Below is the final message I shared with my campus family today. It was a good and difficult time filled with memories, laughter and tears.
Last week we spoke of Joseph, his father Jacob and how Joseph’s entire family came to live in Egypt. Joseph’s generation passed away followed by many other generations. In time a Pharaoh, who didn’t know the story of Joseph, rose to power. This Pharaoh came to fear and despise Jacob and Joseph’s offspring whom had multiplied greatly, became very numerous. The Egyptians began to worry these “outsiders” would someday take over the land. To keep this from happening Pharaoh took away their freedom made them slaves.
In the beginning of the book of Exodus God hears the cry of these descendants, now slaves, known as Hebrews and raises up a servant named Moses. God calls Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage into a new land, a new place where they could worship God and live in freedom.
However, even after God showed his mighty power through great miracles and made a promise the Hebrews would be God’s chosen people they would not listen to God. They would not trust God to do as he promised; lead them to a new place. These people complained about everything! They accused Moses, God’s servant, of not knowing what he was doing. They missed Egypt and wanted to go back. They grumbled in their hearts, became angry, doubted God in times of difficulty, and didn’t believe God could do what he promised. They could not move into God’s future promise because they clung to past familiarity.
Ultimately, their lack of faith, holding on to the past and fears of the future cost them dearly. God led them into no man’s land to meander aimlessly until the first generation died out. Instead it would be their children who would receive the benefits of the new land, the new place God had promised.
After most of this generation passed away a new one stood on the border of God’s Promised Land ready to go, to believe what the former generation could not. To journey on to this new place they had to leave the past behind, which included parents they had buried, places they were familiar with, lands they once called home and step into the next place God had prepared.
As they ready themselves Moses addresses them…
Moses says;…if you’ll follow your God, heart and soul, and listen to His voice and obey His commands and remember His regulations, which are written in this book.
11 What I’m commanding you today isn’t too difficult for you; it’s not out of reach.12 It’s not up in the sky, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go up into heaven and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 13 It’s not across the sea, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go beyond the watery abyss and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 14 No, the words you need to be faithful to the Lord are very close to you. They are in your mouth if you will speak of them and in your heart if you will treasure them.
15 Look, I give you two choices today: you can have life with all the good things it brings, or death and all the bad things it brings. 16 If you do what God commands you today and love the Lord your God; if you live as He wants you to, if you obey His commands, regulations and judgments, then you’ll live. He will bless you with a new place, give you a new land.
17 But if your heart turns away and you don’t listen, if you go astray and you bow down to other gods and worship them,18 then today I assure you you’ll be destroyed. You’ll not inhabit this place; this new land will not be yours.
19 The Lord is giving you the choice today between life and death, between being blessed or being cursed. Choose life, so that you and your family may live! 20 If you love the Lord your God and listen to His voice and always remain loyal to Him, for He is your life, then you’ll be able to thrive in this new place the Lord has promised you.
This must’ve been a bitter sweet time for Moses. He is 120 years old but is still very capable of leading. However, Moses is also human and flawed. He has made mistakes and God has revealed to him he will not be journeying with this generation to this new place. Moses accepts this and after addressing the people he anoints others to lead them where he cannot.
God does give Moses the assurances of his faithfulness by taking him up a mountain and showing him the new land, the new place God’s people will make their home.
Moses climbed up from the plains of Moab to the top of Mount Nebo, to the peak at Mount Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. The Lord showed him the whole land that would be Israel’s territory: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all of Judah’s territory to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, 3 the southern desert, and the basin in the valley of Jericho, the “city of palms,” as far as Zoar.
The Lord (to Moses): 4 This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I told them, “I’ll give this place to this generation. I’ve let you see it, even though you will not be going with them.”
5 So Moses, the Lord’s servant, died and was buried in a valley in the land of Moab. 8 The children of Israel stayed in the plains of Moab and mourned for Moses, until the grieving period was over.
Today, in many ways, we are experiencing this story in the book Deuteronomy. It is a day of decisions. It is a time when we must choose this new way or choose to hold on to the past and what is familiar.
I have served this campus church for 5 ½ years and my history pales in comparison to some of you who have been at Lebanon Valley Nazarene much longer. I can only speak from my experience and from what many of you have shared with me. There have been some wonderful times and some rough times. Moments we’ll treasure forever and memories we’d like to forget! But God has always been faithful.
In many ways we have wandered in the wilderness for these past 8 months wondering where the path would lead us. Though unsure of the way we now stand on the border of something new and unknown.
The choice becomes; do we leave the past behind, the good and the bad, highlights and low times, beautiful and less desirable events and journey into this new place, or hold on to what was, complain, grumble, fear and miss the new thing God wants to do and is doing.
Crossing the border, going to this new place requires leaving some we love behind, familiar surroundings and a place we’ve called our home. It won’t be easy but life rarely is and God is always faithful.
In some ways I see myself as Moses in this story…give me time to explain before you start rolling your eyes and thinking; “The Pastor really does need this sabbatical if he’s comparing himself to Moses!” It’s in very small ways but I maybe sense what Moses was experiencing in this selection of text.
Like Moses, I have set the choices before you today and beg you to choose life.
Like Moses, I ask you to trust God and walk his way. He will not abandon the work of his hands.
Like Moses, I have had a group of leaders and supporters who have walked with me as I have led and who will go with you as we separate.
Like Moses, I stand on the border of this new and unknown territory but cannot go with you.
Like Moses my heart hurts today as I see my dear friends and loved ones prepare to continue on without me.
I wonder if Moses regretted his actions and hasty words which kept him from continuing the journey. I want you to know I regret not being able to do more to keep this campus church open and this from being our last Sunday. I am sorry I could not lead in such a way this could have been avoided and to keep this wonderful community whole and moving forward.
