|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
PART FOUR: Chapters 7 to 10
Meditation Title: Overview
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 53
Meditation Title: A Good Reputation
Lk 7:3-5 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue."
Can we remind ourselves to start off why we are doing these particular meditations? Yes, they are meditations about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, but they focus on the parts of his Gospel that are unique to Luke. Within the Gospel there is material that is common to all three Synoptic Gospels indicating a common source, there is some common to Matthew only and some common to Mark only and some unique to Luke, and it is this latter material that we are focusing on. We are doing that because it brings an emphasis, a very human emphasis that perhaps only a doctor (which is what Luke was) would bring. That is especially true of our verses above. Luke picks up on the very human touches in the Gospel accounts.
Matthew is the only other one who records the incident with the centurion in Capernaum and it is clearly the same incident. But Matthew, we have noted previously, sometimes tends to be rather brief on descriptions and when it comes to this centurion he simply says, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.” (Mt 8:5) which is the gist of the opening words above, except Luke picks up from his sources something else, something quite endearing and which appeals to him and so he includes it. It is that this centurion who resides in Capernaum clearly has a good reputation in the eyes of the local Jews. He is on sufficiently good terms with the local Jewish elders that he asks them to go on his behalf to appeal to Jesus on his behalf and on the behalf of his servant.
In what follows it becomes obvious that there is both integrity and humility in this man. So why doesn't he come himself straight away? We aren't told directly but it appears clear that he doesn't have a domineering attitude as a Roman, and recognises that when it comes to asking for healing it is not something you can demand. Moreover it may be that Jesus wouldn't want to have any dealings with a Roman ‘oppressor', so for this reason he uses his friendship with the Jewish elders and asks them to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. It is only when they have appealed to Jesus that the man comes himself and enters into dialogue with Jesus.
Now note that when these local Jewish leaders come to Jesus they don't come half-heartedly on behalf of this Roman. No, they pleaded earnestly with Jesus to help this man. Now there is something important here that we could miss. These Jewish elders actually believed that Jesus could heal this servant. We usually tend to think that most of the Jewish leaders were against Jesus and didn't believe in him. Well these leaders clearly did, otherwise they might have dissuaded their friend. No, they have heard about Jesus, perhaps seen him in action, and realise that he can help their Roman friend IF he wishes.
Now their approach has a certain Jewish legalism about it. Note what they say: “This man deserves to have you do this.” Well, no, nobody has earned the right to have Jesus heal them; he does it as an act of grace – always! We need to remember that when we are asking for healing for ourselves or for others. Jesus doesn't heal us because we have earned it, but because HE has earned it on the Cross. All sickness is ultimately the result of sin in the world and Jesus has died to take out sin, our punishment and the effects of that sin. Thus he has earned the right to bring healing to us. We don't deserve it and we can never earn it, but he gives it freely as an act of grace.
But they go on to give reasons for their thinking: “he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." Wow! This Roman has almost become a Jew it seems. He is not there as an oppressor, he is there as a friend. He is obviously a wealthy and influential man, this Roman centurion, and has paid for and directed the building of their local synagogue. No wonder they feel good about him. Now this man has certainly earned his reputation and that in itself is quite remarkable. He has come into a foreign culture and he has blessed the people he has found there. He has not imposed his own Roman ways on them but has enabled them to express their own ways more fully. This is a good man, an apparently righteous man – but he's still a man with a need that is beyond him; he has a sick servant who he obviously cares for (another good aspect of this man's life) but he doesn't have the power to heal him. We may be good people, but we are still limited and need God's help. Whoever we are, and however good we are, this still applies.
I wonder what sort of reputation we have? It worries me sometimes, the obvious lack of reputation that is there often is within the Christian community. Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5:16) which indicates that Jesus expects us to have a good reputation in the eyes of the world around us. Are we gracious in the way we disagree with the world's immorality? Have we learnt to speak about righteousness graciously, or do we upset those around us by our declarations of their sin? Do the good things we do soften the hearts of those around us? Are we seen as the best and most conscientious workers or students, or are we seen to be those who do the bare minimum and then scuttle away back to our Christian ghettos? I don't want that to sound hard, but that is often how it appears and I know because that is how I used to be for much of my earlier working life. It was how we were taught – to come out from among the godless people around us, except that is not how Jesus was. He got in among them and acted as salt and light and blessed them and showed them his Father's love.
Yes, there will always be those who are against us because we shine and show them up for what they are, and in their defensiveness they will be against us, but do we give them grounds to feel hostile? This centurion stands out as a foreigner who blessed the local population. Can we be the same and thus become a channel for God's love which opens people up to receive Him for themselves?
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 54
Meditation Title: Humility
Lk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.
Just a few extra words. Just before the centurion says this we find Luke recording him saying, “Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” and Matthew records virtually the same thing. Both of them record this man's humility but Luke having added earlier the facts that the Jews came on his behalf to Jesus, now adds in this simple sentence by way of explanation. It's like the centurion says, this is why I didn't come to you myself, because I don't count myself worthy to come to you.
Now this is quite amazing because this is a centurion who is an officer of the Roman army and they are the rulers over this country – the Jews are subservient to them. You would expect it to be the other way round, the Roman not deigning to go to Jesus. Luke has obviously caught something when he has been collecting his materials for his Gospel. He caught the remarkable humility that there was in this man. The others hadn't picked up on this but, as we've said previously a number of times, Luke is a doctor and doctors pick up on people. I wonder, would we have been a Matthew and given this man a reasonable but somewhat cursory coverage, or would we have been like Luke and picked up on the unusual nature of this man. Are we people watchers, do we take in what they are really like, because that is what comes out here in this simple verse.
Humility appeals to Jesus. It is the sign of a person who knows what they are really like. John the Baptist's teaching and preaching brought people to their senses, made them face up to themselves. John made them aware of their moral failures, of their need to get right with God. Jesus then came to a prepared people with the offer of God's love. This Roman is aware of spiritual realities. In what follows, he knows who Jesus is – a man with authority to change things. He recognises in Jesus authority over sickness in the same way he has authority over soldiers. He says a word and they jump. Jesus says a word and illness goes. This man has spiritual perception far greater than most of the Jews over whom he ruled. He realises that Jesus is someone special. Anyone less would not have this authority that Jesus has. This is spiritual authority and that is much, much greater than simple human authority which relies on human power or force to exercise it. No, Jesus has a power that cannot be explained humanly, a power to change human bodies. This Roman soldier recognises that here is someone far higher up the spiritual-social scale!
Young people speak of ‘blagging it' meaning they bluff it out and get what they can by pushing their luck. This centurion doesn't do that because he is aware of the realities of this situation. He may have the human authority but Jesus has the spiritual authority and you can't make someone exercise authority; that's the nature of it. It's what the person who has it exercises – if they want! This man also recognises that in the authority that Jesus has is included knowledge, knowledge of the realities of a situation and of people. He knows he can't bluster and throw his weight around with Jesus because Jesus will see right through him, right through his vulnerability, his weakness in concern for his servant. Indeed that concern for his servant indicates a compassionate heart and compassionate hearts aren't brash, they are gentle. This man has an incredible awareness of the reality of who he is, of his situation, and of Jesus.
So what is humility? It is the awareness of the truth of the situation about ourselves. Humility sees me exactly as I am. It knows my faults and my weaknesses and therefore it doesn't allow boasting. Yet, it will also see the reality of the good things about me and so it will not allow any false modesty. In Psalm 45, the writer, speaking about the Lord going out like a vanquishing king, says, “In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness.” (Psa 45:4) Do you see that? Humility put on a par with truth and righteousness. It is important to the Lord because it is a sign of a person having a right assessment of himself in God's world. Solomon wrote, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Prov 11:2) This right assessment of oneself brings wisdom with it. When you know yourself, you know what you should do, what you are capable of doing. But this can work both ways. James instructed, “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13) Humility brings forth wisdom but it also comes from wisdom. The wise know their true position and are humble. Paul instructed, “think of yourself with sober judgment,” (Rom 12:3) which is the same thing.
