December 23, 2019- Advent 23, Luke 23- Why Jesus Came to Earth

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Read Luke 23.

Here we read the story of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate then decided to send Jesus to Herod. Herod mocks Jesus, but then sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate had originally wanted to just punish Jesus and release him, but the crowd  wanted none of that.

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. Luke 23:18-25 (ESV)

The same people shouting “Hosanna” to the king on Palm Sunday were screaming “Crucify Him” on Good Friday.  Pilate’s aim was to keep the peace, so he crucified Jesus and let the people have Barabbas.

 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-31 (ESV)

Jesus knew the destruction that was going to befall Jerusalem.

As Jesus suffered on the cross, there were two thieves, one on each side, crucified with him.  One mocked Jesus, but the other believed in Him.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (ESV)

Jesus then gives up His spirit.

It was now about the sixth hour,and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 (ESV)

The world was thrown into darkness at that moment.  Yet it was to experience a great light. We too await Jesus’ return.

December 17, 2019-Advent 17, Luke 17- Temptation, Forgiveness, Unworthy Servants, and the Kingdom Will Come

Read Luke 17

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. The human heart seeks retribution and vengeance. But Jesus says to us, forgive. Forgive others the way that He forgives us- over and over and over again.

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)

None of us no matter how we might try, can serve God fully and completely. But we can only serve God as He equips us to do. We are not justified by what we do, rather, God enables us to do the good works that He has planned for us.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (ESV)

God provides for all – rain, sun, harvest, livelihood, healing- but not everyone sticks around to thank Him for it. In the story of the Ten Lepers, only the Samaritan- the outcast, the one outside of the family of God- sticks around long enough to thank Jesus for his healing.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:26 -37 (ESV)

In this season of Advent we prepare for the Incarnation of Jesus- Emmanuel, God with us. We also look forward to Him coming to earth again in glory to judge the living from the dead.

There are many systems of eschatology (the study of the end times.) The understanding of the eschaton (the end of days) that is most congruent with what Jesus and the apostles teach in the Bible is called amillennialism. We take Jesus at His word. He is coming back, and He will remake both heaven and earth. Sin, death and Satan will be no more.

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but for those who are His, it will be a day of great joy.

Lord, prepare us for your return. Create in us clean hearts that are bound firmly in faith in You. Forgive us for our many sins and remind us of our baptisms, where we became Your children, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Keep us faithful to You now and forever.

December 16, 2019- Advent 16, Luke 16- Is This Our Best Life Now?

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Read Luke 16.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:10:13 (ESV)

We are all too familiar with the concept of quid pro quo.  In this world’s economy, one hand washes the other.  Favors are given and received.  Influence is used to enrich one party, usually at the expense of another, and so the cycle of politics and corruption continues.

Jesus reminds us that it is not possible to serve God and money.  In God’s economy it is God Who freely gives.  Apart from Him we do not have the ability to earn our own livelihood, nor to give to others. If all we care about is today’s greedy gain, then we forfeit the better, eternal provision that God provides us.

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. Luke 16:14-16 (ESV)

The Pharisees fail to understand that Jesus didn’t do away with the Law, He fulfilled it.  We have no way to justify ourselves apart from Him.  The Law still stands, and we are still subject to it. It is only by the grace of God in Christ that we are given salvation, a gift we cannot earn or deserve.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16: 22-31 (ESV)

Jesus does not teach us that faith in Him will lead to worldly success, a buff bod, or a hefty bank account. Jesus does not go by the quid pro quo system that is so prevalent in our society.  We have nothing to offer Him.  He freely gives and provides for us without an expectation that we can do anything for Him in return.  What can we give to the Creator of the universe anyway? Even our very best efforts are tainted with our sins and ineptitude and failure.  Jesus teaches that in this world He is with us, but even so, we will have trials and we will suffer.  Lazarus did not have his “best life now” on this earth.  The rich man did have good things here on earth- so much so that he neglected what really matters.

This world is temporary. No much time or money or effort we invest in anything is going to last. This is why Jesus tells us now, while the day is today, to store our treasures in heaven where they will last.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:32-34 (ESV)

Jesus is our “best life.”  Even though we may not be successful or important or influential according to the world’s standards, in Christ we have treasure with Him, where our hearts are.

