Discipleship—Identity: John 21.15-19

This week we’re continuing to think about discipleship, the business of following Jesus together. Along the way we’re considering the core convictions about GOSPEL … GOD’S WORD … OUR IDENTITY … and MULTIPLICATION that must grow for us to progress in our discipleship relationships.

Today’s thought on IDENTITY is a big one! To make a follower of JESUS you must first BE a follower of JESUS.

Simon Peter, the most colorful of all Jesus’ disciples, illustrates this truth in the Gospel of John. In seven passages that work like windows to the discipleship process, Peter moves from knowledge about Jesus (1.35-42), to commitment to Jesus (2.11; 6.66-69), to seeing his life shaped by Jesus (13.6-8, 14; 18.25-27; 20.1-10; 21.15-17).

Along the way, Peter will enter into Jesus’ mission, fail miserably to follow Jesus, but then be restored FIRST to Jesus Himself, THEN to Jesus’ mission. John 21.15-17 is the critical passage. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter three times. “Feed my sheep … tend my lambs … follow me,” Jesus commands Peter in reaffirming and recommissioning him.

All this leaves us asking the very question Jesus asked Peter: DO I LOVE JESUS? It’s in loving Jesus first for His own sake that I’m made ready to take someone else along in following Jesus.

Get this thought right, and it’s a lights-out, mic-drop moment for each of us as we take seriously Jesus’ mission of bringing others along in our own Woodland culture of discipleship-relationships. Get it wrong, and we’ve taken our eyes from Jesus and endangered others meant to follow Him.

Here’s a few questions to share with others as we think about our IDENTITY as followers of Jesus:

  1. As we survey the career of the Apostle Peter in the passages above, where do we see Peter finally understand that he must first love Jesus before serving Jesus in Jesus’ mission?
  2. What might be the dangers of trying to take someone else along in a discipleship relationship without first loving and following Jesus yourself?
  3. Why is JESUS worth following anyway? Why not just remain respectably detached and make a good “religious” show of following Jesus for others to see?

Discipleship—God’s Word: 2 Timothy 2.15; 3.16-17; Romans 10.17

This week at Woodland we’re continuing our short series on discipleship.

Discipleship, as we’ve drawn up the picture, consists of people on a pathway and takes place when someone follows Jesus and takes someone else with her. And, along the way in our discipling relationships, we will grow in our core convictions about the gospel, God’s Word, our identity, and multiplication.

This week we’re thinking about how God shapes and forms His people by His Word in our disciple-making relationships. We’re asking the question: What is it about God’s Word that make the Word able to form and shape us in our discipling relationships? 

If you’re working through this with a group, you might want to take the four qualities listed below and look up the Scriptures includes. Then, give some thought to the questions at the bottom.

  1. God’s Word is BREATHED OUT by God: 2 Timothy 3.16; 2 Peter 3.16; 1 Pet 1.23; Deut 8.3; Acts 20.32; 1 Thess 2.13; Jn 17.17; Heb 4.12.
  2. God’s Word is UNDERSTANDABLE: 2 Timothy 2.15; 1 Cor 2.14; Ps 19.7; 119.130; Ezra 7.10.
  3. God’s Word is USEFUL: 2 Timothy 3.16-17
  4. God’s Word is EFFECTIVE: Rm 10.17; Is 55.10-11

And, here some thought questions to talk about with others.

  1. How much time are you spending in God’s Word?
  2. What ways of Bible reading and study have been fruitful for you?
  3. How are you sharing God’s Word with other people?
  4. How do you feel about starting over?

*Special appreciation is offered to Mike Bullmore and his talks on discipleship at the EFCA Fall Pastor’s Conference, October 2019. While the message this Sunday is my own, the general contour of these messages and many of the Scriptures cited do reflect these talks that can be heard on Spotify at Forest Lakes District—EFCA.

Discipleship—Gospel: 1 Cor 15.3; Rm 1.16

There’s certain themes every healthy church comes back to, again and again. At Woodland you’ll hear us talk about the Gospel (every week, I hope). You’ll also hear us talk about the place of God’s Word, God’s plan of redemption (creation, fall, cross, consummation), the church as family, and our work as image-bearers in God’s world. You’ll also hear us talk about DISCIPLESHIP.

Discipleship is simply the business of following Jesus together. It’s arguably the main way we glorify God in the Christian life, and it takes place when somebody follows Jesus and takes somebody else with him or her. And, at the beginning of a new year, we need to revisit what this following Jesus together looks like. We need to go over again the core convictions about GOSPEL … GOD’S WORD … OUR IDENTITY …. AND DISCIPLING RELATIONSHIPS that make following Jesus together fruitful.

