Myth and Memory of the Savior’s Birth

What do we know about Jesus’ birthplace?

With current scholarship in mind, it appears we can say this:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice. The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area. All of those details were carefully included in the narrative to evoke a richer story for the early Jewish follower of Jesus and provide detail to the fulfillment of prophetic prophecy.

Let’s carefully examine each part of the statement we just made.

We will do so by a process of understanding normal trends of the region in the time, and by examining both text and archaeological evidence.

The Village of Bethlehem

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice.

First, let’s consider Bethlehem as the village location and what that reference in the Gospels meant to early Jewish followers of Jesus. The village name is clearly part of Luke 2:4 and meant “house of Bread” (though the name was probably originally derived from a Canaanite unrelated meaning before). It is perfectly reasonable that early followers connected two ideas in the Gospel text: the notation that Jesus was the “Bread of Life” and that He was born in a place called the “house of bread.” Extending the metaphor, the baby was placed in a manger, or feeding trough for animals.

Additionally, we know that some (read: many) shepherds from that village were regularly assigned the task of “keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks (described below). A key feature of their work included making certain none of these lambs were blemished. To that end, they may have had special training, beyond the normal restrictions found in Baba Kamma 80 a (a Talmudic Aramaic phrase meaning “The First Gate” that refers to the first of three Talmudic tractates in the order Nezikin or “Damages” – an order that dealt with civil damages and torts). Baba Kama 80 offered restrictions on household animals and expressly forbade the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness regions. The exception: flocks kept for the Temple-services.

It is reasonable to assume that some, if not all the shepherds in Luke’s account were trusted individuals who were specifically trained for a Temple-related task, and may have even been specifically connected to cave homes that acted as birthing centers. The shepherds were probably educated in keeping the animals from hurt, damage or blemish.

Third, Bethlehem was thought to be the place of Messiah’s coming, based on Micah 5:2, but the Hebrew prophet Micah may have indicated a more exacting location when he foretold (Micah 4:8):

And you, O Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem

Scholars debate whether the reference of Migdal Eder – ‘the Tower of the Flock'” referred to a specific tower in the area (not archaeologically identified but widely thought to have existed) or a more common feature of the landscape of the Judean wilderness near to Bethlehem (a common watchtower, the foundations of many of which still exist in the area).

In the story, the shepherds were ostensibly encamped near enough to Bethlehem (in one of the adjacent valley locations) to access the town in a matter of hours (at most). If the tower referred to a specific location, as some believe, it may be it acted as a station where shepherds brought Temple flocks as they were chosen to be transported to Jerusalem, the males for burnt-offerings, and the females as peace-offerings (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). Evidence in the narrative for this may exist in the idea of how directly the shepherds found the baby (as though they knew the place the angels indicated). Many scholars, however, believe it is more likely a truncated narrative indicating the baby was located in an area home that was associated with birthing Temple lambs (known to them), where shepherds would have natural access to check on their property among the attendants. If that is true, the words of the angelic messenger, in that case, were a short hand to help the shepherds know where to look for the baby.

It is clear that many lambs of the region were used by the Temple, and many, if not most, shepherds in that area were involved in the specific regimen of supplying the Temple’s needs (and abiding by their restrictions and protections of the animals due for sacrifice). We cannot know if those specific shepherds were, in fact, doing that work. It would not be unlikely but is not clearly stated in the text.

There are some memories, based now largely on modern Samaritan practices near Gerizim, that in the lambing season the sheep may have been brought to a specific watchtower location and a lower level of that tower (built on a natural cave) functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Samaritans maintain controls in the birthing as Temple priest may have done in Bethlehem. The matter is speculative, and though it could conceivably have been part of the events of Luke 2, it is worth noting the shepherds appear to have been outside Bethlehem and came INTO the village to find the baby.

William Thomson, a Presbyterian missionary to the region, wrote in 1857:

It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region.

Clearly, Bethlehem is a village associated with the care of Temple lambs. Here are some other important details about the flocks destined for the Temple, showing the scope and normality of that work in the region at the time:

• The twice-daily male lamb offering (known as the tamiyd (meaning continual from Numbers 28:3) was to be tamiym (“without blemish”). Gospel students will recall the fact that the tamiyd was sacrificed the third hour every morning, and Mark’s Gospel recalled that was the same time Jesus was Crucified (Mark 15:25, Mishnah: Tamid 3:7). Further, Mark 15:33 marked the ninth hour as the time of the last sayings of the Savior, and the giving up of His Spirit at the time associated with the second of the tamiyd lambs.

• Male lambs born in the Bethlehem area, were most often used exclusively in the Temple, as this was the best and most steady commercial outlet to satisfy the needs of the Temple. Many, if not most of the new flock were routinely set-aside to be the TAMIL, i.e. the morning sacrifices which began each day. Lambs could also be used for burnt offerings (Oleh dedicatory offerings). Female lambs were more often chosen for use in peace offerings (Shelmim). In short, the hills around Bethlehem were home to the hundreds of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple.

• The number of lambs needed each year depended upon the length of that year. The Hebrew calendar has regular length years (kesidrah), shorter years (cheserah or a deficient year with 353/383 days) or longer years (shlemahor complete year with 355/385 days). Sacrificial lamb numbers ranged, then, between 706 to 770 sacrificial lambs per year plus addditional lambs needed for Passover (Pesach ) and various elective offerings (Shelmim,etc).

Clearly the most common usage for these lambs born in Bethlehem was this: they were destined to become sacrificial lambs. That isn’t any more a stretch that referring to Detroit as a “car city” or Pittsburgh as a “steel city.” The reference likely evoked imagery of Temple lambs to many early Jewish followers of Jesus (though we cannot know for sure what they thought). In fact, the Mishnaic memory recalls:

An animal that was found between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or a similar distance in any direction, the males are [considered] burnt offerings. The females are [considered] peace offerings. Rabbi Yehuda says, those which are fitting as a Pesach offering are [considered] Pesach offerings if it is thirty days before the festival.” (Shekalim 7:4; from Sefaria online trans.)

Some students of the Word take special note of the definite article before “manger” in the text, and understand that to mean this was a birthing place the men already knew.

The Cave Birth (and Kataluma)

There are some who insert in the story of the birth the idea that there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the local caravansary, and surmise the parents of Jesus were allowed to occupy one of the attended birthing caves in the hillside. That doesn’t seem likely, since the shepherds were directed to the village to find the child, and it doesn’t seem to take into account the literal wording of the text. Luke recorded:

Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The phrase “no room in the inn” gave rise to the idea the couple was “stuck” in an animal stable as a last resort to give birth , but that is a merely implied in the English reading. The Greek term for “inn” (Luke 2:7) is kataluma, normally translated “guest chamber” and used also in Luke 22:11. It was a term that could be used in its time for a hall, as in a place refitted for occasion. Luke used pandokheion when he desired to designate a commercial inn (cf. Lk 10:36). Conversely, the other use of kataluma in the Gospels is in Luke 22:11 (and its parallel in Mark 14:14) where it clearly does not mean an inn.

As such, consistent with the three-room cave style homes found in Tibe/Ophrah in Ephraim, Nazareth in the Galilee and Bethlehem in Judea (areas with significant chalk geological intrusion) we find remains of caves used as stables in the cold time of year, center rooms used as storage or work space that could be given as a “kataluma” in the time of guests, and a front room for living space. Luke made clear there was “no room in the kataluma” which was a makeshift guest space in the family home Joseph.

Some Bible teachers reason that Torah restriction for impurity offer evidence the child was born in a place away from a family home, based on the Levitical laws (Leviticus 12 and 15). They reason that when a woman was ritually unclean (as in childbirth), she had to live apart from her family so as not to defile the household. They offer in evidence the careful observance of Mary of the timing of her Temple visit. After the cessation of blood and required time of waiting, a woman and her child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family. Though this was true during the sojourn in the wilderness, there is little to validate that practice in the period of the First and Second Temples for villagers. We simply don’t know how this was regulation specifically observed. It may have ranged in observance from separation of sleeping areas by a curtain to a separate lodging. It is not certain that Mary would have felt the need to be outside the house, and the text seems to indicate that she was in the family home, but in the cave at the rear recesses of the home.

There is another important historical evidence some scholars use to signal the birth of Jesus was outside the family home, outside the village, and perhaps at a cave near a specific tower. Origen wrote it was generally accepted in his day that the Nativity took place in a cave at Bethlehem which could be visited in his time (cp. Origen of Alexandra,”Contra Celsum”, book I, chapter LI).

Justin Martyr claimed Jesus was born in a cave outside the city of Bethlehem. The statement reads:

But when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi came from Arabia and found Him. I have repeated to you…what Isaiah foretold about the sign which foreshadowed the Cave.

(From: Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXIX. Cf. The Writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, trans. by M. Dodds, G. Reith and B.P. Pratten (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1868), pp. 195–196). It is also notable the Protoevangelium of Jacob similarly suggests the birth of Jesus was outside the village in a cave. Sources of that period echo each other.

The issue with these sources is the many historical details that Justin Martyr and others of his time added to the story for the purposes of showing Jesus to have fulfilled prophecy. They seem excellent sources for early thinking about the Gospel and sharing it, but not great sources for detailed historical analysis of the original events.

If the shepherds knew of this home in particular (as had been suggested), it would likely have been because Joseph’s family was involved in the network of places used to birth lambs for the Temple, though this is mere conjecture. It is not unreasonable or even unlikely, but nowhere close to certain.

The Swaddling Wrapping

The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area.

There are a number of possibilities of how we should understand the reference to the “swaddling cloth” put on Jesus. The Greek verb tense of Luke 2:12 should be translated “having been swaddled”.

First, we should understand that historical memory includes the fact that babies were wrapped after birth in various ways in the Biblical period. In a passage about God’s inordinate grace to Israel, we read about God’s care of the nation:

Ezekiel 16:4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

While it is true the prophet Ezekiel wasn’t offering intentional detail on wrapping infants, he does show it was a known practice that demonstrated (along with salting the newborn) at least minimal care. Notably, Job offered a side reference to the same practice in Job 38:8-9 as God disputed with Job about how things were created:

Job 38:8 Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; 9 When I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band

It appears in both Ezekiel and Job, the reference was toward a common image of nurture and care after a child is born. The real issue is whether the cloth referred to in the narrative of the birth of Jesus denotes something more. Why would the swaddling clothes be something more? Textually, this action was taken, according to the angel of the Lord, to be a sign to the shepherds. Does that suggest it was something unusual in its time or place? If it does, perhaps we need to look further at other possible explanations.

Beyond the Job and Ezekiel references for child care, it is easily attested that such wrappings were widely used for the bodies of the dead. These were wrapped or covered, and often cloth was kept in a family home to be prepared for such an eventuality. Some cite this as a cloth wrapped on one’s person during a long journey, to aid in case of injury or wrap in case of death. This is oft repeated, but without any obvious source. It isn’t beyond the norm that one would use the allegory of “coming to die” for the baby in the manger, and this may explain some of the use in the text. Yet, how would that make sense to the shepherds to whom the symbol was given.

A third possibility should be mentioned, because there is a reference in the (Apocryphal) Wisdom of Solomon 7:3-6 that may relate the identification of this cloth to the royal line of David. Traditionally the words of Solomon said:

7:3 And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do. 7:4 I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and that with cares. 7:5 For there is no king that had any other beginning of birth. 7:6 For all men have one entrance into life, and the like going out.

The text argued as though the wrapping cloth was symbolically related to the fact that he was of a kingly line. It is at least plausible the comment of this cloth related to the “son of David” designation, but it doesn’t seem obvious in the narrative, unless the shepherds knew something we cannot discern in our reading.

Some promising notes can be found in a fourth suggestion of the use of swaddling “cloths.” This use involved a reported use in subduing animals at sacrifice, where strips of gauze-like cloth were used to restrain a lamb being prepared for inspection before sacrifice to prevent thrashing that they not “blemish” themselves. Mishnaic sources offer evidence for this, found in the terms of sacrifice as something that had to be “bound” (Hebrew `aqad) in order to be valid. The grammatical term for “binding” an animal for sacrifice is the Hebrew akeida and was specifically mentioned in Abraham’s “binding” of Isaac in Genesis 22. Some suggest such a binding of baby lambs set for sacrifice may have been intended to halt thrashing that could cause blemish or injury in their first couple of hours of their lives. We simply don’t know if that practice was routine or widespread.

The benefit of this last suggestion could be more simply explained if we link the shepherds to Temple duties. If it was true the shepherds were trained to deal with the specialized needs of Temple lambs, and if the practice of binding extended back from the time of the Mishnaic memory to their time and place, the wrapping could have been significant. Surely, later Gospel allusions would be made that Jesus was our sacrificial Lamb, and John the Baptist later announced.

Here is what the preponderance of evidence suggests:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice. The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area. All of those details were carefully included in the narrative to evoke a richer story for the early Jewish follower of Jesus and provide detail to the fulfillment of prophetic prophecy.

Resurrection Sunday: “The Evidence” – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 21-22

Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.

At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.

Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:

Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.

If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.

This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.

It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.

I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…

Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.

Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”

Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.

Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.

Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.

Four Writers Blended

Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:

The Soldiers

It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:

It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.

The Women

A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).

Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).

Mary of Magdala

During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).

At the Disciples’ Chamber

Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.

Peter and John at the Tomb

Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).

At the Temple

Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).

On the Road

On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.

The Twelve

By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.

Over the Next Month

Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.

A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).

His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.

Those are the accounts.

There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…

“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”

Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…

First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).

Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.

Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:

Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:

Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.

These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.

Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).

How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.

Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:

53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!

Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).

Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.

Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!

Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).

Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.

The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.

Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).

Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!

Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….

How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?

In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.

First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.

Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.

Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.

Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!

Justin Martyr wrote:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement of Rome described the believer:

He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.

Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!

When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).

Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…

• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.

Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?

It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

Following Jesus: “Famous Last Words” – (Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19)

Because I am privileged to shepherd people, I have often been in the room of one when they are leaving the body and entering into eternity. The last words they utter aren’t always brilliant or meaningful, but sometimes they tell us something about the person that uttered them. Consider some of these as they lay dying.

Some people show what was most significant to them in that moment. For instance:

Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”

• Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”

• Nostradamus still showboating his supposed predictive ability exclaimed, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.

• Convicted murderer James W. Rodgers was led in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

• When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”

• The poetess Emily Dickinson’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

• But I found particularly touching and dedicated to his craft, the words of surgeon Joseph Henry Green who was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”

For some people, their last words may well show their attitude toward life and the people they shared it with:

• Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”

• As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

• Actor Michael Landon, best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, died of cancer in 1991. His family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”

• John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

• Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

• Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

• Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” (adapted from

It isn’t a stretch for us to recognize that people can utter important things as they leave this earth. The same was true of our Savior. In fact, if you examine the words He spoke from the Cross (as recorded by the early Apostles and Gospel writers) you will note one significant truth…

Key Principle: The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

It is important for us to remember that our view of the death of Jesus 2000 years later is very different from the view they had that Friday long ago. The people around the Cross likely had little concept of what they were seeing.

• Some, no doubt, thought a “trouble maker” was being “put down” and peace would follow.

• Others who were more politically minded may have felt this was just one more in a long series of injustices that unjustly punished their people by an occupying force.

• Some close to Jesus likely had broken hearts over the terrible personal loss as Jesus hung dying.

All of the things people felt as they watched Jesus suffer grossly seemed very real to the people on the scene, but they were but a pale view of what was truly happening.

God was effecting full payment for the sin of mankind by exacting the price of a perfect sacrifice. Few, if any, could have really understood the work, despite God’s long standing promises to offer this gift.

In this lesson, we want to look at two passages that describe the day of the Crucifixion. First, we want to see the people who gathered and consider what they saw of the event (though we have already admitted they were likely all missing the point). After looking at those standing around, we want to consider the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and what they revealed to those who listened then, and those who will listen now…

Go back to the edge of the walled city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and stand amid the olive tree grove watching a public execution early one Friday morning. Who was there? What were they doing? What were they like?

Take a moment and turn to Matthew 27, and you will see them…

Hard to miss among the crowds were the Roman soldiers:

The words introduce them almost as a natural part of the city, though they were nothing close to “natural.” Matthew recorded:

Mt. 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him…33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Look at these men! Like many people in our world, these soldiers:

• Exuded confidence and felt they were important people handling considerable power that felt no need of God in their lives (27:27).

• Seemed totally unfeeling toward Jesus and took no time to consider His life or claims (27:27b-29). HE was irrelevant to them.

• Shoved Jesus where they wanted Him (27:33), gave Jesus what they wanted Him to have – and thought nothing of it all (27: 34).

• Grabbed from Jesus what they thought they could get (27:35), and then were content to stand back and watch Jesus (27:36).

• They didn’t mind placating other people’s weak needs for a leader – but they didn’t feel they needed one! (27:37)

You know people like these guys. They are people who think they are powerful, God is irrelevant or inconvenient and they can handle things without Him. They own life. They live perfectly within the illusion of control, nearly limitless youthful energy, and nothing ahead but a future they forge with their own hands. God could get nothing they weren’t willing to give, and they weren’t interested in hearing what He wanted from them. They see only what they know. Theirs is not the world of nursing homes. They don’t do sickness and hospitals. They have life by the tail…

Then the dark days come.

Reality knocks, power wanes, the new kid is now climbing the ladder and is about to get your corner office. Health fades. The self-sufficiency illusion begins to fade. They get closer to the end than the beginning of life. Their strength can no longer get them what they want. People stop listening; stop following. Throughout life they thought they could “handle God”. They weren’t thinking of the future when the ride neared its end.

Matthew spoke of others at the scene. Some were forced into being there…I am thinking of Matthew 27:32. Take a look…

Compelled to be a part was Simon the Cyrene:

Matthew reported: Mt. 27:32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

He is not unknown to historians of the New Testament. We could easily compare this to Mark 15:21 and read about his family as well.

Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

Every indication in the narrative leads us to the conclusions that:

• Simon was not intentionally trying to find Jesus, nor follow Jesus – but Jesus was thrust into his path.

• Simon was abused by virtue of some blatant racism and mistreated out of prejudice.

• The experience changed him and his family. They followed Jesus and his children became leaders among the believers. Mark declares that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus- two well known Christians of the first generation of followers after the Cross. Many believe (though it is impossible to know for sure) one was referred to at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in:

Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”

Perhaps you know someone who was passing through life abused by others, bruised, and perhaps even the subject of racism or other gross injustices. They weren’t looking for Jesus, but suddenly they saw Him crushed unfairly in front of their eyes. They found in Him One who understood their pain and was intimately familiar with their inner hurt. They were compelled to follow Him, and they took others with them because of their testimony.

Maybe that isn’t a story close to you. Maybe it took MORE for you to really grab hold of Jesus. Maybe you were just too busy to stop and really seek Him. You were more like those in Matthew 27:39…

Mocking Shoppers:

Matthew set the Cross before a busy street scene outside the city wall…

Matthew 27:39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Jerusalem was at its busiest at Passover. Many people were:

• So busy with the holiday season they really couldn’t stop and listen to the truth when it was right in front of them!

• Even without examination, they were sufficiently sure that what they hadn’t carefully considered wasn’t true or worth the time – so they had no need to carefully consider it.

• They hurled accusations at One they did not understand and did not honestly care enough to carefully consider His claims.

All the people of this group thought they were busy doing important things. They thought they knew enough (having picked up “seeds” of moral truth along the way), but they knew only enough to do what they wanted. In the end, they urged Jesus to save Himself – the very opposite of what they truly needed. They needed Him to die for them – but they didn’t take the time to understand God’s Word beyond the sound bites – so they didn’t know it.

I can’t help but notice the…

Temple leaders:

Matthew offers a brief nod to their mocking of Jesus as they piously stood in judgment:

Matthew. 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Isn’t that the way those who prefer religion over God look at things? They were:

• Religious men, “professionals for God” dressed in easily identifiable by their garb. They didn’t blend into the crown – they were better than that!

• They had a system that worked out to care for all the eternal issues, even though it was not in step with God at all. They didn’t walk intimately with Him, and there were times the coldness of their heart showed in the cruelty of their lips.

• They accused Jesus of impotence (while He patiently suffered – “cannot save Himself”).

• They accused Jesus as making false claims (“king”, “trusts in God”, “delights in God”, “Son of God”) but did not show the hearts of those who would desire brokenness and intimacy – for that is not the religious way.

Surely you have met them. A bit of theology mixed with a bit of homespun morality and “poof” – there is a religious mind made up to teach you what God SHOULD want – even if it isn’t what His Word says concerning what He DOES want. It usually has a misshapen Jesus Who fits into their already preconceived notion of righteousness. For the religious mind, God must fit their theology – and He must do only that which they deem important. There is a thick skin of the heart that religion forms – often making it impossible to touch the tender heart of God – or have Him touch us.

Move away from the crowd for a few minutes and move closer to the Cross. Luke 23 includes half of the words of Jesus at the Cross….We need to listen closely for the last words of a dying Savior. He has something to reveal. He will tell us why He came. He will explain what His life meant. He will also make clear what His death would accomplish.

Meet Jesus at the Cross. Listen to His words… whoever you are.

This was the place of finality. It didn’t seem like it. It looked like another injustice, another tragedy, another loss. That KEPT happening long past the Romans…. but this was a place of finality despite the appearance. The Cross was the dramatic signature event where Divine character and compassion overcame the consequence of human sin. It was the place where eternal love was demonstrated in temporal sacrifice.

Jesus went to the Cross in order that we, through his death and the marker of the acceptance of the payment at the Resurrection might have a permanent and personal relationship with God. In the weakness of His body, Jesus brought us the POWER of God to save us.

When Jesus followers speak of “the Cross”, we’re not thinking a rough piece of wood attached to a stump of tree and chained together; it is much more than that. For us, “the Cross” is our family “shorthand” expression for the death of Jesus.

The Cross is the place “where Heaven’s love met Heaven’s justice”.

On that Cross, Jesus spoke. Seven times His words were recorded in history.


Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It is not out of character that Jesus cried out to the Father in Heavene to “Forgive them.”

Was He referring merely to the soldiers who stripped Him and nailed Him to that tree? Was He asking on behalf of mocking shoppers who passed by? Was He asking on behalf of those pious but pompous religious slanderers? Did His call for forgiveness include Pilate who sentenced Him?

Jesus forgave all of those who had no idea what they were doing. It was for their forgiveness the plan was being fulfilled.

• He did it for every professor or religious teacher who hated Him.
• He did it for the men who bribed Judas for a false testimony.
• He did it for every disciple who cheated on Him and lived out fear instead of faith and self instead of service.
• He did it for the ones who promised they wouldn’t deny Him and did, and for the ones who yelled, “Kill Him!” because they lacked any sense of the One about whom they spoke.
• He did it for Pilate and for every person in power who is deluded enough to believe that power in this life translates into power in the next.

Jesus called for the Father to forgive them all… What does this tell us?

It revealed a wonder from the Cross. There is forgiveness. There is MORE than temporary abatement of God’s wrath that was available in the blood of bulls and goats. There is complete forgiveness in ONE sacrifice.

Here is the truth: Only the One paying the price can truly reveal why He is doing it, and part of what He told us is that He wanted the Father to forgive the guilty by means of the payment of the Perfect.

Jesus wanted forgiveness for all who have lived a life for self. Can you honestly say you haven’t? I can’t! The old Negro spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I was. So were you. So were many who never stopped to think about it. What is clear from the words spoken from the Cross is this was a place of profound forgiveness.


Dr. Luke picked up more important and revealing words from Jesus on the Cross…

Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The first word dealt with the world, but the second dealt with one needy and perishing criminal. Isaiah promised the One coming would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Jesus was. He was placed between two men. One derided him for not getting them all free. The other identified his own guilt, and turned to Jesus humbly. He knew what He needed and He identified Jesus as able to provide the forgiveness He had proclaimed for those around Him.

Jesus promised the man “Paradise” the English version of an ancient Persian word for a “planned and walled beautiful garden”. Persian kings were noted for offering friends the opportunity to walk in their lavish gardens. Jesus promised a filthy criminal, blood stained, with profuse odors of fallen humanity all about him – the opportunity to join Him in the garden of His Father.

What does that tell us?

The man offered Jesus nothing but putrefaction. There was nothing of fortune, fame, power or pleasure the man could offer Jesus. He gave Him nothing but himself – and that was all Jesus needed to make the promise of Paradise!


John 19:26,27: Jesus said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple ’Here is your mother.

Jesus was not removed from our human experience. He was fully God, but fully man as well. His relationships here were not just “His ministry” they were dear to Him on the highest level of emotion. What do I mean? His mom mattered.

Sure, He taught us that “compared to our love for God, our relationships of this world – mother, father, sisters and brothers, children and even spouses – are a distant second. That didn’t mean He didn’t value them. It meant He placed His Father first, and we are to do the same.

In Israel, I make the point to my traveling students that Jesus’ relationship with His family wasn’t as positive as many people dream. It was hard for Him to do the will of His family and clan, and do the will of His Heavenly Father. That brought tension. At the Cross, He reached across the divide of those who struggled to get together in life, and He connected the broken relationships at the place of reconciliation.

This Third Word from the Cross is about relationship – and that is what began the whole story of the Bible. God desired to express relationship. That is why He created. He is relational, and He desires that connection with us. Jesus didn’t discount the value of our love and emotional attachments here.


Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Darkness fell on Jerusalem that lasted three hours and as the sins of the world, the awful legacy of the man’s mutiny was laid upon Jesus. Paul later noted:

2 Corinthians 5:21:”He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

In the same way the scapegoat of the Hebrew Scriptures was forcibly banished from Jerusalem, so our Savior bore the sin of the world alone – literally. Theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote it this way:

“Christ’s self-emptying was not a single act or bereavement, but a growing poorer and poorer, until at last nothing was left to Him but a piece of ground where He could weep and a Cross where He could die.”

We need to keep this word “forsaken” in mind. When Jesus promised He would never leave you nor FORSAKE you – this must be contrasted to the way He paid for our sin. He was alone so that you and I will NEVER have to be again. His Spirit will be our companion here, and in His presence we will know union of a magnitude unknown in this life. Alone is not a Christian idea, nor a Christian word – not now and not in the time after time to come.


John 19:28: “I thirst.”

When the Psalmist prophesied that our Lord’s punishment would be graphic and torturous, he wrote:

Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

The idea of payment in blood was no more a theological and theoretical exercise to Jesus than it had been for bulls and goats for generations. This was punishing suffering of body for cleansing of souls.

Why include Jesus’ request for something to drink? After taking literally thousands of people along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, I am convinced it was to help with a huge problem with Jesus followers. We tend to see Jesus in theological terms and not as an actual man. God addressed that by reminding us the same pains we feel, he felt. Sin is costly. His death was real.


John 19:30: “It is finished.”

Hanging on the tree, forcing breath in utter agony, Jesus’ body was poised against the darkness. His broken body still offered a voice that carried from that rocky hill and pierced through the skies of Heaven and the depths of Hell as He cried, “Tetelestai… the Greek term for “It is finished!” Jesus cried out to end a long cycle of sin and blood. He paid everything necessary in His death. His work was done.

• The atonement blood of animals was no longer necessary.
• The unanswered mutiny of man was now reversed by a new Adam Who died for any who believe what God has said.
• There is no work we must do, no class we must pass, no power we must muster – He did all.

Ours is only to believe. We need nothing more, but can offer absolutely nothing less. We must believe, or the death is without profit to us. To walk with God, we must trust Him, and believe He is Who He says He is. We must trust what Jesus has done. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. In Him, it is all finished.


Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This final exclamation of Jesus from the Cross was a quotation from Psalm 31:5. David wrote the words in a time of tremendous conflict, and simply showed that he trusted God with everything. Jesus paid for sin and knew God would deal with His dead body. He would see the Father in a matter of moments. Any fear of death, natural to the state of a man, was offset by an overwhelming trust in His Father in Heaven.

That is what the Centurion did at the Cross when HE trusted Jesus. Matthew reminds us:

Mt. 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!

That is what the thief on the cross beside Jesus did when He trusted Jesus for salvation.

Luke 23: 39 “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are some who come to Jesus only minutes before they die. Though they did not love and serve Him in this life, their life was not a waste. Jesus knew that our present existence in this body is but a short preface to a never-ending eternity. Because that is true, then thief’s life was not wasted; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise!

Strip away all the noise and listen to the words of the Savior to the thief. Jesus trusted the Father, and He called all others to trust HIM.

• He demanded we get past the covering mechanisms of selfish pride.
• He called us to set aside our sarcasm we use to cover deep hurt over how life has worked out. We are all called to trust Him, and in Him we will find mercy.

Jesus said all He needed to say.

The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

I am frankly glad that this life isn’t all there is. If it were, I would never be able to face the utter unfairness and the incomplete brokenness I see here.

Emma Reynolds from Australia published a story two days ago that explains what I am trying to say. She wrote:

When she took Nolan to the hospital for the last time, after he had battled cancer for more than a year, he had not eaten or drunk anything in days and was continually vomiting. On February 1, the oncologist sat them down to hear the terrible truth. The four-year-old’s cancer had spread and large tumours were compressing his bronchial tubes and heart just four weeks after open chest surgery. The cancer was no longer treatable. The anguished mother walked into her son’s room, where he was watching YouTube.

Me: Poot, it hurts to breathe doesn’t it?
Nolan: Weeeelll…. yeah.
Me: You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you baby?
Nolan: (looking down) Yeah.
Me: Poot, this Cancer stuff sucks. You don’t have to fight anymore.
Nolan: (Pure Happiness) I DONT??!! But I will for you Mommy!!
Me: No Poot!! Is that what you have been doing?? Fighting for Mommy??
Nolan: Well DUH!!
Me: Nolan Ray, what is Mommy’s job?
Nolan: To keep me SAFE! (With a big grin)
Me: Honey … I can’t do that anymore here. The only way I can keep you safe is in Heaven. (My heart shattering)
Nolan: Sooooo I’ll just go to Heaven and play until you get there! You’ll come right?
Me: Absolutely!! You can’t get rid of Mommy that easy!!
Nolan: Thank you Mommy!!! I’ll go play with Hunter and Brylee and Henry!!

Nolan slept for most of the next few days. His mother made sure things were in order. “I cannot explain to you what signing an Emergency Responder ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order for your angelic son feels like,” she wrote.

When he woke up, Ruth had his things ready to go home for one more night together. But her son was still putting others first. “He gently put his hand on mine and said ‘Mommy, it’s OK. Let’s just stay here OK?’ My 4 year old Hero was trying to make sure things were easy for me …

“So in between sleeping for the next 36 hours, we played, watched YouTube, shot Nerf Gun after Nerf Gun and smiled as many times as we could. An hour or so before he passed he even filled out a ‘Will’! We laid in bed together and he sketched out how he wanted his funeral, picked his pall bearers, what he wanted people to wear, wrote down what he was leaving each of us, and even wrote down what he wanted to be remembered as … which of course was a Policeman.”

At 9pm, while watching Peppa Pig in bed, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. “He said ‘Ummmm OK Mommy. Have Uncle Chris come sit with me and I’ll turn this way so I can see you’. I stood at the bathroom door, turned to him and said ‘Keep looking right here Poot, I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door. They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respiration was extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.

“I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then a miracle that I will never forget happened…. “My angel took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and said ‘I Love You Mommy’, turned his head towards me and at 11:54pm Sgt. Rollin Nolan Scully passed away as I was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”

Nolan loved his family and friends with a fierce devotion, and brought people from across the world together, Ruth said. “He was a warrior who died with dignity and love,” she added. Alongside the bereft mother’s heartfelt letter to her son, she shared a memorable photo of Nolan lying on the bathroom floor, showing how her son was too terrified to leave her side even when she showered.

“Now I’m the one terrified to shower,” she wrote. “With nothing but an empty shower rug now where once a beautiful perfect little boy laid waiting for his Mommy.

Jesus died to give all of us the opportunity to see the world healed, sin destroyed, and death rendered inoperative – because He gave eternal life. Won’t you trust Him? This isn’t all there is. It truly isn’t!

Mother’s Day: “The Mother of the Perfect Child” (Mary in the Gospels)

Mothers-DayToday we openly thank God for the one person in life that was most used to form the body we live in – our mom. We celebrate the office of mother, even if some of us lost mom long ago to eternity, and even if some of them were not all they could have been in our lives.

When a first child leaves the womb, two people are born. First, there is the baby. Second, there is a young woman who leaves being all that she was, and becomes a mom. She faces painful challenges bringing the baby into the world, and those pains are but a tiny reminder of the pains she will have in her heart over her life as she cares and nurtures her child, desperately trying to prepare them to face a world that is not always hospitable and kind. Let’s admit it: Motherhood is both a blessing but it is also an incredible challenge!

I remember someone relating the story from another Pastor about a mom he saw in the market:

This dear mom was pushing a shopping cart through “Stuff-Mart.” Her daughter was riding in the shopping cart but continually screeching and screaming. Apparently there was something the child wanted and mom denied the request. The mom kept offering words in a soothing voice: “Now Calm down, Ellen. It will be all right, Ellen. It’s almost time to go home, Ellen.” One of the checkout clerks observed the scene and how the mother remained calm in the face of the child-storm. To encourage the mother, she said: “Ma’am, you are to be commended! I am amazed at how patient you are with little Ellen.” The Mom looked up from the child and said to her: “Lady, I’m Ellen!”

We would be kidding ourselves if we tried to project motherhood as some kind of state of loving bliss. If you hang out with moms, you know they can have the angelic voice of one who whispers Brahms’s lullaby to a baby drifting into sleep, but can shout down a crowd at a baseball game when her child is at bat. Being a mother includes developing a range, both of abilities – and of octaves and decibels.

Year after year, motherhood changes. It is always in a state of change…because a child grows and changes how they relate to their mother. Someone wrote:

• At age 4, we say… “My mom…. can do anything!”
• At age 12, …”Mom doesn’t know Everything.”
• At age 14, …”Mom doesn’t know Anything!”
• At age 18, … “Mom is out of step with the times.”
• At age 25, ….. “Well, mom…. knows a few things.”
• At age 35, …… “Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.”
• At age 45, …… “I wonder what mom would say ……about this?”
• At age 65, …. ” I wish I could talk ….. with my mother.”
(Original author unknown).

In some ways, motherhood is a test to learn to see the unseen. Good moms develop great intuition. In my experience with the two women I have known best – my mom and my wife (the mother of my children) I know this: It is difficult to get something past mom. There is an old saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”

Let’s talk about Mary

Today I want to look briefly at the story of one of the most famous moms ever to live on the planet. Her task was unbelievably difficult. She was the mom of a perfect child, but she wasn’t a perfect mom. She appeared in about a dozen passages in the Gospels, and they reveal a truth that I trust will be an encouragement to you in this lesson. Here is the truth of God’s Word…

Key Principle: God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

We have much material on Jesus’ mother. Mary was specifically mentioned in a dozen scenes in the Gospel accounts.

What Mary Became in Church History

Though obviously a wonderful woman used of God, it is important to recognize that Biblically speaking, Mary was a part of the fallen human race, not somehow born immaculate (without the curse of the sin nature) and not given the ability to somehow remain sinless throughout her life. In fact, in the “Magnificat,” the song recorded in the Word, she sang the word, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” I think it is fair to say the familiar national salvation (a staple theme of her people) seemed to include a personal need to be rescued in her words.

