discernment, discipleship, distinctiveness, eternity, faith, grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, marriage, obedience, our hearts, separation

The Story of the Ten Virgins, #36

Matthew 25:1-13, CSB

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

“Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

“The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

There were three stages in every ancient Jewish wedding.

  • Engagement–when fathers got together to make sure that it would be a good match.
  • Betrothal—a ceremony in which formal promises were made by the lovers.
  • Marriage—a surprise arrival, usually a year later, by the groom at the home of the woman.

Each was incredibly important. There couldn’t be any short-cuts; one just didn’t jump into this. It wasn’t a Las Vegas approach to just getting hitched. This parable was an extension of the previous verses in Matthew 24:36-51 and had to do with being prepared.

We can extract this from the third step of marriage. The groom would show up at night, and torches were used to light their way, (apparently the flashlight hadn’t been invented yet). Within Jesus’ parable was the idea of suddenness or surprise.

But no one knew exactly when the groom would show up.

Hence there is an emergency feel to this story. The text states in verse 5:

Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

The story hinges on this sentence. Readiness is the issue here. Everything of any significance must take on the sudden arrival of the groom’s entourage. The virgins, apparently, would go out to meet him—the torches mingling their light, and drive out any darkness. (It seems that 10 was the acceptable number for a proper rabbinical ceremony).

The problem was that only 1/2 of them were ready. It’s interesting to note that everyone was sleeping. Obviously, that didn’t mean anything for it was the availability of “oil” that would make the difference. The idea was a surprise visit.

The oil was the key. And for us, it represents the Holy Spirit.

Sleep is not the whole issue here, but being prepared is. Five girls were foolish, they were simply not ready. They realized their error and tried to finagle oil from the others, but ultimately that would short everyone in their group. There was an idea that a trip to the local oil merchant would work. It was an idea anyway.

But it was already too late!

The door was closed. The five simply missed it. They stood outside knocking and calling, but they didn’t enter in on time. Reading between the lines, I sense they were desperate. Verse 12 is meant to penetrate and reveal the price of tolerating spiritual sloth.

“He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

The purpose of this parable is the ending line that stresses alertness in a society that dulls everything. The temptation is to act like you’re spiritually aware when you’re not. It’s one of our greatest sins. We assume our lamps are lit when the reality is that our oil (the Holy Spirit) is running close to zero. When our sloth gets mixed with hypocrisy it’ll surely destroy us.

We’re snoring our way to spiritual death.

We must resist slumber and slothfulness. Jesus asserts that his virgins must be prepared and ready for his coming. We must be ready, we must—the price of our unreadiness is high indeed.

“Take care of giving up your first zeal; beware of cooling in the least degree. Ye were hot and earnest once; be hot and earnest still, and let the fire which once burnt within you still animate you. Be ye still men of might and vigor, men who serve their God with diligence and zeal.”

    Charles Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

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Are You a Sheep, or a Goat? #35

Matthew 25:34-46, Message

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

This passage is murderous. It clearly explains the existence of heaven and hell. It develops the idea of personal accountability—you will be asked to explain the reality of your faith. It penetrates to the very core of you and I. Questions will be asked, and there will not be an attorney present. You will face him alone. (Easy-peasy, right?)

There’ll be only two possibilities (simple huh?) Will you be a “sheep” or a “goat?” Just two.

The issue here is what you’ve done with your life. Did you help others? Was Jesus hiding in the faces of those less fortunate? Did you recognize him there?

We’ll try to understand and we’ll have many questions. Who, when, and where? These aren’t insignificant or trivial issues. They’ll determine your eternal destiny; but after all, does it really have to come down to this?

It does strike me that everything is decided at that crucial moment. Did you really serve others? (As good believers, we emphasize “justification by faith” alone, and rightly so; but does this parable suggest this?) Are we really grasping what Jesus is telling us?

What about serving others?

The Lord Jesus makes things crystal clear, (too clear, in my book,) about service now, and eternity then. This story scares me. If I had a “sanctified” magic wand, I would use it here (“poof, be ye gone!”) but this parable doesn’t want to co-operate, and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to “mesh” on my good theology, but on serious actions.

There is something at that moment that’ll mystify us. We’ll need him to explain things. Sheepiness and goatiness demand need a clear understanding, and believe it or not, we’ll need it. Our Lord balances his decision on ones action to others, and he interjects that whatever is done, is done to him. Period. End stop.

Whether we agree or not. Whether we accept his decision or hate it, it won’t matter a bit. His verdict is final.