What the Gospel IS (1 Cor 15.3). In our life of discipleship together we need convictions about the Gospel. Generally speaking, the Gospel is all God’s work in Christ. It includes everything God the Father does through Jesus Christ, from His creation in the past through Jesus to the future rule of Christ. But, the heart of the Gospel is God’s work in Christ at the cross. Consider 1 Cor 15.3:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. 

Did you catch that? Can you count on one hand the words that describe what the Gospel is? CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS. Now, you can memorize that quickly, counting on your fingers maybe. But the challenge in our life together is going to be in how we think carefully about just how the Gospel works in our lives.

Tomorrow at Woodland there’s going to be a 75 pound metal disc on the platform. It’s a fly-wheel from a John Deer tractor, and it’s going to help us understand how the Gospel works in our life of discipleship together. This big metal disc transfers power from the engine to the rest of the vehicle. You can attach other things to it (like the drive-shaft). And, once it gets going, it has momentum, and it’s very hard to stop. In the same way, everything God does in our lives He does through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What the Gospel DOES (Rm 1.16). Consider Romans 1.16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jew then for the Gentile. 

First, the Gospel changes what I think. This happens when the power of the Gospel is hitched to GOSPEL TRUTHS that take their power from the Gospel. They’re truths that operate in the mind because of the Gospel, and they address our hopes, fears, dreams, and picture of reality that also exist in the mind.

Examples of how this works can be found in Romans 5.1; 8.1, 32; 15.13; and 1 Tim 1.10-11. Take Romans 8.1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What’s true, in this verse? That I’m in Christ Jesus, right? That’s the GOSPEL, the result of the work of Christ in Romans 8. Now, what else is true? That God deals with me according to His loving relationship with Jesus. That’s the TRUTH that Romans 8 hitches to the power of the Gospel.

My growth in the Christian life is largely dependent on my willingness and Spirit-led skill in making these connections. And, what is true of my thinking resulting form the Gospel is also true of my behavior. Examples of how the Gospel changes what I do can be found in 1 Cor 6.18-20; 2 Cor 8.7-9; Gal 2.14; Eph 4.32, 5.25; Phil 1.27; and Titus 2.1. So, in 1 Cor 6.19b:

… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body

What’s true here? That we were bought with a price. There’s the Gospel, again. What ought to be true because that is true? That I need to glorify God in my body. That’s the Gospel BEHAVIOR that needs to be hitched to power of the Gospel, according to 1 Cor 6.

The Gospel is the power of God and central to following Jesus. And, while we’re learning to follow Jesus together all our thinking and behavior should increasingly flow our of the Gospel. And when we learn this God will start a disciple-making movement for His glory in our churches. It will be less like making snow, more like touching off an avalanche. Less like billowing smoke, more like a hot fire that burns cleanly. And, at the beginning of a busy year, we need to focus our thoughts and energies on disciples-making and the Gospel.

 

Here’s some questions that will help us measure our present effectiveness as disciples-makers with respect to the Gospel:

  1. How much time have you spent in thinking about how the Gospel actually works in our lives? (Have you ever read helpful contemporary authors like Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, or Jerry Bridges who work hard to apply the Gospel to life?)
  2. What other issues can you list that could be harnessed to the power of the Gospel?
  3. Who are you traveling with in an intentional, disciple-making relationship?

* While these message on discipleship are my own, I offer special appreciation to Mike Bullmore for his talks at the EFCA Forest Lakes District Pastor’s Conference, October 2019. Credit is given for the general contour of the messages, most of the Scripture examples chosen, and for the illustration of the fly-wheel.

God With Us—On the Mountain: Ex 33.1-34.9

GOD WITH US is a big deal! That’s been our thought as we’ve pondered JESUS together this Advent season at Woodland.

This week we’re in another unlikely passage from the Old Testament—Exodus 33.1-34.9. Unlikely, until we see the connections from Moses’ glorious encounter on Mt. Sinai with God in His glory and the baby JESUS, who is really and finally and perfectly GOD WITH US.

Having seen last week, in Genesis 15, that GOD WITH US in God’s plan of redemption will include a Redeemer to absorb the injustice of our sin, we learn more about GOD WITH US this week in Exodus 33-34.

God keeps His promises (33.1-6). Israel has sinned with the golden calf, choosing to be WITHOUT GOD. God, in response, pledges to lead Israel to the Promised God (because He promised Abraham He would, remember?). Only He will not go with them. Israel recognizes this “disastrous word” and mourns the loss of God’s presence. Who wants God’s promises without God’s presence?

All this reminds us of God’s promises throughout the ages to send a Redeemer. Galatians 4.4 reminds us of God’s fulfillment of this promise: But when the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, so that we might be adopted as sons. 

