Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Luke 21:5-38

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
7 "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
8 He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
10 Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
29 He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
1 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."
9 "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.
10 He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there."
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Points of Interest:

• ‘how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones’—Herod the Great (the father of the Herod from our story) tried to buy popularity with the Jews by spending tremendous amounts of money on a very lavish renovation of the Temple. Rich Jews from around the world contributed to the project as well. So, it’ not a big surprise that the disciples would do a little gawking—the Temple is a world-renowned architectural wonder, like St. Peter’s Basilica or the Taj Mahal. They seem to miss Jesus’ point from yesterday’s passage, though: the important thing is not the amount of money given, but the amount of faith shown.

• ‘not one stone will be left on another’—even the Temple, the house of God, is just worldly wealth to Jesus: it will fail; it will wear out; it can be stolen or destroyed. In fact, the destruction of the Temple is not just a theoretical possibility. Jesus specifically foresees it in the not too distant future.
This prediction also reminds me of Psalm 118: ‘The stone the builders rejected/has become the cornerstone' (quoted in Monday’s passage). There’s only one way to have a new cornerstone: by building a new building. You can’t just add a new cornerstone to an old building. God will dismantle his old home—the Temple—and build a new one, with Jesus as the foundation.

• ‘when will these things happen?’—in what follows, we’ll read a lot of things that sound quite cataclysmic, but the cataclysm that’s being talked about is local. ‘These things’ is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. For Jesus’ listeners, the destruction of the Temple would be simultaneously geographically limited and almost incomprehensibly significant, like Washington, D.C., or Manhattan all of a sudden ceasing to exist.

• ‘what will be the sign’—a sign is something that comes just before the thing it’s pointing to. For example, a freeway exit sign comes just before the exit itself, so that you know that it’s coming and are able to make the exit. The disciples want to know what comes just before the destruction of the temple, so that they have a chance to escape just before it happens.

• ‘the end will not come right away’—it will take longer than they might think. In particular, the disciples will be tempted to listen to rumors that Jesus has returned. As Jesus said before, they’ll know it when he’s returned (17:24).

• ‘fearful events and great signs’—many of the things that are typically thought of as signs of terrible events—wars, earthquakes, natural disasters, epidemics, strange things happening in the stars—will happen, but they aren’t the signs they need to be concerned about.

• ‘they will lay hands on you’—up until this point, they won’t need to worry about the Temple. For a while, the Temple will be fine: they themselves, however, will face a considerable amount of trouble. These stories of being thrown in prison and of testifying in front of governors are much of what Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, is all about. Almost from the beginning, Jesus’ followers would be in and out of prison at the hands of the chief priests; and they would face their first major persecution from the Romans during the reign of Nero, just a few years before the war between the Romans and the Jews and the eventual destruction of the Temple.

• ‘Stand firm, and you will win life’—as long as they trust Jesus to guide them and give them the words to say, they’ll be in absolutely no real danger. The danger is not that they will be harmed, but that they will fall prey to fear or worry. If they succumb to worry, they may try to save their life, and lose it; but if they lose their life for Jesus’ sake, they’ll win it (9:24). It will be difficult to wait. It will look like they are on their way to death. But, if they stay the course, it will turn out very well.

• ‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies’—back to Jerusalem’s destruction. The sign of the Temple’s doom is obvious enough: Jerusalem being surrounded by an enemy army. Once that happens, people should leave immediately; there’s enough time to escape, but just enough. Jesus recommends that everyone run away from the city and into the hills, advice which goes against instinct; in times of trouble, people would usually run toward the city to get behind the safety of the walls. In this particular case, whoever ignored Jesus’ advice would end up trapped by the Roman siege, from which absolutely no one would escape (IVP Bible Background Commentary 248).

• ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles’—many of Jesus’ contemporaries thought that because Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, God would never let it be destroyed. This confidence was somewhat foolish, seeing as God had already shown in the past that he was indeed willing to allow his own house to be destroyed if that’s what it took to get the attention of his people; about 600 years before Jesus, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. In AD 70, the Temple would be destroyed again by the Romans. The Jewish overconfidence in the inviolability of Jerusalem proceeded partly from an overvaluation of the importance of the Temple. The Temple was never as important to God as it was to the people of Jerusalem. It wasn’t even his idea; it was David’s (I Chronicles 17). God accepted the Temple and chose to bless the place with his presence, because the temple was a generous expression of gratitude from his people—parents always show pride in the gifts their children give them. But his plans never depended on the Temple as much as his people came to think they did.

• ‘they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory’—Jesus refers to one of the most famous prophecies of the Messiah, found in Daniel 7:13-14:
There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
I think, in context of the story Jesus is telling, this prophecy is about ‘the stone that the builders rejected’ becoming the cornerstone. This is describing the destruction of the Temple, but from a heavenly rather than earthly perspective. In Jerusalem on earth, the Gentiles entering Jerusalem will be followed by the destruction of the Temple. In heaven, Jesus will come into his full authority. The Temple will be replaced by Jesus and his followers as the sign of God’s presence on earth. The shaking of the heavenly bodies probably refers to a shake-up in the heavenly hierarchy: the sun, moon, and stars were often used in prophecy to describe the spiritual power behind earthly rulers (Ezekiel 32:7-8, in which the downfall of Pharaoh is accompanied by stars falling and the sun being darkened, is a good example).

• ‘this generation will certainly not pass away’—all of the things Jesus has said up until this point will happen within the average lifespan of his listeners.

• ‘Heaven and earth will pass away’—not just the Temple, but all of heaven and earth, will eventually fade away; but Jesus’ words will last beyond it all. They’re like a lifeline to eternity.

• ‘and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap’—I think ‘that day’ is the day when heaven and earth pass away. What Jesus was talking about until now was something that will happen in Jerusalem, which can be avoided by running to the mountains, for which there will be plenty of warning. What Jesus is talking about now happens suddenly, across the face of the whole earth. However, even it—the end of the world—can be escaped by the person who faithfully watches in the expectation of Jesus’ rescue.

• ‘each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives’—the Mount of Olives was just outside of the city limits.

• ‘the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover’—this festival commemorates the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. The unleavened bread (bread without yeast) symbolizes the suddenness and haste with which the Israelites left Egypt: they didn’t even have time to let the dough rise. The first Passover, and instructions for future feasts, is found in Exodus 12.

• ‘they were afraid of the people’—the priests and teachers are looking for a way to arrest Jesus without causing a stir in front of the crowds.

• ‘Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve’—after tempting Jesus (chapter 4), the devil withdrew, but he was still on the lookout for a good opportunity (4:13). Now, he sees that opportunity, not directly with Jesus, but with one of the Twelve.

