Saturday, March 18, 2023

Who's At My Door? Do You Know What Time is It? (Luke 11)

Let's set the stage for this parable:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:1-4)

We all know the Lord's Prayer--a beautiful example of how we should approach God.  First, reverentially:  His name is sacred, His Kingdom is eternal and He is the One to whom all blessing and honor should go.  Then, we approach Him humbly: Seeking His merciful hand to be extended yet another day, for our sustenance, so that we may go out and be a witness of His love and grace.  But, wait!  Before we go out and share Jesus, we must make sure that His living water may flow out of us unimpeded.  What restricts or hinders altogether the flow?  Sin, unconfessed and hidden away out of shame and conceit.  So, we ask Him to forgive us.  Lovely first step.  

But, in His light, we see light and now we recall those who have sinned against us:  all the ugliness, unkindness, soul-wrenching unloveliness that raged out of someone and knocked us off our feet. But with His Spirit released into our souls, and with sin's ugly stain washed white, we are able to forgive in His power alone. But as we go out, hearts ablaze and mercifully reaching out to others, help us to resist the temptation/testing (same word in the Greek) and keep our eyes on Him.  He will deliver us from evil with His love for us.  We affirm who God and who we are in Him by affirming He is still at work in the world, and in us. 

But once Jesus taught these God-fearing Jewish lads how to pray (they knew how, but not like they witnessed Jesus praying!), He moved into a parable to see how wide their sails were open to catch His wind.  Or were they just listening, and not really understanding?  So Jesus goes into parable-mode, where they have to dig deeper and seek harder His meaning.  In other words, after the teaching comes the final!

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity [yet to preserve his good name]* he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:5-8)

I have never really understood this parable.  Isn't it odd that someone has a friend, who just shows up, and he goes to another friend, and asks for three loaves of bread, because he doesn't have any to feed his guest. 


Let me get this straight.  You have no food in your home; you've got a friend who shows up at midnight (!) and you have to ask your other friend for not just one loaf but three.  Hmmm.  Seems like Chaos Central to me.

Now, to add insult to injury, this supposed other friend won't even answer the door.  It's locked, and he's all snuggled down in bed and his kids are asleep.  In other words, back off boogaloo--your problem is not my problem.  Then we come to find out that the friendship isn't so important to him--he's not going to help this needy friend and get up.

Hmmm.  There is one and only reason for this man to get up and help his needy friend:  his reputation.  His needy friend knew exactly where to go to find (lots of) bread at an odd hour; he didn't go knocking on random doors in the neighborhood. This needy friend knew this man had a bounty of bread, and could spare the loaves no matter what.  

So, even though the friendship is not motive enough, how others will think of of this man matters.

The needy friend also had the gumption, the chutzpah, the boldness to come pounding on the door.  Why?  He knew his friend had bread to share, so he left his house, pounded on the door, and then explained his circumstance.  He then stood, and listened patiently while his friend groused.  Did Mr. Needy leave?  No.  He kept standing there.  Mr. Needy knew his friend cared about his reputation, and would, after some delay, rally to his cause. Mr. Needy wouldn't relent until his need had been met. 

So here's the equation:  Bold Request + To the One With Resources
                                      = Request Granted Based on the Giver's Character

Why?  Because the Giver wants those around Him to know Him as a Provider, a Resource, One whose Name is to be known throughout the earth.  Let's "fit" the Lord's Prayer into this parable:

Our Father in Heaven                            
The man is at his house, with a reputation of bounty 
Hallowed by Thy Name   
The man's reputation is of the utmost importance 
Thy Kingdom Come          
The man's home is available, right here, right now
Give us our daily bread                         
This man has resources:  enough bread to give away 3 loaves!
Forgive us our sins                                
The needy man is seeking forgiveness for the imposition
We forgive those who sin against us     
Mr. Needy needs to forgive his friend showing up so late and inconveniencing him 
Lead us not into temptation                   
Mr. Needy would rather not face such dilemma of waking up one friend to help another again

No, it's not a perfect one to one correspondence, but Jesus is making an important point:  Even here on earth are those whose name, whose reputation, means something and that person will act, even if the person would rather not.  

