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Archive for the ‘Luke’ Category

[updated]

We are looking at Luke 10:38-42, which tells the familiar story of Martha and Mary and a dinner party.

This story has a lot to say, from several different angles. But I would like for us to be pretty specific in our focus. And that focus is what this story has to say aboutsetting aside our frantic pace of life in order to have time to be with Jesus.

Let’s begin by working our way through –

The Story

 v. 38 – “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”

As Jesus and his disciples traveled around Israel, they were at various times taken in and given hospitality by those in the villages where they ministered. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:8, giving instructions to his disciples. He says, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

To welcome Jesus or his disciples was a sign of acceptance of the message of the kingdom of God, which is what they were preaching. To receive the messenger is to receive the message. So this verse shows us that Martha is a supporter of Jesus. She is doing a good thing, welcoming him into her home.

v. 39 says, “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

So Jesus has come into the house and here we see Mary learning from him.

Now, to sit at a teacher’s feet was the position of a disciple, or a student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3). So, this was quite unusual for that day. That is, that Mary, a woman, takes up the position of a disciple who learns from a master teacher. This was reserved for men.

The Mishnah, an ancient collection of Jewish teaching says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.” So again, sitting at the feet of a teacher is the position of a disciple. But then it goes on to say just after this, “but talk not much with womankind.” (M ‘Abot 1:4;5).

In contrast to this, here, Jesus welcomes Mary as a woman disciple (as he does with other women in other places). And even though Martha, as we will see, tries to force her back into the traditional domestic role that women filled in that day – Jesus does not allow it.

We could say more on this part of the story, but our focus for today is on Mary as one who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

v. 40 goes on, “But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’”

The portrait that we have here shows that Martha is very busy serving. And this is understandable given that the disciples were probably also in her home. She has quite a crew to feed and take care of. She is, no doubt, trying to keep up with the social expectations of the day for how you treat honored guests. And hospitality was a much bigger deal in ancient culture than it is in our day.

The word – “distracted” means “being pulled away” by something; to be overburdened with a matter. She was overburdened with all the work she had to do.

And this causes her to complain to Jesus – ‘Mary should be helping me with all this work! Tell her to get busy!’

vs. 41-42 end the story, “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Here Jesus also takes note of Martha’a busyness. He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.” But instead of rebuking Mary, as Martha wanted, he gently admonishes her.  He teaches her that there is one thing that is necessary. What is this one thing? It is the “good portion” that Mary has chosen – sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching.

This story gives us a lesson in priorities. Serving the needs of others is good, but listening to and learning from Jesus is better. Now, there is a time and place for both, and we are to do both. But here Martha has given higher priority to service, rather than listening to Jesus. This is her mistake.

Let’s step back now and look at the big picture. We have here –

Two sisters, who represent two approaches to Jesus

We have Martha who is busy. She is doing a good thing, but she has become overwhelmed by it all and her busyness produces some negative results:

  1. She becomes self-focused. Even though she is trying to serve others it comes back to her. ‘Jesus don’t you care about me? All the work I am doing by myself?’ You can see it in the pronouns – “Me, me, me.”
  2. She demands from Jesus, telling him what he should say. ‘Tell my sister to help me.’ Fix my problem with all this busyness that I have going on.

In contrast we have Mary who is not busy. She is not overwhelmed. And this bears forth good results:

  1. She is focused on Jesus. She is able to give Jesus her attention. Indeed she probably had forgotten all that needed to be done, because of her single-minded focus on listening to Jesus and soaking in his presence.
  2. She listens to what Jesus wants to say. Not telling him what he should be saying from her perspective. But listening to what he wants to teach.

I share all this with you today because, I think –

We are very much like Martha

1. We are “anxious and troubled about many things.” As Americans we value producing things; getting things done. We don’t value rest, calm, or being still. At least not as much. We always want to be doing things; things that produce results in a tangible or an economic way.

  • And so we are always busy with activities. There is always something going on, or better, multiple things going on which we have to choose between, or try to do both. Multi-tasking is standard fare now. These activities are connected to family, kids, work, school, our various social commitments, including church; a constant barrage of events.
  • We are busy going places. All of these activities require time spent traveling. We are always on the move.
  • We have busy minds. This has to do with keeping all of our commitments and schedules together, plus all that we take in from TV, radio and the internet. We are always plugged in. We become saturated with information, which leaves our minds spinning to try to process it all.

We are indeed “anxious and troubled about many things.” And we become “distracted” by all this from focusing on Jesus himself.

2. These are good things we are doing. It’s not like we are out wasting our time, being frivolous or useless or worse. Beyond what others may do, we also give our time to serve Jesus to work in the church and to serve the needs of people.

Again, just like Martha who was welcoming Jesus into her house, we are doing what is laudable; what is commendable. But . . .

3. The result of all our busyness is not good. Besides stress, sleeplessness, headaches and other physical symptoms – we become like Martha; we get overwhelmed, so that like her:

  1. We can become self-centered; only seeing what we have to do in the swirl of our activity and in our world. Even when we are trying to serve others. And we also try to include others in our busyness so that they are now anxious and troubled, like Martha tried to do with Mary. Our busyness and anxiety is contagious.
  2. We can become demanding of the Lord. We are too busy, but instead of fixing the problem of our over-committed lives by making better choices, we want the Lord to compensate for us to make things all work out right.  ‘Lord, fix this!’ We actually pray this way. We don’t act to fix the problem, we just want help to sustain or even increase our ability to be busy.

Instead of all this –

We must learn to be like Mary

She had her priorities straight. Out of all the things that she could have been doing, and by social expectation should have been doing –

  • she “chose the good portion” – v. 42
  • she got “the one thing” that is “necessary” – v. 42

She “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” – v. 39. She spent time in the Lord’s presence and just took it in.

Be honest. How often in the busyness of your life do you truly sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching? Where you enter into the Lord’s presence and learn his way? Is there time in your busy schedule? When there is a small bit of time are you really there, or still busy of mind?

This is a question of priorities. As good as all that you are doing may be, nothing is more important than being with the Lord and learning from him.

If you don’t have time to sit at Jesus feet, then you need to reevaluate your life, because your priorities are out of order. To say it simply –  if you are too busy for Jesus, you are too busy!

May we all learn from Mary’s example and Jesus’ teaching and act to make things right. So that we make the hard choices we need to make to spend time with Jesus.

William Higgins

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We come today to the final part of the Sermon on the Plain. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his own sermon.

But before we jump into this, let’s step back for a minute and take a big picture look at how the sermon is put together. (Additional outline handout)

  • As we saw last week, the second section on loving enemies corresponds to the third section on correcting others. They have a common theme – mercy, and a common structure, with v. 36 in the middle holding them together.
  • Today I would highlight that the first section on blessings and woes corresponds to the fourth section, our focus. They have a similar structure and they share a common theme. Both are about a comparison between faithful and unfaithful disciples.

As you look at the way this sermon is put together, notice the X shape of it. This is a common way of thinking and writing in the ancient world. It’s called a chiastic literary structure. The name comes from the Greek letter Chi which is in the shape of an “x.”

Next, still in big picture mode, let’s look at a summary of the teaching of the sermon thus far:

  • In the first section on blessings and woes we learned that we are to be faithful despite the consequences. Even if it makes us poor, hungry, sorrowful and causes us to be slandered.
  • In the second section on enemies, we learned that we are to love our enemies and return good for evil.
  • In the third section on correcting others, we learned that when we see sin in someone’s life, we are to act with mercy, not judgment or condemnation, so that we can help them get rid of their sin.

