Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Luke 21

The widow's mites (vs. 1-4)--This short story is found in Mark 12:41-44. Here is what I wrote there: "It’s interesting that Jesus was sitting close to the treasury and observing how much people put in it. The rich “put in much” (v. 41). But here comes a poor widow who tossed in all she had—two mites. “Mites” were the smallest coin used by the Jews. Its current value cannot now be easily estimated, probably less than a penny. But, according to Jesus, she gave more than all the rich, “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood" (v. 44). She gave the Lord everything she had, and then trusted Him to take care of her. Jesus definitely notices when we do that. Indeed, one could say it sums up what our total response to God should be." Luke really adds nothing to Mark's account so I have no further comments to make.

The destruction of the temple (vs. 5-7)--For most of the rest of the chapter we have Luke's version of Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; the last few verses speak of the Second Coming. This passage is parallel to Matthew 24 and I wrote three blog articles on that chapter, going into great detail as to the meaning and history behind God's temporal punishment of the Jews by the Roman armies. From 70 A.D. until the mid-20th century the Jewish people were scattered from Palestine, the land God gave to Abraham. And still to this day, most Jews live outside of Israel. If the reader wants a very full rendition of Jesus' teaching here, then I suggest you read my posts on Matthew 24.

But I will briefly summarize Luke's teaching here. Jesus announces, in verse 6, that the temple will be razed. In verse 7, He was asked when would this happen and what would the signs be leading up to it. Notice there is nothing asked, as recorded by Luke, about Christ's Second Coming; the query is totally about the destruction of the temple, i.e., Jerusalem. And that is the question Jesus answers for most of the chapter.

News of world calamities (vs. 8-11)--The Roman empire would be shaken by "wars and commotions" (v. 9), and earthquakes, famines, and "pestilences" (v. 11). There would also be some heavenly disturbances (v. 11), but we don't know what these were. False Christs would arise (v. 8), but Jesus warns "take heed that you be not deceived." These are events that will precede the coming desolation of Jerusalem.

Persecution of the disciples (vs. 12-19)--His apostles would suffer grievous persecution at the hands of unbelievers, from both Jews and Romans (v. 12). Some of this is recorded in the book of Acts and some in later historical accounts. Even their parents and near kin would betray them, and "they will put some of you to death" (v. 16). The Lord would be with them, however, and give them the message He wanted preached (v. 15). The "not a hair of your head shall be lost" (v. 18) probably has reference to eternal glory since He had just said some of them will be killed. Patience was necessary through all of what they would endure (v. 19).

Jerusalem surrounded (vs. 20-24)--Matthew and Mark spoke of an obscure "abomination of desolation;" Luke simply tells his Greek audience that Jerusalem would be "surrounded by armies." That would be the final signal for the disciples to flee the city (v. 21). Those would be "the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (v. 22). The destruction of Jerusalem was prophesied about in the Old Testament. Those who would have difficulty traveling (v. 23) might be caught in the melee. "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (v. 24), i.e., until Rome had accomplished God's purpose in punishing the city and the Jewish people.

The coming judgment on Jerusalem (vs. 25-28)--This judgment is stated, by Christ, in figurative, even apocalyptic, language. And here I must reference the reader to my detail discussion of Matthew's account of this section. Because of length, I won't reproduce exactly what I wrote, but here is a link to that section which fully explains Jesus' meaning in these verses. It's extremely important due to the misconceptions so many have of this passage.   Here's the link:  Matthew 24:29-31

The parable of the fig tree (vs. 29-33)--Just as one see the "signs" of coming fruit on a fig tree, be assured, Jesus says, that when you (disciples) see the signs He's just mentioned, that Jerusalem's destruction is near. In verse 31, Jesus says that "know that the kingdom of God is near." The Greek word for "near" can either close in place or time; in this case, it probably means "place." The kingdom had been established with the church, thus the destruction of Jerusalem is one more evidence (as spoken of in the Old Testament) that the kingdom had come. Don't look for it in the future, Jesus says. It's with you, near to you, right now. Verse 33 closes with the emphatic statement that these things are going to happen because Jesus' words can never be voided or gainsaid.

