Signs of the (End) Times

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.  Luke 21:29-38 ESV

One can only imagine the look of shock and dismay on the faces of Jesus’ disciples as He continues to disclose the Father’s grand plan of redemption. Ever since they began to follow Jesus, these men had been driven by a shared hope that He was their long-awaited Messiah. Over time, they grew in their confidence that He was the anointed one of Israel, the seed of Abraham and the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty and restore the nation of Israel to power and prominence once again. But in His Olivet Discourse, Jesus seemed to dash their hopes by revealing aspects about the future that did not line up with their expectations. He had already told them that He would be arrested, tried, and put to death in Jerusalem.  But now, He was telling them that they too would suffer at the hands of the same men who would put Him to death.

“… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” – Luke 21:12 ESV

Then He added insult to injury by declaring that the city of Jerusalem will be invaded and the house of God will be destroyed. He warned them that “there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Luke 21:23 ESV). Then He added…

“…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity…” – Luke 21:25 ESV

“…people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world…” – Luke 21:26 ESV.

“…the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:26 ESV

But all of these devastating signs and disturbing events will culminate with His return.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” – Luke 21:27 ESV

We tend to read these pronouncements with a sense of apathy because we know how the story ends. We have the completed canon of Scripture and, thanks to the book of Revelation, have been given a glimpse into God’s plan for mankind’s future. We have been given additional details that help make sense of what Jesus was telling His disciples on that fateful evening. They found His words to be cryptic and difficult to comprehend because these cataclysmic events had not been part of their religious training. They were mentally and emotionally unprepared for such things.

But Jesus was attempting to open their eyes and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

After deluging His disciples with a tidal wave of disturbing news concerning future events, He gave them a brief respite by telling them a parable. In effect, it was a visual lesson. As they sat on the hillside on the Mount of Olives, there was likely a fig tree nearby. So, Jesus took advantage of its close proximity and said, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees” (Luke 21:29 ESV).

By diverting His disciples’ attention to the tree, Jesus was using something from the temporal and natural world to convey eternal and spiritual truths. He used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree was a natural indication that summer was drawing near. It was an unmistakable and irrefutable fact of nature. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return would be undeniable. He even assured them that “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. The appearance of leaves on a fig tree was a sign that summer was approaching. It did not mean that summer had arrived. It simply served as a presage or foreshadowing of what was to come.

Jesus is using this natural phenomenon to disclose that, while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something else to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to His eventual and inevitable return. They would not be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that point to His imminent and inevitable return. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

Jesus was letting His disciples know that the earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. That’s why Jesus commanded them to “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place” (Luke 21:36 ESV). The days ahead would be difficult. And while the years following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension would be marked by great joy at the birth of the church and its global expansion, Christ’s followers would also encounter tremendous persecution and opposition.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 32 seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the first fruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Luke 21:33 ESV

The signs they saw along the way were meant to remind them that God’s plan was not yet done. There was more to come. Any persecution they encountered was intended to remind them that He would one day return and complete the redemptive work that God had given Him. In the meantime, while they waited, they were to live with their hopes firmly focused on the promises of the future and refuse to be distracted by the temporal cares of this world.

“…watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” – Luke 21:34 ESV

The signs would come. The difficulties would be real. But the return of the Lord would take place just as God had planned.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

True Greatness

1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:1–6 ESV

Jesus and His disciples remain in the temple courtyard, where He underwent a series of confrontations with the religious leaders who had been attempting to entrap Him. In a bold affront to their arrogant sense of superiority, Jesus had labeled their displays of self-righteousness as nothing more than hypocrisy.

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

These men were addicted to fine clothes and flattery. They craved recognition and demanded the respect of all those whom they considered their inferiors. And almost as if to provide a glaring contrast to their style of behavior, Jesus directs the attention of His disciples to a poor widow. He has positioned Himself opposite the temple treasury where He is silently observing the various people bringing their offerings and placing them in one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles arranged around the perimeter of the Courtyard of the Women.

As Jesus looks on, a variety of people drop their freewill offerings into the boxes, many of whom are wealthy and can be seen donating large sums of money. Luke’s inference seems to be that their actions were intended to attract attention. The size of their contributions was intended to be noticed. Since all currency was in the form of coins, their gift would have made a great deal of noise as it clanged on the metal trumpet that topped the offering box. All heads would have turned to see who was giving such a generous amount.

But Jesus takes note of “a poor widow put in two small copper coins” (Luke 21:2 ESV). This woman’s small gift would have garnered little attention from the people who crowded the temple courtyard, but she caught the eye of Jesus. She was exactly the kind of person He had mentioned in His diatribe against the scribes.

“…they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:47 NLT

This widow was someone the scribes and other religious leaders would have taken advantage of in order to line their own pockets. Yet, to Jesus, she represented the truly righteous. Her two small coins would have made little noise as they descended into the offering box, but to Jesus, her actions spoke volumes. So, He pointed her out to His disciples and said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3 ESV).