The person's name is tantamount to their character. 

Now, up the ante, and picture our Father. He is in heaven, His home, but He will hear the knock on His door as you offer Him a fervent prayer, any time, day or night. No one knows when catastrophe will just show up at your door, but now you hurry to your Heavenly Father's house and start pounding/praying for His mercy, His provision.  You are lovingly bold as you approach Him, not because of who you are, but because of who He is.  His name, His character is revealed throughout His word, and now it is being revealed in Jesus as He tells this story.   

Our Father is known for not ignoring knocks on His door, having plenty of bread, and has a willingness to hear our cries.  We don't enjoy unexpected "guests" to show up unannounced (a test!) but our Father is always at home and will give you what you need.  

Jesus pushes this a bit further:  "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13).

Wow!  We are fallen, yet when our children are in need, (in this case, asking for food) any loving father would not give his child the opposite--he will not give snakes and scorpions.  God will not give us venomous, harmful and cruel responses to our cry, our need, our pain.   

We may confuse want with need, but even then the Father is measuring and distributing kindness and mercy.  His Holy Spirit longs to come in and dwell within us, empowering us to walk in love with the Father and everyone else. 


*NIV text note 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Parable of a Tiny Seed: Get Growing!

 Let's go!

"He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come'" (Mark 4:26-29).

Interestingly enough, only Mark records this parable.

Jesus compared Himself to a grain of wheat: "And Jesus answered them, saying, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal'" (John 12:24).

Jesus sees the potential that is contained in a seed. He knows of its amazing hidden power to grow beyond itself. Jesus' death, like a seed, contained the hidden power of the Resurrection, which would not be made evident until Jesus was put into the earth, into the tomb. 

The Kingdom of God is no different. It must be planted and then its amazing power will be released.

You open an apple, and in its heart, in its center, is a group of seeds. Small and black, they look nothing like an apple or an apple tree. They certainly do not look like an orchard. So, in effect, it takes faith to take these seeds outside and plant them in the ground. 

Why faith? Because they look nothing like what they contain. They show no power. They show no growth. They are merely a handful of black seeds in the palm of your hand. For now.

That's where this parable tells of Jesus and His Kingdom, "A man scatters seed on the ground." The man scattering the seed is Jesus, but He is also the seed itself.  

Jesus came to earth with nothing to recommend Him. He was poor and from the boondocks. Philip was so excited about this Man, Jesus, but look at Nathanael's reaction: 

"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote-- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' 

Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' 

Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'" (John 1:45-6)

The seed was also the message.  Jesus scattered the message of the Kingdom into the hearts of His followers. The seeds sat in their hearts for awhile, while He continued to teach them and show them the mighty power of God.  His message of hope, that later His death, burial and resurrection would verify,  took root in the hearts of those who were willing to listen and obey.  The seeds grew because Jesus was all too aware of the power contained in the message.

Why? The message was of His Father, the Almighty God: "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me" (John 12:49-50). 

The words, the message, the seeds: the power contained therein is of God Himself, and can produce an abundant harvest in the life of a follower of Jesus. 

Seeds grow and produce a harvest. Jesus' ministry grew and produced a harvest. But even more so, His death and resurrection released a power that now we as believers possess: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." (Rom. 8:11)

Did you catch that? We have the same power living in us that raised Jesus from the dead! Whoa! Now that's good news! You may see yourself as a wee seed. God sees you as a field of waving grain, able to feed many. How so? The same Power that raised Jesus--the Father in heaven--raises you to new life and His abundance.

Maybe you see yourself as a seed. 

Jesus sees an orchard.

Maybe you see yourself as a seed packet in the garden section of a store. 

Jesus sees a beautiful garden.

Maybe you see yourself as a pine cone, lying in the dirt below a tall conifer.  

He sees a mighty forest.

