others in the Scriptures.

What do we gather from this about seeing Jesus? About resurrection life? The lesson is complex and profound. We know we can’t recognize Jesus without help. And, apparently, the bare facts of the gospel as recorded in Scripture don’t change us. There’s a work of God that needs to take place for our eyes to be “opened”. For the men, this work took place face-to-face with Jesus. But Jesus had talked about the Spirit’s future work (Jn 14.26, among other places). And Paul would later describe how God’s Spirit would interpret the Scriptures for us: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God … (1 Cor 2.12a).

To really “recognize” Jesus we need the calling of God through His Spirit. This will take place entirely by God’s grace as we hear the gospel through God’s Word. And, when we respond by faith, we understand spiritual things—who Jesus is, the importance of the cross, our purpose in life, our place with God, and God’s purpose in the suffering of Jesus, as well as God’s purpose in our suffering.

Jesus revered by others (:33-35). It might seem at this point that the passage is over. But the men return to Jerusalem, and they join others who are celebrating the risen Lord. And, before they can tell their own story, they learn that Peter has seen Jesus too! God has provided a community for the men. They’ll share their experience of the risen Lord. They’ll proclaim the gospel together. They’ll study Scripture together. And they’ll be transformed by the Spirit and share resurrection life together. Even more, they now have a renewed purpose as they understand God’s plan for them. And they’ll share suffering with one another before entering into glory, even as Jesus did.

In the same way, we receive a new community when we trust Jesus. We’ll share resurrection life with others. This new life starts spiritually when we trust in Jesus and will be completed when we’re with Him at His return. As we go we’ll remember that Jesus is finished with His suffering, but we aren’t quite finished with ours. We’ll have opportunity to contend for the faith along with our new community, even as Paul did: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1.24).

So, here we are in our final month of the “sheltered in place” directive. I would venture that we struggle because we don’t really understand the place of suffering in resurrection life. Like the men on the road, we need to “recognize” Jesus and understand the place of suffering in relation to glory. With this comes a new appreciation for God’s purpose in our own suffering. Rather than view our present crisis as something to be gotten through, we need to see the Coronavirus as something God is using to prepare His church for Jesus. Cross first, then glory. Spiritual life with Jesus now, glory at Jesus’ return.

When we meet Jesus in the Scriptures and receive the promised help of the Spirit we have our eyes opened in this way. We recognize Jesus in all His past suffering and present glory. And, in our present situation, we see—along with Jesus’ companions in Luke 24— that resurrection life restores our purpose and place in Jesus. 

How’s that for some encouragement as you shelter in place a little while longer?

Now, have a great week in the Lord, and we’ll “be seen by you” tomorrow.

Dark and Desperate Days: Psalm 13

I feel it, don’t you? These are dark and desperate days. Five weeks of social distancing (by my reckoning), the curious hailstorm that passed through Westboro last week, the sixteen-inch snow earlier this week, the constant news cycle of fear and death nationally, and now, yesterday, our Wisconsin governor’s decision to lock us down till almost June. Gives off images of the apocalypse, doesn’t it?

In such dark and desperate times you and I just might be tempted to complain. How do you think God feels about that? 

Before you log out thinking I’m being too obvious, I’d like you to consider my provocative statement for the week: God wants you to complain! Belly-ache, no. But, biblically, Christianly, as one in relationship with Him, God wants you to tell Him exactly what’s going on and how you feel about it.

The word we need here is “lament,” and God wants you to do it!

In Psalm 13 David endures a painful situation. While we don’t know the circumstances, David begins in honest confusion, but ends in trust. My hope is that we at Woodland, and anybody else who travels with us through this time, might learn to do the same. And that by learning to lament we might grow up in our faith in Christ, and that in dark and desperate days.

In dark and desperate days believers must TURN TO GOD (:1-2). David begins his lament by addressing God. How long, O LORD? That’s Step #1 in any lament—ADDRESSING GOD.

It’s critical because there’s so many places we can turn when we hurt—to drugs or alcohol, to Netflix or Prime, to gossip or anything that makes us feel better. Addressing God in heart-wrenching agony isn’t wrong. In fact, in nearly 50 psalms that qualify as laments, God invites this of His people.

