Monthly Archives: October 2019

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – TRY THIS

TRY THIS

“‘How can I account for the people of this generation? They’re like spoiled children complaining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk but you were always too busy.’ John the Baptiser came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called Him a lush. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.'” Luke 7:31-35.

Never satisfied! That was how Jesus summed up His generation.

Was He only talking about His own generation or was He summing up the history of the Jewish people? It was certainly true of the generation that came out of Egypt. Their story is one long account of dissatisfied people. The entire period of forty years in the desert was a continuous cycle of complaining, rebellion and punishment to the extent that the people who came out of Egypt forfeited their right to inherit Canaan. Their children went in, while they died in the desert.

And nothing had changed. Not even the terrible experiences of judgment, war, exile and oppression had taught them to trust in God and to be thankful. The lessons of history had been wasted on them because they were as much in bondage to the Romans as their ancestors had been to the Egyptians back in Egypt.

But that was only a symbol of a much deeper and more serious bondage, to sin, which was evidenced by their selfishness of which they seemed unaware. They were the centre of their own universe and they expected everyone else to satisfy their whims. But that makes for a chaotic situation. How can everyone expect everyone else to do what everyone else demands? That’s crazy!

How true it is that people who have experienced oppression develop a sense of entitlement. The Hebrew ex-slaves believed that they were entitled to a better deal than they were getting in the wilderness instead of realising that God was with them and that their wilderness journey was a preparation for what lay ahead. How would they ever take the Promised Land, which was a huge enterprise of faith, if they had not learned to trust God in the desert where they were utterly dependant on Him?

Are we any better? Is there any place on earth, outside of God’s grace, where people live together in harmony, without discontent, without complaining, resisting or agitating against their superiors or against the government in some way or another. I live in a country which is riddled with labour unrest, strikes, demonstrations and uprisings, to the extent that what we have is slowly being demolished and destroyed by violent protests because of this pernicious spirit of entitlement.

Discontentment is a slap in God’s face and a declaration that He doesn’t know what He is doing. How would we run the universe?

It takes a supernatural work of God to set us free from this persistent attitude of entitlement and replace it with an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude. Discontent is an insult to God because it accuses Him of being unfair and unloving. It concentrates on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. It freezes our hearts and makes us incapable of appreciating God’s goodness towards us. It shuts heaven and cuts us off from God’s provision.

What Jesus said about His generation can equally apply to ours. Whatever our opinion might be, nothing changes the truth that God is good. Whether we like who He is or not, is irrelevant and will not change Him. Whether we believe in Him or not, He is who He is and His word is true. Paul said, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ That about sums it up.

If this applies to you, what would happen if you stopped complaining and started praising? Why not try it?

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – GREATER THAN JOHN

GREATER THAN JOHN

“‘Let me lay it out for you as plainly as I can: No one in history surpasses John the Baptiser, but in the kingdom he prepared for you, the lowliest person is ahead of him. The ordinary and disreputable people who heard John, by being baptised by him into the kingdom, are the clearest evidence; the Pharisees and religious officials have nothing to do with such baptism, wouldn’t think of giving up their place in line to their inferiors.” Luke 7:28-30.

What on earth was Jesus talking about? John the Baptist the greatest and yet the least? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

According to Jesus, John was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, not because of the length of his ministry but because of its importance. All the other prophets, so said Peter, “…Who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” 1 Peter 1:10b, 11 (NIV), spoke of events that were still far off in the future.

It was John who was privileged to announce and introduce the Messiah to his people, and yet he himself did not witness His ministry or hear His preaching. As soon as Jesus appeared on the scene, he was removed by Herod into a dungeon from which he was never released. He had stood on the brink of the era of the New Covenant but never experienced it for himself.

It must have been very frustrating for John to have been so near and yet so far. Perhaps he had longed to be a part of what Jesus was doing, to be more than his forerunner, even a prominent member of His band of disciples. But it was not to be. John’s work was done, short though it had been, and Jesus graciously acknowledged the value and importance of what he had done.

But, at the same time, He did not overplay John’s role. He was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets but the least in the kingdom Jesus had come to inaugurate. Why?  Because, through Jesus, people could enter and experience what he could only announce.

When the Holy Spirit came in His fullness to continue the work of Jesus, He would take up residence within every believer, making everyone who embraced Jesus as the Son of God and His teaching as His yoke, His dwelling place. It was no longer the privileged few who experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit with them; but all who believed would have Him in them, even the lowliest in man’s eyes.