It was not the size of her gift that mattered, but it was the state of her heart. She had not given to be noticed. Her gift had not been meant to impress. But Jesus knew that her gift had been a great sacrifice because she had “given everything” she had to live on (Luke 12:4 NLT). This entire scene is a visual demonstration of Jesus’ lesson from His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

This woman, though poor, had sacrificed everything in order to give her freewill offering to God. But the others had given “out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4 ESV). It had cost them nothing. Their gifts, while impressive in size, had required no sacrifice on their part. They had actually profited from their efforts, having garnered the praise and admiration of others for their obviously generous contributions.

By pointing out this widow to His disciples, Jesus had been trying to continue His lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God. But it seems that His disciples remained stubbornly oblivious to all that He was trying to teach them. In fact, as they made their way out of the temple courtyard, none of the disciples mention the widow and her sacrificial gift. But one of them takes note of the grandeur and opulence of the temple.

“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” – Mark 13:1 ESV

The temple was a magnificent complex that made an impressive sight from its prominent location atop Mount Zion. The Jews took great pride in this grand structure and the disciples were rightfully proud of and impressed by its sheer size and beauty. After all, it was the dwelling place of God.

The image of the poor widow had faded from their collective memories. Now, as they made their way out of the temple and back to the Mount of Olives, their attention was fixated on the structure that Herod the Great had helped expand and improve. The original temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Seventy years later, God had allowed a remnant of the people who had been exiled to Babylon to return and rebuild the temple. But, when completed, the new temple was just a shadow of its former glory. Herod the Great, in an attempt to win over the people, had decreed a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the grand structure that now dominated the landscape and captivated the attention of the disciples.

But Jesus, always ready to turn every moment into a teaching opportunity, told His disciples, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Luke 21:6 ESV). This news will shock the disciples. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. How could God allow His beautiful house to be destroyed? But as hard as it was to fathom, everything Jesus said eventually came true. In A.D. 70, the Roman army, under the leadership of Titus, besieged Jerusalem in an effort to put an end to a long-standing Jewish revolt against Roman rule. After a three-month standoff, the Romans invaded the city, destroying and eventually burning the temple to the ground. They left no stone upon another.

The disciples had been unimpressed with the generous widow, but they couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the temple. But Jesus ended up commending the woman and condemning the temple. She was elevated as an icon of righteousness and virtue, while the temple was declared to be the symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. As Jesus had declared earlier, the temple of God had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17 ESV). The dwelling place of God had been desecrated by the very ones who were responsible for its care and protection.

Jesus was reminding His disciples of the words of God, spoken centuries earlier through Isaiah the prophet and directed at the rebellious people of Israel.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7;8-11 NLT

Nothing had changed. Just as the original temple had been destroyed by God, so would this remarkable structure come under His judgment. Because the people of God failed to live in obedience to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A True Son of Abraham

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10 ESV

At the close of chapter 18, Luke seemed to indicate that Jesus was “drawing near” or, better yet, passing by Jericho. But with the opening of chapter 19, he describes Jesus as entering the city of Jericho. Is this a case of biblical contradiction or of Luke confusing the details of his story? The simple answer is that there were actually two sites known as Jericho in Jesus’ day. There was the original site of the city that Joshua and the forces of Israel destroyed when they first entered the land of Canaan (Joshua 6). Then there was the “new” Jericho, built by Herod the Great. In the 1st-Century, the Old Testament Jericho was nothing more than a small village that lie among the ruins of the former city that the Israelites had destroyed. Joshua had placed a curse on anyone who attempted to rebuild the city.

Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.” – Joshua 6:28 ESV

Years later, one man would ignore that curse and rebuild the city, but at a great cost.

It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub. This all happened according to the message from the Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun. – 1 Kings 16:34 NLT

So, it would appear that Jesus was entering the newer and more recent Jericho as he traveled west toward Jerusalem. As he passed through the city, He encountered a man named Zacchaeus, who happened to be a notorious and despised tax collector. As Luke has already established, men like Zacchaeus were despised by the Jews and considered the chief of all sinners by the Pharisees and scribes. They were viewed as sellouts by their own people, because they were little more than pawns of the Roman government, collecting their exorbitant taxes and fleecing their fellow Jews in the process. Like the disciple, Matthew, Zacchaeus would have grown relatively wealthy by charging his customers a collection fee on top of the already staggering tax the Romans demanded. And because Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the region, he had probably received a portion of all the extra revenue any of his employees managed to fleece from their customers. Luke indicates that he was “very rich” (Luke 19:2 NLT). And this fact would have made him especially despised by the people of Jericho. 

But as Jesus made His way through the city, Zacchaeus became just another curious onlooker eager to see this miracle worker from Nazareth for himself. Jesus’ presence in Jericho had stirred up quite a commotion. It’s likely that news of His healing of the blind man had made its way through the city. And Jesus’ reputation as a healer and controversial teacher had spread throughout the land. So, when Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was nearby, he shut down business long enough to get an up-close and personal look at this 1st-Century celebrity.

It may be that Zacchaeus’ curiosity about Jesus stemmed from the fact that a former tax collector was among His 12 disciples. Or perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about the rumors of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. When Matthew had been called by Jesus to be one of His disciples, he had invited his new master to dine with him in his home.

Levi [Matthew] held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” – Luke 5:29-30 NLT

To Zacchaeus, Jesus was an anomaly. There were no other religious leaders in Israel who would have given him the time of day, yet here was a man who had a reputation for associating with the despised and rejected of Israel. Zacchaeus had heard the rumors concerning Jesus.

