God shatters silence.
Luke begins his gospel at the very beginning—with the pre-story to the birth of the prophetic precursor to the Messiah, John the Baptist. The announcement came to John’s father, Zechariah, some four hundred years after the last promise of the Old Testament was given: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” (Mal 4:5-6)
Imagine that! Such a promise given and then . . . nothing. Silence. For four centuries.
Would we call that a pregnant pause, perhaps? Why the silence? Maybe it was God’s way of getting His people’s attention. In fact, isn’t that what He then does with Zechariah in this very story?
Before now, I always felt sort of sorry for Zechariah. I mean, he’s an old guy, and when he gets confronted by an other-worldly creature who tells him his wife is going to have a baby, his initial reaction is, Why should I believe you? Does that seem like an unreasonable response to anyone?
But then, Zechariah gets a bad rap for a lack of faith, and his being struck dumb (unable to speak) by the angel is often seen as a punishment for his unbelieving response. But I’m not sure that’s the best way to look at it. I don’t think Zechariah’s inability to speak was a punishment, but a blessing. It actually called more attention to what God was about to do in Israel.
That day, when Zechariah came out from the Holy Place, he was supposed to pronounce a blessing on the people who were gathered there to pray. But, “when he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.” (vs 22) Immediately, Zechariah’s inability to speak drew attention to the fact that something supernatural had happened.
I imagine his continued silence only heightened the suspense until, once again, God shattered it: “[Zechariah] asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.” (vs 63-66)
Would there have been as much “buzz” surrounding John the Baptist’s unusual birth if Zechariah hadn’t been rendered mute? Perhaps. However, there is a principle in music that I think applies just as much in prophecy: The rests are just as important as the notes. In other words, the intentional “silences” in music are as much a part of music as the melody and the harmony.
Maybe God also uses silence in that way—to create a kind of prophetic music. Perhaps the times of intentional silence (even four hundred years!) are just as important as the times when the prophecy comes or the vision is given.
Regardless, we can be sure that if and when God is silent, (1) it’s for a reason and (2) it won’t be for long. There’s a reason God is known as the Word. He is always shattering the silence.
God flies under the radar.
Thanks to Luke’s careful investigation and research, there are a lot of stories about Jesus in his gospel that aren’t found in any of the other three. This chapter contains one of those stories—a glimpse into the boy Jesus who had an interesting encounter with the “teachers of the law” when He was just twelve years old.
If there was any group of people in Israel that God was going to have a hard time reaching, it was the religious leaders—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the teachers of the law. This became increasingly evident during Jesus’ life, as the Pharisees especially kept trying to trick Him and trap Him and find ways to destroy His ministry.
I think God knew that He would encounter hardness in their hearts and, wanting to head it off at the pass, sent the boy Jesus into the temple on a covert mission (so to speak) when He was just a boy. After all, who could be threatened by a prepubescent kid? What educated adult would feel defensive in the presence of a child?
And, while those religious leaders had their guards down, Jesus slipped in under the radar and thrilled their hearts with the truth: “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (vs 46-47)
Before the religious leaders could put up their defensive walls, God flew in under the radar and tried to reach their hearts. Maybe some of them listened and remembered the experience later and believed in Jesus. For many, it seems that early experience didn’t sway their minds, but it didn’t stop God from doing everything He could to reach them.
That’s the thing. God knows the condition of our hearts, and He knows if we are able to “hear” truth from a pastor, a drunk on the street, or a kid. He knows how to reach us, and because of the way He loves us, He won’t let anything stand in the way of getting through to us. Before we have time to get our defenses up, He’ll slip in under the radar and pierce our hearts with the truth.
We may never even see Him coming.
God has a big family.
I really like how Luke presents the genealogy of Jesus in this chapter. He gets all the way down to the very end (or beginning, depending on how you want to look at it) and says, “. . . the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (vs 38) I love that Luke didn’t stop with Adam. That would have probably been the intuitive thing to do, but instead, he identifies God as the progenitor of the human race, and I think that signifies something important.
It may not be the most profound thing ever, but it’s important.
We are all descended from God. He is our Father. Not Adam, not Noah, not Abraham, not Moses. He is the very beginning—the root, the seed of the entire human family. We are all the sons and daughters of God.
I think it’s even more interesting that Luke writes this genealogy immediately after his account of the baptism of Jesus, in which the Father said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (vs 22) Yet right after this, it is Adam who is listed in the genealogy as “son of God,” not Jesus.
That’s a surprise.
But, to me, it says something wonderful about God. Actually, two things. First, it says that God has a big family. Every single one of us is a precious son or daughter of His, and He really loves us, just as a good earthly parent loves his children. God isn’t some distant, detached deity who doesn’t care. He cares more than we can imagine, because each of us is an irreplaceable, deeply loved child.
Second, it says that God was willing to put Himself on par with His human family. By becoming a human, Jesus completely identified Himself with us, and He has now carried humanity into the highest heaven. No longer are we separated from God; rather, there is a human being seated on the heavenly throne!
The Father called Jesus His son, and He also calls Adam His son, and He also calls you His son or daughter. That means, no matter how things look in your earthly family, no matter if you’re accepted or rejected, no matter if there’s not another human soul to whom you belong, you belong to God.
You are His precious child.
God's plans sometimes include suffering.
Suffering is always a difficult subject to broach. Nobody likes to suffer. Suffering feels bad, and that’s why we naturally assume that God and suffering are always at odds with one another. After all, we don’t believe God wants us to suffer. And we would probably assume that God Himself doesn’t want to suffer either.
Yet, even if we declare that suffering was never God’s “Plan A” for His creation, reading this chapter of Luke would seem to suggest that—in some circumstances—God’s plans include suffering. (Or, at the very least, we might say that if God is not the one who engineers this suffering, He is willing to use the suffering that He knows will come instead of thwarting it or helping us avoid it.)