Step #2 in any lament is a COMPAINING ABOUT CIRCUMSTANCES. Looking through the psalms, these complaints will be specific and they will involve real situations about how the psalmists perceived God to be handling their trials.

So, in Psalm 13, we get: How long will you hide your face from me? … How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? … How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 

David hurts here because God is not acting in his pain. In fact, David poetically pictures God as one who hides his face and leaves him to figure things out on His own.

Most of us have a problem in that we’ve grown up thinking God wants us to suffer silently. Somehow we think God wants us to say “I’m o.k.” when we’re not o.k., to say “I’m good,” when we’re not good; to endure pain stoically with the stiff upper lip. Yet, when we do this we cut ourselves off from God, and God becomes practically irrelevant in our pain.

Mark Vroegop in his excellent book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy writes:”Giving God the silent treatment is the ultimate manifestation of unbelief … This silence is a soul killer.”

David and the other psalmists agree. Far better to complain to God out of belief.

In dark and desperate days believers must ASK GOD TO ACT according to His character (:3-4). 

This brings us to Step #3 in lament: APPEALING TO GOD ACCORDING TO HIS CHARACTER. David now asks God to act according to who God is. Consider and and answer me, O LORD God. Literally, “gaze intently on me”. Don’t hide your face. Talk to me. Then He asks of God (and this might be my favorite line!) light up my eyes. Literally that’s “brighten my eyes”.

Do this Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death … lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him” … lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. David is saying that if you don’t act, my LORD God, Your character won’t be obvious. David is jealous for God’s reputation.

Now, as New Covenant believers living after the cross of Jesus, we’re not promised we won’t die of Coronavirus, or that we’ll be safe, or have jobs, or get to gather again soon as a church family, or get to live as free people. But we’re promised we’ll have everything we need in Christ. We’re promised nothing will prevail over the church of Jesus. We’re promised the heavens and earth will be restored at Jesus’ second coming.

These promises of God guide us in our prayers as we appeal to God according to His character.

In dark and desperate days believers must CHOOSE TO TRUST GOD (:5-6). We come now to the final step in lament. Lament step #4—CHOOSING TO TRUST GOD.

In most psalms this final step comes with a strong transition. In Psalm 13, we read: But I have trusted in your steadfast love. David worked his way through to the object of his trust. This is God’s covenantal, loyal love. God’s character guarantees the surety of David’s choice. And an emotional transition takes place: … my heart shall rejoice … I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. 

Do you see what’s happened. David has started out in anger, frustration and confusion. He has been honest through ADDRESSING GOD and COMPLAINING ABOUT CIRCUMSTANCES. Then, He’s APPEALED TO GOD, according to God’s character. And, finally, he’s made the CHOICE TO TRUST GOD.

We need to lament in our church family during these dark and desperate days. If we do, we’ll recognize where we’re starting from, so that we can start to grow. We’ll then move along a pathway that will take us to God’s character learning finally to trust.

This is “good” complaining, lament that is honest and dependent on God and His character.

So, this week, as we grow weary of more bad news, let’s turn to God through lament. Here’s a few projects you might try. You’ll need the following lament psalms listed in Appendix 2 of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: 3,4,5,7,10,13,17,22,25,26,28,31,39,42,43,54,55,56,57,59,61,64,71,77,86,120,141,142 (personal laments); 12,44,58,60,74,79,80,83,85,90,94,123,126 (corporate laments).

  1. Look up one of the psalms of lament and find the four steps in lament. The acronym ACAC will help you remember what they are.
  2. Go through the psalms listed and find the TRANSITIONS. This won’t always be perfectly obvious.
  3. Read through some of the lament psalms and then write your own lament using the ACAC steps.

But, above all, let the LORD hear you this week. Don’t be silent. Live in that pathway that travels from fear and frustration to intentional praise.

And have a great week in the LORD!

The Doing of It: Luke 22.39-46

Coronavirus … COVID 19 … That’s pretty much all we’re hearing right now. That and all the messaging (true, false, and changing) that we’re receiving.