“He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” – Luke 7:34 NLT

And this made Jesus all the more intriguing to a man like Zacchaeus. He could not pass up the chance to see this one-of-a-kind Rabbi from Nazareth. But as Luke indicates, because of his diminutive size, Zacchaeus had a difficult time getting a clear view of Jesus. So, he climbed a nearby tree. And much to the shock and surprise of everyone in the crowd, when Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ location, He stopped and directed His attention to the tax collector perched in the top of the sycamore tree.

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” – Luke 19:5 ESV

It was true. This man really did eat with tax collectors and sinners. And Luke indicates that Zacchaeus wasted no time, but “quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy” (Luke 19:6 NLT). This would have been an unexpected boon for this much-maligned and despised tax collector. Everyone in the crowd must have looked on in amazement at this exchange between the two men. But the most offended segment of the audience would have been the ever-present Jewish religious leaders. They were the very ones who had reacted so vociferously when Jesus had dined in the home of Matthew.

“Why do you eat and drink with such scum? – Luke 5:30 NLT

But even on that occasion, Jesus had responded with slightly veiled sarcasm to their self-righteous indignation.

Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

And, even in the case of Zacchaeus, the people disclosed their disappointment with Jesus’ actions, stating, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner” (Luke 19:7 NLT). They were appalled by Jesus’ seeming lack of discernment. How could a great Rabbi and teacher lower Himself by associating with the likes of Zacchaeus? This most certainly not what they expected from someone who had claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. By dining with Zacchaeus, Jesus would not only soil His reputation, but He would also render Himself ceremonially impure and equally as sinful as the men with whom He dined.

But upon receiving the unexpected invitation from Jesus and hearing the unsurprising response of the crowd, Zacchaeus spoke up.

“I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” – Luke 19:8 NLT

At that point, Zacchaeus knew he had a choice to make. He could no longer continue living his life according to his old, self-established standards. He somehow knew that changes needed to be made. His encounter with Jesus had made him painfully aware of his sinfulness and his need for repentance. Zacchaeus suffered from no illusions of self-righteousness. He knew he was a sinner and the crowd had only confirmed it. But he was willing to change.

Zacchaues’ humble response brings to mind an encounter that John the Baptist had with a group of religious leaders who appeared in the Judean wilderness expressing their desire to be baptized by him.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” – Matthew 3:7-8 NLT

Zacchaeus was ready to prove by the way he lived that he had repented of his sins and had turned back to God. It’s interesting to note that Zacchaeus’ name is an abbreviated form of Zechariah, which means “the righteous one.” This notorious sinner was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to restore his broken relationship with God. But his justification before God would not be a result of his financial remunerations. It would be as a result of His faith in the Son of God, a point that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NLT

This statement from Jesus reflects the words John the Baptist spoke to those very same Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

A man like Zacchaeus would have been the last person the Pharisees expected to be part of the Kingdom of God. Yet, Jesus had declared that salvation had come to the home of Zacchaeus. According to Jesus, this tax collector was a true son of Abraham. It was not about birthright or ethnic heritage. It was all about faith in the Son of God. Zacchaeus had proven that the call of Jesus was more important to him than anything else. He was willing to give up everything in order to follow Jesus.

Don’t forget Jesus’ earlier encounter with the rich, young ruler. This man had come to Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18 ESV). And Jesus had shocked him by stating, Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22 ESV). But rather than do as Jesus said, the man walked away “for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23 ESV). Unlike Zacchaeus, this man had been unwilling to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And he walked away rich but still living in spiritual poverty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Very Power of God

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34 ESV

For quite some time, Jesus has been hinting at the fate that awaits Him in Jerusalem. He has repeatedly tried to let His discloses know that His earthly mission was going to end in an unexpected manner.

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” – Luke 5:35 ESV

He had a God-ordained assignment to complete that would end in His brutal crucifixion rather than a royal  coronation.

“I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” – Luke 12:50 ESV

And as He drew ever closer to Jerusalem, the day of His death drew nearer as well. So, His rhetoric became increasingly less cryptic.

“I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” – Luke 13:33 ESV

“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” – Luke 17:24-25 ESV

But now, Jesus dispenses with any semblance of subtlety, choosing instead to reveal the exact nature of His pending suffering and death. He hides nothing from His disciples because He wants them to know that while His entrance into Jerusalem would be met with fanfare, it would end with His execution and not His exaltation.

the Son of Man…will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him. they will kill him…“ – Luke 18:32-33 ESV

Up to this point, everything Jesus had disclosed to His disciples had been tied to life in the kingdom of heaven. He had been trying to get them to understand that things were not going to be as they expected. While they believed Him to be the Messiah, they were defining the term according to their own standards. In their minds, the Messiah would be a conquering king. He would come with power and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, from where He would rule and reign, placing Israel back in a position of political prominence. But here was Jesus, once again, announcing that His journey to Jerusalem would end with a cross, not a crown. And His death would be the direct result of His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, who would condemn Him to death. Rather than welcome Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, they would hand Him over to the Roman government to be mocked, flogged and crucified.