Fantastic news! But how tragic that many will chose—like Israel and the calf at the foot of the mountain—to observe Christmas, but without faith in Christ. The lights, the food, the presents; maybe, they’ll hold a candle on Christmas Eve, but then go back to their Christ-less lives, because they never trusted in Him in the first place.

Sinners need a mediator (33.7-23). The middle section in this account is all about Moses mediating for Israel. No wonder Moses is such an enormous figure in redemption history! You’ve told me to lead this people, but you haven’t told me who will go with me … You’ve told me that you know me by name and I’ve found favor with you, Moses pleads making his case to God. Then, Moses’ request: Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people (:13).

In an interesting twist that shows that God (while not changing and always being true to His character) does alter the way He deals with us based on our response to Him, God relents: … My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (:14).

Moses then asks to see God’s glory as a sign of what God will do.

God shows Himself to His people (34.1-9). In an astounding scene, God passes in front of Moses. Hiding Moses in a cleft of the rock, so that Moses won’t be confused, God shields Moses, so only His “back” will be seen. This is clearly anthropomorphism (speaking about Himself in a way we can understand, since God doesn’t have a body like men). The scene shows that God always reveals Himself to those who desire Him.

God shows Himself to Moses. God will show Himself to Israel. And God shows Himself to us, in JESUS. While God approved of the imperfect Moses for the benefit of Israel, He approves of His perfect Son for the benefit of everyone who will trust in Him.

At Jesus’ birth His shikineh glory will take the form of a star and lead worshippers from the east to Jesus (Matt 2). At Jesus’ baptism Jesus will identify with sinners as the perfect mediator and the Father will say, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mk 1). In His life Jesus will keep God’s law perfectly (Gal 3.24). At the tomb the Father will raise Jesus who has proved Himself the perfect law keeper and the perfect Redeemer. After the resurrection the Father receives Jesus back to Himself, and Jesus will send His Spirit to be God’s presence with us (2 Cor 3.18). When Jesus returns He will take us to be with Him and the Father, so that we shall finally see God’s face: No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it [the New Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Rev 22.4).

So … GOD WITH US is a big deal, because, in Jesus, God keeps His promises, provides a mediator and shows Himself to His people.

Because JESUS has won God’s approval, we have GOD WITH US. 

And that’s a spectacular thought to help us ponder JESUS this Christmas. May it be your thought. May you trust in JESUS by faith, and then go on depending on Him, looking forward to seeing God’s face at Christ’s return.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!

God With Us—Under the Stars: Genesis 15.1-21

How’s your pondering going? That’s what we’re doing together this Advent. We’re thinking together about the phrase that is really a declaration—GOD WITH US.

And we’re pondering JESUS.

This week we’re in Genesis 15.1-21. It’s an odd Christmas message, I’ll admit. It doesn’t make me feel cozy, like I feel when contemplating the baby Jesus in the manger. In fact, it makes me feel sober, because in this passage Abraham encounters God’s presence that guarantees God’s promise, sworn on the life of God’s Son. And in this way, God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Gal 3.8).

Promise of God, Under the Stars (:1-11). Remember the context of Genesis 15. In something like 2,000 B.C. God has called Abraham from Ur of Chaldeans and told Abraham to move to Canaan. In doing so God promised Abraham a land, descendants and blessing (Gen 12.1-3).

When we come to chapter 15 Abraham has obeyed God, but he still has a problem. He has no son, the land God promised him is filled with enemies, and (most importantly!), he’s starting to doubt God. What follows is a conversation between God and Abraham.

First, they talk about the son God has promised (:1-6). All this takes place under the night sky. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (:5).

Think about this. We Moderns look at the universe like it’s a big Christmas tree, filled with gases and hot suns many light years away. But Abraham, as an Ancient Chaldean, had worshipped the stars before He knew Yahweh. God is saying, You know those things you used to worship? Well, your descendants are going to be more numerous and wonderful than anything you used to worship … Later in the story, we meet Isaac. And, of course, all of this is pointing to Jesus and His followers (Gal 3.16).

Then, God and Abraham talk about the land (:7-11).  I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to posses, God says (:7). Abraham responds with self-doubt. O LORD God, how am I to know that I shall possess it? (:8). Abraham doesn’t doubt God here. But he doubts himself. He recognizes in the covenantal language of verse 7 that God is about to cut a covenant, to make a contract. Abraham wonders if he’ll be able to keep his part of the deal.

Next, God instructs Abraham to lay out the articles of covenant-making. While we do this with lawyers and papers, the Ancients did this with severed animals. Those making the covenant would walk together between pieces of severed animals and recognize in the butchery that they would become like those carcasses, if they failed to keep their end of the bargain.