Titles for Mary like “The Door of Heaven”, “The Queen of the Apostles, Confessors and Martyrs” or “Queen of Heaven” and the like appear nowhere in the Bible. They are a later invention of what appeared to be a wayward church that eclectically bonded fertility cults of ancient Rome into the traditions of Christianity. If you take the time to search the Scriptures carefully, you will find that Mary never magnified herself, but pointed ever to her Lord. Further, the early record of the Book of Acts doesn’t place her as some kind of door to eternity, but as part of the group of early Jesus followers. Let us satisfy ourselves with this portrayal of the mother of Jesus: she followed the words of her Son who that man has access to God only through Him and His work (John 14:6).

Who Mary was as seen in the New Testament

Just over half (seven) of the stories that are prominent in her life include the early Gospel accounts in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 and the pre-ministry “growing up” experience of Jesus. Most of these were events are very familiar to most students of western culture because of the artistic renderings of the Renaissance – and are well-studied parts of most students of the Gospel accounts. We talk about them, sing about them, and occasionally, like in this lesson, stop to consider what the snapshots teach us:

The Annunciation

Take a moment and consider the lessons from the earliest record of Mary in the text, the story of the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38) when Heaven broke into the life of a young woman and Mary was told by the angel Gabriel Messiah would be born through her womb. Luke recorded:

Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. …34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In that snapshot of this young woman, we see several important traits that God viewed with great favor in a woman. We cannot claim we don’t know what makes God happy – since He made it clear both by instruction and in models. Here are a few things you may notice about her:

• Verses 26 and 27 show us that she appeared to be at the wrong stage of life to be used by God for the task to which she was assigned. Unmarried virgins don’t normally get tapped to be mother to God’s promised ones. Yet, verse 28 makes clear God wanted to use her. She was God’s choice.

• Verse 29 and 30 remind us that she didn’t feel emotionally prepared to take on the task God assigned – since her first responses were perplexity, pondering and fear. Yet, verse 31 makes clear that God has a plan. She was God’s called.

• Verse 34 and 35 clarify the fact that she wasn’t gullible. She didn’t just take what made no sense and flitter off in fanciful belief. She questioned how such a thing could happen. Her faith needed more than fanciful promises – she needed facts. Yet, verse 37 explained that God was at work. She promptly listened and prepared to be obedient. She was God’s container.

To people who don’t know God, the idea that we would surrender even the most intimate parts of lives seem like an affront to our freedom and individuality. That is because they define absolute freedom as selfishness, whereas the Bible defines freedom as the opportunity to become what we were made by God to be. Mary knew that. She wasn’t perfect, but she was used by God because she willingly INVITED Him to do so. Let me ask you something. Has God heard from YOUR lips words like: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” as you invite Him to use your life, your choices and your things? If not, that is the place to begin!

The Visit to Elizabeth

Next, Luke recorded Mary’s journey shortly after her pregnancy to visit her second cousin Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-45) near Jerusalem. Her song that followed was later termed by the church as the “Magnificat” (Lk. 1:46-46) and may be the only portion of Scripture actually stemming from her own heart – perhaps composed by her and passed to Luke for publication. Some scholars think this was the fruit of her pondering in her heart the truths shared by Gabriel. Mary’s song is about what she learned about God!

She praised God for WHO GOD IS in the giving of the great gift. That is the heart of one who has met and experienced God. She praised God for HIS UNIQUENESS.

God is HOLY. Never does the Bible say God is love, love, love. Never does it say God is light, light, light, truth, truth, truth, mercy, mercy, mercy, wrath, wrath, wrath. But it does say that He’s holy, holy, holy.

To “be holy” means to be separate – utterly distinct from all others – unlike any other. Mary understood this according to the record of her ancient lyrics. She knew God was distinct.

1. She proclaimed that His PERSPECTIVE is unique – He is an “All-seeing God” (1:48a). God saw Mary differently than anyone else in her day.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

In truth, no one and no place is God forsaken, He misses nothing on earth… and He rates IMPORTANCE in an entirely unique way.

From where God sits, people are measured:

• By their surrender, not their victories.
• By their brokenness not their power
• By their belief what He says, not their influence in what others do.
• By their giving, not their accumulated wealth.
• By their compassion, not their accomplishments.

Truly, God’s view is not man’s view, and God’s measure is not man’s measure.

2. She understood His PATIENCE is profound (1:50).


Consider this: God observes and recalls those who are faithful in their worship and walk – so be not weary in well doing! Yet, even more…

  • God is faithful even when His people do not obey Him.
  • God is faithful even when they turn their faces to other agendas that are not His.
  • God is faithful – because that is an essential part of His nature.

3. She proclaimed that His POWER is unique – He is an Innovative God (1:51a).

Luke 1:51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

We must constantly recall that God is not limited to the options we can see or even conceive of! (God loves to make surprise endings!) He can and does reverse the normal order of things!

4. She recited that His PROMOTIONS are unique – for He is a Just and Gracious Judge (1:51b-52).

Luke 1:51b “…He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.

God is ready to bypass those who are proud but elevate those of humble estate. This little story on the dangers of PRIDE made me smile: Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”

5. She made clear His PROVISIONS are unique – He is a Merciful God (1:53).

53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

Isn’t it true that God fills those who hunger but have been left by another unsatisfied (cp. Ps. 107)? It is the one who does not count on themselves to provide fulfillment that receives serenity from God!

6. She loved the fact that His PROMISES are unique – He is a Faithful God (Covenant-keeping God, 1:54-55).

Luke 1:54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy. 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

God always does what He promises, no matter how long it takes or how hard the circumstances. He overcomes the ages and the dark clouds. He gets it done… EVERY TIME! He promised a Messiah would be:

• An actual man – not just an age or movement: (In Genesis 3:15, He said the seed of a woman would be wounded by the enemy, but crush the enemy’s head.)

• A tiny village: Micah 5:2 promised His coming to Bethlehem of Judah

• A specific lineage: God promised Messiah through Abraham’s loins (Gen. 22:18 “In your seed will all the nations.”)

• In that same way, God promised a specific kind of mom for Messiah: Isaiah 7:14 He would be born of a virgin.

Mary celebrated God’s promises because Mary trusted God’s direction. May I ask you: “Are you truly looking for God’s direction in your life?” If you are, have you been asking Him for it, or inviting His approval of your own self-made plans? Can you honestly celebrate where you are going, because God is taking you there?

The Birth of Jesus

I wish we had opportunity in this lesson to deal with Mary from the infamous story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, where she plays an obvious star role. (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 2:1-7). The visit of the shepherds on that very night was no doubt an important authentication of her thoughts to help settle her.

Let us simply recall this one well-established fact from verses you have known since Linus recited them on the TV Christmas special for us: God placed Mary in a very uncomfortable and easy to be misunderstood position in order for the Holy One to bring about His plan. Let no one pass by that story without recalling this truth: When you surrender to God your life, your plans and your body – your comfort is part of the package. Many are willing to follow Jesus as long as He leads them to swift victory, easy riches, and fulfilling relationships. The question is this: “Does God have your permission to lead you into the uncomfortable places to serve Him?”

The Presentation of the Baby Jesus

A fourth story is told of Mary when she took Jesus for His first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when He was just over a month old (Lk. 2:22-38) for the Baby’s presentation and her purification. A month of living with the family of Joseph, who likely still struggled to believe Mary and Joseph’s word that the Baby was implanted by God’s Spirit gave way to the story of a trip that validated the Child’s identity through the prophetic voices of the elderly Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:22-38).

Simeon said: 2:29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed, the text recorded. Was she amazed that God was doing what He said through Gabriel? I don’t think so. I believe she was amazed that God was busy telling other people what He told her. Call is one thing; blind confirmation is yet another. Mary learned that when God called her, comfort may fleet away for a time, but God has a way of adding strength and confirmation in what He called you to do.

Let me ask you to do something as you seek God and believe He has given you direction. Spend intentional time with wise people who know God well. God’s direction and confirmation will more often be found in the voices of God’s friends – not in places that do not acknowledge Him. Are you taking the time to listen to the confirming voices of wise saints of God? You should.

The Visit of the Magi

Mary’s fifth appearance can be found in the story of the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12). Do you remember the story of the time when the Baby Jesus was an older infant or perhaps even a toddler, still living in Bethlehem, and God brought astrologers from the east seeking the new “King of the Jews?” God provided through the gifts of the Magi the means for Joseph and Mary to take the journey to Egypt when the time came.

We cannot take apart the verses in this brief pass over Mary’s life, but can we not readily see the truth: Where God guides, God provides? His provision may come from afar, but that is not something too tough for God. How long will we worry and not seek God for guidance and provision? The Magi are a good reminder that our answer comes from God, not our resources. He can supply in ways we cannot imagine. Would I be off base if I suggested that Mary probably didn’t think she would get such a visit the day before it happened, nor did she know what God was preparing for her. A journey was coming, and God was bringing in the money to pay for the ticket.

The Flight to Egypt

Obviously the next (or sixth) story where Mary appears is that very story of the Holy Family’s evacuation to Egypt. Joseph’s obedience to the warning he got from a dream pressed him to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-18) with Mary and Jesus.

Here is a story where momma needed to follow daddy’s fervent following of God’s direction. Men, she could do it because he didn’t lead her in rash and selfish ways. Ladies, she did what was hard – and isn’t that lesson enough? It isn’t easy to follow a man in a marriage – but in God’s economy that is what a marriage produces – people who submit to one another and listen as God tugs the heart of your partner!

Losing Jesus at the Temple

The seventh story was the tale of the family’s visit to the Temple when Jesus was near His “coming of age” (Luke 2:41-52) – an uncomfortable account of the time Jesus was left behind by His parents. The story began with simple words that remind of an important principle:

Luke 2:41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast…

Can you see it? The words “every year” capture the principle. Mary and Joseph consistently came to worship together as a family, year after year.

“Big deal!” you might say. After all, it was only an annual thing. Actually, it wasn’t. There were three times they needed to come to Jerusalem to keep up with the command of Deuteronomy, or they could pay a stand in for that purpose. That isn’t the point. I could say something like: “One hour and a half a week!” and you would feel differently about it. The point is this: Worship and obedience to God’s Word was a priority that drove their choices That is either true of you, or it is not.

Personally, I find it difficult to accept as authentic those who claim a vibrant faith but don’t show it in their life choices to obey the Scriptures. I am not able to determine who has real faith – but I am able to see who has no clue how to show it if they really do have faith. For instance: How FRUSTRATING it is to see those who post in social media a wonderful “Jesus is Lord!” statement, and then follow it up with posts that show blatant profanity and ungodly actions as “liked”. Consistent choices of honoring God produce children that know the appearance of true obedience. If you raise them perfectly, they may NOT follow God, but they will see that such a walk is possible and choose whether or not to follow what they have seen. Remember, we don’t do right to get the results we want – we do right because it honors God.

People do wrong often because they don’t know what the pattern of doing right truly looks like. If more parents did right consistently, more children would have a fighting chance to make a good choice. You never choose comfortably from a menu if you have never seen the product. Good choices normally have to be modeled first – and Mary and Joseph accomplished that well.

Motherhood is an opportunity to live the Word and model a life. Mothers can leave a wonderful imprint on the lives of their children.

Four pastors were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Scriptures. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple, yet beautiful English prose. Another liked the New International Version because of its modern language. A third preacher liked the “Message” Version even better and felt more relevant teaching from a simple paraphrase. For a while in the little debate, the fourth pastor was silent. When asked to express his opinion he replied: “I like my mother’s translation best.” The other ministers asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He replied: “Oh Yes, she certainly did! My mother translated the Bible into her everyday life and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.

The balance of the stories capture views of Mary during the ministry of Jesus. They include the wedding at Cana (#8), the Saviors’ spurning by Nazareth (#9), His refusal to meet Mary and His brothers (#10), and the shattering day she watched Jesus suffer on the Cross (#11).

After the Gospel accounts were ended, rounding out the dozen actual or inferred appearances, there is a mention of Mary after the Resurrection of Jesus, as one who was binding together the followers of Jesus after the Ascension. She was one of those devoted to prayer and unity in the upper room (Acts 1:14) who heard Peter’s call to replace Judas and begin to organize the group.

All of these stories are powerful but our time is limited. Let’s look for a few moments at one more brief account – this one at the wedding scene in John 2, where we can gain some insights into Mary the MOTHER.

The Wedding at Cana

The eighth account of Mary in the Gospels came from the early period of the ministry of Jesus, when He performed the first recorded miracle of John’s Gospel – turning water into wine (John 2). Look at the beginning of that story for the interaction between Jesus and His mom:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Look at the description of the event, and it will be apparent that there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was already in attendance when Jesus arrived with His first followers (2:1). Jewish tradition suggests that weddings were most often set on the third day of the week, when God said twice in the Creation account, “It is very good!” This day has been considered the “double good day” perfect for marriages.

This was the first introduction of Mary in the Gospel of John, but she was well-known to the people to whom John was regularly preaching. John understood the encounter at the Cross to mean that he was to care for her for the rest of his days. At Ephesus the “House of Mary” tradition is relatively recent, but the notion that John and Mary were attached in a familial way at the Cross is an old one.

Jesus and His family and friends were all invited (2:2), but Jesus was delayed and arrived (apparently) at the end of the customary seven day wedding feast. It was due to His late arrival and the fact that He did not come alone the host ran low on wine provisions. When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.

Jesus got there and there was a problem. It was Mary his mother’s problem, or at least she felt it was her problem…Watch in the text what she did. She identified a problem and then she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. Now I realize that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Yet, think carefully about what the story can show us about the way we, as believers, act toward Jesus in our lives and with our problems.

Did you notice the text doesn’t reveal that Mary dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty? In fact, she didn’t even consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus.

Can I ask: “Did you ever do that?” Did you ever decide that you knew what God SHOULD DO about something and then tell Him how it would honor Him? She was a good mom, but not a perfect mom.

Yet, here should be a note of warning… We dare not tack Jesus on the plans we have. We are called to make Him our Master, not our Holy errand boy. We don’t tell Him – He tells us! I recognize the problem of her being his mother makes this lesson more strained than many, but I trust that you recognize the tendency of a believer to fit God into his plans, and not wait on God to direct the plan. Have you ever wondered: “Why didn’t she ask Him?” I think the reason she didn’t ask is a familiar one – because she is like all of us who believe we have a plan so good that even God should recognize it.

She wasn’t perfect, but she was willing to be used by God. Remember the key principle of this lesson…

God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

I don’t know what you remember of your momma. I don’t know if, like me, you think of screen doors banging in the summer time, the wafting aroma of cookies or bread out of the oven, or the smell of our potato soup on the stove. Those, in my mind, are the smells of love and acceptance, protection and being loved.

Mom made home that way. Few things are more powerful than the tears and the prayers of a mother. Few things are more tender than a mother’s hug. Few things are more healing than mom blowing on a skinned knee. Mom doesn’t have to be perfect to be just right for us. Sometimes it is their ornery nature that we cherish the most…

A little girl was sitting and watching her mother wash the dishes at the kitchen sink. She looked closely at her mom and noticed that her mother had several strands of grey hair sticking out that she never saw before. Inquisitive, she asked: “Why are some of your hairs white, mom?” Mom replied, “Every time you do something wrong one of my hairs turns white!” Looking across the room, she smiled and asked “If that is true, then why are ALL of Grandma’s hairs white?”

Happy Mother’s Day (2016)

Palm Sunday: “Get Ready ‘Cause Here I Come!” – Luke 19:28-48

temptations 02The last song Smokey Robinson wrote and produced for the singing group “The Temptations” was entitled “Get Ready!” and was pressed with the Motown label in 1966. A few years later, the group “Rare Earth” brought it back in 1970 and nearly topped the charts. It was, by all definitions, a “hit song” from the generation before mine. It had the catchiest of tunes, and I would wager (if I were a betting man) that half the room in most any church today could sing a few lines of if we started the song. At the same time, its intended message was nothing short of a “come on” to pressure a young girl to stop resisting the advances of a young man. In the context of the song, it wasn’t a nice message.

At the same time, the mantra “Get ready!” can be a helpful one in the right context. From hurricane preparedness to SAT test training, organizations use the saying on their websites and campaigns to help people recognize a truth: Important events often require significant preparation. In our story for this lesson, we want to talk about “getting ready” specifically in the context of the arrival of the Savior into Jerusalem. The date was in the early years of the first century, and the place was Jerusalem on what is now referred to as “Palm Sunday”. This won’t be Jesus’ last arrival to Jerusalem if I understand the Bible correctly. Yet, the announcement for that day was given hundreds of years before. The length of time between the announcement and the arrival, seems to have made people forget or doubt, not prepare. Interestingly enough, Jesus has another coming that was also announced long in advance, and I think we are seeing the same problem with the announcement of Jesus’ return! Here is the truth…

Key Principle: We need to get ready to meet the Savior. The people of Palm Sunday long ago were a disappointment to the Lord. If we are not careful, we will be as well.

Before I establish our need to get ready for Jesus’ future coming to reign, let’s take the time to learn a bit from those who went before us and didn’t take heed to God’s warnings to be ready when the King arrived. Let’s face it: History’s record is always given in hope that following generations will be able to respond differently than the failed generation. Yet, as the German philosopher Georg Fredrick Hegel (who lived between America’s War of Independence and The American Civil War) once quipped: “History teaches us that man learns nothing from history!” Let’s soften his words. We can learn from mistakes of the past… but first we must both see them and admit they were mistakes.

A Quick Look at Luke’s Gospel

To that end, let’s go back to a story from Luke 19 and look at the lack of preparation for the coming of Jesus when He arrived there, long ago, on Palm Sunday.