This deep sadness is tempered by God’s assurance that he keeps his promises even through the weaknesses and shortcomings of leaders. I stand here today seeing, though unable to experience, God’s faithful hand which will guide you and lead you to a new place filled with his blessings!
Hopefully, unlike Moses, I will not be buried here today but like Moses I can rest knowing God is faithful.
Today, in the midst of our parting and pain, let us choose to celebrate the future unknown and not cling to the old which is passing away.
The Greatness and the Goodness of God
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall tell of your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful;
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
He also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him.
Four blind men longed to see the wonders of the world. Wanting to help, a local Elephant owner arranged for the men to “see” the magnificent beast. The four blind men approached the elephant, arms extended, to investigate this wonder they had only heard about.
The first blind man touched the elephant’s leg and thought it must be like a tree, tall and sturdy. The second blind man touched the elephant’s side and surmised it to be as a great wall. The third blind man felt the elephant’s ear and noted it was similar to a large rug. The fourth blind man grabbed its tail and thought it as a great rope.
When they were done the owner asked them to describe the elephant. The blind men began to argue. For though each experienced it they could not agree on what it was…
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiahof God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Today is Christ is king Sunday. Fittingly Jesus is hailed as king in our scripture.
Here is what is happening in our text. Luke bases his account on Mark 15 and Matthew 27 but Luke also gives the story his own spin. When Jesus is crucified the Gospel of Mark uses the Greek term for a “political criminal” or “insurrectionist.” Luke uses a word that means common criminal, thief. This fits with Luke’s overall theme. Throughout his gospel Jesus identifies with the common people. Luke is not afraid associating Jesus with the lower class. Luke places Jesus in the company of prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors. Jesus’ friends have made him infamous.
Isaiah 53 says;
10 The Lord says, “It was my will that he should suffer; his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness…My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased, will bear the punishment of many and for his sake I will forgive them. 12 And so I will give him a place of honor, a place among the great and powerful. He willingly gave his life and shared the fate of evil men. He took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven.”
Isaiah describes God’s chosen one being numbered among the sinners. Luke shows Jesus’ relationship with the lowly ones even in his death.
Luke 23:34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots for his clothing.
Jesus clings to his relationship with the Father. He prays the Father will forgive those who “do not know what they are doing.” He trusts the Father who has led him to this cross.
Last week we talked about Luke being written near 85AD to the second generation of Christians. Jesus, through Luke’s writing, is demonstrating to these who are facing increasing persecution how to be faithful. While suffering, Jesus prays forgiveness for his abusers and trusts God. The followers of Jesus are to do likewise.
The “them” Jesus asks the father to forgive in verse 34 are the Jewish leadership. These would be the same ones who would be persecuting the second generation of Christians.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many encircle me, surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For they are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the death,
my life from their wickedness!
In Psalm 22 the writer pleads with God to rescue him from his abusers, those who mock him, surround him, cast lots for his clothes, and are killing him.
Casting lots for clothes was the soldiers way of telling a condemned man “Guess you won’t be needing these anymore.” It was mockery. The Psalmist laments; “I am a worm and not human.” Similarly, Jesus is no longer a person in the eyes of the soldiers.
To be bullied, insulted, pushed around, stripped naked, and not be able to escape, is true powerlessness. Even a condemned criminal joins in. How low must Jesus feel for someone in the same position to partake in the taunts?
Unlike Mark, Luke does not have the people, the crowd, mock Jesus. In his gospel, Jesus and the people have an intimate and lasting connection.
The rulers, the religious élite, have no such qualms about insulting and reveling, enjoying, Jesus’ suffering. They mock him, jeering for him to save himself the same way he saved others.
The religious aristocracy, the Roman government, a criminal, all tell Jesus to save himself, prove he is the Son of God. From the lowest of society to some of its highest officials, Jesus is roundly condemned.
In Luke, chapter 4;
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
At his temptation, Satan says to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God…” directly attacking the words spoken by God the Father who, following Jesus’ baptism, in Luke chapter 3, said;
…and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.”
36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
The Greek words here do not mean sour. More accurately they mean watered down. In other words it is cheap wine, common people’s wine, the drink of the lower class. The soldier’s mockingly give it to one who is “the King of the Jews.”
In the midst of all this suffering, mocking, and impending death a lone voice of sanity speaks. It is the voice of the other criminal. One has mocked Jesus, now the other one has something to say. He tells the other crook to pipe down! Like Pontius Pilate, this crook notices something unique about Jesus in comparison to him and his crooked companion. Jesus is innocent.
Then, this lowly criminal, recognizes who Jesus is…Not the religious élite and their “thou shalt and shalt not” regulations & stipulations regarding who can and cannot be a child of God. Neither was it the Roman government and their desire to rule the world who don’t recognize real power when it’s staring them in the face. Definitely not the disciples who don’t get Jesus, even though they’ve been around him for three years. Everyone of them are upstaged by a crucified, crook.
A man who sees Jesus as his only hope. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. A guy looking to save his own skin, redemption of a life wasted, in his last moments on Earth, has the audacity, the gall, to want to hang out with Jesus in paradise. Jesus tells this low life thug, “okay.”
Let that sink in.
Isn’t that just like Jesus, with his last breaths and his first act as crucified king, to save a lowly, common, no good, person?
Truly something to be thankful for…
Psalm 46: “O God, You are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Help us not to fear, though everything change. When nations are in an uproar, and Earthly kingdoms totter; You speak and show us Your power. O God, You are with us, You are our refuge. May we see the works of the Lord. You have brought peace to our world through Your Son. Let us, “Be still, and know You are God! And You are with us, You are our refuge. Amen.”