• ‘delighted and agreed to give him money’—Judas agrees to sell Jesus for money. This is the ultimate choice of treasure on earth over treasure in heaven: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ (12:15).

• ‘on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed’—the Passover lamb is sacrificed on the first night of the feast. At the first Passover, in Egypt, the people spread some of the lamb’s blood on their door-frames. God sent a plague on the firstborn of the Egyptians, to punish them for keeping the Israelites in slavery. But whenever the destroying angel came across the blood on the doorframe, it passed over that house, saving the life of the firstborn of that house (Exodus 12:23).

• ‘a man carrying a jar of water will meet you’—it’s unclear whether this is some sort of supernatural arrangement, or it’s a little bit of cloak-and-dagger so that the priests and teachers don’t know where Jesus is having his Passover dinner.

• ‘found things just as Jesus had told them’—they are preparing for Jesus’ feast, but Jesus has already prepared for them to prepare. He gives them what they need to serve him.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Pray that God would protect you from worry or distraction or unbelief that would get in the way of you being ready and on the lookout for the things he would like to do in your life.

For your friends: This life is full of the possibility of unexpected dangers. Pray that God would mercifully protect your friends from being harmed by any disaster.

For our city: When the disciples look at the Temple, they see something impressive and enduring. But Jesus tells them that they’re mistaken: many of them will outlive the Temple. Our government, our banks, the large businesses in our area, our sports teams, and the universities all look solid and impressive enough; but who knows what changes may come in the future? Pray that God would save our city from placing undue trust in institutions that won’t last.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Luke 20:27-21:4

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 "Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
34 Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, "Well said, teacher!" 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
41 Then Jesus said to them, "Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."'
44 David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."
21:1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

Points of Interest:

• ‘Some of the Sadducees’—the Pharisees have become familiar to us. The Sadducees were the other major religious/political party among the Jews in Roman Palestine. The Sadducees were more conservative than the Pharisees in some ways, but less traditional in others. For instance, they recognized the authority only of the Law—the five books of Moses, which were the oldest parts of the Jewish scriptures—not of the Prophets; but they were also significantly influenced by Greek culture and philosophy. Whereas the Pharisees were of the prosperous middle class and dominated among the teachers in the synagogue, the Sadducees were upper class and dominated among the priests at the Temple. The Pharisees were more numerous, but the Sadducees held the more powerful positions.

• ‘who say there is no resurrection’—the Pharisees believed in life after death, but the Sadducees did not. It’s the perfect intersection of their scriptural conservatism (the books of Moses are a bit sketchy on what happens after death) and their urbanity (contemporary Greek philosophy focused on the material world).

• ‘man must marry the widow and raise up offspring’—this law (found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10) was meant to insure that widows could be adequately taken care of—largely through having children who would look after them in their old age—without land, which was the major wealth of each family, passing out of the hands of the family.

• ‘since the seven were married to her’—three different husbands would have made the point. But the Sadducees exaggerate to make the situation as ridiculous as possible. This problem may have been one of the Sadducees’ best ‘stumpers’ in their frequent arguments with the Pharisees.

• ‘those who are considered worthy’—Jesus begins by saying that not everyone gets to enjoy life after death. It’s a great privilege. It should neither by assumed as a right nor dismissed as unimportant.

• ‘will neither marry nor be given in marriage’—the Sadducees seemingly airtight proof against life after death relies on the fundamentally flawed assumption that the next life is just like this one. According to Jesus, the next life operates by different rules. To me, Jesus’ viewpoint makes a lot more sense: what would be the point of an eternal life that’s exactly like this one?

• ‘they are like the angels’—a little dig at the Sadducees, who—despite plentiful evidence in the books of Moses—also did not believe in angels (New Bible Commentary 1012. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

• ‘But in the account of the burning bush’—this is one of the most famous stories from the books of Moses. It’s when God called Moses to rescue the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt (Exodus 3). Jesus is proving life after death from the scriptures accepted by the Sadducees. Moreover, by using such a well-known passage, he’s saying that proof of the resurrection has been right under their noses the whole time. It’s almost humiliatingly obvious.

• ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living’—God mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as character references for himself: ‘Just ask Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’ll vouch for me.’ He wouldn’t be a very good God if his best references were decaying corpses. To say that God is the god of the dead would be to say that he is powerless.
Greek mythology might provide us with another viewpoint on Jesus’ argument here. In Greek mythology, three brother gods—Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades—drew lots to decide who would rule heaven, who would rule the seas, and who would rule the dead; the loser, Hades, ended up with the dead and was not very happy about it. Since God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Sadducees either must admit that God is a bitter loser like Hades, or that Abraham and the others are alive.

• ‘Well said, teacher!’—the teachers of the law, who would mostly be Pharisees, can’t help but be impressed by and grateful for his refutation of the Sadducees, even though they’re supposed to be allied with the Sadducees against Jesus (19:47).

• ‘Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David?’—during the birth stories early in his story, Luke makes much of Jesus’ association with David’s lineage. Even Gabriel, the angelic messenger to Mary, calls Jesus David’s son: ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David’ (1:32). Just a few passages ago (18:38), the blind man who calls Jesus ‘Son of David’ is given as a positive example of faith. So, why does Jesus all of a sudden take issue with the Messiah being called David’s son? I think it has to do with the perception of the source of the Messiah’s greatness. It’s not that the Messiah benefits from David’s reflected greatness: ‘this Messiah is almost as good as his dad David.’ Rather, it’s the other way around: David was great because he resembled and to a certain extent foreshadowed the King who was to come.

• ‘David himself declares in the Book of Psalms’—besides being a king and a warrior, David was a great worshipper and writer of songs. This is Psalm 110:1.

• ‘Beware of the teachers of the law’—the people need to be on their guard against the teachers for a couple of reasons: they’re bad examples, and they’ll rob you if they can.

• ‘the places of honor at banquets’—here’s how they’re bad examples. They think they’re great, but they’re actually setting themselves up for a fall: ‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (14:11)

• ‘They devour widows' houses’—here’s how they rob you. Widows were relatively powerless in Jesus’ society. We don’t know exactly how the teachers were taking advantage of the widows’ powerlessness, but the point is that the teachers are on the lookout for how to use people’s weakness to their gain—specifically to their financial gain. Ultimately, of course, Jesus promises that the teachers won’t get away with it: ‘It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble’ (17:2)

• ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others’—speaking of widows, Jesus exalts this humble widow for her act of faith. These coins the widow puts in would be of worth very little, but they mean a lot more than their monetary value. It’s significant that the widow has two coins, because she could have just given one of them and it still would have been half of her income—far more, percentage-wise, than everyone else’s ten percent. But she gives everything. She is able to do what the rich ruler (18:22) could not: she gives everything she has, and she trusts God to provide for her. She gives to God what is God’s (yesterday’s passage) by putting her life into God’s hands. It’s the only real act of worship we’ve seen since Jesus arrived in the Temple. She is also shrewd with her money: she’s turned her small amount of money into much treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). And, she has no need to worry even in this life, because she has a good father who will take care of her needs (12:30).