Let’s look at the passage in question: “The devil led [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (vs 5-7)
This is a very interesting offer, and one we shouldn’t “read over” too quickly. After all, Jesus came to, among other things, regain control of the world and its kingdoms. Incidentally, He accomplished His mission. Revelation declares, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)
But, before His ministry even got started, Satan tempted Jesus to “regain” those kingdoms in a different way than God had planned. You see, Christ knew all along that the road He was to travel would include intense suffering. In talking with His disciples on the road to Emmaus, He said, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:25-26)
In God’s plan to redeem the world, the glory would only come after the suffering. Satan tried to convince Christ that He could have the glory without enduring the suffering, but Jesus saw right through his lies. Later, the Apostle Paul acknowledged that Christ’s authority came as a direct result of His suffering: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil 2:8-10)
For Christ (and His followers), there is no glory without suffering. Yet more than two thousand years later, Satan is still offering the same temptation to us. He is still tempting us to believe that we can experience glory without suffering. He is still offering us ways out of suffering. None of them work, mind you. Satan is still as much of a liar as he always was, but that doesn’t stop us from believing him.
God’s plans sometimes include suffering. And there is nothing wrong with wishing we weren’t going to suffer or in wanting suffering to end. Jesus Himself prayed this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)
In other words, Jesus didn’t want to go through the suffering He faced if He didn’t have to, yet He was willing to surrender His will to the Father’s. And, at the end of the day, the cup of suffering was not removed. And for those of us who claim to want to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus, we must conclude that God’s plans for us will sometimes include suffering—just as they did for Jesus.
So the next time you’re contemplating a way out of your suffering, take a moment to consider who’s making you the offer. What sounds so good might actually be a dead end. And that suffering you want to avoid may just be the road to glory that God has planned for you all along.
God thinks big.
As I read through the Gospels, I am struck over and over again at how small our thinking is. It’s easy to read the stories and wonder how the disciples could miss so much, but I’m sure if I was in their shoes, I would probably have been just as clueless.
The story in today’s chapter had an almost comical overtone: “When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” (vs 4-7)
First the nets began to break. Then the boats began to sink! They had caught so much, the fish were literally going to swamp the fishermen. I just thought that was funny. Jesus could have given them a “good” catch, even a “great” catch. Instead, He gave them a catch so huge, it put their boats in jeopardy.
I also think it’s interesting that Luke provides the detail that this huge catch of fish came on the heels of an all-night fail. Peter and the others had been up all night, working hard to try to make a living. They were undoubtedly exhausted and, I’m sure, frustrated that all their efforts had yielded nothing.
Then Jesus comes along and, bammo!, they have more fish than they can handle.
That certainly impressed them all—enough for them to drop their nets and follow Jesus. But how often, over the course of the next three years, did they think about that day? How often were they able to ditch their own small-minded thinking and tap into the supernatural thinking of Jesus?
Probably about as often as I do! After all, God is still thinking big, and often, I am not. Okay, not often, all the time. I’m quite certain that even while I agree that I want God’s will to be accomplished in my life, I often still expect God to do that in a natural way, not a supernatural way. I still think small. I still expect small.
But if the life of Jesus teaches us anything, it should be that we can and should expect big things from God! He never works in a small way, but always in some big, outrageous way. He always does things unexpectedly. He is never predictable.
God thinks big, and that means He has much, much bigger plans for your life than you can even fathom right now. While you are imagining things on a “good” scale, He is seeing them on a “grand” scale! While you are hoping for a “reasonable” catch, He is planning broken nets and swamped boats.
His thoughts are big, His plans are supernatural, and that means He can turn things around for you in an instant.
God loves people who hate Him.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus had a lot of followers. We usually just think about the people He personally “called” as those who were His disciples, but there were actually a lot more than that. You might remember that, later in His ministry, Jesus sent out seventy disciples to preach the gospel.
That’s what made this passage from today’s chapter interesting: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (vs 12-16)
This makes it clear that Jesus Himself chose His inner circle of apostles from among the large group of disciples who were following Him. And He did it after a night of consultation with the Father.
This is significant for two reasons. First, because the Greek word for apostle means “ambassador.” This wasn’t just another word for “disciple,” or “follower.” An apostle was someone who acted as a representative for another, someone who “speaks for” the one who sent them. It meant going from being a student to being a spokesperson. Second, Jesus picked a traitor to be in His inner circle, and He knew it. He voluntarily pulled Judas in, bestowing upon him the privilege of being an apostle, bringing him as close as he could get.
Do we need any more evidence that God loves people who hate Him? Now, to be fair, I’m sure Judas wasn’t harboring conscious feelings of hatred toward Jesus during the three years he spent with Him, but he was obviously nursing a hardness of heart that he was unwilling to let go of. He was not, or he did not remain, fully committed to Jesus, and that’s why he ended up betraying Christ.
Jesus knew about all of this ahead of time, yet He welcomed Judas into His inner circle of friends with open arms. The fact that Judas would betray Him didn’t make Him push Judas away. That fact that Judas would not remain faithful to Him didn’t make Him expel Judas from the group. He treated Judas with the same dignity and respect as Peter, James, and John—the three who later became the closest to Him.
God loves people who hate Him just as much as He loves people who love Him. That’s why He could say, just a few verses later, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” (vs 32-33)
Jesus challenged us to this standard of love because it is the very standard He set by example. God loves those who hate Him, and He does good to those who plan to do evil to Him, and He calls us to do the same: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (vs 35)
God doesn't demand honor.
During His years in the public spotlight, Jesus was always being slighted—especially by the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, their response to Him went from indifference to irritation to open hostility. Luke records one such example in today’s chapter.
Jesus was invited to dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house. He accepted the invitation and went to dine. While there, a woman of scandalous reputation made an emotional display of anointing His feet with perfume. Simon was annoyed with the woman and, in his thoughts, dismissed Jesus as a prophet since He apparently “didn’t know” the sinful reputation of the woman who was touching Him.
In response, Jesus said, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (vs 44-47)
Ouch. Not only does Jesus defend the woman for what she has done, but He exposes Simon’s own lack of courtesy. In Jesus’ day, any host who invited guests to his house would greet them with a kiss, provide water to wash their feet, and even anoint them with oil as a sign of respect.