To set the scene, recall that Luke arranged the material in his Gospel three parts – Pre-ministry, Popular Ministry and Parting Ministry:

• Chapters 1-3 are all about the “Pre-ministry” narratives. This section includes seven prophetic fulfillments presented and resolved in Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem. The long-promised Messiah of Israel came with a long announced mission to save His people and open salvation to the world.

• The second part of the Gospel reflected what scholars call the “Popular” (or Galilee crowd) ministry, which can be found in chapters 4:1-9:56. That section is often broken into two parts:

The Early Galilean Ministry where Jesus focused on showing His identity to the crowd and seven conflicts He faced as He made Himself known. His earliest public ministry directed demons to clear out of His way. At the same time, disciples needed to listen to His directions, and Israel’s leaders needed to hear from God’s heart about what was important to the Holy One! (4:1-6:11).

The Discipleship Ministry of Jesus (found in Luke 6:12-9:56) was more focused on what the disciples learned from Jesus. They needed to see a Gentile who understood faith, a hopeless woman who needed help, a powerful God in their boat, a bleeding woman who knew faith, and how to see a crowd with Jesus’ eyes. The story was about people on the fringe and how needy people will find help in Jesus no matter what their background.

The third stage of the book can be called the “Parting Ministry” of Jesus after 9:57, as the Savior prepared the disciples for His departure, and as the Passion unfolded.

Luke 19:28-48 is set at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earth ministry. The early part of the chapter told the story of Zaccheus’ homes stay where Jesus shared the purpose of His coming to “seek and save what was lost” (19:1-10) along with a parable Jesus told in that context (19:11-27).

Palm Sunday Arrival

The story of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey into the Temple is the text for our lesson (Luke 19:28-48). That Palm Sunday account was layered in three smaller stories that all blend together. Follow the verses through the three events of the sad Sunday arrival of the Savior to the city that was supposed to be ready to receive their King!

First, Jesus reasoned with leaders about His offer to rescue them from themselves – but they wanted none of it (Luke 19:28-40).

Luke 19:28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of [you]; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it [here]. 31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.'” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus [on it]. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Notice the three groups highlighted in the verses:

First, there were the disciples, who were called upon to go and get a donkey and tell the owner the Lord needed it. They did what they were told without understanding what was happening.

Second, there was the crowd that was excited, but wholly uncommitted to following Jesus. They came for the benefits of a relationship with Jesus, but they weren’t committed to following Him any further than they could GET something from Him. There are people in every church service you will ever go to that are just like that. They are all about the songs, the “worship” and the LOVE of God – but they have little time to hear about surrender and holiness. That is a bridge too far.

Finally, there were the Pharisees and leaders that seemed interested in one thing: maintaining control of the crowd on Palm Sunday. The text reveals that they complained about the overt acceptance of the crowd of their King. When they saw their King coming on a donkey, their minds raced to Zechariah 9:9 and they saw Him openly taking the position of the Servant-king. These men knew and studied the prophets. They didn’t miss the symbolism of the servant king. The Pharisees rejected Jesus’ overt claim, and the crowd’s adulation of Him. They wanted it stopped! They wanted CONTROL. Jesus cautioned them that Roman control would be exerted if a riot broke out, because of the hurling of the stones! They weren’t in CONTROL, and that wasn’t HIS doing – that was Rome’s doing. They knew it, and it made them seethe inside. The rescuer was there to save them – and they were effectively fighting Him off from completing His task. He stopped and cried because of it.

Next, Jesus wept over Jerusalem in the face of leaders who would not bow to their King (Luke 19:41-44). The writer continued:

Luke 19:41 When He approached [Jerusalem], He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus was clear that destruction would come to the people if they didn’t receive their King, after God went to such trouble to warn them ahead of time. You see, the Hebrew “Prime Minister” prophet in exile, Daniel, took the Word of God seriously as he read Jeremiah – according to Daniel 9:1-2. He knew that the return of the Jewish people was supposed to be in seventy years after they were brought into Babylon, because God’s Word said so. He prayed, because he was so distressed that the time was coming and the Jewish people were not preparing to leave. God answered his prayer of faith, and told him that NOT ONLY would the people be going back to the land, but that Messiah would come to them. He would come 483 years of 360 days (a Biblical calendar year) from the time Jerusalem was commanded to rebuild its wall and moat… or 173,880 days from the restoration of the moat, gate and wall system around the city. Later, the Hebrew Bible includes the story of Nehemiah 1, where the restoration was begun, starting the clock.

By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the announcement of timing of His coming was already nearly five hundred years old – but the leadership that studied these things ever so closely was not willing to open their hearts.

WHY? Because they were living under the illusion of control – and Jesus shattered that illusion with a single sentence. We hate to admit that we don’t have control of things. That is what makes people so afraid of the doctor’s office and the funeral home. We push off our Savior and Rescuer because we don’t want to be embarrassed – as if DEAD would be better. We live under one illusion after another:

A young woman stands in front of a mirror and dressed to attract a man of substance and character by getting him to look at her exterior and want her body:

• As if that would attract the right kind of man.
• As if she can keep him by keeping her exterior looking like that.
• She paints it, brushes it, cares and maintains it.

The truth is that a man of character is interested in a woman of character – and she needs to give much time to developing that in order to attract the right man. She cannot get the right man solely on the exterior, and even more to the point SHE CANNOT KEEP THE EXTERIOR LOOKING LIKE THAT because she doesn’t control it.

• Think of the businessman who operates with a solid sense of control – but market forces pull his business as the sea pulls on a tiny fishing boat.

• The young athlete sculpts his body as if he can, through sheer force of will, stop the years from changing his ability to endure.

• The man who walks into his doctor’s office to get a diagnosis on the pain or problem, somehow convinces himself there is a surgery or a pill that can control anything that his body may throw at him.


The sooner you understand that, the sooner you will want a relationship with the One Who is in control of what is happening. Fighting the rescuer to keep control of your life is a futile and perilous response that will only be shattered when the illusion of control has been stripped away.

The last part of the chapter tells of Jesus cleaning up the Temple’s corruption (Luke 19:45-48).

The final story of the passage places Jesus in the south porch of the Temple complex, overturning the money changers and corban (sacrificial items) salesman. This was a provocative action, but it was also revealing:

Luke 19:45 Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, 46 saying to them, “It is written, AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” 47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.

Did you see it? Some people rejected the rescuer, because they had an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Surrender to Jesus would mean RESCUE – but it would also pull the cloak off of their GREED and SELFISH lifestyle that was so nurtured by them.

Others were quietly looking pious but seeking a way to STOP the Rescuer, because His FAME would rob them of THEIR FAME. They liked a world centered on THEM. The stories of that day are conclusive… Israel wasn’t ready for their King on that day. Why?

Deep within the heart is a root of resistance to rescue.

Some reject rescue because they want CONTROL – but they don’t have it – because it is an illusion. Some reject rescue because they want POWER, MONEY or FAME – they don’t want to share the stage of their lives with a rescuer. Only those who overcome the impulse to try and save themselves will make it through to life – the others will perish. The people of Palm Sunday largely failed to be ready. We can do NOTHING about that. What we can do, what we MUST do is ask ourselves what we have learned from their example…

Let me ask you frankly: “Isn’t it time you stop pushing away the RESCUER and let Him rescue you?” Put another less aggressive way…

We need to get ready to meet the Savior.

We saw the lack of preparation for the coming of Jesus when He arrived on Palm Sunday, let’s consider what the Bible said about His next coming, and see if we have gotten ourselves ready.

Do you KNOW the One Who is coming soon? Make a choice, and don’t put it off…We need to recognize there is nothing that need happen before the return of the Savior to get His church. This is called the imminent return of Jesus Christ, and we believe that reflects what the Scripture teaches. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speak of the coming of the Lord for His Church to remove her to her wedding day. Jesus will take those who are “in Christ” with Him. Here is the clear and penetrating question: Are you IN CHRIST? Some will put it off and think they can make a judgment later… but they are wrong.

Pilate listened to Jesus and tried to bargain a way from making a decision that would determine more than his life… it determined his eternity. He considered truth unknowable and Jesus was far too certain of truth for his taste. He was in front of Jesus and could hear His voice. He was SO CLOSE. He had the King standing before him and “almost” could hear the truth. Some of us have played that game, too. “Preacher, I almost made the decision today, I almost accepted Christ today.” “I almost said, ‘Here I am, Lord, use me.'” What a tragedy!

If you have chosen Christ, are you a prepared servant? 1 Peter 4:7 says: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober [spirit] for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a [special] gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God….

Note the preparations for the servant Peter mentioned. The ready servant:

…Stopped playing games in their faith.
…Prays fervently anticipating the Lord’s soon inspection.
…They aren’t withdrawn into a monastery; but LOVE people.
…They are hospitable toward others.
…They are good stewards of God’s gifts – the spiritual enablement given to them to empower their work.

Are you a GROWING servant? 2 Peter 1: 19 offers this word: “[So] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own interpretation, 21for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Is the Word doing a work in your life to change your daily behaviors?
How have you grown in the last year in your study and knowledge of the Word of God?
What difference has it made in your testimony before men?

Are you a DISCERNING servant? 2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in [their] greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Are you listening to voices concerning truth from God without a knowledge of the source of the words? Are you evaluating what you hear against your own careful study of God’s Word? Remember, the more you depend solely on the study of others in the Word, the more dangerous your faith will be.

Consider one last thought about preparation. Many will not be ready. It is a fact the Apostle Peter was fixated on in his lifetime.

Toward the end of his writing of the Second Epistle, he wrote:

He began with those not ready in the world:

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? … 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Then came the question that motivated the message of this lesson…

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, …11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?

Ponder that question. What sort of people should believers be who want to be different than the Palm Sunday crowd of long ago?

2 Peter 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless… 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

We need to get ready to meet the Savior. What if the King arrived today! Are you ready?

On Palm Sunday, the people weren’t ready for only one reason: They didn’t value the KING more than they valued their OWN. There are two short stories from history that may help us understand how to see if we value the King as we should.

First, there is the true story from 1193 CE, when the English King Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionhearted) was returning from leading a Crusade to the Holy Land. As he returned through Europe, Leopold V captured him in Austria. The Holy Roman Emperor demanded a ransom for Richard’s release. The price was to be 150,000 marks, equal to three tons of silver. This was an enormous ransom demand. But the people of England so loved their king they submitted to extra taxation, and many nobles donated their fortunes for Richard’s release. After many months, the money was raised and King Richard returned to England. That’s where we get the expression, “a king’s ransom.” When Richard returned, the people received him and were prepared, because they valued HIM more than themselves, their wealth and their comforts.

In a second story that came from the Crusades, Norman Lord Grimbald de Pauncefort was captured by the Saracens. When asked the ransom price for his release the Turkish prince demanded the severed right hand of de Pauncefort’s young bride, Eleanor. In a tremendous act of courage and sacrifice, Lady Eleanor complied, and had her left hand amputated and sent to ransom her husband.

In both cases, love of the King required sacrifice. Readiness is all about what you value more – your comfort or your surrender.

Preparing for Palm Sunday: “Making an Big Entrance” – Luke 19:1-27

jesus and zaccheusOn Palm Sunday each year, we recall how Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a young donkey as people cut down palm branches (that acted like a symbol of the revolt against Roman occupation) and tossed them at His feet in the pathway. The Galilean friends that were excited to see Jesus were, in effect, proclaiming Him as their upstart king, in violation of Roman authority. It was a grand entrance! It seems like every great movie about Jesus included that scene somewhere in the film, as though Jesus made such a grand entrance many times and people saw the Holy One and bowed low in adoration or danced in celebration.

The truth is, it happened only once, and the Palm Sunday scene was entirely deceptive compared to the total picture of what was happening beneath the surface. The superficial atmosphere may have been jubilant, but the crowd was restless and divided. They hated the Romans. They didn’t trust the Temple leadership to really look out for them and they hoped that Jesus would shake things up a bit. They didn’t like Herod Antipas from Galilee (visiting in the city that week) and they wished his whole family line would just abdicate, flee or die off quickly. They were deeply disgusted by the presence of Pontius Pilate and wanted him to head back to Rome, and perhaps sink in an unforeseen storm on the way. They weren’t sure if God had left them – because though they had a grand temple, pig eating pagan Gentiles still ran their daily affairs as the people of God. They weren’t even sure about Jesus because His words on the hillsides didn’t follow a party line and seemed to upset some of them at virtually every outing. The big entrance of Jesus is well known, but the surface scene isn’t the whole story.

I spotted an interesting clip from Reader’s Digest I want to share with you.

Psychologists say most people form impressions of others within the first four minutes of meeting them, and 80 percent of those first impressions are based on nonverbal behavior. Making a dignified entrance at an event might just be more important than the conversations you have later. When you make your entrance, the best way to draw attention to yourself in a tasteful way is being attractive, charming, witty, and memorable, says Liz Scofield, an etiquette teacher at Lehigh University. To turn heads and leave good impressions, pay attention to:

• Your walk. As you enter, walk with confidence, but not arrogance. Keep your head up, your shoulders back and down, and smile. No swaggering!
• Your clothes. Your clothes should be stunning without being over the top — fashionable without revealing too much skin.
• Your placement. When you first pass through the door, pause, step to the right, and survey the crowd. People watch the front door, so you’ll be in plain view.
• Your sociability. Do not make a beeline for safety nets such as the bar, food, or people you already know. Instead, move from group to group and introduce yourself. If you are confident and friendly, people will naturally be attracted to you.

I found the article interesting because it suggested that a man or woman should focus intently on themselves as they entered, and prods them to enter with a certain calculated self-orientation. Even their friendliness was directed toward what they would eventually receive – standing in the eyes of others. Our world looks at life through one lens – “How can I get what I want for myself?” In this case, the impression making entrance was for the purpose of gaining people’s trust, and thereby increasing your popularity. Yet, a careful look at our Savior pushes our eyes in a different direction than that of the world. Jesus taught us to have a different focus: one on the needs of the others. Let’s say it this way:

Key Principle: Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and taught us to do the same.

The “run up” stories to Palm Sunday are a good place to see this truth. For instance, a story where that was made obvious in His entrance encounter to Jericho in the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday…The account is found in Luke 19, and it is a well-known story. Zaccheus, the “wee little man” was sitting in a tree as Jesus entered. For some background, let’s make sure we understand the context of the story in the Gospel of Luke.

First, based solely on the internal evidence, the Gospel of Luke is anonymous, because it doesn’t have any overt claim of the writer. Our understanding that Luke the physician (Col. 4:14) was the writer comes from the early Church fathers. Interestingly enough, he was both Paul’s traveling companion in the first century, and apparently also the author of a companion work we call The Book of Acts. Between Luke and Acts (the two longest NT books) they make up 28% of the New Testament–more than that written by either Paul or John. Another interesting truth is that Luke appeared to be a Gentile, making his writing strange compared to the other New Testament writings

Luke wrote, not as a first hand observer of the events in the Gospel, but rather as a compiler of material (Luke 1:1-4) apparently based on interviews and listening carefully to preaching of the Apostles. Where Luke authored the material is not revealed in the book. Some have suggested that Luke collected his material while he was with Paul during his two-year, Caesarean imprisonment (“we” in Acts 27:1), and then wrote Luke shortly afterward (in Caesarea or Rome or even both); while this is possible, it is difficult to substantiate. The work was written for a man named Theophilus (Lk. 1:3; Acts 1:1) who may have been Luke’s literary patron or Paul’s advocate in Rome. It is also possible that he was a Gentile (from his name and title “most excellent” [κράτιστε ] normally referring to a Roman or rank and position). The KEY VERSE of the book is found in the account we want to study in this lesson: Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke seemed concerned with the mission of Jesus and how each part of the work reflected Jesus’ progress toward that mission.

Luke arranged the material in his Gospel three parts – Preministry, Popular Ministry and Parting Ministry:

Chapters 1-3 are all about the “Pre-ministry” narratives. There are seven prophetic fulfillments presented and resolved in Jesus’ arrival. In Luke’s account, Jesus was the long-promised Messiah of Israel with a mission that extended into saving the Gentiles as well.

The second part of the Gospel reflected what scholars call the “Popular” (or Galilee crowd) ministry, which can be found in chapters 4:1-9:56. That section is often broken into two parts:

• The Early Galilean Ministry where Jesus focused on showing His identity to the crowd and seven conflicts He faced as He made Himself known. His earliest public ministry directed demons to clear out of His way. At the same time, disciples needed to listen to His directions, and Israel’s leaders needed to hear from God’s heart about what was important to the Holy One! (4:1-6:11).

• The Discipleship Ministry of Jesus (found in Luke 6:12-9:56) was more focused on what the disciples learned from Jesus. They needed to see a Gentile who understood faith, a hopeless woman who needed help, a powerful God in their boat, a bleeding woman who knew faith, and how to see a crowd with Jesus’ eyes. The story was about people on the fringe and how needy people will find help in Jesus no matter what their background.

At the end of chapter nine, the third stage of the book can be called the “Parting Ministry” of Jesus, presented in two segments – preparation in Perea and Passion in Jerusalem:

• Luke 9:57-19:27 offers twenty-two stories strung together which include seven events and eight teaching segments as Jesus spent His last six months getting the disciples ready for the Passion in Jerusalem. In the great preparation narrative unique to Luke’s record, the writer organized some remarkable events – but the clear focus was upon the teachings of Jesus as He got the disciples ready for His departure from them.

• Luke 19:28 to 24:53 (the rest of the book) offers the final segment of the Gospel, in which Luke made clear that Jesus challenged the leaders of the Temple openly, but not the Romans at all. He evaded trap after trap – but in the end was arrested, passed over in a mock trial and handed over to the Roman appeasers. His death was brutal, but His resurrection was powerful – and His ascension beautiful.