Humility is therefore an important thing before God. Peter instructed, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Pet 5:5,6). Proud people have an overblown view of themselves. A humble person knows who they are – rightly! God wants people who fit rightly in His world which means they know and understand who they are, how they fit in and how they stand before Him. The centurion was an excellent example of humility. We need to follow him.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 55
Meditation Title: Reward
Lk 7:10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
I think there are times in the Christian life (if we are honest) when you hold your breath and wonder if you got it right as you wait to see an outcome. This particular account in the Gospels is one such case. There is an interesting divergence here between Luke and Matthew which we haven't yet picked up. Just before this verse Luke records, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to th crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel, ” which referred to the centurion's comments about authority which, in turn follows the words from the centurion about his unworthiness – except Luke tells us that both sets of words were actually spoken by friends who the centurion had sent to Jesus (v.6).
We have commented before on how Matthew tends to give abbreviated accounts and he doesn't mention anyone else acting as the spokesman for the centurion. He has just reports, “a centurion came to him, asking for help.” (Mt 8:5) and the conversation appears to have been with the centurion – but that is just shorthand which is not uncommon in the Gospels. We need to understand in these situations that writers in Jesus' day did not have the same cultural requirement to give specific accurate details as we would expect today (although our modern Press sometimes seem to exhibit the same characteristics as the culture of two thousand years ago!). Often we find generalities in one Gospel account and specifics in another. Thus it is in Matthew that we have the words attributed to the centurion – as in fact they were even in Luke, but where others transmit them – while Luke gives us the detail of how it actually came about.
So much for the differences between Matthew and Luke, but now we have to consider disparities within Luke's text. We have, first of all, seen that Jewish elders came pleading on behalf of this man for healing but it seems fairly obvious that they didn't quite convey what the centurion subsequently realised he wanted, because we read earlier in Luke's account, “The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” (v.3) but then later seems to want to stop him coming. Now either that was how the centurion originally put it (and subsequently changed his mind), or it was how the elders perceived it, how they assumed it, and assumed that that was what he was asking for. It is only when you start looking in detail at the accounts that you begin to realise the workings of the human mind. Look again at the two possible scenarios that we have suggested.
First scenario: the centurion asked for Jesus to come and then realised as he thought about it, that actually he didn't need Jesus to come; Jesus had the power and authority to speak just a word and it would be done. This is an interesting situation because I do believe that sometimes faith flows and grows once we have committed ourselves to a course of action, and not before. Jesus is obviously on his way for we read, “He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him… .” (v.6). One way or another Jesus received the first message and started coming, but when the centurion looked out of his house and saw the crowd approaching, he then obviously asked some friends to go out and stop Jesus with the words he gives them. Perhaps he was not in full faith for ‘distance healing' before, but he is now!
Second scenario: the centurion in conversation with his Jewish friends, elders of the town, mentions he wishes Jesus could heal his servant and they naturally assume he means he wants Jesus to come to the house – I mean, how else can he get healed??? The other thing about writing in those days was that it was a far more arduous task than today; they did not have the ease of a computer keyboard! Thus they would have been fairly basic in what they included, so we aren't told if, in fact, the centurion then followed his friends out of the house and talked to Jesus face to face, but that seems unlikely as we are told in today's verse, “Then the men who had been sent returned to the house,” but that could mean of course they went back while he stayed talking with Jesus. That is the frustration of the Gospels sometimes; they don't tell us everything we'd like to know.
So here we have a situation with some very human dynamics in it – and Luke likes such things! That's why we get the details he gives us. This is no ordinary centurion. This is a Roman with Jewish friends who are willing to help him, his own (presumably) Roman friends who are similarly willing to run errands for him – and he's a man of faith with great understanding about Jesus. This story, perhaps more than most, reveals Luke the writer interested in people and with their interactions. The proof of the centurion's assumptions about Jesus is confirmed – the friends go back to the house and the servant has completely recovered – simply from a word at a distance from Jesus.
This is a very human story, as simple as it is, and yet it is also a story about spiritual understanding and divine power. We must not let the two writers' different approaches in recording the events, detract from the wonder of them. These are two men of authority coming together. One has human authority, but that is obviously limited when it comes to changing human bodies, and the other one is divine authority and, interestingly we see elsewhere in the Gospels, it is limited by human belief. Where a man of strong belief encounters the one with spiritual or divine authority, it makes space for the latter to move and bring healing. Because he never changes, is the limited amount of healing we tend to see today in the church down to our limited faith, I wonder? It's a challenge.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 56
Meditation Title: Compassion in Action
Lk 7:11-13 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."
To try to fathom out why God works in the way He does sometimes, seems an almost impossible task. To try to work out why the sin of this fallen world afflicts some and not others is, again, an impossible task. I take heart from the little incident in John 9:1-3: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Here were the disciples confronted by an effect of the fallen world in the form of this man born blind. They want to know why but Jesus refuses to blame the man's parents and just says, “Let's just take such things as opportunities for God to bless, and for God to be glorified.”
I say these things in the light of Luke's account of this incident in the town of Nain in the southern half of Galilee . It is an account that none of the other Gospels mention, but it is obviously something that Luke heard about as he was researching for his Gospel and it clearly touched his heart. It is a simple account, of Jesus arriving at the town at the moment when a funeral procession comes out the city gates, presumably on the way to bury the body. Now, in the absence of any information to the contrary, we are going to have to assume that Jesus used what we now call a word of knowledge because he is moved by the circumstances here and no one seems to have told him what is going on – but it is very significant.
The body that is being taken for burial is of a son (child, or young man we don't know) and, more than that, he is the only son of this family which makes it doubly hard. But it gets worse; this family has already lost the father. This family now only comprises one surviving member, the wife and mother who is now enduring her second funeral. But there is more. There is a large crowd with this woman. She is well known, popular. She is a good woman- but death takes no account of good people at times it seems.
It is these facts, we suggest, which moved Jesus to action. We are told, “his heart went out to her.” Again and again we find in the Matthew's Gospel that Jesus was moved by ‘compassion' (Mt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34). Luke uses the word compassion only once, in the parable of the prodigal son when the son comes back and we read, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son.” (Lk 15:20). It was compassion that moved the father in the story and compassion that moves The Father in respect of us. But here in our verses we have the same thing, compassion defined if you like - his heart went out to her.
We find in this, and in the other amazing verses about Jesus' compassion, that we find ourselves with a God who is moved to action, not by logical deductions of the mind, but by emotions. God feels with us!
In the famous ‘shortest verse' in John 11:35 when ‘ Jesus wept ' there is a sense in the original that this weeping was tinged with anger at the impact of sin, having taken his friend Lazarus prematurely. His tears were an acknowledgement of his feelings of anguish for this people and their loss because of the effects of sin in this fallen world. Could there have been another way, the Godhead would have surely thought of it, but free will was part of the design that made such things as ‘love' meaningful, and the price was sin in the world and Calvary. Oh no, the Father doesn't stand at a distance, He feels and He is moved.
Back prior to the Exodus we find the Lord speaking to Moses at the burning bush: “The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Do you see that last part? God doesn't only see and hear what goes on, He feels!
So here we have this account that moves Luke's heart for he includes it when none of the others did. He's a people person, we've said, and he's moved by human drama and here is human drama at its best – or worst. It is a woman who has had the two men she loves snatched from her by death. Why didn't Jesus save the husband as well, ask the unthinking sceptics? Because he wasn't there and can't be there (in human form) for every person. But he was here on this occasion and being God in human form, he can exercise his authority on the earth and bring back life – simply because he was moved by the situation. There is no wondering about why these tragedies had struck this family. There are no carping judgments about this family and ‘what they must have been up to, to deserve this'! No, the Son of God is simply moved by the woman's plight and acts accordingly as we'll see in the next meditation. He sees, he understands, he feels and he acts. You never have to twist God's arm to understand your plight – He does! You're not alone in your feelings – He feels with you. That is the wonder of the God with whom we have to do. This IS God. Yes, there are no doubt many other questions we could fire into discussions about evil in the world but they're dealt with elsewhere. Here we simply pause and wonder at the fact that our Lord and Saviour feels for us and with us. Let's be grateful.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 57
Meditation Title: Power in Action
Lk 7:14-17 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
In our previous meditation we pondered on the imponderable, why some things happen to some people and not to others, and why God seems to turn up for some people and not for others. Over the years I have pondered another issue – why is it that God turns up in revival at certain times in history and brings utter transformation, but mostly doesn't? My only conclusion, and it may only be very partial, is that even if He did keep on turning up in power, the sinfulness of mankind would still distort it or fail to appreciate it. I have travelled in parts of the world where revival has come and have been in villages where 100% of the village population were Christians, yet somehow there was almost a lethargy there that did not seem good. When I compare that with the reports from the underground church in China , struggling against fierce persecution, there is not the same vitality that is present when there is opposition, it seems. It appears that when God's presence is constantly there, it needs less on our part and, this side of heaven, we do better when there is some opposition or God's power is relatively limited. That may sound incredible to say, but that is how it seems in practical reality.
