Monthly Archives: November 2019

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – TWO PERSPECTIVES

TWO PERSPECTIVES

“The seventy came back triumphant. ‘Master, even the demons danced to your tune!’

Jesus said, ‘I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Now what you do for God but what God does for you –that’s the agenda for rejoicing.'” Luke 10:17-20.

The seventy came back from their preaching trip bubbling over with excitement. They had just experienced something they had never thought possible – authority to send demons packing. Note – they weren’t excited about people getting free or cured or saved. No, they were proud of their success because they had experienced what it was like to have power.

What was their perspective? Control! We can control demons. We’ve got power over diseases. We can control people? Is that what they were thinking as well?

Once again Jesus has to pull them up short. He was happy about their success because it meant that He now had a wider group of followers who had been recruited to continue His ministry but – if they did not understand His heart, they would become a liability and not an asset to the kingdom of God.

They had to understand two things clearly. Firstly, when they learned to live under God’s authority, the enemy had no power to touch them. The only power he had to influence them was the power they gave him when they believed his lies and capitulated to his manipulation and intimidation. He is a liar and he can only speak the language of lies. Believing his lies, not his power is what gets people into trouble.

Secondly, when they submitted to Jesus’ authority it was a pledge to come under His yoke. We have been learning that Jesus’ way of doing life is the way of unselfish generosity. That includes caring about other people enough to forget ourselves in order to meet the needs of others. Real power, said Jesus, is power over ourselves, not power to manage others.

It takes far more for us to submit to God’s authority than it does to get others to submit to us. We, not the devil, are our own worst enemy. There is so much potential to do damage and wreak havoc in the lives of other people that we don’t need the devil to do our dirty work for us when we are capable of destroying others ourselves by our words and actions.

Take our tongues, for example. How many children’s lives have been destroyed by the careless words of parents or teachers? When we think about it, words, which seem so weak, are one of the enemy’s most powerful tools to destroy when we allow him to influence us.

Words also have the power to do unimaginable good. What about God’s Word? His word brought the universe into being. Jesus said that His words are spirit and life. We have been given a brand new life through His Word, and we are directed every day to live that life His way through His Word.

It’s up to us who claim to be His followers to keep our perspective true to Jesus’ perspective. It’s never about what we can do for God – not even cast out demons and heal the sick. It’s about His life in us – His Spirit at work in us and through us. We are not in charge; He is. Our perspective must be how well we can get out of the way so that His life can be lived out through us.

In the words of Louie Giglio: “I am not, but I know I AM!”

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – THE RABBI’S BLESSING

THE RABBI’S BLESSING

“‘When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, ‘The only thing we got from you is the dirt on out feet, and we’re giving it back. Did you have any idea that God’s kingdom was right on your doorstep?’ Sodom will have it better on Judgment Day than the town that rejects you.'” Luke 10:10-12.

This is a bit vindictive, isn’t it? Does it sound like Jesus? What is He getting at?

“The rabbi’s dust” is a euphemism for the rabbi’s blessing. It was the disciples’ duty to walk behind Him; to follow Him, literally and figuratively. The one who walked close behind Him picked up dust thrown up by His sandals. It was an honour for a disciple to “wear” his rabbi’s dust because it indicated that he walked closest to Him.

To shake off his rabbi’s dust was to scatter the blessing of his rabbi on others. Would Jesus really have advocated that His disciples thumb their noses at people who refused to receive them? He always had an attitude of compassion towards everyone, even those who rejected Him. He knew that they would be the losers. He wept over Jerusalem for not recognising the time of His visit to them.

It would be out of character for Jesus to instruct His disciples to call down curses on a family or community that rejected Him. He had stopped James and John from wanting to incinerate a Samaritan village for refusing Him hospitality. Why would His attitude to any other community be different? If we read this story through the spectacles of Jesus’ redemptive mission, what He was instructing His disciples was not to retaliate but to leave behind the rabbi’s blessing, even if the people did not receive them.

Another lesson His followers had to learn was that they were representatives of their Master. Whatever they said or did was on His behalf, He would not want them to act out of character with Him or His Father. However people treated them was what they thought of Him but that did not deter Him from wanting to bless them. After all, did He not say that His Father pours out rain on the just and the unjust?

What is God’s wrath all about then? Is He angry with wicked people, and does He plan to take vengeance on those who refuse to believe the gospel? God’s punishment always takes the form of the consequences people call down on their own heads when they refuse to heed His Word. Jesus said that it was not He but His Word that would judge them in the end (John 12:47, 48).