A Closer Look at Luke 19

Luke 19 is set at the end of the six-month long “Perean ministry” (named after the place in which He was preaching all winter of His last year before the Cross). Jesus was preparing the disciples for His departure, as the Passover of His death was approaching. Luke 19 offers two stories to the modern reader:

• Story #1: Zaccheus’ homes stay where the rescue announcement is made clear (19:1-10) along with a parable Jesus told in that context (19:11-27).

• Story #2: The story of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey into the Temple (19:28-48). The Palm Sunday account is layered in three small stories that all blend together: 1) Jesus reasoning with leaders about His rescue. 2) Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. 3) Jesus cleaning up the Temple’s corruption.

Both stories are essentially about the same thing: Entrance and Acceptance, celebration and rejection. They are tales that remind us of who and what we should focus on when entering a scene. Remember the key principle?

Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and called us to do the same.

When Jesus came into Jericho, most of the people in the scene didn’t see what Jesus saw. The other, perhaps even sadder truth is that many followers of Jesus today STILL don’t focus on what Jesus told us to see when we enter a scene. Drop your eyes into the story as Luke told it…

The Contrasted Reception (Luke 19:1-10):

This is the story of a man, Luke said, who had a deep sense of need and inadequacy, and he wanted to see if Jesus could help him… As we pick up Luke’s account, the narrative opened…

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.

Reception by Zaccheus

Don’t skip past the detail of the man who sought Jesus. The Master was about to make an entrance to Jericho, and into the life of a needy man. Who was that man?

• First, the man’s name was Zaccheus, a form of the word “zacchai” (a family or clan name in Neh. 7:14) which meant “pure” or “innocent” – but it appears by the details of his repentance that he felt quite guilty about his dealings with people.

• Second, as with many men, we are introduced to his occupation as part of his identity. Men often equate “what they do” with “who they are,” though that is not how God measures a man. Zaccheus was a tax collector, a Roman collaborator by any simple definition. We should expect that he was treated as any collaborator of an unpopular tyrant was in history. Add to that, he was the “face” of the Empire in taxation, and that was the subject of an ongoing upheaval. When Quirinius was governor over Syria in 6 CE, the tax revolt created the Zealot party which smoldered for a generation and erupted into a key component of the revolt against Rome some sixty years later. He represented the establishment when anti-establishment was in vogue because of growing rage in the populace.

• Third, Luke 19:2 ends by making the point that he was materially wealthy. He had the means to get what the world offered, but he was still unfulfilled by it, and found himself tree climbing to get a glimpse of someone from Whom he could receive help. For a wealthy man to scurry up a tree in such an undignified manor, he must have felt a sense of desperation.

• The fourth detail about Zaccheus concerned his stature. He was short… really short. What he needed to see Jesus, he didn’t have- that was stature. He couldn’t count on people in the local crowd letting him through to see Jesus. He knew he needed something, but couldn’t find help among local fellows and sought the help of a tree. What did he climb? In order to see Jesus, he climbed a sykomōraía (from sýkon, “fig” and moron, “mulberry”) sometimes translated a “white mulberry” tree. In order to know what specific genus of tree the Greek word lent reference to, our best source from antiquity is the Geoponica, a collection of ancient wisdom on plants and animals collected from the time of the New Testament through the tenth century CE in Constantinople. We have a fragment of the work that includes excerpts from Pliny the Elder, the Carthaginian agronomist Mago, and even some hints of the works passing under the name of the Persian prophet Zoroaster collected in the compendium by the tenth century. The Greek manuscript fragments are extremely complex and not fully understood, but other Syriac, Pahlavi, Arabic and Armenian translations attest to its worldwide distribution. Based on that source, a Hebrew botanical writer from Neot Kedumim (Nogah Hareuveni) identified the tree as the Hebrew “Shikma” – a tree which is called the “reconciliation tree” (perhaps because of the binding nature of the reduced sap). It is interesting to note the tree Zaccheus climbed may have been called the “reconciliation tree” in his own local vocabulary, and reconciliation (both financially and spiritually) was what the man was seeking.

• The fifth detail about Zaccheus is that he was a planner. He noted where Jesus was “going to pass by” and accessed a tree along the pathway before Jesus showed up.

Zaccheus was a guilt-ridden, unfulfilled, unpopular, tiny man who knew he needed to see a change in his life.

He was locally snubbed in spite of his wealth, which was rightly perceived to have come from corruption. He wanted a change in his life… The story continues and details the reception of Jesus by this needy man:

Luke 19:5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And 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 has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus came into Jericho with a plan to rescue a hurt and drifting man. Zaccheus was sinking in trouble, and he knew it. Note the way he received Jesus:

• When Jesus called up to him, he hurried out of the tree and “gladly” received Him. He ignored the grumbling of neighbors and got his house ready.

• As the meal progressed, two confessions seemed to have flowed from his heart. The first seemed to be the extravagance of his lifestyle compared to his neighbors – for which he exclaimed his need to give to the poor half of all that he had. The second weight on his heart was the apparent sin of his ill-gotten gain that weighed on his heart, which led him to confess his wrong and promise to right any fraud by the proper repayment of the Torah. The law required exactly what he promised:

Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”

Zaccheus didn’t decide what he needed to do by himself. He openly committed to obey the known Word of God as written concerning the sin of his life.

The Crowd’s Reception

The story of the reception of Jesus by Zaccheus was one of a man who knew his wrong, and when confronted with Jesus – he surrendered to God’s Word and repented of his lifestyle. This was a stirring story of conviction that set up Palm Sunday. Yet, it was not the complete picture of the scene as described by Luke. Zaccheus found forgiveness, but the crowd of Jericho found complaint. Go back and look at the detail of what they did…

Luke 19:7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”… [After the repentance of Zaccheus Jesus responded…] 9 And 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 has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The crowd’s issue was that Jesus was interested to rest and lodge with a man who was a cheat and a collaborator. His wealth was obvious and his reputation was well-established. Yet, the crowd overlooked the hunger of the man to be made right before God. They didn’t notice his tree climbing and didn’t ask what led him to take such a measure. Isn’t that the way we become in our judgmental state? We see the wrongs performed by another, but we easily rebuff their attempts to find meaning and correct behaviors. We let them be what they are instead of seeking a way to help them become what they wish they could become.

Jesus saw Zaccheus as short and needy, not rich and fulfilled. He looked past the decoration of his life with things, and saw in his heart a bankruptcy. He called Zaccheus one of the very “lost” people to whom He came to offer rescue. When Zaccheus took God’s Word to heart – he was “saved” from his lost state. When he was willing to change his life to conform to the will of God that he had been resisting, he was restored as an obedient “son of Abraham”.

That isn’t what everyone wanted, however. The crowd was content to judge Zaccheus. They saw his villa and his clothing. They heard of his reputation as a Roman collaborator, a cheat, and a calloused man. That is all they needed to decide what his end should be. They didn’t offer him a way to Jesus – they blocked him out. They honestly didn’t care if he found Jesus. Their prejudice and anger dictated their response – not the need of a man who was holding on to a tree branch. They were content to let him live and die the man they knew he was – one undeserving of the love and forgiveness of God.

Jesus used this man’s life to announce His whole program and purpose – invading the sin-sick life of the desperate in order to RESCUE THEM. The Savior said THAT was His mission – and He signaled that as the mission God gave those of us who willingly follow Him. We are called to a “ministry of reconciliation” – connecting God to people. We need to remember we are called to seek and bring to the Savior those who need Him. We seek

• Not GOOD people, but people who are drowning in their cheating lifestyles.

• Not HAPPY people, but those who feel inadequate and have been ostracized by their neighbors.

• Not EASY people, but the marginalized, the unloved, the difficult.

We are called to love those our Savior would love.

We are called to see those who are reaching out to have their broken and emptied hearts filled. We are called to draw them into the Savior when they show the faintest sign they want the help Jesus offers.

In the process of reaching them, we must recognize that some will resist us, because they resist HIM doing for them what they still believe they can do for themselves. They will retreat quickly back into the lie that they are already adequate – or they can find a way on their own. At the same time, some of those around us may scratch their heads when they watch us invest such time and trouble in such LOSERS. They won’t recognize what we are doing as valuable, because it won’t be as flashy as what the world seeks to do in reaching the successful and drawing in the beautiful. Years ago I wrote something I want to share with you once again:

• Ours is a quiet and subtle revolution. It is found in the faithful love of a husband and wife desperately praying over their children that they may raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in the midst of a rebellious generation.

• It is found in the careful instruction of the holy Words of God, quietly taught in a class of small boys and girls that cannot yet be trusted with sharp scissors and paste.

• It is found on the lips of old grey-haired men and women, who no longer capture the heart of Hollywood or Vogue magazine – but their quiet testimony offers enduring wisdom and truth yielded from a life given in surrender to the Savior.

• When fear and anger prevail in our streets, our message of rescue will SEEM weak. It will not be violent and it will not be swift. It will require love and patience, hope and endurance. It will require the application of God’s dramatic display of love in our Savior, shined through cracked clay pots from the lives of flawed men and women. That profound message of God’s love will transform, because it is powerful, not because WE are. The Gospel will not be silenced, nor will it be defeated.

The message that transformed the heart of a drowning, short, inadequate tax collection cheater two thousand years ago will transform the heart of a Muslim that does not find peace in a world view that competes for domination by aggression – but cannot be trusted to offer the truth. The message that filled the empty heart of an outcast in Jericho will still powerfully lift the discarded and worthless feeling divorced woman that has been left cast aside for a younger and more energetic woman. They are all around us and they are drowning… Oh that we could just look in the tree and see them!

The Reception Explained (Luke 19:11-27):

Jesus went on and told them a story. It was directed at a crowd that didn’t like what He was doing – but I would guess God is pretty used to that. If left to the crowd, I suspect many of the rejected of this world would remain alone – and some of us would think they deserved to be forsaken by God. It would serve our prejudice and our sense of justice well, but they would be left out. Here is what Jesus said:

Luke 19:11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.

The purpose of the story preceded the telling of it. Luke made it clear that Jesus was saying what He said because there was about to be a SEVERE DELAY in the National Rescue plan to His people. Israel wasn’t ready. The disciples weren’t ready. Their hearts were still rock hard. God promised a New Covenant. He promised to bring the people back from the captors and after a while change their hearts. He promised that the Jewish people would one day experience a complete surrender… but it wasn’t going to happen on this particular Passover in spite of the fact that many thought it would. In fact, the delay was going to be significant – but purposeful. His delay of ascending David’s throne offered a Gentile like me salvation today. I was not part of His people then – but the Gospel made it possible that I am of HIS PEOPLE today.

The Disciples thought the Kingdom would come that week, because they didn’t see past themselves. They didn’t see the lost around them. Whole earthly kingdoms and nation states had no relation to God. Was God to ignore the millions of Chinese of the Han Dynasty for the sake of the immediate accession of Jesus to the throne of fewer than a million Jews? God’s math, and God’s view was quite different than theirs – and I am very glad – glad beyond words – that God saw it differently.

Luke 19:12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 “And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 “The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 “The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 “And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 “Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 ‘Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 “And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 “But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Parables are sometimes hard to grasp. You have to be especially careful to keep the details out of the main idea, so that only the details that are relevant to the story define the message of the story. They take work, but, like a really good novel, they are worth it. The beauty and richness is lost on a fast food generation – but if you slowly savor it – you will feel the power in the story. Let’s take it apart.

There are two layers to the story.

The first layer is a story about an absentee district ruler that left on a journey to a far country that was under his possession and eventually returned (19:12). The people he was to claim rule over rejected his claim to rule, and sent a request the Senate after his visit to have another ruler over them (19:14) – so he was feeling the weight of rejection that was apparently based on his interaction with them. He felt pressured by enemies, and in the end – when it was determined that his rule would not be withdrawn by those above him – he ordered that his enemies be dragged in and killed right in front of his face (19:27).

His point in the first layer is clear: Reject the ruler and appeal his right to rule – and you will find yourself without recourse.

Set into that story was the second layer that began with his preparations for the journey, and ended with his return to his household. The ruler prepared for a journey by handing part of his wealth over to three slaves – each with a significant part of his wealth – and instructed them to conduct his business with them (19:13). (A mina was a measure of gold – a word that entered Greek and Latin from its Akkadian origin for a “weight”. In the first century, a mina was a unit of currency that amounted to about a fourth of the wages earned annually by an agricultural worker. Ten minas would have been worth two and one half years pay for a farm worker – a significant amount to invest in that time.) With ten minas at each servant’s disposal, the man left on his journey. On return, he asked for an accounting of the money invested (19:15).

The first servant invested the ten and gained ten more – a 100% investment increase. The second invested and got a 50% investment increase – adding five more to his original ten. The third came in with only the ten he was originally given, a 0% increase. The focus of this layer was primarily on HIM – because he didn’t trust the ruler (19:19). Look at the interaction between the ruler and the servant to see the servant’s position:

• He recognized the ten minas were his master’s property (19:20).
• He understood the task that was assigned to him (19:21).
• He feared the ruler, and knew the ruler to be a man that would keep track of the money (19:21).
• He didn’t trust the character of the ruler – and felt he gained in ways that were not to his liking (19:21).

The ruler was perturbed with the servant. He said: “Why didn’t you do it another way then? Why not put it in the bank and gain interest?” He stripped him of the minas and gave them to the one that did the most with them. The others in the room seemed to think this was foolish – after all the one with the ten had already ten more. The proverb offered to explain the scene was this:

Luke 19:26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”

Don’t bypass these words – they are the point of the lesson. Jesus said this:

A ruler offered every servant the same opportunity, but only the ones who trusted His character and obeyed His voice were worthy servants.

Jerusalem awaited their King, but didn’t listen to His Word, love His vision, care for His people or believe in His right to correct them. They wanted the glory of a kingdom, without showing honor to the King.

Just as they couldn’t see the truth about the struggles and pain of Zaccheus, so they couldn’t see the truth about themselves. They wanted a kingdom for THEMSELVES, the rest of the world be damned. That wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. He is Creator of all – and His love reached far past what they could understand.

Jesus entered a scene with a focus on those in need, and called us to do the same.

I guess the question as followers of the Savior is this: Do we see things as Jesus did? On his website, Steve Goodier wrote:

An ancient story tells of two great warriors, Cyrus and Cagular. Cyrus, of course, was the noted emperor of Persia and Cagular was a little-known chieftain who consistently repelled Cyrus’ attacks. Cagular’s troops tore the Persian army apart time and time again as they resisted Cyrus’ attempts to expand his southern border. Finally, Cyrus amassed his whole army, surrounded Cagular, cap­tured him, and brought him to the capitol for trial and execution. On the day of the trial, Cagular and his fam­ily were brought to the judgment chamber. The chieftain, six feet tall with the appearance of a no­bleman, faced the throne. Cyrus was duly impressed with Cagular. “What would you do should I spare your life?” the emperor asked. Your majesty,” replied the warrior, “If you spared my life, I would return home and remain your obedient servant as long as I live.” What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?” Cyrus questioned. “Your majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you.” So moved was Cyrus by his answer that he freed Cagular and his wife and appointed the chieftain to govern the southern province. On the trip home, Cagular enthused to his wife, “Did you notice the marble entrance to the palace? Did you see the corridor to the throne room? Did you see the chair on which he sat? It was made of one lump of solid gold!” His wife appreciated her husband’s ex­cite­ment, but admitted, “I really didn’t notice any of that.” “Well,” Cagular asked in amazement, “What did you see?” She looked seriously into his eyes. “I be­held only the face of the man who said he would die for me.” (from

Following His Footsteps: “Anticipation” – Luke 18:35-19:27

anticipation2aaHave you ever had to wait for something with such expectancy that you could hardly contain yourself? Carly Simon sung to us about “anticipation”, and a number of years ago, the Ketchup company “Heinz” paid for the use of that old pop song to emphasize how much thicker their ketchup was than their competitors. Their argument was, “Ours comes out slower because it has less water.” They proudly pressed their claim that water was somehow a cheater’s way to make ketchup, and sitting there with a bottle that wouldn’t yield the condiment was somehow a symbol of its higher quality. I don’t know about that – it seemed to me the bottle was perhaps poorly designed if I couldn’t get the product onto my burger without imperiling the white shirt of others at the table. Maybe I am not technically minded enough, I don’t know.

We all know what it is like to look forward to something longingly, don’t we?

The quintessential moments for many of us come when we recall in our growing up years the days leading up to summer vacation from school – where the classroom felt like a prison and the days dragged on and on. The only worse experience I can think of was Christmas Eve, lying in bed and trying to sleep when the coolest toys ever lay beneath the tree a few dozen steps away in the living room. It was child torture in my little mind.

Anticipation…the longing to see, have or hold something…we all know the feeling. As we open Luke’s Gospel once again, we follow the footsteps of Jesus, and encounter a string of three stories of people stung and throbbing with anticipation. They didn’t all want the same things. They didn’t all look forward to the same events. Yet, they all looked with anticipation that something was about to happen…Here is the truth: we don’t control the future, our Creator does. We have to learn what He says is coming, so we learn how to prepare for the days ahead. We have to tune our ears to the Creator’s voice to recognize the times we live in. In effect…

Key Principle: We must listen carefully to God’s Word to know what to truly anticipate.

Let’s start with the story of a simple walk into Jericho near the end of the Perean Ministry of Jesus (the last six months before the arrest and cross). The winter always brought crowds to Perea, and Jesus traveled and spoke to the people in places where John the Baptizer had once preached. Now Jesus was heading into the oasis like city of Jericho, where our first two encounters are mentioned. Pick up your look at the story near the end of Luke 18. There you will meet some men near the road…

The first two independent accounts recall two men, each with a distinct physical challenge, each who anticipated seeing Jesus.

