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

e”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

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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

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The Parable of the Wedding Feast, #22

Luke 14:16-24, Message

16-17 Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’

18 “Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’

19 “Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’

20 “And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’

21 “The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and down-and-out you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’

23-24 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”

There is danger here, and it gives this parable an edge. It seems that there are two kinds of people in this story: the well to do, and the misfits. Each plays an integral part–something that must be understood. We may not like what we see.

But the edginess that cuts in this parable is the real frustration of a man who has invited the respectable as guests to a wedding feast. But there’s nothing but good excuses. On the outward, they seem appropriate. In this story; three men justify their absence with what seems like reasonable.

But there’s more here. To refuse a wedding invite—was never done. It was the ultimate snub.

The overseer is outraged (obviously) by the conduct of these men.

He directs his servants to do something quite radical. He knows that the feast must have guests; the quantity reflects the quality. He orders that the servants scour the city, the streets and the alleys. He must have guests.

He doesn’t really care whether they’re misfits or not.

He’ll take misfits and rascals, losers and the homeless—it doesn’t matter, he wants warm bodies. He’ll take anyone at this point. He has decided that there will be guests, no matter what.

It’s grace—pure and simple.

The parable is a direct indictment of the religious situation of his day. Since the Jewish leaders have decided to reject Jesus, to spurn the invite to join in—he’ll invite the outsiders, the Gentiles. That is the first and obvious interpretation.

The second would be the “open door” given to the undeserving. We’re the ones who get to eat bbq lamb, and drink the best wine. It’s grace—pure and simple. And guess what, Jesus has room for more. There is a place at his table for you!

“Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These words of God are true.'”

Rev. 19:9

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The Parable of the Growing Seed, #21

Mark 4:26-29

 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” 

“The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

From a seed to a plant. We have no idea how this happens, it just does. This is a “kingdom” parable, one of several that explain what God’s realm is, and how it happens. In this particular story, we’re told how the Holy Spirit works. It also explains our role in this (which isn’t a whole lot).

The farmer puts the seed in the ground—and that’s it. He’s done his work, there’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t do anything else from this point, and honestly he can’t. And yet the soil needs to be prepared—plowed, fertilized and tilled again. You might say he creates the conditions (that’s what makes a good farmer, I guess) for something to happen.

He doesn’t massage the seed, coaxing it to grow. He doesn’t sing to it, or tell it about the wonders of being lush and green. He does zero. The seed grows on its own. He goes to bed, and gets up. After several days, bingo! That seed turns into a plant—something green and alive. He doesn’t do a thing. Life occurs without his work.

The point is this. God’s work is done invisibly within us (and that’s a relief)!

“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

Robertson’s Commentary

God’s kingdom works pretty much like this. The farmer doesn’t cause the seed growth, all he does is go to bed! He sleeps and waits and watches. It grows and he hasn’t the slightest. It’s a complete mystery. He has done everything he can, and God has done the rest. He “shares” in this amazing transformation, but the father has done it all.

We trust in a process we cannot see, or really understand.

We don’t dig the seed up every morning to see what’s happening. We just let the (super)natural happen. And it does!

The farmer has faith in the process (after all, he did plant the seed), but that’s it. There’s a verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 the should be considered. It gives us confidence and a definite trust in this process of growth. The Apostle Paul understands this “principle of growth.”

“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing.”

We must trust God completely to grow. We’re responsible for tilling and planting. But you need to understand what happens after that is up to him. The kingdom of God is supernatural. It’s exactly how the kingdom happens—and we must be patient and wise.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold Glascow

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The Vineyard Workers, #19

Matthew 20:1-16, CSB

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard for the day. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and about three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The market place in a first century Jewish community was also the hiring office. Land owners who need laborers would come there early in the morning to get day laborers. If you needed a job that’s where you went. Typically, you brought the tools, and waited until you were hired for the day’s work. The standard pay was a denarius a day.

Agriculture was always an irregular business. There were times when no workers were necessary, and then there were times (harvest) when you couldn’t have enough. Grapes were the biggest crop, and vineyards needed to be cultivated, but that took only a few; and probably more skilled men.