“The roar of the flames streaming far and wide mingled with the groans of the falling victims…one would have thought that the whole city was ablaze…With the cries on the hill were blended those of the multitude in the city below, and now many who were emaciated and tongue-tied from starvation, when they beheld the sanctuary on fire, gathered strength once more for lamentations and wailing…Yet more awful than the uproar were the sufferings.” Luke, David Tiede.
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
What’s happening in our text
Though Luke bases this teaching of Jesus on the gospel of Mark he also makes some changes
In Mark 11, Jesus rebukes a fig tree as being no good, incapable of bearing fruit. Following this Jesus makes his final trip to the temple and then leaving symbolically rejecting the temple.
Luke on the other hand doesn’t have Jesus leaving the temple. Mark has a grim view of the temple and it religiosity. Luke 21 has Jesus teaching in the temple every day during the week leading to his death.
Luke almost has Mark’s exact words in regards to the temple being destroyed. Luke’s gospel was written some 15 years following the actual destruction of the temple. The Jew‘s were abused and taken advantage of by the Roman empire. They would revolt, cause trouble and at times engage in open warfare with the Romans. Finally this resulted in the Jewish/Roman war which ended with the Jewish people getting crushed by the Romans.
“The Roman-Jewish War lasted from AD 66-70. In the beginning, the rebellion was widespread. As the Romans brought military pressure to bear in the north, however, the Jews were forced back into “Fortress Jerusalem” in AD 69.
AD 69 was a very strange year. Within Jerusalem, the Jewish defenders were divided. In hopes of a ceasefire, some advocated for accommodation with the Romans. Some of the more fanatical Jewish defenders, on the other hand, took an “apocalyptic” view. If they could just hold on awhile longer, they thought, God would intervene and smite the offenders.
These more fanatical defenders gained the upper hand in the city.
Jerusalem put up a stout defense, and the Romans had a hard time subjugating the city. When they did, it wasn’t pretty. They destroyed everything they could destroy. Blood ran in the streets.” Progressive Involvement Lectionary Commentary
The annihilation of Jerusalem, the temple, many of its leaders, the religious and political élite, had a huge impact of the Jewish people. Luke has some of the disciples asking what many readers at the time of Luke’s gospel being written would be wondering; “when is this suffering going to be over? How long will it last?” Jesus answers both the disciples and the readers of his gospel, this suffering; “will last until the proper time, until all has been fulfilled.”
Jesus says in Luke 21;
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; 24 they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
In verse 7 of Luke 21 the disciples asking Jesus; “when will this be?” inquiring about the destruction of the temple. However, a reader of Luke’s gospel wouldn’t be concerned with something which happened 15 years ago but would be concerned with how long the Jewish people would be under persecution and how long until God intervened on behalf of his people.
Jesus tells them in Luke 21v8-9 …But they asked him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what (will be) the sign when these things shall come to be?” And he said, “See that you might not be deceived, for many will come upon my name, saying, ‘I am’ and ‘the time has come near.’ Do not go after them.
During the Jewish/Roman war some thought God would come down and rescue his people, defeating the Roman empire. Even 15 years later there were still those who wanted to engage in another “Holy War” against the dreaded Gentiles. Luke has Jesus speaking to the disciples and to the readers of his day saying “Do not go after them!”
Jesus continues, Luke 21v9, “When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
Notice Luke edits Mark’s version with the word, “immediately.” It has been 15 years since the destruction of the temple. This was not the end, but the beginning. Luke is telling the readers to be patient, there is more to come.
Jesus then says, Luke 21v10, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.
In other words there’s going to be an increasing build up of problems, difficulties and hardships.
Added to this will be the suffering of Jesus’ followers
Luke 21v12-15 “But before any of this happens, they’ll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters. 16-19 “You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me.”
Just as Jesus was abused so will his followers suffer at the hands of those in power.
The Greek literally says; “They (those in power) will lay epiballō (throw) their hands on (seize) you and persecute you.”
When Luke is writing his gospel the Jews and Christian relations had turned sour. There were those who blamed the Christians for the Jewish/Roman war being lost.
Up until this time the Jews and the Christians coexisted but following the destruction of the temple there were some who thought the Christians were idolaters because they worshiped Jesus as God and as a result God was punishing the Jewish people for blasphemy.
Mark’s gospel has Jesus predicting they will be taken to the “synagogues” but Luke adds the word “prisons” showing an increase in tension and penalties for the followers of Jesus.
Luke 21v12 “(you, the disciples, will be) “delivering up to synagogues and prisons, being brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake;”
When, not if, this happens Jesus tells them;
Luke 21v13-15 “You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.”
Luke 21v13 “…and it shall become to you for a testimony. 14 `Settle, then, to your hearts, not to meditate beforehand to reply, 15 for I will give to you a mouth and wisdom that all your opposers shall not be able to refute or resist.”
Mark’s gospel has the Holy Spirit giving the persecuted words to speak but Luke has Jesus. Luke is writing to a new generation of Christians and he wants them to make sure they know Jesus is personally is with them. They are being persecuted, as Jesus himself was, and like him they will be able to stand strong, be a faithful witness.
Jesus comforts them;
Luke 21v17-19 “Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”
Luke 21v17-19 The Greek reads; “You will be hated by all because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Remember what Jesus said to his followers in Luke 12;
4 Then Jesus said to the people, “I tell you, my friends, don’t be afraid of people. They can kill the body, but after that they can do nothing more to hurt you. 5 I will show you the one to fear. You should fear God, who has the power to kill you and also to throw you into hell. Yes, he is the one you should fear. 6 “When birds are sold, five small birds cost only two pennies. But God does not forget any of them. 7 Yes, God even knows how many hairs you have on your head. Don’t be afraid. You are worth much more than many birds. Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Faith 8 “I tell you, if you stand before others and are willing to say you believe in me, then I[a] will say that you belong to me. I will say this in the presence of God’s angels.