In his conclusion then, which is our focus, Jesus uses this teaching as a test – ‘How do you compare?’ ‘Are you faithful?’ I can look at my life and compare it to these three things and see, ‘Am I heading toward faithfulness or am I heading toward unfaithfulness as a disciple?’

So this last section is Jesus’ call to faithfulness for each one of us. In this he challenges us to test two things in our lives.

Test #1: Our words

Do our words line up with Jesus’ teaching here?

vs. 43-45 – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Let me point out two things here.

1. The principle of the inner and the outer. This teaches us that what’s in your heart, the treasure, what’s stored up in it, the abundance – that’s what comes out. Jesus says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” – v. 44.

So you can see what is in a person’s heart by how they act. (Now someone can put on a show for a while, but eventually the truth comes out.) There is an unbreakable connection between the inner life of a person and the outer life of a person. The inner is the source of the outer and the outer is a window into the otherwise hidden recesses of the inner.

  • So you can’t say, ‘I am living a life of sin, but this doesn’t really reflect what’s in my heart. And God just cares about my heart. I like Jesus. I have faith so it’s OK.’
  • Or to put it another way – you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian in my heart of hearts. People just can’t see it. The outward stuff just isn’t that important.’

According to Jesus, a good tree produces good fruit.

2. The focus here in on our words. Jesus pulls vs. 43-45 together by saying “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” So in this case, it is our words that reveal what is in our heart.

Are we a good tree or a bad tree? The test is are our words in agreement with what Jesus has taught in this sermon. More specifically, do we affirm and teach that we are to:

  • be faithful despite the consequences?
  • love our enemies?
  • give mercy to those who fail and sin?

If we do this shows that we are a good tree. We have stored up Jesus’ teaching in our hearts. And so we have a good treasure, which overflows in words that are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we show that we are faithful disciples in this area.

Now this same test can be applied to others who come to us and teach. Do their words affirm and teach all that Jesus says in this sermon? When you hear someone preach or teach, or on the TV or the radio – test their words and see.

Test #2: Our actions

Do our actions line up with Jesus’ teaching here? Do we obey Jesus’ teaching?

Now, let me back up a minute. In each of the sections of the Sermon on the Plain so far there has been a word about how to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s look at this briefly:

  • Section one: If we suffer for our faithfulness to Jesus we will be lifted up and blessed in the kingdom of God and not cursed.
  • Section two: If we love our enemies we are “sons” and thus inheritors of the Father’s kingdom; not sinners who have no reward.
  • Section three: If we give mercy to those who fail, we will receive mercy and not judgment or condemnation on the last day.

There is a focus on entering the future kingdom of God in each of these.

Well, in calling us to faithfulness at the end of his message, here in vs. 46-49, Jesus draws this all together and makes the point that our actions based on this sermon as a whole will determine our eternal fate.

We begin with –

v.46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Jesus’ question is rooted in a contradiction. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ means you are to submit and obey. As Jesus says in 6:40, disciples are supposed to learn from and obey their teachers. But some who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do not submit and obey. This was true in Jesus’ day and it remains true today.

And it just doesn’t make any sense! We say one thing and do another. We indicate that we will listen to Jesus and obey him, but we listen to and obey other voices – while we ignore Jesus.

In vs. 47-49 Jesus gives the parable of the two builders. This compares those who call Jesus Lord and obey him, and those who just call Jesus Lord and don’t obey him. It gives us a picture of the final judgment. And it’s a warning to us.

vs. 47-49 – “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

One house was well built. The builder worked hard and dug deep to lay his foundation on something solid. The second house was not well built. It had no foundation.

Then a storm comes with lots of rain and deep waters. Storms and floods often picture God’s judgment in Scripture (Psalm 18:11-14; Habakkuk 3:3-15; Zephaniah 1:15/ Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 28:2, 17; Ezekiel 13:10-16).

After the rivers were swollen with rain the flood “broke against” both houses.

  • The first house survives the storm. Because it had been well built it “could not be shaken.” It was built on solid rock.
  • The second house, however, immediately falls and “great was the ruin of that house.”

The point is that disciples who only call Jesus Lord, but do not obey him, will be washed away in the storm of the final judgment. This is the second house.   Only disciples who act on Jesus’ words, who obey him, will survive the storm of the final day. This is the first house.

The test, then, is do we obey Jesus’ words? The phrase “my words” refers back to the sermon Jesus has just delivered. We obey his words by living out his teaching here. So –

  • Are you faithful despite the consequences?
  • Do you love your enemies?
  • Do you give mercy to those who fail?

If we live out this teaching, then we show ourselves to be faithful disciples.  Since we have dug deep and built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, we will not be shaken.

————

To sum it up, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in two ways. Do our words line up with his teaching here? And – Do our actions line up with his teaching here? We need to test ourselves in these ways so that we can grow more and more in our faithfulness to our Lord.

William Higgins

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Today we move into the third section of the Sermon on the Plain. Now, these are not just isolated sayings of Jesus strung together for no reason. They all fit together. This can be seen by the careful way that it is put together, which parallels the second section on dealing with enemies, with v. 36 holding them together:

Dealing with enemies (27-35)

  • Two sets of four sayings on loving enemies (27-30)
  • A key principle (31)
  • Some provocative questions (32-34)
  • An exhortation (35)
  • The result of obedience (35)

Center of the sermon (36)

  • Be merciful

Correcting others (37-45)

  • Four mercy sayings (37-38a)
  • A key principle (38b)
  • Some provocative questions (39-42)
  • An exhortation (42)
  • The result of obedience (42)

What this section is about

This part of the sermon is also held together by two interrelated themes: 1. The theme of mercy. This section is set up by the center point of the sermon – v. 36, which says, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” And this mercy theme is continued in vs. 37-38, when it talks about forgiveness as opposed to condemnation.

2. And then we also have the theme of correcting others

  • vs. 37-38 are about judging or giving mercy when someone sins
  • v. 39 speaks of someone who is blind who needs guidance
  • vs. 41-42 speaks of correcting others who have sin in their lives

When you put these together, the focus of this section is on correcting others with mercy. It is interesting that the core of Jesus’ sermon highlights two areas that we don’t like to talk about – loving enemies and correcting others.

Jesus’ instructions on giving mercy

judge not and you will not be judged
condemn not and you will not be condemned
forgive and you will be forgiven
give and it will be given to you

The first two are synonymous parallels; they mean pretty much the same thing. Also the second two are parallels – forgive and give, that is, give mercy. It’s not about money so that all of a sudden Jesus changes topics. It’s implied for sure, but it means – give mercy.

Also the first two and the last two are opposites. To not judge or condemn is to forgive or give mercy.

What does it mean to judge someone?

We have begun to answer this, but let’s look more closely because this often confuses people. Jesus is not talking about:

  • discerning what is or is not a sin
  • or calling someone to stop sinning

This is the same Jesus, after all, who told us in Luke 17:3 – “If your brother sins, rebuke him . . ..” Here you have a discernment that something is a sin, and a call for the person to stop doing it.

Rather, judging means that you determine someone is unworthy of mercy – from God or others. Here’s an example of some judging responses. Bob, an addict, stole your car and wrecked it. You might:

  • hold bitterness and hatred against him
  • speak evil against him, his character (James 4:11)
  • look down on and keep away from him, like the Pharisee who said, “God, thank you that I am not like this tax collector – Luke 18:10.
  • withhold forgiveness when there is repentance
  • seek to harm him

What does it mean to give mercy?

Mercy means there is the possibility of redemption and a new start – with both God and others.