Dear Jesus, remind us always that You are our treasure, and that in You our best life is yet to come.  We await Your return, when You will make all things new, and suffering and crying and mourning will be no more.

 

December 15, 2019-Advent 15, Luke 15- Lost and Found

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Read Luke 15.

Jesus is teaching in the temple, answering the Pharisees’ indignation at Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners.  He explains His mission is of finding and restoring those who belonged to Him but have become lost.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? Luke 15:3-4 (ESV)

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10 (ESV)

Jesus begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep- leaving the ninety nine sheep to find the one who was lost.  The Parable of the Lost Coin stays with the theme of finding lost things, but puts it in a perspective that most people could identify with.  Who hasn’t lost a precious object and then been thrilled and relieved when the object was found.

Then Jesus moves into the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  A younger son demands his inheritance and leaves home to engage in good times and to squander his father’s fortune.

The son had gotten to the point where there was a famine in the far away land and he was reduced to feeding pigs.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17:24 (ESV)

The father was ecstatic that his son had returned to him.  No matter what he had done, no matter that he had spent the inheritance. Yet the father’s older son was not nearly as thrilled at his brother’s return.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:25:32 (ESV)

The older brother was not nearly as happy at the younger brother’s return.  After all, the older was faithful to his father, while the younger was not.  The older brother resented the attention that the father paid to the younger one who was not faithful to his father.

It’s easy for us to say, “well I didn’t do that,” and fail to see all the ways that we too have been lost and found.  Both the younger and the older brother were reliant upon the love and generosity of the father.

No matter if we have believed and trusted Jesus from our earliest days or if we have recently been brought to faith, we have all been found and redeemed not by our own faithfulness or righteousness, but by Jesus.  We have all been lost, and He is the One Who finds and redeems the lost.

Do we truly celebrate new people being brought the the Good News of Jesus no matter their background, the litany of sins in their past, or their need?

Father, forgive us and welcome us when we are the lost sheep.  Forgive and comfort us and bring us back to Your table when we take on the role of the younger brother and stray from being faithful to You.  Keep us from becoming arrogant and haughty like the older brother when we fail to realize that it is only by your grace that we can remain faithful to you, and even then we sin and fail You every day.

December 14, 2019- Advent 14, Luke 14- Jesus is Still Lord of the Sabbath, Come to the Banquet, The Way of the Cross Has a Cost

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Read Luke 14.

Jesus asks yet again, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?,” after He healed the man with dropsy.  Jesus heals people many times on the Sabbath, whether the Pharisees liked it or not.  He extends His gifts of wholeness and healing in ways that the religious legalists found challenging to accept and difficult to understand.

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11 (ESV)

Jesus teaches that we should not seek our own honor, but to let others elevate us.  We should not overestimate our own importance.  We appreciate the humility of others.  Jesus was the ultimate example of humility as He put on human flesh and subjected Himself to death on a cross.  In His act of humility and shame, He was lifted up above all others, the King of Kings. We should not hesitate to take the places of “lesser honor.”

Jesus also encourages us to be generous with others, especially those who will never be able to repay us for our kindness.  He also explains to the Pharisees and other people born into the Jewish tradition that the kingdom and inheritance that was prepared for the Jewish people will largely end up being inhabited by those who were once outside of Israel.

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Luke 14:16-24 (ESV)

The Jewish people largely rejected Jesus’ message- finding excuses not to attend the wedding banquet that He prepared for Him.  So He extended His invitation to all.  His invitation is still open, to all of humanity, for anyone who would hear the Good News and be brought to faith. We never know who will join us at Jesus’ table, so we are called to welcome all who will come.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Luke 14:25-30 (ESV)

Many people followed Jesus around because of the miracles he performed, especially the miracles of feeding multitudes.  The idea that Jesus would be some sort of magical bread king did much to heighten His popularity.  But learning the real cost of discipleship thinned down the numbers.  Jesus wasn’t about just filling bellies temporarily.  The life of following Jesus is not always easy.  However, those He calls He also equips.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

God calls us through His means of grace- through hearing the Gospel, through our baptism, and through the prayers of the saints.  By faith, which itself is a gift of God, God gives us what we need to follow Jesus and assures us that we will be raised up with him on the Last Day.