The first man was a blind, roadside beggar – his eyes wouldn’t work:

Luke 18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Look more closely at the scene. Jesus was coming into the city, and a crowd of people were surrounding Him while others were gathering in anticipation of His entrance. Beside the road approaching the city was a lone beggar, a fixture in ancient cities. People who were needy often sat in places of high traffic to ask those who HAVE to care for their needs. His problem was obvious, and I suspect he met along that road many who were willing to help him. The truth is that people with needs are abundant all around us. They don’t need a judge to examine how they got into that state, they need a friend to help them make it through that day.

The beggar in the story had bigger aspirations – he wanted more than to get through the day. He heard that Jesus could give him back his sight, and he longed to have Jesus pay attention to his need. Here is the problem: when we hurt, when our bodies break down – it is easy for us to feel that God isn’t looking at us anymore. He isn’t paying attention to us. The enemy uses the brokenness of our bodies (even though the temptation in the Garden of Eden was his doing and the broken bodies we live in are the result of his work) to try to get us to become impatient with God. That is his ploy. In this case, the man wanted Jesus to SEE HIM so that he could in turn be enabled to SEE OTHERS.

The blind man asked people around him what the “stir” was all about. When he heard, he started calling out to Jesus. It was, no doubt, nothing more than an annoyance to others who passed by him on the road. We must remember that some are desperate for Jesus to care for their needs, and the sound of their crying out can become bothersome to the rest of us. Let’s be honest, the thirteenth time someone is crying: “Jesus of Nazareth have mercy on me!” all of us who aren’t the naturally merciful types are starting to get a bit bugged. We rationalize that they don’t seem to be truly honoring Jesus – they are just asking to get out of their problem. “That isn’t right!” we say.

Yet, look at the account of the Master. Jesus heard the voice of a broken heart, and ordered the man be brought to Him. He didn’t ask the man FOR anything – but rather asked “What do you want from Me?” The man replied: “I want to see!” How interesting that Jesus didn’t require that the man truly know Who Jesus is when we first met Him – only believe that Jesus could care for his need. The issue to Jesus seemed to be more how he responded after he encountered Jesus.

People who come to Jesus to get what they want and then take it and GO, miss the true blessing of life. The man wasn’t blessed when he got his sight – but rather when he used it to follow the Master! From that day forward, walking with the One Who defines truth and righteousness – He learned to see the world the way it truly is. I contend that his blindness wasn’t healed in one day – though in one moment his eyes started working. His ability to see clearer and clearer grew as he followed Jesus – and so will yours.

Keep reading, there is another story of a man in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. He can see with his eyes, but is blocked because of the crowd.

This man was short – he couldn’t see because the crowd was too big:

You have heard this story since you were a child – the story of Zacchaeus and the Sycamore tree…

Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

This story reminds us that some don’t know WHO Jesus is – it is sheer curiosity that draws them to see Him, to listen to His words. Sadly, in the case of Zacchaeus, it was Jesus’ own followers that blocked the short man from seeing the Savior. They huddled around Him instead of moving into the crowd to get people to come to Him. They focused so much on Jesus, they didn’t recognize why Jesus came. His primary mission was to seek out the wanderers and reconcile them to God.

This problem continues into our time. Many who come to Jesus, don’t really grow up. They spend their lives as disciples and followers, but not as models and gatherers. Beloved, we need to grow past the elementary level of walking with the Master. We need to learn the disciplines that go with our incredible relationship with God – and then grow up. Like the poor soul that spends years in counseling and can name all their phobias but never see an end to any of them – many believers had saddled into the rut of “carnality” and decided they cannot be expected to grow up, get past their issues, and begin to bring others to Jesus. I do not mean to be hard hearted, and I am not perfect in my following of the Master – but I cannot license perpetual laziness and lack of growth in our lives either. We must grow up, get it together by allowing God to work in us, and then move on to helping others. A life focused on our own problems will not add one person to the kingdom; it will leave all our neighbors in darkness while we sort out our own hurts. Jesus found you in order that you would be transformed, and begin to draw others to Him.

We need to get people to Jesus – to give them time with Him. He can show them what they are missing, and in His tender sweetness, He can bring them to change. Time with Jesus was enough for Zacchaeus to give back his ill-gotten gain and restore the funds even above what was called for in the Law (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6-7). Time with Jesus’ followers left Zacchaeus distant from God – in a tree hoping for a glimpse – but a little while with Jesus brought Him to repentance, generosity and kindness. What will it take to bring people all the way into the presence of Jesus? For one thing, the church will need to focus on doing that – and not being in the way. We cannot focus on being center stage – but on bringing people into the place where they can hear the Words of the Savior, and see His loving hands. It is there they will be challenged to change. This cannot be about a preacher’s ego or a singer’s style – it must be about the Jesus we are trying to display.

Frankly, beloved, I get tired of the ways we block people from seeing Jesus. We can bicker incessantly over our theological finer points while the world hopelessly perishes. One group thinks they have the only true Bible – never mind that much of the world cannot read that language and those that do read it haven’t used that vocabulary for more than three hundred years! Others are so busy examining how God chose them that they aren’t listening to His call to share the Gospel with the rest of their city. Some are so busy using grace to cover their personal licentiousness they can scarcely open the Bible to a single instruction they feel bound to keep. At the same time, others are so busy thumping the ungodly behaviors out of people they invite people to God’s bountiful provision of salvation and rescue.

I want sometimes to stop and shout: “Stop blocking Jesus!” I want to exclaim: “People can’t see Him – all they see is YOU in the way, desperate to be right about the argument while they remain LOST in the darkness!” We will not win a true hearing in the world until we get the church out of the way so that they can see and hear Jesus. I LOVE the church – but I want people to see Jesus, alive, well. transforming us into His image. I want them to see Him even if they go to the “other” church, if they believe the “other” thing. I want them to cherish God’s Word and find God’s wholeness before it is too late. We must get out of the way and let them see Jesus.

I am not saying that what we believe about the Bible is unimportant. To be clear, I am making the argument that not all arguments are equal, and not all are relevant. I have heard the Gospel presented in the last few years by people who sound more like Jonah than Jesus. Jonah gave the truth to Nineveh hoping that they WOULDN’T repent – so he could have the satisfaction of seeing them destroyed. He ran toward Tarshish, not because he didn’t think Nineveh would listen, but because he was concerned they MIGHT. I am surprised when I hear about the condemnation of man from people who seem to enjoy that too much! What we learn from the Word is very important, but not every theological point is necessary to understand to come to Jesus. Don’t overcrowd the message of the Gospel with your political views, your theological fine points, and the like. Most of us came to Jesus with little knowledge beyond the fact that we are sinners and He seemed to know how to fix our unrighteous status before a holy God.

Jesus watched as Zacchaeus changed. He proclaimed the man truly was saved, not simply by hearing the Savior, but by changing the pattern of his life in response to the conviction of sin. Salvation isn’t that change – it is evidence of that change. Sin is of the heart, not the hands. Sin and spiritual separation from God are issues dealt with inside of you. At the same time, a change of world view (what we call faith) without the outworking of it is meaningless (James used the word DEAD).

Luke continued his account…

The third story tells of some who were anticipating the swift arrival of the kingdom:

In the next portion, Luke recalled Jesus’ teaching as a response to the conversion of Zacchaeus:

Luke 19:11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

When the people saw the tax collector powerfully changed by God, and they knew Jesus was heading for Jerusalem in the near future, they anticipated the coming of the Kingdom of God in short order. Powerful transformation of lives draw focus to Jesus and His power – that is to be expected. When people see God at work in the lives of people, when they hear the testimonies of God convicting people and the people responding – they begin to anticipate that God is about to work in a larger and more dramatic way. Jesus wanted to slow down the anticipation, and get them focused on the days ahead. It is the Word of the Lord that sets out sight on what to truly expect. He taught:

Luke 19:12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 25 “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ 26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Just as the blind man and Zacchaeus didn’t know WHO Jesus was, others didn’t know what His Kingdom would be like, how swift it would arrive, and what it would look like. People had common and popular teachings concerning the Kingdom, but they bore little resemblance to the Kingdom as it was truly going to be. Since it is my observation that many STILL DON’T understand the use of the term “kingdom” in this context, that is where I believe we should invest the rest of the lesson – explaining carefully the story Jesus told to make that more accessible to us.

First, look at the elements of the story:

• The story began with a rightful prince, who was traveling to a territory that was his by right, and expecting the people to crown him in a ceremony when he arrived. He was not going to stay in that province, but rather be crowned and then return to his home country to rule from afar (19:12).

• Before his departure, he gave to each of ten servants an amount of money to invest on his behalf – each in the same amount (19:13). They were to use that money to grow his worth in his absence, expecting his return.

• The journey to his distant land wasn’t easy, and the people crowned him stubbornly, not desiring to have him as their ruler (19:14-15a). The prince left them and returned to his native homeland.

• Arriving home, he called the servants to give account of their investments, one by one (19:15b). He was pleased with the first, that had doubled the value – and gave him charge over ten cities of his kingdom (19:16-17).

• Another servant came before him, and this man had increased the value by half again, and was similarly rewarded with five cities of his kingdom to manage on behalf of the prince (19:18-19).

• The focus and theme of the story was on another servant. He appears to be the third who came before the prince, but we don’t know. We know his actions set up the moral of the story (19:20). Interestingly enough, he seemed to possess the same attitudes as the people in the far off country that didn’t like the prince when they crowned him. They hated the man, and this servant appeared to be like them (19:21-22). The servant felt the prince was a “hard man” who took the benefits of the labor of others and made his income off the backs of his workers.

Before we move past verse twenty-two, let’s make sure we understand the nature of the servant’s complaint. He didn’t argue the character of the prince was evil – merely that it seemed unfair to him that the prince should live in the benefits that he and other servants worked hard to produce. In every generation there are people who believe that there should be no rich or poor – but everyone should start at the same level and finish there – working in the field beside their fellows to all get the same thing. Karl Marx believed this. The rulers of the former Soviet Union espoused this. Mao and the Communist revolution taught this. The problem is, that in all those cases, there is ample evidence to show that the leaders of such movements also received more than their share of benefits. In essence, it doesn’t work. In the end, it kills productivity when there is no upward place to strive for. This isn’t a lecture on communism, but it is important we not read into the text some evil on the part of this prince – Jesus didn’t say it was his deportment that was the problem, but rather the belief system of the servant was the issue. Go back to the story…

• The prince chose to judge the servant by his own words. He told him: “If you thought that was unjust and that I was that hard, why didn’t you DO something with the money rather than hide it away?” (19:23). He ordered the money taken away from him, and told the servants it would go to the one who made the best investment (19:24). It is interesting in the story that the prince essentially had two kinds of servants – those who followed his word, and those who didn’t submit to him because (though they were called servants) they didn’t believe he was entitled to be who he claimed to be. They were like the people in the far country!

• The scene closed with others among the servant’ corps questioning the prince on his decision to give to the most rewarded servant – as if it wasn’t his choice (19:25).

The teaching or moral of the story is made clear in the end with these words: Luke 19:26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Don’t get lost in the verbiage. Jesus said the one who didn’t trust the prince’s right to rule and DO as he said, would be stripped of his association with the prince and his kingdom (19:26). In addition, those who were supposed to be under the prince but refused in their heart his right to rule over them would be done away with permanently.

Remember the context from the beginning of Luke 19:12: “…because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” That reminder set the tone for the whole story…

Let’s not go crazy with the parable, but rather work to “keep the main thing the main thing.” Remember, we are never to extract theology from the detail of a parable – that is the wrong use of the medium (it is like trying to shove a flash drive in an electrical outlet, it won’t work out).

First, if the setting was people who thought Jesus was about to go to Jerusalem and set up a kingdom – deporting Roman authority and subjecting Temple authorities – the people could get excited because of coming change, even if they had no concept of what would happen next.

Second, the people to whom the prince was a rightful ruler didn’t want his rule. Could it be that when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Rome and the Temple wouldn’t kneel to His authority? The crowd needed to consider that possibility, since the next story was about the “Triumphal Entry” at the end of the chapter, and the Temple leaders made clear they wanted Jesus to tell the Palm Sunday crowd to “Shut up!” The story looks, at least in part, as a preparation for that coming exchange.

Third, in the story, there was another group of followers that were with the prince – not just those in the distant kingdom – but those who were dubbed “servants” of the prince. They were closely associated with the prince, worked for his purposes (at least they were supposed to!) and they were rewarded by him for their labors. They seem to be the followers of Jesus that were with Him in Jericho; the ones who experienced the changes in Zacchaeus and celebrated. Now we see the tough part of the parable… Not all of them were the same. Some were followers in deed; others were follower in word alone.

Look at the servant who didn’t believe in the prince. Listen to his words. He said: “You are HARD. You take what ISN’T yours – you take what I WANT.” Can you understand his view? He believed that Jesus DIDN’T HAVE THE RIGHT to his life, his choices, and his labors. He wanted to work for HIMSELF. He wanted life to be under HIS CONTROL. Could he be a follower of Jesus who got “on board” because of the benefits, but not to be a real servant?

Step back for a moment and consider these three stories. First, a man who couldn’t see wanted Jesus, got his sight and followed Him – gaining clarity with each step he took following the Master. Next, a man who searched for fulfillment in THINGS sought Jesus, and time spent with the Master helped him see that ill-gotten gain hindered him from being truly fulfilled. Finally, some people anticipated that Jesus was worth following because of the benefits of a coming Kingdom – but they didn’t really trust Him to direct their lives and choices. His teaching also called them to consider carefully what serving Him truly meant. Remember: Just because someone is on the prince’s payroll, doesn’t mean he is truly serving the prince at all.

Let me ask you a simple question: What are you looking for? Why are you taking the time to look at this lesson? What is God saying to you? Do you trust Jesus, or do you just want His benefits?

Don’t skip that Jesus’ teaching cautioned them that there will be a delay in the lieral and earthly Kingdom of Messiah (something that is much clearer to us that would have been to them). Messiah came to die, was raised to show the acceptance of the payment for sin, and will return to take His place on the throne of David. This was the promise, and if it were a mere spiritualization, huge portions of the prophetic parts of Scripture are good for little beside balking up your Bible to make it a paper weight!

Beloved, even believers of our age consistently display impatience for the Kingdom and an earthly time and place of righteousness. Many long for heaven to take root in this time and land – and forget this world is not our home. Some rest in a prosperity doctrine, hoping wealth, health and fulfillment will be the absolute fruit of following Jesus in the here and now – but the whole idea of martyrdom doesn’t fit their theology. Don’t try selling that one in Iraq right now – they won’t buy it.

Here is the truth: Jesus is coming back. The Prince of Heaven will come, and those things He promised are coming – but not here and not now. They come with the Savior’s return.

Some express impatience by turning their attention to political enforcement of Christian morals and ethics, as if human government will ever eradicate poverty, racism or injustice – or truly promote our faith. While we should thoughtfully influence the state through informed voting and careful engagement, we are wholly unrealistic if we believe Caesar will promote Christ. If Caesar puts Christ on his placards and bumper stickers – it will be to get the church’s vote – not to promote the church’s Master. Incidentally, when the church had Caesar’s power in history, the world’s influence seemed more pervasive, impregnating the church with ungodliness, far more than the world was wooed by the church. That isn’t the best way for the church to take a stand… Bruce Larson wrote: “When I was a small boy, I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn, frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering. These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago. One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone’s rule was absolute. The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But single handedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christina layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens who were determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away. During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch’s life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith. Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometime I’d catch a tear in my father’s eye. For my dad and for all of us this was and is what authentic living is all about.” Bruce Larson, in Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.124-5.

At the same time, there is a spiritual sense of kingdom we live with; (even today) that foreshadows the power and magnificence of our Prince above.

• He is unmatched in power and unmarred by evil.
• He is the victor over death and the Prince of life itself.
• He was crucified that I might live.
• He was beaten that I might be healed.
• He was rejected by men than I may be accepted by God.
• He was shamed before the world so that I could be lifted to glory in Heaven.

Yes, we must listen carefully to God’s Word to know what to truly anticipate… and that anticipation should lead us into the arms of Jesus to be a servant indeed.

Following His Footsteps: “The Temptations” – Luke 18

temptations1In this lesson, we have the privilege of meeting five temptations. The singing group named “The Temptations” has been successful for more than half a century – noted for their choreography, harmonies, unmistakable wardrobe, and their musical evolution. They sold tens of millions of albums, featuring five male vocalists originally formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan under the name “The Elgins”. The founding five members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups. The group, over the years of their performances gave the world some true Motown hits, including “My Girl” (1964), “Treat Her Like a Lady” (1984), “Just My Imagination” and “Get Ready”. They have performed in venues from small supper clubs to huge concert halls – and are known the world over…but they are not the five temptations I want you to meet today.

I have in mind a different “five temptations” – these even better known but lesser liked. I have in mind the five temptations that are highlighted by the teachings of Jesus in Luke 18 that easily inflict His followers. They were recorded as a warning and a call to self-examination for all of us who name Jesus as our Master and Lord.

Let’s start by understanding something…Every believer faces a series of distractions that can cause us to move away from our call to continuously seek the Master’s smile by our both our clear thinking and our dedicated behavior.

• Some get caught up trying to EARN the love of Jesus –when that isn’t the right perspective at all.

• Others are routinely overwhelmed by and subjected to the strong winds of feeling, and cannot remain resolute to walk as a child of God ought.

• Still others, led by poorly reasoned arguments of strayed leaders, convince themselves that their salvation is all that matters, and Jesus can get their obedience AFTER they get to Heaven. That, too, is deeply errant thinking.