Again, Bob, an addict, stole you car and wrecked it. To give mercy, you can:

  • have compassion for him
  • see the good in him
  • recognize you have failed too and you are not that different
  • forgive when there is repentance
  • work with him as he tries to live a new life, giving help and accountability

A key principle

v. 38 – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This principle is behind the logic of all four of Jesus’ instructions above. And it is radical! It means – you will get from God what you have given to others, either judgment or mercy. Some motivation here for action! Next we have –

Some provocative questions

– which come in the context of an extended set of sayings on blindness and seeing.

v. 39 – “He also told them a parable: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Those who taught others were called guides to the blind. In this case, however, the teacher is also blind, which leads to disaster for both teacher and student. Jesus is saying, ‘Disciples, you are blind. You are still learning and you need a good teacher to guide you.’

In v. 40 he goes on to talk more about teachers and students. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus is saying to his disciples, ‘Once you’re fully trained, you will be like me.’ Jesus was famous for giving mercy to sinners, prostitutes and tax-collectors. All those that others judged and cast aside. As disciples, we will be known for our mercy as well.

Next comes more questions. vs. 41-42 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

You know how it feels when you get something in your eye and you can’t see. I can only imagine how it must feel to have a log in your eye. This does present something of an image of the blind leading the blind.

Here’s the point:

  • You see a sin in someone else’s life (a speck) and try to correct it.
  • But you don’t see your much bigger problem that should be corrected first.

Now this could apply to any problem you have that is worse than the issue you are trying to correct in someone else. But here, in context, the log refers to being merciless and judgmental, as you try to correct someone. If you see sin in a Christian’s life you look down on them, speak evil of them and don’t forgive them.

An exhortation

v. 42 – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye . . ..” Get rid of your much bigger problem, judging and condemning others. Learn mercy and practice forgiveness.

The result of obedience

v. 42 –  “. . . and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Before, with the log in your eye, the correction was just a part of condemning the person. That’s why Jesus calls the person a “hypocrite.” They look like they are doing something good, but they are really only judging someone.

It’s only when you learn mercy for those who struggle and fail that you will “see clearly to take out the speck” in the other person. This is when you’ll actually be able to help someone with their problem, when they fail, when they struggle.

How does it work? If you see sin in a Christian’s life – recognize you have failed too, pray and work for their repentance and forgive when there is repentance.

Finally

How will you respond when you see sin in a fellow Christian’s life? It’s not like this is an uncommon thing.

Remember: If you give judgment and condemnation, not only will you be the blind leading the blind, God will give you judgment and condemnation.

But, if you give mercy and forgiveness, not only will you be able to help, God will give you mercy and  forgiveness. As vs. 38 says, “a good measure (of mercy), pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

William Higgins

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Alright, we have been looking at the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. And last week we covered the section on Dealing with Enemies. Jesus teaches us here to love our enemies. He tells us, just as you want what is good, so give good to others – whether they deserve it or not.

He also told us that living by ‘an eye for an eye’ gets you no reward, for even sinners do this. But living by love for enemies gets you great reward. That’s because the heavenly Father loves his enemies. And since, ‘like father like son,’ you show yourself to be a son of his, that is, an inheritor of his blessings.

Last week I needed to spend the whole time working with the text trying to lay out what it means. So this week I want to get more into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. I want to do something a little different and tell you some stories and then draw out some lessons I have learned.

Our hostile neighbors

We had been in our house for several years when new people moved in behind us. We lived on a flag lot, so the neighbor’s  property was surrounded by our house and other church property. As soon as they moved in they started making claims that a part of our driveway was actually their land. And it got worse from there.

We had a tree on the border that needed to come down. A part of it had fallen onto our house the last winter in an ice storm and it was diseased. So we told them, but they became hostile. They wanted the tree to stay. In fact, they claimed it was on their land, along with a part of our backyard.

He had anger issues, to say the least. He also liked his alcohol which made things worse. A police man who was later involved in an incident called him “Mr. Testosterone.” He was abusive and a bully. And if anything, I thought she was worse. At one point she was hanging over the fence, taunting and insulting me and the church as I worked in my backyard.

Anyway, I had a trustee over for dinner and told him about all this since our house was owned by the church at this time. I had to go talk to the neighbor about some issues, so we both went over to his house. He went nuts. I was nose to nose with him, kind of looking down on him because I was taller. And he was just screaming and threatening. My trustee and I calmly walked away.

At another point, when I wasn’t home, my wife engaged him about the tree and at that point, full of alcohol, he threatened to shoot her in the head. That’s when the police were brought in to try to talk some sense into him.

Well after the lawyers were brought in an agreement was made whereby the tree would come down and the church would survey the border and put up a fence (which we wanted).

I have to admit it was funny. After the surveyor was done I happened to see the neighbor wife come out to see where the  stake was put. She was standing on it looking out beyond it into our yard, thinking it was hers. But, of course it wasn’t. The border was pretty much right where we thought it was.

It was also sad in a way. The truth is that they had two structures that were too close to the border, without a variance. Although we never required it, it was a bit surreal to see him one day with a chainsaw cutting a part of an overhang off of his house – about four by twelve feet, because it was too close to our driveway.

#1. It’s really hard to love enemies. It doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms me, especially if there’s no cause, I get angry (not as much as I used to thankfully). And there is a part of me that wants to strike back – harm for harm. I want to show them how wrong they were and have them feel some of what they gave to me. So for me, to love enemies requires God to be working in me. Because there is nothing in my flesh that wants to do this. And I am guessing that this is true of most, if not all of you.

#2. If we want to overcome evil with good we have to deal with our anger. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not to let someone’s evil deeds to us, change us so that we do the same thing back to them. That’s what it means to be overcome by evil. Rather we are to overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil.

So all through out this (it went on for months) I had to learn to give my anger over to God. Otherwise I would have been right there with him ‘in the flesh’ screaming and threatening and worse. I had to trust that God would take care of the wrong that was done to me.

What I learned is that when you do this, and I had to do it daily there for a while, it frees you up to focus on doing good and being Christ-like, which is our job as Christians. Instead of focusing on getting even, I could give mercy.

This was a good thing because I learned later that after provoking previous neighbors he had tried to sue them for their responses.

#3. Loving enemies is different than nonresistance. I remember that some in the congregation said that if the neighbor wanted a part of the backyard, it should be given to him, under the idea that we are not to resist the evildoer, but yield and even give more than he asks. This didn’t seem right to me. And, of course, in this case he would have asked for the whole property.

So I really began to struggle with these texts. What do they mean in this situation? What I came to over the next few years was a clearer understanding, I believe, of the context of nonresistance – as I said last week. It has to do with enemies who are also authorities.

And so what should guide my behavior in this kind of a situation is simply the command to love and do good and to pray for my neighbor, which I did.

And also, if love is the standard, not nonresistance, then I have a great deal more freedom in how I respond to my neighbor. As long as I also act with love toward him.

#4. God can intervene on our behalf. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” God can and does act for us many times even now, when we refrain from acting ourselves in the flesh to get even.

I believe this happened in this case. First of all the neighbors moved away not long after the tree came down. And then I heard from a former friend of his that he had a stroke that paralyzed one side of his face. And his doctor told him he needed to calm down for his own health’s sake. We found out that he had moved from house to house fixing them up and selling them, and also harassing neighbors wherever he went. We certainly hoped that this would put a stop to it.

A story about Fred

(I have changed some things in this story to hide “Fred’s” identity).