Maybe you see yourself as one insignificant person. 

He sees His child, set to work by His power and His message of love.

See yourself as He sees you, and in the power of His Son, get growing!

Friday, February 24, 2023

Busy While You Wait: The Sheep and Goats

Here we go!

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Matthew in Chapters 23-25 chronicles an interesting series of parables as we come to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, warning the crowds and His disciples not to be like them in any way. He mourned for Jerusalem, knowing what will befall it in the future. His disciples, astonished that anything will come against the mighty City of David (after all, God's house is there!), asked Him to elaborate on the coming destruction and what will precede His return.

He tells them the signs to look for and how the future will be similar to Noah's time. People will be focused on their daily lives and will ignore the warnings until this future "flood" will come and sweep them away.

Jesus subsequently starts a series of parables, underscoring the preceding discourse. He talks of the "faithful and wise servant" who serves his master faithfully, even though the master is not around. He contrasts this with a "wicked" servant, whose self-serving behavior betrays his supposed love for his master.

He then talks of the ten virgins. Five are completely prepared to meet the bridegroom. He contrasts these with the five who didn't care enough to be ready for him.

If Jesus told the crowd and His disciples not to be like the Pharisees (who are the supposed local role models for Godly living) then who should they emulate? These parables unpack that question beautifully: Love and serve the Master and Bridegroom out of reverence and love, and act as if each coming day will be that Day! Don't behave out of fear and duty.

Love is the calling card of this new Kingdom. The older Kingdom with its Temple, sacrifices, and priests will be fulfilled by a new covenant. This will be the New Covenant of Jesus' blood. He will enter Jerusalem as the final sacrificial Lamb. God will be fully satisfied by what His Son will soon do.

The Temple will be demolished by the Romans in 70 AD and the Jewish people will be scattered to the four winds. But this New Covenant will sustain and supply the Kingdom of God will everything it needs: faithful servants of God, empowered by His very own Spirit.

The Temple of God will be these new believers, as they come to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit. The Sacrifice will be His Son. And the priests? Us.

Next, Jesus talks of three men who were given talents, and were expected by their departing master to use them wisely, multiplying what they have. The one fellow who buries his talents, because he considers his master harsh and unforgiving, is castigated for acting out of fear and selfishness.

Onto the next parable, the one about the sheep and the goats.

The sheep are sheep because of how they acted. They relieved the suffering of others, especially those whom the old order--the Pharisees--despised: the hungry, the naked, the foreigner, the sick and the criminal. While the Pharisees stood about, debating the minute details of the Law, dressed in glorious attire and sought to silence Jesus, those who really knew His Father were out and about, meeting the needs of the people who needed God the most.

The goats are goats because of how they acted. They saw the need. They weren't ignorant of the hungry or the naked. What they refused to see was that their Heavenly Father wanted to use their hands and feet to push His Kingdom forward. They were too busy debating, parading and masquerading as if the Kingdom was on their terms. They could do what they wanted, when and with whom they deigned to be kind with, and that was good enough. Right?


All of these parables boil down to one key truth: while you are waiting for Him to return, serve others. Love others as you love Jesus. Prompted by His Spirit, be willing to be His hands and feet in this needy world.

Know your Master well by reading His Word and spending time with Him. Thus, you will serve Him out of reverence and love. Duty and fear have no place in this Kingdom.

You'll be so busy doing Kingdom work, His return will happily catch you by surprise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Hey Sister, Can You Spare Some Oil? The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Here we go!

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt. 25: 1-13)

Jesus has just discussed about how leadership in the Kingdom of God is characterized by "servantship." He describes a person who is dutiful in love and commitment whether or not the master is present. This person serves out of love for the master and for his fellow servants--pure and simple.

Love is the hallmark of a Kingdom servant. The "job qualifications" for such a servant is outlined by Paul so wonderfully in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. God's love for us was made manifest in the giving of His Son:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Commitment is equally important, and comes from love. Love is the attitude such a servant takes because he responds to the great love lavished on him by the Master. Commitment is love put into action.