Simon had done none of that for Jesus, proving that he looked down on Jesus. In addition, Jesus revealed that Simon’s lack of love was an indication that he had not received God’s forgiveness. He likely didn’t even think he needed God’s forgiveness.
What struck me about all of this was that Jesus had accepted the invitation to dinner and was already reclining at the table without complaint when this event occurred. Jesus had already been slighted, insulted, and ignored by His host before the woman showed up, and He hadn’t said a word about it. Jesus didn’t demand to be treated like royalty when He came to Simon’s house. He didn’t even demand to be treated with common courtesy.
But that’s just like God. He doesn’t demand honor or respect. Although He is the Almighty Creator, He doesn’t force us to treat Him in a certain way. He endures neglect, hostility, and abuse without retaliation, while always building up and encouraging the humble in heart.
How can you not love a God like this?
He doesn’t demand honor for Himself, but He’ll readily defend ours when it is called into question.
God will reveal Himself to you.
I have a number of atheist friends whom I enjoy discussing life with from time to time. All of them know that I believe in God—not just that He exists, but that He is a deeply personal God who is interested in having a relationship with us. More than one of my atheist friends has disclosed that the reason they don’t believe in God is because they’ve never encountered Him or seen any real evidence that He exists. And I believe them. But I always tell them that if God exists and if He is as He is portrayed in the pages of Scripture, they will one day encounter Him because He will, in some way, reveal Himself to them.
This very concept struck me in an odd way in the middle of this chapter of Luke. I found a surprise in these verses: “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (vs 16-18)
As I was reading these verses, I came to the part about how everything that is hidden will be disclosed and brought out into the open. And then, the next sentence caught me off guard. I was expecting to read: Therefore consider carefully how you talk. Instead, I read: Therefore consider carefully how you listen.
At first, that made no sense to me. But as I went back and read it again in the context of what Jesus had been discussing immediately prior—the word of God being scattered like seed—it made perfect sense. Jesus wasn’t trying to warn His disciples that everything they say and do was going to be revealed someday. Instead, He was promising them that He Himself was going to be fully revealed to them someday. And, as with any personal revelation, that happens over a period of time in the course of a relationship.
This is how we are saved. It is not about saying the right things or even doing the right things. It’s about knowing the right Person. And that knowing comes by listening and hearing and responding.
So, consider carefully how you listen, because if God exists and if He is as He is portrayed in the pages of Scripture, He will reveal Himself to you. He knows you intimately, and He wants you to know Him just as fully. He wants to have a relationship with you—the kind you can’t have with anybody else on the face of the earth, because there is nobody on the face of the earth who is as accepting, patient, and loyal as He is.
Jesus was right when He said that no one lights a lamp and hides it, and God doesn’t do that either. If He is the Light of the World, then His light is headed for you. Consider that revelation carefully, and (if I may offer a word of advice), respond to it. You’ll never know a better, more satisfying relationship in this life.
God doesn't believe in evolution.
And by evolution, I’m not talking about adaptation. If there’s anything we know, it’s that human beings were created to grow, change, and “evolve.” Some of us are hardly the same from moment to moment! But what about evolution as a method of creating? I know lots of people who espouse the concept of theistic evolution (that there is a God, but that He chose to create the world through the process of evolution). Is that possible?
I don’t believe so, and today’s chapter from Luke tells us why: “Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’” (vs 23-25)
This seems to be a cornerstone principle of God’s kingdom, for Jesus talks about it in many more places than one: Self-sacrifice is the key to life in the kingdom of God. Jesus Himself demonstrated this by humbling Himself to come to earth. He didn’t consider His exalted position as something to be used to His advantage, but something to be used for our advantage. This is what it means to love, and love is the foundation of life as God created it.
So, where does that leave the theory of evolution? If those who try to save their life will end up losing it, then that pretty much puts the principle of survival of the fittest at odds with the kingdom of God. Survival of the fittest is based on the concept of selfishness, but Jesus said those who want to be part of God’s kingdom must practice selflessness. If that’s the case, we can conclude one of two things: (1) Either God is a schizophrenic or a hypocrite who says one thing but does another, or (2) Theistic evolution is a lie.
You know which conclusion I’ve come to!
How about you?
God rejoices in the truth.
Part of our sinful nature involves an unhealthy obsession with power. We see examples of it everywhere in our world: People getting into positions of power (either by accident or design) and then being corrupted by that power. Yet, we still seek it. And we worship it.
I think it’s safe to say that power is one of the most-worshiped attributes of God. In fact, someone recently told me that they were having a conversation with a friend and asked him why he went to church on Sunday instead of Saturday (which most people agree is the Biblical Sabbath). The man responded that he would rather worship on the day that commemorated God’s power over death than the day that commemorated His surrender to death.
Interesting. Even when we consider God, we are awed by His power.
That made this passage in today’s chapter curious to me: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” (vs 17-20)
I found that fascinating. Jesus didn’t want His disciples to rejoice in their power, not even in the power they had through Him. Rather, He wanted them to rejoice in the truth—the truth that had drawn them to be part of the kingdom of God.
God is all-powerful, to be sure, but I don’t believe He wants us to make that the subject of our worship of Him. Instead of omnipotent, He has chosen to characterize Himself primarily as love. And in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter” in the Bible, do you know how many times power is mentioned? Not once. That’s because love’s true power is in its submission and its willingness to serve others.
So, as Easter approaches once again, maybe God would have us dwell more on His humiliation, His surrender, and His suffering than on His victory. Maybe He would have us dwell on Friday afternoon rather than Sunday morning. For Calvary was all about revealing the truth that would set us free, and that’s why God rejoices in the truth.
God wants to fill you.
There is an interesting life principle illuminated in this chapter of Luke: We weren’t meant to be empty vessels. We weren’t created to be neutral. And, in fact, in the spiritual war raging in the universe, it’s impossible to stay neutral. In the end, we will be filled with something. It will either be the Truth or it will be a Lie.