The weather was always an issue, harvest time and the rainy season happened pretty much at the same time. The trick was to get the harvest in as soon as possible. It was always a race against time, rains could come at any moment, and if they came too early, the entire crop would be lost. That’s why even a worker who only worked just an hour was welcomed.

The work day was divided up into four 3 hour increments: 6–9–12–3–6.

After the 6 am group was hired, the landowner made four other visits to the market place. Laborers were needed in the worst way—he would take anyone, even if only for an hour. Things were critical, and every worker made the difference. With each group, he told them that their wages would be appropriate. This was his agreement with them. “I’ll give you whatever is right.’”

When the day was done, a table was set up; the day laborers stood in line, the men who were hired last went first. They received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work! The one-hour guys couldn’t believe it. This was generosity in the extreme. They were elated.

Word quickly spread down the line. The men who worked the hardest—(they were the dirtiest and sweatiest), just knew that they were going to get even more than they ever expected. They were already figuring out in their heads their adjusted wages were going to be. “If the landowner was forking out a full days wage for just one hour’s work, we’re going to get far more.”

Surprise!

It’s not going to happen. Everyone down the line gets one denarius. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or how long or how many blisters you got. Everyone gets the same! That dear one, didn’t seem right or fair. The Greek word used here is γογγύζω, we translate it as “grumble, muttering or angry whispering. To be extremely discontent.” They were offended. Plain and simple.

The guys who worked all day complained. It wasn’t right. They confronted their employer, “how could you do this to us?” They were angry. What the landowner did, in their minds, was wrong—how could he “reward” those who barely broke a sweat. “You made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.”

Verse 16 smashes our conceptions of law and grace.

The law tells us that we get what we deserve. That seems logical; everyone receives what is reasonable. We like the logic of it. But grace doesn’t work that way. Law is man’s perspective; grace is God’s. We don’t understand it, it doesn’t compute. We “get” the law, it’s an automatic; it makes sense to us—grace on the other hand is foolish. “Who in the world gives out salvation to those nasty, evil people?”

God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.

The landowner isn’t unfair to anyone—true, he’s more generous to some, but he’s not wrong or unreasonable to anyone. We read this in verse 13. He has been completely appropriate. He paid what he said he would. Grace is totally foreign to us, we find it offensive. We can’t understand it—we come to God complaining about the grace he lavishes on junkies and homosexuals.

I shudder to think that I’ve accused him of being too merciful, too gracious to some others. The reality is that we deserve nothing. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be here, we’d all be damned to hell. But he is good to all of us. And really, in the final analysis, what does it matter if we’re the first or the last? I should be thrilled that someone else is blessed by a grace that they never deserved.

I get it mixed up sometimes, and I don’t really understand it.

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The Parable of Going to War, #18

Luke 14:31-33

 “Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” 

 “In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

There’s a disparity here. That difference is the backbone of this parable, and it seems that everything connects to that. One king has to make a decision, and it’s probably not an easy one. He has 10,000 troops, and ordinarily, that’s enough. But this isn’t a normal situation that he faces, and he has to figure out his next step. The text tells us that he “sits down and decides,” which shows us he is honestly evaluating the situation.

It’s awfully hard for a king to submit. As a rule they can be a bit haughty. They hate to submit. But he determines that if he goes to war, he’ll be outnumbered two to one—those are terrible odds, and victory really isn’t going to be easy. For us reading this passage, the choice is clear; he must seek a diplomatic solution, and he must do this quickly.

Jesus is asking us to sit down and consider if we can meet his demands.

To follow Jesus (verse 33,) will require (demand) that we give up everything we own. I believe he’s speaking primarily to the crowd here; the disciples who are following have already made a decision. (See Luke 14:25-26.) They have to commit; so what will they decide?

It’s a bit scary/funny. To ignore, doubt or waver is also a decision. To say “no, I can’t, or won’t,” is also a choice that carries incredible consequences. It’s as much as a commitment as deciding to renounce all and follow. Notice that the king sat down—that means he deliberated. He has to make a decision that effected everything.