Taking it home:

For you and your family: Do you feel like you have very little to offer to God? Maybe you wonder if it’s even worth giving what you have to give. This passage shows us that God sees and honors the smallest offerings. Thank God for accepting your offerings, humble as they might be, and for seeing them as just as worthy as anyone else’s.

For your friends: Their preconceived notion of what it meant for the Messiah to be David’s son was getting in the way of Jesus’ listeners ability to see Jesus clearly and accept what he had to offer them. Ask God to remove any unhelpful filters through which your friends see Jesus. One common filter is seeing Jesus as only a good moral teacher; but there are many other possibilities as well.

For our city: I think that we as a city, especially with the presence of such a large academic institution, can sometimes, like the Sadducees, be a little too sophisticated to give credence to such things as miracles, or angels, or eternal life. In this passage, Jesus tells us that we miss out on the best parts of life if we dismiss the supernatural. Pray that God would give our entire city a greater ability to accept the supernatural.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Luke 20:1-26

1 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"
3 He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 John's baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?"
5 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' 6 But if we say, 'Of human origin,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet."
7 So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."
8 Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
9 He went on to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'
14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
"What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."
When the people heard this, they said, "God forbid!"
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
" 'The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone'?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed."
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 "Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
25 He said to them, "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Points of Interest:

• ‘together with the elders’—the elders were members of the Jewish aristocracy who were neither priests nor teachers of the law (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels 201).

• ‘by what authority you are doing these things?’—‘these things’ to which they refer are the throwing out of the merchants in yesterday’s passage. The Temple was the jurisdiction of the chief priests, and they certainly didn’t give Jesus permission to get rid of the temple merchants—the temple merchants were their idea. So, to them it’s clear that Jesus is acting without any authority.

• ‘I will also ask you a question’—before answering where he gets his authority, he demonstrates that he does indeed have authority; he tells them that they have to answer his question before he’ll answer theirs, and they do.

• ‘John's baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?’—I think Jesus is essentially saying, ‘You can figure out the answer to your own question.’ His authority comes from the same place as John’s: if John was sent by God, so is Jesus; if John was simply acting on his own, so is Jesus.

• ‘We don't know where it was from’—this is both a bald-faced lie and entirely accurate. It’s a lie, because it’s not as if they don’t have an opinion: if they were to be honest, they would say that John’s authority was human. So, by saying they don’t know, they’re lying to avoid saying something that they know will be unpopular. But, by giving this answer, they’re ironically saying something that’s doubly true:
1. First of all, they really don’t know where John came from, because they don’t even bother trying to figure it out. They don’t even think about the truth of the matter, instead thinking only about the political implications of their possible answers;
2. Secondly, if they were to give their answer, they’d be wrong. They really don’t know where John was from, because they think he came from humans but he really came from heaven.

• ‘Neither will I tell you’—Jesus sees through their avoidance; it’s not that they can’t answer but that they won’t. Since they refuse to answer him, he refuses to answer them as well. Their unwillingness to recognize John leads to an inability to see Jesus for who he is.

• ‘He went on to tell the people this parable’—while he won’t plainly answer their question, he does tell a story that gives his answer. Earlier (8:10), Jesus said that he was willing to explain himself to those who truly listen to him, ‘but to others I speak in parables.’

• ‘A man planted a vineyard’—Jesus is using a story from Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7) as the basis for his own story. Isaiah’s story ends like this:
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress (Isaiah 5:7).
This vineyard to whom Jesus is referring is Israel, or Judah, and God is the builder and owner of that vineyard. Jesus adds a new set of characters—the tenants—to Isaiah’s story. The chief priests, teachers, and elders are the tenants.

• ‘he sent a servant’—another new set of characters: John and the other prophets.

• ‘so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard’—they’re sent to collect the rent, but the tenants have forgotten that they are renters and have begun to think of the vineyard as their own. They send the owner’s representatives away (or in some cases kill them) as if they are beggars or thieves.

• ‘I will send my son, whom I love’—this is an echo of God the Father’s words about Jesus at Jesus’ baptism (3:22). It’s the answer to the priests’ question regarding Jesus’ authority. Jesus is God’s Son, sent by him, with his authority. It’s the priests, teachers, and elders who are usurping their authority: they are pretending that what belongs to God—the temple, and even more importantly the people who worship at the temple—belongs to them.

• ‘The stone the builders rejected’—this is Psalm 118:22. It’s the same psalm from which the people were singing, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’ in yesterday’s passage. It’s a song of thanks for God’s rescue. However, it seems that this rescuer is not immediately recognized. The cornerstone of a building is the first stone laid in the foundation, the stone upon which all of the other stones is built. In the metaphor Jesus quotes, one set of builders rejects a stone as altogether unsuitable, but another builder uses that same stone as the cornerstone. God will build something completely new—a Savior, a rescuer—out of what the chief priests, teachers, and elders throw out.
Ever since chapter 9, Jesus has insisted that he must go to Jerusalem to be rejected and killed, but he hasn’t given very much explanation as to why. Here is at least part of the answer. Jesus is going to prove definitively that God sees things differently from the people of this world. In the next few days, all of the worldly leaders—secular and religious, Jewish and non-Jewish—will agree to get rid of Jesus. But what they throw out as garbage is what God most values: God will pick Jesus out of the garbage, clean him up, and display him as his greatest treasure.

• ‘Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’—the chief priests and teachers think that they’ve come up with a trap for Jesus similar to the one he set for them about John. If Jesus says they should pay taxes, he would not only be pro-tax—and every politician knows how deadly that is to a political career—but pro-Roman (the Romans were unpopular foreign rulers—it might be something like being pro-American in much of present-day Iraq). But if he speaks against taxes, he’d be considered a dangerous revolutionary by the Romans.

• ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's’—Jesus looks at a coin and says, ‘Well, it seems to have Caesar’s name and picture on it; so, I guess it must belong to him. We should give it back.’ Even though it’s pro-tax, it’s logic that’s hard to argue with. Jesus answers their question forthrightly, but in a way that completely avoids making any political statements, either for or against Rome. I think he’s able to do so because money doesn’t have a hold on him (‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (12:15). It doesn’t really matter to him how much money Caesar gets, and it doesn’t need to matter to anyone else, either: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them’ (12:22,30). They could give Caesar every single coin that has his name on it without worrying, because God is faithful to provide for them.
What is very important to Jesus is that God gets what belongs to him. Going back to Jesus’ story, the owner deserves his fruit. Jesus knows that the coins belong to Caesar because his picture is on them. Thus, whatever bears God’s picture belongs to him. By this argument, it’s people who belong to God: in the story of creation, God says, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness . . . ‘(Genesis 1:26). Just like the tenants in the story are holding back what belongs to the vineyard owner, the chief priests are holding back what belongs to God: by crowding the other nations out of the temple and cheating Jews who need animals for sacrifice, the chief priests are robbing the people of the chance to worship and robbing God of their worship. Even worse, they’re robbing God of these people’s worship in order to gain money for themselves.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: The tenants in the vineyard start off just wanting to hold back a little fruit from the owner, but they end up killing his son. I think greed often starts small, but grows quickly out of control. Pray that God would protect you from greed. Ask God to point out any small entrance points for greed in your life, and ask him to give you the strength to refuse to give in to it. Ask God to forgive you for any ways you’ve already given in.

For your friends: Pray that God would remove any barriers to your friends seeing or believing truth—whether it be truth about themselves, about God, or about something else. Also pray that the truth, when they do see it and embrace it, would be of great benefit in their lives. Particularly ask God to give them the boldness to accept truths that might be difficult for them to admit.

For our city: The chief priests and the teachers had influential positions, which they could use to do a lot of good for people. Many of them probably started out in their public careers with the best intentions. However, over time, their priorities had shifted away from the good of the people and toward maintaining their own power. It seems to be all too common a temptation for people in powerful public service positions. Pray for our politicians, that they would be strengthened against this temptation and that they would be blessed with public-spiritedness in their decision-making.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Luke 19:28-47

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' say, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34 They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 "It is written," he said to them," 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

Points of Interest:
• ‘Bethphage and Bethany’—these are the suburbs of Jerusalem. Jesus has finally made it to his destination.

• ‘you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden’—just like the story of Jesus’ birth, the story of his death is dense with allusion to Old Testament prophecy. We find this colt in the prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation
lowly and riding on a donkey
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
During war, a king would ride a horse. The fact that Jesus comes on a donkey symbolizes either that he is coming in peace or that he has already won the war.

• ‘people spread their cloaks on the road’—practically, this would reduce the amount of dust thrown up as they travel over the dirt road. Symbolically, it communicates that even the hooves of Jesus’ donkey are too precious to touch the road. Only the very most wealthy and important people would have carpets. The people make a carpet for Jesus out of their coats, and they even let his donkey walk on it.

• ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’—this is from Psalm 118 (verse 26). They are welcoming Jesus as God’s representative. In fact, caught up in the exuberance of the moment, they may be calling Jesus God himself:
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever (Psalm 118:28-29).

• ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’—this is not just a great day for Jerusalem. It has heavenly significance.

• ‘rebuke your disciples!’—the disciples are either welcoming Jesus as a conquering hero (which would be unpopular with the Romans) or worshipping him (which would be blasphemous in the eyes of the Pharisees). It’s inappropriate and should be stopped—unless Jesus is a conquering hero, God, or both. Jesus responds that to stop the disciples would do no good. This is a situation that so much calls for praise that if the disciples were to be quiet, inanimate objects would start to speak.

• ‘he wept over it’—Jesus is about to be killed in Jerusalem, but he looks on Jerusalem with pity and compassion, rather than anger. His mind isn’t on his own death, but on the destruction of Jerusalem, which he foresees. Jerusalem will be destroyed in a war between the Jews and the Romans in 70 AD—about 40 years after Jesus’ death, and maybe 10 years after Luke’s writing. We’ll talk more about the impending destruction of Jerusalem next week.

• 'My house will be a house of prayer'—Jesus refers here to Isaiah 56:7: ‘for my house will be called/a house of prayer for all nations.’ What Jesus expects to see when he gets to the temple is prayer, but instead he finds shopping. The temple was always intended to be a place where people from all around the world would come to find God and have their prayers answered (2 Chronicles 6:32-34), but it’s fallen far short of its promise. The temple was a series of ever smaller and more restrictive courts; the largest court was the Court of the Nations, where all people were welcome; inside of that was the Court of Women, where all Jews were welcome; inside of that was the Court of Israel, for Jewish men; and inside of that were the Holy Place and the Holiest Place, where only priests could go. These merchants probably set up shop in the Court of Nations, meaning that the only place non-Jews were allowed to go had basically become a store instead of a place of worship.
Not only were non-Jews being robbed of a place to pray, but Jews were being robbed of money. What was being sold in the temple courts were animals for temple sacrifices. This started as a service to people who had traveled from far away, to make it easier for them to make their sacrifices. But the temple merchants were given monopolies, and thus charged exorbitant prices, sort of like for hot dogs at the ballpark. Thus, what was meant to be a house of prayer had become ‘a den of robbers’ (another quote from a prophet, Jeremiah 7:11).

• ‘the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people’—we’ve seen the teachers of the law before, but the chief priests are fairly new to our story. The chief priests are in charge of the temple, as the teachers of the law are in charge of the synagogues. Thus, between them, they control the two major institutions of Jewish society and religion. We’ve seen already the numerous run-ins between Jesus and the teachers over how to interpret the Law. Now, he has stepped on the toes—and cut into the profits—of the chief priests by driving the merchants out of the temple. So, the chief priests and the teachers join together to try to get rid of Jesus. For the time being, though, they’re daunted by Jesus’ overwhelming popularity.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Today, for Palm Sunday (John mentions that the crowds wave palm branches as they sing), push the limits of the exuberance of your worship. Particularly if you tend to be a bit more staid, step out and do something that might make someone say, ‘That’s a little much, isn’t it?’

For your friends: Pray that your friends would find a hospitable place to meet with God. Consider inviting them to church for Easter Sunday, and pray that they would accept the invitation. Pray that, if they do come, our church would be a place where they feel like they belong and where they are able to connect with God.

For our city: Today begins Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Ask God that during this week, there would be a buzz about Jesus in our city. Pray that the usual greater attention Jesus gets would create opportunities for more people to hear his words and be drawn to him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Luke 19:1-27

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'
14 "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'
15 "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'
17 " 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'
18 "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'
19 "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'
20 "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'
22 "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'
24 "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'
25 " 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'
26 "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"

Points of Interest:
• ‘he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy’—if tax collectors are like gangsters, Zacchaeus is a mob boss.