I met Fred in church one day. We hit it off pretty good and he was interested in the Bible and identified himself as a Christian. His was a sad story – mental illness and time in jail.

Later Fred became angry with the church, and he focused his anger on me and one other person in the church. His demeanor changed, like he was a different person. As I understand it, he was off his medications.

Once he came to the door of my house and was pounding on it – obviously angry. I decided to go out and talk with him, but locked the door behind me. He was making various threats. Stacey was inside and she decided it was time to get the police involved. We had talked about this before as an option.

Another time he showed up at church during Sunday school, high, playing with a knife he had brought along in a menacing way. My goal was to get him away from the church, so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride and talk. And so we did. I drove him far away and then dropped him off near a family member’s home.

#5. Love and harm are not always a contradiction. I believe that what Jesus forbids to us is non-redemptive harm. This has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back or an eye for an eye. It’s ‘non-redemptive’ because it is meant only to hurt and punish.

Redemptive harm, by contrast, has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, or at least with their best interests in mind. This could be called tough love. I always use the example of a doctor that amputates a leg to save a life. This is different than someone who just cuts off your leg!

In this case we called the police. My aim was to get him a psychological evaluation and hopefully get him back on his meds. That isn’t what happened – they just held him for 24 hours. But even then, the situation was stopped. And if he had physically assaulted me I would have sought to restrain him, even if it meant causing him pain.

#6. You can trust God with your life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Based on this, this is what I believe: If I’m walking in God’s way, I’m not going to die unless God allows it. If I have someone with a knife at church or threatening me at home – I know that it’s not up to them if I live or am hurt. It is up to my Father in heaven. This frees you up to say and do what you need to, to address this situation.

#7. Love will never let me kill someone. This was certainly true with Fred or my neighbor. No matter what they did, I would not be able to do this because I am called to love them.

But this is also why I teach that Christians should not participate in war. There are many issues involved in this, of course, but for me only one is decisive. If love means what the Bible says it means – to give good to others, and I am supposed to love everyone including my enemies, then how can I kill someone and still be faithful to Jesus? How can I both destroy someone and love them at the same time? Even if the government tells me to, I have to refuse. Because as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29.

#8. Always be open to reconciliation. Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We became good neighbors with the former friend of our hostile neighbors, even though he was there standing by as threats were made against us.

Also, Fred and I did reconcile. His anger subsided and he apologized. I didn’t see him as much, but talked to him from time to time when he stopped by the church. Last I heard he was doing better and I am grateful for that.

Finally, and not connected to these stories – #9. This teaching isn’t just for “enemies.” Several of you mentioned after last week’s message that you weren’t sure who your enemies are today. In general an enemy is anyone who harms you or tries to harm you.

But even beyond this sometimes it is our spouse who does something that hurts us, or a child, or a friend or a church member. But we would not say they are “enemies.” So in some cases it is best to drop the word enemy, but still apply this teaching.

In these situations as well, don’t respond in kind. Always give what is loving and good to the other – whether they deserve it or not.

  • When your  spouse says something hurtful, don’t simply say something hurtful back. Seek to return good. Deal with the issue in a kind way.
  • When your child is misbehaving, don’t discipline them in anger as payback. Give them something good – loving discipline.
  • When someone cuts you off on the road, don’t transform into a vigilante. Return good and be kind.

It’s natural to highlight more dramatic examples when we talk about returning good for evil. But these more common examples may well be harder to live out – day in and day out.

William Higgins

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[Check out the website – Love your enemy]

Last week we began our series on the Sermon on the Plain, the name for Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. We looked at the first part of it – the blessings and the woes. In these, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, comforts the afflicted – by giving four blessings to the faithful, and he afflicts the comfortable – by giving four woes to the unfaithful.

This teaching forces each of us to ask:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised their commitment to Jesus in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Today we move to the second section – focused on dealing with enemies – 6:27-36.

Jesus’ instructions on loving enemies

There are two sets of four commands here:

vs. 27-28 vs. 29-30
1. love your enemies
2. do good to those who hate you
3. bless those who curse you
4. pray for those who abuse you
1. to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
2. and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either
3. give to everyone who demands from you
4. and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back

All of these commands call us to love our enemies. But there are differences between the first four commands and the second four. I want to take just a few moments to flesh this out, because it has a big impact on how you put this into practice in real life.

  • The first four commands instruct us to return good for evil. We respond with love even when someone harms us.
  • The second four instruct us to yield to the enemy. We are to give what is demanded, and more.

These are different instructions.

Let’s take this example – You are being robbed . . ..

1. Under the admonition of the first set of commands you must simply love the robber, do good in return, and pray for him. As long as you return good for evil, you have a great deal of freedom to choose different options. You could refuse to give up anything, you could try to stop or disarm the robber. Or you could call the police, if your goal isn’t just to punish him. As long as you also show love to him, and act with his best interests in mind, not just yours, you’re fine.

2. But under the admonition of the second set of commands you must yield to the robber, give whatever is demanded and more, and never ask for anything back.

Do you see the difference? You can’t apply both sets of instructions to this case at the same time, because they give different answers.

What does this tell us about these two sets of commands? It tells us that they are speaking to different situations. In Scripture the command to yield (from the second set) is given in relation to authorities, for instance the government. And we are taught to submit even if they are an enemy to us (1 Peter 2:18-23; Romans 13).

Also, each situation in the second set is best seen as the action of an authority:

  • An authority figure who slaps to put someone under them in their place. This was a common custom of the day. It’s not a fist fight, it’s a way of pulling rank.
  • A creditor who takes the coat given in pledge for a loan by court authority. It’s not someone just stealing your coat. There is a legal procedure taking place.
  • The last two sayings picture the requisitioning demands of an occupying government, as the Romans did in Jesus’ day. For instance a soldier could come and say, “Your horse is needed by the Emperor” – and take it. When it says in v. 30 – “give to everyone who demands from you,” it’s talking about this, not, for instance, a beggar on the street. (The word “ask,” sometimes translated as “beg” is best translated as “demand” in this context, since you really don’t have a choice.) Also, when it says, “and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back,” it’s talking about this, not ordinary theft. Often items were not given back, even though they were supposed to be given back.

So the second set of commands deals with enemies who are authorities. And we are to yield to them. This is, in my understanding, what biblical nonresistance means. It’s the combination of the command to submit to authorities and to love our enemies. When you put these two together, you get nonresistance.

Now yielding doesn’t exclude other options, for instance fleeing (Matthew 10:23) or appealing to a higher authority for relief (Acts 25:10ff) or standing your ground and taking the consequences. But since Jesus doesn’t talk about these here, I won’t go into them for now.

The first set of commands deals with regular enemies – your neighbors, evildoers, robbers. And we are to love them and return good for evil.

My aim is that next week we will get into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. But my goal today is simply to help us understand what Jesus’ instructions mean here.

Next, Jesus gives us –

A key principle

v. 31 – “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is the so-called golden rule, which tells us how to act toward others.

The usual standard that people employ is – how has so and so treated me? And then you respond accordingly. If John does good to me, I’ll do good to him. But if he wrongs me, I’ll get him.

If you put this into a principle it would be the opposite of the golden rule – As others have done to you, do so to them. This is the standard of “an eye for an eye” or to put it positively, “a favor for a favor.” You act towards others based on how they have acted toward you.

But Jesus gives us a different, higher standard. To say it in a slightly different way – treat others based on how you want to be treated. The idea here is that, just as you want what is good, so  give what is good to others. Let this be your standard.