Love says, "I will be there for you."

Commitment says, "Hold on! I'm coming!"

So, Jesus moves from His servant parable in Matthew 24:45-51 to the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25. The servant parable shows how love is our attitude. This next parable shows how commitment is love in action:

OK, we could talk about being prepared for that momentous day when He returns. Yes, the parable illustrates that. But why be prepared in the first place? The other five ladies went with the first five. They at least brought their lamps. That was worth something, right?

Yes, only if a servant's motivation is to appear prepared.

In other words, the servant is acting as if love for the master drives what that servants does. The servant appears to love the master. But Jesus isn't about appearances. He is concerned about the heart and its ultimate motivation. He is asking in this parable:

Are you doing just the minimum for My Father--do you just grab the lamp but figure you'll get the oil later? Do you think, Hey, I am doing my duty. That should be enough.

Are you doing what you can for My Father--grabbing the lamp and the oil and waiting in eager expectation for the Son? Do you think, Hey, I am ready no matter when He shows up, because I love Him.

Love is the sustaining factor. The Bridegroom may be awhile. It is our love for Him that means you come prepared with whatever is needed to further Kingdom work. If you bring a lamp, you need to bring the oil. You can't be light if you serve Him out of duty. Your love is the oil--it keeps the light burning in the darkness and lights the way for others.

In the parable, when the bridegroom appears, all the ladies were asleep. I like the tender touch here--Jesus recognizes that in our weakness, we may grow tired and perhaps take a snooze. Our flesh is so weak.  Remember how the apostles on the night Jesus was arrested fell asleep?

But, if we know we are weak, then His strength is manifested in us and our love drives us to grab His hand and get going. We don't allow our weakness to be the excuse for self-pity, which leads to inaction. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)

Wake up; don't wallow up. Grab your lamp and oil. The Kingdom needs your light.

Our love for Him, united with His strength, will yield joyful servants in His kingdom. It will end, yes, with a wedding feast. That's why Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate what His arrival will be like!

One more observation about this parable: All the ladies woke up with the announcement of the bridegroom's arrival, but not all were ready. We can't rely on our pastor, our mom or dad, our whatever, to walk as servants for us. There are no grandchildren in God's Kingdom: only sons and daughters, who have made the choice to be His own. We can't borrow from others.

What would we think of a best man who grabbed a bouquet from the flower girl at a wedding and presented it to the bride as if he had bought it for her?

We would scowl at him and say, "You knew you were the best man. You knew that you were responsible for bringing a bouquet to the bride. You knew all of this before the actual day, for the bridegroom told you when he asked you. Do you think the bridegroom will not notice how careless you are, by trying to pass off that little girl's bouquet as your own?"

Bingo. Jesus, in His parables and teachings, is the Bridegroom instructing us as to what to do and what to bring as His day approaches. We are to bring love and commitment to what He asks of us. We gladly go out and do it, even if we get tired now and then.

Isn't it interesting that at the end, when the door is shut, and the five ladies ask to come in, the bridegroom says, "I don't know you." Duty, guilt and obligation are not substitutes for knowing and serving Him.

Our servant's heart is created the day He enters in. With His Holy Spirit, He gives us a heart of flesh for a heart of stone. We love Him, wanting to know Him better at the end of the day than we did at the beginning. His mercies are new every morning, so we start afresh as servants each day. We put feet to our love by being committed to Him and His kingdom.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Don't Be a Fool School: The Wise and Faithful Servants


"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  (Luke 12: 42-48)

Jesus excoriated earlier the Pharisees for their willingness to burden people with rules that they themselves do not follow. He presented His case against them as "woes," telling what they do and how this doesn't square with what the Scriptures say.

He then leaves the Temple. His disciples excitedly point out the beauty of this structure to Jesus, joyful at seeing the permanency of God's House.