Notice Jesus doesn’t answer their question. He didn’t give them specifics of the end times, what to look for, a code, a certain way or inside knowledge of deciphering when everything will come to an end. Jesus spoke to them about his faithfulness and their need to remain faithful, to endure. Remember Luke was written to a group of people who were being persecuted, blamed and increasingly shoved out of their community and nation.
As hard and difficult as this was Luke assures them the same Jesus was with them to turn their suffering into times of witnessing and no matter what they endured they were secure in the faith the same God who raised Jesus from the dead was the God who would be with them.
In other words, don’t be focused on what might happen tomorrow be focused on being a faithful witness today.
As I pause offer your prayers to God…
Psalm 118: “We give thanks to you Lord, for you are good. Your steadfast love endures forever! Out of our distress and hardships today we call on the Lord; and He answers us. He sets us in a stable place. With the Lord on our side we do not fear. What can this world do to us? The Lord is on our side. He helps us. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in the things of this world. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in ourselves. Amen.”
A priest was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. They honored him and when he would visit a nearby village they would ask him to bless them while complimenting him as being a great man. The holy man would simply respond “is that so?” In the area there was an unwed, beautiful girl whose parents owned a food store. One day the daughter shocked her parents with the news that she was pregnant! Her mother and father were devastated and demanded to know who had dishonored their daughter. Embarrassed, she did not want to say. Her lover, and the father of her child, was a stock boy at her parent’s food store and fled in fear of his life. Finally, after much harassment, she named the priest as the baby’s daddy. The parents were irate, going to the priest’s home and accusing him of being a vile, dirty, disgusting old man! “Is that so?” was his only response.
The parents kicked the daughter out of her home. Discovering she was homeless the priest invited her to stay with him him until the child was born. The priest took care of her and never asked why she had brought this trouble upon him. Every time he went into the village he was mocked and cursed, accused of being a pervert, unholy, sinful and wicked. The priest always responded, “is that so?” Even after the child was born he allowed the young mother to continue to live with him in spite of the constant ridicule.
After a year, the stock boy, the real father, returned to the village, confessed his deceit and cowardice and asked the parents for their daughters hand in marriage. News quickly spread and soon the priest’s reputation was restored. The next time he visited the village people lined the streets to apologize, beg for mercy and tell him what a wonderful person he was because of how he took care of the unwed mother and her child. All he said was: “Is that so?” The priest understood reputations, like people, are flicked.
19v1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Here’s what’s happening in out text…
Throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus something unexpected seems to happen when Jesus comes onto the scene. Right place, right time, something unexpected. Isn’t that like God? We want to be in the right place at the right time for the expected, God, as usual, does it the other way around.
Zacchaeus doesn’t know it, but he’s about to become a star! Not a star in his own right but a star in Jesus’ upside down, least of these kingdom. Jesus is popular and people flock to him. Zacchaeus is hiding in a tree! How does Jesus even see him? As usual, Jesus is looking for the least of these, the ones that don’t fit in, the ones who aren’t welcome. The ones others don’t want to be around are the ones Jesus is looking for.
Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Saint Luke, has Jesus doing and saying amazing things. From healing the blind to predicting his death Jesus has kept the disciples, the religious leaders and the rubberneckers on edge while making his way to Jerusalem.
19v1 Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. 2 In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was. There were many others who wanted to see Jesus too.
Chapter 19 tells us Jesus arrives at Jericho and is passing through. Remember, since Luke 9:51, Jerusalem is the destination. Luke even tells us Jesus is “passing through.” In other words he’s not taking his “sweet time” he’s moving on. Even though he’s not “stopping to smell the roses” there is a crowd. Everywhere he went there were those who needed to be healed, wanted to hear what he had to say, wanted to see what he was going to do. The closer he came to Jerusalem, the more heavily populated the area, the larger the crowds grew.
In Jericho there was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who was large in terms of money but small in terms of stature. This tax boss had many who worked under him and collected funds from a large area. This means he was very unpopular with a lot of folk. He couldn’t go too many placed where people weren’t cursing under their breaths, turning their faces in disgust, and wishing a series of unfortunate events to visit him.
A chief tax collector was employed by the Roman government to collect a certain amount of money. Anything over this amount was the collector’s business as long as Rome got their share. Last week in Luke 18:9-14 we met another tax collector who would be employed by a chief tax collector such as Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus IS rich. Zacchaeus is NOT popular. He might not have reached into the pockets of the people but his hands were just as dirty. His wealth, by seemingly dishonest gain, would put him on the “do not associate with” list of almost everyone. Zacchaeus had a reputation of dishonest, untrustworthy and wicked. Luke 18 shows us tax collectors were isolated and viewed with disgust.
How Zacchaeus became a tax collector and the pariah of his area we don’t know. We do know he was tops in his chosen field because he was a chief collector and rich. Often, people who feel small want to do big things. They want to be large in peoples’ eyes and push themselves to excel. This might be the driving force behind Zacchaeus’ success.
So, when Jesus came to Jericho, this small man, who wanted to be big in people eyes, scaled a tree. Why? There might be sharp elbows in this crowd or something much more sharp and deadly. At the very least no room was made for him. Zacchaeus, being who he was, found a way to rise above it all.
19v3 Zacchaeus tried to see who Jesus was. But Zacchaeus was a small man, and he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. 4 So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a fig tree to see Jesus, who was coming that way. 5 When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, in other words he was rubbernecking with the rubberneckers. He didn’t know who Jesus was but Jesus knows him. Jesus “looks up.” The Greek word is anablepo which brings the image of lifting one’s head to heaven or having an idea. Zacchaeus is busted! No highfalutin, society type should be climbing trees! This is embarrassing but Zacchaeus couldn’t help himself.