I say these things in the light of the miracle that we observe in today's verses. Jesus, moved by the plight of this woman who has just lost the second important person in her life, steps up to the funeral procession and puts his hand on the coffin being carried. Those carrying it sense something is about to happen, so stop and Jesus calls to the dead young man to get up – and he does! Immediately he sits up (which supposes that the coffin was an open topped one) and starts talking. It is patently obvious that he is alive, and everyone sees it and comments upon it.
Now the point that comes to mind is that this is one of only three instances of those who Jesus raised from the dead, the others being Jairus's daughter (Lk 8:40-56) and Lazarus (Jn 11:38-44). Why, with the power available to him, didn't Jesus raise more people from the dead? The answer to that has to be, surely, that God allowed him, or guided him, to do these three for what have to be specific reasons that fitted the will of God. Now that may sound a bit bland but everything Jesus did, he did for a purpose – his Father's purpose: “Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19). The Father, in His wisdom, obviously sees that simply bringing lots of people back to life, i.e., extending their lives, does little good either for them or for others, but on rare occasions He does do it to reveal His power and, indeed, His compassion.
The Bible thus reveals to us a God who does have the power to bring back the dead, prevent people dying and healing them and utterly transforming lives physically, but He appears to do it sparingly most of the time. There are times and places where He comes in mighty power and healings etc. are seen in great abundance, but taking the world as a whole, they are relatively few. Does the Lord delight to bring healing? Yes, He clearly does, looking at the numbers of people who were healed by Jesus. Does He heal today? Yes, He clearly does. What seems to be a vital ingredient for this to happen? Well as John Wimber used to point out, faith was always present in one person at least in all the situations in the Bible where people were healed, but then faith is simply responding to what God says, and so in every case where healing occurred, and does occur, first of all there is God's expression of His intent to heal. Our faith, our response to His words of prompting, give Him the space to do it.
Does Jesus raise people from the dead today? Yes, he does. I have heard of rare instances where I trust the integrity of the reporters. However, when we come to this subject, let's be careful to check our hearts out, because such happenings reveal the state of our hearts. Those who are critical will criticize and say, “Well why doesn't He do that all the time?” and will thus reveal the short-sightedness of their thinking. Those who are open-hearted to God will find themselves stirred by such events as in today's verses and will ‘come running', in their thinking at least, and will want to learn more of this one who can do such things. Those who are utterly given over to God will just praise and thank Him for every token of His goodness expressed in such instances as this.
After all Jesus didn't have to raise us this young man. He just did it as a token of his Father's love for the widow and her family. He obviously saw that here was a situation where ongoing life of this young man would truly benefit this family. That isn't always so although, if it is our family, we will almost certainly think it would be. Why did God allow my loved one to die? I don't know, but I just have to trust that when God weighed the alternatives He considered that in the long term this indeed was the best option. It may take us a long time to see that because in the immediate, grief blinds us to the bigger picture, and anyway it may take a long time to see the good outcomes. We may not see it even until we get to heaven and see the big picture through God's eyes. In the meantime we would do well to join with Job who declared the classic phrase: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praise.” (Job 1:21) Amen.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 58
Meditation Title: Saints & Sinners
Lk 7:36-38 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
One of the things that I have found, doing this series examining Luke's contribution to the Gospel accounts, is that it has forced us to look more widely at just what went on in Jesus' three years of ministry. John, you may remember, concluded his Gospel with, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) In other words, so much was happening every day that it was almost impossible to keep track of what had been going on. The Gospel accounts are, in fact, just a tip of the iceberg of the things that Jesus did.
Now I say this because there can be some confusion that this account above is the same one that appears in Matt 26, Mark 14 or John 12, all involving a woman and expensive perfume. However, there are sufficient differences to suggest that this was a completely different incident. Yes, the name of the householder is Simon (v.40) and in Matthew's account the householder is Simon, but that is where the similarity ends. This account is near or in Galilee while Matthew's account is in the south in Judea . This Simon is a Pharisee, the other Simon is (or was) a leper. The reason for the woman using the oil or perfume was quite different. The one in Matthew was inadvertently anointing Jesus for death. This one has a different reason.
The big focus, it seems, in Luke's account is the difference between the host-householder and the woman. Here in Luke, as we've already noted, Simon the householder is a Pharisee. He is part of that conservative group of Jewish believers who prided themselves in interpreting and keeping the Law of Moses. Virtually all encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels, show the Pharisees as odds with Jesus. We wonder why, therefore, did this man invite Jesus to dinner? Was he simply interested in what he had heard about Jesus and wanted to find out more, or was he looking for an opportunity to find fault with Jesus? The latter seems more probable because, after the woman comes in and Jesus accepts her ministrations, Simon “said to himself, " If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (v.39). If you asked Simon to categorise the people in the room he would have put himself in the category of saint or godly believer, and the woman as a sinner. Jesus doesn't have the same assessment as we'll see in the next meditation.
For now we might wonder why Jesus went into this man's house, almost certainly knowing that he was walking into the lion's den as far as trouble was concerned. The answer to that must be that Jesus was never afraid of confrontation, and seems glad to take any and every opportunity to face up people with the truth. If Simon wants to bring him in to examine him, then the end result may be that Simon will end up examining himself! If you come full of criticism of Jesus, then you need to be warned; you are revealing your own heart and your own state and any criticism is likely to come back on you!
We need to consider this woman who comes in. We still appear to be in the town of Nain (7:11) and this is a woman “who had lived a sinful life in that town” and is obviously well known. Simon certainly knows about her and writes her off as a sinner. Jesus apparently doesn't know her and simple accepts her – which Simon finds difficult. But then the truth is that Jesus does know each person and he would have been quite aware of the sort of person she was. As Jesus reclines on a low couch at a low table, as was the custom, his feet would protrude out behind him as he leaned towards the table, and the woman stood behind him weeping so that her tears dripped onto his feet. Suddenly aware of this she stoops and quickly seeks to wipe of her tears with her hair and then, perhaps to make up for this takes some of the perfume she has with her and pours it on his feet. We'll see later how Jesus reinterprets what she does to cover any embarrassment she has. Luke, we have said many times in these studies, is a people-person and he is fascinated by people accounts. This three-sided account just has to be included!
Why was this woman weeping? Luke doesn't tell us, for her misdemeanours aren't the key issues here. Perhaps she has come to a crisis point in her life and in desperation she goes to this man she has heard so much about. Possibly she came with the alabaster box of perfume to pay him for his counsel because there is a hint in the description of her having lived “a sinful life ”, that it was a life of immoral earnings and she expects to have to pay for whatever services she receives from this travelling preacher. Perhaps she just came in out of interest and the very presence of God in the room brings her to a place of conviction and she just breaks down, but Luke doesn't tell us. That's not the issue. The issue is how Jesus accepts her and Simon doesn't. Simon sees a sinner, Jesus sees a potential saint! Pharisees condemned people who failed to live up to their high standards; Jesus recognised that people couldn't live up to such standards and so accepted them as they were and let his love and acceptance transform them into saints.