In such times we need to know God’s will. And then we need strength for the doing of God’s will … strength for the Doing of It. 

In Luke 22.39-46, Jesus has just led His disciples out to the Mount of Olives where He is residing during Passover (:39). They’ve celebrated Passover. Even as He prepares to BE the Passover lamb of God, Jesus has fulfilled that observance and transformed the meal into the observance of His own death, now only hours away. Judas has failed the test of discipleship; he’s abandoned Jesus. What about the others? How will the other disciples find strength for the doing of God’s will?

Now, in the garden, Jesus instructs His followers to pray (:40). He’s told Peter (representing all the others too) that he’d be “sifted like wheat” (:32).  Pray that you may not enter into temptation, Jesus commands. Dependance on God will protect them in the test ahead.

Jesus prays and receives God’s strengthening (:41-44). With dramatic tension, Jesus withdraws “about a stone’s throw” from the disciples. He kneels in prayer. Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. Remember Luke 4? Satan didn’t want Jesus to go to the cross (and accomplish redemption). Jesus, in His full humanity) doesn’t want to go to the cross. Why the cross? Because only through the cross will redemption be accomplished. Only through the obedience of Jesus will the holiness of God be demonstrated. And only through the cross will the love of God in saving those dependent on Jesus be shown.

An angel appears to strengthen Jesus for the doing of God’s will. Note what Jesus does after the encounter. He returns to prayer. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Interesting to me is that the Father strengthened Jesus not just for the ordeal ahead but that Jesus might be strong to keep on depending on God in prayer.

Jesus warns His followers again to pray for strength (:45-46). Now Jesus returns from prayer and finds His disciples … sleeping. Their response is understandable, human. I’d probably do the same thing. But, they’ve not grasped the moment. They don’t understand what God is doing. They don’t understand the weakness of the flesh.

This is where we find an important lesson. We don’t fully grasp the spiritual tests we find ourselves in, do we? These tests of faith certainly involve whether or not we’ll follow or abandon Jesus in the moment. Many tests, however, involve our willingness to carry the burdens and look after the wellbeing of others. In Colossians 1.24, Paul says, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 

Jesus’ disciples are failing in that kind of test. In the days ahead, they’ll need His strength to lead and serve others. Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation, He tells them.

That last verse of the teaching unit includes an important spiritual lesson. Did you get it? God strengthens those who depend on Him for the doing of His will. That strength is available in Jesus, in prayer, right now! We don’t have to fall to temptation. We don’t have to be clueless about what God is doing. We really can follow Jesus in the midst of tests, trials and fearful times.

Depend on God in prayer for the strength to do His will. 

For Jesus, doing God’s will looked like going to the cross. For us, doing God’s will looks like faith in the One who went to the cross, expressed in all our different circumstances and in prayer …

So, as we prepare for what I’m calling our “Coronacation” this week, we might be …

  1. Tempted to despair because of opportunities lost (solo ensemble, forensics, boy’s basketball) … Talk to God. Tell Him honestly your disappointment, but ask Him to show you His will for the next couple of weeks.
  2. Tempted to fear the virus? … Find ways to pray with people, over the phone, online or in smaller groups.
  3. Tempted to fear the collateral damage from our planet-wide response … remember Jesus’ words from Luke 21.28: … Now when these things take place [pandemics, and such] straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Depend on God in prayer for strength to do His will …!

 

Here’s some questions to keep us going:

  1. What else? What are your tests this week that would keep you from pursuing God’s will above all else? Can you list them? Are you willing to pray about them?
  2. Who else can you be praying with this week? What might it look like to meet with others for encouragement (Hebrews 10.24-25) and in the midst of a society shut down?
  3. Why do you think gathering with God’s people is just so terribly important in the next few weeks, even if we don’t get to meet in our normal, big group?
  4. What about Jesus are you thankful for?

Now, depend on God in prayer for strength to do His will this week! God bless you …!