Presence of God, Under the Stars (:12-21). The rest of the passage is mysterious, and wonderful. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him (:21). While Abraham passes into a state of deep concentration, God appears in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot and passes between the pieces ALONE.

What God is saying is that if either He or Abraham and his descendants fail to keep their obligations, God Himself will absorb the penalty for lawbreaking! And that, of course, is what happened at the cross when Jesus absorbed the penalty for our sin.

Are you seeing how this passage fits into our Christmas celebration? When Jesus comes, Jesus is the collateral paid for our law-breaking. Jesus is God’s presence with us. Jesus is GOD WITH US.

All the promises of God flow in and out of Jesus. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Gal 3.16).

GOD WITH US is a big deal, because God’s promises come with God’s presence. 

Here’s a few questions to ponder with others, while you’re pondering Jesus:

  1. Why do you think this passage from Genesis 15 is relevant and worth talking about at Christmas?
  2. How do God’s promises to Abraham help you understand why Jesus came?
  3. What about Jesus will you ponder this week, now that you’ve spent time in Genesis 15?

Have a blessed week! And see you Sunday, at Woodland.

A Good Thump at Thanksgiving

You never know what a day will hold. Certainly I didn’t this morning when I was digging out from our first good Northwoods storm, and THUMP!

Plans change, you know. And we have yet to see how that big red pine sitting on our roof will change the weekend. It’s a great story, in progress, and I’ll have to tell you how it works out.

But, for the moment, we want to think—a little more briefly than usual—about where we’re headed this Sunday at Woodland. It’s the first Sunday of Advent. My favorite time of year! This year we’ll be considering the astounding idea of GOD WITH US. We’re building toward Matthew 1.22-23 which we’ll read on Christmas Eve. In those verses we read: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 

But why is GOD WITH US such a big deal?

God with God (John 1.1-5; 17.20-24). We’ll start with the backstory. Take a look at these two, short sets of verses. Notice how God’s plan of redemption isn’t so much about us as it is about the Son revealing the Father’s glory. Because of Jesus, we get to share in the glory and the fellowship of the Godhead.

Us Without God (Genesis 3.8-24). That background shows us what we lost through our first parents in the garden. Genesis 3.8-24 has to be the saddest passage in all of Scripture. It begins with recognition of the crime of disobeying God. And, it continues with the consequences. Adam and Eve lost God’s presence … experienced life with shame … lost marital bliss … and fell into disharmony with nature.

Even yet, God provided for them. There’s  the hint of hope, even in God’s listing of the consequences of sin: Humankind won’t be overcome by nature (:15) … won’t fail to reproduce (:16) … won’t fail to eat (:19). And then, God clothed them, and, finally sent them from the garden, so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in deformity, in their sins.

Genesis 3 is a passage describing God’s severe mercy. And, it’s where we have to stop in this first week of Advent. It reminds us that GOD WITH US won’t seem a big deal until we ponder the majesty of GOD WITH GOD  and the horror of US WITHOUT GOD. 

And the the beauty of Christmas isn’t beautiful until we know we’re saved from life without God. That’s the thought that needs to carry us deeper into this, the most beautiful of all seasons.

Here’s a few questions for discussion: 

  1. Why do you think it’s significant to start our Advent series on GOD WITH US in John 1.1-5 and 17.20-24? That’s where we see the Persons of the Godhead living before time in perfect satisfaction with one another. God with God.
  2. Genesis 3.8-24 is a really sad story. But, why is it important to include this story of loss and failure in our build up to Matthew 1.22-23?
  3. Have you ever thought of Genesis 3.8-24 as a story of God’s provision? How is this passage one of hope, and not despair?

Now, have a blessed Thanksgiving. See you this Sunday, at Woodland!

 

 

God’s Wisdom in Creation: Psalm 104

Tomorrow begins gun season in the Northwoods. And—for those of you checking in from outside the neighborhood—this is a really big deal!

It’s such a big deal that I like to join in. Like many Northwoodsmen, I have a deer stand. And, during the season, I sit above the forest floor and wait. That I have no license, no purchased tags, and no special equipment is not a problem, because I also have no gun—That’s what makes me legal!

Psalm 104 explains why a man in a tree stand without a gun in gun season is not wasting his time. There’s a lot of nature out there. And, there’s a proper way to respond to nature. It’s not by worshipping the creation (Rm 1.25); it’s by seeing God’s wisdom in creation, and then praising our covenant God of creation.

Wisdom in Creation (:1-23). The first 23 verses of Psalm 104 mirror the Genesis account of Genesis 1-2.3. Day 1, in Genesis … :1-2a, in Psalm 104. Day 2, in Genesis … :2b-4, in Psalm 104. Day 3, in Genesis … :5-9, in Psalm 104. Day 4, in Genesis … :19-23, in Psalm 104. Day 5, in Genesis … :25-26, in Psalm 104. But, Day 6???