While we know how this story turned out, the disciples did not. They were oblivious to the “good news” associated with Jesus’ death. In fact, it seems evident that they never grasped what Jesus meant when He indicated that he would “be raised on the third day.” The reality of the resurrection escaped them. All they heard was the shockingly bad news regarding Jesus’ death. And, as before, this news left them dazed and confused.

What is truly amazing is all that they had missed. As God-fearing Jews, each of these men had been raised to revere the Hebrew Scriptures, which included the writings of the prophets. They had been exposed to the countless Old Testament passages that predicted the coming of the Messiah, but like all those who came before them, they had conveniently ignored the Scriptures that foretold of the Messiah as the suffering servant.

So, when Jesus informs His disciples that “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31 ESV), suffering is the last thing to come into their mind. As far as they understood, the prophets had promised the arrival of a conquering king who would defeat the enemies of Israel much as King David had done. But Jesus had already warned them that His mission was going to be much different than that of David.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22 ESV

Even in the upper room where Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples, He told them: “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37 ESV). And the Scripture Jesus referred to is found in the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet. All throughout this chapter, Isaiah predicted the suffering of the coming Messiah in graphic terms.

He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief – Isaiah 53:3 ESV

he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:3 ESV

…he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted. – Isaiah 53:4 ESV

he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities… – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

By oppression and judgment he was taken away – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

…he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people… – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

…they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. – Isaiah 53:9 ESV

…it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief… – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

Not exactly a description of glory and greatness. And most certainly, it was not at all what the disciples had been anticipating. Yet, even after His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and reminded them that exactly what happened had been in keeping with the words of the prophets.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 ESV

On this occasion, after having been raised back to life through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued to teach His disciples that this was all part of God’s preordained plan. He had not been an innocent victim of the Jewish religious leaders or the passive subject of the Roman legal system. He had been in full control of the circumstances and in perfect submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. That is why He could say, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18 NLT).

But as Jesus and His disciples made their way to Jerusalem and He continued to disclose the gruesome nature of His destiny, they were having a difficult time taking it all in. Luke even indicates that their inability to comprehend His words was divinely orchestrated.

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. – Luke 18:34 NLT

For reasons known only to God alone, the disciples were prevented from comprehending the full import of Jesus’ words. And, later on, when they walked by His side into Jerusalem to the cheers of the adoring crowd, they probably assumed that the time had finally arrived when Jesus would set up His earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be only hours away from a crown of gold and the royal throne. But in reality, Jesus would end up adorned with a crown of thorns and nailed to a Roman cross. All in fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan for man’s salvation.

At the moment, none of it made sense to the disciples, but in time, it would.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Heart of a Child

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Luke 18:15-17 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions didn’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Alien and Undeserved Righteousness

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 ESV

With His telling of the parable of the unrighteous judge, it appears that Jesus was taking a bit of a diversion from discussing the shortcomings of the Pharisees. But in many ways, the parable was just another in a long line of stinging indictments of these self-righteous men who had made a god out of their religion. While Jesus has begun to focus His attention on His disciples in an attempt to prepare them for what lies ahead, He has not stopped exposing the arrogant and uncaring nature of the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders.

In His previous parable, Jesus told the story of “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man” (Luke 18:2 ESV). This man, by virtue of his role, was meant to be an unbiased arbiter, settling disputes between two parties. But how could he do so if he “neither feared God nor respected man?” And this man’s presence in the story was meant to reflect the attitude of the Jewish religious leaders. According to Jesus, they were guilty of the same thing. And by using the term “judge,” Jesus was not offering them a compliment. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes a judge as “one who passes or arrogates to himself, judgment on anything.”

The Pharisees were quick to judge, condemning others for their lack of religious zeal and their failure to keep all the man-made rules and regulations they had appended to the Mosaic Law. At one point Jesus had delivered a strong word of warning against these men.

“…what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Luke 11:46 NLT

They had become self-appointed judges of the people who feared no repercussions from God. In fact, they actually thought they were doing God a favor by holding the people to such high moral and ethical standards. But like the widow in the parable, the poor and disenfranchised of Israel were longing for justice. They were seeking a judge who would act righteously and deliver justice on their behalf.

Consider closely verse 9 of this chapter. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). It seems obvious that Jesus was focusing His attention of the Pharisees who were still lingering on the edges of the crowd that followed Him. Despite all He had said against them, they had not gone anywhere. But Jesus was not just addressing the Pharisees. Their longstanding attitude of spiritual superiority and self-righteousness had infected others.  They had gone out of their way to teach their flawed philosophy of religion to others, something for which Jesus held them accountable.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” – Matthew 23:15 NLT

As far as Jesus was concerned, self-righteousness was a dangerous and deadly heresy that led people to rely on their own efforts and merits to earn favor with God. It was a dead-end street that eventually terminated with eternal separation from God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The apostle Paul would later quote from the psalms in order to convey the same universal and inescapable reality:

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

Self-righteousness is the greatest form of blasphemy because the one who practices it sets himself up as God. He elevates himself to the place of the Almighty, determining his eternal state based on his own biased judgment, rather than that of God. Anyone who believes he has earned a right standing before God has diminished the deadly nature of sin and devalued the righteous standards of God.