This is the principle behind all eight statements in the first section we looked at. They set aside an eye for an eye and work according to the logic of giving what you want to get. This principle teaches us to love and do good to all, even if they don’t deserve it.

Some provocative questions

In vs. 32-34 Jesus asks three questions that show that the “eye for an eye” standard is not an adequate one.

  • “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
  • “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
  • “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.”

Jesus is saying, everybody loves and does good to those who love and do good to them. This is just an expression of the standard of an eye for an eye, or a favor for a favor. You don’t get any credit or reward for this. Even sinners do this. The term “sinner” is used to speak of people who are acknowledged to have failed to live according to God’s will.

Jesus’ point is that if this is the best you can do, you’re doing nothing more than what sinners do. His challenge is, do you live by a higher standard of conduct than sinners?

After the questions comes –

An exhortation

– to live according to the higher standard that Jesus is teaching. v. 35 – “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return . . ..” Put aside an eye for an eye or a favor for a favor, and simply love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

A concrete example here is loaning money to an enemy who is in need (if you can). Jesus indicates that if they are unable to pay it back, we are to forgive the loan.   Love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

The result of obedience

v. 35 – “. . . and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” It’s not easy to love enemies, as we’ll talk about next week. But Jesus indicates here that it’s worth it. If living by an eye for an eye brings no reward, as we just saw, loving enemies does bring a reward. Specifically, “your reward will be great.”

And then he goes on to talk about being sons of the Most High. The idea here is that a son acts like their father. And since –

  • God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” – v. 35
  • God’s sons should do the same

To be a son of God is not about gender, it is about a certain social or religious status. It is to be an inheritor of your Father’s blessings. And both women and men can act like the Father and thus show that they have the status of inheritors.

But the specific test here is – Do we love our enemies, like our Father does? If we do, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom.

We end with v. 36, which is the center point of the whole Sermon on the Plain, and sums up this teaching on loving enemies. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Again, like Father, like son. The Father is merciful to evildoers. And as his children, we are to be merciful as well.

William Higgins

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We are starting a new series today and I’m really excited. We are going to go through what is called ‘the sermon on the plain.’ We all know about the sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7, right? Well this one is much shorter; a kind of miniature sermon on the mount. It is found in Luke 6.

It’s called the ‘sermon on the plain’ because it says in Luke 6:17 that, just before Jesus delivered this teaching, he “came down . . . and stood on a level place” – or as the King James version says, he “stood in the plain . . ..”

In this sermon, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, for it says, in Luke 6:20, “he looked up at his disciples and said . . .” – and then he gave his sermon. This is not just the twelve. There is also the “great crowd of his disciples” as verse 17 says. All of these disciples are the “you” that is addressed throughout the sermon. This shows us that his teaching here is not for the super-spiritual. It is meant for every follower of Jesus – including you and me.

Although this sermon doesn’t cover every area of discipleship, it does lay out nicely some of Jesus’ core concerns that he wants us to focus on.

First we look at –

An overview of the blessings and woes

– in verses 20-26. There are four blessings and four woes in our verses. Up first are the blessings, or beatitudes.

Announcement Who is blessed The blessing
Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

We will look more at the identity of the recipients in a moment, but for now I will just say that, however you want to interpret the beatitudes in Matthew, here in Luke the content of this teaching is fairly easy to understand. We are dealing with literal poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection. There is no indication that any of this is figurative.

To be blessed means that you are favored by God. And this favored status shows up in what is given: possession of the kingdom, being satisfied, laughing, and having a great reward in heaven.

Now notice the first and fourth beatitudes focus on present blessings, with present tense verbs. The second and third beatitudes focus on future blessings, with future tense verbs. So some of the blessing come now, and some later when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

Now we look at the four woes.

Announcement Who is cursed The curse
But woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Notice that these woes exactly parallel the blessings: poor/rich; hungry/full; weep/laugh; and revile you/speak well of you.

In this case, once again, we are dealing with literal riches, food, laughter and social acceptance.

“Woe” is a way of pronouncing God’s curse or judgment on someone. The judgments are: no hope of the kingdom, hunger, weeping, and although the fourth is left unsaid, the opposite of reward is condemnation.

The first woe speaks to something already present. The second and third woes look to the future with future tense verbs. So just as with the blessings, some of the judgment occurs now, and some later, at the final judgment.

When we put all this together we see clearly that the coming of the kingdom brings about –

The great reversal

Jesus talks about this in a number of places, I will just give you one example, that is close to what we have in our verses. Luke 14:11 says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The exalted one and the humble one trade places. Let’s look at this in our verses.

  • In the world those who are rich are on top, and those who are poor are on the bottom. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world there are those who are well fed and they have all they want, and then there are those who are hungry. But in the kingdom these places will be reversed.
  • In the world those who laugh have an easy life, and then those who weep are without what they need. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world those who are accepted and well spoken of have a good life, and then there are those who are rejected and spoken evil of, who suffer. But in the kingdom things will be the opposite.

Jesus is clear, the coming of the kingdom turns everything upside down.

Now let’s get more specific and ask –

Who are the recipients of these blessings and woes??

It’s certainly of interest to me and I’m guessing for you as well. Our first clue is something we already saw – 1. Jesus is speaking these words to his disciples. This means that he is not talking about the poor in general. He is saying, “You, my disciples, who hear me, who are poor . . ..”

So the reversal we just looked at applies to disciples:

  • Disciples who are poor, hungry, weeping and rejected are exalted with the coming of the kingdom.
  • And disciples who are rich, well fed, laughing and socially accepted are brought low and judged.

2. The suffering here has to do with faithfulness to Jesus. What I am saying is that the poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection all come – to use the phrase from the last beatitude – “on account of the Son of Man” – Luke 6:22.

So Jesus is not talking about or advocating here voluntary poverty, or voluntary hunger, or voluntary weeping for that matter. It has to do with how people treat you because of your commitment to Jesus.

Jesus is working here with the common theme of the faithful prophet who suffers, and as well, the unfaithful prophet who has it good in life. And he is laying out the marks of faithful and unfaithful prophets as this is found in the Old Testament.

This comes out at the end of the blessings and at the end of the woes. v. 23 says, “for so their fathers did to the prophets.” v. 26 says, “for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” So Jesus is making a connection between us as his disciples and the prophets of old.

True prophets speak God’s word regardless of the consequences. Thus they are rejected and persecuted. Because of this they are made poor, hungry, and they weep. They are oppressed for their faithfulness.

False prophets, however, say what pleases their audience. Thus they are well spoken of by all. Because of this they have wealth, food and they laugh. They are accepted by those in power and receive the good things of this life.

Jesus is saying, just like it has always been, so it is with his disciples.

So those who are blessed are disciples who have suffered loss for their commitment to Jesus. Those who are cursed are disciples who have compromised to gain the things of this world.

Let’s dig deeper here and make –

Some clarifications

– which I think are important for us to see.

1. You don’t have to be in a continual state of suffering to be blessed. After all, Jesus was well spoken of for a time. This didn’t make him a false prophet. He is referring to the long haul. If you are consistently  faithful to God, these kinds of things will mark your life.

2. You don’t have to have everything that’s on the list in order to be blessed. For any suffering is a mark of faithfulness and brings God’s blessing. To be hated and defamed is enough. We are not penalized simply because those who hate us, in our context, don’t have the power at present to make us poor or hungry. (Although in our society some still get rich and live the high life because they tell people what they want to hear.) But if they do gain this power we must endure it.

3. It’s often ‘the people of God,’ so called, who will do these things to you. It was the people of Israel who oppressed the prophets of old and also Jesus. They didn’t like what they heard – and thought they knew better.