He decides whether you are his sheep or just a common goat. Either way, your actions determine everything. He’ll examine all you’ve done, and then you’ll have to live with it. And whether you like it or not—he does call the shots. How we treat others (less fortunate than us,) will determine our eternal destination. This chafes, I know it does. Please dear one, you must be afraid.

After reading, and hopefully acting positively to this story is important—it’s critical. But whatever you decide, you’ve been adequately warned.

Period. End stop.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

    Albert Schweitzer

    

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The Authentic Vine, Parable #33

John 15:1-7

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. “

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. “

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Both Jesus and Father God are involved here—we see that right away in verse 1. They both are at work very hard in our own lives, especially me; I’m a work in progress!

He prunes—the work of a good vinedresser. The knife is kept very sharp and the dead stuff is always being chopped off. He wants things to be healthy and flourishing, the vine is constantly assessed to see exactly how it’s doing. Fruit (for us the Holy Spirit) must be seen or else. If it’s not green, off it goes! The vine must bear fruit!

In verse 3 we can grasp the role of the Word in this spiritual “butchering.”

The secret in all of this is something called “abiding.” That idea gets repeated and repeated again so we don’t forget. Abiding is the whole point. The vine—branch—fruit analogy is a remarkable concept which explains the very essence of an authentic Christian life. It explains exactly what is happening.

So what? Have you wondered why the Father hasn’t taken us home already? Why not just escort us straight into his presence when we do get saved, what’s the hold-up here anyway?

This parable tells us that it’s the fruit that matters. We must bear fruit, even in adverse conditions. As a matter of fact, the grapes get good when the weather is hotter—that explains much, doesn’t it?

Verse 6, is crystal. If it abides (stays connected) it stays on. If it doesn’t it’s dead–and hence the knife. Just two possibilities, it’s simple folks, not rocket science. Let’s not mystify it, or look for hidden meanings. When Jesus taught, there weren’t any complications; a little child would be able to understand, and that was his intention.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23

Life automatically comes to the attached. We can “do nothing” on our own. Without the knife—and without abiding, we go nowhere. And simple abiding, staying attached or connected, is the only way the Christian life works. That’s why prayer and praise are such an issue. When you do these, you’ll stay nice and green and grapes (“the fruit of the Spirit”) just happen.

Don’t spiritually strain or grunt—just be. Stay connected through the Christian disciplines (prayer, praise, Bible thinking and reading…etc:) and then there will be no end to the green!

“Prayer comes spontaneously from those who abide in Jesus… Prayer is the natural outgushing of a soul in communion with Jesus.”

CH Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, #32

Luke 16:19-31, LB

19 “There was a certain rich man,” Jesus said, “who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury. 20 One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at his door. 21 As he lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. 22 Finally the beggar died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham in the place of the righteous dead.[a] The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went into hell.[b] There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham.

24 “‘Father Abraham,’ he shouted, ‘have some pity! Send Lazarus over here if only to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames.’

25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us.’

27 “Then the rich man said, ‘O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father’s home— 28 for I have five brothers—to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to.’

30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.’

31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’”[c]

Luke 16 is the “Fort Knox” of the Bible. The entire chapter deals with money, and golly, I could use more of that. The chapter deals with the disciple and his wallet, and how it relates to God’s kingdom. The passage that we read is a parable (a story) that seems long, but when Jesus shared it the listeners must’ve been alerted that what wealth a person had was a real issue.

Verse 19 is the crux of the story, ““who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury.” Although the average Jewish person might be able to pull this off 2-3 times a year (during feast days). This particular man lived this way, every single day. He ate very well, and his clothing was very nice. The rich man was the cream of the crop, the upper 1% of society.

I can see him throwing bones over his shoulder!

Laying just outside his gate was a “diseased beggar” whose dream in life was just to grab one of two of those bones for his dinner. To push Jesus’ story even further, we see the dogs (apparently hungry too) coming to lick the sores of the beggar’s body. The whole scene, the stark contrast between opulence and poverty made a very definite impact. I can just imagine that Jesus’ listeners grasped this terrible scene quite easily.

Quite suddenly both died. The afterlife separated them both, and those explosive words “a place of the righteous dead” and “hell.”

Jesus used them, and it makes me uncomfortable. We see the rich man trying to negotiate the situation. From the text we find a deep chasm separating these two men. We discover in the passage a real existence of an afterlife. This is not an easy truth to accept, and I wish it was otherwise. The text uses the word “flames,” and it appears that these are real.

