Monthly Archives: February 2020

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – DON’T GET BETWEEN THEM AND ME

DON’T GET BETWEEN THEM AND ME

“People brought babies to Jesus, hoping He might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they shooed them off. Jesus called them back. ‘Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.'” Luke 18:15-17.

There are so many things that Jesus said and did that startle us because they are so different from the way we think and from the culture of the people of His day.

This little interlude tells us a whole lot about the disciples, about Jesus and about little children.

Women and children occupied the lowest rungs in society and were treated accordingly. It was quite natural for the disciples to be offended by these mothers’ audacity to bring their children to Jesus for a fatherly blessing. Jesus was an important person in their culture – a rabbi with authority. It was surely their duty to protect Him from them and to screen those who took up His time.

The disciples were still very much part of their own culture. Although they had been with Jesus for some time, they had not yet absorbed His kingdom perspective. They thought like the rest of their people, and to them, children were a nuisance and in the way. Jesus had more important things to do than to be bothered with a bunch of kids!

But Jesus was always the perfect representative of His Father. He was first and foremost the Son of God. Not to accept and welcome children, no matter how insignificant they were in His society, was to betray the passionate love of the Father for all people, big and small. He was not only true to the character of the Father; He was true to Himself because He and the Father are one.

As always, Jesus’ vision was long-term. He saw the end from the beginning and recognised potential rather than actual. To Him, babies and little children were not snot-nosed brats to be tolerated but people with potential to fulfil the Father’s purpose for them; they were worshippers-in-the-making, and to get between them and Him in this early, formative part of their lives was to hinder God’s working in them. To Him, that was a far more serious issue than the immature behaviour of the little ones.

To Jesus, children were adults-in-formation, at the beginning of their journey towards fulfilling their purpose in God. Any adult attitude or behaviour which interfered with their natural disposition of trust, simplicity and helpless dependence on Him would put obstacles in their way which they would have to, and some might never, overcome. Both the circumstances of their lives and the way they were treated by those who influenced them in any way, would determine their understanding and belief about God.

Jesus’ attitude to all people, women and children included, was to recognise their place in the kingdom of God, and His treatment of them was always to remove whatever hindered them from taking their place in the kingdom, whether it be physical, emotional, intellectual, relational or any other issue that clouded their understanding of the Father’s love for them.

All children have two characteristics that need to be developed and can easily be squashed by their misunderstanding the circumstances of their lives and by those who are placed in their lives as mentors and guides — potential and helplessness. It is the role of parents to recognise and nurture potential and to train their children for responsible adulthood.

We raise our children to be independent, and that is good if we remember that it is important for them to become independent of us but not of God. The father’s primary role is to represent the Father by teaching their children obedience so that, as they grow up, they transfer their obedience from their earthly to heavenly Father.

Too many children are abused, harassed or neglected by their fathers so that they cannot wait to go out on their own and do their own thing. No wonder the world is full of messed-up adults who have no idea of who the Father really is, and who hate God so much that they do everything they can to defy the very conscience He put inside them as their basic guide in life.

The first step to healing our world is to acknowledge our ‘father’ issues, forgive those who have got between us and Jesus, and to go back to where Jesus is, receiving us as little children, recognising and cultivating the potential in us, and teaching us to rely on Him as closely as a baby at its mother’s breast.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – COMPLACENT OR REPENTANT?

COMPLACENT OR REPENTANT?

“He told His next story to those who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile, the tax man, slumped in the shadows, face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner,’  

“Jesus commented, ‘This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.'” Luke 18:9-14.

Since prayer is essentially the interaction between the Father and His child, it is easy to recognise that the Pharisee in Jesus’ story did not, for one moment, fit into the category of a son. His attitude and words were completely foreign to a Father/son relationship. No true son would talk to his father the way this man talked to God. He was not praying. He was preening and boasting. His prayer was an unashamed, ‘Look at me, God. See how good I am. Aren’t you proud of me?’

Did his ‘thank you’ express true gratitude? Not at all! It was his way of congratulating himself on being a self-made man. The rest of his ‘eulogy’ was a summary of his religious achievements – his so-called ‘tsidaqahs’, his acts of generosity, but they were done out of duty, to gather ‘brownie points’ and for self-congratulation, not from a generous and loving heart that gladly obeyed God’s directives.

Who was the measure of his achievements and his judgement of everyone else? He was, of course. He did not realise that, if you measure imperfection against imperfection, you get imperfection! Since his standard was based on his own performance and not on his attitude and character, he would naturally judge himself top of the list. What he did not understand was that he was using entirely the wrong measure.

The tax man was fully aware that his life fell far short of what God required of him. He was so broken by guilt and shame that he did not even have the courage to be seen. He hid in the shadows with his eyes downcast and his face in his hands. His prayer was, ‘Don’t look at me, God. If you do, you might wipe me out of your sight.’