God created by His word, separating the elements of creation in Days 1-3, but then filling His creation in Days 4-6. But, the psalmist won’t be predictable or boring. Instead, at the first substantial mention of mankind (:23), the psalmist gives us a twist.

The twist comes right where we’d expect him to suddenly start talking about the wonders of mankind, Day 6. Instead, in verse 24, we get a spontaneous shout of exaltation: O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 

Provision for the LORD’S Creatures (:24-32). What does mankind as the chief of all land creatures do in relation to God? These all look to you, to give them their food in due season … When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things … When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust … When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. 

As it turns out, humankind isn’t dependent on the earth for its existence. Humankind (along with the rest of creation) is dependent on God for its existence! And harmony with creation doesn’t mean that we get in rhythm with the earth. Harmony with creation means that we get in rhythm with the Creator of the earth.

This is the point of the final section of Psalm 104.

Harmony with the LORD of Creation (:33-35). I will sing praise to my God as long as I live … I will sing praise to my God while I have being … May my mediation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. 

Notice here that the psalmist, who began by urging  himself to praise God (:1a), now concludes his commentary on creation by doing just that. Notice also the little twist about sinners in verse 35: Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!

Far from a “downer” at the end of a beautiful psalm, I take this a yearning for a Redeemer who will, one day, complete the work of redemption. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1.20-25 … :30-31 sees Jesus as doing just that. Where there are sinners at odds with God in His work of creation, there is now Jesus, who is the very wisdom of God:

And because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (:30-31).

In the end, wisdom is seeking harmony with the Creator through the redeemer, Jesus!

My response to creation should be praise to the LORD of creation—for His wisdom, His provision, and the harmony He brings about in Christ. 

Here’s a few questions to answer in your own tree stand this gun season: 

  1. In contrast to some of the environmentalist language we often hear, what does Psalm 104 teach about our place in nature?
  2. How does our treatment of creation change once we trust in Christ?
  3. What keeps Psalm 104 from being a stale recounting of the Genesis account that people already know? Why is it relevant and helpful to us?
  4. The psalmist, beginning in verse 1, has to push himself to praise God. Why is this hard for us too?

Faithfulness and Reward: Luke 19.11-27

In Luke 19.11-27, we come to one of the hinges in Luke’s gospel. We arrive at the end of that great, long section some Bible teachers call “Luke’s Travelogue” (chapters 9-19).

Jesus will next enter Jerusalem, but His disciples don’t yet know what to expect. And, it turns out, we struggle with some of the same false expectations they do.

Faithfulness required, in light of kingdom delay (:11). Verse 11 provides both the setting and purpose of the passage. Jesus’ disciples think that at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (perhaps only days away) God’s kingdom will appear in fulness, and right away. Unheeded and misunderstood have been Jesus’ many warnings to the contrary. (See 9.44-45 and 18.31-34). Little do they understand that Jesus would die first—to finish the work of redemption, to be raised, to receive the Father’s kingdom, to reign at the Father’s side, and to send the Spirit. Eventually, they’ll get it. (See Acts 3.20-21). But, until the coming of the Spirit, they’ll need to exercise faithfulness. How does Jesus respond? Well, He tells a story, a parable …

Faithfulness and Reward: The Parable of the Ten Minas (:12-27). In this parable a nobleman goes to a far country to receive a kingdom (:12). This strikes us as odd, but Herod the Great had gone to Rome in 40 B.C. to receive Palestine from Mark Antony, and Herod Archelaus received the same kingdom from Augustus in 4 B.C. Did these vassal-kings reign while yet in Rome? Yes, they did. Did they begin to rule until they got back? No, they didn’t. That’s just how they did things, in those days. But even more importantly, Ephesians 1.19-23 tells us that Jesus received His kingship at His resurrection, but would await His rule, until His return. That’s the part of God’s plan Jesus’ disciples were missing at Jesus’ entry into the city at the telling of this parable.

Against all this cultural and theological background, Jesus continues with the parable. Preparing for his departure, the nobleman gives his subjects responsibility: ten servants receive one mina (the equivalent to four months work for a day-laborer) and tells them to “engage in business until I come”. In other words, make a profit, work, grow, increase, expand.

Meanwhile, some subjects of the new nobleman-king reject him in his absence (:14). Sound familiar? The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 118.22).

The new king returns, and the servants line up for a time of evaluation and reward. Servant #1 has multiplied his mina times 10! Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities. Notice how responsibility becomes cities, and increased responsibility in the kingdom (See 1 Cor 6.2-3a). Servant #2 has multiplied his mina times 5. Nothing wrong with that.

