March 27, 2020 This Little Light, the Forever Party, and Jesus, Fulfillment of the Law

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)

In these “interesting times” it seems as if nothing is constant. Regulations change, activities change, essential functions are modified or limited, and it’s easy to get a feeling of “free fall” – that either nothing is permitted- or everything goes.We who believe in Jesus do have a constant in this ever-more bizarre world. We have Jesus, the Living Word, to cling to as our solid Rock and Foundation.

Jesus did not come into the world to make it a free for all. Jesus did not come into the world to create a locked down totalitarian state either. The Law that was handed down to Moses from God always remains the same.

The difference between Christians and those who do not yet believe in Jesus, is that Jesus fulfills that Law for us because we cannot live up to its demands.We need the Law to tell us what a good work is, and we need the Law to tell us just how broken (and to use my favorite Calvinist descriptive, depraved) we really are. We need the Law to point out the fact that we need Jesus. We need the Gospel, the precious, saving truth that Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of our sins.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

It is important for us to confess our sins to God. He already knows them, but in our confession (whether it be directly to Jesus in prayer, or in a confession with another believer standing with us) we admit that we are sorry for our sins and that we ask that the Holy Spirit give us the ability to avoid sin in the future.We are not going to be free of sinning in this life (simul Justus et peccator, or “sinner and saint at the same time” is always in play) but we trust Jesus to forgive our sins and for the Holy Spirit to let His light shine through us and our lives.

In our baptisms we have that tangible reminder- water and the Word. We have been given that mark of the cross of Christ forever, and God will not forsake His children.So what does it mean to let our lights shine?“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 is often used at baptisms, when the baptismal candle is lit. Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be “little Christs.” We are made to be as Christ out in the world, acting as His hands and feet and voice.To be emphatically clear, in God’s economy there are no brownie points, there is no extra credit, there is no quid pro quo, none of that. We are justified and made children of God by faith alone, grace alone, and by Christ alone.

Jesus does tell us that faith has active results. We are called to be light and salt, not because we are earning our way up the ladder, but because in Christ we are already forgiven, saved, set free, set apart to live with Him forever. We are free to start the “forever party” now- to do the good works that God made us for, to serve each other in whatever capacity we may have, to love each other without holding back.

Jesus wasn’t teaching that people need to be better at rule-keeping. The Pharisees were really big on obeying the fine points of the Law, like tithing their mint and spices, (Matthew 23:23) but not so hot at the Great Commandment, to love God and love others as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)Jesus was teaching the generosity that comes from freedom- the freedom of knowing that our omnipotent, sovereign and holy God is in control.

In law enforcement terms, He always “has our six” and then some. Because we know that God does provide for us and will provide for us, we can be confident in our Foundation and our Rock, Jesus, no matter how dark the times may get or how scary the world may seem.

March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

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O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

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Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

January 30, 2020 – God Creates and Chooses as He Pleases- Trust Not in Princes- Isaiah 45:1-13

KING-CYRUS

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:

“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me;

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 45:1-13 (ESV)

Isaiah spoke of King Cyrus of Persia 150 years before he reigned. Cyrus was not a believer in the God of Israel, yet he was chosen and set aside by God to overthrow Babylon and return Israel to their land.

It seems worthwhile to note that God puts who He wants to put in positions of power, even Persian kings.  Throughout Scripture we see God’s unlikely choices, such as Ruth, the widowed Moabitess who ends up as a foremother of Jesus, David the shepherd boy who became king, and Saul the Pharisee, persecutor of Christians who became the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian apologist and evangelist of all time.

It’s easy for us to question why certain people are in the roles in which they end up.  The past century has seen no shortage of despotic, ruthless and unjust rulers.  We can look around and see the backroom deals and quid pro quo relationships of human governments (on both the conservative and liberal sides) and wonder if God’s hand is in it at all.

Of course God’s hand is in the left-hand or earthly kingdom, though it might not be as easy for us to discern as His sovereignty in the right-hand or heavenly kingdom.  We may see certain rulers and authorities as being despotic or evil (and they may very well be despotic and evil) yet even those rulers rise and fall within God’s limits and control.

If we look at the kings of Israel and Judah, most of the kings were categorized as “bad kings,” who did not uphold God’s laws and standards.  Eventually both Israel and Judah fell to foreign conquerors who enslaved the Israelites.

Yet we see something odd in the Scriptures about human government, whether it is just or unjust.

Jeremiah instructs the Israelites who were taken captive to Babylon:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-14 (ESV)

When Jesus was asked to weigh in on whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He had a response that the Pharisees didn’t expect:

(The Pharisees ask Jesus:) Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:17-21 (ESV) 

Isaiah’s prophecy of the reign of Cyrus teaches us the importance of the Fourth Commandment.  We may not like the civil authorities, just as teenagers might not like their parents when they set down rules, but we are still bound to obey them.  Our elected leaders and civil authorities may actively oppose our belief systems and morals, but God may still be working in and through them to our benefit, whether we realize it or not. Nothing is outside of God’s control.

Even in a representative republic like the United States in which we have a hand in electing officials and determining public policy, we often disagree with the morality and the effectiveness of our laws and how public resources are used.  We may not agree with paying tax (especially when our taxes subsidize policies or programs we oppose) but we are obligated to the civil authorities to follow the law where it does not actively violate God’s laws.  For example, speeding is not mentioned in the Bible, but engaging in speeding is technically a violation of the Fourth Commandment- because we are violating a law set forth by the civil authorities.  Whether we agree with it or not is not the issue.

This is good news for Christians on both sides of the political fence.  God is in our civil government regardless of how ungodly individual politicians or policies may seem to us. God is still at work even when it seems that the opposition to all that is good and holy is winning.  Neither “side” has a monopoly on right or wrong, as all human beings are fallible sinners.

It is a Christian obligation to participate in government, regardless of whether or not we find politics vexing and repugnant.  We have a responsibility, especially in a representative republic, to try to elect officials who will be good stewards of public resources, who will enact policies for public benefit and safety, and who will strive to uphold our Constitution. This does not mean government will ever be perfect or that we will ever root out all the corruption, vice and graft that comes with temporal power.  It does mean that Christian voices should actively oppose and seek to change governmental policies that destroy life, that steal from working people, that unfairly feed into graft and vice.

Ultimately we have no way of knowing who God will choose to work in and through. We are called to trust Him and to remain faithful to Jesus.  He will work through who He chooses, and the result will ultimately coincide with His will.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:9 (ESV)

 

 

 

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

crucifixion2

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.