I believe with all my heart in God’s love for us. Perhaps it’s our own sin that separates us from eternal life.

The rich man, whose eternal destiny has been fixed, desperately wants his family to see the truth. Hell is real. He wants them to understand this before it’s too late. It’s Farther Abraham who replies (and he pays an integral part here.) Reaching thw rich man’s family is not possible, even someone resurrected from the dead wouldn’t matter.

  • It’s obvious that consciousness exists beyond the grave.
  • The way that a person lives his life has eternal consequences.
  • Wealth has an accountability to it.
  • God’s word is the standerd by how a person is judged–for good or bad.

The parable, if interpreted literally, must be a factor in the way we live. We’re aware of the danger that wealth matters. The idea of repentance, “they will turn from their sins” is critical. So what do we do with all of this?

“The rich man wasn’t lost because he was rich. He was lost because he did not listen to the law and the prophets. Many will also be lost for the same reason.”

David Guzik

Sobering, isn’t it?

Art by Eugène Burnan

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Listening to Our Shepherd: Parable #31

John 10:1-6, Message

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.

For context: 10:7-18

What a joy can be found in the Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.

He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.

“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”

     Woodrow Kroll

He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busy-ness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.

“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.

If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives.

Perhaps Psalm 23 should be brought in at this point?

The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.

There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.

So many are speaking, so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind. But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Parable of the “Good Mormon,” #29

Luke 10:29-37, ESV

“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” 

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Do you have any idea how radical this parable was?

A scribe of the Law is testing Jesus. Verse 25 and 28 knit together to reveal the resistance that Jesus was dealing with. Was the scribe speaking on his own, or was he voicing the Jewish leader’s arguments? The word for “test” is the same word found when Satan tempted Jesus. It seems that this was the role of the darkness.

Jesus would have understood; he wasn’t intimidated by the enemy. If anything the parable discloses his understanding of motives and tactics of darkness. Jesus’ story was a masterpiece. He focuses on things that reveal the hearts of the religious leaders, with just a few words he strips bare the evil intentions of darkness. The parable bases itself on the end results of their false position. Jesus is the master and he is fully in control.

A man is beaten on the road by robbers. They mugged him, and even stripped off his clothing, and then left him to die. First, we see a Pharisee who made the decision not to get involved. Jewish tradition had developed a law that stated that even if his shadow fell on a corpse it would’ve rendered him unclean. That’s how messed up things got. Theology, not theopraxy, was completely in charge.

It was the same for the scribe.

Their ceremonial law blocked any real act of mercy. This man was without hope—until a Samaritan found him. Interestingly, Samaritans as a nationality despised by observant Jews. Jesus expertly tools his story to make them out to be the heroes of his parable.

Consider this: The relationship between Jew and Samaritan has a comparison for us in the present day. If we modernize this we can make the comparison to be between Christian and Mormon. The parallels are fascinating to consider. Like Samaritans, Mormons are close counterparts in the religious world. Now, I know Mormon theology is goofy, but let’s consider what’s going on here.

A Mormon shows up, and he really goes the extra mile, and then some.

He does what the Pharisee and the scribe should have done. With this simple story, Jesus shatters the deceptions of the Jewish leadership. When it comes down to it, what really truly matters is how we love our neighbors. It’s something active and it defies labels and descriptions.

Jesus turns to the questioning scribe and delivers a death knell to false ceremonialism. It isn’t what you believe is true, it’s what you do that really matters. It’s funny, but when Mormons act like Samaritans in this story, they’re regarded as holy and true in the sight of God. They’re really doing the Father’s will. This is true, whether we like it or not.

“You go, and do likewise.”

This is the will of God. Doing the work of the Samaritan is what declares our faith to be real and valid. Luther once commented:

God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Two Sons, #26

Matthew 21:28-32

  28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’

29 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to,’ but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.

It isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.

The parable kicks-off the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Consider the following, Jesus has just entered into Jerusalem, and on a single day:

  • He has just rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
  • He has received the praise of the crowd that he’s the Messiah
  • He has cleansed the temple
  • He has healed many sick in the temple courts
  • He’s had a showdown with the leadership of Israel
  • He rebuked a fig-tree for not having figs to eat
  • He had another encounter with the leaders of Jerusalem over his authority,
  • He teaches two parables (this one, and “the Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” vv. 33-46.)
  • He has another go-around with the Jewish leadership

And you thought you had a busy day! Jesus realizes that time is running short for him and on his earthly ministry. This parable, and the one that follows is a clear indictment on the Jewish leadership—the scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The parable must be understood by those in his audience. The leaders listened, and so did the crowds. Everyone got to hear the truth, whether they liked it or not. We must realize that Jesus didn’t intend to antagonize his audience purposefully. He only spoke these two parables to clarify what was true in the kingdom of God. Two sons, two reactions. The story divides the people right down the middle—you either accepted his word, or you ignored it.

