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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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updated 5/24/19

The literary structure of Luke 17:11-19

We are looking at the story of the ten lepers from Luke 17:11-19. I have always liked this story, and I want us to see what we can learn from it this morning.

Luke 17:11-19 – “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem

Verse 11 says – “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.”  The idea of Jesus traveling up to Jerusalem one final time is a real theme in the gospel of Luke, beginning in Luke 9:51. This says – “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” We also have several other notices of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem – (e.g. – Luke 9:53, 13:22)  So in our passage we are once again reminded that Jesus is taking his last fateful trip to Jerusalem.

Here we encounter him “between Samaria and Galilee.” It was normal for Jews to travel south from Galilee to Jerusalem and not go through Samaria, but to skirt around in on the border.

Verses 12-14 recount the . . .

Healing miracle

 . . . that is at the center of this story. Verse 12 says, “And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.” Now leprosy in the Bible is not just what we call leprosy, or, Hansen’s disease. It referred to various kinds of diseases that affect the skin; that make it inflamed, scaly or splotchy. This would include things like psoriasis or eczema. Perhaps some of us would qualify as lepers according to the law of Moses because of our skin ailments!

So the problem is not necessarily that it’s life threatening, rather it’s a matter of ritual uncleanness according to the law of Moses. Leviticus 13:45-46 lays out some of the rules for lepers – “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ . . . His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

This last phrase explains why they “stood at a distance.”

  • Because they were unclean, lepers were social outcasts, who lived in small groups or colonies. (This would be similar today to the mentally ill or drug addicted who are homeless and live in camps or shelters apart from others.)
  • Although they were outcasts they stayed near enough to roadways to ask for alms (donations) which is why they see Jesus about to enter the village.

Verse 13 says – “and (the ten lepers) lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”  They apparently had heard about Jesus. They knew his name and called him “Master” – a title of respect. They most likely knew of him as a miracle worker.

Although lepers did call out for mercy for alms – here, when they say – “have mercy” it’s a call for healing. Have mercy on us by healing our leprosy.

Verse 14 says, “When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” The phrase – “Show yourselves to priests” – refers to what Moses commanded when someone’s leprosy went away. They go to the priest, who certifies that they are clean and takes them through the rituals necessary to re-enter society (Leviticus 14). This certainly confirms to us that Jesus honored the Mosaic law in his ministry to Jews. He told them to do what Moses commanded.

But what is really interesting, in terms of the healing, is that Jesus tells them to go before they are healed. You are supposed to go after the skin condition is gone, and the priest certifies this. But he tells them to act as if it is already done!And amazingly, they did what Jesus said. They acted in faith. Simply based on the word of Jesus, they go to find a priest.

And then it says, “as they went they were cleansed.” As they acted in faith, God granted their request. For a leper to be cleansed is to be healed (v. 15). They are “made well” or literally saved from their condition (v. 19).

Healing a leper was a significant event. In Jesus’ day it was held that only a miracle from God could cure a leper. It was like raising someone from the dead (2 Kings 5:7). Here Jesus heals ten at once.

And again, this is not just a physical malady. It’s a social one. They are able to be a part of society again; to be with family; to work; to have dignity and honor.

The thankful Samaritan

Verses 15-16 say, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” Here we learn that one of the now healed lepers is a Samaritan. From a Jewish point of view he was a double outcast – a leper and a Samaritan, since the Samaritans were viewed as enemies and heretics, which is why most Jews avoided going through Samaria.

Well, he’s the only one who, when he notices his healing, turns back to praise God and fall at Jesus’ feet to thank him. What a twist in the story! The good guy is the Samaritan, and not the other, presumably Jewish lepers.

He recognized that Jesus was the key; the means of his healing. (This is the only place in the gospels where you have thanks given to Jesus.)

Jesus’ response

Verses 17-18 say, “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ “ He told them to go to the priests! So this seems kind of odd that he is criticizing the nine. But, of course, this didn’t preclude them from stopping and giving thanks once their healing was apparent.

Jesus is saying, the nine should have also given thanks to God and specifically to him for his role in giving them God’s mercy.

Verse 19 says, “And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The last phrase can be translated “you faith has saved you.” And because of this some think that the Samaritan is given something more than the nine – true salvation or a true healing. But it’s really just Jesus’ way of saying, “yes, you’re healed, now you can go live your life.” He does this in other places as well. (See also Luke 7:50; 8:48; 18:42.)

3 lessons from this story

1. Jesus loves to give God’s grace to outcasts – whether it be sinners, tax collectors or prostitutes. We see this all the time in the gospels. And here it is a Samaritan and a leper.

Are you an outcast? Are you excluded and put down? There is good news in the Gospels – Jesus loves you and wants to bless you with God’s grace.

But this raises the question for us as followers of Jesus from the other end. “How are we when we encounter outcasts?”  How do we respond to those our society considers unclean – the homeless, the drug addicted, prostitutes, those in same-sex relationships?

Do we minister God’ grace to bring healing and restoration? Or do we avoid them, put them down, hate and exclude them?

Jesus loved outcasts. And it’s a good thing because we are all simply sinners and outcasts, whom Jesus has had mercy on. And we are to pass this mercy on to others as well.

2. We need to act in faith. They had tremendous faith in Jesus. They acted before they saw the reality, just based on Jesus’ command. They still had their leprosy!

But isn’t this the essence of faith? As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” They believed that if they did what Jesus said, they would be healed.