The Second Coming (vs. 34-36)--While Matthew spends a lot of time on this subject, including all of chapter 25, Luke mentions it only briefly, simply because he doesn't record the apostles' question on the topic as Matthew did. Yet, in contrast to the destruction of Jerusalem, where the signs were specific, the "signs" preceding Christ's visible Second Coming are vague and indistinct. Actually, there are no signs. Always be ready. "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (v. 36).

Jesus continues to teach in the temple (vs. 37-38)--As long as He was alive, He continued to teach where He could be most effective. Since the temple was a gathering place of the Jews, it would be the best place in Jerusalem to spread His message.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Luke 20, Part Two

"Render therefore to Caesar" (vs. 20-26)--From my thoughts on Matthew 22:15-22: "The Pharisees sent some Herodians to Christ “that they might entangle Him in His talk” (v. 16). The “Herodians” were a political party following the Herods, who were Roman lackeys governing parts of Judea. The question they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), was a trap—the Jews didn’t believe they should pay taxes to a foreign power. They got this from Deuteronomy 17:14-15, which says, "When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” Some of the Jews deduced from the last sentence that they should never pay tribute to another nation, which, of course, they had been required to do, frequently, in their history, and were under the same compulsion in Jesus’ time because of the Romans. Still, the question was ingenious. If Jesus took the common Jewish view that “no, you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would be in trouble with the Romans. If He said, “yes, do pay,” then He could lose influence with the masses who hated the Romans. So, frankly, the Pharisees/Herodians didn’t care how He answered. Except they got the one answer they didn’t expect: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (v. 21). How could anybody argue with that answer? Incidentally, Jesus knew it was a trap and exposed it as so: “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?” (v. 18). He wanted others who were listening to understand what was going on.

One last thought here on this section: Jesus did not come as a political agitator or a “community organizer.” He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), and “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Politicians and political empires come and go, rise and fall, wax and wane, and Jesus knew it. But there is only one chance at eternal salvation, and that’s what Jesus died for. If Christ were in America today, He would not be stirring up support for Obamacare or marching in “tea parties”; He would be doing the same thing He did in the first century—preaching the gospel, trying to save the lost. Because 100 years from now, there aren’t very many of us alive today who are going to care if Obama’s health care plan gets passed or not. But we will care about the location of our eternal spirit."

Luke tells us (v. 20) that the Pharisees did not directly come to Jesus with this question, but "sent spies who pretended to be righteous."  The "spies" were the "Herodians" Matthew mentions.  Christ, of course, recognized the hypocrisy whethere the masses did or not.

The Sadducees and the resurrection (vs. 27-40)--Matthew 22:23-33: "Next, it was the Sadducees turn to try Jesus: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother” (v. 24). This is true. In fact, it was culturally true even before the Law of Moses. God killed a man named Onan in Genesis 38:10 because he wouldn’t do it. But then the Sadducees came up with an absurd example. A man marries a woman, but dies with no children. His brother marries her, but then he dies with no children. There are seven brothers. They all marry her, in turn, but none of them have any children. So, “in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her” (v. 28). Interesting question.

To understand their question, we must know that the Sadducees were the “modernists” of their time. They did not believe in angels, a spirit world, or in a resurrection after death. Hence, the conundrum they propose to Jesus. If there is a resurrection, since all seven brothers were married to this woman, who’s she going to be married to in the next life?

Jesus responded, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (v. 29). There were two things wrong with the Sadducees’ position. Number one, “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (v. 30), so there will be no problem about whose wife that woman would be. But the real point Jesus wanted to make was in opposition to the Sadducees’ doctrine of “no resurrection,” and it’s a very remarkable argument Christ makes: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 31-32). Who did Jehovah say that to? He said it to Moses in Exodus 3:6, at least 300 years after Jacob was dead. And yet, “I am the God of Abraham,” etc., not “I was.” In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in Moses’ day—though they were, of course, dead to this earth. Jesus’ argument is based on the tense of a verb. No wonder, “when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching” (v. 33)."