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:34-35 (ESV)

In our culture, referring to someone as “salty”  usually means that a person has had many hard years of experience and their language is a little rough around the edges- like a long time sailor that has spent years at sea.

Jesus was referring to a form of salt used in the Middle East that was not 100% salt, and that over time the sodium chloride would leach out of it, leaving it tasteless.

Like that Middle Eastern salt we can have the saltiness leached out of us= the world wears on us.  Our own desires and selfishness can keep us from the study of God’s Word, and from worship and prayer. We can very easily become cynical, tired and colorless.

In these times we see our need for Jesus, our need for the nourishment only He can give to keep us “salty,” to keep us firmly in Him.

Lord, we pray that we would humbly accept the invitation to Your feast.  We pray that you would give us the grace to invite others and extend Your hospitality to even the most unlikely.  We trust in Your promises and we look forward to You coming back to remake and restore this world and establish Your kingdom forever.

December 4, 2019- Advent 4- Luke 4 – Jesus is Tempted, A Prophet in His Home Town

Read Luke 4.

Right after Jesus is baptized, he heads off to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After forty days of fasting, Satan tempts Jesus by saying, “You can turn the stones to bread.” To which Jesus responds, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”

Baptism is only the beginning. Jesus was tempted and so are we. He faced the temptations common to man- and answered Satan with the Word of God.

How well would we fare if we were the ones brought to the pinnacle of the Temple and promised the kingdoms of the world?

When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he teaches in Galilee, where He was well received.

Nazareth, on the other hand, was not so accepting of their home town prophet. “Is this not Joseph’s son?,” they taunted. Perhaps some of the people in the synagogue knew of the circumstances behind Jesus’ birth and found them a bit sketchy.

Jesus fans the flames of the Nazarenes’ indignation and unbelief by reminding them that not all miracles are for all people at all times. Elijah only visited on one of many widows during the famine, and she was an “outsider.” Of all the lepers in Israel when Elisha was around, only Naaman the Syrian- another outsider- was healed.

As Jesus goes on to Capernaum, He casts out demons and heals the sick. He heals Simon Peter’s mother who was sick and almost at death.

Yet not everyone was healed. No one in Nazareth was healed.

The demons knew full well who Jesus was. They feared Him, but they did not love or trust Him.

The question for us is who is this Jesus? Do we trust Him, knowing Who He is?

December 3- Advent 3 – Jesus is Baptized, the Genealogy of Mary

Read Luke 3.John, the first miracle child we learned about in Luke 1, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth (who was once called barren) rises up from the wilderness preaching the Word of God, and baptizing people for repentance and the forgiveness of their sins.A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:3-5 (ESV)John was indeed a curiosity. Many came to John for baptism not realizing that repentance was John’s central theme. Be baptized, turn from your old ways, prepare the way of the Lord!As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:15-17 (ESV)John’s calling was to point to the One far greater than him. John could only lead people to repent and to see their sins. John could only baptize with water. Jesus is the only One who would take our sins away.John was not without controversy. Herod had John imprisoned because John had the audacity to point out that Herod was sleeping with his brother’s wife among other evil things Herod was doing. But John would not be silent.Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)It seems odd that Jesus was baptized. Why would someone with no sin need baptism?At the moment of Jesus’ baptism, He took on all the sins of humanity. The waters that cleansed us of our sins, laid them upon the One with no sin, the one that would put those sins to death forever on the cross.Jesus was sent forth on His mission to do for humanity what humanity cannot do for itself.It seems odd too that this is where Luke puts Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew also records Jesus’ genealogy, but the two are different. It is said that Luke gives Mary’s genealogy- Jesus’ true human line, that traces him back to Adam. It is said that Matthew’s genealogy traces back through Jesus’ stepfather, Joseph. The point of the genealogy is to verify the prophecy that Jesus was a descendant of David and the rightful heir of the human side of the kingly line.Jesus is both God and man, which seems to make no sense, but for our salvation it does make sense.