The disciples are looking for something that pleases God in all of this. Jesus has effectively dismissed the religious leaders as non-viable leaders in God's kingdom. The disciples are saying, If the religious leaders are not worthy servants in God's house, then let's look at the Temple itself, and be thankful that God's house stands! Here is something we can be proud of, right, Jesus?

Jesus, in response to their confidence, says that every stone will be "thrown down." The Temple itself will be dismantled.

They all walk up to the Mount of Olives and gather around Him. I am sure while they were walking, the disciples were disconsolate; how could this beautiful Temple, God's own house, not forever stand?  How could this be? By the time they are able to sit down, and ask Jesus to explain, their hearts are very troubled, but open.

Jesus explains what signs will precede the end. He gives His disciples information empowering them to not fear and to continue what He has begun. The Temple, the religious leaders and what they see will all soon disappear.

So, who will carry on God's work on this earth? Who will staff and run what You have begun, Lord?

Jesus then teaches, by way of several parables, what a citizen of God's new kingdom will be as the old order passes away:

Willing to have a servant's heart ("The Parable of Wise and Faithful Servant")

Willing to get ready and stay prepared for His arrival ("The Parable of the Ten Virgins")

Willing to use whatever God bestows to further His Kingdom ("The Parable of the Talents")

Willing to serve God by serving the "least of these" ("The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats")

To be an active member of the newly arriving God's Kingdom, your status is one of a servant. But, you have a choice of what kind of servant you'll be.

Class is now in session.  Listen up, students. Please open up your Bible to Luke, chapter 12: 

The faithful servant will: Take care of the other servants, even down to serving them their daily bread. This servant will be attentive to others' needs, making sure that they are taken care of, so they can go out and do the work that the master requires. This servant isn't obedient just when the master is watching or is in residence. This servant is dutiful all the time, doing what is necessary all the time and cheerful all the time. Why? Because this servant, heart and soul, wants to please the master. That is the servant's only motivation.

This servant lives out a key element in the Kingdom: You serve the Master by serving others.

The Pharisees served God, but in reality, they were serving themselves. Their motivation was one of personal aggrandizement. They wanted the accolades of others, and their service to God was a means to that end. Serving God alone was not enough.

A true servant serves God because it is extension of that servant's love for Him. Love alone is enough to serve. Why? Because the servant knows the Master deeply and thus loves the Master deeply. Service is based on a relationship, not an obligation.

The master, seeing the servant's love played out in selfless service, hands over his possessions to this servant. He trusts the servant without reservation and likewise the servant to the master. Mi casa su casa: All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.

Now, let's look at the foolish servant.

His love for the master wanes as the master is away. It's a kind of proximity love: I love you when you're around, because it meets a need in me. When you're away, I look elsewhere. My love is not based on who you are but on what you can do for me. So, with you away, I am in charge. I am not acting on the master's behalf; I am taking the reins of the master and acting as if I am the master. So, I will beat offending servants, not take care of them. I will go where and when I please. Besides, the master is taking his sweet time...Why can't I?

Because this servant is so busy serving himself, he won't notice the signs. The master's absence has caused this servant's heart to grow cold. And hard. This servant is not just hanging out idly; he's actively beating his fellow servants and getting loaded with a questionable crowd.

But the master does return. He is appalled by such hypocritical behavior. The master hears this servant's heart: Hey, yeah, I am your servant, but I while I like the title, I do not like the responsibilities. I am serving myself, because I tried the servant thing, and that grew boring. The other servants didn't appreciate all my hard work on your behalf. You didn't appreciate all my hard work, either. I should get something out of this service thing. I like it when the other servants shrink away in fear, and act as if I am the master. It's good to be king.

Sounds like the Pharisees, doesn't it?

Leaders in this new Kingdom will be servants who wash others' feet and give of themselves wholeheartedly. They will do so for one reason: their love of God.

The fate of this foolish servant is a "place with the hypocrites." Pride will be traded in for tears, and disobedience for regret.

The Temple will soon be gone. The old order of sacrifice will soon be gone.

The new temple will be each servant's heart, a new house of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The sacrifice will be Jesus on the cross, and His death will satisfy God's demand for justice for all time.