Then comes Servant #3 … Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow (:21).

Now, is this an accurate estimation of the king? Or has Servant #3 completely disregarded the king during his absence? The king plays along with the ruse: I will condemn you with your own words (:22b). The king points out that if this unfaithful servant had truly believed what he said, he’d have worked harder. It’s apparent that Servant #3 doesn’t really know the king, and has thought little of him during his absence. Probably, he didn’t even expect him to come back. He’s UNFAITHFUL, and told to surrender his mina and give it to the servant who has multiplied his responsibility most faithfully.

At this juncture, the crowd standing in the wings calls foul. Doesn’t Servant #1 already have 10 cities?! This prompts the king, speaking for Jesus in the imaginative landscape of the parable, to give the master principle of the teaching: I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (:26).

This is not an economic calculation. This is relational calculation. Those who want more of Jesus will always get more of Jesus! (With more responsibility in the kingdom). Those who don’t want Jesus won’t get Jesus. And, because Jesus plus nothing equals everything, they won’t even get to keep what they thought they had.

In the final scene of the parable, the reigning (now ruling) king executes justice on those who opposed him. And, my reading of the parable sees the unfaithful Servant #3 included in those cast out. (See also 12.46).

Even if the disciples missed it, we (from our vantage point after the cross) can see through the thin veneer of the parable what we’re being taught about Jesus: He reigns now, will rule soon, and requires faithfulness from us, His servants.

JESUS reigns and will reward faithfulness at His return. 

Important for us to note is that Jesus values faithfulness because He is faithfulness. Faithful to go to the cross. Faithful to return in His time. Faithful to judge the unrighteous as He has said He would, even.

As Jen Wilken has written, God is faithful to do what he says he will do. As far as it is possible with us, we should be the same. We should reciprocate his faithfulness to us with faithfulness toward him. We should reflect his faithfulness to us with faithfulness toward others. Jesus Christ is the perfect expression of God’s faithfulness toward humankind, as well as the perfect expression of human faithfulness toward God and others. His example shows us the way of faithfulness (In His Image, 106).

Here’s a few questions to guide our thinking and discussion of The Parable of the Ten Minas

  1. What important lessons do we learn from each of the three major figures in the parable—the nobleman king, the faithful servants, and the unfaithful servant (and the rebellious subjects)?
  2. What do you find sobering about this parable?
  3. And, what do you find encouraging about Luke 19.11-27?
  4. How does this passage change your understanding of what you’ll be doing in the kingdom, provided that you know Jesus and are looking forward to His return?

Restored by Jesus: Luke 19.1-10

We’re nearing a holiday, here in the Northwoods. While most of the country calls it Thanksgiving, it’s known around here as “gun season”. In the next month, a good number of us will take aim and fire. Will we hit the mark? We’ll see, won’t we?

Luke 19.1-10 is an account about a man who never misses. Only, this man, the Lord Jesus Himself, aims to bring about new life for others, even as He prepares to give up His own life.

Jesus seeks Zaccheus (:1-7)

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, we’re told He’s “passing through” (:1). Whether He intends to stay or not is for Him alone to know. Since His overall mission, that includes death and resurrection, mystifies His disciples (8.34), His seeking of the sinner Zaccheus will likewise confuse His disciples.

In verses 2-4 we meet Zaccheus, along the road Jesus is walking. Yes, he’s short, ” … a wee little man.” But we need to check ourselves from thinking that we fully understand this account, just because we can sing the children’s song. Like a great epic (think C.S. Lewis’ Narnia), there’s a surface level to this story that children can grasp, but there’s also a deep level that puzzles even thoughtful adults.

Luke describes Zaccheus further. We’re told he’s a “chief tax collector.” In other words, he’s rich. We’re told that he was … seeking to see who Jesus was. This means he wants more of Jesus. And, as we know, we’re told that Zaccheus is short. This is why he runs ahead to climb the low, sprawling sycamore tree. He’s putting himself in the right place to encounter Jesus.

You know the story. When Jesus comes under the tree, Jesus has got His man. Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today (:5). Appropriately so, this is the high point of the children’s song, where all the children, quoting Jesus, shout, “You come down!”

Notice, Jesus is in full control here. With all the people around who need the Savior, Jesus chooses his own host and calls out Zaccheus, who hurries and receives Jesus joyfully (:6).

Jesus seeks and restores the lost (:8-10).

Next, there’s a time gap, between verses 7 and 8. Zaccheus hosts Jesus. They recline together at table. Probably, Jesus talks about Himself, the Son of Man, and the Kingdom of God. Somewhere in there, Zaccheus is saved.