Jesus’ words as encouragement

One of the reasons Jesus gives this teaching is to encourage those who are suffering for him. Think about those who are going through terrible loss all throughout the world for their faith – and the discourage-ment and weariness that this can bring.

Jesus is saying, don’t give up. It won’t always be this way. And he is saying, there will be a day of reckoning for those who do this to his disciples. And he is saying, it will be worth it. The rewards of the kingdom more than outweigh what is lost in this life.

Jesus’ words as challenge

But another reason he gives this teaching is to challenge each one of us. We have to ask ourselves:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Now granted, we don’t live in a society that really persecutes. There are limits to what can be done, as I said before. But you can be ridiculed, slandered, made an outcast or worse – like lose a job because of your faith.

The question for us in our setting is, when there are negative results that come to us because of our commitment to Jesus – Are we faithful, despite the consequences?

This is the test of whether we are among the company of the true prophets or the false prophets.

William Higgins

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You might say, ‘Well, pastor, there are lots of reasons not to share the gospel.’ For instance, I might strain my relationship with someone. Or, what if they ask a question I can’t answer? Or, I’m just not good at talking to people.

Now for sure, with regard to straining relationships, we should attend to how we share. We don’t want to be rude, manipulative or overbearing. We want to have wisdom and grace. And as well it is fine to say the truth – which is that you don’t have all the answers (just like everyone else) but you do know that Jesus is alive and can change lives. It’s not an argument it is you bearing witness to your faith. And yes, not everyone is good at sharing. But you can try and rely on God to give you the words. You don’t have to be eloquent for God to use you powerfully.

So, these are all concerns, but they can be dealt with. What’s crucial is that you are not ashamed of Jesus; that you don’t let this stop you from sharing.

Jesus talked about this in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

We must be bold in our witness to Jesus and the salvation he brings. We should be like Paul, who said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” And he lived his life by these words.

But enough about reasons why we don’t share. Now lets look at why we should share.

Reason #1 – Because you want to be faithful to Jesus

He certainly does call each of us to bear witness of him to others. He said, “You are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” -Matthew 28:19. He said, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8.

And so we share because we love him and want to be faithful to do what he says. We want to hear from him on the final day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In our story in Luke 8, Jesus told the man, “declare how much God has done for you” – v. 39. Jesus sent him back to share the gospel. (After all they had just sent Jesus away, so who else would do it?)

And it wouldn’t have been an easy assignment. He would surely get a hostile reception. But he was faithful to Jesus nevertheless. It says, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city . . .” – v. 39.

Reason #2 – Because you want to tell others about what God has done in your life

The psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” – Psalm 96:2-3. We are to tell others about what God has done – his salvation; his marvelous works.

Has God done something in your life? Are you forgiven? Have you been set free? Do you have new life? Joy? Love? Well, in our world – this is news! It’s something to be shared. God is alive and well and working in people’s lives. And people need to hear this.

Now sometimes we think that the best witnesses are new Christians. You know, it’s fresh in their hearts and they are eager to tell. But we aren’t just sharing something that happened at our conversion, maybe 10 or 30 or 50 years ago. It’s about what God is doing in your life right now.

Is God still working in your life? Then you have something to share. And that’s what you should share.

Once again, in our story in Luke 8, Jesus told the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” – v. 38. If we focused on the word “declare” before, now the focus is on what he is sharing – “how much God has done for you.”

He was demonized, he was enslaved, he was tortured. It must have been horrible, running around naked, out of control and miserable all the time. And now, because of Jesus, he is free, he is at peace and he is in his right mind. And this is what he shared. He proclaimed to everyone “how much Jesus had done for him” – vs. 39.

Reason #3 – Because you love people and want them to experience God’s salvation

It is certainly possible to have wrong motivations, like to win an argument or simply to make the church grow. But the right motive is love.

Jesus was motivated by love. In Matthew 9:36 it says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

And because he had compassion, he shared the good news with them. And then in Matthew 10 sent out his disciples because there were so many people.

Jesus had compassion. Do you have compassion for those who have not heard about Jesus?

Paul also was motivated by love. This is him talking about his fellow Jews who have not responded to Jesus: Romans 9:1-3 – “I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Do you have “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in your heart for those who don’t know Jesus?

We share because we love; because we are concerned about others. And we want others to know the grace of God, just as we do.

In our story in Luke 8, the man clearly loved Jesus. He sat at his feet, wanted to go with him and then obeyed what he said.

But he also loved the people of his city. For when the man told what God had done for him – he wasn’t just relating facts. He wanted them to experience Jesus, like he had. He wanted them to receive help from Jesus, like he had. For if Jesus could help someone in a situation as bad as his – he could surely help any one of them with their needs.

——————–

So we have here three good reasons to share the gospel:

  • You want to be faithful to Jesus because you love him.
  • You want to share what God has done in your life
  • You love others and want them to know Jesus too.

Our hope as Elders is that our Open house Sunday will give you a relatively easy way to work at this. Invite someone to come to church and hear about Jesus.

Let’s end today by pausing for a moment to listen in prayer. Who do you think God wants you to ask? Who is God putting on your heart?

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at the Gospel of Luke and how the angel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. As we work through these stories we will see how Mary emerges as an example to us in a couple of different ways.

Let me begin by backing up and giving you a very brief overview of –

Luke chapters 1-2


John’s birth

Jesus’ birth

1. Birth announcement – 1:5-23Elizabeth’s response – 1:24-25 2. Birth announcement – 1:26-38Mary’s response – 1:39-56
3. The birth – 1:57-66Prophetic response – 1:67-79

John’s growth – 1:80

4. The birth – 2:1-21Prophetic responses – 2:22-39

Jesus’ growth – 2:40-52

You can see the way these accounts of John and Jesus line up with each other, each having the same topics in the same order. And you can see how the story alternates between John and Jesus. We will focus in on the first part of sections 1 and 2 – the birth announcements – and see what we can learn. In these stories –

Gabriel comes to Zechariah and Mary

. . . to make his announcement about John and Jesus. There are a number of parallels in these two accounts and I want to use these to lay out  these stories. (The presence of parallels are noted by most commentators, but see especially John Nolland).

1. Their social situation is given

  • Zechariah is an older priest, married to Elizabeth – v. 5.
  • Mary is a young woman, betrothed to Joseph – vs. 26-27.

2. Their spiritual status is noted

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous people. v. 6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
  • Gabriel tells her that She is favored by God and the Lord is with her – v. 28.

3. The condition that keeps them from having a child is noted

  • “Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” – v. 7.
  • Mary was a “virgin” – v. 27, engaged, but not yet married.

4. The angel Gabriel came to them

  • He appeared to him in the Temple in Jerusalem while he was offering up incense in the Temple during prayers – vs. 8-10; 13.
  • He appeared to her in Nazareth in Galilee – v. 26.

5. They were both troubled

  • He was troubled by the presence of an angel. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was (literally) terrified when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
  • She was troubled by the greeting – “O favored one.”  v. 29 says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

6. They are told not to fear

  • “Do not be afraid” – v. 13 – “your prayer has been heard.”
  • “Do not be afraid . . . you have found favor with God” – v. 30.

7. Both are told they will have a child

  • “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John” – v. 13.
  • “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” – v. 31.

Gabriel also tells them both about the greatness and life mission of each child.

8. Both respond with a question to Gabriel

  • “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – v. 18. In other words, we’re too old!
    • Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin” – v. 34

9. Both are given a sign

  • “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words” – v. 20.
  • Elizabeth is with child. This is a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible with God, as Gabriel says in v. 37.