God’s wrath, rightly understood is His passionate grief over wasted potential. He has a good plan for every person and, when they choose their own way and make a mess of their lives it causes Him sorrow because of what they could have been. His plan is that every one of us should be a member of His forever family, to live with Him and to share all the benefits of a perfect world in fellowship with a loving and generous Father.

He wants us to be like Him so that we can mirror His splendour (Isaiah 61:3), enjoy the freedom of the children of God and live in the safety and provision of His love. Why should we want to run away from that and set up a life of our own which can only bring us disappointment and emptiness?

God has proved His love for us by giving His own Son as a sacrifice of atonement for our sin, so that we can be reconciled to Him and return to the family as beloved sons and daughters. Jesus paid the debt of sin for the whole world and He is not mad with anyone any more. Can you get hold of that?

It is never His intention to take vengeance on anyone for not receiving the good news of His kingdom. The consequences of our choices are enough to contend with. His passion is that we respond to His invitation and enjoy the blessing and benefit of being members of His family.

With arms wide open He says, ‘Come home.’

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – YOU ARE THE MESSAGE

YOU ARE THE MESSAGE

“When you enter a home, greet the family, ‘Peace.’ If your greeting is received, then it’s a good place to stay. But if it’s not received, take it back and get out. Don’t impose yourself.

“Stay at one home, taking your meals there, for a worker deserves three square meals. Don’t move from house to house looking for the best cook in town.

When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!'” Luke 10:5-9.

As one reads Jesus’ instructions over and over, something begins to emerge about His strategy for infiltrating a community with the good news of God’s kingdom. The first thing one notices is His respect for people’s right to choose. He didn’t insist that His disciples bulldoze their way in and force the message on people whether they wanted to listen or not. Everyone had the right to choose whether they accepted or rejected the messengers and their message.

‘Test the water,’ He said. How were they to do that? They were to do it in the disposition of Messiah. ‘Say hello,’ He said but, at the same time, their “hello” conveyed something far deeper than just a causal “hi”. “Shalom”, translated “peace” was both a greeting and a prayer. Shalom is the essence of what God desires and does for those who believe in Him and entrust their lives to Him. His work of restoration produces an inner peace and a wholeness that He intended everyone to experience from the beginning when He created mankind.

If a family responded positively to their greeting, they were to stay there and share the life of that family for the duration of their stay. It was part of Hebrew culture to show hospitality to strangers. It was accepted that a friendly greeting would indicate an open door and a family’s generous attitude towards their guests.

Should the greeting not be returned, they were to move on without making a fuss. It was everyone’s right to choose, and they were not to react ungraciously by retaliating when they were refused hospitality.

They were to receive what was given to them as graciously as their hosts gave and not move on if they were not satisfied with the quality of the hospitality. Being in a home gave them opportunity to interact with the family and minister to their needs, including healing their sick and sharing the good news of God’s kingdom.

The overall impression one gets from Jesus’ instruction is that He was advocating personal interaction with the people of that community. He was not about setting up a big healing and preaching campaign, inviting people to a gathering in the village square. It was about spending time in people’s homes and entering into the family’s life for a while, infiltrating the community with more than just preaching. He was always about being the message, not just telling it.

One cannot dissociate the message from the messenger. Jesus’ way is so unlike the ways of the world, and especially the ways of religion which tries to impose and force its ideas on people whether they like to or not. The message and the messenger are inseparable. It was the message personified in the life of the messenger that would persuade people of the truth, not force it on reluctant or sceptical hearers.

Jesus illustrated the kingdom’s power to infiltrate and transform society in His story of the women who mixed yeast into a lump of dough. He didn’t tell His disciples to leave it to the suitably qualified “professionals” to preach the gospel. He sent all His followers out to spread the good news everywhere that God’s way is the best way to live.

It’s by both life and lip that God’s kingdom comes alive in a community and brings it closer to God’s original idea of a family living together in “shalom” – harmony and wholeness.

Are you doing that?

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – YOU ARE THE ANSWER

CHAPTER TEN

YOU ARE THE ANSWER

“Later the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He intended to go. He gave them this charge: ‘What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.’

“‘On your way! But be careful – this is hazardous work. You’re like lambs in a wolf pack. Travel light; comb and toothbrush and no extra baggage. Don’t loiter and make small talk with everyone you meet along the way.'” Luke 10:1-4.

This sounds like a typical missionary prayer meeting, doesn’t it? But does God really sit around waiting for us ask Him to send missionaries out to the “mission field”? Why would Jesus send them ahead of Him and then promptly tell them to pray that God would send people out? Was it to boost the number of workers or was it some kind of preparation for their own hearts?