Class dismissed.

Now, go choose.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Save the Date! The King's Wedding!

Here we go!

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.  

Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

He asked, 'How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?'  The man was speechless.      

Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'  For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:1-14)

This parable comes right after the two parables about the two sons and the landowner. Jesus first addresses His authority with the parable of the two sons. At first, the one son will not heed his father's wishes, but then changes his mind, and goes about his father's business. The second son says the right thing--that he will be obedient--but then he isn't.

Then Jesus ups the ante by talking of a landowner, who leases his property to some tenants who, because they are farmers, seem to be the men for the job. But the tenants refuse to allow the landowner to collect what is rightfully his: the harvest. He sends his son, thinking he will be received respectfully; instead the tenants kill him, trying to steal his inheritance.

Now Jesus goes one step further, and shows upon whom the Kingdom of God will be built. The Kingdom of God is an invitation. No one is forced in; no one is bullied in. No one is shamed in; no one is cajoled in. You are simply invited. Everyone knows what a wedding banquet was like in this 1st century culture! Think of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle. Dancing, singing, drinking, fine food and joyful fellowship all around, and all because two people are uniting in marriage. Their union is a visible reminder of how God sees us: He wants us to join Him in a lovely union, creature to Creator, with singing, dancing, and a sense of having been invited to something deeply special.

So, this king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out the invitation earlier. Now, he sends his servants out to let the invitees know all is ready and to head on down.

But, the original invitees refuse to come. Why? Do they see the occasion as special? Do they respect the king enough to want to be a part of what he is doing? Do they value the king's son enough to make their appearance and support him? They knew this day would come; yet, they refuse.

Perhaps the invitees are not fully aware of how ready the banquet truly is. So, the king sends out some more servants with instructions to be very specific about how ready is ready: The meat is a-steamin' and the ice is clinking in the glasses as the drinks are being poured. Someday is here. Come on down!

But the invitees have more pressing matters--one goes out to his field and one goes over to his place of business.

The day is here already? Yeah, I know the king's son would show up one day, and ask his dad for a wedding party, but not today! I am too busy! Wish him well, but I just can't be bothered.

Then it gets ugly. The rest of the group are not just busy; they harbor murder in their hearts. Why? Their hatred of the king and his son has lain under the surface for a while, and now it comes boiling up in murderous rage.

The king's son, huh? Who does he think he is? What, we're supposed to stop everything and run gushing to him? Hey, we got lives. We got obligations. This king's son expects way too much from us if he thinks that he's so important that we will just drop everything and show up. Besides, you say you are the king's servants...How do we know that? Any losers could just show up in rented costumes and start throwing their weight around, acting as if they're special 'cause they're on some kind of mission. Sorry, boys, but such arrogance deserves a take-down.

Next thing you know, the servants are killed.

The king then takes action. He sends in his army and gives them a right royal rubbing. Their city fares no better.

Everything the invitees had invested in, their fields, their businesses and their arrogance (they were so sure of themselves) is gone. He destroys "those murderers." The king will not be mocked. It was one thing to refuse the invitation. It is another thing entirely to kill the representatives of the king. Simple refusal, while regrettable, is not a capital offense. Refusal based on anger and jealousy that leads to murder, THAT justifies the king's wrath.

So, what to do? The king sends his servants out to gather new invitees... Anyone and everyone is invited. The servants went and brought in the "good and the bad" and the hall echoes with laughter. The king comes in to see his new guests. He notices one person, not attired correctly.

This would imply that the good and the bad managed to go home first, and out of respect to the king and his son, got into their Sunday best. They didn't just show up. They were shocked no doubt to be invited to such a glorious affair. Their shock soon converted to respectful behavior and they arrived, attired in humility and joy.

One guy, though, slipped in. Was he invited like everyone else? Well, he seems to know about the banquet. He shows no respect, gives no honor to the son nor his father, the king.

He doesn't respond to the king's question of how he got in. He is "speechless."