It is easy for believers to get off track in our walk with Jesus. A straightforward understanding of our walk with God should lead us to this truth…

Key Principle: Every follower needs to consistently re-examine their willingness to truly follow our Savior’s direction, step by step.

When we pick up reading in Luke, we need to recall that Jesus had been telling His followers that His Kingdom would not come until a time of suffering for them (and the world) that would include their deep longing to see Him (17:22). He would seem as though He delayed during their intense struggles – and some would be tempted to fall away from following Him (Luke 17:26-36).

Jesus followed those statements, at least as Luke recorded them, with five simple temptations that would befall the believers of that time. Though the teachings will certainly be necessary for the days ahead, they are also temptations we all face today – so they are even more relevant than first glance would make a student of the Word believe.

Temptation One: Becoming Self-Reliant

Look at the first temptation as Jesus presented it:

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In every age, there is a temptation for followers of God to become self-reliant. We get distracted and discouraged from prayer – but God desires that we remain persistent. Look closely at the verses and see if the temptation has been dangled in front of you, and God’s prescription for dealing with it.

First, note that Jesus’ point is not in question – the parable was to make the ONE POINT that persistence in prayer is a key to success in our walk with God (18:1).

Second, note that Jesus didn’t hesitate to make the characters in His parable VERY DIFFERENT than their underlying “real world” archetypes. In this parable, God the Father’s part was handed over to “an unrighteous judge”. The praying follower of God’s part was played by a nagging old widow. Don’t let that bother you a whit; it is all part of the medium of parable in the time of Jesus. Stay focused on the main point, which was disclosed in verse one.

Third, note that the parable offered both a comparison and a contrast in verse six and seven between the unjust judge and the King of Glory – but they were connected by the result. Though God listens out of GOODNESS, the judge listened out of SELF INTEREST. That wasn’t the point. The point was that BOTH LISTENED. God is not LIKE the judge, He is good. Yet, He is LIKE the judge in that He will hear the call of His children – He will not ignore their voices.

Fourth, note that WHEN Jesus comes, justice will follow. It won’t come BEFORE Him, but WITH Him. That is the point of verse seven and eight.

fire chief kevin chochranBelievers are tempted to seek justice in the here and now, and increasingly that is becoming hard to find. Ask the Fire Chief in Atlanta who was fired recently because he wrote a book for his Sunday School men on sexual purity that referred to homosexuality as a perversion. He was fired because he believed such a heinous, terribly unjust book as the Bible, in spite of the lack of evidence that he had ever discriminated against anyone in his departmental responsibility. He isn’t allowed to say that he believes that – because he was a public employee. If he held the opposite view, he could say that… there is no penalty for holding the non-Biblical but popular belief. Increasingly, tolerance means “you are free to believe what WE say.”

What should we do about that? Shall we write letters? Maybe. Should be cross-post on social media our objections? Perhaps. Here is the real question… Will we stop and pray for the people involved? Will we seek Heaven’s intervention for our public officials that are trying to serve with integrity and follow the Bible? Will we still do it next month? How about a year from now or later when the case is brought before the courts for the firing? I suspect we will find this momentary issue to be quickly distracted from, and be off on the next outrageous move of the enemy while Heaven awaits our persistent voice.

Here is the truth: If we advertise free counseling for marital difficulties, parent-child relationships and time management – we will find a line forming outside the door. If we advertise that we will bow our knee beside you and pray with you and for your need – no line will form. Many of us have been thoroughly conditioned to believe the answers can be found on earth, and seeking Heaven is at least less effective and at worst a total waste of time. We won’t admit it (that wouldn’t sound Christian!) – but our footprints and schedule books tell the story. We are self-reliant Christians – people given to frantic picketing in place of fervent prayer and social network complaints in place of quiet but persistent seeking of God’s face over a situation. What more did Jesus need to say about this? We are tempted to do it on our own, or give up quickly – and both leave us in a state of self-reliant weakness. As darkness increases, some will begin to recognize anew the tall stature of the bent knee.

Temptation Two: Becoming Arrogant

The second temptation is just as convicting, and offers a different warning…

Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The temptation for many followers of God is to become self-exalting and arrogant: We think of ourselves as “better” than others – but God desires we humble ourselves.

Look again at the verses, and you will see a comparable pattern to the first temptation’s revelation.

First, you see the aim and audience of the whole story in the phrase: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” These were people DOING RIGHT in life behaviors, but going off course in ATTITUDES. They followed God, but they used their obedience as a whip to sting those who seemed further back on the path.

Second, Jesus’ story opened with an event – both a Pharisee and a tax collector went to the Temple to pray. One went to recite his obedience and goodness, the other went to sob and seek God’s mercy for his many sins. One boasted of his works as a display before Heaven; the other was so broken over his own faults, he wouldn’t look up. One sought PAYMENT for a life well-lived, the other pleaded for MERCY for a life that left a mess in its wake.

Third, Jesus made clear who “connected with God” at the Temple. One man messed up his life but then sought God honestly; in seeking undeserved mercy he found hope. The other man who felt God’s grace was payment for his good choices knew little of what God truly wanted – and left without Heaven’s approval. God knows that my best efforts done for self are not righteous deeds – they are selfish deeds. They reflect arrogance – and I wish I wasn’t so familiar with them.

When each of us first heard the Gospel message, those who gave their heart to Jesus were quickly overwhelmed by His love, and we began our journey with a full knowledge that we were not worthy of our Savior’s love – nevertheless we have it. We began our journey in humility. Then… slowly… something happened. We walked a few steps with Jesus. We began to DO right. We began to experience the empowering of God in our lives as we served Him. Time passed, and we got “better” at doing God’s will as revealed in God’s Word. We watched as others DIDN’T FOLLOW GOD, and their lives were increasingly messy. We tried not to judge everyone overtly, but inside we knew that our obedience paid off – and their stubborn disregard for the things God said only brought them increasing pain. After a while, we began to see ourselves as “good” and “obedient” – a silent creep toward the “deserving” category. We tried to hide it, but on occasion, especially when really dark people happen by in front of us – it pops out of the surface. We believers, the recipient of God’s rich mercy, began feeling “deserving” of God’s special favor. What began in brokenness morphed into arrogance.

Let’s be clear: God resists the proud. He avoids the arrogant. We have a choice – we can see ourselves as the wretched, judgmental, self-loving people that we are – or we can lie and act like we really see the world through eyes broken by the realization of the receipt of our own undeserved blessings. Only when I am convinced that God’s mercy isn’t, wasn’t and never will be because of me – will I know Him the way He wants me to, and only then will I see the world as He does. Stunned by the wonder of God’s mercy toward me, I can see lost men as objects of my Father’s magnificent obsession. He loves the broken.

There is an old story of an eagle who, on an early morning during the spring thaw, soared high above the forest looking for something to eat. As he followed the course of a river he looked down and spied a small rodent, trapped on a piece of ice that had broken free and was floating down stream. Seeing an easy meal, he swooped down, landed on the ice, killed the mouse and began to eat. As he continued his meal, he saw that his perch was rapidly approaching a water fall, but determined to finish eating and thinking he would rise into the air and to safety at the last moment, continued his course. As the ice neared the falls, the eagle finished his last bite. Satisfied with his breakfast he spread his mighty wings and attempted to rise skyward as the chunk of ice tipped over the edge. While enjoying his meal however, he had failed to notice that the warmth of his feet had caused his claws to become embedded in the ice. Try as he might, he could not dislodge them and free himself from what had now become the burden that would carry him to his death on the rocks far below.

People who think they are smarter than the average sinner, stronger than the average person, more able to resist temptation and more powerful in avoiding sinful situations have forgotten how quickly any of us can find ourselves stuck in the ice of our own cold hearts.

Temptation Three: Becoming Mistrusting

Luke 18:15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The temptation for followers of God is to become too worried and doubtful – but God desires us to trust Him in handling our lives.

This passage is often misunderstood. The disciples were not “anti-baby”. They didn’t dislike children at all (so far as we know). The issue was one of “PROTECTING JESUS’ HONOR”. That was their assumption.

There are always believers who think they need to protect Jesus from those who do not know how to act – but that isn’t the case. Jesus is perfectly capable of dealing with the errant and the profane. We don’t want to imitate them, but we don’t need to somehow become “bodyguards for the Savior”, for He needs none. It is a nice sentiment to give Him honor in that way –but that is not something He asked for. What does that mean? It means we share Jesus openly, and we let those who want to follow Him learn, step by step, what it means to be in the presence of the Holy One. We honor Him. We revere Him. We address Him with respect and come before Him carefully, because He is the King about all kings. The “not yet” believer in our midst may not know how to carefully enter His presence – but they should SEE it in the way we do it. At the same time, we shouldn’t be so caught up in protecting Jesus and His reputation, that we don’t see that He came FOR THEM.

A number of years ago there was a riot on the Haram esh-Sharif, the ancient “Temple Mount” of the city of Jerusalem. I was there with a British group, and we got caught up in a full-scale meltdown in Jerusalem, complete with tear gas, bullets and helicopters. I won’t take the time to explain it all, because it isn’t necessary to the illustration. When the troubles began, I told all the people that I could see to “get down” and crawl toward the northern gate, where the El-Omariyeh School is located. The people crawled along and we got to the Via Dolorosa, made a right turn and ran down the hill into the Kidron Valley. When we got to the bottom, the crowds were growing exponentially. I ran to the head of the group and went up to the door of the Gethsemane “Church of All Nations” to get the Franciscan fathers to open up and let people in for safety. The guard at the gate was stopping people from coming inside because “some of them had shorts on”, despite the fact that shooting was going on and people’s lives were in danger. That guy would have kept babies from Jesus! Some people don’t get it.

Jesus took a moment to offer a teaching that was larger than a mere response to the situation. He taught: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” His teaching wasn’t about honor at all – it was about something else. It was about the trusting nature of the little ones that came to Him.

When we meet Jesus, we are told of His love. Someone explains to us the story about how He took our place at Calvary, and how He died for our sins. We respond to the message, trusting the Word of God and the power of Jesus to save. Time moves on, and we find ourselves walking with Jesus through times of celebration, and other times of trouble. After a while, we grow up… that is our problem. As we grow, we hear many opposing voices to the One we hear in the Word. Some exchange trust for doubt, and doubt for disbelief – because they stop simply taking the Word for what it is…TRUTH. Jesus made the point that children BELIEVE what they are told and RECEIVE the Word completely – taking it at face value. Grown-ups often complicate simple things, because they have a way of hiding their ego behind a mask, and their rebellion in a religious costume. Children just believe it is true because Jesus said it is. That’s good enough – of such is the Kingdom of God. May God grant that you grow in Him enough to be reliable and strong, but never so much that you become more intelligent than your Savior in your own estimation. Accept His Word as your final answer to life’s questions.

Temptation Four: Becoming Resistant

A fourth temptation was also presented by Jesus in the text in the form of the answer to a direct question:

Luke 18:18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

The rich young ruler had a problem to which many of us can relate. Some followers of God attempt to make up the rules for what God SHOULD want from us – in spite of the fact that what God truly desires we surrender to Him is WHAT HE ASKS of us. Look it up: the antonym of surrender is resistance. The participants of a resistance are called “rebels”. Some of us are trying to play both sides in one life.

Look at the situation closely. The man approached Jesus with a question – but He wasn’t actually going to accept Jesus’ absolute authority over the answer. IF Jesus told him something that he was willing to do, then he would do it. If Jesus asked for something MORE than the man was willing to give, he’d find another rabbi and ask again. This isn’t new or rare.

Countless times I have watched people argue that they were not doing wrong when they were walking in direct violation of the Scriptures, because they KNEW God wouldn’t actually ask them to give up something they felt so deeply about. I have heard this reasoning applied from boats to illicit relationships – each time the line of argument was the same – if I feel this strongly, God wouldn’t want me to deny myself and follow Him. They never read this story. They never considered how hard it was for a rich man to set up a “yard sale” sign and let all his stuff go – only to give the proceeds to the poor. That is what Jesus said to do. Why? Because we don’t have anything in our lives that God didn’t provide – including the things we clutch hold of to make us happy. If we are willing to find our joy in Him, we will find that He knew from the beginning what we truly needed.

Recently I read a Pastor’s blog where he wrote about his two birds, Coffee and Charlie. I thought it might make the issue of resistance more clear…

My pet finch Coffee runs into a serious problem once in a while. Her claws grow so long she loses the ability to control them. They get stuck in the nest and she can’t get them out. Once we found her nearly dead, hanging for hours upside down with one claw ensnared in her wicker home. Carol rescued her and nursed her back to health. We decided we needed to regularly clip her claws so she could maintain control of them. I reach into the door and try to catch her while she desperately scrambles to the eight corners of the cage to escape capture. Once I do grip her gently in my palm, her heart races in a panic and she attempts to peck at my hand to free herself. I hold her steady, clip her nails, and release her back into the safety of her cage where she gleefully flies for months without getting ensnared. But when the nails grow again, we have to repeat the procedure, each time with her panic, pecking and distrust. It’s sad when she distrusts me. Charlie, Coffee’s nest mate, seems to enjoy being held and stroked, simply receiving the care for what it is as we clip his nails. I’m afraid I’m more like Coffee when God gets me in his grip. I fret and resist and at times turn hostile toward him as he holds me tight and gives me a trim. I wish I was more like Charlie. Actually, I’m going to try to be. (Clipped from “Pastor’s Round Table” – original author unknown).

Temptation Five: Becoming Befuddled

One last temptation needed to be addressed by Jesus beginning in verse thirty-one:

Luke 18:31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” 34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

The temptation for followers of God is to be selective in their hearing a assumptive in their conclusions – but God wants us to know His Word and let its truths sink deeply inside us.

When you read the account as Luke gave it to us, isn’t it a mystery on your first pass of reading why the disciples didn’t “get” what Jesus was saying? Perhaps that is “Monday morning quarterbacking” – because we know the end of the story already. If we look more closely, we may have clues to why they didn’t relate the story to the coming months of Jesus’ earth ministry.

First, Jesus didn’t just say, “I am going to die on the cross for your sins…” It was much more cryptic. He used a title, “Son of Man” that came from Daniel, and was one that He used of Himself. Was it that clear in His speech, or just clearer to us after knowing the story?

Second, Jesus wasn’t involved in a negative way with Gentile authorities at that point (though Herod Antipas was a Roman puppet and wanted to see Jesus). It is possible that they weren’t clear that the popular itinerant preacher would be turned upon so quickly – and it never struck them that their movement was about to be violently interrupted. If this is just after the raising of Lazarus the disciples seemed to know something bad was about to happen, which is why I believe Luke 18 was just before John 11 and not after. In John 11:16 the Apostle recalled: “Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

Here is the bottom line: Many followers of Jesus don’t listen closely to His Word. They pick out the parts they like, and don’t contextualize anything at all. You can make the Bible say anything you want if you cut it up into fortune cookie sized sayings and string them together without context. Let’s be clear: speaking from the Bible is not the same as teaching what is IN the Bible. In churches around the world people will lift quotes, but many will say little or nothing about what was before and after the quote. They will select out what they like, borrowing by implication the authority of the Word – but fail to really explain what God said.

I have been in theology discussions where people offer all kinds of re-shuffled Bible parts – like fast food chicken nuggets that are reassembled and fried until you cannot tell what part you may be getting. The theology was just about as spiritually nutritious. We must be careful to measure the difference between theological debate and actual Biblical instruction – they are not the same thing. We need to stop robbing the Bible of its richness, and really study it to hear our Father’s voice.

Do you all know much about Emperor Penguins? Emperor Penguins are monogamous; they have one mate for life. Perhaps even more interesting than that, though, is the fact that it is the male Emperors who care for the egg until it hatches. Every year, when mating season is over, the female Emperors take off for the ocean; all of them together in one huge flock traveling hundreds of miles so that they can fish and get plenty to eat to sustain them and their new chick for a year. Meanwhile, back at their home, the male penguins care for the eggs. Each male tucks his egg between his feet to keep it from breaking and to keep it warm in the cold, harsh, winter winds. When all those females return from the ocean, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of them, how do you think they find their mate in the equally large crowd of males? The Emperor penguins always find their mate by the sound of their call, by their voice. It seems impossible for a flock of thousands of penguins to sort themselves out by the sounds of their voices, but they do it. They have learned to block out the noise of other voices, and hear the important one. That is what believers need to grow to do. Only when we learn to pick out God’s voice will be truly listen to what He really said. We must resist the temptation to pick and choose lazily, and do the work of real study with open hearts!

It is easy for believers to get off track in our walk with Jesus. Every follower needs to re-examine their willingness to truly follow our Savior, step by step.

Most people don’t understand why it is important to follow God’s Word closely. We have a world of experts, and many of them think they know better than anything you will read in the Bible. Maybe this will help:

The doubleheader train was bucking a heavy snowstorm as its steam engines pulled it west. A woman with a baby wanted to leave the train at one of the little stations along the route. She repeatedly called, “Don’t forget me!” to the brakeman responsible to call out the stations they approached. Her husband was to meet her. The train slowed to a stop, and a fellow traveler rather certain of himself said, “Here’s your station.” She hopped from the train into the storm. The train moved on again. Forty-five minutes later, the brakeman came in. “Where’s the woman?” “She got off at the last stop,” the traveler said. “Then she got off to her death,” the brakeman responded. “We stopped only because there was something the matter with the engine.” They called for volunteers to go back and search for the woman and child. When they found her hours later, not far from the track where they stopped, she was covered with ice and snow. The little boy was protected on her breast. She had followed the man’s directions, but they were wrong—dead wrong.

Just because people think they know what will work – doesn’t mean they really do. God designed life. He is the One Who knows. Follow His Word – it will lead you home.

You have met our five temptations. Now I ask you to stop singing their tunes. Turn your attention to the songs of the Savior – our magnificent King!