The Pharisees (scribes) liked Jesus' response here (v. 39) because they agreed with Him. The doctrine of a resurrection had long been a matter of dispute between the two Jewish sects. So when Jesus agreed with Pharisaic doctrine, they commended Him. That didn't happen very often, but it also indicates that they weren't going to budge from their ideas because they accepted very little of the rest of Jesus' teaching.

David's Lord and son (vs. 41-44)--Matthew 22:41-45: "Christ had answered all of their queries, now He throws one at them: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" (v. 42). “The Son of David" (v. 43). Jesus then poses a perplexing problem: "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool? "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" (vs. 43-45). Nobody knew the answer, which is found in the dual nature of the Messiah. In His human nature, He was descended from David, which the Jews well knew. But in His divine nature, He is obviously David’s Lord. What this whole chapter demonstrates, as Jesus takes on all comers and puts them to flight, is Christ’s superior understanding and wisdom. None of His opponents could match Him. The multitudes saw it. The Pharisees couldn’t handle it. They had two options: join Him or kill Him. And we know which choice they made. Especially after chapter 23... "

A warning about the scribes (vs. 45-47)--Luke doesn't go into the detail of condemning the scribes and Pharisees that Matthew does in chapter 23 of his gospel; hence, the reference at the end of the previous section. What Luke gives us is a very brief summation of Jesus' scathing rebuke of the hypocritical religious leaders of His time. This leads into Luke 21, which is parallel to Matthew 24. Luke's Greek audience wouldn't have the background in some of these matters that Matthew's Jewish readers had, thus Luke doesn't spend as much time with them. A major theme of the first gospel is the conflict between the Jews and Christ leading to the destruction of Jerusalem. That wasn't as important to Luke's Gentile readers.

Luke 20, Part One

"By what authority?" (vs. 1-8)--Nearly all of Luke 20 is covered in the previous two gospels so I will spend most of this chapter reproducing thoughts from earlier blogs. Where Luke adds, I will, too.

This section is found, almost verbatim, in Matthew 12:23-27. It's an important passage on authority. Here is what I wrote there: "The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders ratchets up significantly now; the rest of this chapter and the next two are given to this theme. As He went back into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people asked Him by what authority He did His deeds (v. 23). Jesus turns it back on them: “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?" (vs. 24-25). He had them trapped. They had not submitted to John, either, so if they replied, “from heaven,” then Jesus would ask them “'Why then did you not believe him?'” (v. 25). But if they said “from men,” then “we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet" (v. 26). So they answered “We do not know” (v. 27), to which Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 27). A key point in this section is to indicate to us that there are only two sources of religious authority: from heaven and from men. Obviously, we must have heaven’s approval for what we do. We must be careful, in all that we do, that we are not following the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), for such constitutes vain service and worship to God."

Too many people today ground the authority for their religious acts in the words of men. Jesus plainly indicates here that such is not what God wants.

Parable of the vinedressers (vs. 9-18)--From Matthew 21:33-46 (also found in Mark 12:1-12): "A landowner planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country. At harvest time, he sent his servants to the vinedressers to receive the fruit. The vinedressers abused them all—“beat one, killed one, and stoned another” (v. 35). The landowner sent more servants, but “they [the vinedressers] did likewise to them” (v. 36). Finally, the landowners sent his son, “saying, ‘They will respect my son.” (v. 37). But the vinedressers killed him, thinking they could receive the inheritance. “Therefore,” Jesus asked His listeners, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those vinedressers?” (v. 40). And the response was the expected and correct one: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons" (v. 41). Jesus then made the application: “Have you never read in the Scriptures, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (v. 42). The kingdom of God would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits worthy of it” (v. 44). The parable is pretty clear. The “landowner” is God, the “vinedressers” are the Jews, and the “servants” are the Old Testament prophets. The “son,” of course, is Jesus. Since the Jews never heeded God’s message through the prophets or Jesus, they would not be the leading citizens in the kingdom; the "nation worthy of it" would be the Gentiles. And that “stone” which the builders rejected is Jesus, of course. The religious leaders got the point: “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them” (v. 45). But there was nothing they could do at the moment, “because they [the multitudes] took Him for a prophet” (v. 46). Jesus never lost His popularity with the masses; that’s why He had to be tried at night, illegally, and put on the cross before the people found out what was going on.”