Here’s how Jesus put it: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (vs 24-26)
This story obviously depicts the spiritual struggle which occurs, at some point, in the life of every person. For none of us start out neutral. We have all been born with a corrupted nature, with all its inherent tendencies to sin and selfishness. But, somewhere along the line, we encounter God and understand that we can be set free from that. We may even make a “clean sweep” and have a fresh start.
But you’ll notice from the story that God doesn’t just move in and take over like the impure spirits do. When the demons return, Jesus said they just “go in and live there.” But God isn’t that way. He comes to us, frees us from our sin, and then really leaves us free to decide whether we want to invite Him in or not. If we don’t, He won’t become a squatter.
But we’re mistaken if we think we can stay empty, or neutral. We were created to be filled by God, and if we refuse to let Him fill us, we will be filled by something else—only it won’t be anything that is beneficial for us. And because God loves us so much, He wants to be the One to fill us, because only He can provide the very best for us.
That’s why I think Jesus responded as He did to the woman who piped up next: “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” (vs 27-28)
This was a standard Jewish blessing, conferring honor on the family of the one who was speaking. But I think Jesus used the occasion as an opportunity to distinguish between being born and being born again. Everyone is born. There really is no great blessing in that. But not everyone is born again, and certainly in the story that Jesus told of the impure spirits, it is the one who is born again who is truly blessed, as he escapes being used and abused by the demons.
God wants you to be blessed, and that’s why He wants to be the One to fill you up. So don’t think you can remain neutral in this spiritual battle between good and evil. You will be filled; it’s just a question of by whom.
No matter how much we love God, it is still difficult not to “live for this world.” The cares of everyday life are relentless and, especially in the Western world where opportunity is abundant, the urge to “make a nice life” for ourselves is nearly irresistible. We value education because it helps us get good jobs so we can afford nice things for our children and, in turn, give them a “better” life than we had.
At the beginning of this chapter in Luke, Jesus was speaking about committing oneself fully to God when a man from within the crowd interrupted Him: “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” (vs 13)
In response, Jesus launched off on a speech about this life: “Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me as a judge between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” (vs 14-15)
What I found interesting in Jesus’ extended reply was that He doesn’t appear to direct His warning only at rich people. I mean, we might think that only the rich are greedy and in danger of missing out on heaven, but Jesus identified two different attitudes that can lead us to ignore God as the one who provides: The greed of the rich and the worry of the poor.
In the Parable of the Rich Fool (vs 16-21), Jesus described how abundant wealth can lead people to falsely assume that they are autonomous, that they don’t need anything from anyone else. Wealth can easily lead to feelings of self-sufficiency, and in that condition, it becomes easy to ignore or reject God. But the parable ends with the death of the rich fool—which is the very same end we all come to. No matter how much money you have in your bank account, you can’t buy life! You are still dependent on someone greater than yourself for your very existence.
That’s the same message Jesus went on to give to those who didn’t have the kind of material wealth that made day-to-day life easy. His challenge to them? “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” (vs 22) You see, it is not only the wealthy who ignore God as their provider. Often, the poor are in danger of doing the very same thing! If they are as fixated on what they don’t have as the rich are on what they do have, both are in the same unfortunate boat.
The God who knows the smallest, most insignificant details about you (vs 7) knows just what you need and just how to provide it for you. And He promises that, as we make His kingdom our first priority, He will take care of everything we truly need. It may not be the things we think we want, and it may not be in the time we think is best, but He has promised that He knows what is best.
So at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you’re rich and struggling with greed or if you’re poor and struggling with worry. Both are obstacles to the choice to surrender to God as our only provider. He has promised to take care of everything we need, and that only leaves one question:
Are you going to trust Him?
God is a liberator.
This chapter contains my favorite story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, because in His ensuing conversation with the enraged Pharisees, I believe Jesus illuminates a key reason why God gave us the Sabbath in the first place: He is totally committed to freedom.
Here’s the story:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (vs 10-16)
From the very beginning, the Sabbath has always been about freedom. Instituted at the end of Creation week, the Sabbath was the revelation that the omnipotent Creator was interested in more than simply wielding His own power.
Let me say more about that.
The Bible reveals that God wasn’t alone during Creation week. Job 38:7 says that the “morning stars (angels) sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy” as the world was fashioned by the word of God. God had a heavenly audience during those first six days of creation, and what a show He put on for them! Can you imagine watching someone speak entire ecosystems into existence?
The first six days of creation were nothing short of a display of almighty power—omnipotence—topped off by the creation of walking, talking, breathing human beings. After Creation week, there could be no doubt that God was (and is) the most powerful being in the entire universe.
And then came the Sabbath. It’s the very first thing God gave to Adam and Eve—a perpetual gift of rest, and a day to reflect on their Creator and the relationship He wanted to have with them. This required that the omnipotent Creator set aside His omnipotence.
Have you ever thought about that? If God wants to have a love relationship with His creatures, He cannot also be omnipotent in that relationship because love requires freedom, and when a person is truly free to accept or reject God, then God may not always get what He wants. (And that would be the opposite of omnipotence.)
The Sabbath is the perpetual reminder that our freedom is more important to God than His omnipotence. He demonstrated that when He first gave us the Sabbath. He demonstrated it again when He freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He demonstrated it again when He healed this poor woman of her debilitating condition. And He demonstrated it again when, at the opening of the Sabbath day, He gave up His life on a cross.
God is a liberator. He has given us a weekly reminder that He wants to free us from whatever enslaves us—no matter what it is. Think about that this Sabbath; instead of trying to figure out how you’re going to free yourself, set up a meeting with the Liberator.
How long has it been since you expected Him to deliver you?
God needs dead people.
This has to be the most bizarre blog title I’ve ever written, so I hope you’re going to read on and give me a chance to explain myself! But I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to write a brief commentary on one of the most extreme things Jesus ever said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (vs 26-27)
So, these words probably aren’t new to you. We’ve heard them before, and I think we tend to read them without much thought. Okay, so Jesus says that we have to hate our own life to be His disciple. That’s just another way of saying we need to care more about others, right? Is that really so radical?