So were do we fit in this three-sided incident? Do we come with a sense of failure, feeling we have to earn Jesus approval or pay for it in some act? Don't try to earn it or pay for it. He gives it freely. Do we come with a sense of self-righteousness that condemns the sinners of the world? We need to see that Jesus comes to save sinners not condemn them. Or can we come like Jesus with loving acceptance that willingly sits with Pharisees and prostitutes alike? May it be so!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 59
Meditation Title: Cause for Love
Lk 7:41,42 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Within the Christian life there are some things that are so obvious that you almost wonder why we can't see them. Having been a Pastor for many years I know that the greatest thing that people struggle with is a sense of being unloved, and yet the very heart of the Christian faith is all about being loved by God. “ God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son .” (Jn 3:16) There it is in one of the best known Gospel verses, and that is reflected in the New Testament Gospels and letters again and again, yet it seems that in the Christian life there is often uncertainty and doubt and wonderings about whether ‘God loves me'. One of my favourite verses is Paul's “ If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) because this is Paul's rhetorical question that might be put, “With God for us, who can be against us?” God is FOR us! Everything about His activity in the Bible shows that, God is FOR ME. So why don't we realise this? I suspect the answer is found in this little story that Jesus told Simon the Pharisee.
Remember, from the previous meditation, Simon had been looking down on this woman who was a sinner and who had come and wept over Jesus and then anointed his feet with perfume. Jesus presents this little scenario to make a point to Simon. It's a very simple and obvious scene and Simon doesn't have a problem seeing it: “ Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said .” (v.43) In fact you would have to be a bit dense not to see it.
Two debtors, one with a big debt and one with a little debt. When the debts are cancelled who is the more grateful? Obvious isn't it? So why do we still feel unloved? The answer has got to be, surely, that we don't appreciate the wonder of what has happened to us, the greatness of that for which we have been forgiven. If we did, then we would surely realise how much we have been loved?
Is it possible that we think our sin, and our old sinful life wasn't very bad? Do we rationalize it and say, “Well I wasn't a very bad person!” Yet somehow we came to a crisis and came to Christ in repentance and were ‘born again'. Somehow we realised that where we were wasn't good and we needed God's help and forgiveness, but perhaps we've never really realised the fullness of our plight. Can we consider that for a few minutes, so that perhaps we might become like the grateful, forgiven debtors – aware of how much has been done for us. Let's remind ourselves of some basics.
We were sinners – it was part of our every-moment life, we couldn't escape it. Our tendency was self-centredness and godlessness, and we constantly fell short of God's standards (Rom 3:23). Moreover we were under the dominion of Satan, in the dominion of darkness (1 Jn 5:19, Col 1:13) and nothing we could do of ourselves could get us out of that. We were separated from God, (Eph 4:18) objects of God's wrath (Eph 2:3), and sin working in us was bringing death (Rom 6:23). Indeed it is clear from Jesus' teaching that our outcome was going to be hell, total separation from God in eternity. To summarise we were lost, separated from God, bound in Sin, driven by Satan and condemned for eternity. THAT was our state, and that was the ‘debt' that Jesus released us from.
But if it was left to the negative side, that would have been enough surely to stir gratefulness and love within us, but that is only one side of it. It isn't that we have been merely forgiven our ‘debt, once the debt has been forgiven, we have received from God an incredible ‘bank account' that provides for the rest of our lives. We have been forgiven and cleansed of our sin, the power of sin and of Satan has been broken, we have been adopted by God so that we can call ourselves children of God (1 Jn 3;1,2), and He has placed His Holy Spirit within us to be our source of contact with Him, that brings guidance, help, direction, wisdom, and assurance. But then we find that God has a purpose for our lives (Eph 2:10) and we now have received eternal life and have a place with Him in eternity as His children.
Now maybe you have never taken in the truths of these last two paragraphs and if that is so then I recommend you read and reread and take in the truths that are there and even ask the Lord to help those truths impact your heart so that you are never the same again! When we consider what we have been FREED FROM (our past lives and the judgement that hung over them) and FREED TO (our glorious eternity that starts now with Him) we can never say again, “I'm not sure if God loves me, because past, present and future have all been put right for us by what Jesus did on the Cross, by dying in our place to make us right with God. We are now inheritors, receivers of all the good Jesus has achieved.
When we truly receive and understand these things our lives will be transformed, and part of that transformation will be how we view other people. No more will we view others through the eyes of Simon the Pharisee, criticising and condemning, but realising that we had been just like them in reality (don't be deceived by thinking that “my sins weren't as bad as theirs” – all sins are the same in eternal effect as far as God is concerned!) we can have compassion and understanding and be ready to love and bring forgiveness. This is life-changing stuff, and if it isn't, we just haven't ‘seen it'. Perhaps we saw it in the past and have grown to take it for granted. If that is so, ask the Lord to bring the truth and the reality of these things to you afresh. When He has done that, you will live a life of gratefulness, thankfulness – and compassion. Be blessed!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 60
Meditation Title: Signs of Love
Lk 7:44-47 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "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—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
I want to suggest that there is a sign of love in this passage that is not obvious but crucial once we really start thinking about what was going on here. The obvious love is that which Jesus spoke about – “for she loved much”. Jesus is using her apparent love in direct comparison with Simon's attitude. Simon had invited Jesus to dinner but had, according to customs of the time, given him the barest of considerations. Today, if we invited someone in at the end of a hot day, we might point them towards the bathroom and say, “Would you like to just freshen up?” In other words we would give them the opportunity to use our things to clean up and feel better. In their day, with dusty roads and sandals, an honoured guest would have their feet washed by the servants of the house; that was the barest minimum you would do for them. If you wanted to really bless them you would given them oil for their head, rather like we put things on our hair to tidy up. But Simon had done none of these things. He gave Jesus minimal hospitality, because he was really only inviting him in to find grounds to criticise him.
The apparent love that Jesus spoke about, contrasting Simon's poor attitude was that of the woman. Remember we saw in earlier verses she was well known and had “lived a sinful life in that town,” (v.37), quite possibly a prostitute – but she had come seeking out Jesus. There would have been no other reason that she would enter this house of a Pharisee because, like her, he was probably well known in this small town, and she would have know that she was the very opposite of everything he stood for, and would have been the subject of his condemnation. She has obviously heard about Jesus and, it would appear, was sufficiently desperate that she didn't mind what people thought or might say. No, she came looking for Jesus and when she found him, she stood behind him weeping.
Now we speculated before why she was crying. Was it that she was so desperate? Was it that when she found Jesus, he simply smiled up at her, a smile of acceptance that broke her heart? Was she overwhelmed by the sense of God's presence and it was a beautiful, accepting presence, so that her heart was melted and she knew she was accepted. We don't know, we just have to speculate because Luke doesn't tell us. Whatever else, she felt secure by Jesus. Presumably he had acknowledged her presence in some way and so she remains with him and just weeps and them wipes his wet feet with her tears and then gently rubs perfume into them. Whatever she felt when she came in, whatever had been her motivation then, now it is love in the awareness of being accepted.
Isn't one of the preliminary facets of love being accepted by the other person? When you meet another person, your relationship cannot develop unless they accept you, and indeed the more they get to know you, the relationship will only develop if you both accept each other as you are. For real love to develop there must first be complete acceptance of each other as we are.
So the obvious love is the woman's love that Jesus speaks about, a love that has quickly developed and which flows from the way Jesus has just accepted her. John was later to write, “ We love because he first loved us ,” (1 Jn 4:19) which explains what went on here. The less obvious love, because it is not spoken about, is Jesus' love of this woman, seen first in the way he accepts her ministrations, while knowing exactly who she is. But I think there is a second way that his love is demonstrated here: it is the way he interprets her actions. It isn't just to make Simon feel bad, it is a genuine interpretation of her actions. He sees them in the best light possible. Love always looks for the best in a person and sees what they say and do in the best possible way. Yes, it is possible that the woman came in with mixed motives, possibly ready to pay Jesus for help, possibly not even sure why she was there, but the more she remains with him, the more her heart goes out to him as she senses the warmth of his acceptance. It doesn't matter if she wept out of anguish, it doesn't matter if she wiped his feet out of embarrassment, it doesn't matter if she put on the perfume out of guilt, Jesus saw it all positively. It's like he might have said, “I don't mind why you did it all; I just take it as an expression of your growing love, and for that I am grateful.” That's how love responds and that's why Jesus spoke as he did here to Simon in our verses today. In today's language we might say he was putting a positive spin on it, but then that's what love does.