The 1st century Greek text interests me. The word for renounce is “to say goodbye to.” That’s the point here—Jesus speaks to the crowd (us?) that you cannot be a disciple unless you can say this particular phrase from the heart. If you’re going to be “numbered” as a true follower, you must come to that place where you walk away from it all.

There are really just two options.

And yet both are decisions with definite consequences—one leads to life, the other leads to death (?!) and I’m not sure exactly what that means. (You need to figure that out on your own.)

Will you—or can you, give up everything to follow the Master?

There’s a lot to this parable—I know this. I believe though that I’ve shared the true gist of it, and I really hope you understand. If I’ve stepped on your toes, I apologize. But I’m convinced that its essence has been shared here.

“We have suffered from the preaching of cheap grace. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. People will take anything that is free, but they are not interested in discipleship. They will take Christ as Savior but not as Lord.”

     Vance Havner

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The Old & The New, #12

Matthew 9:16-17, LB

16 “And who would patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth? For the patch would tear away and make the hole worse. 17 And who would use old wineskins to store new wine? For the old skins would burst with the pressure, and the wine would be spilled and skins ruined. Only new wineskins are used to store new wine. That way both are preserved.”

Some might suggest that Jesus came to bolster up the old covenant, to rehabilitate Judaism and to bring it back in alignment with God’s will. This wasn’t the plan of the father. Jesus understood that he didn’t come to repair or reform the old, but to institute the new. That which is old and stagnant could never be made new and fresh.

The kingdom of God was to be something the world had never seen before. Jesus adeptly uses two illustrations to declare what the Holy Spirit was now doing. Patching up the old with something new that wouldn’t ever work, a tear would happen. And to pour fresh wine into something old could never handle the pressure of the new–that would be the height of foolishness.

The Pharisees’ and the scribes were hanging on to Jesus’ every word (and you’d better believe it.) They suddenly understood the threat of his Kingdom had on their own initiative. And these guys were scared; they were threatened by the coming of this new thing. These men were counting on “tradition” to preserve the order of things. They were old wineskins.

I’m thoroughly convinced that God is always up to something that’s totally brand new. Throughout history we see him show up on the scene with things that challenge his believers even further. He’s always had new things up his sleeves. He’s always faithful and true, no question about that. But he’s always been creative and busy in our present-day lives.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they sprout I proclaim them to you.”

Isaiah 42:9, (43:19; 46:9-10).

The real challenge is whether we can keep up with what he’s doing. He’s the “I am,” not the “I was” or what “I will be.” He’s present in this “now” moment! And if that’s true, I out to get a grip. To solidify isn’t the answer.

So what does this really mean? Perhaps, I suppose, I’m to think that the Holy Spirit is full of amazing and incredible surprises!

He’s always moving the goal posts, pulling us along with him. To be honest, I’ve changed dramatically in the last 30 years as a Christian. I think I understand more about the Father than I did in July 1982. (And sometimes, it seems like I know him less.)

I once got trapped in a “rip tide” off of a beach in Mexico. It dragged me along with it, and I couldn’t escape it. The current was pulling,, and I remember flailing against it; but no matter how much I fought and struggled I couldn’t resist the pull. Perhaps that’s how the father’s kingdom works. His spirit is never still or stagnant. He tugs on us, so we must follow him, if we’re going to be obedient.

Our king is moving. We must follow Him.

Scripture tells us that his kingdom is always growing, (Matthew 13:31-33.) He is always faithful and consistent to his people, but yet he’s also always taking us somewhere else. Abraham, Moses, the Jewish exodus all tell us he loves to stretch out his servants this way. Discipleship means following, not sitting under a nice tree, we’ve become brand spanking new—whether we like it or not, (2 Cor 5:17.)

The Bible is full of revival, and renewal, but God refuses to simply re-educate and legislate us to do his will. Rather he re-makes us. We WALK by faith (always steadily moving) and being a pilgrim means we never get to camp out in a nice, comfortable spot. He’s always leading, and I’m always following.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Of Moses, (Hebrews 11:10)

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