• Trust Him – not yourself.
• Behold His humility – not arrogance.
• Trust Him as a small child trusts his parent to do good.
• Don’t resist. Don’t rebel. Don’t over complicate.
• Listen to His Word.

Following His Footsteps: “Master Storyteller” (Part One) – Luke 14

garrison keillorI didn’t grow up in the upper Midwest, and I have only been to Minnesota and Wisconsin a few times. In fact, thinking about it, I have never been in Minnesota during any season but winter. You cannot prove by my experience that anything grows in that state except house plants and hotel lobby plants – but that surely isn’t the case. If you DID grow up in Minnesota, I am certain that you have heard of the fictitious Lake Woebegone and it her favorite traveling minstrel, Gary Edward “Garrison” Keillor, who entered the real world of Minnesota in 1942, and grew to be the author, storyteller, humorist, and radio personality that he is today. He is probably best known as the host of the Minnesota Public Radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”.

If you have ever heard his voice, you know he is a world-class storyteller. Only the Irish come close to his talents in regard to spinning a saga. He has the ability to weave a tale about virtually nothing, and make it fascinating and funny. I am captivated by his homespun humor, but in this lesson I am focused on his storytelling ability. After following years of his radio persona, I have come to the conclusion that I am only now beginning to understand some of his humor – because it is rooted in specific knowledge of the culture of the upper Midwest that I simply didn’t understand. The more I understand about that culture, the funnier his references become. His humor is developed, at time at a very high level. The problem for the longest time wasn’t him – it was me. I just didn’t know what I needed to know to “get” what he was saying. I mention that, because it strikes me that the same problem exists for many Christians listening to Jesus as the Master Teacher that is reflected in the Gospels.

As we look more deeply into the teachings of the Master during His extended trip through Perea late in His earth ministry, listening to the parables becomes very important. Many a wrong theology came from a poor listener, who taught from the Bible with the confidence they were teaching truth – but close inspection shows those insights to be imposed on the Gospel account, not pulled from it. Nowhere is that problem more evident than in the teachings we will explore in this lesson. Here is the key we need to keep in mind….

Key Principle: You have to know the teacher to understand His message.

In order to truly understand the message, the hearer should understand the culture and teaching method of the speaker. If the teacher’s background is a mystery, the teachings they offer will be only vaguely understood.

I want to be honest and make clear to you that the key principle is normally a spiritual lesson that I derive FROM the text – and it is usually what I believe to be the underlying truth that binds the story together. For this lesson, I am deliberately doing some differently. In this case, the key principle is designed to “hover over the text” to help us make the words more clear. I recognize that means we need to take extra care here so that we don’t impose ideas on the narrative, but I believe every student of the Word will recognize the benefits of recalling the parables and teaching of Jesus in the way they were conveyed and interpreted by His original audience so long ago, as best we are able.

The Lesson of the Seating Chart (Luke 14:7-14)

Jesus was teaching at a banquet, where He was expected to offer insight while reclining beside a table, as that was the custom. The host was eager, and the guests were their to evaluate the teacher. Luke recorded:

Luke 14:7 And He [began] speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor [at the table], saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give [your] place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and [that] will be your repayment. 13 “But when you give a reception, invite [the] poor, [the] crippled, [the] lame, [the] blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have [the means] to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

There are five important things I would like you to notice about the instruction:

The Setting: Both the instruction and the parable that followed it were given at a villa banquet, and directed at the invited guests, people of some importance and distinction, while other uninvited guests watched from the atrium of the home (14:7a).

The Cause: The Master gave the instruction after He noticed how people chose their seats around the table (14:7b).

The Truth: Jesus told the men not to choose a place that was highly important, because it created embarrassment when one who was more important entered, and left them moving to a lesser place. At the same time, that was the opening, not the main teaching (14:8-10).

The Teaching: Those who believe they are very important will find that others do not take their place seriously, but those who see others as more important than themselves will find that others show them greater honor. The way to be important to people is serve them.

The Instruction: Serve those who no one else is serving. Show love to those who have so little that they will know you did not do it for pay. God loves mercy and humility, and will not forget your deed.

In the world of the first century in the Judea and the Galilee, the customary presentation of a guest to a room mixed with scholars and seeker was the norm. Jesus interrupted the flow by teaching – not in vast generalizations – but in specific admonitions to those at the banquet table. That was different, but not entirely unheard of. What was difficult was the suggestion that they were not men of proper attitude. Insulting people never endears them to you. Jesus was making a point – and that was more important than making new friends in that room.

People of status have a tendency to spend their time with people of similar or greater rank. They see life, many of them, as a climb to the top – with many left beneath them in the end. They pass by hurting people, and consume their wealth on themselves, surrounded by other “beautiful people” – the people who have their problems well-hidden beneath coats of cosmetic paint and fancy clothes. It isn’t their wealth that makes them insensitive – it is their choice to use it to promote self instead of helping those who have greater need. The self-fixation is the real issue.

Let’s say it plainly: Jesus wants His followers to see themselves as less important than those around them. He wants His disciples to reflect humility and sensitivity. It is at the heart of His call and cannot be ignored if we are to be obedient to Him

The Parable of the Big Dinner (Luke 14:15-24)

When they heard Jesus’ words, they weren’t sure how to react. One man made clear that he expected to be a part of the kingdom of God, and knew that he would be happy to do so. He called from the table side:

Luke 14:15 When one of those who were reclining [at the table] with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

The truth is, that was a quiet repudiation of the words Jesus had just uttered. No one at the table believed that blind, lame and poor were going to be ushered to seats of greatness by the Creator. After all, if He thought highly of them, why were they suffering now?

Luke recorded the parable Jesus offered in response to that thinking:

Luke 14:16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ 19 “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ 20 “Another one said, I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ 21 “And the slave came [back] and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel [them] to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'”

We might be able to pick out three parts of this parable of Jesus.

First, there was the initial invitation that met rejection. The man made preparations and invited the usual guests, but they offered excuses and didn’t respond to the invitation to come (14:15-20).

Second, there was the startling new invitation that met delight. When the slave that brought the invitation to the invited guests returned and told the man his invitations were turned down, the man didn’t cancel the banquet and toss the food, he decided to bring guests that were unlikely and normally uninvited (14:21). The slave obeyed, and each was brought to the banquet, but there was yet more room (14:22).

Finally, there was explanation that explained what the man was doing. The slave was told to go out and find anyone to fill the seats, because he did not want those who rejected his invitation to show up later and think a seat was waiting for them (14:23-24).

The point of the story is that some imagine themselves to be so important, their expectation becomes presumption. The man who thought he would be in the kingdom of God’s great banquet hall with the lame and blind left out did not understand what God was looking for inside those with whom He would work. God doesn’t need our vast confidence, only our commitment to follow Him when He calls. God doesn’t see our qualifications as our attraction point – because He knows our frame. He doesn’t work with us, or even desire to work in and through us, because of our accomplishments, our reputation or our potential. He calls us because He loves us. He wants us because He made us. It isn’t our beauty, our personality or our ability that He uses to draw us in – it is our neediness, our bankruptcy. God resists those who think they are good enough, but offers special favor to those who know their own brokenness and often seek His repair.

Every follower of Jesus, especially after we have followed for some time and have some “accomplishments for the Kingdom” under our belt, needs to heed the warnings of Jesus about attitude from this parable. We don’t have God because we deserve Him. We aren’t invited because we are better. We shouldn’t put God on “hold” because we have essential commitments that call us to do something BEFORE we get to deal with Him and His great invitation.

Jesus’ parable likely referred to the fact that the contemporary generation of Jewish leaders – those who delivered Him into the hands of Pilate and the Romans – would be set aside for a future generation of Jews, who would one day behold Him and know they need Him. Zechariah foretold:

Zechariah 12:8 “In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David [will be] like God, like the angel of the LORD before them. 9 “And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

The Apostle Paul explained that day had not yet come, but he anticipated it to come in the future:

Romans 11:1 “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! …11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!…18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, [remember that] it is not you who supports the root, but the root [supports] you…21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off….25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”

Essentially, Jesus made plain the great sin of presumption he heard from the man at the banquet. The man PRESUMED he would be called to be a part of the kingdom and its feasting – for God had so blessed Him in THIS life. He knew the “little people” were on the roadway – the hurting, the broken, the physically destroyed. They were the “other people” – those pitiful unfortunates that did not see the hand of blessing in this life that God had showered on him and his family. They were not blessed – and he presumed there must be a reason. Like Job’s friends, his theology allowed for blessing of the beloved and curse of the broken… and he was wrong.

Jesus made clear that people don’t have God’s blessing in the material world because we deserve it. Others in our world that struggle with extreme deprivation aren’t in that state because they don’t deserve what we have. There are many reasons for their lack and our abundance. The one thing Jesus made clear is that none of us can claim we have what we have because we are the deserving. Blessing is not God’s paycheck. Ease is not the stamp of God’s approval. Some who were approved of God in the text of Scripture struggled deeply and consistently – while many of those who lived in ease and relative comfort walked far from God. Despite what some have preached over the airwaves, Jesus made it abundantly clear that there is simply no fixed correlation between ease and righteousness, between material prosperity and God’s approval. Many who followed God throughout history found themselves wounded for doing do, while many who “blew through” accumulated material possessions didn’t even know God. Blessing in the coming kingdom cannot simply be measured by those who have much in the current earthly domain.

Some believers, sitting on dirt-floored huts in desolate villages, will enjoy great reward in the kingdom ahead – not because they were poor, but because they followed God greatly in spite of the fact they could not see immediate response in the temporal world. When we see our temporal privileges as a sign of God’s approval, we are too short-sighted. God DOES bless some now, because He chooses to do so. That was Jesus’ warning about presumption – and we need to revisit it again and again. Often we don’t see the world through His eyes.

Again, we must say it plainly, so it is not lost in Christian verbiage: Jesus wants His followers to see ourselves as entirely undeserving of His great invitation – and know that God chooses to work among the least, not the greatest.

The Call of True Invitation (Luke 14:25-35)

Luke attached another story directly after the banquet, and the language is not as clear in the original text as the English translation. It may be that the story is not AFTER Jesus left the room, but from the atrium of the home as they listened. This may be a story from the same setting, and the crowds “going along with Him” may be an expression of agreement, not a statement of travel. We simply cannot tell. Luke wrote:

Luke 14:25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand [men] to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. 34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

There are two distinct parts to what Jesus said in this teaching, and both are tough but clear.

The first part we will extract from the middle of the text – the need to seriously count the cost before hastily agreeing to follow Jesus (14:28-32). His words to illustrate this truth were in pictures:

• There was a picture of a tower builder, who did not assess the total cost of the project, but had to stop half-way because of insufficient funds. He brought ridicule on himself by laying a foundation, but finding it impossible to finish.

• There was a picture of a ruler who bounded into battle without carefully considering whether his army could stand up to the fight against a larger army. He should have looked for a negotiated solution, but acted without forethought.

In our haste to offer Jesus to people as the answer for their momentary problem, we need to be careful not to remove the demands that Jesus places on His followers, and we need to heed the warnings He gave about considering the cost. We cannot simply offer new life in Christ without its requisite life surrender. When we do so, we are offering only part of the Biblical message. When we do so, we offer a message different than Jesus Himself offered. We must ask people to consider both the benefits of the Gospel and the demands of it as well. The Good News is that God has made a way for me to have a relationship with Him through Christ’s payment. The Good News is that God will declare me righteous because a Righteous One died in place of my death for my sin. The Good News is NOT that there is nothing God expects from me but a few words muttered under my breath at a Crusade or church service. He wants ME to surrender to HIM. If that is not included in the message, how can someone count the cost before they begin to claim Jesus as their Savior? No matter how one approaches the theology here, all believers of every stripe will agree that God’s plain desire is that His followers to yield to His direction – to do what He says. Some may think they can present Jesus without the message of surrender, but they will eventually have to agree that must be reckoned with before one is truly doing what God wants. Follower means that I… follow. How can someone know that is God’s desire and make an informed decision if that is not part of the message of the Gospel we preach?

The second are the tough conditions for becoming and remaining a disciple of Jesus (14:26-27 and 33). Jesus mentioned four specifics:

First, the area was surrendered relationships. He included parents, children and siblings. The simple question Jesus left us to answer is this: “Is there any relationship so important that I would not allow my Savior to direct me in it? Is there any relationship more important than my obedience to Him? If I cannot say without a doubt that all relationships are subject to my Master’s direction – I cannot claim I am His disciple. I simply can’t.

Second, Jesus included the follower’s own life. Jesus wanted it clear that His followers didn’t own their own lives – He did. He could call them to far flung places for His purpose, or place them, in His plan, in a hospital ward to be a witness for Him. Any follower who wants veto rights for his own life hasn’t surrendered that life. Jesus offered little to the one who wanted eternal life but also ownership of his own life – He simply said they CANNOT be my disciple.

Third, the area of life direction was made clear. Jesus expects followers to give up choices in life direction, and follow Him in the path He guides. If we think we are Christian, but are making the choices for our life without His guiding hand and our humble submission, we are not. A disciple doesn’t dictate terms to his teacher – he follows directions. He listens to God’s path and then follows it. That includes marriage choices, career choices, school choices, parenting choices, new homes, new cars, new jobs – all of it. Either we are deliberately and consciously following Jesus’ direction or we are not – and we may be the only one who truly knows if we are or not.

Fourth, the area of possessions was highlighted. Jesus clearly outlined that any who follow Him would stop possessing the things in their life, and would deliberately surrender them to the Savior. That surrender of the use of anything God provided for my life comes as a natural byproduct of giving up my direction, health and relationships. Either the stuff in my life is His to take away or increase – or it is mine. Jesus made clear if it is mine, I am not His disciple.

I keep reading about people that posit the term “Christian” and “disciple” are not interchangeable – as if one can begin to follow Jesus for salvation, surrender nothing, and yet claim to be one of His. The problem is, that doesn’t seem to have Biblical support. It may make us feel better by suggesting a lesser standard – but the two terms appear to be used interchangeably in the text. The term “disciples” occurs 269 times in the Christian Scriptures, but the term “Christian” occurs a mere three (3) times.

Luke recorded: “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). This suggests the early believers used the terms to mean the same thing. The hard part is the implication: if the two words mean the same thing in the usage of Jesus, when He said “you cannot be My disciple” He was also saying “you cannot call yourself a Christian”. If that sounds too harsh, consider the meaning of Christian as “little Christ” or “follower of Christ” – and it seems clearer. Jesus’ words in 14:27, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” could also be phrased as “Anybody who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be a Christian.” When I say it that way it not only gets my attention more, it clarifies how serious the issue was to the Master.

When Luke introduced the crowd in the beginning, he noted several things about them. First, they were large, and second they were “going along after Him.” Jesus “turned to them” and taught on being a disciple. He didn’t drop into their lives – they were already curiously following Him around to observe what the fuss was all about. They weren’t antagonistic towards the Master, nor uninterested in His presentation. In “going along after Him” they seemed to be positive in their attitude toward Him, but not yet a part of His discipleship group. Like many today, they apparently mistook a positive attitude toward Jesus and some curious interest in Jesus for discipleship. They were certainly casual fans, but not committed followers.

So many in our time are like them – willing to quote Jesus when He says something warm and comforting, but unwilling to explore any teaching that would present a high cost to their prized personal freedom. They would be willing to give Him an hour on Sunday, a hymn, acknowledgement at a friend’s funeral, and a thirty second recitation of prayer before eating. Look at what Jesus truly required. No relationship could be more important. We couldn’t cling even to our own life as more significant than His direction. Our stuff is placed in His hands. Our direction for the few years of life we have are placed in His care.

Oswald Chambers put it this way: “The religion of Jesus is the religion of a little child. There is no affectation about a disciple of Jesus, he is as a little child, amazingly simple but unfathomably deep. Many of us are not childlike enough, we are childish.

We must recite the words yet again: Jesus wants His followers to recognize that we own nothing. We possess nothing. Our relationships are subject to Him, as is even our own breath. We are His and not our own. There simply is no selfish form of disciple – that is a myth. Followers surrender and the un-surrendered aren’t truly following.

Shortly after coming to Christ, Sadhu Sundar, a Hindu convert to Christ, felt called to become a missionary to India. Late one afternoon Sadhu was traveling on foot through the Himalayas with a Buddhist monk. It was bitterly cold and the wind felt like sharp blades slicing into Sadhu’s skin. Night was approaching fast when the monk warned Sadhu that they were in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery before darkness fell. Just as they were traversing a narrow path above a steep cliff, they heard a cry for help. Down the cliff lay a man, fallen and badly hurt. The monk looked at Sadhu and said, “Do not stop. God has brought this man to his fate. He must work it out for himself.” The he quickly added while walking on, “Let us hurry on before we , too, perish.” But Sadhu replied, “God has sent me here to help my brother. I cannot abandon him.” The monk continued trudging off through the whirling snow, while the missionary clambered down the steep embankment. The man’s leg was broken and he could not walk. So Sadhu took his blanket and made a sling of it and tied the man on his back. Then, bending under his burden, he began a body-torturing climb. By the time he reached the narrow path again, he was drenched in perspiration. Doggedly, he made his way through the deepening snow and darkness. It was all he could do to follow the path. But he persevered, though faint with fatigue and overheated from exertion. Finally he saw ahead the lights of the monastery. Then, for the first time, Sadhu stumbled and nearly fell. But not from weakness. He had stumbled over an object lying in the snow-covered road. Slowly he bent down on one knee and brushed the snow off the object. It was the body of the monk, frozen to death. (Taken from Sermon Central illustrations).

Jesus made it clear: those who love their life lose it. Those who yield it to Him gain life beyond their own compare. The problem is that not everyone understands what He said. Why? You have to know the teacher to understand His message.