But we always say that we need to look at what Scripture says to us personally. What does this response of Jesus say to us? Well I find it a challenge. Do I look for the best in people? Do I look to see what they say and do in the best light? Do I accept people like Jesus did so that they feel secure with me, safe and able to be themselves? Am I there for the underdog who is condemned by the safe, secure and affluent part of society? Am I willing to be associated with them, even when everyone else is condemning them? Am I so concerned for their salvation that I am willing to risk my reputation to reach out to them with God's love? These, surely, are the key issues that leap out of this account that Luke brings to us and these are issues that I must deal with in my life, if I am truly to be a disciple of Jesus. May it be so!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 61
Meditation Title: Forgiveness by Faith
Lk 7:48-50 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
We've said it a number of times before in these meditations and we'll no doubt say it again, but there are times in Scripture when you wish more was said so that it was a lot clearer to us. As we read this account the woman says nothing. Everything attributed to her by Jesus is through her actions. She came, she wept, she wiped and she washed with perfume – but she doesn't say anything. She is a known sinner in the town and Jesus now pronounces forgiveness for her. Just a minute, we say, doesn't forgiveness come from God ONLY when there has been repentance? Yes, and so Jesus reads in her and in her actions, repentance. He even declares that it is her faith that has saved her. How come?
Go back a verse and you find Jesus explaining to Simon, summing up his chiding of Simon, following the little illustration of two debtors with, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much.” (v.47). Jesus, as we considered in the previous meditation, put a very favourable spin on her actions, he saw her actions in the best light possible. As we have previously considered her actions and considered the possibilities, we considered very human actions and responses which may well have started out with human reasoning and self-centred motivations, but we did also recognise that in Jesus' presence her heart is broken or melted or won over and now Jesus interprets all she did in a good way.
The truth is, of course, that Jesus sees her heart. He knows what has been going on inside her and knows the transformation that has taken place. The only way that our interpretation of events could be wrong is if Jesus had previously met her, and spoke to her, so that her coming to the house was a response of repentance to his words – but there is no evidence that that happened.
Now, says Jesus, it is her faith that has saved her, so what signs are there of her faith. Well first of all there is the fact of her coming into the house and looking for Jesus. As we've noted previously this was quite a difficult thing for her to do. Something in her is stirring her to come and see Jesus. Jesus said elsewhere, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and part of the Father's ‘work', I believe, is to speak to people. I am certain that God speaks to every person many times in their lives. Whether they hear and respond to Him is another matter, but Paul was to write, “faith comes from hearing the message,” (Rom 10:17) and so when there is faith, it is always responding to God's message. Admittedly Paul was referring to the preached message in the context of what he was saying, but it is also true in respect of anything God whispers directly into our mind. The fact that the woman came looking for Jesus, is an indication that she is responding in faith to an inner prompting. But that isn't enough.
She finds him, stays with him, and responds to him. As we've previously suggested, Jesus almost certainly would have acknowledged her in some way and that way indicated to her acceptance. It is that acceptance, we suggest, that breaks her heart and opens the floodgates of tears. Now we have suggested before that it is possible that she came in weeping out of anguish because of her life situation which was crushing her, but here we are now considering an alternative reason for her tears – they are tears of thankfulness – someone understands me, some knows me and accepts me. Her tears of anguish become tears of relief. When we come to see that for the first time it is a mighty liberating thing. Have you every come to that realisation? If you have it will almost certainly have been accompanied by joy and by tears, or both. If you've never had that joy or those tears it is possible that you've never ‘seen it' or realised it as a truth, and maybe you want to ask the Lord to reveal it to you.
If her tears are now tears in response to Jesus' obvious acceptance of her, it is a response of faith that says, “Yes, he DOES accept me!” and that in itself is an act of faith. As she wipes his feet with her hair and then wipes perfume on them, these again can be seen as heart responses to Jesus. Yes, we have previously interpreted them as acts of embarrassment and appeasement, but Jesus interprets them as acts of faith, acts that, for whatever reason, want to please him. Her heart, in whatever way, is reaching out to Jesus, and when a person does that they let go their old life, and transfer their allegiance to Jesus, together with an allegiance to goodness and righteousness. For these reasons, Jesus looks into her and recognises genuine repentance and for that reason he pronounces forgiveness for her and declares that it is forgiveness that comes in response to her acts of faith.
We can never earn our forgiveness. We can only repent. We don't deserve forgiveness, only Jesus has earned it: “In him we have redemption through his blood , the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.” (Eph 1:7) It can only come to us because of what Jesus did on the Cross. As we respond to God's drawing, as we respond to His prompting, and come in repentance, it opens the way for Him to declare the forgiveness we need. We haven't earned it, we just come to receive it and we don't come until we repent.
The coming is, in itself, an act of faith, and that is what the Lord looks for in us. The coming is followed by responses to Him that indicate our repentance, and that He also looks for. Jesus saw it in the woman, even though she never said a word. That isn't to say that we are not to say a word. The words would follow with the woman. As Paul wrote: “if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom 10:9,10). Repentance involves confession and belief. For the woman it was ‘confession by deeds' and Jesus was happy with that, for the time being at least! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 62
Meditation Title: A Mixed Band
Lk 8:1-3 After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God . The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
There are times when you have to chuckle at what you read in the Bible and the implications of it – as well as chuckling at our own limitations of understanding. It's so easy to read Scripture and not take in what is there, isn't it? Have you, in your wonderings, ever pictured Jesus wandering around Galilee with a disciple or two in tow as he preaches? That is about as inaccurate a picture as you can get. In our verses above we have the twelve, three named women “and many others”! This makes it sound like the apostolic band was probably in the twenties at least! This is a serious preaching tour!
It would seem that this is the second preaching tour that Luke records. The first was mentioned in Luke 4:43,44 and a third one is mentioned in chapter 9 when he sent the twelve out, and a fourth one in Lk 10:1 when he sends the seventy-two out. So, if we had this idea that Jesus just went round the countryside once we would miss the truth. He kept on going out and sending out the apostles so that they got experience at doing it.
But it is only on this occasion that Luke gives us a glimpse of the size and nature of the band that travelled about with Jesus, and especially that there were women travelling with him. None of the other Gospels bother with this information, possibly because women didn't figure to highly in the Jewish mind, but Luke is a Gentile and what is more, a Gentile doctor, and doctors, as we've commented several times, are concerned with people – all people. So let's consider these women.
Now of course there was a mystery cult both later in the first century and in more modern times that held that Mary Magdalene was more than a member of this party, but there is no indication apart from those very dubious and spurious writings that give any credence to that. In the other Gospels the ONLY times Mary Magdalene is mentioned is in the resurrection accounts, as being one of the women seen by Jesus. If Mary had had any greater position that just ‘one of the women' she would certainly have been mentioned in the Gospel far more than she is. In fact it is only here in this one account that we are told briefly of her background but again, she is only one of several with similar backgrounds: “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.” Her only distinction was that seven demons had come out of her. She had been in a bad way!
“Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household” and “Susanna” were also women who had been those delivered or healed by Jesus. Apparently so grateful were they that they travelled with the apostolic band and helped support them. The latter two at least appear to come to come from well-off backgrounds to be able to do this. What is intriguing is that Joanne was the wife of a senior official for Herod, yet she still travelled with Jesus. Possibly Cuza was just so grateful that Jesus had delivered or healed his wife that he went along with this. Joanna is mentioned again as one of the women involved in the resurrection accounts (Lk 24:10). Susanna is not mentioned anywhere else so we know nothing of her.
In a day when women were very much subservient to the men of the household, these verses reveal an unusual emancipation of women which denies the accusation that Christianity puts down women. ‘Religion' may do, but Jesus doesn't!
Another small point to note in passing is the reference to these women who “ had been cured of evil spirits and diseases.” Israel had been a people to whom God had said, after Egypt, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians,” (Ex 15:26) which appears a ‘health mandate' that was part of the covenant, yet in the Gospels we see Jesus healing very large numbers of people. Similarly people only become demon possessed when they have turned from God to occult activities and those activities eventually bite them back! Again, there seem to be large numbers of people who Jesus delivered from demons. Both things seem to indicate that the spiritual state of Israel was very low indeed when Jesus came. It has been said that preceding most revivals, there has been a very low state of spirituality before God comes. When Jesus came and brought mass healing and mass deliverance it is no wonder that large numbers of people flocked to him – including these women in our verses today.