This is an example to us. When we ask God for something and God responds by telling us to do something, do we sit back and wait? Do we wait for some results first, some evidence that we can see? Or do we move forward according to what God tells us to do, expecting God to be faithful?

3. We need to give thanks for what God has done in our lives. Specifically, it is always appropriate to stop and give thanks to God and our Lord Jesus.

We can be so focused on duty, doing what God has told us to do (like the nine) that we don’t realize and acknowledge what God has done for us.

So, don’t be one of the nine. Yes, they had faith and were blessed. But don’t be like them! Be like the one who was blessed and also showed gratitude.

So many people ask God for things, “God help me with this problem!” “Fix this crisis!” But how many, when God has mercy, turn and give thanks? Be one of the few who give back thanks to God and his Son, for his great mercy in our lives.

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What you give to others,  is what you will get from God

 We are looking again at our relationships with each other and how to be a healthy community. Today we look at the topic of judging. Our text is Luke 6:37-38 – “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. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

“Don’t judge me!”

 . . . is a phrase you hear all the time these days. It means, “don’t tell me what I am doing is wrong;” “don’t put your values on me.” In our culture it is live and let live. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. As long as you aren’t hurting others, its OK. And this has come into the church as well as we privatize our lives so that we think that what we do is not anyone else’s business.

Needless to say this isn’t what Jesus meant when he said “Do not judge.” We know this because:

  • Jesus pointed out sin in people’s lives all the time and he called them to change. For instance in Luke 16:14-15 – “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” Jesus was never afraid to point out sin
  • Also, Jesus taught that in the church we are to hold each other accountable for our behavior – Matthew 18:15-17. This is what we call church discipline. This involves pointing out sin in other’s lives and calling them to repent. Paul even calls this process “judging” in             I Corinthians 5:12-13.

So clearly pointing out sin and calling people to repent is not what Jesus is forbidding.

What then does Jesus mean??

There are three clues from our text:

Clue #1: “Judge not” is linked to the phrase – “and you will not be judged.” This last phrase is a reference to the final judgment. So “judge not” is connected to the final judgment, which links it with things like: the end of mercy; a final verdict; and punishment for sins.

Clue #2: “Judge not” equals “condemn not.” They are in synonymous parallelism with each other. This means that they say the same thing in slightly different ways. To condemn means to pronounce a person guilty and enact punishment on the person.

Clue #3: “Judge not” means the opposite of “forgive” and “give” (mercy). They are in antithetical parallelism with each other. So to judge is to withhold mercy or forgiveness.

So when we see someone struggling with sin, Jesus forbids that we: condemn, seek to punish them, write them off (give a final verdict on them so that we don’t need to worry about them anymore), withhold mercy, or withhold forgiveness even if they repent. Rather, in mercy we seek to help them out of their sin and then forgive and restore.

  • We are to act redemptively, not punitively
  • We are to help them up, not put them down
  • We are to always leave open the possibility that they might change, not close the door of mercy on them

Examples of these different approaches 

These help us see the contrasts between these responses to sin in people’s lives:

The tax collectors and prostitutes: The scribes and the Pharisees pointed out their sin but only to condemn them; only to write them off as beyond mercy. Jesus pointed out their sin but showed concern and love for them. He went to them and sought to help them out of their sin.

The adulterous woman – John 8: Her accusers pointed out her sin and only sought to punish her; to stone her to death. But Jesus had mercy on her. He called her to stop sinning. He took a redemptive approach.

The Gentiles – Romans 2: Many Jews had judged the Gentiles as hopelessly evil and wrote them off. They simply avoided them. Paul loved and worked with the Gentiles. He reminds these Jews that it is “the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience” that leads people to repentance (2:4), not hard hearted condemnation.

What about in our day? How do you respond to those who struggle with drug abuse, giving in to homosexual desires, or those who have a  history of being a sex offender? Do you seek to condemn, punish, write them off, put down, ridicule? Or in mercy do you seek to act in redemptive ways to help them with their problem?

Why this kind of judging is forbidden

1) Because this is not the final day. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes.” Now is the day of grace – 2 Corinthians 6:2 – not judgment. As James says God is “able to save” sinners – 4:12.

Even notorious sinners can repent. Paul said, “I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” – I Timothy 1:16. God is busy extending mercy to sinners, and so should we. Final judgment must await the appointed time when Jesus returns. Even with church discipline, this is not a final verdict. We hope and pray for their repentance.

2) Because we are not qualified to make such judgments. It is God who judges. James says, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” – 4:12. And only God is able to judge. Paul says, “God will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” I Corinthians 4:5.

3) Because we are ourselves only forgiven sinners. How can we, who escaped God’s condemnation only by God’s mercy, turn around and withhold mercy from someone else and condemn them? We have no ground to stand on.

Scripture talks about this a lot: Romans 2:1 – “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” John 8:7 – “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Matthew 18:32-33 – in the parable of the unforgiving servant the master says, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

Finally, a warning and a promise

Jesus said in Luke 6:38 –  “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” In the parallel in Matthew 7:2 he said, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This teaches us that how we treat others now is how God will treat us on the final day. This principle can work against us or for us.

The warning: If we judge and condemn when we see sin in someone’s life; if we are harsh with others, if we reject others as rejected by God, if we exclude others from the realm of whom we love – God will do the same to us. The same measure will be applied to us.

But the promise is this – if we act in merciful ways toward the one struggling with sin, God will be merciful to us and in great abundance. Jesus says – “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” – Luke 6:38

It can go either way. Its up to you! So let’s choose to be merciful, so that we will receive mercy from our heavenly Father.

William Higgins

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