But think about that last statement for a moment: Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Stop to think for just a moment about a person in that day who was carrying a cross. There was only one reason they would do that—if they were on their way to being executed. A person who was carrying his cross was hours away from death. Their life was over.
A person who was carrying his cross knew exactly what to expect at the end of the road. He had no illusions of a long, happy life. He had no dreams of a comfortable house and a warm bed. In fact, the next time he went to sleep, he knew it would be for a long time. Except for his remaining, burdened steps and the hours of tortured breathing, he was already dead.
Is it possible that, in order to be God’s disciples, we must live like we’re already dead? Is it possible that so many of the cares and worries and sorrows of this life bombard us because they are built on false expectations? Nobody on death row expects a trip to Disney World. So if we’re surprised by the suffering we encounter, maybe it’s because we haven’t actually picked up the cross yet. We still think we’ve got something (other than God) to live for.
If this all sounds like too much doom and gloom for you, let me share something written by Nando Parrado, one of the famous Uruguayan men who climbed out of the Andes mountains after surviving a plane crash with some of his friends. In his book, Miracle in the Andes, he recounts the moment they climbed to the top of the first mountain and saw . . . nothing but more mountains:
I don’t know how long I stood there, staring. A minute. Maybe two. I stood motionless until I felt a burning pressure in my lungs, and realized I had forgotten to breathe. I sucked air. My legs went rubbery and I fell to the ground. I cursed God and raged at the mountains. The truth was before me: for all my striving, all my hopes, all my promises to myself and my father, it would end like this. We would all die in these mountains. . .
In that moment all my dreams, assumptions, and expectations of life evaporated into the thin Andean air. I had always thought that life was the actual thing, the natural thing, and that death was simply the end of living. Now, in this lifeless place, I saw with a terrible clarity that death was the constant, death was the base, and life was only a short, fragile dream. I was dead already. I had been born dead, and what I thought was my life was just a game death let me play as it waited to take me.
In my despair, I felt a sharp and sudden longing for the softness of my mother and my sister, and the warm, strong embrace of my father. My love for my father swelled in my heart, and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. . . For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted, and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the god-forsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell I would die that much closer to my father.
It was because of that realization—that he was “dead already”—that Nando and his friend did the impossible. With no climbing gear, virtually no food, and not even proper winter clothing, they scrambled hand and foot over dizzyingly-high mountains and somehow made their way to civilization.
Because they had resigned themselves to the fact that their lives were already over, they did what no person who was “concerned about saving their life” could ever have done. Because they were “dead men walking,” they were able to accomplish the unthinkable.
I think God needs dead people. I’m part of an online group that discusses religious issues, and one of the questions I hear frequently is, What is God waiting for? When will all of this suffering be over? I’ll tell you, I think God is waiting for dead people. He is waiting for people who are ready to live like they’ve got nothing to lose. He is waiting for people who consider themselves dead already and who are ready to do nothing more than to walk as long and as far as they can, counting it joy to die just one step closer to their Father.
Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Have you ever really picked up your cross to follow Christ? Or do you have too much to live for? The only ones who can climb the mountains are the ones who believe they’re already dead. The only ones who can follow Christ into the realm of the impossible are the ones who have nothing to lose.
That’s why God needs dead people.
God values people.
Of all the chapters in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15 must be the most famous. Certainly, it contains one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told—the Parable of the Lost Son. I have heard many sermons on that parable, as well as many sermons on the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. But I think there is something to be gained by putting them all together in context.
You see, I’ve often heard pastors draw a parallel between God and the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep and a parallel between God and the woman in the Parable of the Lost Coin. And, to be sure, Jesus draws a parallel between the level of rejoicing in heaven and on earth . . . but beyond that, I’m not sure Jesus meant the first two parables in this chapter to be complimentary.
When you read the text of the Parable of the Lost Sheep carefully, I “hear” a little something different than what is typically preached: “Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”‘” (vs 3-6)
If you know anything about sheep, you’ll realize right off the bat that a shepherd who would leave 99 sheep in open country by themselves is a total idiot. Sheep are pretty stupid. They’re known for wandering off and getting into trouble, plus they are easy prey for predatory animals. For the shepherd to leave the rest of his flock out in the open is for him to risk losing the rest of his flock to go find the one that is lost.
From a financial standpoint, that would be just about the dumbest thing you could do.
Not to mention that when the shepherd comes home and calls his friends and neighbors together, Jesus would be referring to the cultural expectation of throwing a party. Which means providing a meal. Which probably means killing the very sheep you’ve just found in order to be able to serve it to your friends who are rejoicing with you that you’ve found it.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yet this is how Jesus describes the “logic” of the Pharisees. They were so blinded by their obsession with money that they would do the dumbest things in pursuit of it.
And the same is true with the second parable about the woman and the coin. The woman is distraught over losing one coin (worth about a day’s wages), and when she finds it, she’s so glad . . . that she calls her friends over to celebrate. Again, the connotation is that she’ll spend the coin she’s searched so hard for in order to have a party with her friends.
Not too smart.
However, in both cases, Jesus says that the amount of rejoicing in heaven over people is the greater than the rejoicing in the minds of the Pharisees over money. The Pharisees might have placed a greater value on money than they did on people, but Jesus wanted them to know that God values people.
And that’s why He told the third parable—the one that would certainly have enraged the Pharisees by violating every social taboo of the day. For instance, a son who would basically tell his father, “I wish you were dead,” in order to get his inheritance not only would not have received his inheritance, but he would most likely have been disowned. The father in the story acted in a scandalous manner by (1) taking the son back as a son, (2) throwing a party for him, and (3) giving him unfettered access once again to the family fortune!
There is no doubt that, by the end of the story, the Pharisees would have been feeling like the elder brother in the story: “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (vs 28-30)
In fact, isn’t that the very attitude that touched of these stories in the first place? “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (vs 1-2)
We get so concerned about lost and found things, but God values people, and when they have been lost and found, there is more rejoicing in heaven than we can begin to feel over any thing we own. And that’s why I don’t really think God is like the shepherd in the first parable, because all His sheep are important to Him. He wouldn’t put 99 in jeopardy to go off in search of one. He wants all His children to be safe.