• ‘Zacchaeus, come down’—this is apparently the first time they’ve ever met, but Jesus knows Zacchaeus’ name. He is noticed, known, and welcomed.

• ‘I must stay at your house today’—the ‘must’ reminds me of the father of the lost son saying, ‘we had to celebrate . . . ‘(15:32). Another lost son has been found. When something lost is found, you can’t help but throw a party.

• ‘All the people saw this and began to mutter’—this time it’s not just the Pharisees and teachers, but all the people, who mutter. Perhaps Zacchaeus is so notorious that it’s a bigger scandal than before, or maybe Judeans are more sensitive to this kind of impropriety than Galileans.

• ‘Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor’—Zacchaeus recognizes his need to repent. He recalibrates himself from serving Money to serving God. It’s interesting to me that Zacchaeus understands immediately that following Jesus calls for a radically different approach to money. Somehow, money seems to have a lot less of a grip on this chief tax collector than it does on the Pharisees or even on the rich ruler from yesterday’s passage.

• ‘if I have cheated anybody’—it’s unlikely that he would have gotten as rich as he has without cheating. So, it’s frankly surprising to me that he would even have enough money left to pay people back fourfold, seeing as he’s already promised to give away half of his wealth. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Zacchaeus will have much money left by the time he’s done. Zacchaeus is simultaneously plea bargaining with his adversaries before he gets to the judge (12:58) and making friends who will welcome him into eternal dwellings (16:9). He knows how to be shrewd with worldly wealth.

• ‘people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once’—Jesus has been making his way very deliberately toward Jerusalem for quite some time now; and Jerusalem, being David’s capital, would be the natural capital for the Messiah as well. So, people have gained the reasonable impression that Jerusalem is the finish line: as soon as he gets there, Jesus will unveil the kingdom of God. While it is, to a great degree, the climax of Jesus’ earthly career, it’s really only the beginning for his followers. It will be a while before the kingdom of God is fully established, and the disciples have a lot of work to do in the meantime.

• ‘went to a distant country to have himself appointed king’—this story is ‘ripped from the headlines.’ The kings of Roman satellite kingdoms would have to have their kingships confirmed by Rome. Just like in this story, Herod Archelaus—the brother of the Herod who arrested John—had to travel to Rome to have his authority confirmed, and he had a delegation sent to contest his rule. Jesus too is going away—to heaven—to have his kingship confirmed by God.

• ‘gave them ten minas’—this would be about three months’ wages for an average laborer—let’s call it in the neighborhood of eight or ten thousand dollars. It would probably seem like quite a substantial amount to the servants, but would only represent a very small proportion of the nobleman’s wealth.

• ‘your mina has earned ten more’—this first servant makes a thousand percent return on his investment. These are amazing, unreal profits. He certainly does put the money to work.

• ‘take charge of ten cities’—the ten minas were just a test. The nobleman was about to become a king, and he wanted to know who he could trust to help him rule his kingdom: ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much’ (16:10).
This story presents us with the amazing idea that this entire life is just a test. Jesus is going away to be made a king. Everything we have is something Jesus has given us to put to work until he returns. In the next life, Jesus will give us authority in his kingdom proportional to the profits we are able to make for him in this one. Life as we know it is just the practice round. Eternal life in the kingdom of God is the real thing. But that doesn’t mean that this life doesn’t matter: how we do in practice has a big effect on what position we play in the big game– If we’re sticking with our relational view of life, is it dangerous to call this life the “practice round?”—or whether we get to play at all.

• ‘I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth’—he was told to put the money to work, but instead he wraps it up and keeps it in a safe place. This third servant is not at all a shrewd manager. He tries to play it safe, seemingly because he’s afraid of what the nobleman would do to him if he lost the money. By setting his sights on not losing the money, he completely wastes it. I get the feeling that the nobleman would have been far more pleased with a servant who invested the money and lost it than with someone who didn’t even try. In fact, I don’t think it’s incidental that in the way Jesus tells the story, no one who actually tries to put the money to work loses money; to try is to win.

• ‘You knew, did you, that I am a hard man’—actually, he doesn’t seem like a hard man at all. He gives the servants his own money to invest, and then he lets them keep the profits—besides giving them charge over cities. That’s the exact opposite of taking out what you did not put in. The king is pointing out, though, that the third servant’s actions aren’t even consistent with his own mistaken ideas of the king: if the king expects to reap where he didn’t sow, why wouldn’t the servant at least have invested the mina in the bank, where it would be utterly safe and yet make interest? Either the third servant is exceedingly fearful, or he’s lazy, or he is ashamed to be associated with the nobleman because some of the citizens don’t want him to be king.

• 'he already has ten’—letting the third servant keep the mina would do no good to anyone. It would only serve to cause the third servant more worry, without bringing anyone any profit. Meanwhile, the first servant has shown that he is willing and able to put the mina to good use. Why wouldn’t the king put the mina into his hands?

• ‘bring them here and kill them in front of me’—they’ve made it clear that they don’t want him to be king, but his kingship is inevitable. This is the only way to give them what they want.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Pray that God would give you the boldness and savvy of the first two servants. Ask God to help you do good business with what he’s given you, and pray for good eternal profits from your investments.

For your friends: Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the consciences of your friends. Pray that God would be guiding them toward areas of their life that need recalibration, and that he would give them the willingness and the ability to make the necessary course corrections. Pray that God would give them joy as they make those choices.

For our city: Pray for God’s mercy on our city. Pray that New Haven would be places that welcome Jesus’ kingship, rather than resisting it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Luke 18:15-43

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
18 A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
19 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'"
21 "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."
26 Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"
27 Jesus replied, "What is impossible with human beings is possible with God."
28 Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"
29 "Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."
31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again."
34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
38 He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 "What do you want me to do for you?"
"Lord, I want to see," he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Points of Interest:
• ‘anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’—rather than stopping the children, they should learn something from them. These children know something that adults tend to forget about how to receive a gift. I can’t help but think of the story of the two lost sons, who try to receive their inheritance like slaves rather than like children. How exactly do little children receive gifts? A couple of things I’ve noticed that might be relevant here are that children are shameless and they’re trusting. Children don’t spend too much time worrying about whether they are worthy of a gift or whether they’ve earned it; if they like it, they take it, gleefully. They also don’t tend to be suspicious of the giver; they don’t look for tricks or catches, but take the gift at face value.

• ‘Let the little children come to me’—earlier, Jesus told the disciples that the way to be the greatest was to welcome a little child (9:46-48). He doesn’t want to pass up this opportunity for greatness. The disciples still have something to learn about greatness.

• ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’—this is the exact same question as the expert in the law asked earlier (10: 25). Now, though, in light of receiving the kingdom like a child, the question strikes me as a little odd. It occurs to me that you usually don’t do anything for an inheritance; if you’re the child of the person who owns it, it’s simply given to you.

• ‘Why do you call me good?’—I think Jesus objects to being called good because he suspects that the man is saying it flippantly, not because he thinks it doesn’t apply.

• ‘You know the commandments’—just like he did with the legal expert, Jesus refers the man to the Law. In fact, Jesus quotes the Ten Commandments—or, rather, five of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the famous summary of the Law given by God to Moses on two stone tablets. Five of the commandments had to do with relating to God and five of them with relating to one another. It’s often imagined that each set of five had its own tablet: a God tablet and a neighbor tablet. [Incidentally, the two commandments the law expert recited to Jesus (10:27)—love God and love your neighbor—serve as pretty good encapsulations of the two tablets]. The five commandments Jesus quotes here are from the second tablet, the neighbor tablet.

• ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy’—this man is far ahead of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Most of the Pharisees and teachers focused on the minutia of the Law, rather than its heart. Our expert from chapter 10 focused on the essence of the Law, but he resisted doing it. This ruler both recognized what was important and did it. He’s actually well on his way to eternal life. As Jesus told the legal expert: ‘Do this, and you will live’ (10:28).

• ‘You still lack one thing’—he’s not all the way there, though. Perhaps what he’s missing is the first tablet. He’s missing a loving relationship with God. To inherit eternal life, you have to be a child of the one who owns eternal life.

• ‘Sell everything you have’—‘You cannot serve both God and Money’ (16:13). Jesus is calling him to separate himself totally from money and put his trust completely in God instead.

• ‘he became very sad’—‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (12:34). We don’t know what the man ultimately chooses, but it’s clear that at this point wealth has at least some of his heart. His money makes it harder for him to truly choose God.

• ‘Who then can be saved?’—it might be that they assume that rich people are more loved by God, or it might be that they are impressed by how faithful this ruler is and are dismayed that even he can’t quite make it. Thankfully, we’re not reliant upon our own efforts, but on the favor of a very powerful God.

• ‘many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life’—‘Give, and it will be given to you’ (6:38). When we give to others, God gives to us; and he gives much better gifts than we do. The Twelve and the Seventy-Two have already gotten glimpses of how this supernatural life of abundance works. They were each sent out with absolutely nothing, but everywhere they went they had a place to stay and food to eat (9:1-9, 10:1-24).

• ‘The disciples did not understand any of this’—Jesus keeps sowing this seed, but so far it hasn’t ever taken root. Though hearing, they don’t understand (8:10).

• ‘rebuked him and told him to be quiet’—they rebuke this blind man, just like the disciples rebuked the children. This reminds me of Jesus’ warning about causing little ones to stumble on their way to him (17:2). The blind man does not let himself be stopped, though. He’s persistent in asking, and his request is heard.

• ‘received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God’—this blind man knows how to accept a gift.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Pray that God would increase your ability to love him and to love your neighbors. Are you better at one of them than the other? Maybe you could ask your family members, housemates, or friends which one they see best in you. Thank God for your strength in that area, and then ask him for help in strengthening your weak hand. Look for opportunities today to practice the one you’re weaker at.

For your friends: Pray that your friends would increase in their childlikeness. Pray particularly that they would be good gift-receivers.

For our city: Today, bring the children of our city to God in prayer. Ask God to bless our children and give them good gifts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Luke 17:20-18:14

20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst."
22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
26 "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
28 "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
30 "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot's wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35-36 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."
37 "Where, Lord?" they asked.
He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."
18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
4 "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!' "
6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Points of Interest:
• ‘flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other’—this is another interesting already/not yet moment regarding the kingdom of God. The Pharisees ask, ‘When will the kingdom of God come?’ and Jesus answers, ‘It’s already here, but you don’t even see it, because it’s not a flashy thing.’ Then he turns to his disciples and says, ‘When my kingdom comes, you’ll know it; it’ll be as obvious as the biggest fireworks display ever!’ Perhaps it’s not even worth looking for the complete Technicolor version of Jesus’ kingdom unless you first appreciate its subtler form.

• ‘you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man’—the full inauguration of the kingdom will take longer than the disciples expect—almost longer than they can bear.

• ‘People were eating and drinking, buying and selling’—in other words, ordinary life was going on as usual. The arrival in full of Jesus’ kingdom will be a surprise; the day will start out like any other, and then the kingdom will break in suddenly and without warning.

• ‘Remember Lot's wife!’—before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, God warned Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family to escape. As they were running away, Lot’s wife turned back in regret, and she turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:13).
For a kingdom typified by good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, healing for the sick, and life for the dead, the culmination of Jesus’ kingdom is oddly violent. It sounds a lot like a worldwide cataclysm: it will be like a lightning flash that fills the sky; it will be sudden and massively destructive like Noah’s flood or the fire that fell from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah. It brings new perspective to Jesus saying, ‘I have come to bring fire on the earth’ (12:49). Apparently, the kingdom will not arrive without a struggle. There will be one last fight between Jesus and the strong man Satan (11:21-23) for final control.
This final unveiling of Jesus and his kingdom makes me think of a nuclear bomb: sudden and immediate destruction. Yet, Jesus also seems to indicate that someone can escape if they act quickly and without hesitation. Doom is not certain.

• ‘whoever loses their life will preserve it’—whatever mode of escape Jesus has in mind, it will look more like going into danger than getting out of it. It’s notable that Jesus makes special mention of leaving behind possessions. This moment is the ultimate test of whether God or Money is the master: Wealth says, ‘Come back for me; you’ll need me later’; but God says, ‘Run now and don’t look back.’

• ‘Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather’—to me, this is the most inscrutable sentence in the entire book of Luke. Today’s whole passage is a bit difficult to understand, but the rest of it is simple compared to this. I hesitate to even guess what it means, but here goes nothing:

A dead body, lying on the ground, is difficult to see; but vultures, circling in the air, are easy to spot. So, if you want to find a dead body, look for vultures. The vultures will lead you to the body. Likewise, the coming of the Son of Man will be hard to spot directly; but there will be signs that point you in the right direction.
The big problem with my interpretation is that, as far as I can tell, Jesus doesn’t tell us here what signs to be looking for.

• ‘yet because this widow keeps bothering me’—the judge eventually decides that it’s easier to grant the woman’s request than not. If the widow can outlast the corrupt and callous judge, it is certainly worth it for us to keep praying to God, who is a good father who wants to answer our prayers.