Celebration of Life: Luke 12.1-23

In a fast-moving week just screaming toward Sunday, we’ll cut to the quick this week. Our passage is Luke 12.1-23. It’s Thursday of Passover for Jesus and His disciples. Death is everywhere as lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover celebration on that final Passover of Nissan 14. There’s betrayal in the mix too. Judas has offered to hand over Jesus. The Lord knows this. How will He handle Judas? How will Jesus respond to death and the faithless betrayal of Judas? 

Here’s some questions to talk through once you’ve read the passage:

  1. What do we gather about Judas’ motives? How do the religious leaders think their fears will be assuaged and their purposes accomplished?
  2. What do verses :7-13 show us about who is in charge of the situation? While Judas is plotting, and Jesus is preparing for death, who controls all these events?
  3. Jesus responds to death and betrayal by … serving His disciples … celebrating the Passover meal (for the last time) … and transforming this Passover meal into the observance that will become our Lord’s Table. What things does Jesus do that indicate this meal isn’t your typical Passover meal?
  4. How do we see Jesus bringing life from the death associated with the Passover meal (as well as the betrayal He’s experiencing)?
  5. What should WE do in response to this passage, especially the next time we go to the Lord’s Table?

We celebrate life in JESUS by remembering His sacrificial death and looking forward to His return. 

Now, have a great week in the Lord!

Eyes on Jesus: Luke 21.5-38

Falling stock market … Coronavirus … political polarization … general unrest. That’s been our week in this world, hasn’t it? Do these indicate the end, if not of the world, at least of something?

In Luke 21.5-38 Jesus adjusts His disciples’ vision—and our vision too. It’s scant days before Jesus will pay for sin with His death. He’s been in the temple during these days; He leaves to spend nights on the Mount of Olives. As as He and His disciples were leaving the temple complex after one day of teaching, His band of mostly provincial disciples begin admiring the temple—massive, white granite stones, tapestries, golden plates that reflected the light of the sun like mirrors. Don’t get so excited about this, Jesus says, … the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (:6).

Questions about the end (:5-7). The disciples then ask Jesus two questions: When will this be? And, What will be the sign when these things are about to take place? 

Events that DON’T mean the end (:8-26). The majority of what follows consists of Jesus’ description of eight events (by my count) that DON’T indicate that the end of the age is at hand. Here they are: false claims about the Christ (:8), social chaos (:9), kingdoms rising and falling (:10), natural disasters, famines and pandemics (:11), persecution of God’s people (:12-15), family hatred (:16), the fall of Jerusalem (:20-24), and cosmic upheaval (:25-26).

While Jesus’ disciples likely thought the fullness of the kingdom (and Jesus’ return) would occur within their own lifetimes, Jesus is preparing them for the long age (by our reckoning) between His two comings. He’s preparing them for the time in which you and I are living now. This in-between time will include a pattern of intensifying unrest, leading toward, but not immediately resulting in the return of Christ and the end of the age. In the words of Romans 8.22, For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now … This time will also include the worldwide preaching of the Gospel (Matt 24.14; Mk 13.10).

The sign of the end (:27-28). Then comes the beautiful part of the passage (for those trusting in Jesus). And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. This is Jesus, the head of redeemed humanity, cast in the language of Daniel 7. Just as sure as He died a physical death, was raised to physical and bodily life, and ascended physically and bodily (Acts 1.10), He will return. And, He won’t be here until He’s here—though He won’t be late.

Jesus Himself is our glorious hope! In admiring the temple the disciples were in danger of distraction. In becoming mired in the business of life, we’re in danger of taking our eyes off Jesus.

How do we prepare for the end? To prepare for the end, keep your eyes on Jesus!

Preparing for the end (:28-38). The remainder of the passage includes a command, an illustration, and some built-in application.

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (:28). I take “these things” to refer to the entire pattern of fallen-world events stretching back to verse 8. When  I see the world in trouble, I’m to keep my eyes on Jesus. Like the flowering fig tree (:29-33) means the coming of summer (or dripping sap means the coming of spring in the Northwoods), times of trouble mean Jesus is coming.

And while I’m enduring “these things” I’m to “watch [myself]” and “stay awake” (:34-38). This is practical application. There’s lots of things that would keep us mired down in this life and not thinking of Jesus and His return. Engine lights … kids not working well in school … bathroom pipes breaking … breakups with boyfriends or girlfriends … marriages coming apart … losing jobs … and so on, etc. If I lose sight of Jesus, the Day will come on me like a trap.