Which of these two men were accepted by God, the Pharisee who was so proud of his achievements or the tax man who was so ashamed of what he had done? Strangely enough, it was the tax man whom Jesus commended, not the Pharisee. But why? Surely, what the tax man had been doing was abhorrent to God? Was he not robbing people to line his own pocket? Was he not a liar, a thief and a fraudster? How could God even listen to him, let alone accept him?

He was all of these things but he was also something else – honest and repentant. He saw himself in the light of who God is and was so broken up that he pleaded for forgiveness and threw himself on the mercy of God. This is the heart attitude that God hears and the foundation of a renewed relationship with God as Father. You see, every wayward person is actually a son who has strayed from the Father and for whom the Father waits to return.

The Pharisee saw no need and had no desire for forgiveness. He was completely satisfied with his own standards and performance. What God thought about him was irrelevant. He was not yet a returning prodigal. He was a self-satisfied, self-righteous elder brother who had no felt need to repent. “Religion is the most difficult disease to cure because it infects with such self-righteousness that no sense of need remains.”

As always, Jesus told this story for identification. Which of the two men are you?

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – PERSISTENT FAITH

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

PERSISTENT FAITH

“Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray constantly and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him. ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me.’ ….After this went on and on he said to himself,…’Because the widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice – otherwise I am going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’ 

“Then the Master said, ‘Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think that God won’t step in and work justice for His chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t He stick up for them? I assure you, He will. He will not drag His feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when He comes?'” Luke 18:1-8.

Another story that reveals the character of God by contrast! A godless judge is moved to action by a shamelessly persistent ‘nobody’ widow to get her off his back. It was not her need or his compassion that drove him to action but her nagging that got him going.

We must not think for a moment that God is like that. He is, first and foremost, a Father. Does a father hold out against his child until the child’s persistent nagging gets him down? Not if he is a loving and caring father but, however loving and caring an earthly father he may be, he can never match the love of God for His children.

So why does God sometimes seem deaf or unmoved by the cries of His children? If I had the answer, I would be the first person in Christendom to solve this mystery! I can only make a few suggestions from the evidence of Scripture as to why God’s answers don’t come when we expect them.

God is painting His picture on a very big canvas. We often tend to think that we are the only people in the universe. When our need arises, God must step in and do something when we call. But He is working out His purposes, not only in our lives but also across communities, nations and the world.

He heard the cries of His slave people in Egypt but He had to prepare a Moses and a national and international situation that would be the right time to deliver His people from slavery and take them into the Promised Land. With a new dynasty in Egypt, He changed their status from pampered and protected people to slaves so that they would groan under their oppression and long for freedom. Then God was ready to take them out.

God gave sons to aged and childless couples like Abraham and Sarah, Manoah and his wife and Zachariah and Elizabeth to fulfil His greater purposes for His nation and for the eventual coming of His Messiah. God weaves the answers to our prayers into a much bigger picture in some mysterious way that is beyond our comprehension.

Jesus spoke of ‘persistent faith’. These two words are almost interchangeable. Real faith is confidence in God that does not give up, even when things seem really bad. Once again, Abraham is a good example. What father would deliberately take his own son, that one who was born to him in his old age, and raise a knife to kill him on a sacrificial altar? Only a man, whose confidence in God was unshakeable, would do that because his faith was tried and tested.

A statement I heard in a teaching long ago has helped me to understand why God’s delays seem like unanswered prayer: “God will not answer your prayers until He has put all the structures in place to maintain that answer,”

Now that makes a whole lot of sense. If He were to jump to attention every time we call, He would leave a string of disasters behind because every answer to prayer needs a supporting structure so that God’s work in our lives is not wasted.

Imagine if God had given Abraham his son when he first began to pray, or if God had delivered Israel when they first began to cry out. Abraham would not have grown a faith so strong that he trusted God for his son’s life. There would not have been a Moses, raised in the palace and honed in the desert to lead His people out of slavery.

So what’s the point? God is saying, “Will you trust me, even though nothing seems to be happening? Although you can’t see it yet, I am working and, if you believe, you will see your place in my great big picture.” 

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – ONE TAKEN, THE OTHER LEFT

ONE TAKEN, THE OTHER LEFT

“‘On that Day, two men will be in the same boat fishing – one taken, the other left. Two women will be working in the same kitchen – one taken, the other left.

“Trying to take this all in, the disciples said, ‘Master, where?’

“He told them, ‘Watch for the circling of the vultures. They’ll spot the corpse first. The action will begin around my dead body.'” Luke 17:34-37.

The ‘left behind’ theory, that it will be the unbelievers who will be left behind to be destroyed with the earth by fire, has captured the imagination of Christian writers, producing a flood of novels and teachings that bring this theory to life for the reading public. It may be an interesting subject for a good story but is it true to Scripture?

There are two aspects to the teachings of Scripture that we must examine. Firstly, who will be ‘left behind’ and why? This is tied up with God’s intention for the earth and for the human race. Is it His intention to destroy the earth and start all over again?

God created the earth as a perfect dwelling place for man. His intention was that He would come and dwell with humans, blending heaven and earth together in a union of perfect love and harmony where men would rule the earth under God.