The high-and-mighty religious ones who thought they were in, were actually out, while the ones they regarded as of no consequence, occupied a more privileged position than they. That’s how it is in God’s kingdom — the world’s value system is reversed. The places of highest honour are reserved for the ones who least expect it. If you think you are important, you are not!

John’s baptism was received by those who welcomed his message and identified with the one he was introducing. Of course, the religious leaders, who thought they knew better, refused to be a part of it. They would not participate in anything that attracted the riff-raff. How tragic that their proud, know-it-all attitude excluded them from the greatest moment in their history and their own personal lives!

What about us? How much have we missed of the grace of Jesus because we think we know better, or because we refuse to humble ourselves and change the way we think. Jesus’ way is open to all, but there are many who miss it because it demands our shedding all our preconceived notions about how it should be.

He said, ‘Follow me.’ That’s all! Are you following? If you are, you will be part of the many who are greater than John the Baptist.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – HE UNDERSTOOD

HE UNDERSTOOD

“After John’s messengers left to make their report, Jesus said more about John to the crowd of people. ’What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pyjamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A messenger from God? That’s right, a messenger! Probably the greatest messenger you’ll ever hear. He is the messenger Malachi announced when he wrote, “I’m sending my messenger on ahead to make the road smooth for you.”‘ Luke 7:24-27.

Why this vehement defense of John the Baptist?

John had just publicly revealed his vulnerability in his extreme circumstances. It was Jesus’ turn to set the record straight, not only to defend John but also to save his ministry.

John was God’s appointed forerunner of the Messiah, the one foretold by Malachi four hundred years before. He had come, as predicted, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to announce and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People had flocked to hear him in the wilderness. They had received his message that the Messiah was on the brink of being revealed to them. Perhaps some had even been present when Jesus was baptised and had heard the Father’s affirmation of His Son.

Now John was wavering and who can blame him? The all-powerful Messiah had not lifted a finger to rescue him in his predicament. Perhaps John did not realise that his work was done, short though it had been, and it was time for him to step aside and allow Jesus to stand in the limelight for a season until He, too, stepped aside when His work was complete.

Jesus did not want the crowd to think that John was undoing all he had said and done by wavering in his conviction that He was the Messiah. Turning to the Scriptures, He demonstrated to John’s followers that He fulfilled everything the Scriptures had said about Him to that point. His own circumstances aside, John had to believe that Jesus was all that John had reported Him to be.

But Jesus was not only protecting John’s ministry, He was also protecting John himself. This temporary lapse in John’s conviction, this wobble in his faith, was not who John was. In his weak moment, Jesus was there for him and quick to point out that he was no fly-by-night, self-appointed prophet. God had foretold his coming through His messenger centuries before just as surely as He had prophesied the coming of His Messiah.

In glowing terms Jesus began to correct any misgivings people the crowd might have had about John. John was no holiday maker or member of the idle rich, on public display for their entertainment. He was a messenger sent from God, whose arrival was foretold in the Scriptures as surely as that of the Messiah. The implication was that the people had better heed what John had preached. It was serious business and, even though John was shaky in his faith right then, his doubts did not cancel out who he was and what he had done before his incarceration.

Don’t you love Jesus for this little interlude? It reveals His heart once again. A lesser person might have criticised John for vacillating in his circumstances, but not Jesus. No matter how weak he was right then, his work remained and Jesus acknowledged that.

This should give us the courage to know that God is tender towards us in our struggles. He does not judge the process through which we have to go to reach our conclusions. How many times we have been where John was, only to emerge stronger and more secure in our confidence in God because God sees the whole picture and accompanies us to a place of greater strength.

So don’t give up. Jesus will never stab you in the back. He will walk with you through the valley until you reach the other side.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – YES OR NO?

YES OR NO?

“John’s disciples reported back to him the news of all these events taking place. He sent two of them to the Master to ask the question, ‘Are you the One we’re expecting or are we still waiting?’ The men showed up before Jesus and said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to ask you, “Are you the one we’re expecting or are we still waiting?”‘ 

“In the next two or three hours Jesus healed many from disease, distress and evil spirits. To many of the blind He gave the gift of sight. Then He gave His answer: ‘Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard: The blind see; the lame walk; lepers are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised; the wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them. Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourself fortunate!'” Luke 7:18-23.

Poor John!

He was sitting in a dungeon at King Herod’s good pleasure. Would it not have been reasonable for him to expect Jesus to do something about him? After all, He was family and he, John, had paved the way for Him! And besides, didn’t the Scriptures prophesy that He would set captives free?

What did John expect? Perhaps, at the very least, Jesus could have gone to Herod and put in a good word for him. Day after day he sat in his prison, waiting and hoping for release, only to be disappointed. He began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, after all. Perhaps He was a hoax. The longer he sat there, the more the doubts plagued him.