19v5 When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus was, he looked up and saw him in the tree. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry! Come down! I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus singles him out and reveals him to the whole crowd, calls him by name, “Zacchaeus! Get down out of the tree I’m going to your house today!” and, as a child being scolded by his parents, scurries down. The tension is on the rise. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector. A job ripe for bribery and thieving. He is an enemy of the common folk. People just plain don’t like him and Jesus just invited himself to his big house, eating his scrumptious food, enjoying his many luxuries, that were paid for by the very people watching this exchange take place. Trouble is a’ brewing.
19v5-7 …Zacchaeus (was) delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone (else) who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
1 startling invitation, 2 very different reactions. In one declaration, Jesus accepts Zacchaeus and alienates the crowd. One made to feel loved and included by Jesus while others distance themselves from Jesus. Jesus’ love and acceptance ticks off his once doting admirers. This tax collector, who would not be welcome in most homes, now has the honor of having Jesus in his. By going to Zacchaeus’ home, sitting down and eating with him, Jesus is legitimizing his place in society and among the family of God.
Zacchaeus understands what Jesus is doing and so does the crowd. How quickly they turn. A portent of the shift from Palm Sunday where he was welcomed to Good Friday where he was jeered and given over to crucifixion.
Jesus knows, as Emily Dickinson once quipped,
“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.”
They begin to grumble, complain, raise their voices. “How dare he? Doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he care? If he knew who this was, what he did…” Sounds suspiciously similar to Luke chapter 7, when a…
7v36 A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and Jesus went to his house and sat down to eat. 37 In that town was a woman who lived a sinful life. She heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, so she brought an alabaster jar full of perfume 38 and stood behind Jesus, by his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!”
As the crowd rakes Zacchaeus’ reputation over the coals he argues in favor of himself. In many translations the future tense of the verbs “I will give, I will pay” but the tense is present, “I do give, I do pay.” Zacchaeus is trying to convince Jesus of what he is already doing!
The Message Bible translation does a great job in translating this verse:
19v8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny Zacchaeus’ words or works. This isn’t just about the tax collector but the whole crowd. It has to do with restoration, radical acceptance and what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God. All are welcome at his table, in his kingdom, in his presence.
19v9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
19v9-10 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
19v9-10 And Jesus said unto him — “To-day salvation did come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus is restoring Zacchaeus to the community! This is why Jesus came, to restore and reverse the curse of being outside looking in, unlovable, up a tree without a way to get down. The lost are the least of these, the despised, the looked down upon.
What’s telling is how quickly the crowd, full of the least of these, is infested with that Pharisaic yeast that Jesus warns his followers to beware and stay away from in Luke 12. It is a virus of judgment and condemnation which easily infects its host.
Who would you grumble against Jesus accepting today? The politician from another party? The womanizer? The unwed mother who refuses to be abstinent? The homosexual? The person on food stamps buying cigarettes? The least of these are all around us. Those we turn away from are the very ones Jesus is looking for.
Psalm 32 – “I will tell my sins to God. I will not hide my guilt. I will confess my faults to the Lord and He will forgive me. Let us, the children of God, offer prayers today. In times of distress and chaos we will not be overwhelmed for God is our hiding place; He saves us when we are in trouble. O’ Lord teach us the way we should go, keep Your eye on us. May we not be stubborn and insist on our own way but trust in the steadfast love of the Lord. Amen.”
One day a young man, journeying home, came to the banks of a river swollen by recent torrential rains. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on how to cross such a wide barrier. Beginning to despair, resigning himself to the impossibility of the feat, he was about to turn around when he saw a great teacher from his village on the other side raging rapids. Surely this wise one will know the answer to my dilemma! The young man, cupping his hands over his mouth to be heard, yells at the top of his voice, “Sir, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?” The teacher stood still, pondered for a moment, smiled and called back, “My son ‘you are on the other side”.
What was impossible for one to see was easy for the other.
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Here’s what’s happening in out text…
Luke tells us in v9, Jesus begins speaking about:
Of course we automatically think of the religious leaders listening in, those who are trying to gain more power, notoriety, prestige, money and political strength. Jesus, however, is peaking primarily to the disciples, others who want to be his followers.
Jesus knows who’s in the crowd and has used religious leaders as examples, warnings, of how NOT to follow him. In Luke 12v1-2 Jesus cautioned his disciples against “the yeast of the pharisees.” He knows religious snobbery, religious hypocrisy, can worm it’s way into any would be follower.
The disciples exhibit the “snobbery virus” in:
Luke 18v15 Some people brought children to Jesus to have him hold them. When the disciples saw this, they told the people not to do that. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me! Children like these are part of the kingdom of God. 17 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”
Jesus understood the condition of the human heart that tempts humankind to compare ourselves to others. One of the central teachings of Luke is the Kingdom of God is inhabited by the least of these. Treatment of the undesirables reveals our love for God. To think of oneself as better than, higher than, more worthy than, not as bad as, more holy, more Godly than…well, anyone…is to violate one of the key tenets of the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus tells the crowd a story…
…about a religious leader, a Pharisee, a pinnacle of societal and religious prestige and a tax collector, an enemy, a traitor and thief. You could not be more different than these two. All who listened, including the disciples viewed the Pharisees as respected and honored by all and the tax collector a money grubbing, low life who steals from hard working Israelites.
18v10“One time there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. One day they both went to the Temple to pray. 11 The Pharisee stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal, cheat, or commit adultery. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of everything I get!’ 13 “The tax collector stood alone too. But when he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He felt very humble before God. He said, ‘O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’
Jesus begins his tale by speaking of something most in the crowd have done many times, go to the temple to pray.