May it not be! May we, rather, be like the Apostle John who, in the last line of the last book in our New Testament finished by saying, Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22.20).

And may that thought encourage each of us this week.

Questions to discuss with others:

  1. This passage ends with a warning not to be consumed with the stuff of this life. What are some things that keep you from drawing your hope from Jesus?
  2. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know WHEN? and WHAT SIGN? Did Jesus answer these questions? Or did He answer other questions that we all need to know about Him? What are those questions?
  3. What are some unhelpful ways that we ought NOT to read this passage of prophetic Scripture?
  4. How does this passage ease or trouble your mind? What still bothers you? How does thinking about Jesus’ visible and glorious return help you?

Now, have a great week in the Lord …

Living on Jesus: Luke 20.45-21.4

Jesus is all I’ve got to live on …!

Does that statement ring true to you? In Luke 20.45-21.4 we have a short, powerful passage that isn’t hard to explain, but will become for us (if we accept its challenge) bottomless in its application potential.

Jesus has just put down a combined attack from those who oppose Him—Pharisees, scribes, priests, Sadducees. Now He and His disciples are camped in the Temple’s Court of Women. In observing what comes to pass around Him Jesus will turn from theology to the practical matters of serving God. Three kinds of people appear in this passage.

Those who live on self-dependance (20.45-47). Beware the scribes … Jesus will warn (:45). These establishment theologians and professors liked to walk around in the stolea—the long, tassled robes of their station; they liked the special greeting of “Rabbi”; they liked the best seats at synagogue, sitting near the ark where the scrolls were kept; they liked to devour the estates of widows who, destitute, had thrown themselves on the mercy of the Temple establishment; and, they liked to pray long for show.

Don’t be like them! Jesus warns. They will receive their greater condemnation. They’re living in dependence on themselves.

Those who live on their own abundance (21.1a). As Jesus speaks the disciples’ attention is drawn to the rich, who enter the Court of Women and unburden themselves of a year’s worth of offering (it being the annual Passover). The coins must have made a clatter as they were thrown into any of the 13 trumpet-shaped offering receptacles!

These rich aren’t exactly a new group of people. They are, in fact, the outward expression of the same group to which the scribes belonged. Both groups—the professional scribes and the rich laymen—give out of their excess. Both keep plenty back for themselves. And, doubtless, when the rich have made their offering, they’ve done their bit for God. Nothing more is said of them.

But then, a new figure enters the scene.

Those who live on what they lack (21.1b-4). A solitary woman approaches one offering receptacle. She’s recognized as one of the destitute widows who probably lives in the Temple, at the mercy of the scribes. She’s “very poor”. She casts two coins into one of the receptacles—two leptas, worth 1/100th of a day’s wages; both copper, soft metal, neither weighing enough to make a sound. Except for those keenly watching, she attracts no attention. Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, Jesus says. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on (:4).

What has this woman done? She’s put in MORE. And what is MORE? MORE, according to Jesus, is “all she had to live on.”She’ll now subsist on what she lacks, her scarcity, her poverty. Or, will she? Won’t she be trusting in God?

Two points from the wider plan of redemption help us understand why this solitary widow is so dear to Jesus.

  1. In a matter of days Jesus (like the widow, but more profoundly) will throw Himself by faith on God’s mercy, and for God’s provision. Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done (22.42). At this offering of MORE in the garden, Jesus doesn’t yet know what it will take to satisfy the Father, but He throws Himself on God’s mercy. This is what He’s all about in His incarnation. He’s taken on flesh. Now He’ll humble Himself on the cross. And, we know the story, God will accept the perfect life and sacrifice of Jesus! The widow, in casting herself on God, becomes a picture of living on Jesus!
  2. Jesus’ sacrifice becomes the pattern in which all His followers will live the Christian life. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness, God will tell Paul the Apostle (2 Cor 12.9).  Paul will become a picture of living on Jesus! Then Paul will tell the Romans … present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rm 12.1). In other words, you’re to become a picture of living on Jesus, you Romans!