God is a genius.
In this chapter, we glimpse the genius of God. There’s simply no other way to say it. God is a genius—both in how He knows us and in how He communicates with us. And the Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (vs 19-31) has to be the prime example of that.
Right before Jesus told this story, He had finished a series of four parables that ended with the Pharisees openly mocking Him. He had plainly said that a person cannot love both God and money, but the Pharisees—who were all about money and self-righteousness—could not bring themselves to submit to Jesus’ teaching. So they sneered at Him instead.
And then Jesus told this story that was designed to warn them about the perilous position they were placing themselves in. For in this story, Jesus said that a person could become so hardened, so calloused to the truth, that they would not believe, even if they witnessed an absolute miracle—like a resurrection: “He said to them, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (vs 31)
That, if true, is a shocking statement. Can you imagine not being moved by a resurrection? But that’s what Jesus was saying to them. In essence, He said, “You Pharisees are so hardened in your hearts that even if a dude named Lazarus crawled out of a tomb, you still wouldn’t repent and believe.”
Now here’s the really interesting thing. Do you know what happened right after Jesus told this story? He went to Bethany and called some dude named Lazarus out of a tomb. That’s right. This story was no coincidence. Nearly all of the chronological settings of the Four Gospels place the resurrection of Lazarus immediately following these teachings to the Pharisees.
Naming Lazarus in this parable was no accident. Jesus was trying to give the Pharisees a chance to understand just how hard they had made their hearts. How incredible is that? And how incredible is it that Jesus diagnosed their hearts correctly?! He knew them through and through. And as unbelievable as it seems to us, He knew they were going to reject Lazarus’ resurrection from the grave.
It really is hard to believe just how much the Pharisees were determined not to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Think about what an extreme example this was. What if I predicted that someone was going to blow up the White House today and that they would find a secret tunnel to the middle of the earth underneath it? You’d think I was nuts. But then, what if that exact thing happened? You might at least stop to think about it, right?
But it seems the Pharisees and the chief priests didn’t stop to think twice—even after they saw someone raised from the dead! John recorded the reaction of the Sanhedrin to Lazarus’ resurrection in his gospel: “‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’” (Jn 11:47-50)
Take note of Caiaphas. He was the high priest of Israel that year. As such, he was directly responsible for the spiritual feeding of the nation. He was looked upon as the person who spoke for God.
Do you think there could be any connection between the rich man from the story and Caiaphas? Well, in the story Jesus told, we learned that the rich man dressed in purple and fine linen. We learned that he had a father and five brothers. Now, Caiaphas as the high priest was required to dress . . . in purple and fine linen. And, according to the historical record, Caiaphas had . . . a father—whose name was Annas—and five brothers!
You see, “the rich man” didn’t get a name in the parable because he didn’t need a name. The Pharisees (and everybody else who was listening) knew exactly who Jesus was talking about. And this story became a direct attack on the self-righteousness and spiritually-empty religious system of the Jews—a story that would have, no doubt, totally infuriated the Pharisees, the chief priests, and Caiaphas himself.
And it was because their pride had been so offended by Jesus that they would not bring themselves to accept Him. His conduct, His teaching, His kingdom was a direct assault on their whole way of life. They had set themselves up as the arbiters of God’s grace and mercy, but instead of acting like God, instead of manifesting His character of love and generosity, they were using their position only to enrich themselves. They were exploiting the spiritual needs of the people for material gain.
And in the end, even a resurrected Lazarus wouldn’t convince them to repent—just as Jesus predicted in His story. John went on to write that “a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” (Jn 12:9-11)
And who were the chief priests? Caiaphas, his father, and his five brothers. Not only did they not accept Jesus based on the resurrection of Lazarus, but they were planning to kill them both, in an attempt to get rid of the threat to their way of life.
You see, while the physical setting of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus was taken from a popular Jewish myth, the great, fixed chasm is a reality. And God wants us to know that just as He was trying to warn the Pharisees of that: “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (vs 26)
What Jesus was trying to describe here was the separation between those who believe and those who don’t, between those who have accepted God and those who haven’t. The fixed chasm isn’t physical. It’s spiritual. By their persistent rejection and unbelief, the Pharisees and the chief priests were putting themselves in a position where they would be fixed. They would end up in a place where God couldn’t do anything more to reach them. Nobody would be able to cross over to them because such efforts wouldn’t matter to them. Even if somebody came back from the dead, they would be unwilling to listen!
So, if we are lost, it isn’t because God has put a fixed chasm in place that will keep us out of heaven. It isn’t because He hasn’t done everything possible to convince us that we’re wrong. If we’re lost, it’s because we have fixed ourselves so stubbornly in our pride that we will refuse to turn back.
We are the ones who make the choice to fix the chasm, but it doesn’t get easily ensconced. All along the way, God keeps coming to us, warning us, pleading with us to turn around. He knows all about our prejudices. He knows how to come to us and communicate with us in a way that will wake us up, get our attention, and help us listen. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is an epic example of that.
God is a genius, and He will use that genius on our behalf. He will give us all the evidence we need. He will do everything He can to help us turn from our deadly ways and embrace life. Even if it means bringing someone back from the dead.
Would you be moved by a resurrection?
God will give you what you want.
Really, He will.
At the end of this chapter, Jesus was instructing His disciples about the time when He would come back again. And, for many, it seems His coming will be a total surprise: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” (vs 26-30)
But, as Jesus continued, He revealed that not everyone will be surprised. Some people will be ready to meet Him: “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” (vs 34-35)
What is the difference between these two groups? I think it’s an outworking of the principle Jesus laid out a little earlier: “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Lk 12:33-34)
God lets us decide where we will store up treasure. Unfortunately, some people will choose to make the temporary things of this world their treasures. And if that’s what we choose, God will let us have and hold those treasures for as long as they will last.
But those who choose to make the permanent things of heaven their treasures will also get what they want. The difference is, the things of God never wear out and are never destroyed. Therefore, those who store up treasure in heaven will enjoy it forever, without end.