Two men, at the same place, at the same time, not the same attitude…
“The Pharisee, (and) the tax man enter the Temple. The proud, religious leader, assured of himself and his exceeding righteousness clears his throat, dusts off his clothes, looks around, hoping someone might be eavesdropping, and begins…‘Oh, God! I am so incredibly grateful today that you have made me…well me. I am so relieved that that I am not like other low life types, robbers, thieves, crooks, sexual miscreants, or (rolling his eyes, fanning himself, throwing up a little in his mouth and shuddering at the thought), heaven forbid (pointing, not daring to look), like this, ugh, tax man.
Just in case you forgot, weren’t paying attention, or know how good I am so you worry about other less desirables, I fast twice a week and tithe on ALL (elongating and emphasizing words) ‘MY’ (isn’t this word telling?) my income.’” Finishing his prayer, smiling like a Cheshire cat, clearly pleased with himself, he snorts at the absurdity of sharing the same air with the tax collector, hikes his nose high in the stratosphere and goes home.
“Meanwhile’, Jesus says softly, ‘the tax man, stays in the shadows, not daring to stand up straight, his face in his hands, not daring to look up embodying the spirit of
Psalm 51, ‘knowing he has a bad record, guilt that needs to be scrubbed away, sin stains which need God’s laundry. He knows how bad he’s been; his sins are staring him down. He’s violated God’s laws and knows God sees the full extent of his evil. If God judged him as worthless and sent him to hell it would be a fair sentence. He’s been out of step with God for a long time and in the wrong for as long as he can remember. He knows he’s dirty and is nowhere near ‘snow-white.”
He needs a fresh start. Barely able to get out the words for fear of being struck down he whispers; ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
We know the outcome of the story but imagine you are hearing it for the first time. What are you thinking? What’s Jesus’ point? Who’s coming out of this story on top? The Pharisees are known for their hypocrisy and lacking in the fundamentals of God’s Kingdom but the tax man is still worse, right?
Who’s Jesus going to hold up as the example?
18v14 Jesus (says), “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
18v14 (Jesus declares) …(of the two)… men walking back down the road to their homes…. it’s the tax collector who walks home clean before God, and not the Pharisee, because whoever lifts himself up will be put down and whoever takes a humble place will be lifted up.
18v14 (Jesus concludes) I tell you, this (tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the (Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The tax man goes home pure and right before God, not the religious elite and if the same situation takes place again the following week, same attitudes, same outcome. The one who is humble, not the one who keeps every law, is right before God.
Remember Jesus says in…
Luke 17v3&4 “If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him. 4 Even if he wrongs you seven times in one day and comes back to you seven times and says that he is sorry, forgive him.” 5 Then the apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!”
He wouldn’t instruct his disciples to be this way if he, God, wasn’t this way.
It didn’t make sense to the disciples in 17, the crowd in 18 or to us in today in 2013. We are fine with the tax man getting grace, the uppity Pharisee his rightful “smack down” but we want both of them to amend their ways, get a fresh start, and then become good little rule followers.
Once again, in Jesus’ upside down kingdom, the church goer, the rule follower, the socially and religiously acceptable one is worse off than the outright, no excuse, low down sinner. Jesus takes a bat to our pinata of goodness and whacks it until the illusion of anything good in us spills onto the ground. We are not ever capable of standing in God’s presence and claiming to be better than anyone!
This is either disappointing or delightfully good news! For those who are certain there’s something good in us, at least a little better than some of the worst of the worst, this can be hard to swallow.
For others who know the depth of their depravity it takes the weight of hell off our shoulders.
So not only is being righteous before God, being seen by God as clean, pure, impossible in our own power, so is understanding God’s Kingdom ways.
Shifting faith from a what (laws and good works) to who. Not in ourselves, a rabbit trail of delusion which leads to nowhere, but in Jesus who’s going to Jerusalem to make all who are dirty, that’s everyone, clean.
Psalm 84 – “How lovely is your presence, O Lord, God Almighty. We long for the presence of the Lord today. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are Your ways and who trust in Your love to make us clean in Your eyes. May we know a day trusting in You is better than a thousand trusting in our own power to save us. O’ Lord, do not withhold Your goodness from us. Blessed are those who trust in you. Amen.”
A teacher opened up a school for all who desired to learn wisdom. Many pupils gathered, rich and poor, young and old, educated and not. During a break a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to the teacher with the request that the thief be expelled. The teacher said the matter would be dismissed without addressing. A few days later the same pupil was caught stealing again and the matter reported to the teacher. Again, the teacher dropped it and did nothing.
After this happened a third time the other students became angry and signed a petition to have the thief removed from the school or else all the other students would walk out in protest. When the note reached the teacher he summoned everyone before him. “This is not justice. You students know the difference between right and wrong. You may go elsewhere to study but this one, where will he go if he doesn’t know good from bad? Only when he knows the difference will wisdom and justice be available to him. Even if all else leave, he will stay and I will teach him.” The students understood, recalled the petition and grew in wisdom.
Luke 18: 1-8
Luke 18v1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Here’s what’s happening in our text…
This is another Luke exclusive. Jesus is speaking to the disciples but also to the rubberneckers, folks waiting for the next controversial statement, confounding parable, or wonderful miracle. The religious leaders are also there looking for more evidence that Jesus needed to be done away with…
Jesus had just finished teaching on the “Day of the Lord” at the end of chapter 17.
Luke 17v24 “You know how the whole sky lights up from a single flash of lightning? That’s how it will be on the Day of the Son of Man. But first it’s necessary that he suffer many things and be turned down by the people of today. 26-27 “The time of the Son of Man will be just like the time of Noah—everyone carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ship. They suspected nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away…That’s how it will be—sudden, total—when the Son of Man is revealed. 31-33 “When the Day arrives and you’re out working in the yard, don’t run into the house to get anything. And if you’re out in the field, don’t go back and get your coat…If you grasp and cling to life…you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.