What do we do with this? My feeling is that we fall far short of Jesus’ intended application, if we only use this passage to think about giving and money. As it turns out, there’s LOTS of scarcities that help us “live on Jesus,” trusting in God’s provision to make up for our weakness and different poverties. There’s scarcities of physical ability, when our bodies don’t work anymore, but we give what we have to Jesus. There’s scarcities of natural ability, when we feel charged to step up, but must trust in spiritual gifting and equipping from God. There’s mental and emotional energy scarcity when we haven’t got more in the tank, but we trust Jesus for the strength to go on. And then there’s time scarcity, when we place our time at God’s disposal, trusting it will be redeemed for Jesus’ purposes.

Each of these scarcities gives us opportunity to remember that … Jesus is all I’ve got to live on! 

Questions to discuss with others

  1. How about you? What “scarcities” are you dealing with? What does it look like to give Jesus MORE in those areas?
  2. Who are some people you know who have modeled “living on Jesus” for you?
  3. How about you again? What are the tell-tale signs that you’re, however slightly, falling into the pattern of the scribes, or those who “gave from abundance”?
  4. When we “live on Jesus” we don’t get to actually decide how things will turn out in this life, short of Jesus’ coming. Why still trust Jesus this way?

Now, have a great week, in the LORD.

Hope in this Life: Luke 20.19-40

I love it when Jesus does this!

In Luke 20.19-40 He’s being attacked by enemies who dispute His authority. First, the scribes and chief priests come after Him: Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, or not? they ask (:22). Jesus asks them to produce a coin with Caesar’s image on it. Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, He says (:25).

Jesus’ answer has the following strokes of genius:

  1. In pressing them to pull out the image and likeness of Caesar, Jesus is forcing them to recognize that they already live in Caesar’s currency, for now;
  2. Jesus recognized a place for government within God’s order;
  3. Jesus recognized a BOTH/AND where others saw only an EITHER/OR.

Without falling into anybody’s trap, Jesus has made the point that God owns Caesar! And the day is coming when there will be no more Caesar. Until then, honor the emperor (See also 1 Pet 2.13-17; 1 Tim 2.1-2), and live life in light of everlasting life with God.

The trap has sprung, and Jesus isn’t in it!

Then come the Sadducees. These guys didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they hope to take down Jesus (and their enemies!) with a conundrum. Reaching back to the practice of levirate marriage (best known from the Book of Ruth) they spin a ridiculous question involving a woman who had seven husbands and now must live in a monogamous marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus goes after their assumptions:

  1. He challenges the assumption that everyone will know life with God. This is important, since His questioners were rejecting Him right at that moment!
  2. He overturns the idea that everlasting life is perpetuated the same way bodily life is here. God gives us marriage and childbirth in this life, because we’re dying. This will not be necessary in eternity, since we will be “like the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage”.
  3. He rejects the Sadducees’ idea that God’s promises die with us. To make the point, He quotes Ex 3, the passage about the burning bush. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in Him (:38).

God promised to deliver His people, and He did. Now, Jesus is standing right in front of them, offering them everlasting life with God. God is alive … the patriarchs are alive … God’s promises are alive, too! The benefits of knowing God go beyond this life.

Jesus has taken pointed, limited, even obscure and ridiculous questions and answered a major question we’re still talking about today:

WHAT IS OUR HOPE IN THIS LIFE?

My HOPE IN THIS LIFE is that I have everlasting life with God received by faith in Jesus. That’s my hope. My hope isn’t in prosperity and political freedom (like in the first passage). My hope isn’t in anything I can experience in this life apart from everlasting life in God.

My hope is in the God of promise. And focusing on Him and my life to come gives meaning to my present life as well …

Here’s a few questions to consider:

  1. Where do we (like the scribes and chief priests) see ourselves placing our hope in prosperity and political freedom? How does the first half of the passage challenge us on that?
  2. What might be some action steps in praying for leaders, in light of our own time in history, between Jesus’ two comings?
  3. Where do we (like the Sadducees) see ourselves placing our hope in immediate pleasures and benefits of this life? How does the second half of the passage challenge me on that?
  4. How does my present life take on meaning when I contemplate everlasting life with God through Christ, after my own resurrection?
  5. Is my hope in this life really that I have everlasting life with God through faith in Christ? How can I know if this is true?