It's interesting that Luke has one minor difference from Matthew and Mark. In verses 16, in answer to Jesus' statement that the owner would destroy the vinedresser, the Pharisees, et al, responded, "God forbid." And the context indicates that they recognized that the import of the parable was directed towards them and that God would take the kingdom from them and give it to Gentiles. But Jesus quotes an Old Testament passage which, in effect, supports His reasoning. There was no answer to that. Verse 18 means that those who follow the Lord will suffer some grievance and persecution, but that is much better than what will happen to those who do not.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Luke 19, Part Two

The triumphant entry into Jerusalem (vs. 28-40)--Here are my thoughts on this event as recorded in Matthew 21:1-11: "Jesus makes His final trip to Jerusalem. He sent His apostles after a donkey and colt, and rode into the city. A great multitude thronged Him and “spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (v. 8). They shouted praises to Him as well: “Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9). The word “Hosanna” means “save now,” or “save, we pray.” Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in this manner was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9: “Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 5). Interestingly, some people didn’t know Him (v. 10), but Jesus hadn’t spent much, if any, time in Jerusalem the previous two years."

Luke adds something in verses 39 and 40 that Matthew and Mark do not have. Anytime Jesus was honored by the multitudes, the Pharisees were incensed, so they asked Jesus to "rebuke" His disciples (v. 39). His response was "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out" (v. 40). "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord (Ps. 150:6), and in this case, Jesus says even the stones would do it. We see again here the prejudice of the Pharisees and the ignorance of their own book. As noted, this event was the fulfillment of prophecy. They should have been aware of that and recognized Jesus as their Messiah. But they didn't.

Weeping over Jerusalem (vs. 41-44)--Jerusalem had been God's city for almost 1,000, ever since David conquered it in the 10th century B.C. The people He had done so much for would reject Jesus. Even though the masses were still with Him, most of them, once they learned the true nature of His mission after His resurrection, would not accept Him. This constant, centuries long rebellion against God, with the final act being the crucifixion of the One Who came to redeem mankind, would lead to Jerusalem horrid destruction by the Roman armies in 70 A.D. Jesus references this in verses 43 and 44: "For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another." He will go into more detail about this is chapter 21, which is Luke's parallel to Matthew 24 and Mark 13. "The things that make for your peace" (v. 41) was the acceptance of Christ, of course; they would not have been punished had they done so. But they did not know when He "visited" them, though they should have. They had no one to blame but themselves. And if we reject Him, the same is true.

Driving out the profit makers (vs. 45-48)--Jesus did this twice in His ministry. It obviously angered to see the calloused hearts that would make money, greedily, off the religious needs of others. And, for many who came and bought the animals being sold, it was convenient. They didn't have to sacrifice anything they owned; they could just buy what was offered when they arrived at the temple. His anger, and His teaching "daily in the temple" (v. 47), was simply more incentive for “the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders,” who “sought to destroy Him" (v. 47). But again, they were restrained from doing so, "for all the people were very attentive to hear Him" (v. 48). Their time would come, of course, and it would only be a few days in the future.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Luke 19, Part One