In either case, the awesome reality is that God really will give you what you want. Of course, He wants you to store up your treasure in heaven (because that’s where He wants you to be!), but if your heart is set on the disappearing treasures of this world, He will let you enjoy them for as long as you can.
In the end, just like the folks in the days of Noah and Lot, you get to make your own choice. God won’t force you to choose His way. He will give you what you want.
God hears you.
There’s an interesting story in Luke 18, and I’ve always been more than a little curious about how I usually hear it applied. It’s the story of the “unjust” judge and the persistent widow who just wouldn’t leave him alone:
In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (vs 2-8)
When I have heard this parable “interpreted,” the usual application is something about how we should keep “pounding” on God’s door with our prayers so that, like the unjust judge, we will finally convince Him to listen to us. And, of course, the implication there is that He wouldn’t have listened to us in the first place.
But that’s not what Jesus is saying at all. In fact, quite the opposite. He’s not drawing a parallel between the unjust judge and God, but a contrast. In essence, He’s saying, “Even the most unjust judge—who doesn’t care one whit about justice or what’s right and wrong—will eventually listen if he’s hounded enough. How much more, then, will God—who calls you His ‘chosen ones’—listen to you and make sure you receive justice!”
We never have to wonder if God is listening or not. He always hears us. In fact, in Isaiah 65, God said that He hears us before we call to Him. He is always attentive to us.
Praying is not about getting God to do something for us that He otherwise wouldn’t care about doing. Praying is opening up our heart to share our concerns with God—talking to Him just as we would talk to a good and trusted friend. We pray, not in order to get God to love us, but because He loves us.
And because He loves us, He hears.
God rewards those who seek Him.
Ah, the story of Zacchaeus. Probably most famous because of the children’s song, it’s that lovely story of the short, little tax man who climbed a tree to see Jesus . . . and came down with a dinner date.
But as I read the story again today, I was struck by this wording: “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” (vs 1-6)
This little man was a cheater, and he had gotten wealthy through dishonest means, but deep down in his heart, he wanted to know Jesus. I’m sure he never dreamed he would get a face-to-face meeting; he was content to just get a glimpse of Him as He passed by.
And I think it says something so wonderful about God that, knowing the desires of Zacchaeus’ heart, He singled him out for a lunch date. Zacchaeus might have settled for a passing glimpse, but God always rewards those who seek Him with more than what they’re willing to settle for! He is eager for us to know Him as He knows us.
So, the next time you’re feeling like you just want to catch a glimpse of God, expect more. God doesn’t just want to have a “passing” relationship with you; He wants to have some serious conversations, some one-on-one time, a good heart-to-heart.
He’s not afraid to invite Himself over to your place either, so be ready. When our heart is open to receiving Him, He will certainly reward us with more than we could hope for. Imagine a lunch date with the Creator!
God says what will benefit us.
There was a lot of confrontation going on in this chapter: Jesus confronting the religious leaders, and vice versa. And, to me, it was very interesting to notice the answers that were given to the questions being asked. I think it provides an illuminating opportunity to learn something awesome about God.
First, when the religious leaders confronted Jesus about His authority to say the things He was saying, He countered with a question of His own. Notice the reasoning of the religious leaders:
[Jesus] replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ’Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” (vs 3-7)
What a bunch of cowards! Actually, these guys remind me of most modern-day politicians, who never answer a question or take a position on an issue without first conducting a poll. Don’t you sometimes wish more people would have the guts to say what they actually think without worrying about who they will offend?
That would mean there would be more people like Jesus, for that’s precisely what He did in this chapter. Jesus went on to tell the people the Parable of the Tenants (which didn’t end so well for the tenants). The people were shocked at the ending of the story, and “Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘”The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’”?Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’” (vs 17-18)
And the response of the religious leaders was, once again, very interesting: “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (vs 19)
Isn’t it ironic? The religious leaders were carefully choosing their words so as not to say something that would get them in trouble. But Jesus didn’t hesitate to say things that He knew would get Him in trouble. The religious leaders were only concerned with benefiting themselves at the expense of others. Jesus was concerned with benefiting others at the expense of Himself.
What a contrast.
And isn’t it interesting—what Jesus said that caused the religious leaders to want Him silenced? He said that everyone who encounters Him will come to one of two ends: They will either be broken or they will be crushed. Now, hang on a minute. That doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? Which would you rather be—broken or crushed? At first blush, neither seems like a healthy alternative.
But the fact is, all of us are in need of a Savior. None of us can fix what has gone wrong in our own hearts, and let me tell you, if it is to be fixed, it requires being broken. Falling on Jesus—really falling on Him—is the best choice you will ever make, but He never promised it would be an easy one! He only promised that it would lead to peace and life.
The alternative is to be crushed, and that’s not a vengeful threat on God’s part. It’s simply a statement of the reality that love is the most powerful force in the universe. And when absolute evil meets absolute love, evil cannot stand up under the weight of it. Evil implodes in love’s presence; it is crushed.
This is the reality. If we surrender to love, we will be broken and ultimately healed. If we resist love, we will ultimately be crushed.
This saying of Jesus may be hard for us to hear. It was certainly hard for the religious leaders to hear—so much so that they wanted to shut Jesus up because of it! But Jesus said it for only one reason: The truth benefits us. And God is always willing to say and do what will benefit us, even when it comes at His expense.
God turns tests into testimonies.
In this chapter, Luke recounts the words of Jesus as He tries to prepare His followers for the hardships and trials they’re sure to encounter: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” (vs 10-15)
These words were not only for the disciples who heard them come out of Jesus’ mouth. They are just as applicable for His followers today. In fact, I am still so surprised when Christians react with a “Why me?” attitude when they encounter suffering. Outside of His promise to return and spend eternity with us, suffering in the here and now is about the only thing Christ guaranteed! How can we say, “Why me, God”?
We may get surprised by suffering (as it tends to come out of the blue most of the time), but it should never shock us. If we took Jesus at His word, I think we should be expecting it.