10. What they did after the encounter is told

  • He quietly waited for the fulfillment. What else could he do?
  • She responded in faith, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” – v. 38.

This is an amazing number of parallels. But the significant thing is that these parallels are used to make contrasts between Zechariah and Mary, which show that even though Zechariah is good and blessed –

Mary is highlighted in these stories

Let’s look at this –

1. Their social situation: It was more exceptional that God would come to lowly Mary, as opposed to Zechariah who was a priest, in the Temple, at the time of prayer.

2. Their spiritual status: Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous, but Gabriel himself tells Mary that she has God’s favor.

3. The condition precluding birth: Elizabeth’s birth would be miraculous, but a virgin birth is an unprecedented miracle.

4. Gabriel came: Zechariah was praying and had asked for a child. God took the initiative to come to Mary. She hadn’t asked for anything.

5. Both were troubled: She was not terrified, but more perplexed about what the angel said.

6. They were told not to fear: Even as she is told not to fear, her favored status is emphasized.

7. Both will have a child: John is great, but Jesus is greater. And it is the greater honor for Mary to have him.

8. Both asked a question: Zechariah responded with doubt. Mary simply wanted to know how God would do what he said he would do.

9. Both received a sign: Zechariah was judged for his unbelief – he couldn’t speak. She received a positive sign – Elizabeth was pregnant.

10. What they did after the encounter: She responded with true faith – ‘Do what you want Lord.’

I am showing you all this to make a point.

Mary is the example

She is the hero of the story. Zechariah is also blessed, but Mary is the focus. What can we learn from her?

1. Mary is an example to us that God loves to use the lowly to fulfill his will. She was of humble circumstances. This is especially so in contrast to Zechariah. He was a priest, a man – who had priority in this culture, and he was older. She had no official role, was a woman and young, somewhere between 14-20 years old.

She was not just lowly in circumstance, she was also inwardly humble. In vs. 28-29, the angel said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” This was a strange thing for her to hear and so she was trying to make sense out of it. She must not have thought of herself as greatly favored by God.

She referred to herself as a “bondservant” or slave in – v. 38. And later in the story she spoke of her “humble estate” in v. 48.

And yet as we learn in this story – God used lowly Mary in the most extraordinary way. As Elizabeth says in Luke 1:42-43, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She reminds us of what Paul said in   I Corinthians 1:27-28 – “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” – that is, by God.

As she herself said later in Luke 1:52 – “God has brought down the mighty from their throne, and exalted those of humble estate.”

2. Mary is an example to us of how to receive God’s word in faith. She had amazing faith. She was told that God will do what had never been done in all of human history – the impossible. What was her response? She said in v. 38 – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ‘OK God, do whatever you want.’ This is amazing faith!

Did she think of the shame factor, that everyone would suspect that she was unfaithful? Did she think of the complications this would bring to her marriage. Joseph almost divorced her as we learn in Matthew. This was going to mess up her life!

But nevertheless hers was a response of faith. She believed, just as Gabriel said, that “nothing will be impossible with God” – v. 37.

Elizabeth notes Mary’s faith when she says in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

She reminds us of what Paul said about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20-21. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now, having said this it is clear that she was not perfect. Later she had doubts about what Jesus was up to, like the other disciples, and Jesus’ brothers. But Mary is an example to us in this story. She teaches us that God loves to use the lowly to accomplish his will. And she teaches us how to receive God’s word in faith, so that God can work in and through us.

May we learn from her example

William Higgins

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We are looking at Luke 15:11-32 this morning and the story of the prodigal son.

The point

. . . of this parable is easy enough to discern. The verses right before it set the context for understanding it: Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

  • Jesus is receiving and eating with repentant sinners; people who have intentionally disregarded God and knowingly done what was wrong.
  • The Pharisees do not approve of this; people who have tried to keep God’s will.

This is the situation that is being dealt with in the whole of Luke chapter 15.

Then in Luke 15:3-10 come the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin – which comment on this situation. Yes, there are those who are not lost – the 99 sheep and the 9 coins, but when the one that was lost is found there is rejoicing. Even rejoicing in heaven among the angels.

Then in our text we have:

  • The younger son’s repentance which is celebrated
  • And the elder son, who grumbles about this

So, you can see how these all line up, and what corresponds to what:

prodigal context

So all these parables refer back to the situation of Jesus and the Pharisees and comment on it.

The point of our parable, then, is that it is right to welcome and celebrate sinners who repent.

  • The father celebrates his son’s repentance. In vs. 23-24 he said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
  • The father tells his older son that it is right to do this. In v. 32 he said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Now, beyond this central point – there is much that we can learn from this parable about repentance, and we have looked at it in this light.

There is also something to learn about how those who have sought to be faithful and have been serving God for years, should be welcoming to repentant sinners, and rejoice for them, despite their years of sin and failure.

And there is also much to be learned about God’s love. And this is our focus today. And to get to this, first we look at . .

The love of the father in this parable

He is actually the central figure of the story. It begins and ends with him, and he is the thread that holds the two parts together, first with his younger son and then his elder son. So lets look at his love:

1. The father’s love endures rejection. His son’s request was highly unusual, indeed insulting to the father. You only get your inheritance when your father is dead! And so the son is, as it were, treating his father as if he is already dead. And he just wants his money. He doesn’t care about his father, only what he can get out of him.

But the father grants his wish. V. 12 – says “he divided his property between them,” that is the two sons.

2. The father’s love accepts his son when he repents. Even though the father knew his son was wasting his own hard earned resources and squandering his good gifts . . ..

Even though he knew that his son was debasing himself:

  • using the money on prostitutes (v. 30)
  • sinking to the lowest possible point for a Jew, caring for pigs which are unclean animals
  • and being so hungry that he longed for their food . . ..

Even with all this, when the father saw his son coming v. 20 says,

  • he “felt compassion”
  • he “ran and embraced him”
  • he “kissed him”

This kind of display of affection was unusual in this cultural context. It shows the intensity of his love for his son. And this despite all that his son had done wrong.

The father’s love survived all the insult and pain and was there waiting for him as he returned from far away and from his foolishness. It was waiting to accept him.

3. The fathers’ love is full of mercy. He gives him so much more than he deserves, given all that he has done. V. 22 speaks of . . .

  • “the best robe”
  • “a ring” (a symbol of authority)
  • and “shoes”

All of these items speak to a certain social status. The father is proclaiming him to be his son and not a servant. (The son had only hoped to be accepted back as a servant).

And then the father welcomes him with a party – v. 23. The fattened calf is brought out, reserved only for the most special of occasions.

4. The father’s love is patient with the elder brothers grumbling. The elder son objected to the party. In fact, he insults his father by not taking part. Even though the father pleaded with him.

Yet the father is patient and only gently rebukes him. He says in v. 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad . .  ..” The father is saying, ‘He’s your brother! And something amazingly good has just happened.’

5. The father’s love rewards the faithful service of his elder son. In v. 31 he says to his elder son who has worked for him so long and so hard, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.”

This shows us again that sin has consequences. The younger son’s inheritance was still all gone. But the point here is that the father honors faithfulness. Everything the father has is his elder son’s. He is blessed for his faithfulness.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us

Now, the father in this parable certainly represents to us our heavenly Father. So let’s see what we can learn from him about the love of God:

1. God’s love endures our rejection of him. So often we dishonor God by making our own choices that go against God and God’s way. But yet, like the prodigal son, we want what we can get out of God. When we get in trouble or there is an emergency we call for God’s help.