18v1-3 Jesus told them a story showing it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’
Luke tells us this judge had no fear of God or respect for people. The Greek here means he had no problem shaming them or keeping them from being shamed.
In other words the judge was on no one’s side but his own. Whatever benefited him or fit his whim was what he decided to do. It didn’t matter if it brought shame upon him or those in his court. His interest was not justice, fairness or equality.
A widow, under his jurisdiction, knowing the judge’s penchant for bending, breaking and ignoring the law took matters into her own hands. She was unwilling to let the judge get away with his usual behavior. She wasn’t going to let her case be decided by a bribe, law breaking or anything nefarious.
Reading the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, is to know God’s commands that widows, orphans, helpless, powerless to be represented, taken care of, protected and provided for…but reading these scriptures also reveals the truth this often didn’t happen. They were taken advantage of, beaten down, cast aside and abused by those in power.
It was no different in the 1st century day of Jesus. The helpless, powerless, poor and needy were often the last to get justice. Jesus even accused the religious leaders in Luke 20:47 of “devour(ing) widows’ houses” by taking advantage of them when their husbands died.
This is a humorous scene!
On one side, a powerful judge, who was the law, occupied a high rung on the social ladder, always had a table reserved at his favorite restaurant, invited to the best parties and gala events. On the other, a widow, a woman, with no power, no social standing, no favors to pull or men to call to do her a solid, stand up for her or stand beside her, to speak up on her behalf. These two, seemingly mismatched opponents are doing battle. The widow doesn’t stand a chance…does she?
The widow will not be denied!
She’s not taking any chances. She isn’t waiting for her day in court! She hounds the judge, stalks him, chases after him, won’t leave him alone. In other words she’s driving the judge crazy with her constant demand for justice! The Greek literally says “Do me justice on my opponent! Or avenge me against my opponent!”
At first the judge doesn’t budge. Who is this widow? Why can’t she just leave him alone? Who does she think she is, hounding, stalking, chasing him? He wouldn’t give her the time of day. The Greek says the judge gave her “no earthly, chronological time.” No appointment, no moment to plead her case, not even a minute of his precious, valuable time.
But after a while, at the widows insistence, he changes his mind.
The widow is heard, not because the judge has a change of heart, the judge seeks justice because he wants her to go away! He is actually frightened of her. The word translated “plague” can also mean beaten and battered. In other words her persistence carries with it such urgency and passion the judge is worried what might happen if he doesn’t give her justice. This is hilarious! The big, bad ‘ol judge is a fraidy cat. Weirded out by a helpless widow.
Jesus helps the disciples get it…
8v6 Then the Lord said, “Listen to the words of the sinful man who is head of the court. 7 Will not God make the things that are right come to His chosen people who cry day and night to Him? Will He wait a long time to help them?
Calling Jesus “Lord” is Luke’s way of saying what comes next is a royal proclamation! Listen up! Jesus is speaking with authority.
Jesus says God will act! God will execute justice for his people! If this judge, who does not fear God or respect people, will give justice to this one pleading, harassing, widow, how much more will God act because of his people who cry out day and night? In other words prayers for justice, equality, and fairness, matter and God is acting.
The cries of the his people have come before God, God has heard them, God is moving. This is why Jesus has come! This is why Jesus is going to Jerusalem. It is why he will bear the brutal assault upon his body and hang on the cross. It is why he will die a most gruesome death. This is God’s justice, fairness, and equality in action. These will be completed when Christ is resurrected.
Listen again to Luke 17
Luke 17v24…on the Day of the Son of Man. (it will be) necessary that he suffer many things and be turned down by the people of today. 26-27 “The time of the Son of Man will be just like the time of Noah—everyone carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ship. They suspected nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away…That’s how it will be—sudden, total—when the Son of Man is revealed.
Jesus is the answer to God’s people’s prayers. He has come for this very reason. However, he will be rejected by those who say they are praying for, waiting for, wanting the Son of Man to come and exact God’s justice. But they do not recognize it when they see it. Why? Because justice, God’s justice, does not favor the powerful. God’s justice favors the weak, the powerless, the lowly, the least of these.
The Greek word meaning “justice or unjust” occurs six times in these few verses. God’s justice, embodied in Jesus, is God’s answer to the evil, wickedness and injustice in our world.
God answers and God is the answer. His justice is not the justice of the world. The disciples hope is not in worldly powers setting things right. God has come to bring his own justice. He has taken justice into his own, soon-to-be, nail scarred hands. All receive justice by Jesus, the judge, who represents the powerful, and the widow, who represents the powerless. All receive justice through Jesus. God sets things right and makes humanity right through the cross and Jesus’ resurrection.
No one, not the judge who is contemptible, or the widow, who is pitiable, receive justice on the merit of their cause or lack thereof. Justice is not done because of who we are but because of who God is and what is done through Christ.
Saint Paul says it perfectly in Romans
3v21-24 – something new has been (accomplished). What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 121 – “Our precious Lord, today we lift up our eyes to You and ask for help, for safekeeping, for justice. Our help comes from the You, the maker of all things. Our God You have planted us solidly in Your love and faithfulness and will we not be moved. You keep us safe, you never sleep or forget us. You, O’ Lord are on our side. God, our Father, protect us from this world that tries to pull us away from You. By Your Son, Jesus, You have saved us and by Your Spirit, You will keep us from this time on and forevermore. Amen.”
Luke 17: 5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. one of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. she thanked him and departed. as the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “brother,” the second monk replied, “she needed to get across the water so I helped her, i set her down once we reached the other side, why are you still holding onto her?.”