Man was put on probation to see whether he would worship and obey God because he loved Him. Man was lured away by the temptation to be his own boss and set up his own rules. This disrupted the unity between him and his Creator and resulted in the introduction of chaos on the earth.

This chaos and the wickedness of men increased until God had no option but to put an end to it. What did He do? He caused a flood which did not destroy the earth; it destroyed the entire wicked human race except for eight people who were kept alive in a boat, together with the animals that would reproduce and replenish the earth.

Why did God not just wipe out everything and start again? Because that was not His way. Because of who He is, He did not abandon His original purpose but set in motion a plan of redemption, when Adam rebelled against Him in the beginning, that would reveal to all of creation the greatness of His mercy and grace.

He rescued Noah and his family through the very waters that destroyed the rest of the human race. The ark that Noah built was the means of their salvation, sheltering them from the wrath of God as a picture of Jesus in whom we are sheltered from the wrath of God that will fall on disobedient mankind. God did not take Noah and his family out. They were ‘left behind’ when He took out all the wicked through the flood.

Secondly, how will the earth be ‘destroyed’? This is how Peter describes it: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:12b, 13 (NIV).

At face value, it seems as though Peter is talking about literal fire and literal destruction. However, we must understand this in the context of God’s power. God works by the power of His word. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.” Psalm 33:6 (NIV). His word is not only creative but destructive – “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” Jeremiah 23:29 (NIV).

We must also examine meaning of the word ‘elements’ – ‘the elements will melt in the heat.’ Paul uses the same word in his letter to the Galatians (4:9b) which is translated ‘weak and miserable principles’ and in Colossians 2:8 ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy’.

Both Peter and Paul are speaking of the godless philosophies by which people live rather than the truth which Jesus came to reveal.

When we put this together, it throws a different light on what has been written about the ‘end of the world’. When Jesus returns, He will purify the earth, by the power of His word, of all those who refused to submit to Him and believe the truth He came to bring. The earth will be purged of the corruption that came with Adam’s rebellion and will be renewed to its original perfection. God will make His dwelling with men in perfect unity and man will rule over the earth in obedience to Him.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – DON’T LOOK BACK

DON’T LOOK BACK

“‘When the Day arrives and you’re out working in the yard, don’t run into the house to get anything. And if you’re out in the field, don’t go back and get your coat. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get it on God’s terms.'” Luke 17:31-33.

Jesus issued a warning about “looking back”. ‘Don’t do it!’ He said, ‘because it has serious implications.’ Of course, here He is speaking both literally and figuratively, Literally, it would be as impossible to go back into the house for anything as trying to retrieve possessions from a house that had just been hit by a bomb. The implication is – don’t leave decisions regarding your eternal destiny to the last minute because there will be no ‘last minute’.

Secondly, in the life that awaits us after the present order of things has changed, there will be no need for coats and other precious possessions. Who will need identity documents, bank cards, investment policy numbers, digital and electronic equipment or any of the other things that are a vital part of our present lives? Everything that makes life easy in this present order of things will go up in a ball of fire.  The life that Jesus promised is life in a different dimension altogether.

‘Looking back’ has spiritual implications as well. The letter to the Hebrews addressed this problem to a group of Jewish believers who were tempted to abandon their faith in Jesus for their old way, to evade the persecution that threatened their lives. Jews were tolerated in the Roman Empire at that time, but not Christians, because they challenged the supremacy of Caesar. Going back might save their skins but not their souls.

The writer pointed out, firstly, that to go back was to abandon the truth that Jesus alone is supreme over angels and even over Moses who was the man they revered the most in their religious lives. Jesus was perfectly qualified to be both High Priest and sacrifice.

Secondly, to return to the types and shadows of Judaism was to exchange reality for rules and ritual and, by implication, to renounce the efficacy of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for animal blood that had no power to forgive sins. That would be a backward step from the spiritual reality of removal of sin forever by the blood of the Lamb to the promise only symbolised by animal sacrifices.

This is a serious reversal of status from the kingdom of God back to the dominion of darkness under the rule of Satan; from life back into death; from light to darkness; from freedom to slavery. It would be a considered decision that living in bondage to the devil and in the fear of death is better than being a beloved and treasured member of the family of God with all its blessings and privileges. Who, in their right mind, would make a choice like that?

And yet there are many who make that decision by default – what the book of Hebrews calls ‘neglecting so great salvation’. Neglect – doing nothing. When tough times come, instead of holding on to the promises of God in spite of suffering, as did the great heroes of the faith recorded in chapter 11, people ‘neglect’ to stay in the Word, to believe what God says rather than what circumstances say, to trust in God’s love and faithfulness and to wait patiently for His plans to be fulfilled. They look back to what they think is the security of being in charge of their own lives.

Some even foolishly look back to the ‘pleasures of sin’ which are both temporary and unfulfilling, and abandon life for the futility of pleasure that eventually leads to death.

In order to gain and experience the life of God which can never end, we must let go of this selfish, self-centred and self-controlled temporary existence and follow Jesus because He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, and He alone can take us the Father.