There is no way to get around the fact that in order for anyone to consider themselves to be righteous based on their own efforts, they must lower God’s standard for holiness. Which is really diminishing the holiness of God Himself, because He is the ultimate standard by which we are judged. So, rather than using God as the gold standard for holiness, men begin to compare themselves with one another. According to the apostle Paul, this horizontal matrix for measuring holiness is not only flawed but foolish.

…we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! – 2 Corinthians 10:12 NLT

So, in His parable, Jesus relates the story of two men who have gone to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. One was a Pharisee, an icon of religious rectitude. The other was a tax collector, who represented the spiritual dregs of society. Yet, Jesus places both men in the temple courtyard where they are praying to God. But that is where the similarities end. Jesus portrays the Pharisee as a self-consumed man with an over-inflated sense of self-worth. He stands in the temple courtyard and boldly prays:

“‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” – Luke 18:11-12 NLT

His words are the epitome of arrogance and pride. In a blatant display of self-righteous self-congratulation, he declares his moral superiority to the God of the universe. And he does so by comparing himself to the tax collector who is standing nearby. To the Pharisee, the differences between the two men could not be more obvious. Based on his religious zeal and faithful adherence to the smallest requirement of the law, he holds the moral high ground. He has earned the right to be heard by God.

Yet, Jesus quickly moves the focus from the fictional Pharisee to the tax collector, who “stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow…” (Luke 18:13 NLT). In starks contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector epitomizes humility and a high degree of self-awareness. He knows exactly what he is and what he justly deserves.

“O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” – Luke 18:13 NLT

Fully aware that his sin separates him from a holy God, this man pleads for mercy. He confesses his sinful state and, in a sense, places himself at the mercy of the court. He is more than willing to let the Judge decide his fate but he longs for justice coupled with mercy and forgiveness.

And then, Jesus dropped the bombshell:

I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ statement. He is declaring that the tax collector, a self-admitted sinner, is declared to be righteous by God. This is a judicial act by which God, in His sovereign authority, deems the unrighteous to be righteous in His eyes. The apostle Paul would expand on this marvelous thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:21-25 NLT

Jesus was hinting at a reality to come. He was going to go to the cross and offer Himself as the sinless substitute for sinful mankind. And all those who were willing to recognize and confess their sins and place their faith in Him would be imputed His righteousness as a gift from God. Jesus would take on their sin and, in exchange, they would receive His righteousness. But this “great exchange” begins with the sinner’s willingness to confess his desperate need for a Savior. Like the widow who needed a judge to settle her case, sinners are dependent upon the Judge of the universe to rule in their favor. Not based on their own merit, but according to His mercy and grace.

The apostle Paul, who in his former life was a dedicated and zealous Pharisee, offered his radically altered understanding of how one is made right with God.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

At one time, Paul would have been that self-righteous Pharisee standing in the courtyard singing his own praises. But, mercifully, Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, blinding his eyes, but helping him see for the first time the sin that separated him from a holy God. He went from being a self-righteous Pharisee facing an eternity separated from God to a self-confessing sinner who received the righteousness of Christ and the assurance of eternal life.

So, Jesus wrapped up His little parable with the sobering statement:

“…those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

The apostle Peter would reiterate the words of Jesus in his first letter:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Once Was Lost…

“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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke 17:14 ESV

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

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. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Well Worth the Cost

25 Now great crowds accompanied 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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33 ESV

This entire chapter has dealt with the topics of eating and feasting. It began with Jesus accepting an invitation to dine in the home of a prominent Pharisee. At this invitation-only meal, Jesus was confronted by an unexpected guest who suffered from a debilitating disease. This man’s presence in the Pharisee’s home seems to have been a calculated ploy on the part of the host, intended to tempt Jesus into breaking the Mosaic law’s prohibition against performing any kind of work on the Sabbath. Of course, Jesus didn’t disappoint. He healed the man, and then promptly told two parables, both of which centered around a feast or banquet. Each of these stories involved the issuing of a highly coveted invitation to a prestigious social event, one a wedding feast and the other, a lavish banquet.

And yet, in the second parable, Jesus describes those slated to be guests at the banquet as indifferent and even reluctant to accept the host’s invitation. When the day of the banquet arrived, they each came up with a different reason for explaining their absence. And their reticence to accept the gracious and undeserved invitation of the host was met with anger and resentment. He quickly filled their empty seats with “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21 ESV). And Jesus ended His parable by stating the foreboding words of the offended host:

“…none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 ESV

It’s likely that the Pharisees and scribes who reclined at the table as Jesus shared this story remained oblivious to its meaning. They probably failed to make the connection between themselves and the banquet no-shows in Jesus’ story. These men were far too proud to consider that Jesus might be talking about them. And yet, it was their refusal to accept His invitation to believe in the Gospel that would ultimately keep them out of the kingdom of God.

Luke immediately follows this banquet-focused pericope by Jesus with another message involving an invitation. But this time, the invitation is of a completely different sort. Luke records that “great crowds accompanied him” (Luke 14:25 ESV). The Greek word is symporeuomai and it means “to go with” or “to go on a journey together.”  As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was accompanied by a large crowd of “followers” or disciples. This group would have been comprised of the curious, the cautious, and the committed. There would have been those who were seeking healing from disease or deliverance from demon-possession. Others would have been there hoping to see Jesus perform a miracle. And there was probably a handful who had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.