When we come to verse 8, Zaccheus springs to his feet with resolve. Behold, LORD, the half of my goods I give to the poor. Contrast Zaccheus here with the Rich Ruler of 18.18-30. That man passed on Jesus, because he valued his wealth more than the Savior. Zaccheus, now that he has Jesus, has everything he needs. And now that he has Jesus, his attitude toward everything else becomes an expression of his new identity as a disciple.

And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold, he goes on (:8b). Where does he get his numbers? Well, in the Old Testament (Ex 22), thieves were to restore 4 times what they’d stolen. Zaccheus becomes a model of redemption. Even as he is redeemed, he’ll now make restitution for what he’s taken. Jesus declares Zaccheus “saved”: Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham (:9).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t declare Zaccheus a good law-keeper. And Jesus is not interested in the restoration of Zaccheus’ stuff. Jesus is interested in the restoration of Zaccheus. Then, Jesus connects Zaccheus’ restoration to His own mission: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (:10). Sure, Zaccheus climbed the tree, received Jesus joyfully, and responded rightly in repentance. But, Zaccheus isn’t the hero of the story.

Jesus is the hero of the story! And, when Jesus seeks a man, woman or child, He doesn’t just have a license to hunt. (Jesus’ seeking isn’t the kind of seeking we do when we don’t know what we’re looking for.) Jesus always gets his man, his woman, or His child. Jesus never misses.

As we’ll come to know more fully at the revelation of the apostles in the New Testament, Jesus’ mission to Jerusalem is all about securing the salvation of all those who will believe and respond to His call.

Jesus seeks lost people who will be restored to the Father.

But, how does this work today, when Jesus doesn’t just walk under the tree you’re climbing? How does Jesus seek and call us, today?

This is where we remember that we live between Jesus’ two comings. And, while we press toward His second coming, we declare that Jesus did make it to Jerusalem. And there He did everything He promised—He died for us, and arose to new life. (Look to 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 for a summary.)

Declaring what Jesus did in the gospel is the “gospel call”. This good news is what we share over the fence with a neighbor, in the break room at work, at the bedside of a child, or on a walk with a friend. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 10.14-16 reminds us that the preached word is necessary for salvation: How will they call on hi in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” 

And yet, many respond to this gospel like the Rich Ruler, and now like Zaccheus. What’s the difference today, in this time when we relate to Jesus through His Spirit.

These are deep things, and I don’t propose to solve them here, but there’s another kind of calling. Some have called it “effective” or “effectual” calling. Consider the following verses:

John 6.44—No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up at the last day. 

Acts 2.39—For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our Got calls to himself. 

Acts 16.14—One who heard us was a woman named Lydia … The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 

1 Corinthians 1.2—To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …

1 Peter 5.10—And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

2 Peter 1.3—His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 

Now, that not the gospel call that many reject. These verses talk about the “effective” call that is the work of the Spirit of God and goes in tandem with the preached word.

Jesus gets His man, woman, or child every time. Do you understand this completely? Neither do I. But, even as I seek to be faithful to declare the gospel of the finished work of Jesus, I ask the Lord to call men, women, and children to Himself.

And, you know, He does.

“Zaccheus. You come down. For, I’m going to your house today!”

 

Here’s some thoughts to consider as you read Luke 19.1-10 with others.

  1. Probably, we all think we’ve “got” this story, because of the song. But, what new and profound things have you learned from your most recent reading of the Zaccheus story?
  2. How does Zaccheus put himself in the right place to encounter Jesus? How can you do the same? How can you encourage others you care about to put themselves in the place to be changed by God through His word?
  3. There’s a lot of sides to this account. Among them is the way that redeemed people respond to wealth. Consider 1 Timothy 6.17-18, and consider how Zaccheus modeled the right way to apply this passage that Paul would write some years later.
  4. What do you think about the way we’ve discussed the “gospel call” of Romans 10.14-16 and the “effective call,” described by the other verses listed? Which of these is our responsibility? Why is it necessary that God opens the mind of sinners to understand His gospel? How does this change the way you feel about all that takes place when the gospel is preached?

 

 

Knowing God’s Goodness: Luke 18.18-30

Today, we get to read about a tragedy. Strictly speaking (in, the classical Greek drama sense), a tragedy involves a fall from glory, because of a fatal flaw.

When Jesus is approached by the Ruler in Luke 18.18-30, the man (Matthew’s gospel says he’s young) is about to crash and burn. Only, the Ruler doesn’t know it.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? The Ruler asks (:18, ESV). Right away, we note some problems: the Ruler thinks that salvation results from something he will DO. The Ruler assumes that salvation is his entitlement. The Ruler presumes that he knows what GOOD is.