Zaccheus, the rich tax collector (vs. 1-10)--Another lengthy chapter in Luke begins with the well-known story of "wee little Zaccheus." He was a "chief" tax collector (v. 2), which means he presided over others and passed their collections on to Rome--after taking his fair, or perhaps unfair, share. Yet there was something good in him, because "he sought to see who Jesus was" (v. 3), and the rest of the story indicates that this wasn't just idle curiosity. However, Zaccheus was a short man who couldn't glimpse Christ because of the crowds. So he used some ingenuity. Knowing the direction Jesus was headed, he went and climbed a tree (v. 4) so that he would be in a position to spot Jesus when He came by. The Lord knew him (v. 5), probably miraculously, and also knowing his heart, invited Himself to Zaccheus' house--something a little beyond the pale of hospitality, but the Lord can go anywhere He wants. Plus, He was about to convey a far greater blessing on Zaccheus than Zaccheus was to Him. The tax man "received Him joyfully" (v. 6). Because of Zaccheus' profession, "they" complained (v. 7); who the "they" were is not mentioned, but almost surely the same leaders who had been complaining about everything else Jesus had done. Zaccheus gave abundant evidence of his repentant attitude (v. 8), and Jesus blessed him with salvation. It's interesting that, unlike the rich ruler of chapter 18, Christ didn't require Zaccheus give up the totality of his wealth. God knows the heart and apparently realized that Zaccheus wasn't as tied to his money as the young ruler had been. The section closes with Jesus announcing to all who would/could hear why He chose to eat with someone most Jews despised: "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (v. 10). The Pharisees would never have touched Zaccheus; if left in their hands, he would have been lost. But it is the heart which is important to God, and anyone, regardless of how wicked, can be accepted if they truly repent.

The parable of the pounds (vs. 11-27)--The term "kingdom of God" can be somewhat confusing and often needs the context to identify it. In this case, Jesus is speaking of the eternal reign of God in heaven; the parable He tells indicates that. As noted many times in my blog articles, the Jews were expecting an earthly kingdom; their Messiah would bring that when He came. Thus, they anticipated Jesus would establish it and that was one reason so many of them were upset at Him--He didn't do it. Yet, many of the features of that expected earthly kingdom were the same, in principle, as the eternal reign in heaven--peace, protection, sustenance, worship of the one true God, and so forth. That kingdom was not near in time. Verse 12 indicates the "nobleman" (representing Christ) went into a "far country"--it would thus take him a long time to return. The "far country" represents Jesus' current abode, heaven, where He "receive[d] for himself a kingdom"--He now reigns over His earthly spiritual kingdom, the church (I Tim. 6:15; Col. 1:13). This also indicates the two uses of "kingdom"--Jesus went to heaven (the nobleman went to a far country) to receive a kingdom. He has that kingdom now and will return in the future to settle accounts with His servants; those who have been faithful will enter the eternal home where God reigns forever. Before he had left on his journey, the nobleman had laid responsibilities upon his servants to "do business till I come" (v. 13); we have a duty to work for the Lord while we are on this earth. Some of the nobleman's new "citizens" did not wish to have Him rule over them (v. 14); some people, in and out of the church simply do not desire to submit to the Lord. They will get theirs in the end.

This parable is similar to that of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Various amounts of money ("pounds" in the KJV, "minas" in the NKJV) had been left with various servants. Three servants are illustrated here (as in Matthew 25). The first two served well, the third did not. That which had been given to the third servant was transferred to the first (v. 24), indicating that the Lord will reward great service with even greater blessings; we cannot outgive God and He is fully aware of what we do for Him. The grand blessings we enjoy on earth, if not used properly, will not exist in eternal damnation (v. 26). And as for those who refused to let the nobleman serve as their king, "bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me" (v. 27). Failure to submit to Him will result in punishment when He does return. They will get what they deserve for refusing to recognize Him as King.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Luke 18, Part Two

The rich young ruler (vs. 18-30)--This story is also found in Matthew and Mark, and, since Luke really adds nothing substantial to those earlier accounts, I will reproduce here what I wrote in Matt. 19:

"This story actually continues into chapter 20, as we shall see. A young man, rich, and a ruler (according to Luke, though he doesn’t say a “ruler” of what; probably a synagogue) asks Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life (v. 16). What a great question. More people ought to be asking it. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of the law he was living under (Moses). The young man responded that he had done that; “What do I still lack?” (v. 20). Jesus, “beholding him, loved him,” (Mark 10:21), and then told him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21). The young man went away sorrowfully because he had great wealth; he loved his money more than he loved his God. Jesus then said, “I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 23) This astonished the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25). They were operating under the Jewish assumption that the rich were the blessed of God; they must be the righteous because Jehovah had dealt so bountifully with them. It’s the poor who must be out of favor with God. So if the rich can’t be saved, who can? Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly; they’ll understand eventually. Peter then asks a rather self-serving question: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” (v. 27). Jesus gives him two answers: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (v. 29). And the apostles actually will have a special place (v. 28). So, indeed, if we leave all and follow Jesus, we will be well taken care of by the Lord. But…”many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30). Jesus’ second answer to Peter’s question is found in chapter 20, and we’ll look at it in that chapter summary."

Luke doesn't record the follow-up information of Matthew 20, so here is a link to that passage if the reader wishes to get the entire teaching.  Matthew 20:1-16

Christ's coming passion (vs. 31-34)--Jesus told His disciples repeatedly that He would be crucified and resurrected. "But they understood none of these things" (v. 34). So foreign to their thinking was the idea of a "crucified" Messiah that they simply could not comprehend what Jesus was saying. We have here a great example of the power of propaganda and false teaching. The Jews of the first century (and even today) have been taught that their Messiah would be an earthly conqueror, not a suffering Savior. What Jesus was speaking was something His apostles had never heard before or even considered. To how many today is the truth wholly incomprehensible, even if they were raised within a "Christian" environment, simply because they have been instructed in error their entire lives? But Jesus said that His coming death, etc., were things that were "written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man" (v. 31). The Jews wholly misunderstood and misinterpreted their own book. It is a danger we must earnestly guard against today.

Blind Bartimaeus (vs. 35-43)--Interestingly, each of the three gospel writers who record this event approach it somewhat differently. Matthew tells us that there were actually two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34). Marks mentions only one of them (Mark 10:46-52), but tells us that his name was Bartimaeus. Luke also writes of only one blind beggar but doesn't tell his name. Just because certain details are omitted by other writers doesn't make the passages contradictory; the purpose of the writer is what's important, and, by inspiration, each of the three evangelists chose what features he considered necessary and proper. The end result was the same. Jesus worked a great miracle, and "all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God" (v. 43). The multitudes were still with Christ, even though He is very near His time of death. It was the religious leaders who crucified Him, and they did it illegally, and at night, because of His popularity among the masses.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Luke 18, Part One

Pray and don't lose heart (vs. 1-8)--Sometimes it seems that God just doesn't answer our prayers. He always does, of course, always looking out for our best spiritual interests. But often the answer is delayed, and for an extended period of time. This context seems to deal with matters of persecution (vs. 7-8), but the principle of praying consistently and not losing heart is found elsewhere (cf. Lk. 11:1-13). Jesus tells a short parable to enforce the idea. A widow continued to plead her case before "a judge who did not fear God nor regard man" (v. 2). Finally, the widow so wearied him that he ruled in her favor, in effect just to shut her up (v. 5). The point is not that God is unjust or that we should “badger” Him; the teaching is that if an unjust judge will grant the request of someone whom he cares nothing for, how much more will a loving, holy God answer those who He cares much for, "though He bears long with them" (v. 7). It is easy sometimes to give up when we think God does not hear. Jesus teaches us not to do that, regardless of the circumstances and regardless of how long the answer is deferred. In verse 8, Jesus muses that, when He returns, will He find any fidelity on the earth? There won't be much, that's for sure (Matt. 7:13-14). Clarke applies this thought to the Jews and their homeland which is a possible interpretation.