As this motley group of disparate individuals walked along with Jesus, He suddenly turned to them and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NET). This rather obtuse statement, delivered in a blatantly blunt fashion, just have left His audience a bit stunned. Everyone in the crowd was “following” Jesus. But what most of them failed to understand was that, all along, He had been offering them an invitation. It took the form of His invitation to enjoy rest in Him.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

In Jesus, they could find fulfillment and refreshment.

“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!” – John 7:37 NLT

Those who had a desperate desire for righteousness would find satisfaction in Him.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

And all those who accepted His invitation to follow Him would find their lives marked by a new purpose.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 ESV

But in Luke chapter 14, Jesus provides a somewhat surprising caveat that accompanies His invitation to follow Him. In a sense, Jesus is thinning the herd. He’s letting the crowd know that there is a far more required to being His disciple than simply getting in line behind Him. The path He was walking was going to be a difficult one that ultimately ended in death. One day, the miracles and the messages would end, only to be replaced by persecution and, in the end, His execution.

For most of the people in His audience, being a Jesus “groupie” was a low-cost, high-return investment. They got to witness Him perform miracles. They were privileged to hear Him speak. Some even benefited from His miraculous powers, enjoying healing from disease and deliverance from demon possession. But while following Jesus clearly had its perks, it could also come with a high cost.

Those who followed Jesus to the bitter end would discover that their commitment came with a price. They would be forced to make the uncomfortable choice between their family and following Jesus. This was a surprising message that Jesus had delivered on more than one occasion.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10:34-38 ESV

For the time being, following Jesus was a rather easy pursuit that required little more than a commitment of one’s time. But the day was quickly coming when being His disciple would prove to be quite costly. As He got closer to Jerusalem, the intensity of the opposition toward Him would  increase exponentially. And His followers would soon find themselves facing the difficult decision between sharing in His suffering or enjoying the acceptance of their family and friends.

In time, the decision to follow Him would require great sacrifice. And Jesus wanted all those who were eagerly following in His wake to consider the cost of their ongoing commitment. The price to participate as His disciple was about to go up dramatically.

“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?” – Luke 15:28 ESV

The vast majority of the people walking with Jesus had no idea what He was about to face in Jerusalem. They were innocently oblivious and completely clueless when it came to the intensity of the opposition mounting against Jesus. Even the 12 disciples were having a difficult time grasping just how bad things were about to get. At one point, Jesus informed them of the exact nature of the reception He was going to receive upon His arrival in the capital city.

“…we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:33-34 NLT

And yet, just minutes after hearing this devastating news, James and John approached Jesus with the following request:

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus responded:

“You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:37-38 NLT

They had no idea what they were asking because they had no way of processing what was about to take place in Jerusalem. Despite Jesus’ clear disclosure of His fate, they were still convinced that He was about to set up His earthly kingdom and they wanted to ensure that they got at the head of the line when the rewards were handed out. Little did they know that Jesus would have to suffer crucifixion before He experienced exaltation. And these two brothers didn’t understand that they too would have to endure their own season of suffering.

“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. – Mark 10:39 NLT

The path of Jesus was never intended to be the popular or pleasant way. As a matter of fact, the majority of the people who followed Jesus would soon abandon Him. As the animosity toward Him intensified, the number of His followers would rapidly diminish. And the truth of the message He conveyed in His sermon on the mount would become painfully apparent.

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. – Matthew 7:13-14 NLT

Jesus uses two simple parables to drive home His message. The first involves the building of a tower. The second deals with the waging of a war. In both cases, the point is the same: One must consider the cost long before making the decision to begin. You don’t begin a construction project without the resources to complete it. And you don’t go to war unless you have the wherewithal to win it. To construct a building or win a war, you will have to make costly concessions. You will have to completely commit yourself if you want to reach the objective. And while that commitment will involve great cost, it will also ensure great dividends. The sacrifice will be well worth it.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:29-30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Keep Your Eye On the Prize

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:35-48 ESV

Jesus is attempting to give His disciples a future-oriented mindset. He is not suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good, but that they realign their priorities with those of God. That is why He told them not to allow their minds to become focused on temporal concerns like food and clothing. Those are the kinds of things that “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world” (Luke 12:30 NLT). Instead, Jesus reminded His followers that since God already knows all their needs before they even ask, they can spend their time and energy focusing on the coming kingdom of God.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

At this point, so much of what Jesus is revealing to the disciples is at odds with their expectations of the Messiah. They were expecting an immediate reversal of fortunes. Like the man who asked Jesus to intercede on his behalf and force his brother to divide the family inheritance with him, the disciples were expecting Jesus to enrich their lives by fulfilling all the promises of God – immediately. Once they had decided that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, their hopes for national revival and political renewal had been energized. They fully expected Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom at any moment and were taken aback by His suggestion that it might not come for some time.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus attempts to convey in this next section of His lecture. He warns His disciples to remain in a state of constant readiness, prepared for the future day when the kingdom comes in all its fulness.