It doesn’t matter what you said, it does matter what you did.

Tax-collectors and prostitutes (!) discover that the door to the kingdom opens up for them, but slams shut when the religious people want in. Jesus’ story declares that the Pharisees must go to the back of the line, and wait for others to enter in first. (Now that’s a mind blower.)

Let’s not get it mixed up. Salvation is 100% pure grace, and it has zero per cent human effort. He saves us, not because we’re such wonderful people (at least on Sundays, anyway!), but because of his gracious love. “It is by grace that we’re saved,” (Eph 2:8-9).

We’re the ones who won’t go to work when asked, but afterwards we decide to go. When we listen to Jesus—either from a Pharisee or a sinner viewpoint, will determine our real position in the kingdom.

What we say matters little, but what we do matters a great deal more.

“They talk of repenting, but they do not repent. They speak of believing, but they never believe. They think of submitting to God, but they have not submitted themselves to him yet. They say it is time they broke up the fallow ground, and sought the Lord, but they do not seek him. It all ends in a mere promise.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Desperate Widow, #25

Luke 18:1-8

“Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up. “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect people. And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’”

“For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect people, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so that she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’”

“Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?”

8 “I tell you that he will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This parable deals with heavy-duty prayer—not the weak watered-down stuff. But rather something that’s bold and confident. Jesus teaches us to intensify our prayers. There are parallels here with the woman from Canaan. We see Jesus seemingly ignore a seeker (Matthew 15:21-28, Message). I guess that bothers me somewhat. But he wants her faith to grow.

Jesus uses the word “unjust” to accentuate the story to his listeners. It more or less creates a tension where true faith can be seen up close. Back in the Old Testament we read of Jacob refusing to let go of the angel (Gen.32:22-25). We see Rachel who demanded children, “or else I die,” (Genesis 30:8). Both prevailed even when confronted with difficult situations.

“Don’t give up” in verse 1 explains this passage. Discouragement is a frontal assault on a believer’s faith. Satan uses different tactics, but attacking ones faith is his specialty. Whenever Satan sees faith, he attacks. He absolutely hates your relationship with the Father. He will turn you against him if he can. We are told that our faith must become a shield when he tries to assault us, (Ephesians 6:16).

It seems that to me that some believers refuse to wear their armor. They don’t realize how vulnerable they really are.

This parable is clear. Often God seems to be distant and unconcerned, but that isn’t true, and yet Satan insists that it is. As believers we’re told to press the father about our need. Repeatedly, we’re told that God is very much aware of us, he only wants to build our faith—to make it strong. He uses Satan’s assault on us to magnify the fathers glory.

The widow is a case in point. She demands that the judge listen to her case, and finally he relents. Her insistence is finally rewarded. He realizes that this widow isn’t going away. She’s starting to give him a headache, and she is very persistent. Her faith is stronger than his reluctance.

Our faith needs to be exercised. It’s very much like working out in a gym.

Weights are used, and once you’ve mastered one level, it’s increased. It may sound like a cliche, but God won’t give you anymore than you can handle, our faith isn’t much different. Sometimes we’ll sweat and strain spiritually, but we must understand that our faith has to be strengthened. We never seem to arrive.

You must understand that our faith will be tried, but that isn’t a bad thing. If God withdraws, then we must pursue. If he doesn’t answer we must crank it up. Like the widow we need to persevere; we must not give up. This is how your faith grows. Hebrews 11 declares what faith looks like when it’s wrapped up in flesh and bone.

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.”

Luke 11:10

Art by Eugène Burnand

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discipleship, faith, father, grace, Jesus, kingdom, mercy, our hearts, Pharisee, prayer, pride

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, #24

Luke 18:9-14

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’”

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me,[c] a sinner!’ , 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He despised others. As a Pharisee he prided himself as a holy person; he stood before God and congratulated himself. I believe that self-righteousness has many levels. You can be blatant and obvious about it, or it can be subtle and hidden. But we must understand that the father sees and knows. Notice the “all” here in Isaiah 64:6:

“We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind.”