But despite our all this, our heavenly father’s love for us endures.

2. God’s love accepts us when we repent. No matter how much we have rejected God, no matter how much we have debased ourselves, no matter how much we have squandered God’s gifts to us – when we come to our senses and come to him in repentance – God is there to welcome us with affection and love.

3. God’s love is full of mercy to us. Our heavenly father gives us so much more than we deserve. When we come in repentance –

  • He blesses us with gifts
  • He calls us his children
  • and there is rejoicing in heaven

None of which we deserve.

4. God’s love is patient with us when we grumble. Although we all live out the prodigal son’s story to some degree, since we understand that we have all sinned against God, we can also all find ourselves in the place of the elder son.

Perhaps you were raised as a Christian, or at least you’ve been a Christian for many years – serving God and seeking to do what is right.

And we become proud and un-accepting of those who have lived truly sinful lifestyles for years. All the attention and fuss that is made over them. We’ve been toiling in silence for years!

Yet God lovingly and gently admonishes us to rejoice with those who have come to their senses; to welcome them.

5. God’s love rewards us for faithful service. God’s grace to those who have wasted so much of their lives in sin, will not cheat anyone out of God’s blessings. No one needs to fret or be upset.

If we have truly been faithful, God will be faithful to bless us for all that we do for him.

So we learn much about God’s love to us in this parable – when we are walking in sin, when we come to God in repentance and when we are faithful as well. God loves us with an amazing love!

William Higgins

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Well today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember when Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem as king. 

We are looking today at “How to be ready for the great gathering” that is, the resurrection of the righteous. I think that this is a timely topic for Palm Sunday. Consider this: 

  • At Jesus’ first coming, he presented himself as king, but very few were ready
  • At Jesus’ second coming, when he appears in glory as king, will we be any more ready?

Review

We saw last week why we need to be ready for when Jesus returns and sends out his angels to gather those who claim him as Lord. We need to be ready because the unfaithful will be separated out from the faithful.

We saw how Jesus talks about this a lot. Here are just two examples:

  • Matthew 25 – parable of the bridesmaids: five make it in, five don’t
  • Matthew 25 – parable of the talents: two make it in, one doesn’t 

So there is a sorting process, and some who are gathered, or who seek to be gathered, will not make it into the eternal kingdom. While those who are found faithful will be gathered to Jesus, will be resurrected, and will receive eternal rewards.

Now we know that . . .

The foundation of our salvation is the gift of grace in Jesus 

It is based on what he did for us through his life, death and resurrection. To receive this gift, we must:

  1. Acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world.
  2. Turn from our old life of sin and wrongdoing, and commit to live a new life just as Jesus has taught.
  3. Ask for and receive the new life that comes through Jesus. This includes the forgiveness of our sins and also new life by the Spirit; new birth.

Without this you don’t get anywhere! This is the foundation. And this is all assumed in what our Scriptures talk about today, for Jesus is speaking to his disciples – Christians. 

The question that is focused on in our scriptures today is: Have we been faithful with the grace we have received?

It’s one thing to receive the mercy of God’s salvation. It’s another to continue on in that mercy until the end; to be faithful. It is as Jesus said, in the midst of the trials and testings of this life, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” – Mark 13:13

And on that day of sorting we want to be found among those who are faithful! So here are . . .

Three marks of faithfulness 

. . . that Jesus speaks of, that show us how to be alert and ready for his coming.

#1. Be Dead To Your Earthly Life. This comes from Luke 17:28-35 –

“Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Jesus teaches us here that the great gathering of the resurrection will be like when the angels gathered Lot and his family out of Sodom. Jesus said, “Just as in the days of Lot (v. 28) . . . so it will be when the Son of man is revealed” (v.  30). So lets look at this comparison:

The Gathering from Sodom:

  1. Angels were sent to gather Lot and his family
  2. Lot’s wife longingly looked back to her home in Sodom
  3. She was attached to her life in Sodom  and was judged. She was sorted out of the faithful remnant.

The End Time Gathering:

  1. Angels will be sent to gather us (as we saw last week)
  2. We should not tarry or turn back. This is what Jesus is talking about in v. 31. In that day don’t seek to grab your possessions, or if you are in the field don’t turn back toward your home.
  3. So this raises the question for us – Are we attached to our earthly life?

As he says in v. 33, in the context of his second coming, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, possessions, status and earthly plans.  

If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, you will be sorted out, just like Lot’s wife. That’s why Jesus said, in v. 32 – “Remember Lot’s wife.” That’s the lesson here. She sought to preserve her life and so she lost her life. Don’t be like her.

We have to be able to let it all go, to lose it all in a moment – unsaved loved ones, our possessions, our projects and our earthly dreams. 

And the way to prepare for this is to choose now to die to your earthly life. In the words of Jesus “to lose your life.” Already now put God first above all else on this earth. Then you will be ready and not hesitant on the great day of gathering when the angels come for you. 

#2. Do the will of God, just as Jesus teaches. By far, Jesus talks about this the most when he speaks of being ready for the great gathering. 

We will focus in on one example: Matthew 7:21-23 –

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” 

  • Notice that they confessed Jesus as Lord. They looked to him as the Messiah.
  • They did works by the Spirit of God – prophesying, casting out demons and performing miracles 
  • And they ministered in the name of Jesus

These are disciples that thought all was OK in their lives. Indeed they thought that they were outstanding followers of Jesus, waiting for their commendation. But they don’t make it in!

Why? They did not obey the will of God. Jesus has just taught about this in the Sermon on the Mount, right before this passage – much of it focused on what it means to love our neighbor. They didn’t practice this.

As Jesus says in v. 21 it is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” who “will enter the kingdom of heaven” on that final day of sorting.

But these people knowingly allowed sin to remain in their lives. They chose not to deal with it. This is why Jesus said, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” They are sorted out due to continued unrighteousness in their lives.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Obey God in every part of your life. Put into practice all that Jesus has taught and modeled for us. Hold nothing back; no part of your life. 

And when you fail, repent and find forgiveness and move forward again. Endure in your obedience until the end.

#3. Do your work for the Kingdom. That is, whatever God has called you to do, whatever God has gifted you to do, make sure you do it.

Jesus speaks of this in several passages, but we will focus on the familiar Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. Here’s a summary:

  • Jesus, the master is going away 
  • And so he gives to his servants specific tasks to do according to their abilities, while he is gone
  • Two worked hard at their tasks and were blessed when the master returned
  • One didn’t work. He was lazy and did nothing and was judged. Jesus says about him, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 25:30.

It will work the same way for us on that final day when Jesus returns. If you do nothing to work for the kingdom, you will be sorted out as well.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Serve Jesus with your life, your gifts, your time, your resources. Find out what Jesus wants you to do, and then get busy! Work hard to advance the kingdom.

A final note

Now, I know it can be a somber thing to think about this business of being sorted, and some being sorted out. But we are given this teaching (and there is a lot of it) so that we can examine our lives and make the changes we need to make in order to be ready. So that we can indeed be found faithful. 

But, having said that, lets end on a more joyful note. For if you:

  1. Die to your earthly lives so that you are ready to go
  2. Do the will of God and 
  3. Work hard for the kingdom – you will be blessed! 

You will hear these words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will have Jesus’ seal of approval before all of creation.

He will say, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” We will be rewarded for our faithfulness; for all of our troubles and sacrifices for him. It will all be more than worth it.

And he will say, “Enter into the joy of your master.” We will have joy with Jesus for eternity in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 25:21)

William Higgins

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