Here’s what’s happening in our text…
Jesus has just given two stories about the difficulty of being wealthy and a follower of Jesus.
Jesus then says to his followers:
17v1&2 “Occasions for stumbling (skandalon) are bound to come but woe to anyone who causes another to stumble! 2 It would be better for you if a large rock were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to fall.
What causes one to stumble and who are these little ones Jesus is protecting? Jesus is greatly concerned with the plight of those who are oppressed, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Jesus chastises the religious leaders about not seeking those who are lost and not caring for the sheep, the people of Israel. Chapters 14-16 Jesus has warned and challenged those who have to give away their wealth by taking care of those who do not have. The little ones are those in need help and cannot help themselves.
The Gospel of Luke portrays God as having a special place in his heart for these “little ones” who cannot protect themselves, provide for themselves and are in need. Those who have plenty are responsible for helping those who have none. God’s concern should be their concern. To not meet their needs is to place a stumbling block in their path. This goes against God’s nature and his kingdom.
Jesus then gives a warning…
17v3&4 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.”
Prosexete! Which means “PAY ATTENTION!” Jesus then tells them how to handle those who are lawbreakers, sinners…he tells them to offer forgiveness and don’t stop. Keep forgiving, even “seven times a day” which means complete forgiveness, no limit. There is no bottom to the well of forgiveness in Jesus’ followers.
Through out the last 3 chapters of Luke Jesus has been talking directly to the disciples but is aware there are others listening in. Some are religious leaders. Jesus, aware of his audience, compares and contrasts. To his followers he says “do & be this way ” to the Pharisees “you should be and do but aren’t.”
Faith on steroids…
The apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord said, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Notice that the word “Lord” Kurios in Greek is used twice. This means what is being said is authoritative. It is important and should be heeded. It is a royal proclamation.
Jesus, since Luke 9:51, is journeying toward Jerusalem. As he goes he is giving the disciples his core instructions. Part of these teaching concern the pitfalls of increasing wealth, holding and being held onto by worldly treasure.
The disciples, like us, slow as always, follow Jesus’ teaching on decreasing by asking for…? Increase. True it is an increase of faith but they still aren’t grasping Jesus’ upside down Kingdom. Jesus responds that even with the smallest faith they could topple trees into the ocean. Faith isn’t about increasing it’s about decreasing.
The disciples are having a hard time buying into what Jesus is selling. “If you want us to do what you’re asking, believe what you’re saying, we need more than regular faith, we need steroid faith!” How can little faith uproot trees? How can giving up treasures give us something more valuable? How can the meek inherit the earth? It just doesn’t make sense. They ask Jesus for increased faith to believe this Kingdom way is even possible. Desperate, needy, knowing they don’t have what it takes to do this on their own. Jesus has them right where he wants them. It is when the disciples see their need that Jesus can help them.
For followers of Jesus it’s not about more. It’s never about more. It’s about recognizing our poverty. We are indeed lame, blind, lost, wounded, in need.
Jesus has already condemned the religious leaders, who have lost their way, by seeking to increase in worldly wealth & prestige. Seeking increase and not decrease has caused them to miss their calling to seek and save the lost. Next to the disciples are living, walking, talking examples of how increasing corrupts.
Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1;
For the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …God made foolish the wisdom of the world…some demand more signs and some desire more wisdom, but the gospel of Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…not many follower of Jesus are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; what is weak to shame the strong; what is low and despised to shame the high and exalted.
Jesus is telling them that striving to gain more, even faith, is not what the Kingdom is all about. To be aware of our need keeps up dependent on God for all things. We decrease so our dependence on God will increase. The more we depend the more God provides. It is not great faith that moves mountains and uproots trees but the God whom our faith is in.
To understand our weakness is to know God’s strength. Jesus’ desire for the disciples is for them to be totally depend upon God’s provision.
Getting over ourselves…
Jesus finishes by saying,
But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, who comes in out of the field, will say to him, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’. But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something which I might eat, and fastening garments, serve me as I eat and drink, and after this, you will eat and drink’? Does he not have grace to the servant because he did the things commanded? And you also, when you have done all the things commanded you, you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.'”
This seems harsh but Jesus is helping the disciples see that whatever they accomplish for the Kingdom is not by great faith but by the greatness of God.
Saint Martin of Braga says; “Behold, this is true Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won.”
Listen to the servants response to the master; “We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.” Jesus is saying “it is because I have called you, I have equipped you, because of me you are able to be a part of the Kingdom.”
It is not by great faith, great talent, great skill, great blessings that anything is accomplished for God. Only when we get over ourselves and our desire to be greater, to increase do we understand. We’re just servants. We aren’t in charge. We just do what we are told. We are totally reliant upon the master.
We have such a hard time understanding the whole decreasing concept. Giving it all up is how we gain. Sacrifice, not hoarding, scares us. We think it is only by our great faith, great talent, great…whatever, can we do great things for the Kingdom. We need to get over ourselves.
The good news is God keeps forgiving because we keep forgetting. He doesn’t give up on us. It is in the needy, the lame, the blind, the lost, the forgetful, the stubborn, the not so bright, that His love shines the brightest.Psalm 32 …“Let the faithful offer prayer to God. The Lord is with us in times of distress. When the rush of mighty waters threaten they will not reach us for You, O’ God, are our hiding place. You are preserve us from trouble. We offer You our praise of deliverance. Lord, instruct us and teach us the way we should go. Show us how to depend on You. May we listen and take to heart what You want to teach us. Let us not be stubborn and go our own ways. Let Your steadfast love surrounds us. May we trust in You for all things. Let us be glad and rejoice that You are our God. Amen” — — bdl