• ‘Will he keep putting them off?’—if God is so eager to answer our prayers, why is persistence necessary? Why would he put us off at all? I wonder if the answer has anything to do with the story about the fruitless fig tree (13:7). In this story of the widow and the unjust judge, Jesus is specifically talking about never giving up in praying for him to come again to set everything right. The story of the fruitless fig tree, on the other hand, is about God’s willingness to give us every possible chance to make the most of our lives. Perhaps God’s eagerness to answer our prayers for his kingdom to come is balanced by his desire to allow us to achieve maximum possible fruitfulness before it does.

• ‘I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’—it’s really more of a boast than a prayer.

• ‘those who humble themselves will be exalted’—both people get exactly what they ask for. The Pharisee doesn’t think he needs anything; so he asks for nothing, and gets it. The tax collector asks for mercy, and he gets it.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Pray that God would rescue you from the temptation to think of yourself as better than others. Particularly if you are a part of a close family, pray that God would give you the grace to enjoy what’s special about your family without looking down on others.

For your friends: Ask God to loosen any attachment your friends might have to their possessions. This passage tells us that the ability to leave behind our possessions without hesitation might very well prove crucial to saving our lives and bringing us into God’s kingdom.

For our city: Jesus seems to think it is really an open question whether or not he will find people patiently and faithfully expecting him when he brings his kingdom. Pray that God will come to New Haven, and that when he comes he will find faith here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Luke 16:19-17:19

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
17:1 Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
"If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."
5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
6 He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.
7 "Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

Points of Interest:
• ‘There was a rich man’—Jesus is still speaking in response to the Pharisees’ scoffing about not being able to serve God and Money. In yesterday’s passage, Jesus told a story in order to recommend generosity to his disciples. In today’s, he tells another story to illustrate to the Pharisees what could happen if you don’t choose generosity.

• ‘dressed in purple and fine linen’—this man is wearing expensive designer clothes.
• ‘a beggar named Lazarus’—in reality, the rich playboy’s name would be known and the homeless man would be nameless; but in Jesus’ story, we know the beggar’s name, but not the rich man’s.

• ‘carried him to Abraham's side’—this is sort of like our pop culture picture of St. Peter welcoming us at the pearly gates.

• ‘send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue’—the formerly rich man has moxie. He yells up from hell to heaven to catch Abraham’s attention, and he is bold enough to ask Abraham to send someone—in fact, the very person he’s ignored his entire life—down to hell to bring him a drink. I don’t think he’s gotten completely used to his new station in life.

• ‘in your lifetime you received your good things’—this rich man gains the whole world, but loses his soul (9:25). Like the dishonest manager, he’s been wasteful with his possessions; he doesn’t use them to make friends who would welcome him into eternal dwellings (yesterday’s passage). He invites only his friends and relatives to his party, not those in need; so, he’s already gotten his reward (14:12-14)

• ‘a great chasm has been set in place’—Abraham doesn’t say that he won’t send Lazarus, but that he can’t, because a chasm has been put in the way. He doesn’t say exactly who put the chasm there. I think a good argument could be made that it is the rich man himself who dug the chasm—when he built the gate that kept Lazarus out. He erected his own barrier between himself and God’s kingdom.

• ‘They have Moses and the Prophets’—Jesus’ words about the importance of loving others are not new. The writings of Moses and the prophets are full of encouragements to love strangers, promises of God’s reward for those who do, and warnings of trouble for those who do not. The rich man’s relatives cannot reasonably say that they’ve never been warned.
Jesus clearly has the Pharisees in his sights with this comment. Being such experts in the Law, such students of Moses, they should know very well what God expects. They are exceedingly attentive to such things as exact tithing and exact definitions of work, but they overlook the much more important issue of mercy and generosity toward others.

• ‘they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’—Jesus intrudes a real-life prediction into his story. Being hardened as they are to God’s heart, they will not even be convinced by his resurrection.

• ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come’ —earlier (3:4), Luke described John’s preaching as the work of making a straight path so that the Lord could come to people. Now, we have another image of a clear path. Not only is God making his way to people, but people are also making their way toward God. They’re bound to trip a few times along the way, but that doesn’t make it okay to stick a leg out. Jesus expects his followers to make it easier for people to get to him, not to get in the way. This is in direct contrast to the law experts, who do put barriers in the way of people entering the kingdom of God (11:52).

• ‘thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck’—handcuff a twenty-five pound weight to your hand, take a boat a couple of miles out to sea, then dive into the water and try to swim back to shore: that’s a safer choice than taking advantage of someone who is small or weak. Picking on someone smaller than you might look like something you can get away with, but God will weigh in on the side of the vulnerable one. I take the ‘little ones’ to be people who are just starting out in their journey toward God. Tripping someone is hardly ever as funny as the one sticking his leg out thinks it is, but it would be downright cruel to trip a child who is just learning to walk.

• ‘rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them’—the disciples don’t need to pretend nothing happened, but they do need to let go of their desire to punish the person who did it.

• ‘Increase our faith’—the disciples recognize that what Jesus is asking, while simple in concept, is very hard to do. I think the faith they need is the faith to believe that they won’t be taken advantage of, that God will also protect them if they let down their guard and forgive.

• ‘we have only done our duty’—this presents an interesting contrast with Jesus’ earlier story about the master who does indeed serve dinner to his servants (12:37). I think that what Jesus is addressing here is an attitude of entitlement. God is indeed like a master who serves his servants. That doesn’t mean, though, that God somehow owes us his service. God serves us out of his generosity, not because we’ve done so much for him that it’s about time he does something for us. I think this image is referring back to the older child from the story of the two sons (Monday’s passage).

• ‘They stood at a distance’—the lepers are respectfully keeping their distance, so that no one else will become sick or ritually unclean.

• ‘Where are the other nine?’—only the Samaritan returns to thank Jesus. Over the course of Luke’s story, Jesus has mentioned several examples of outsiders who respond to God more enthusiastically than God’s own people: Naaman the Syrian, who was healed of leprosy by Elisha (4:27); the Queen of the South who came to hear Solomon’s wisdom (11:31); even the Roman centurion who showed such great faith in Jesus’ healing power (7:9). Meanwhile, Jesus is able to accomplish less in his hometown than anywhere else (4:24), and many people refuse to listen to John because they rely instead on their relation to Abraham (3:8). Jesus goes so far as to leave his own family waiting outside (8:21) to stress the point that what matters is not some special pre-existing relationship with him, but faith and responsiveness to God’s work.
In Jesus’ day, it was the Jews who might be tempted to rely on the label ‘child of Abraham,’ as an automatic pass into God’s good graces. Today, it’s Christians or churchgoers—maybe even religious people of any kind—who could similarly assume they have some sort of automatic ‘in’ with God. Luke’s story makes it abundantly clear that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what label you wear. No matter who you are, you can find yourself welcomed into God’s party—or left out. It might not be overstating it to say that which way it goes rests almost completely on how grateful you are to receive the invitation.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Imitate the prayer of the disciples. Ask God to give you more faith. Pray particularly that, by faith, God would increase your ability to forgive others. Pray that God would give you the boldness to speak up when you’ve been wronged, the grace to forgive, and the trust in God that you will not be taken advantage of.