But it’s not just suffering for suffering’s sake. Notice what Jesus said would be the result of His followers being seized and persecuted: They would bear testimony for Him. Isn’t that the way it usually goes? It’s in our greatest tests that we have the opportunity to present our greatest testimony for God. It’s when the spotlight of suffering is squarely fixed on us (and people are watching us!) that we have the best chance to say something about God.
God doesn’t just let tests come our way for nothing. He uses them, both for our good and for the benefit and blessing of those who witness our journey through them. He turns all our tests into testimonies!
So, the next time you encounter a test, rejoice!—especially if it’s a particularly hard test. Because not only will God see you through it, but in the midst of it, you will have the opportunity to testify to someone else about who God is and what He’s done for you. And what could be more marvelous than that?
God doesn't fit in a box.
A relationship with God is tricky. I say that, not because it’s tricky or difficult to have a relationship with God, but because of how we tend to approach Him in relationship. Specifically, I’m talking about our tendency to try to put God in a box or to “study” Him and then categorize Him in terms of “always” and “never.”
God’s just not that black and white. And as much as we would like to find a box to put Him in, He never quite seems to fit. We want to find or create a checklist of “rules” He goes by, but there’s not too much with God that is “hard and fast.” In fact, I would say the only “rule” with Him is that He loves us unconditionally forever.
But how that love works itself out in any given situation is often unpredictable, and what “love” does in one circumstance may be different from (and even look the opposite of) what it does in another circumstance.
So, what has me musing on this subject today?
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (vs 35-36)
This is a perfect example of how God instructs us differently at different times and places. But that’s not how many of us want to approach God. We want to somehow amass a list of “absolutes” and then live our life based on those. For instance, I’ve heard some people suggest that true disciples of God should go through life without any worldly possessions (based on the time Jesus sent out His disciples without any luggage). I guess those people never read on to Luke 22!
And the problem with approaching God in this way is that it really discards the relationship in favor of something that we have more control over. If we find the right box to put God in, then He’s there and He’s safe, and we don’t have to worry that He might say something unexpected. After all, we have our list of “absolutes,” and we know what He would always say or what He would never do.
But that’s just not how a relationship works. I used to sing in a volunteer choir with a conductor who said, “The only thing voluntary about a volunteer choir is joining. After that, everything is compulsory.”
I think something similar could be said of God. The only thing absolute about God is the constancy of His love. After that, everything is up for grabs. All the little details, all the ways that love is manifested and revealed are based on the circumstances God is confronted with at the time.
Within His absolute love, there is room for just about anything, for God will do or say anything—leaving no stone unturned—in the pursuit of His children. So, if you try to put God in a box, make sure it doesn’t have a lid or any sides, because if it does, He won’t be in there for long. I haven’t yet found a box that can hold Him.
God forgives you. Unconditionally.
This chapter contains what I believe is one of the keystone moments in the life of Christ, and the message is so plain that I can’t understand how the majority of the Christian world seems to miss it. Here’s the moment: “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified [Jesus] there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (vs 33-34)
For me, this is the bottom line: There is nothing you can do that God won’t forgive you for. That means, no matter what, you’re forgiven. Unconditionally. Right now. Even if you’ve never asked to be forgiven.
That’s right. Even if you’ve never asked.
How often do you hear that God forgives our sins before we ask? Never! Yet, the people who were crucifying Jesus hadn’t asked for forgiveness. They were still in the process of crucifying Him and dividing up His clothes! They weren’t thinking about forgiveness. They weren’t even sorry for what they were doing.
Yet, in that moment, Jesus said, “Forgive them.” And if God will forgive you when you are killing Him, He will forgive you for anything.
I think that’s one of the things Jesus wanted to reveal as He went to the cross. He wanted us to know that there was nothing we could do that was so bad that God wouldn’t forgive us for it—and forgive us before we asked. He wanted us to know that, as far as He is concerned, we’re totally forgiven. Right now.
For far too long, Christianity has claimed that the obstacle to our salvation is unforgiven sin. The message has been that if we could just find a way to get God to forgive us for our sins, then we could be saved. But, on the cross, Jesus proved that we don’t have to get God to forgive our sins. They are already forgiven.
So no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, God doesn’t hold any grudges against you. Not a single one. You are totally forgiven. Unconditionally. Right now.
God's own testimony is based on evidence.
This chapter contains what I believe is one of the neatest stories in the Gospels—and it’s told only in Luke. Jesus has just risen from the dead, but His disciples (though they have “heard” the news secondhand) are naturally finding the report a little hard to believe. But Jesus meets up with two of them later that day as they are walking on to Emmaus.
Can you imagine being in Jesus’ sandals? Here are two of your disciples, depressed and discouraged over all that has just happened, yet they don’t realize that what has just happened isn’t awful, but amazing! Wouldn’t you just be tempted to leap out at them and say, Hey guys, it’s me!
But that’s pretty much the opposite of what Jesus did. Even as He walked down the road beside these two guys, “they were kept from recognizing him.” (vs 16) And, instead of dazzling them with His post-resurrection glory, He struck up a simple conversation. The two related their discouragement over the recent events in Jerusalem.
And then, what Jesus did next is, to me, amazing: “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (vs 25-27)
It was only later, after they invited Him to stay for supper, that they suddenly recognized that it was Jesus who had been with them all along. And, at that moment, they remarked, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (vs 32)
What’s so astounding about this is that God—the Sovereign Creator of the Universe—did not ask His own disciples to believe who He was on the basis of His own personal testimony. He certainly could have! He could have immediately revealed who He was, and I’m sure they would have rejoiced just as greatly.
But God didn’t want them to believe it was Him just because He said so. He wanted them to come to an intelligent understanding about what had happened in Jerusalem on the basis of the evidence. It was only after the truth had burned in their hearts that Jesus revealed His true identity to them.
It really is true that God never asks us to believe anything without providing the evidence we need to make an intelligent decision. He does not even allow His own personal testimony to trump the importance of evidence!
His invitation is, “Come, let us reason together.” (Isa 1:18)