Whether the “many others” at the end of the description of who was there meant men or women or both is not made clear, but the likelihood is that it is both, just people who have been so blessed by Jesus' ministry that they want to stay around to continue to be part of what was happening. In the various places around the world where there are reports of revival or special signs of God's blessing, you don't have to do anything to draw people, they just come. Atheists can be critical but the person whose life has been touched, healed or delivered by God knows that there is no argument. It is good to be where God is moving, for He is clearly a good God and it's good to be on the end of His blessing.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 63
Meditation Title: The Place of Prayer
Lk 9:28,29 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed,
We need to remind ourselves that the purpose of this particular set of studies is to focus on material that is unique to Luke. The account of the transfiguration appears in all three Synoptic Gospels but only in Luke is there reference to the reason why Jesus went up the mountain – to pray. In the other two he just went up the mountain and the transfiguration is the all-important part of the incident that is recorded. Luke tells us that his purpose of going up the mountain was to pray and it was as he was praying that the transfiguration took place.
It is worth just observing how each of the Synoptic writers write about prayer. If we take the words “prayer”, “prayed” and “praying”, Matthew has a total of 15 uses, Mark a total of 8, and Luke a total of 23. Of that 23, then 11 of them are in respect of Jesus himself praying. Luke, it seems, is much more conscious of Jesus' prayer life. Now why would that be? Is it because, as we've suggested a number of times, Luke is a people-person and he is interested in the attitudes and activities of people? Prayer is a very human activity. No animal has ever been observed praying, yet it is a very common human activity. How a person prays says a lot about them.
Of course there are those who say they don't believe in God and so naturally they don't pray – until perhaps they are in a crisis. But there are many more who will turn up in religious buildings and utter the prescribed words. For them prayer is something to be done only as led by a religious leader, and it is not something that is real and pertinent to their normal, everyday lives. In fact you are left wondering if, in reality, they really do genuinely believe in God. If they do, it is not a God with whom you can communicate in normal life. Perhaps they see no need to pray; they don't think that praying will achieve anything, so they don't.
It is only when you start thinking about these things that you start reasoning why people actually pray – those who do, that is. It is probable that for those who do pray often and regularly, (not in the formal religious establishment sense) they do it for one of two reasons. Reason number one is that they (Christians) have seen Jesus and the New Testament writers teach that we should pray, for example: “This, then, is how you should pray…” (Mt 6:9), or “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) or “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1). Thus they feel that they ought to pray, i.e. they have a duty to pray- which is better than not praying at all.
But then there are those for whom God is real, a loving Father, and one thing little children do with their fathers is talk to them, and so prayer is a natural talking to God, which may occur at any time. But actually these people who pray often and regularly also tend to be ones who realise that there is something about prayer, whereby God ‘does stuff' through prayer, and yes, Jesus did teach about us praying and so in their dependence upon their Lord , they pray. They have come to see that prayer plays an important, if not fully understood part, in their Christian lives and when they pray, God does things, therefore not to pray is foolish. Moreover prayer is, for them, a sign of reliance upon Him; they cannot exist without Him and without contact with Him.
This, it seems, is the something of the attitude that Jesus had. You might have though that the Son of God, being God himself, and being full of the Holy Spirit, would hardly need to pray – there would be a natural sensitivity to God's presence and God's will, but although that might have been true in a small measure, Jesus still purposefully put aside times when he drew aside from the life of ministry and went and sought his Father in prayer . He purposefully went and talked to God without distractions – and this time on the mountain was one such time.
Previously Luke had written: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Lk 5:15,16) There was Jesus with an amazing healing ministry from God. Surely he should take every waking moment to exercise this ministry and bless people? But no, Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” It seemed he needed to draw aside to the Father more, because of this ministry. We have already considered (No.44 A Prayer Vigil) Jesus praying before choosing the twelve: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” (Lk 6:12) It seems that Jesus made a point of praying before making big decisions, so it was not automatic for him to sense the Father's guidance; he felt the need to draw aside without distraction to hear Father's still small voice. His time in Gethsemane seems almost too obvious to mention but it is THE classic example of Jesus praying to prepare himself for a coming ordeal.
I wonder, do we see these same things? Do we see this need to talk to the Father before we make important decisions or before we have to face the ordeals of life? Is talking to the Father a natural expression of our life and our love for Him? Have we realised that prayer opens doors, changes circumstances and people, because it is talking to the One who can do such things, and for some mysterious reason He seems so often to wait until we pray before He moves. Perhaps it is that He wants us to learn to commune with Him, to catch His heart, submit to His heart, and praying is one of the key ways for that to come about.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 64
Meditation Title: The Big Picture
Lk 9:51-53 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem . And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem .
There are obviously, as we work through Luke, various odd words that are unique to him but our next larger passage shows us purpose and direction that Luke picked up on. These verses appear nowhere else and they indicate Luke's awareness of the bigger picture, of the significance of what is happening. Of course Luke wrote many years after Jesus had left the earth and in the course of his own life experiences, becoming a Christian and travelling with Paul, he begins to see the bigger picture of what was going on. Thus when he starts collecting together the resources for his own Gospel, he picks up on one or two key issues that the others omitted. John did this even more when he wrote a good number of years later still.
Luke, seeing the big picture sees the events not merely as unrelated events but events that would culminate in Jesus' departure from this earth: “ As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.” This would yet be some months ahead, and a lot is still to happen, but the three years of ministry is rapidly coming to a conclusion. Jesus didn't come to earth to bring years and years of blessing. He had a set period, obviously determined in heaven, at the end of which his life would be taken as a sacrifice for sins, but it wasn't an accident, it wasn't something forced on him, out of his control. It was part of God's clear plan and purpose for His Son. Also note the positive and not negative way that Luke puts this. He doesn't focus even on the Cross at this point; he focuses on the end play when Jesus ascended into heaven. This wasn't to be an act of man; this was an act of heaven taking back the Son of God to retake his glory. This is a gloriously triumphant return with the Son returning to his former glory (see Jn 17:5), in his time and in his way. The Cross was a terrible act of sinful men working through the glorious plan of God – but it was men imposing this on Jesus, even though he purposefully submitted himself to them. The ascension was purely an act of God glorifying His Son.
It is because Jesus was fully aware of all this, aware of what would have to happen that we find he, “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The next intermediate phase requires him to be in Jerusalem to provoke the authorities by his goodness, his power and his teaching, to rise up against him and take him and put him to death. We reiterate that this was not accident of history: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23). There, on the day of Pentecost, Peter received that revelation as he preached under the power of the Spirit. What was going to happen would be a two sided thing. On one side there was God working out His plan for His Son to be offered for sin, while on the other side there was the Sin of mankind that was going to rise up and do it. Jesus was completely aware of that, and aware that the time had come, aware that the years of ministry were soon to come to an end, and so he sets off on the final journey to Jerusalem .
Yet it is not the end yet and there are opportunities to be taken on his way down to Jerusalem, so he sends some of his disciples ahead, as obviously became his practice, to act as forerunners to tell that he was coming: “And he sent messengers on ahead who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him.” No doubt part of his reasoning for this was to arrange lodging for the apostolic band; lodging for a large number as this might need some serious arranging.
But then we find something quite terrible: “but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” No doubt the forerunners explained that they were on their way down to Jerusalem, and once they did this they got a hostile reception. Why? For a long while the Jews of the south (especially) and the Samaritans had been at odds. The Samaritans were not pure-blood as far as the Jews of the south were concerned, not real Jews, and this accusation brought a defensive hostility from the Samaritans.
Consider the awfulness of what is happening here: surely the word would have come south from Galilee about what had been happening up there for the last three years? Surely Jesus' reputation for being a miracle worker would have gone ahead of him, and you would think that now he visits the Samaritans they would welcome the opportunity to be blessed by his ministry? But no, instead the folly of their historical prejudices means that they reject the opportunity and so Jesus passes through without any of the glory and wonder that had been accompanying his incredible healing ministry. These people remain untouched! How tragic! All because of pride and prejudice!