The Pharisee and the publican (vs. 9-14)--Jesus, unlike many preachers today, did not avoid telling people what they needed to hear. There were a group listening to him "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others" (v. 9). They weren't putting their hope in God, they believed they were so righteous that He owed them salvation. This wasn't an uncommon thought among the Jews of that day, viz., that they would be redeemed simply because they were Jews. Jesus, in this short section, forthrightly disabuses them of that notion. The Pharisee did many good things--he prayed, he wasn't an extortionist, unjust, and adulterer or even a "wicked" tax collector. He fasted and tithed. These were all proper matters for a Jew. But it was in these things that he trusted, not in God. His religion was not based on God's grace and goodness, but his own deeds. The despised publican was so humble he did not even feel worthy of "rais[ing] his eyes to heaven" (v. 13), did not announce to God his own goodness, but simply asked for mercy--"God, be merciful to me a sinner!" He acknowledged his need for a grace that he could not earn. And Jesus said "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (v. 14). The extremity of Jesus' example was surely not lost on His hearers. The Jews could never believe that one who collected taxes for the hated Romans could ever be justified in God's sight. But humility and the heart are the first things God looks at. It is that individual He can do something with (Matt. 5:3-4). "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). That does not describe the Pharisee of this parable.

The necessity of humble faith (vs. 15-17)--This section is not unrelated to the previous one. Instead of the arrogant, self-righteous attitude exhibited by the Pharisees, we must have the humble, trusting demeanor of a child, if we wish to enter the kingdom of God. If the previous section immediately preceded this one, then the disciples hadn't gotten the point of the parable, either, for they rebuked people who wanted Jesus to bless their children (v. 15). Some like to see infant baptism in verse 17, but this cannot be. If "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" is literal, then no one past the childhood years could be saved. Obviously this is not Jesus' meaning. The attitude of humble faith is the meaning He is trying to convey.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Luke 17, Part Two

"The kingdom of God is within you" (vs. 20=37)--This is a difficult passage for reasons that I shall duly note. There are two main themes in it, and they are related--the kingdom and judgment. The Pharisees wanted to know when the kingdom would come (v. 20); in proper Jewish fashion, they were expecting a physical, earthly realm. Jesus informs them--and us--that the kingdom is not physical, it cannot be seen, it is within us (v. 21). The kingdom and the church are the same (Col. 1:13), but the kingdom is not synonymous with a church building, or necessarily all the people who appear inside it. Only God truly knows the heart, i.e., that which is "within" us, and thus only He can truly tell us who is part of His body. Physical existence in a physical kingdom can be identified; spiritual actuality cannot. Such is what makes premillennialism with its hope for an earthly kingdom improper and erroneous. Those who believe that doctrine have never truly understood the spiritual nature of God's true reign. It was the mistake of the Jews in the first century as well, and, as noted, the source of the question Jesus is asked here.

The Lord then turns His attention to His disciples for the rest of the discussion, which is the difficult part of this section. In verse 22, He intimates that there will come days when they will desire, in vain, the opportunities they now had of returning to God. He is speaking in general terms here; His disciples will follow Him and enjoy the blessings of a relationship with God, but too many Jews (and others) will not. Nearly all of the language Jesus uses in the remainder of this chapter (vs. 22-37) is the same as what He speaks in Matthew 24. The problem comes from the fact that some of Matthew 24 concerns the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and some of it with the Second Coming, and there is some of both in Luke 17:23-37. So is Jesus discussing the destruction of Jerusalem here, or His Second Coming? It's virtually impossible to tell. A general judgment might be in view--at some point, it will be too late to enter God's kingdom. In summary, He tells us not to be deceived by false Christs (v. 23); His judgments come swiftly, surely, and most men are usually unaware of them (v. 24). Before any final judgment takes place (either temporally upon the Jews or spiritually upon all men), the Lord will be crucified (v. 25). Most people, as noted, will be unaware of any coming judgment; they will be going about their daily activities, unconcerned about their spiritual welfare, just like in the days of Noah and Lot (vs. 26-29). Similar language in Matthew 24 applies to the Second Coming (Matt. 24:37-39). The reference to Lot is not found in Matthew 24 but makes the same point. "The day when the Son of Man is revealed" (v. 30) will be just like those days. Verse 31 is the really confusing verse because in Matthew 24, the same statement is found in reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:17-18). If Luke 17:31 refers to the Second Coming of Christ, there isn't going to be time to gather our goods or come in from the field; this would only be true if an imminent escape from earthly peril were necessary. So, as I mentioned, in this section Jesus borrows thoughts from both the coming destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming. Whatever the exact meaning, verse 33 perhaps is the most important concept: "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." When judgment comes, we must ready and prepare for it in this life. Some will be saved, some lost (vs. 34-35). "Where will this happen?" the apostles asked (v. 37). The Lord's answer is taken again from the destruction of Jerusalem reference (Matt. 24:28), but in this instance can be generically applied: wherever there is sin, there will be punishment.