Does this guy think that because the invitation is given far and wide, that it is no big deal? In other words, because the king extended it to "those people"--the sinners, the cast-aways, the failures--why should dressing up matter? It's, well, those people!

He shows no respect for the king, the son, and his guests.

The Kingdom of God is filled with those whom the King invites, and they deserve respect. Not because of who they are, but because of the One to whom they belong.

These new guests walked in humbly into the banquet. They had enough love in their hearts to be considerate of the king who called them, and the son whose wedding they celebrate.

The king already displayed his wrath on those who murdered his servants; he also displays his wrath on those who may accept his invitation, but don't show him or his son the respect they rightly deserve. Just like the son in the parable who mouths his obedience and then doesn't do it, this guy accepted the invitation and then acts as if it is no big deal.

Obviously, the King is God and He extends His invitation to all. He will not tolerate disrespect nor disobedience. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus, jolly and happy to everyone, regardless of what they do or think. This parable reminded the Pharisees and all of us that God is merciful and just.

His mercy swings open the doors to His kingdom, and He invites all near and far to enter and rejoice in Him and His Son.

His justice closes the door on those who reject Him and on those who consider His provision as insignificant.

Jesus, as He tells these parables, is nearing the cross. The banquet His Father will host will serve His Son's body and blood as the meal. Jesus is warning His listeners not to take any of this lightly.

He is telling us, as He nears His return, the same thing: the doors are swinging wide open to all that hear Him and accept His offering of forgiveness and grace. The doors will close to those who chose to ignore or belittle His invitation.

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Grapes of Wrath: The Landowner and His Son

Jesus clearly loved storytelling.  He knew that those who really were seeking would be curious enough to hang out and listen to what He had to say.  Those who were looking for an excuse to dismiss Him or find some phrase or teaching to condemn Him, would listen just long enough and leave.  

Parables are a kind of "sheep versus goats" kind of moment.  So, here we go!

Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ (Matt. 21:33-40)

Jesus' authority is under fire by the religious leaders. He uses two parables to explore His authority and Who He is.

The first one concerns a father of two sons. (I covered that in a previous blog.)

This second one concerns a vineyard. The landowner, who can do what he pleases with his land, decides to plant a vineyard. Jesus earlier talked of new wine into new wine skins. He will use the wine of Passover to announce the arrival of a new covenant, which is His blood, soon to be shed upon the cross. So, using a vineyard as a place of encounter is not surprising.

The landowner plants the vineyard and then in order to protect his investment, he builds a wall around it. He sets up a watchtower, from which the vineyard can be guarded. It also provides a place to stay.

Now, he could have stayed, but he placed his investment in the hands of the "farmers." He didn't rent it to just anybody; he rented the vineyard to people who knew what they were doing. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise: The vineyard would have suffered from their ignorance. They would have then feared the return of the owner.

So, from the outside looking in, the landowner hired the right folks for the job. Right?

The gloves come off the day he sends his servants to collect the fruit. Uh-oh.

Remember: He has the right to send anyone whom he chooses to collect his fruit from his vineyard.

The servants come in the name of the landowner to collect what is rightfully his.

The welcome is anything but. The reception is shocking: The servants are met with violence and death.

Why such brutality? Perhaps the tenants were not doing their job. They had the knowledge yes, but they were disobedient. They probably had very little to show for their efforts. The vineyard was not yielding fruit the way it had when the owner left it to them.

What have the tenants been doing? Going out and leaving the vineyard unattended and in disarray? Is the vineyard full of weeds? Are the grapes no longer robust and the wine is lackluster to say the least? Whatever the state of the vineyard was, they are guarding a secret: They have been disobedient tenants.

They would have welcomed the servants and shown them around the vineyard with a sense of satisfaction that it looks much the same as it did when the landowner left, if all had been in order.

Something is wrong.

The landowner, by all rights, could have come storming in and demanded justice for his three servants. But he decided to give the tenants a second chance. This is exceedingly generous.

The next group of servants he sent were treated just as abominably.