There seem to be two main challenges, I find, that come out of these verses. Number one is, am I aware of a sense of God's plan and purpose that includes MY Life? When Paul wrote, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) that speaks of God having specific plans for the best way for my life to be worked out? Am I seeking Him to do all I can to be fulfilled in His plan?
The second challenge is, do I allow my own silly pride or prejudices to stop me receiving all of God's blessing that He has for me through Jesus? Are there bits of the New Testament that I don't like because either I don't understand it or I fear the outcome, and thus miss out on the whole package of God's blessing for my life? These are two serious challenges and they have the power to seriously influence the quality of my Christian life!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 65
Meditation Title: Unrighteous Righteousness
Lk 9:54-55 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.
There is sometimes, in the Christian world, a nasty tendency to be ‘unrighteously righteous'. A friend recently said to me that they had been looking up a well-known American leader's teaching material (very straight evangelical stuff) on the Internet and was amazed at the number of articles by other Americans deriding and denouncing this leader. There is an art to being righteous and this is not it!
Our problem, as Christians, is that sometimes we come across those with whom we disagree or those we think are seriously unrighteous – and we think they are unrighteous because we are sure we are righteous and our view is right and their view is wrong. A number of years ago I had a church member ring me up and say, “I just want to cross swords with you…” and named some particular theological stance they held. I'm afraid I replied, “Well I'm not interested in crossing swords with you. My understanding of it is this and as I know you disagree I am quite happy to agree to disagree.” Of course that doesn't satisfy such people, because they will only be happy when you agree to submit to their view. I know of someone who entered into dialogue on a web-blog with an American fundamentalist Christian (that's how they described themselves, I believe) and this other person felt that their view was over the top, and so suggested a more moderate position. The dialogue continued for several days with the American getting more and more volatile until they were blatantly abusive in their responses. Another case of unrighteous righteousness!
It gets worse when we feel our opponents are doing things that seriously offend God. The extreme wing of the American anti-abortion lobby is a case here. Here, these people, like many of us, believe that abortion is wrong, but they go beyond most of us in that their demonstrations go beyond demonstration to personal violence, even murder. This is the equivalent of the animal rights activists who cause physical destruction that even includes personal injury. In every such case, although they may not quite express it like that, they believe their stance is righteous but express it unrighteously.
There is only one occasion (possibly two) of this in the New Testament, and that is when Jesus upset the tables in the temple, but note that he didn't destroy anything, he just thoroughly upset it all. It is this same unrighteous righteousness that we find here in James and John. Jesus knew this wild temperament of these two brothers, “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder)” (Mk 3:17). We see their outspokenness when they asked Jesus about their futures: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mk 10:37) That really made the others indignant, but it was just the wild nature of these two. How incredible it is that the Lord changed them both and John especially became known for his pastoral gentleness. But for now, they are unrighteously righteous.
The righteous aspect of their thinking was that anyone who rejected the Son of God deserved to die. Well, yes, ultimately God agrees with that because Jesus is His measuring stick against which He tests people's hearts, but does He want to wipe them out at the first sign of their rebellion? No! Hence Peter would eventually write, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) when he was explaining why God's judgment appears slow sometimes. How do we know James and John were wrong? Very simple, Jesus rebuked them! But notice what follows: “and they went to another village.” The clear implication is that if one person or group rejects you, move on, there will be someone in the ‘next village' who will probably receive you!
“Yes, but what about those who rejected Jesus,” comes back our unrighteous person who feels they must speak up for the name of Jesus, “surely God will judge them?” Well, yes, if they remain unrepentant, but give them time to repent. Don't you realise that God doesn't pour down judgement on any and every sin. If He did you'd be dead long ago! No, He will have a time of accounting, in His time and in His way. Yes, there are rare occasions when the Lord uses His senior leaders to declare judgement. Peter & Ananias and Sapphira are the only instance in the New Testament, and so we shouldn't be making a doctrine out of a single instance, but it does happen on very rare occasions. James and John, you aren't one of those occasions, because the Master is here and he's much better at calling on his Father than you are!
I have come from this background where spiritual threats are the order of the day, but the times I have done it (long past) I have felt at complete odds with my Lord. I find Peter's teaching in 1 Pet 3:15 is always kept before me by the Lord: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Yes, be prepared to stand up for your faith, be prepared to give answers, good logical answers, Biblical answers, to those who you consider against the Lord and His teaching, but mind how you do it! Look at the last six words of that verse: “do this with gentleness and respect.” Were James and John operating with gentleness and respect? Definitely not! Do you share the Gospel and speak against unrighteousness with gentleness and respect? If not, check you heart out, button your lip! It is very difficult to hold a right righteous path in the face of the world's unrighteousness, and it is a long learning process. I wish I could always say I do, but it's still something I sometimes struggle with. It's a long learning process. Learn it, or be rebuked by Jesus.
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 66
Meditation Title: Going for Gold
Lk 9:61,62 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God ."
Sometimes Jesus' words seem extreme, very extreme, and yet they are the words of the Son of God and God is love, and everything God does (and Jesus does) is to bring us into a good place, the place of blessing. Now I have pondered this passage over many years and I suspect that many of us jump to wrong conclusions about it. It starts out, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Matthew tells us that the man was a teacher of the Law (Mt 8:19). It is then that Jesus gives some “reality checks” about being one of his followers: “Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (v.58). In other words Jesus was saying if you literally follow me, you'll find we're constantly on the move and have no home to settle in. Wow!
But then we find Jesus provoking another man: “He said to another man, "Follow me," (v.59a) but the man had a reservation: “But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” (v.59b) to which Jesus says, “ Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Now I don't think Jesus is saying abandon your family's needs, but he is saying put aside family priorities for the future and set your heart on sharing the good news about God's kingdom and don't let anything put you off that goal. Jesus doesn't actually use the word, “No,” but he is making the man think in the bigger picture. Why do I say that? Because we must always interpret Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture, and the Law was very strong on caring for the family, and so Jesus is not going to say anything contrary to the Law – but he will say things that provoke people to think about the real issues.
Matthew stops the account there, but Luke includes one more of these ‘reality checks' that we now find in our verses above which, at first sight, seems very extreme – but is it? The man says he needs to go back and say goodbye to his family but note that Jesus doesn't tell him he must not; he simply lays down a principle which will override all that the man does if he is to follow Jesus. So what IS Jesus saying here? He is simply saying that if you want to serve God, serving God's purposes has got to be THE goal that you go for. Yes, you can go back and say goodbye if you want as long as you make sure that you are not put off by your family. How many seekers have explained their spiritual search to their loved ones and have been put off by them? No, if you want to find the truth then you will let nothing put you off.
When athletes are competing they want to go for gold – for first prize, and nothing less will satisfy. If you are a top rate athlete and you go to the Olympics, then you do not have your eye on winning a bronze medal. You want to go for gold and you work and train with that as your target. Jesus is saying the same thing in these challenges. You want to serve God? Don't do it half-heartedly, go for gold! One thing sprinters don't do is look over their shoulder, because it slows them down. If you keep looking backwards to your family, it suggests you have regrets. Don't, go all out for God and know that you are in the best place in the world, doing the best thing possible.
It's a funny thing about ‘serving God'; it sound heavy and serious, but actually it is working out your life as it has been designed to be, getting the very best out of it, being most fulfilled. If we live our lives according to God's design for them, then we will be using the gifting that God has put in us for the blessing of others and for His glory, and that is the way to be most fulfilled. Anything less than that and you are missing out. However, the point Jesus is making again and again in these somewhat enigmatic challenges is that if you are half-hearted about it, you'll never make it, you'll never have this sense of satisfaction or fulfilment.
The first warning was against wanting permanence and comfort and ease. If you want to be a blessing to this world as you work out God's plan for your life, realise that you'll be in a life that is ongoing change, sometimes uncomfortable and often tiring – but it is fulfilling. If you want to focus on family matters beware that they do not become the main priority. Family matters are important but they are second to catching God's heart and God's will for your overall existence, which is far bigger than only your family. If you want to go for God, make sure you are going all-out. Don't look over your shoulder with regret. Yes, at any time you want, you can jump off the train of God's will, but if you do that, as you reclaim comfort, ease, peace at home and so on, you'll come to realise that you now have something missing. No longer will you have the satisfaction of flowing in the will of God doing the things that God blesses. Suddenly life will appear grey.