Rejected from Blessing: Luke 20.9-19

What’s your mental image of Jesus? Do you think of His kindness or love? Do you see Him hating sin and rebellion against His Father?

In Luke 20 we find Jesus in Jerusalem, after entering the city as the rightful king of the Nation of Israel and the whole earth. He’s cleansed the Temple (19:45-48). He’s rebuffed a challenge to His authority (20.1-8). Now, He tells a parable, in 20.9-19. Set against a Old Testament parable from Isaiah 5.1-7, in which God removes Israel, which is likened to an unproductive vineyard, Jesus tells The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. 

The Nation rejected, because of rejection of God’s authority in JESUS (:9-16a). Jesus is up to something here. In Jesus’ retelling of this parable the land-owning farmer represents God. But we have the addition of tenants. Who are they? And who are the servants sent to them? And what is the vineyard?

The parable unfolds in six scenes. They aren’t hard to follow. The land-owning farmer, having left his vineyard for an appropriately long period of time, sends servants to collect produce. Each is treated badly by the tenants, disrespected, and turned out. Finally, the land-owner sends his own son (:13). The idea is that he has no one more important to send! The tenants, however, reserve their worst treatment for the son, casting him out and killing him outside the vineyard. “Reasoning among themselves” they expect the vineyard will become theirs, if the landowner and his son are dead, which they now believe to be true for both.

The parable ends with Jesus asking an obvious question. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them. He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others?” (:15b-16).

All others rejected, who reject God’s authority in JESUS (:16b-19). At this point in the passage the parable ends. The crowd Jesus addressed exclaims, “Surely not!” And Jesus looks at them (with compassion, I believe).

It’s clear at this juncture who the tenants are, and who are represented by the servants. The Old Testament is replete with passages condemning the Nation for its rejection of the prophets, sent from God. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers (Jeremiah 7.25-26; and many other passages).

But what is the vineyard? It can’t be Israel, as in the Isaiah parable, since Israel is already represented by the tenants. And who are “the others” who will receive the vineyard?

The vineyard in this parable should be seen as the place of God’s blessing. It’s bigger than Israel, and includes others besides the physical descendants of Abraham. It is the Kingdom of God Jesus will rule over at His coming. It includes a remnant of the physical descendants of Abraham (Rm 11), thus fulfilling Gods promises to Abraham. But, it also includes anyone else who receives Jesus. God is not rejecting one people and bringing in another. He’s adding to the existing people who love God (Rm 11.11-12). God is a multiplying God, not a subtracting or dividing God.

And Jesus is so important that to reject Jesus is to reject everything God is and does. To receive Jesus is to receive God and find blessing. That’s why Jesus quotes Ps 118.22, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” … Everyone who falls on that stone will broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him (:17-18).

How’s your mental picture of Jesus now? Does it allow you to conceive of Jesus as one who will crush God’s enemies?

Before you answer, consider one more thing: Jesus’ death will be the supreme expression of His love. Romans 3.23-25 makes the point: … 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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show the righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

Yes, JESUS will crush God’s enemies at His return. But first, JESUS took their sin on Himself and was Himself crushed for them. In this way, JESUS expressed the holiness and love of God at the same time. Now, those who depend on JESUS by faith enter God’s blessing.

Peter will soon preach to the leaders of the Nation, after Jesus’ resurrection: This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4.11-12).

No JESUS, no blessing … Know JESUS, know blessing. 

 

Here’s a couple of questions to ask with others:

  1. What are the dangers of casting Jesus in our own image? In other words, what aspects of Jesus’ person do we tend to emphasize and what aspects are we inclined to leave out? (In still other words, how do we relate to this parable where Jesus will bring judgment from God?)
  2. What does this parable teach about the important of urgency in taking refuge in Jesus?
  3. What are the dangers of merely behaving religiously and drifting with Gods people? How do we know that we aren’t doing that?