He had to find out. At least he would know whether there was any hope of being rescued before Herod got it into his head to execute him. He couldn’t go himself, so he sent for a few of his disciples to go for him. ‘Master,’ they asked Jesus, ‘John wants to know whether you are really the Messiah, or do we have to keep waiting for someone else to come?’

Jesus gave them no direct answer. All He said was, ‘Watch and listen.’ So they followed Him around, watching and listening. After some hours He asked them, ‘So? What have you just seen and heard? Now go and tell John all about it.’ He gave them a resume’ of the miracles He had done over the last while. ‘Ask him if this is what he was expecting? If it was, then he is truly blessed.’

What was going on here? John’s circumstances were getting to him. No one can blame him. Who can endure incarceration like that and not give in to self-pity. He had preached that the kingdom of God was a realm of generosity and unselfish service but, in his own suffering, he had begun to turn inward. Hoping that Jesus would mount a rescue, he could not understand why nothing had happened. Perhaps he had been mistaken after all.

His disciples returned with an answer he had not quite expected. A straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ would have been better. Instead, in typical “Jesus” fashion, He invited John to weigh up the evidence and decide for himself. That was His way of convincing him who He was according to the evidence and the Scriptures.

John was a rabbi and, of course he had memorised the entire Hebrew Scriptures. He would have immediately caught on to what Jesus was saying. ‘John, don’t take my word for it. Take another look at what the Scriptures say about me and then decide for yourself.’ The Messianic fingerprint was clearly visible in the Old Testament prophecies. All John had to do was to match it up with what Jesus was doing.

Whether or not Jesus got him released was irrelevant. Overshadowing Herod was God’s hand and he had to rest in that. His story was being written into God’s bigger story and Jesus was writing the meaning of that story into the lives of sick, maimed and side-lined people. It was up to John to answer his own question.

We all have to decide whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. Weigh up the evidence. Is He? Then follow Him!

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – FROM GRIEF TO JOY

FROM GRIEF TO JOY

“Not long after that Jesus went to the village Nain, His disciples were with Him along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession – a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, His heart broke. He said to her, ‘Don’t cry,’ Then He went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, ‘Young man, I tell you: Get up.’ The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.” Luke 7:11-15.

Now that really takes the cake!

It was amazing enough that Jesus healed sick people, opened deaf ears and blind eyes, and got rid of demons, but talking to a dead man and expecting him to hear and respond! That was outside the realm of these people’s experience. Just imagine how the tongues wagged after the crowd had seen that! His popularity must have soared a thousand present.

Anyone reading this story for the first time might be struck by the matter-of-fact-ness of what happened. It was told with such simplicity that Jesus might have been walking through an orchard picking apples. There is nothing mystical or magical about what He did. He stopped the funeral procession, spoke to the dead body and the young man heard and responded. Just like that!

What prompted Jesus to do something like that? Was He showing off His power to convince people who He was? There is nothing in the record to suggest that. Luke tells us clearly why He did it – His compassion for the grieving mother moved Him to action.

She was a widow and, with her son gone, she had become destitute. What would become of her without a breadwinner? Unlike modern times, she could not get a job to support herself. She was dependent on the goodwill of the people around her and it was a precarious living, to say the least. She was not supposed to outlive her son.

Jesus responded, not only to her grief but also to her plight. He understood her predicament and stepped in to undo the tragedy that had robbed her of her livelihood. Imagine how He felt when He walked away from that scene with the memory of a mother’s joy at being reunited with her son!

“They all realised they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful – and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, ‘God is back, looking to the needs of His people!’ The news of Jesus spread all through the country.” Luke 7:16, 17.

At least these people didn’t call Jesus a devil and attribute His work to Beelzebub! The crowd was stunned into silence and then stirred into praise. ‘God is here,’ they marvelled, recognising that only God could do what Jesus was doing. Where were the Pharisees? Apparently dumbstruck or absent. No-one raised an objection; no-one accused Him of anything. They accepted what their eyes had just seen as the work of God.

Wherever He went, Jesus put His Father’s glory on display and showed His people what His kingdom was like so that He could invite them to share in a life that was infinitely attractive and compelling. This is how God wanted it to be, and this is how it would be when the enemies of His kingdom were finally overthrown and everything restored to His original design.

As children of God and citizens of God’s kingdom, it is our task to contribute to the restoration of His rule on earth. It is not enough to pray, ‘Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Jesus has entrusted to us the role of continuing what He began, bringing heaven to earth by restoring what is broken wherever and whenever we can.

Are you doing that?