Why did Luke pick up on this last ‘reality check'? Because he is a people person and he knows the importance of family life, and he also is aware that family demands can detract from working out the will of God for our lives. He is aware that in our humanity, we need this extra encouragement to press on and go all out for God. Go for gold!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 67
Meditation Title:Doing the Stuff
Lk 10:1,17 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go… The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."
Luke alone records the sending out of the seventy (or seventy two) but, I suggest, because of the human element that comes through in this record. Remember, we have suggested countless times in these studies, that Luke was a doctor and that is very significant because doctors are concerned with people, understand people and watch people. In chapter 9 he has already recorded Jesus sending out the twelve with similar instructions, but it is not the instructions we are mostly concerned with here at this moment; it is the way these disciples came back!
It would seem that Jesus sent out the twelve and then later sent out the seventy. Now seventy is a big evangelistic band! It's a lot of people. Imagine them all gathered before him and then turning away when he's finished instructing them and making their way off. This is a veritable small army! In verse 9 he tells them, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'” This is a group that is to go and DO the same as Jesus has been doing. This band is not merely going to tell people about Jesus, they are going to demonstrate the powerful presence of the kingdom. Indeed when they came back they “returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Now a question arises: is this a command for all the church? The answer has got to be, yes IF that's what Jesus leads individuals to do. He laid down a general principle at the Last Supper: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing,” (Jn 14:12) but is it as simple as that? Paul taught, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6) and “to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:9). So Paul's teaching was that healing was one of the gifts of the Spirit and different gifts are given to different people, according to God's grace. Moreover it is clear that such gifts are exercised by faith and that we can stir up those gifts (2 Tim 1:6) or even neglect those gifts (1 Tim 4:4). Thus the operation of such gifts is a combination of God's enabling and our responding. Does God only heal through those with the gift of faith? No, of course not. As His children we can run to Him and ask Him for health and healing and very often He delights in giving it. In that respect, yes, it does seem as if it is available for any Christian, and just relies on our faith. So is it specific gift or general provision? Both! Sorry, but that's just how it appears.
The key issue it seems, though, is that Jesus seeks to lead his followers into doing what he did. Now there are some other considerations. Even in line with what we've been saying, I would suggest that God's ability to bring healing or any other power manifestation depends on our spiritual maturity and faith level. (I am assuming here that faith and maturity are synonymous!) Even then, it seems, it is not that simple. Sometimes it seems that the Lord delights in moving through new Christians and doing the spectacular and in their case faith is not built on knowledge. However, with maturity comes knowledge and understanding and both those things should act as catalysts to release faith. Sadly often they don't, but it shouldn't be like that.
Another issue that is pertinent here is the sovereign will of God. There have clearly been times in history when the Lord moves sovereignly in great power. We tend to refer to those times as revival and some revivals seem to have majored on salvation and others on healing and then salvation. Without doubt, the Lord does seem to move in seasons and those seasons may vary from place to place, so He may be moving powerfully in one town but not in a neighbouring town.
Now we've been majoring on healing in our thinking so far, but so often that gets mixed up with deliverance and these disciples came back rejoicing that they had seen the demons being subject to them as they delivered people. Yet the same comments apply. It is more clearly here a question of authority when it comes to demonic powers – but perhaps that should apply to healing as well. Can any person deliver someone else from a demon? Yes – IF they have the Lord's authority. Jesus clearly gave these evangelistic bands that authority and I suggest there are specific people who he gives authority to, but they are simply those who walk closely with the Lord, who are open to Him in faith, and have a sure confidence in who they are. When you have the same spirit as David when he came against Goliath, you know who you are – a child of God with all of His resources available to you, and you know who the enemy is – one who doesn't have that relationship or those resources! You also know God's will is for them to be delivered, and as they indicate their desire to renounce the works of darkness and to be freed, as the Spirit leads, you can deliver them! It's as simple and profound as that!
These disciples came back, clearly thrilled at the power and authority that they found was theirs. Perhaps a crucial factor we have not yet noted is that they were willing to be sent out; they were completely available to Jesus. When we can say we are that, then we are on course to be used in significant and powerful ways. Don't try doing it in your own strength or because you think it is a good idea. Do it because you are completely available to God and He leads you. Then you will enter into the knowledge of a new level of authority and blessing. Pray for it. Go for it!
|Series Theme: Uniquely in Luke Meditations|
Meditation No. 68
Meditation Title: Grace not Glory
Lk 10:18-20 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."
The tricky bit about Scripture is that sometimes something is said and you have to interpret what it means, because it is not made clear. Sometimes I hear preachers being chided for not being simple enough, and yet the truth is that Jesus was often quite enigmatic and what he said was not clear. In fact he actually said that he spoke that way so that only seekers would come to him to find out what he really meant (Mt 13:13-17). This is one of those enigmatic occasions. He sent the seventy out and then, as we saw yesterday, they came back rejoicing that even the demons had been subject to them – a reference obviously to their ability to cast demons out of people. It is then that Jesus makes this statement that he doesn't seem to explain: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
Now there are usually two interpretations given of this comment and they are both worth considering. The first interpretation is that in the spirit realm, as the disciples expressed the rule or kingdom of God and brought healing and deliverance, Satan's authority was being brought down, as a first fruits of what was to come when Jesus died on the Cross and his future people walked out of the dominion of darkness, released into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13). This interpretation declares the greatness of the kingdom of heaven as it is being expressed on earth through those who step out in faith.
The second interpretation has Jesus giving a subtle warning to his rejoicing disciples. When he says he saw Satan fall from heaven, it is suggested, he is referring to that time sometime earlier in history when Satan fell from heaven, from pride. Scholars sometimes suggest the prophecy in Isa 14 refers to this happening: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.” (Isa 14:12,13). There is also a prophetic insight in the book of Revelation about this: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Rev 12:7-9). The time frame for this is unclear so whether it was early in history or as a result of the Cross is debatable.
If we subscribe to this second interpretation Jesus is giving a subtle warning to the disciples against pride. It's like he is saying, “Guys don't try to take God's glory as you get excited by what He's enabled you to do, don't let pride get in otherwise it will be your downfall. Instead rejoice in the wonder of the fact that God has chosen you. That's an even bigger miracle!!!!”
Perhaps, because he is being so enigmatic, Jesus is saying both things. We DO have the ability to bring the power of the enemy over people as the Lord leads us out, but it is HIM that did it through us. It was His power and His authority and so we have no grounds for pride, thinking how well we did. In fact our grounds for rejoicing should indeed be in the fact that we have been chosen for such a life. That is the real wonder and the truths of that should ever keep us humble.
So how come none of the other Gospel writers pick this bit up, only Luke? I think because it keeps on coming back to the characteristics of Luke that we have observed a number of times. First, he is a people person and he takes note of things that are people things. This little event is all about human reactions. The disciples come back like a bunch of excited children and Jesus puts it all in perspective. Yes, it is an expression of the kingdom of God , but it is God!
Second, Luke is aware of the power dimension of the Christian life, having traveled with Paul. He's aware of the work and activity of the Holy Spirit because of all he's learnt traveling with Paul. Third, also because of his traveling with Paul, he's very much aware of the wonder of the facts of our salvation and therefore anything that Jesus says about it, sticks with him.
To suggest these things in no way detracts from this Gospel being the inspiration of God. It simply suggests that this is how God uses our humanity and why each of the Gospels has a different characteristic. In fact the more we ponder on these things, the more wonderful we come to realise the working of God is, as He takes and uses our personalities, our characters and our personal experiences, to bring out a richer and fuller picture of all that took place in those three wonderful years as Jesus ministered the Father's love.
So, to conclude our thoughts on this little happening, are we aware of the power and authority that we have, as we allow the Lord to lead us, and if we are, do we keep it in perspective and constantly remind ourselves that it is all of His grace and mercy, and it is all His power and authority? Can we rejoice in the wonder of the life that He has called us to, a life that is far from the humdrum boredom of atheistic materialism that we so often see around us in the twenty first century? What a wonderful Saviour! What a wonderful Lord! What a wonderful life! Hallelujah!