Who were these people that Jesus sent ahead of Him? Seventy people? Where did they come from and what connection did they have with Him? Since He was always thronged with people, there must have been those who regularly followed Him although they were not part of the inner group. He must have recognised them and got used to seeing their faces in the crowd. Perhaps He even spent time with them in the late afternoon after He had dismissed the crowd.

Whatever their relationship with Him, when He needed people to prepare the way for Him, they were there and they were available to do what He asked them to do. It was to them, not to His regular disciples that He gave these detailed instructions including to pray for reinforcements.

Since they were the answer to their own prayers, was this Jesus’ way of developing a mind-set in them which gave them a better understanding of what their role was to be in the kingdom of God? Although He had twelve men who were constantly with Him and who were His recognised disciples, it did not mean that others were excluded. It also did not mean that others were of less importance and value to Him than the Twelve.

The instructions He gave this wider group were almost the same as those He had given to the Twelve when He sent them out on their first preaching tour. By involving these people He was teaching them that He was not the head of an exclusive club. The kingdom of God belongs to anyone who is willing to come under His authority and do what He tells them; and so is the mandate to open the doors of God’s kingdom to whoever will receive it.

Jesus is encouraging us to realise that we don’t have to sit around waiting for a special invitation to be part of God’s kingdom or to invite others to come under His yoke. When we become the answer to our own prayers instead of sitting around waiting for someone else to respond, we have finally caught on to what is in God’s heart. It’s for everyone to participate in and for everyone to share.

Whether we stay at home or take the message to the ends of the earth is not the most important issue. What really matters is that we share the blessing of being in the kingdom of God by the way we live it out and by the way we speak about it in the most natural way possible. Wherever we are and wherever we go, there are people needing to hear about a life of freedom and joy under Jesus’ yoke.

The next important fact for these recruits was to know that they were only the forerunners wherever they went, preparing the way; Jesus would follow, revealing who He was to the people who had seen and heard His followers. We’re not in this alone. Jesus may no longer be here in person but His representative, the Holy Spirit is with us, in us and ahead of us to do the inner work of convincing those whose hearts are hungry, that Jesus is the Son of God.

So, let’s ask what we can do. Let’s be the answer to our own prayers, shall we?

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – JESUS TURNED TOUGH?

JESUS TURNED TOUGH?

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to them, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’

“He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

“Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord: but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'”  Luke 9:57-62 (NIV).

I have deliberately not used The Message for my Bible reference today because the paraphrase misses the impact of Jesus’ words. When you read this passage, does He not sound rather unsympathetic and off-handed? It is so out of character that we have to dig deeper into the meaning of what He said to the individuals who wanted to follow Him.

At face value and in response to the first man who wanted to follow Him, it seems that Jesus was trying to put him off because the life of a disciple meant a life of poverty and deprivation. What a horrible misrepresentation of God! Jesus was neither poor nor did He call those who follow him to a life of poverty. He wore the outer garment of a man of means and status – a seamless robe. Wealthy women supported Him and He would have received offerings from people who followed Him and valued His ministry.

Hebrew people did not always take the words of their rabbis literally. They would have asked the question, ‘What do foxes do in dens and birds do in nests?’ They don’t live in them; they reproduce in them. It was a rabbi’s intention that his followers reproduce him in the way they lived and what they taught — his yoke.

Jesus is the head of His body, the church, but the church had not yet come into being because He had not yet died and risen again, and the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers, the church was born and began to reproduce. Jesus was telling the man that he would have to wait until He, the head and the church, the body came together to become one so that He could begin reproducing Himself through people.

It is not clear why Jesus discouraged one and called another. Was it a test to gauge the sincerity and determination of each individual?

The second man had an excuse for not following Him immediately. It was not that his father’s funeral was imminent. A year after a body had been placed in a tomb the bones were removed and reburied in an ossuary, a box in which they were stored to make room in the tomb for another family member. This man was waiting to place his father’s bones in their permanent resting place, and that could be months away. He was putting off following Jesus indefinitely.

Jesus saw through his excuse and warned him not to waste his opportunity. Burying bones could be done at any time and by those who had no interest in following Him.

The third man had another kind of excuse. Going home to say goodbye to the family was not about giving each one a hurried kiss and then catching up with Jesus. It involved a long, drawn-out farewell, homesickness and regret and then trying to find Him when He has long since moved on.

Jesus is not interested in having people follow Him reluctantly with one eye on what they have left behind. He wants those who throw in their lot with him wholeheartedly without giving a thought to the family from whom they have walked away. Although family ties are precious and important, they must take second place behind our loyalty to Jesus because He calls us to participate in the life of a family far bigger and with a destiny more glorious than any earthly family.

Are you following with gladness or regret?