Jesus’ answer deflects the question: Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (:19). Jesus isn’t denying His own goodness. He just wants the Ruler to think about what He is saying. And, Jesus wants the Ruler to think about knowing God’s goodness. Knowing God’s goodness will recognize that God Himself is the final standard of good, and that all God is and does is worthy of approval. (See Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, 197-199, for a good summary here.) More, doing good will be the desire for everyone who knows God.

Jesus continues: You know the commandments … And then Jesus lists commandments 7,6,8,9 and 5, from the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20. Why? These are commandments dealing with human relations. If the Ruler understands God’s goodness, he will especially want to keep these!

All these I have kept from my youth! the Ruler declares with enthusiasm (:21).

One thing you still lack, Jesus responds, Sell all that yo have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (:22). In other words, give up every claim you have to righteousness. Let me be enough for you, and you will know God’s goodness. Then, I will teach you to obey the commandments from the heart. Then, I will teach you to love people.

At this, …  the Ruler becomes sad, for he was extremely rich (:23). Jesus has found the Ruler’s fatal flaw. Jesus has found something the Ruler wants more than God’s goodness. Jesus has learned that He is not enough for the Ruler. Jesus has learned that the Ruler doesn’t really love people after all, but only himself …

At this point, I must ask myself, What is it the I wouldn’t give up for Jesus? Tough one, isn’t it? Maybe, it’s a thing, a person, a lifestyle, an experience, an entitlement, a possibility.

Is Jesus enough for me, so that I know the goodness of God?

The account could end here, but Jesus, as He so often does, turns to the disciples and won’t let the thing drop, until they’ve learned. How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (:24). He then gives a visual picture of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. It’s not a hard image, but a slapstick one. The biggest thing can’t go through the smallest thing. Doesn’t work materially, and it won’t work spiritually. The disciples are perplexed, probably because they assume the wealthy were blessed by God; and, if not them, who will be blessed?

What is impossible with man is possible with God, Jesus concludes (:27). And, once again, the account could end here. In fact, I have to believe there was an awkward silence at this point. Then, dear old Peter asks what everyone else is thinking.

See, we have left our homes and followed you (:28).

This is one of those amazing places where Jesus takes my life situation and His plan for the ages, and then He draws them all together in one statement:

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life (:30).

Some things to notice here:

  • Jesus is not talking about leaving things, but people. “House” here doesn’t mean four walls and a chimney, it means “household”—wife, brothers, parents, and children. And, for His immediate followers, as well as us, following Jesus COULD mean you lose your people. Maybe, they don’t think you’re cool anymore. Or, they turn on you and kick you out.
  • Second, Jesus’ promise of blessing follows the NOW, but NOT YET scheme of the Kingdom. It includes eternal life, that we associate with Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection. But, His blessing also includes knowing God’s goodness IN THIS LIFE, … in this time. 

I believe this is an oblique (not straightforward) reference to the church. Jesus has always been about gathering up people for Himself. He’d told Peter, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching men (5.10). He’d told His disciples, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God an do it (8.21). And, we’ll see early believers in Acts 5 who do just what the Ruler won’t. They’ll sell their possessions and distribute their goods among poor, but joyous, followers of Jesus.

When Jesus is enough for you, God puts you together with others in the church, so that you have a new family. That’s the goodness of God that we see today in places like Woodland when, together, we recognize that Jesus is enough.

  • Jesus promises to MULTIPLY what we’ve given up for Him in this life. That’s the many times more language. The rest of the New Testament talks about how this works. And, I think it works this way: when I understand that God’s goodness is found in Jesus, my attitudes toward everything else that ISN’T Jesus is transformed.

BEFORE I trust in Jesus, my bank account (to use the example of this passage) could be my fatal flaw. But, when Jesus is enough, my money becomes a means for caring for my new family in Jesus. BEFORE  I trust in Jesus, my set of friends could be my fatal flaw. But, when Jesus is enough, I find out I have family everywhere.

In In His Image Jen Wilken writes: “Possessing the good and perfect gift of Christ, we can count all generosity as affordable loss. God gives good things to us generously, risking no loss in doing so. We, too, should give good things to others generously, recognizing that we, too, risk no loss in doing so. We can be generous with our possessions, our talents, and our time on behalf of others because we see these good gifts as a means to bring glory to their Giver instead of to us” (51).

We know God’s goodness, when Jesus is enough. 

 

Here’s some questions to consider with others:

  1. What are some “fatal flaws” that keep people from following Jesus and knowing God’s goodness?
  2. If you’re following Jesus, what fatal flaw did God touch in your life to get you there? (What desires of your heart did you have to repent of?)
  3. How have you seen God restore “in this time” what you gave up to follow Him?
  4. How has God transformed (or, how is He transforming) the desires of your heart as you learn that Jesus is enough.
  5. Is Jesus always enough for you? How do you feel about this statement?