The kingdom of God--the church, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the sheep, whatever figure one wishes to use to describe the Lord's people--is not a visible thing. Where does the kingdom exist? Wherever there are faithful Christians. And the Lord warns us, in no uncertain terms, that judgment is coming. "Remember Lot’s wife" (v. 32). Don't look back and long for world. Keep moving forward in escaping the terrible judgment that will befall those who seek to save their lives for the pleasures of this world. Whatever else this passage teaches, it certainly teaches these great lessons.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Luke 17, Part One

Forgiving a brother (vs. 1-4)--Sin will be with us until the Lord comes back: "it is impossible that no offenses should come" (v. 1). If we lead others astray, woe be to us. We need to help one another on the heavenly journey. If our brother sins against us, we should "rebuke him." "Rebuke" is a harsh word, but hell is a harsh location, and saving a soul from eternal damnation is far more important than our passing feelings. Do what it takes to save the one who sins. Of course, all our actions should be done in love, with genuine concern for those who trespass.

But notice, Jesus says "if he repents, forgive him." We must always have a desire and heart to forgive, but if someone does not repent, we cannot forgive; we cannot be more magnanimous than God, and He bases His forgiveness upon our humble, contrite repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30). But as often as our brother sins and repents, so often we should forgive (v. 4). That is exactly what God does.

"Increase our faith" (vs. 5-10)--The apostles have a desire here that all of us should have--more faith in God. Faith comes from hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Jesus doesn't explain that here, He simply gives encouragement to have that greater faith. Even a small amount of faith can do wondrous things (v. 6). But it is a faith that must serve God, and not expect Him to serve us. The master of a manor does not wait on his servant when the latter comes in from the field; no, that master demands that he be served first. He certainly provides for his workers: "afterward [after the master has been served] you will eat and drink" (v. 8). Nor does the master thank his servant for his service; such is what the servant is supposed to do (v. 9). Thus, "when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (v. 10). Even after we have done all that the Lord commands us to do, we still fall far short of His holy and divine standard. Ask Him to thank us for what we do? How presumptuous can one get. Serve Him faithfully and appreciate what He gives and does for us.

"Where are the nine?" (vs. 11-19)--Speaking of ingratitude, here we have a marvelous example of it, and indeed, an illustration of the parable Jesus has just spoken. Ten lepers spot Him as He was on His journey to Jerusalem (vs. 11-12). They ask for mercy, i.e., that He might heal them of their dreaded disease (v. 13). The Lord commands, as the book of Leviticus describes (Lev. 13 and 14), that they go and let the priests examine them (v 14). On their way to Jerusalem, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, made the trek back to Christ and thanked Him (v. 16). Jesus expresses some amazement, and perhaps chagrin, that the other nine didn't have enough gratitude to express such to Him. Perhaps they didn't want to be bothered with the several mile journey back to Him, or perhaps, being Jews, they expected God to do these things for them. Regardless, Jesus told the one who returned, "your faith has made you well" (v. 19). This is an illustration of the power of faith, the thought of which Jesus had spoken back up in verse 6.