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.” – Luke 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus packs a great deal of eschatological content into this one simple statement. With it, He begins to unveil some of the aspects of God’s divine redemptive plan of which the disciples were clueless. In their understanding of how the end times would work, the arrival of the Messiah would usher in the “last days” – a time in which the fortunes of Israel would be dramatically reversed. The Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reinstitute the Davidic dynasty by defeating all those who stand opposed to God and reclaiming the right to rule as Israel’s King. And they believed it was all going to happen in their lifetimes. That’s why James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in places of honor next to Him, one on His right and the other on His left, when He sat on His glorious throne (Mark 10:37). They were fully expecting His earthly reign to begin at any moment.

But Jesus told them they were going to have to wait because what they were expecting was not going to come for some time. In fact, it would not happen in their lifetimes. Jesus provides His shell-shocked disciples with a parable that was intended to illuminate some of the details concerning the chronology of the end times. The “master,” clearly a reference to Himself, was going to go away but would one day return. As faithful servants, they were to live in a constant state of expectation and preparation, trusting in their master’s ultimate return. There would be other things that had to take place before He could come back, such as the wedding feast. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a key end-times event that involves Jesus and His bride, the Church. We read about it in the book of Revelation.

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19:6-9 NLT

This event takes place immediately after the Rapture of the Church.

What John’s vision in Revelation pictures is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the Church) in its third phase. The implication is that the first two phases have already taken place. The first phase was completed on earth when each individual believer placed his or her faith in Christ as Savior. The dowry paid to the bridegroom’s parent (God the Father) would be the blood of Christ shed on the Bride’s behalf. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” to Christ, and, like the wise virgins in the parable, all believers should be watching and waiting for the appearance of the Bridegroom (the rapture). The second phase symbolizes the rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His bride and take her to the Father’s house. The marriage supper then follows as the third and final step. It is our view that the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven between the rapture and the second coming (during the tribulation on earth). – http://www.gotquestions.org

Jesus is beginning to reveal aspects of God’s plan of which the disciples were unaware. They had no concept of the Church at this time. There was no way for them to understand that Jesus had come so that men of every tribe, nation, and tongue might come to believe in Him as their Savior. With His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation would be made available to all. And upon His ascension, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, empowering them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That momentous occasion would usher in the church age, which will one day end with the Rapture of the Church. That will then bring about the seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which Jesus will return to earth as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is to that event that Jesus wants His disciples to focus their attention. He was not suggesting that they would live long enough to witness it, but He wanted them to understand that His coming was tied to that future end-time event. Jesus continues to emphasize the idea of a reward, and that reward was the coming Kingdom of God. That’s why He told them, “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT). They were to focus their attention on the future fulfillment of the kingdom, not on some temporal version of it that they hoped would come in their lifetimes.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to waste their time pursuing earthy pleasures and treasures. Instead, they were to store up treasure in heaven, where “no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it” (Luke 12:33 NLT). The idea was to live with the end in mind. Jesus had come, but He was going to leave. And yet, He would also return, first for His bride, the Church, then at the end of the seven years of tribulation. And it was to His Second Coming that Jesus refers throughout these verses. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is to live with their sights set on His future return. That is the end goal, the point at which Jesus will fulfill all aspects of His Father’s will.

During the Tribulation, there were be many who come to faith in Christ. God will continue to extend grace and mercy to those living on the earth. And those disciples will need to live in a constant state of readiness, prepared for the master’s return – in spite of all the persecution and distress taking place around them. That is why Jesus states, “be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:40 NLT). During those future end-times days, the circumstances will appear grim. All will look lost. There will be countless individuals martyred for their faith in Christ. And it will be easy to think draw the conclusion that God has forgotten all about His people. There will be those who begin to believe that Jesus is not coming back. The apostle John even records the pleas of the martyred saints as they stand before the throne of God in heaven.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” – Revelation 6:10 NLT

But God will not be done yet. His plan will not be fully fulfilled. And all those on earth who claim the name of Jesus will be encouraged to continue believing and trusting until the end. And that is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to do. He knows that when He ascends back into heaven, His disciples will find themselves facing unprecedented persecution. As they faithfully fulfill their commission, they will discover just how much the world hates them and how strongly Satan opposes them. At one point, Jesus warned His followers, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

Endurance brings reward. This is not a promise of salvation based on works. It is simply an encouragement to remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells His disciples, “If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward” (Luke 12:43 NLT). Jesus is not suggesting that doing a good job ensures our future reward but that faithful service should be motivated by the promise of our future reward. If we keep our eye on the prize, we will run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul picks up this same racing metaphor.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the end game. There was a reward at the end of it all. The days ahead were going to be difficult. These men were going to have to stand back and watch their friend and Messiah be crucified. And even when He rose from the dead, He would eventually leave them. Yet He encouraged them to serve faithfully and live expectantly, keeping their eyes on the promise of His Second Coming and the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Swept and In Order

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:24-28 ESV

The Jewish religious leaders, who greatly despised Jesus, had effectively spread the rumor that his power to cast out demons came from Satan himself. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus performed inexplicable miracles, so they attempted to cast doubt on their efficacy by raising concerns about their source. Not only had they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, but they had also regularly tried to expose Jesus as a violator of the Sabbath laws. Jesus had a habit of performing many of His miracles on the Sabbath, and this proclivity provided the Pharisees with plenty of evidence to accuse Him of being a law-breaker.