Hmm. A menstrual rag? You got to be kidding!

We often advance ourselves by demeaning those who struggle hard with their sin–there are those who see and somehow know that they’re superior. We don’t come out and say so; but we’ve arrived— but guess what— God (and scripture) know better than this.

But we’re not dealing here with a hidden self-righteousness. The Pharisee truly believes that he is different from the tax-collector. He stands and doesn’t kneel. He feels comfortable and confident in the holy presence of God Almighty. He’s not like the others. He is sure that he’s holy.

The tax-collector was brutally honest about himself.

He didn’t need anyone to tell him how sinful he was—he understood his own wickedness. Jesus’ story reveals God’s love for those who know that they’re twisted inside. Notice the heart of the tax-collector:

  • “He stood afar off” which showed his awareness of his separation from God.
  • “He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven,” which declared his humility in the presence of God.
  • He kept “striking his chest,” which tells us of a deep pain over his sin against God.
  • He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ This describes his desperate heart.

These both came to pray, but that is all they had in common.

The Pharisee came to the temple to show off his righteousness, the tax-collector out of a terrible despair. It strikes me that the text in verse 11 says the Pharisee “began praying to himself.” It seems that his prayer never really met God—he was proud and showy, doing the things God hates (Prov. 29:23).

Things really came to ahead in verse 14. That’s the critical point of the entire story—“one went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Wow! What a statement. One professionally religious man, sure of his holiness, the other a sinful sinner, who came humble and broken. One showed off his faith—boasting with a legalistic swagger. The other desperate and desolate, completely undone.

But it was the tax-man who became righteous in the eyes of God.

Humility is the foundation of the kingdom of Jesus. In Matthew 5:3-4 makes a lot of sense—to be “poor in spirit” and to “mourn” are the bedrock of a Christian’s discipleship. To be justified (made right) was a gift. He didn’t try to earn it, and there wasn’t a probationary period. The tax-collector now became righteous; the Pharisee carried his sin.

God wants us to have a broken-heart. He rejects everything else. I suppose that the question is this: Do you mourn over your sin?

“The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
he saves those crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

Art by Eugène Burnand

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discernment, discipleship, evil, faith, father, grace, Jesus, kingdom, mercy, our hearts, repentance, unforgiveness

The Story of the Unmerciful Servant, #23

Matthew 18:22-34

23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’”  

“And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.”

God is generous. All that he does is grace. It’s also grace when we really meet another. He loves us, and we need to siphon that love to everyone we meet. When we come before the Lord, we don’t get the justice we deserve. He has forgiven us—the ten thousand ones.

God is generous. We owe him an outrageous kind of debt. Commentators list the modern value of 10,000 talents would be $1 billion USD. Granted this is figurative, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Grace is God’s extravagant for scandalous sinners.

That is an insane amount of money. To settle our debt would far, far more than we can repay; but isn’t that the point. God’s grace on us, is a precious thing.

When he gets off his knees, we realize that he really hasn’t changed by grace. He’s teflon, and the mercy the father gave him isn’t really understood. His heart hasn’t really grasped his lesson in forgiveness. God forgave, the servant didn’t understand. His treatment of another proclaims this.

The story is all about grace and the law.

The $10,000 guy meets the $100 talent guy and we see our own inability to forgive. We shake down our brother and sister for just small things. Notice verse 28, the text tells us that he actually assualted him, “he started to choke him.” How bizarre and how disturbing. And yet, God sees, and responds.

Was the $10,000 guy really forgiven? Did he understand the spiritual transaction of what just happened? I don’t think so—and it scares me.

The other servants have seen the issue.

The key word is “distressed,” or lypeō in Greek, the word means “to throw into sorrow, to grieve or offend., to make heavy.” All that the forgiven servant did, was recognizable by others, and they reported what they saw to the master.

He’s called “wicked” in verse 32. What he did was awful, and again he’s brought in. Because of his mistreatment of the other who owed, he was now thrown into prison, owing a billion bucks. He gets what he now deserves. He gets justice instead of mercy.

“But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

Matthew 6:15

I’m pretty sure that God isn’t hammering us over our unforgiveness of others. I suspect it’s our sin that does that. When we consider our sin, how can we understand others who sin against us? We have been forgiven much (very much!) how can we not forgive others for sinning against us?

Many people ruin their health and their lives by taking the poison of bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35 tells us that if we do not forgive people, we get turned over to the torturers.

    Joyce Meyer

Art by Eugène Burnand

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