For your friends: Are any of your friends sick? Pray that God would heal them. If they do get well, pray that they would recognize God’s work in their lives and turn toward him with gratitude.

For our city: Pray for the relationship between the rich and poor of our city. Pray that barriers would be broken down and relationships built. Pray for mutual blessing between the rich and the poor. Ask God to allow our church to play a part in tearing down the barriers between rich and poor. Pray for our church, and particularly for Hannah, as she works toward fostering these relationships in a real and useful way, through community development and partnership.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Luke 16:1-18

1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6 " 'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.'
7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
13 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.
16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and people are forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
18 "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Points of Interest:

• ‘Give an account of your management’—basically, the owner is giving the manager two weeks to get the books in order.

• ‘people will welcome me into their houses’—apparently, his future job prospects are rather meager. He figures his best chance is to get in good with people. Maybe if he’s well-liked or people feel like they owe him a favor, they’ll let him stay with them.

• ‘sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty’—the ‘quickly’ part makes it clear that this is his idea, not his master’s. Maybe people will even think he got fired for helping them out; a little guilt might increase the chances that they’ll take him in.

• ‘The master commended the dishonest manager’—any indignation he might feel at being cheated is outweighed by how impressed he is with what the manager pulls off. The master fired the manager because he was wasteful, but—once forced to it—he shows just how resourceful he’s capable of being. The manager finally figures out how to turn a temporary resource (his access to his master’s books) into a lasting benefit. If the manager had shown this shrewdness previously, the owner probably wouldn’t have fired him.

• ‘use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves’—this advice might seem a bit calculating. I think that’s Jesus’ point. We can learn something from this worldly, dishonest manager about how to make the best use of our resources. People are more important than money; so use your money for people’s sake. Everyone likes to have money spent on them—just as much as they like their bills to be smaller, rather than larger. Our money won’t last forever anyway, and people will. Perhaps if we spend our money on people, they’ll remember us fondly, and welcome us into eternity. It’s a simple calculation, and everybody wins.

• ‘who will give you property of your own?’—Jesus presents things opposite to how I tend to think of them. I think I have my own property now, but everything in the kingdom of God will belong to God. Jesus says that right now everything we have is actually God’s, but we have a chance of having something of our own in the kingdom of God. If we show ourselves trustworthy with his property now, he’ll give us our own property in his kingdom. It’s like we’re teenagers who want our own car, but our parents are seeing how well we take care of their car first. Jesus has much bigger things in store for us in his kingdom, if we are ready.

• ‘No one can serve two masters’—eventually the two masters will make competing demands, and you’ll have to choose which one to obey. The two masters here are God and Money. God and Money both offer the same thing—life—but they have contradictory instructions for how to get it. God’s instructions are to spend money on people; we’ve seen that not just in this passage, but throughout Luke’s story (6:30 and 11:41, for example). Money’s instructions might be the exact opposite: use people to gain money—that at least is what John warned people against in his sermon (3:10-14). As Jesus said earlier, ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12: 15).

• ‘sneering at Jesus’—the Pharisees seem to think that Jesus is just making pious excuses for why he is poor. He turns it around on them; they follow Money’s instructions, and then try to explain how they are really serving God.

• ‘people are forcing their way into it’—I have a little trouble following Jesus’ train of thought here, but I think his point is that the Pharisees can sneer all they want because there are plenty of other people who are desperate to get into the Kingdom. To use the language of last week’s story of the big party (14: 16-24), Jesus is confident that his house will be full.

• ‘than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law’—announcing the kingdom of God has replaced preaching the Law and Prophets, but that doesn’t mean that the Law has been made obsolete. Really, it’s just a change of tense. Until John, the message was, ‘Our rescuer will come.’ Since Jesus, the message has become, ‘Our rescuer has come.’ Jesus has come to complete the Law, not overturn it; loving God and loving our neighbors is still the way to find life (10: 27-28). Jesus simply brings new power to make it possible.

• ‘Anyone who divorces his wife’—this feels to me like another rather sudden shift of topic. Perhaps this is an example of how Jesus plans to uphold the Law and the Prophets. In the Law, Moses says very little about divorce. He neither specifically promotes it nor prohibits it, but instead assumes its existence and tries to manage it to avoid the worst abuses, such as spurious claims of adultery as grounds for divorce (Deuteronomy 22:13-19 and Deuteronomy 24: 1-3). In the Prophets, God is a bit more forthright: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice’” (Malachi 2:16). What God hates about divorce in Malachi is that it provides an easy way to get rid of your wife (in most ancient culture only the man had power of divorce) when you get tired of her. In other books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, and I Corinthians), Paul and Jesus himself add a few more details and a bit more nuance regarding divorce, allowing for some situations in which divorce may be an appropriate course of action. Both Jesus and Paul make it quite clear, though, that divorce is never God’s desire for a marriage and that it should only be entered into with extreme caution in rare circumstances. I think Jesus speaks so strongly against divorce because most of the time divorce is antithetical to the picture of relationships he has been trying to form. Jesus has been promoting relationships characterized by forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and servanthood; but divorce is often characterized by bitterness, judging of others, rejection, and selfishness, from at least one party, if not both. Jesus steers us away from divorce because it is a tempting choice, but there’s almost always a better option.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: This passage makes the startling claim that our relationship to money is one of the most powerful determinants in bringing us closer to or farther from the kingdom of God. Money can be a great tool in making friends that will be there to welcome us into heaven; but money also has a very real chance of drawing us away from God to serve it instead. Pray that God would break any negative spiritual power money has in your life, and ask God to give you shrewdness with money. Pray that God would help you to get the best eternal bang for your buck.

For your friends: Pray that your friends also would have a godly shrewdness with their money. Pray that God would reward them for the generosity they show, and that their generosity would increase.

For our city: Pray for the marriages of our city. Pray that God would bless marriages with abundance, generosity, forgiveness, blessing, and love. Pray against the power the temptation to blame has to undercut marriages. Pray for a particular outpouring of grace on marriages that are in crisis.