The landowner decides to do a curious thing. He will send his son. He believes the tenants will respect his son.

Interesting. Perhaps the angry tenants were responding to these men who showed up in the landowner's name out of mistrust and skepticism.

Who are you and what are you doing here? Right. You represent the landowner. OK, pal, and I represent the Queen of England. You're servants. How can I trust what you say? Where are your credentials? No, your word is not good enough. We were called to take care of this place and we're not handing over the goods to just anyone. The landowner trusts us and gave us dominion over this here vineyard. Yeah, we know it's not ours, but the landowner has been away for awhile. So, we're kind of the owners now, if you think about it.  But if you think we're just gonna hand over the fruit we've labored over, you got another thing comin'. Did I mention Levi here is a blackbelt?

The landowner believes that his son will be seen by the tenants as trustworthy enough to collect what is rightfully his father's.

Wrong. Not only do they seek to kill him right off, but they want to take his inheritance. They want the vineyard all to themselves. If there's no son, then there's no one to leave the vineyard to...The landowner will be forced to leave it in their hands. They don't kill the son in the vineyard. They take him somewhere else. 

How thoughtful.

Hey!  Get a load of that son! All smiles, thinking his daddy will protect him. Ha. He comes in his own name, and thinks we'll just fall into line and hand everything over. Right. But we can't kill him here. We'll drag him out to the back forty and let him have it there. No one will see him. No one will find him. He ain't gonna come back, is he? When the landowner finally shows up--if he ever does--we'll just say we don't know what happened to Sonny Boy. We'll say he never came here. A bunch of  no-nothings  claimed to come in your name, Mr. Landowner, but we made short work of those losers. We'll stick to our story: We did what we did for your sake, Mr. Landowner. 

It was all for you, Sir.

So, at the parable's close, Jesus asks His audience that when the landowner returns, what should be the fate of these tenants? Their response is very telling: 

"'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,' they replied, 'and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.'" 

Reasonable. In other words, their utter irresponsibility takes away their privilege of being tenants, and others shall come in and share in the harvest.

Interesting. We need to give the religious leaders credit for their insight. But intellectual prowess is not what the Kingdom of God is built upon. It is built upon Jesus and His work. Jesus immediately takes their response and focuses the discussion back to its origin: By what authority does Jesus do what He is doing?

He responds: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

In other words, the very ones who should know the Christ, because of their vast knowledge of the Word of God, are the very ones who have missed the Son. Sad, but so true: knowledge is not enough. 

A sincere heart that seeks God earnestly is what He rewards.

Now, at this point, the leaders could have engaged in a conversation to pursue truth and see what this Jesus was all about. But, if you are sincere about the truth, you have to be willing to pursue it to where it leads. The truth sought by a seeking heart will lead to Jesus, His work and His divinely appointed authority.

The leaders' reaction illustrates their hearts: "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet."

Whoa. They were not interested in pursuing whether or not Jesus' claims were true. They weren't interested in the Kingdom of God. They wanted him out of the way. Period. They wanted to arrest Him and whisk Him off to some jail, where He would languish and not be heard from ever again.

But the parable speaks a deeper truth: Jesus is claiming to be God's Son. How do the tenants react to the landowner's son? Death.

The leaders' hearts will continue to harden to the point where they will ask the Romans for the death of the Son. The end of Jesus' earthy ministry was coming, and sadly these leaders will, out of jealousy and hatred, be involved in ending it.

But, the Good News is: Fruit will come. The Kingdom of God will come. Salvation in His name will come.

The Bad News: The very Temple that the leaders so cherish will be torn down stone by stone by the Romans who earlier had helped the leaders destroy Jesus. The Romans will turn on the Jews and many of them will be thrown to their deaths from the Temple ramparts in 70 AD.

The Kingdom of God is built on His Son as the foundation, with His sacrifice to be the cornerstone. The vineyard will have new tenants whose hearts will open to truth, to the Truth.

Blessings on you, dear readers, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!  

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