But Jesus had refuted their charges, stating, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8 ESV). The term, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite appellation when referring to Himself and it is a direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

Every time Jesus referred to Himself by that moniker, He was declaring His identity as the Messiah of Israel, the long-awaited descendant of King David who would rule and reign in righteousness and for eternity. Jesus was the Son of Man and yet, the people of Israel were having a difficult time believing His claim. And the religious leaders were even attributing His miraculous powers to Satan. But Matthew records that Jesus refuted their accusation, claiming instead that His power came from the Spirit of God.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. – Matthew 12:28 ESV

Jesus was about to use this important distinction to level a serious charge against the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin. Whether they realized it or not, they were actually committing blasphemy against the Spirit of God by attributing His works to Satan.

And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:32 ESV

They could say what they wanted about Jesus. They could reject Him and spread all kinds of lied about Him. But when they boldly declared Jesus’ Spirit-empowered miracles to be the work of Satan, they were sealing their eternal fate.

These men had determined to oppose Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man. And, in doing so, they had become His adversaries and enemies of God Almighty.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. – Luke 11:23 ESV

What these self-righteous men failed to understand was that Jesus came to do far more than free those who suffered from demon possession. The many miracles Jesus performed, while profound in nature, were all short-term solutions to temporal problems. Those whom He healed from disease would still be capable of contracting yet another ailment. The lame who received the ability to walk would one day find themselves crippled by the ravages of old age. The eyes of the blind whose sight He restored would eventually develop cataracts. And Jesus even reveals that the formerly demon-possessed were far from out of the woods when it came to their former state.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.” – Luke 11:24-25 NLT

In a sense, Jesus is saying that casting out a demon is the easy part. But creating an environment where the demon is no longer welcome is much more difficult. Notice that Jesus emphasizes a home that “is all swept and in order” (Luke 11:25 NLT). He paints a picture of someone doing all they can to put their life back together so that the demon finds their “home” an unwelcome place to occupy.

This seems to be a direct slam against the Pharisees and their legalistic devotion to law-keeping and outward displays of righteousness. In fact, just a few verses later, Jesus exposes their obsession with appearances.

“You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!” – Luke 11:39 NLT

Casting out a demon does nothing to change the heart of a man, no more than washing the outside of a cup removes the dirt contained within it. When Jesus cast out demons, He was demonstrating His power and authenticating His identity as the Messiah. He was proving that He had God-given authority to oppose and depose Satan and His minions. But had Jesus cast out every demon In Israel and healed every individual suffering from sickness and disease, the fate of mankind would have remained unchanged. He had come to do far more than clean the outside of the cup. He came to provide cleansing from sin and deliverance from the condemnation of death.

Having their ability to walk restored was of no real benefit if the person refused to follow Jesus and have their sin-damaged heart made new. A blind person who had their eyes opened by Jesus would still find themselves living in darkness if they failed to recognize Him as the Son of God and their sole source of salvation from sin. And the individual who basked in the joy of being demon-free would soon discover that it was their unrepentant and unchanged heart that made their life the perfect habitat for evil spirits. If Jesus didn’t occupy their heart, something else would.

It’s likely that these comments from Jesus elicited a range of responses from the crowd who heard them. The Pharisees would have been enraged and offended by what they heard. They knew Jesus was accusing them of blasphemy. And they were more convinced than ever that He was a threat to their way of life and had to be eliminated. But Luke records that one anonymous woman spoke up and declared, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27 NLT). This unnamed woman, most likely a mother herself, expressed her deep admiration for Jesus by pronouncing a blessing on the woman who bore Him for nine months and then brought Him into this world. Had Mary, the mother of Jesus, not brought her son to full term, this woman would not have enjoyed the privilege of sitting under His teaching and benefiting from His wisdom.

But Jesus took the woman’s kind and gracious statement and used it to emphasize the need for belief.

“But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” – Luke 11:28 NLT

Yes, Mary was blessed for having brought Jesus into the world. But how more blessed are all those who invite Jesus into their hearts. As grateful as that woman may have been, she needed to hear what Jesus had to say and do what He was calling her to do: Believe.

This all goes back to the heart. The formerly demon-possessed needed to have their hearts cleansed. The formerly lame needed to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The blind whose sight had been restored needed to see the glory of God’s grace made possible through the gift of His Son. And the apostle John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the crowd whom He had just miraculously fed.

“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” – John 6:26-27 NLT

Jesus told them to seek the eternal life that only He could give. Physical bread could only sustain physical life. But Jesus, as the bread that comes down from heaven, could provide them with eternal life. Yet the people failed to understand what Jesus was saying and expressed their desire to emulate His divine works.

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” – John 6:28 NLT

They were asking for the power to miraculously multiply bread and fish. In other words, they were looking for a spiritual power that they could use to meet physical needs. But Jesus was offering them so much more, and the only way they could access the gift He was offering was through belief. They didn’t need more bread, they needed the bread of life.

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

The woman in the crowd blessed Mary, but Jesus wanted to bless her with the gift of eternal life. And the only requirement was faith. The key to true life change was heart transformation and only faith in Jesus could leave a heart “all swept and in order.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson