How to Come to God

These are notes I wrote today for the passage Luke 18:15-30. I hope you profit by them!

Luke 18:15-30

There are two sections here that I’m going to examine, and even though they hold much of the same teaching from the last section, I’m going to look at them together on their own for the time being.

The first section we see Jesus responding to the disciples reaction of these parents who are bringing their little children to be blessed by Him. His reaction is what we’ll look closely at in a moment.

The second section has to do with a wealthy young man who presents himself before Jesus, and has a question concerning eternal life.

In both instances, we’ll examine Jesus’ reaction to them, what he says specifically, of course, as well as the mindset of how each type of person (the children and the rich man) presents themselves before Jesus.

I believe that from these passages we’re going to learn the following:

  1. Who, or more appropriately, how, can a person enter the kingdom of God. There will be two component parts to this – what God does on our behalf, and what our response to His doing looks like in our lives.
  2. In light of this, what ought our attitudes and mindset about life be? And I mean this for both for Christians and those seeking the kingdom still.

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

It wasn’t an uncommon practice for local Rabbis to lay their hands upon children and bless them. There’s nothing magical about the laying on of hands, rather it is a way to show love for the child, and bring them before God in humility and gratitude.

During my trip to Israel last summer, we spent our Friday evening enjoying Shabbat with a Jewish family. Eventually we came to a place in the evening when the father was supposed to bless their child. It was really neat to see the father’s hold their children close – even the teens – and speak a blessing over them. It was done with hugs and kisses and much love.

This is the scene here – it is very intimate, and very special.

Therefore when the disciples callously attempted to shoo away these parents, Jesus reacted with a rebuke. No doubt the disciples were thinking of their master, and his own well being. They didn’t want him crowded every moment of every day. But Jesus loved his children – especially the youngest of them, and he used this as a teaching moment, as he had so many other times previously.

The principle here that Jesus wants to get through is that the kingdom of heaven is populated by children. There are two parts of this. First, there is the literal part – where he says, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Heaven, God’s kingdom, will be populated with MANY an infant, many a child who never reached an older age in this life.

For parents who have lost children through miscarriage or abortion, or even through tragedy that comes later, this truth is extremely reassuring.

But as reassuring as this is, this is not the primary theological point that Jesus wants to make. For he continues on saying, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

You can tell he’s about to teach an important principle when he interjects the word “truly.”

Note two things. First He says, “receiving” the kingdom. The kingdom isn’t something you can earn on your own merit. It is not something that enter by your own merit, as we’ll examine here shortly.

Now secondly, what he says about receiving the kingdom is that one must be “like” a child.

What are some of the ways in which a child approaches the topic God that might differ from an adult?

Mainly, a child comes to God with very little in the way of presuppositions or assumptions. They come with the expectation of acceptance, and they come in humility. They aren’t thinking, “I deserve to be here” or “I’m going to be an extra good so I can come to God” – in fact, just saying those things aloud as if they come from a child’s mouth sounds preposterous!

They come in response to a prompting of love – with hearts that are humble and not haughty. Their faith is simple in that there are minimal outside influences vying for their affections.

They don’t overcomplicate things by adding their own ideas of the terms of this relationship into the mix, nor do they cloud their minds with priorities that would inhibit their faith.

This issue of priorities, of affections, is what gets addressed next…

18:18-19 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [19] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

This account is also in Mark and Matthew, so from their accounts we divine that this is a man with wealth, and that he is young. So when we put all that together, we tend to call him, “the rich young ruler.”

Some have speculated that he is the ruler of a synagogue. But whatever his specific status, he is the exact opposite of the children that were previously the subject of our reading.

His question is tending toward eternal life, but he begins by calling Jesus “good”, and it is that adjective that Jesus latches onto as a way of answering His question.

Jesus’ reaction is that no one is good except for God. Some have stated that Jesus is either implying that he is a sinner, and therefore doesn’t deserve the title of “good.” Others say that Jesus is implying here that he is God because only God is good, and he’s using this as a way of drawing out that truth. Others still say that Jesus is just rebuffing the young man’s flattery.

But I agree with Bock that what Jesus is doing here has to be kept in context of everything else he’s stating. He’s basically pointing the man to God, and God’s incomparable character. God is holy – He alone is perfect, He alone is truly “good.” All other men have variable or subjective definitions of what exactly “good” is, but God is the ultimate definite standard for what good really is.

We see this as Jesus continues on…

18:20-22 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” [21] And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” [22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

When the young man says, “all these I have kept from my youth” he is basically saying that HE is “good”! He is stating that he’s perfectly kept the law.

Have you ever run into someone who believes they are basically a good person, and that they really haven’t sinned recently – some say they have NEVER sinned!

This is the attitude and the mindset of this young man. And Jesus blows it up. He hits him in the heart. When he tells him to sell all that he has, what he’s doing is exposing the man as an idolater – as someone whose priorities aren’t right.

At face value this guy seemed pretty holy – he seemed like a “good” guy, right? I mean, here he is seeking out a local rabbi asking about eternal life. His head is in the game, he’s asking the right questions, he’s crossing the right boxes off, right?

No – wrong answer! What was the problem here? Let’s see…

18:23-25 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. [24] Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! [25] For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now here we see what’s going on, if we didn’t already pick up on it.

What is the difference between this man, and the children who were coming to Jesus?

The main difference was faith and priorities. Put another way, it can all be boiled down to affections.

As I mentioned before, a young child has no affections for this world that inhibit them from hmbly coming before God and asking for eternal life. They represent one end of the life-experience scale.

On the other end of the scale is this rich man – not just rich though, he’s also a “ruler” – heck, he even had youth going for him! He had it all – he was young, and he had both power and wealth. And that’s really it, right? I mean that’s what we want out of life. Sure some might have a difference ratio on the affections meter. They might want 80% wealth and only a little power, or they might be satisfied if they could just control their circumstances and live a moderately good life, so long as they were in control and had the freedom they longed for and the power to make it happen.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between the children and this rich ruler, with finances and freedom or power (I regard the American middle class idea of Freedom sometimes as equivalent to that of power when it comes to affections).

With that in mind, look at how the man reacts. He has so much to loose, so he walks away. The kids have nothing to loose, so they have no problem coming to God.

Right about now the dilemma might be hitting you just as it hit the disciples: anyone who has lived in this life for a decent number of years will have affections that crowd out eternal truth.

Jesus acknowledges this issue – he says its super difficult to get into heaven if you have riches – hence the saying about shoving a camel through the eye of a needle. There are some who’ve said that this is talking about how camels had to stoop to crawl on their belly to get into the “needle” entranceway of a city. But that’s erroneous. It’s not that Jesus just wants humility, when we approach God, he wants an open hand of faith – as goes the old hymn:

“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” (Rock of Ages)

This prompts the disciples to say the following…

18:26-27 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” [27] But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

In other words, no merit of your own, no fake humility, no false courage, no amount of good works is going to get you into heaven. What has to happen is a change in your affections. And this only happens by the grace of God. In other words, this kind of faith is the gift of God.

Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

Therefore salvation – entry into the kingdom – is made possible by the power of God. And this is really evident in that most of us prize things that are not heavenly things until God brings us to Himself. Our lives are characterized by a love of anything and everything but God. We love football, golf, cars, shopping, and even our iPhones more than we love God!

But all of that changed for those who have been saved.

What happens next in this passage is that Peter realizes, “hey, this is me! This is our group! We have done this!”

And again, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.

[28] And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” [29] And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

The natural man’s objection to all of this is, “hey, I like my life! Don’t take my fun away from me. I may not have much, but I have XYZ. So things are pretty good. What’s so great about God that I need to reorient all my priorities and affections anyway?”

This is the difference between the children and the rich man – it’s all about affections. What we care most about. And we make the (wrongful) assumption that the stuff we are aiming for, or have obtained here in our lives isn’t worth giving up.

Jesus blows this out of the water as well.

He says that when you leave all the world behind – even the things that are worthwhile like family – when you put me first in your heart, you will “receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

He is saying that not only is this a matter of eternal life, it’s a matter of living a great live NOW.

Having the right affections will bring about a life that is so much more fulfilling, so much richer, so much better. In other words – you are clinging onto a miserable existence compared to what I am prepared to give you.

For the Christian these words ought to just remind us to re-orient our minds around the truth of the Gospel. It’s so easy in the rush of life to let other priorities crowd into our heart. The way I think of this is that what your mind is occupied with, will eventually occupy your heart. Obviously from here there are physical, day-to-day implications. What you love most you’ll do most.

Jesus redeems the activities of our lives and gives them both a purpose and a perspective.

He helps us see here that by prioritizing Him first in your mind and heart, you can keep perspective over both the good and the bad in life. That’s how Paul was able to say:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

Note who is supplying the power here – it is God. Today, be reminded and refreshed in these truths and don’t let other priorities crowd out the eternal promise that Jesus has for us here.

For those of you who are not Christians, perhaps the message of these passages has really set in sharp relief the contrast between your life and what you value most, and how Jesus has taught us to approach God.

At issue here are your priorities, and what you value most in this life. What do you think most about? What do you spend most of your time on? Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can live your life by your own dictums, your own measure of what “good” is, and then show that measuring rod to God when you die.

What will He say? What will He do? He will respond that only HE is good, and that your works are nothing comparatively. Your priorities were not His. Your heart was not His. He’ll tell you to get lost – and you’ll walk away like this young man did – only you will be walking away for eternity. Thus, you will have squandered a life of joy now, and an eternity of happiness hereafter.

What is required is a heart that recognizes your sinfulness and your low stature before God, and desires (I use that word purposefully) to be made right with Him. The way this can be done is by believing in the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ.

By calling upon Jesus, by believing that He is who He says He is, and by repenting of your sins, you will receive this gift of eternal life that alluded the rich young ruler. It’s really simple, but its really hard, nigh on impossible to do without the help of God. Ask Him for that help.

What was lost is now found

Last night I taught on Luke 15, three parables that teach us about the lengths God has gone to save us, and the only proper response to His pursuit: joy and repentance.  Below are my notes, I hope you profit from them!

Luke Chapter 15

Introduction to the Chapter

Chapter fifteen features three parables which showcase many aspects of the character of Jesus, but only one essential truth: God has gone to great lengths to save those who were lost and not thought worthy of the kingdom of God, and finds great joy in doing so! If there’s a second point, it is that the lowly, the meek, the humble who seek repentance are those who populate the kingdom of God.

You’ve heard of “seeker-sensitive” churches, but in this chapter we learn that it is God who is the seeker, and we see his character and his chase highlighted herein. We also see the kind of person he is chasing (sinners) and what the proper reply is to his calling (repentance).

In each parable something that was lost been restored. In the first parable we see the lengths to which a good shepherd will go in order to find a lost sheep. In the second parable, the woman who has lost a valuable coin searches everywhere in order to find that which was so valuable. Finally, in the parable of the prodigal son, we see the longsuffering father, effusive with joy and love upon the return and restoration of his long lost son.

Through each parable we see the heart of Christ for the lost, the sinful, the wayward – He sees them as valuable beyond measure. God doesn’t do anything that is a “waste of his time” so to speak. Everything he does is supremely worthy of his effort. He always ordains and acts according to what will bring him the most glory – this is the wisdom of God.

Those whom Christ has chosen to set His love upon from eternity past as HIS. They are a love gift from the Father, and despite their wanderings, He will surely go to the ends of the earth to chase them down with His love.

Once again, Luke 19:10 serves as a wonderful guide to understanding this chapter, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

These sinners were the social outcasts. Tax collectors were traitors to their own people, collecting money from fellow Israelites on behalf of the Romans. They functioned as mercenaries who cared more about riches than holiness. Ryken says, The word ‘sinners’ was the catch all for people who had a notorious reputation for bad behavior – thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, and anyone else who refused to conform to the holy habits of the religious community.”[1]

In this culture hospitality was a very important part of the social order, and who you ate with was just as important. – so much so that when these Pharisees saw Jesus eating with sinners it was enough to throw them into convulsions.

Ryken says that this word “receives” (prosdechomai) was “to welcome them into fellowship, to accept them and associate with them. In that culture, one of the most tangible ways to establish this kind of friendship was to share a meal.”[2]

You have to ask yourself this: Are you so outwardly religious that no sinner would want to get near you?[3] Or are you compassionate, and full of wisdom? Do you welcome and surround yourself with sinners who need saving? It is easy to fall into a legalistic mindset, so much so that you are unwilling to have a beer with a colleague after work. And on the flip side, perhaps you are willing to eat with them, and you’re very approachable, but you don’t ever lead them to the reason for the hope within you. Jesus calls upon us to be both approachable and loving and also transparently truthful. His mission was to seek and save the lost – and that ought to be ours as well.[4]

15:3-7 So he told them this parable: [4] “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? [5] And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. [6] And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ [7] Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

There are three things we need to notice about this parable.

  1. Jesus is the shepherd in this parable, and he is seeking a specific sheep. He knows the name of that sheep. The shepherd of Israel was always seen as the Lord.

This is a truth rooted in the psalms:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [2] He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. [3] He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. [2] Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2)

This is a truth rooted in the prophets – He had a specific group of people upon whom He had set his affections:

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. [12] As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. [13] And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. [14] I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. [15] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. [16] I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

This is a truth which finds is greatest expression in the person of Jesus:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. (John 17:9-10)

  1. Notice there is no guessing in what state this sheep was found – he was lost. He was a sinner. He needed repentance. This is what is sometimes chiefly missing from our study of these parables. The one thread that runs through them all in the case of the objects of God’s love is the central need of repentance.

What is it that fuels the joy of heaven? Repentance! This is a great insight for us because it shows us firstly that the priorities of heaven are not the priorities of earth. Those not valued here on earth are greatly valued in heaven. Secondly, it shows the importance of spiritual warfare and of sharing the gospel. If heaven is rejoicing at these things, ought we not to give them our attention as well?

J.C. Ryle gets at an important point that I hadn’t thought of right away, namely that the world “mocks” at repentance.[5] It isn’t a popular thing to “repent” of our behavior. If someone doesn’t like the way we behave, we say “tough, that’s what makes me unique!” We celebrate our sins and call them “diversity”, and we go endless days without doing business with God because we don’t take God as seriously as we ought.

  1. The shepherd goes to great lengths to rescue the lost sheep. As Geldenhuys says, “the shepherd considers no trouble, sacrifice and suffering too great to find the lost sheep and bring it back.”

This is the real central point of all of these parables, namely the great lengths to which Jesus has gone to rescue us from ourselves.

15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? [9] And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ [10] Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This next parable was one that women of Jesus’ day could relate to – which actually cuts to the point that Jesus cared more about relating timeless truths to the lower classes of men and women than to the rich and powerful. He had a word for everyone because He was rescuing men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Ryken comments, “Can you see what Jesus was doing? In contrast to the other preachers of his day, he wanted to teach women as much as men. To do that effectively, he made a point of using examples that related to their life experience.”[6]

In this case, the woman who lost her coin represents God. And the coin that is lost – well you guessed it, that’s the lost sinner God is searching after.[7]

One of these silver coins, called “drachamas”, was worth an entire days labor in the time of Jesus.

Imagine working all day long, getting dinner made, getting the laundry going, the kids finally in bed, the house somewhat clean (if you’re lucky), and you sit down to get the money ready for grocery day tomorrow. A sinking feeling takes hold when you realize that you’re missing an entire day’s worth of money in your bank account – what in the world happened? Where did it go? That’s when you start looking through your bank statements, scrolling furiously through the online line items. The horrid realization is setting in that everything you did today doesn’t even matter. It might as well never have happened – its gone. You immediately start combing your purse, your wallet, your statements, you stop and think – you must be missing something somewhere. That’s when you realize – you had gotten an extra $300 out of the ATM and put it in an envelope for tomorrow – that’s why it wasn’t showing up in the online statement!

We’ve all been there – in fact, more likely than some cash in an envelope is the case that the bank charged you 5 times for overdraft fees even though you have plenty of money sitting in another account. They just didn’t bother to ask if you wanted to transfer any of the over!

But the point is this: That silver coin was worth a lot to this lady. She needed that money to run her household. Losing the coin wasn’t just a write off, or bad business, it could be fatal.

Tony Romano talks about how this stops everything, it interrupts everything – life stops cold in its tracks in order to find this coin. All else, all other priorities fade for the moment, and the search consumes everything.[8]

Such is the value God places on the lost sinners of this world. And when He tracks one down, all of heaven erupts in jubilant celebration.

15:11-13 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. [13] Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

Notice two things. First, the father didn’t deny his son what he asked for. Sometimes God gives us the desires of our heart in order to show us that they are foolishness. He basically says, “Fine, you want these things? Take them and see that they are worthless and temporary compared to what I have to offer you!”

But it is devastating to realize that this son wants to waste everything his father has worked so hard to save.[9]

Secondly, the living of this son is the life promoted by the world. It is the “good life” – it prioritizes the self ahead of others, and the temporal before the eternal.

15:14-15 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

The privileges of this son in his own land were lost. What took years to save is spent in no time at all. And, ironically, the well-healed young man has now become the hired servant. His bondage is self inflicted – in more ways than one.

The son is now at the nadir of his life. Jews listening to Jesus’ parable would have been completely repulsed by the idea of feeding and eating with pigs – an unclean animal.

15:16-19 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. [17] “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

This is the moment – at his lowest – when he comes to himself. That is a very important statement. He is finally in his right mind – he sees reality for what it is. He isn’t trying to just get himself out of a spot with the intention of going right back to the life he led before. No, he is finally desperate enough to realize how much he needs saved.

Furthermore, he knows that what he has done has been an offense first and foremost against heaven.

What this says, and what all of these parables intimate, is that our sin is of cosmic importance. Angels celebrate when we repent and are saved. Our sins are recognized as that which is an offence first and foremost against God.

This is something that David realized as well:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:4)

15:20-24 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

We must notice three things about the Father:

  1. Even when the son was far off he felt compassion and “ran” to him. Pride, anger, resentment had no place in this man’s heart.
  2. He lavished upon the son great gifts and love. Such is the love the father had for his son.
  3. He recognized the state of his son as “dead” and now “alive” – so are all men who were previously outside of the family of God.

And once again, a celebration ensues!

15:25 “Now his older son[10] was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. [26] And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. [27] And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ [28] But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, [29] but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. [30] But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ [31] And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. [32] It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

What strikes me about this is the excitement, the party atmosphere, the joy, the dancing, the music – loud music! This is a real party going on here! The God of the Bible is not a stoic. He is a God who has created all of these lost men and women – fashioned them with His own hands. He cares deeply for them. And he has set his affection on a chosen number to save from eternal punishment. This special affection is seen in the profuse love of this father for his wayward son.

Also, God works from a different plane of reality here.[11] He says it was “fitting” that they celebrate. It’s a given, its natural. This is what we do, he says. That is not human logic; this is a statement motivated by someone with perspective on a higher plane of reality. Because we have the mind of Christ, we must also elevate our thoughts to His, to celebrate the significance of a lost sinner coming to salvation.

Now let’s examine once again some of the bigger picture here…

The Bigger Picture

We would do well at this point to pull back and remember the bigger picture of Jesus’ ministry, and how it fits into the larger scope of redemptive history. The history of Israel was one of disobedience, exile, and salvation.

To get a better picture of the cycle, remember that just as Joseph went ahead of the Israelites into the land of Egypt, so also Daniel went first into Babylon – into exile – before the rest of his countrymen joined him. Both men were elevated to the highest positions in the land due to their faith. And just as Moses came later to rescue the people from Egypt, so too Daniel predicted that even after the exodus from Babylon there would be a new exodus led by the One he referred to as the “Son of Man.”

Moses the great Midianite shepherd, rescued his sheep from the serpents of Egypt. Jesus, the son of Man, and greater son of David, has taken up staff and rescued the sheep of His Father’s flock, delivering them from exile to a new exodus – a spiritual exodus – an exodus from sin and death.

That is what is going on here – Jesus has come to usher in the exodus – and as He does this, He establishes His kingdom. It is a kingdom built upon a rock. It is a kingdom which will never be shaken. It is a kingdom which will cover all the lands as the water covers the sea. And as we see in chapter 15, it is a kingdom populated by sinners.

Which leads to the last points…

The Character of God

Underlying all of this the manifold character of God is seen. His sovereignty is manifested in ordaining, and indeed bringing about, the salvation of those who seemed (by all worldly standards) to have wandered beyond the reach of salvation. His justice is seen in His passing over those self-righteous “older brothers” who refuse to come in and eat with the prodigals. His mercy is showcased in the way in which He loves the unlovable – whom He amazingly sees as valuable enough to search the earth over for – and saves them out of a wretched situation.

Such is the mercy that He has showered upon each one of us, even if we don’t think very frankly about our state prior to His saving work. Listen to the reflections of C.H. Spurgeon:

“I must confess,” he says, “that I never would have been saved if I could have helped it. As long as ever I could, I rebelled, and revolted, and struggled against God. When He would have me pray, I would not pray, and when He would have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied Him to melt my soul. But long before I began with Christ, He began with me.”[12]

We all must stand in debt and awe that the Hound of Heaven has chased us down, has set His great and mighty love upon us, and though we deserved it not, has rescued us from certain death. God be praised for His mercy.

Footnotes

[1] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 103.

[2] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 113.

[3] I appreciate the teaching of Tony Romano who brought this question to my attention two years ago during a campout when he spoke on this passage. My personal notes reflect several pages of introspection from those teaching sessions in August of 2013.

[4] Tony Romano, August 23, 2013 notes on Luke 15 teaching. He said, “The church is on mission because God is on mission.”

[5] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke, Volume Two, Baker Books, Pg. 177.

[6] Ryken, Volume II, Pg. 117.

[7] Ryken points out that the H.S. is possibly represented by the woman in the second parable – Pg. 118.

[8] Romano, August 23, 2013, notes on Luke 15 talk.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ryken wisely points out that there is a progression in the three parables. The sheep was 1 of 100, the coin was 1 of 10, but the prodigal was 1 of 2. Although it is evident here that both sons were really lost, and many believe that the Pharisees are represented in the older son in this final parable.

[11] Romano, August 24, 2013, men’s campout, personal notes on his lesson.

[12] http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/bio2.htm

Living a Life of Expectancy

Be Ready: Living a Life of Expectancy

What does it look like to live in such a way that we if we were to know Jesus was going to come back tonight we’d be ready to welcome Him with open arms? Living in light of the reality that He could come back at any moment is what the Christian life is all about.

I think we are going to find two different kinds of motives for living a life of expectancy when we examine Scripture.  So in this post, which is a copy of my notes on Luke 12:35-48, I’ll examine these and other important lessons.  So let’s dive into the text…

12:35-36 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, [36] and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.

The first hint we have that Jesus is using an analogy here is that he says be “like” so and so. He is saying there is a mindset we need to have, a worldview, if you will. And that mindset is to inform the way in which we live our lives.

The kind of mindset is said to be analogous to that of servants who are anxiously awaiting their master’s return from his wedding feast. No sooner will the master return than the servants are to “open the door to him.” The picture is clear – these men haven’t gotten dressed for bed and haven’t turned off the lights, so that when the master comes back, they are ready to greet him.

12:37-38 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. [38] If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!

From a context perspective on the matter of these “watches” of the night, it is helpful to understand that the Jews and the Romans divided up the night into 3 and 4 sections respectively. The ESV Study Bible helpfully explains:

Most interpreters think Jesus is using a Jewish understanding of “three watches of the night” (6:00–10:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m.–2:00a.m., 2:00–6:00 a.m.). However, others think he is using a Roman understanding of four watches (6:00–9:00 p.m., 9:00p.m.–12:00 a.m., 12:00–3:00 a.m., 3:00–6:00 a.m.). In either case, the point that Jesus is making is that “the master” could come at any time, even when one is not normally prepared.

Now, as to what Jesus is saying, it is an interesting point…He is saying that if these servants just stay awake long enough and are ready for the return of their master, the it is the master who will serve them – a role reversal is taking place here.

Therefore they are called “blessed” because they are on the receiving end of this service.

The reason for the role reversal is simple. The servants were up at all hours of the night because it was a dangerous thing to leave the master’s possessions unguarded for fear of thieves. But if they stay awake and guard their master’s possessions, then they will be rewarded by the master – in fact he will personally serve them. This is quite an honor.

This tells us that the master values his possessions and appreciates those who are responsible guardians of the things he cares about.

Remember that servants are responsible to obey and execute their duties. There is no obligation on the part of the master to treat them with this much dignity. Yet that is the picture Jesus is painting.

This leads to the first reason we should be always “ready”: We ought to be ready because there is a great joy and blessing awaiting us if we are faithful to the Lord until He comes back. We have motivation for faithfulness born out of the joy we know He wants to reward us with. This tells me that God really does care about our well being, and it is His desire to have us happy – to have us find joy and to look forward to that just as Jesus Himself did.

There are two further passages that verify what I’m asserting here. The first is found in John 10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Interestingly, in this passage Jesus uses the analogy of thieves again, but this time in a different way. Here Jesus contrasts His own ministry with those pretenders to the office of shepherd in this passage in John.

The second passage is from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

This is a passage we’re most likely all familiar with. But I want to point specifically at this part where it says that Jesus endured the cross because He had a great joy that was motivating Him to do so.

So we, like Jesus, need to keep in mind the reward. In fact, it wasn’t only Jesus who was motivated to faithfulness by the joy that awaited Him, the entire chapter preceding this one speaks of saints who were motivated in a similar fashion.

For example, Abraham was motivated by a better place of dwelling with God:

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

And…

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)

Moses is said to have the same drive:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)

Finally the author concludes:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, [40] since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Therefore it is right for us to be motivated by these things, not simply because these men and women were also, but because our supreme example, Christ Jesus, focused on the joy that awaited Him and we are told to “look to Him” as our model.

12:39-40 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. [40] You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Now Jesus begins to mix His metaphors a bit. He was the master in the story, but now compares his return to that of a thief in the night, which is done elsewhere:

Paul says:

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:2)

Peter says:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)

Then later in Revelation, Jesus warns the church:

Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Rev. 3:3)

Then He sums up with the clear message that He is coming back and you don’t know when.

That leads us to ask the question: What does it mean to “be ready”? What does that look like?

12:41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?”

Peter – still trying to figure out how the kingdom of God will be setup – asks a good question (at least from a human perspective). He wants to know if Jesus is giving instruction to those who will rule over the kingdom – the hierarchy, if you will, or to everyone who is following Jesus at the time.

Jesus, like He did so often, doesn’t directly answer the question, but answers in a richer way by the exploring the analogy further. The purpose behind using the analogy/story to answer the question is (in this case) not to create confusion but to give His disciples a deeper insight into the doctrine he’s teaching them.

In other words, Jesus is teaching them to think. In fact, you might say He’s teaching them to think His thoughts after Him.

12:42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?

So Peter – the answer to your initial question is that Jesus is addressing anyone who is a manager over the things God has assigned. A servant in the House of God. And, I believe it is right to say, we have all been entrusted with responsibility in these matters.

12:43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. [44] Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

Jesus reiterates what He stated before, but now giving another dimension to the blessing: Management of all of the master’s possessions.

And this makes sense. God put Adam in the garden originally to rule over the earth. The purpose of God for Adam was thrown away when Adam traded God’s sovereignty for his own selfish whims. When the Master came to check on His household, He found that Adam had not been responsible with what God owned.

God’s plan for us is that we will reign with Him over the new heavens and new earth. However, our bridegroom Jesus Christ is away for the time being. When He returns, He wants to see we have been good stewards of what is His. And, what is His is everything. Perhaps more specifically His house includes His people called after His name and according to His purpose.

12:45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, [46] the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. [47] And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. [48] But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

This last section gives us the second reason/or motivation for “being ready” for His return: There is punishment that awaits those who aren’t.

The example that’s given is this sadistic servant who is charge of the household while the master is away. Hendriksen rightly calls the man a sadist, and says that he shows evidence of being a brute who likely isn’t even a true believer.

Therefore there are a few layers to be unpacked here.

  1. Fear of the Lord is a Proper Motivation: Those who are arrogant and do not fear the Lord will not go unpunished, and those who neglect their duties as leaders of the flock will have to answer for that neglect on Judgment Day. The warning is stern, and it is clear. God cares so much for the souls of His people that He will punish those who neglect, starve, or inflict pain on those souls. He loves His sheep and will not tolerate their neglect, for their purchase cost Him dearly. We ought to be motivated by this to care for people and value them as much as God values them.
  2. Degrees of Reward/Punishment: It is implied here that even though the leaders of the household will receive a beating far worse for their neglect, yet those who disobeyed will still receive punishment for their sins. There seems to be a gradation in the punishment. This fits will Gods ideal for justice. People will be judged according to their works and words.
    1. You may have heard of the case of the Nazi hunters who have spent the last half century hunting for ex-Nazi party officials and those complicit in their misdeeds. It has been the excuse of almost all of the lower ranking officers who carried out orders that they were just following orders. That being said, the courts have in many cases found that while they are not as responsible for the deaths of million of Jews (among other crimes), yet they are complicit and therefore bear some amount of responsibility. You cannot use your leaders as an excuse for immoral actions. And, in fact, as Hendriksen rightly points out, “ignorance is never absolute.”
  3. Eternal Hell is Real: There is even the possibility held here, so it seems to me, that those who mismanage God’s household could be found not to be Christian believers at all and will therefore be cut to pieces and thrown into the fires of damnation along with “the unfaithful” – the imagery is reminiscent of what occurred to those false prophets of Baal after Elijah’s contest. Elijah took them to the river and cut them to pieces. Why the harsh imagery here? Cutting someone to pieces seems, well, quite brutal. I believe its because Jesus wants people to know the stakes. This is very important to him. And what is important to God ought to be important to us.

In Conclusion

The summary here is one we’ve heard quoted for years by both Christian and un-Christian alike. So popular are these words that they have been almost universally accepted as a maxim for leadership.

Jesus says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”

There is a great responsibility within the church to lead people in faithfulness. I believe that life is structured this way – those who are leaders of nations bear an enormous responsibility. And they will pay for their negligence if they’re found wanting on the Day of Judgment.

How much more so will those who hold sway over the souls of men (in the church) be held responsible for their keep.

In sum, this passage ought to instill in us two kinds of motivations. 1. A motivation toward the joy that awaits us in heaven, which Jesus Himself looked forward to, and 2. A proper fear and reverence of the Lord, knowing that God has an abiding love for His sheep, and He will not spare the sword from those who neglect what He paid so dear a price to purchase.

Let us keep these things in mind as we raise our children and attend to our responsibilities in the church. Let us keep in mind His coming could be any day now.

Woe to Moralism

Like the Pharisees of two thousand years ago, we all tend toward legalism – we all want to put rules, systems, and guidelines in our lives that will help us be “good people.”  The concept seems like it makes sense – on the surface. And while rules themselves are good things – heck, we’d have anarchy without rules!  – these rules alone don’t really serve as motivators toward living a good life. The Bible teaches that only the Gospel of grace – an inward change of the heart and mind – can do that. And that power comes from God alone.

Here are my notes on a very powerful and challenging passage of Scripture, Luke 11:37-54.

11:37-38 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

As you might recall from previous study, the Pharisees had been demanding a sign – all Jesus was going to give them for a sign was himself – his death burial and resurrection, the sign of Jonah.

There are two main groups of people in the narrative before us, the Pharisees and the Scribes. Philip Ryken gives some helpful background for understanding the difference between these two groups, he says:

What, then, was the difference between these lawyers and the Pharisees? Whereas the term “Pharisee” referred to a religious party – almost like today’s Christian denominations – the term “lawyer” referred to a professional occupation. Some lawyers were Pharisees, but not all of them, because not all lawyers followed the customs of the Pharisees. There were also some Pharisees were lawyers; they were Bible scholars by profession. Yet many Pharisees were involved I some other line of work. In fact, many of them were lay people.[1]

It’s interesting that this discussion took place over dinner – what a dinner! Ryken is right to point out that we should use opportunities like Jesus did to be sociable and take advantage of these times to build relationships. Ryken, “But we must always be sure to point them to God. All too often Christians accept this kind of dinner invitation without using it to full spiritual advantage.”

The Pharisees really did believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness. They didn’t want the hands that they used for everything during the day to ceremonially defile their food, and thus their bodies.

But this wasn’t something in the law code itself; it was a rule that the Pharisees invented for helping them keep the rules. Ryken comments, “It is important to understand that there was nothing morally wrong with what Jesus did. The only thing Jesus violated was a man-made rule for religiously acceptable conduct. The Pharisees had a thousand and one of these extra biblical rules, which they believed God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and were subsequently handed down by oral tradition. They further believed that breaking any one of themes a serious breach of holiness.”[2]

11:39-44 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. [42] “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. [43] Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. [44] Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

Woes to the Pharisees

Jesus didn’t hesitate to offend His dinner guests! He did so because His heart hated evil, and He was constantly teaching people the way of God, even over dinner, there was no downtime for Jesus. He was always on mission.

Jesus is going to pronounce “woes” on these men, and because that is not a term we use a lot in our day, I want to explain what it means. It primarily means judgment – it is a pronouncement of judgment on these men. But at the same time there is mixed with this a sense of sorrow.[3] You may have read some Shakespeare play where the character says, “O Woe is me!” – this is an expression of sorrow, not a pronouncement of judgment.

That being said, judgment is primary. You might be familiar with Calvin’s three offices for Jesus: Prophet, Priest, and King. In this instance Jesus is acting as the supreme Prophet come to speak the Word of God.

In the OT many prophets would pronounce “woes” on Israel or the surrounding nations for their ungodliness. One or two examples from Isaiah ought to give you the idea:

For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. (Isaiah 3:9)

Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him. (Isaiah 3:11)

The idea of woe can likely also be tied to the idea of a curse – like the covenant curses under the Old Covenant. For example:

“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:15-19)

Now, there are three woes He pronounces to the Pharisees:[4]

  1. Neglecting God’s justice and love
  2. Loving the best seats
  3. Leading people to death

The first thing Jesus addresses, however, is how the Pharisees are all about cleaning the outside of their bodies, the whole time leaving their hearts a stained and disgusting atrocity.

We know that God desires our hearts and minds – the inside of us – to be just as devoted to him as our bodies and actions and words. It isn’t as though this is just a New Testament teaching either, for David recognized this and said:

“In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Ps 40:6)

And earlier Samuel had said, “And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Therefore these Pharisees were more concerned about what was going on ceremonially outside, and all the while neglected not only their hearts, but also their interactions with others. They neglected love and justice. When they dealt with man they dealt with that which was of least concern while neglecting that which was of utmost concern.

Secondly, Jesus accuses them of loving the best seats. Ryken draws a parallel with the way parishioners in the Old North Church used to have pews with their names written on them. Anyone daring to sit in those who wasn’t a bearer of that family name was bound to be kicked out of the church. I had a similar experience in Toledo at the First Baptist Church in the Holland area. They had names on the pews, a strange female minister, and frowned on visitors. I had forgotten all about this oddity until this past week while driving past their building. Oddly enough when I looked up their website again, the logo they use is a big heart around their name! The irony, of course, is that when we behave like this church does – like the Pharisees did – we are anything but loving!

We have been called to put others first. Those in leadership ought to especially be models of servant leadership. This is the model Jesus gave us, and its how we are expected to serve.

Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The third woe Jesus pronounces has to do with leading people to death. He calls them “unmarked graves.” But what does that mean, exactly? Well to step on or over an grave during the time of Jesus meant that you would be ceremonially unclean for one week (Numbers 19:6).

What the Jews used to do was whitewash the gravestones in order for them to be clearly marked. That way no one would come near them and be defiled.

Therefore what Jesus is saying is that people come near the Pharisees, listen to their teaching, begin to try and follow their advice, and defile themselves without even knowing it!

You catch the irony here, right? These Pharisees are so concerned with people washing their hands to remain clean, while the whole time they’re the ones defiling people left and right!

In Matthew 23:15 Jesus puts it this way:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Those are powerful words! They are words or warning, words that ought to be taken seriously.

You know, the whole thing is really absurd. That is the right word for it – it’s the word J.C. Ryle uses to describe these people. But let us also beware to look inside our own lives to see if there be any falsity, any empty religion, any superficial attitudes of self-righteousness. These are things that so easily creep into the hearts and minds of men, and we must be on our guard not to think of ourselves as above or beyond them.

11:45-52 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” [46] And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. [47] Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. [48] So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. [49] Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ [50] so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, [51] from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. [52] Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

Background

This particular scribe must have had a sensitive conscience because he picked up the fact that when Jesus pronounced his “woes” to the Pharisees His pronouncements leaked over to the scribes as well – many of which were guilty of the same thing.

Before I get into the Woes themselves, let me point out the historical background here. Jesus says that these men are just as guilty as their forefathers who killed the prophets. He then gives Abel and Zechariah as examples. We all know Abel was killed by Cain in Genesis 4, but which Zechariah Jesus is referring to here is disputed.

Its possible that Zechariah was the man referred to in 2 Chronicles 24:20-25 because in the Hebrew Bible Chronicles was the final book, thus making him the final murder before the close of the OT canon as those in Jesus’ day knew it. Some scholars seem unconvinced because that Zechariah died in the “court” of the temple, and they see an issue between that description and Jesus’ description here as Zechariah perishing “between the altar and the sanctuary.” But Bock does a good job of laying out all the possible options, and it does seem that this Zechariah from 2 Chronicles is the most likely person to whom Jesus is referring.[5]

The point He is making here is that from the beginning there has been a war between the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) and the seed of the serpent. The serpent has continually tried to kill the seed of the woman, for there is enmity between them (see Gen. 3). All those who are of the world and not of God are under the influence of Satan, as Paul says:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Tom Schreiner has some good things to say about this passage and how it fits into the larger redemptive-historical picture:

They (the Pharisees) neglected what is weighty and clear in the law and become preoccupied with what is secondary. On the outside they appeared to be righteous and pure, but inside they were stained by deep corruption, so that they were comparable to whitewashed tombs. Their evil culminated in the execution of God’s messengers, showing that they were not the seed of Abraham at all but were a “brook of vipers” – the seed of the serpent.

What is said about the leaders cannot be restricted to them. By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interested in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15).[6]

Zooming back in on this particular context, Jesus is pointing to these men, His current generation, and naming them as complicit in rejecting the Father’s messengers and His ultimate Messenger: Jesus Himself.

In many ways their judgment would come in such a violent fashion that thousands if not millions of Jews would perish and be dispersed within a generation of Jesus’ speaking. In 70 AD the Romans absolutely destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews. It wasn’t until 1948 that they would be back in the land as a sovereign nation. Such was the judgment that came upon the Jews of Jesus’ day.

Finally, there is also a strong sense that ultimate judgment is being referred to here as well. For the consequences of opposing and rejecting Jesus and His gospel is death and judgment upon His return.

Woe to the Scribes

There are three woes that He pronounces:[7]

  1. Giving burdens to others, but not to self
  2. Building the tombs of the prophets
  3. Taking away the key of knowledge

Now, the first thing Jesus launches at this scribe is that he and the others of his trade have burdened the people unnecessarily. They had added so many rules to the law of God that any hope they had at keeping the law was blown to smithereens.

Interestingly, my first reaction to this was that “well, it’s a good thing we stomped that out in the early church era!” But the fact is that we still do this today – the Catholic Church excels at this. They elevate traditions of the church to parity with Scripture, and in so doing elevate the opinions of man to a level only reserved for the Holy God.

Ryken is right in pointing out that it isn’t just the Catholics who fall into the trap though. Anytime we elevate moralism instead of the Gospel we are basically doing the same thing. He says:

Above all, we must not present the Christian faith as a law to keep rather than a gospel to believe. The obedience we offer is not some desperate attempt to gain God’s favor, but a grateful response to the salvation he has provided through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second thing He said to the scribe was that they were building the tombs of the prophets. This is an odd saying isn’t it? Well what was going on here was the Scribes were busy making monuments to the prophets of old. They would make these big tombs and memorials to them, but in affect Jesus was saying that because their behavior was just as bad as their forefathers, their acts of honor only amounted to finishing the job their forefathers did!

So they were just as guilty as their forefathers who had murdered the prophets. Ryken quotes a scholar who explains, “They killed the prophets: you make sure they are dead.”

This is a brutal excoriation. Jesus then uses the example of Abel and Zechariah that I mentioned above and says that they men have been on the wrong side of history from day one. Now, the Wisdom of God has come from prophets, but never more so than in the very embodiment of wisdom – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Side note: Grahame Goldsworthy talks about how when David and Solomon were on the throne, Israel was at its peak. And the kingdom of God seemed only at the threshold – though it wasn’t to be, sin was still in the land and in the people inhabiting it. Yet during that time wisdom flourished, as we see with the massive amounts of wisdom literature recorded for us in scripture. How much more so when Jesus came did the wisdom of God come from His mouth.

Finally, the third woe He pronounces is that they have taken away the key of knowledge. In other words, they have blocked people from knowing their Creator – they have led them astray and they have not entered themselves.

As Ryken says, “The key to saving knowledge is the grace that God offers to guilty sinners through Jesus Christ. The way to be saved – the way to have eternal life – is not by works of our own obedience. Rather, it is to confess our sins and put our trust in Christ along for salvation.”

Woe to Us if We Neglect the Gospel

We’ve now looked at what Jesus meant by these woes, and how these men two thousand years ago were behaving. But this lesson can also be applied to us.

For as the author of Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?? (Hebrews 2:3a).

“Jesus pointed out three ways in which his gospel reveals our brokenness and sin – ways in which we may be no different than the Pharisees: having an outward appearance of cleanness but being full of greed on the inside; sacrificing a portion of our possessions while neglecting justice for others and love for God; and doing good out of a love for the honor that it brings us.”[8]

Ryken brilliantly devised questions for examining our hypocrisy. When I read these, and truly examined my heart, I found myself under great scrutiny by the Holy Spirit.

He asks the question “When am I a hypocrite?” and the answer is as follows:

  • I am a hypocrite when I am more concerned with outward appearances than inward godliness.
  • I am a hypocrite when I am more concerned about my own little rules than about the big things that matter more to God.
  • I am a hypocrite when I crave for people to recognize my spiritual accomplishments.
  • I am a hypocrite when I am spiritually dead inside, and no one knows, maybe not even myself.

The importance of introspection on these matters is extremely important and was highlighted by J.C. Ryle who said:

Let me counsel every true servant of Christ to examine his own heart frequently and carefully before God. This is a practice, which is useful at all times; it is especially desirable at this present day…We ought to watch out hearts with double watchfulness. We ought to give more time to meditation, self-examination and reflection. It is a hurrying, bustling age; if we would keep from falling, we must take time to being frequently alone with God.[9]

11:53-54 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, [54] lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Nothing Changes Unless that Change is Wrought by God

This is the description of an evil and hard hearted people. Lying in wait for someone to catch them in what they say – that is the epitome of someone not convicted of sin. Even after Jesus had exposed their sin to them, they still didn’t get it. Remember: This is the Son of God pronouncing woe upon them.

This shows both the radical depravity of mankind, and the sovereignty of God in salvation. Man is so fallen that unless God be actively at work in his fallen heart, he will not be saved.

Steven Lawson points out that the term “radical depravity” does not mean “that fallen men are a wicked as they can be, but that the sin affects every aspect of their beings. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, man is radically corrupt…Depravity causes all unconverted people to be defiant and disregard God’s supreme rule.”[10]

What must be done, then, for mankind to be saved? God must change his heart in a divine way. Lawson comments, “…when God chooses some to be saved, He sends the Holy Spirit in irresistible power, and the Spirit calls God’s elect to Himself. The Spirit suddenly changes them from being God-haters to God-lovers.”[11]

Praise God He has changed many such men and women who are Pharisees at heart, loving hypocrisy and moralism, to bowing before the gracious throne of the Lord Jesus. We must understand that it is only be the grace of God that we are saved, and only be the grace of God that we are sanctified.

Had it not been for this grace, we would yet be hyprocrites, walking dead men, shut up inside our own sinfulness judging others and hating others. For as Paul says:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

Therefore the point in what we are saying here is that the gospel has defeated all men’s attempts at moralism.

J.C. Ryle says the following:

There are thousands at the present day who make a great ado about daily services, and keeping Lent, and frequent communion, and turning to the east in churches, and a gorgeous ceremonial, and intoning public prayers, – but never gat any further. They know little or nothing of the great practical duties of humility, charity, meekness, spiritual-mindedness, Bible reading, private devotion, and separate from the world.[12]

Now remember what Jesus said when the people approached Him asking for instruction on how to do the works of God:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)

These people got the order wrong. They didn’t understand the way in which God works, and the same can be said in our day – all of this is baffling to me because in both the OT and the NT it is plain that God wants first a heart that is dedicated to Him, and then works which match it. But the inside must be dealt with first and foremost. That is why I want to admonish you to check the inside, look intently at your mind and hearts and see if there be any hypocrisy that needs rooted out. That is the challenge of this passage, and one we must all take seriously.

Let me close with a thought from Ryle:

Whatever we are as Christians, let us be real, thorough, genuine, and sincere. Let us abhor all canting and affectation, and part-acting in the things of God, as that which is utterly loathsome in Christ’s eyes. We may be weak, and erring, and frail, and come far short of our aims and desires. But at any rate, if we profess to believe in Christ, let us be true.[13]

 

Footnotes

[1] Ryken, Pg. 632-633.

[2] Ryken, Pg. 620.

[3] William Hendriksen, Pg. 636.

[4] As summarized by Darrell Bock, Commentary on Luke Volume II, Pg. 1109.

[5] Bock, Pg.’s 1122-1124.

[6] Tom Schreiner, New Testament Biblical Theology, Pg. 512.

[7] Bock, Pg. 1109.

[8] Gospel Transformation Bible notes on Luke 11:37-44, Pg. 1378.

[9] Ryle, ‘Churches Beware!’, Pg.’s 76-77, as quoted from Ryken, Pg. 621.

[10] Steven Lawson, Foundations of Faith, Pg. 139.

[11] Lawson, Foundations of Faith, Pg. 121.

[12] J.C. Ryle, Commentary on Luke, Volume 2, Pg. 45.

[13] Ryle, Volume 2, Pg. 47.

The Generational Divide: Luke 9:37-48

Some study notes from Bible study last night. The passage (Luke 9:37-48) immediately follows the Transfiguration.  I don’t have this in my notes, but at study I showed the group the beautiful ‘Transfiguration’ painting by Raphael, which is study in contrasts with the scene of the transfiguration and the one my notes below discuss. Here is the painting:

Transfiguration_Raphael

The Generational Divide

9:37-42 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. [38] And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. [39] And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. [40] And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” [41] Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” [42] While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Jesus’ Power Displays the Inbreaking of the Kingdom

Jesus’ authority in this situation is clear. He is King over all creation – He is king over all spiritual goings on in this world.

I think that much of what we see in this passage has to do with the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the power of Jesus over the demonic powers of this world. But there is also a feature of this passage that concerns us – namely how people of this world are blinded by their sin and by Satan to these spiritual truths, and have hearts that are slow to grasp the importance of loving others as Jesus did/does.

A key passage to understand the relationship between Jesus’ kingship and His kingdom, and the authority he holds over demons is found in Matthew 12:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. [23] And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” [24] But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. [30] Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. [31] Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32)

So the question becomes, if Jesus has the power to do these things, do we believe He has the power to do them. It is not simply that our belief somehow activates God’s power somehow. No. That is not the right way to think of it. God works according to His own sovereign pleasure. But it is perhaps more correct to state that God indeed takes pleasure in our prayers, and indeed gives us the faith to believe. The faith is actually a gift from God. For as Paul states in Ephesians 2, your faith is a “gift” so that “no man may boast.”

This is so that God will receive all the glory. For our purpose is to bring Him glory. That is our end, our great summum bonum.

A Study in Contrasts

Now, we’ve talked a lot in our study of Luke about Jesus’ miracles, and I’ve mentioned in a small group setting that it becomes difficult not to become desensitized to what we’re reading. These people lived a long time ago, we know don’t them, we haven’t lived a day in their shoes, we didn’t see this stuff take place. So we’re left to read it and imagine what the scene might have been like. God gave us His word and our imagination for just this reason.

Jesus has just come down the Mount of Transfiguration. We read about it last week and talked about the amazing display of glory, which the disciples were privileged to behold.

Now, He’s coming down off that hill and the first people Luke tells us He encountered were those who could use His power the most – those oppressed and possessed by demons.

But there’s a problem here, isn’t there. Jesus doesn’t respond as He usually might be expected to – its not as cut and dry as Jesus heals, then goes on His merry way.

We learn that there’s a man whose only son has been physically oppressed by a violent demon, and it seems that the disciples of Jesus weren’t able to cast the demon out.

Why?

It seems the answer is in Jesus’ reply: they lacked the faith necessary to accomplish the task. For Jesus states – in a way that must have sounded like a rebuke – “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”

There is a direct connection between His glorification at the top of the mountain, and His reply to these people.

Luke must know that he has set before the reader a study in the contrast between the reality of Jesus and who He was, over against the unbelief and lack of faith of the people. Wasn’t it just last study that we read how an audible voice from heaven shook Peter, James, and John to their core with a proclamation of the deity of Jesus? Wasn’t it just a few hours before that Jesus was shining like the sun in resplendent glory?

The people here – the masses – didn’t see the transfiguration. But they saw many other miraculous signs from Jesus. So the reality of who Jesus is, does not square with the way in which the people respond to Him.

We are all like this – slow to believe in what Jesus says, and slow to obey him. I know this to be true from personal experience, for I count myself as part of this group.

For those doubters who say, “I’d believe and have faith if I saw Jesus do all that with my own eyes.” Passages like this, and many more to come, will build a case against that proposition. What we learn from a survey of the gospels is that seeing is not necessarily believing. There were a remnant of people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet they still went on to tell the Jewish religious authorities in hopes of getting rid of Jesus. They didn’t believe.

So Thankful He can Do This Stuff…

Interestingly, as I read this passage, I was greatly comforted because of the reminder that Jesus has the power to heal, to cast out demons, and to create in us a clean heart. In other words, He has the ability to bring us spiritual peace.

I don’t want to minimize this. Because when we are tormented by the enemy, fall prey to our own depraved desires, we can know there is grace and there is power to save us, and to bring us back from our wanderings. It is this power that is stronger than anything else upon which we must rely.

9:43-44 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, [44] “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

It is perhaps noteworthy that the works of Jesus are being attributed by the people as coming from God. This is in contrast to the way the Pharisees saw Jesus as casting out evil spirits by the power of Satan (11:15). The common people seemed to realize that good things come from God (This is the theme of Psalm 127, and of course James 1:17).

I love the response here of Jesus to the miracle, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I AM SAYING!

Now the contrast is complete. What kind of king gives himself up to his enemies? What kind of king plans to do so even before he is captured? Even before the plot to capture or kill him has been completely formulated!

This is no earthly king. One of our rulers would never have sacrificed himself for a group of people who couldn’t even muster up enough faith to partake in his work with him.

Hence the greatness of Jesus and of the gospel. For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

Any other leader would have thought the transfiguration a confirmation of his right to rule the earth – and indeed it did just that for Jesus. But from there Jesus departs from the expected path. He once again sets aside His glory and condescends to save us.

This isn’t done subtly either. He gets their attention – He says to them to “let this saying sink into your ears.”

9:45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

Now how did the disciples react? They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it. And, to be honest, they didn’t want to understand it. For it says, “they were afraid to ask him about this.”

In saying that Jesus’ words were “concealed from them” Luke is basically saying that these things were spiritually discerned and God did not give them wisdom to discern them. It’s just that simple. They didn’t get it, God didn’t allow them to understand it, which was perfect because frankly they didn’t want to understand it.

Don’t you think this might have been a tiny bit important? Perhaps the disciples just might have wanted to get to the bottom of this?

And people wonder why we can get into heaven on the basis of our own sovereign choices! If left to ourselves we will ignore the truth of the gospel. We will run far away from the wisdom of God. We are fallen creatures who love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). And when faced with difficult truths, we obfuscate or simply choose to ignore the facts in front of us.

Why do we do this? It could be the illusion of control is slipping away and we don’t like that. We like the idea of planning our own destiny, or at least heavily influencing it by our free will acts and choices. We don’t want to face future difficulties and act irrationally toward them by thinking that if we ignore them they’ll just go away.

This is perhaps why the disciples didn’t want to probe deeper into what Jesus had said.

9:46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. [47] But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side [48] and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

The Nature of the Kingdom

And to prove just how far their heads were buried in the sand, the disciples were still unsure of what kind of kingdom Jesus was about to usher in. So instead of reconciling what they saw on the mountain with what Jesus was saying about His impending death, they focused on the more cheery prospect of Jesus’ earthly reign. For as we recall from earlier studies, some might have thought that He was about to establish a political kingdom and would overthrow Herrod’s rule, so they were starting to jockey for position within this upcoming administration.

However, looking back on these things, we do need to reconcile the Mount of Transfiguration with his saying here. What is going on here? How can He be both sovereign king of all the earth, and yet give himself over to his enemies to die?

I’ve made the argument before that the kind of kingship Jesus was conveying – the kind of kingship we share with him – is that which is put in place by God, established by His hand, and carried out in love through the power of the Spirit. Indeed, much of our conquering (as seen in the book of Revelation) is done in the realm of the spiritual. As Paul says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

The nature of the kingdom is now spiritual, though Jesus reigns over all created matter – whether physical or spiritual. Indeed He utilizes that which is physical to accomplish the spreading of His spiritual kingdom. Therefore it is a false dichotomy to speak of two separate kingdoms. There is not a spiritual kingdom over and against (or separate from) a physical kingdom. They are two facets of the same one kingdom.

Though the disciples did not understand this, we need to understand it. For our goal, as articulated so well by R.C. Sproul, is to bear witness to an invisible kingdom:

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[i]

And I’ve mentioned this in my work on Revelation, but Anthony Hoekema is very helpful here:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[ii]

The Least of You

Now we get to the point of things. Jesus brings a child near, and says that the least of you will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. To quote the title of a CJ Mahaney book ‘Humility: True Greatness.’

What is it that makes humility and being “the least” so powerful, so highly sought after in the kingdom Jesus is describing?

I’d wager that it’s because they both serve as descriptors for love.

The kingdom of God is characterized by love. It is the overriding hermeneutic, outlook, worldview, and lens through which a Christian must look – a lens put into place by the Holy Spirit.

This is because the kingdom of God is ruled by God, and God is love. Therefore the kingdom will be characterized by individuals who behave, think, and talk like God.

And because God loves His creatures and creation, we too should love them. Which means we should place ourselves in a posture of servanthood, of putting others first, in loving others, of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is the attitudinal position of someone who is “great” in the kingdom of God.

The Generational Divide

Jesus was clearly annoyed at the generation in which He lived. But a generation passes, and another pops up. It only takes 40 years. Generations come and generations go. But what I believe that what is going on here is that Jesus is drawing the distinction between the ways of those under the law of the old covenant, and those who will makeup a new generation of believers.

The kingdom Jesus is ushering in consists of a new generation. The newness of this generation is seen also in how Jeremiah articulated the coming of the new covenant:

In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ [30] But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. [31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

I’ve said in countless lessons that we live in the already/not yet. We live in a time of inaugurated eschatology, in laymans terms this means that Jesus ushered in a kingdom during his ministry on earth. It is an unseen kingdom, a kingdom of God.

It is all well and good to read about and talk about demons and the spiritual world, and all this theology of eschatology and so forth. But what does it matter?

Here is why it matters. If Jesus inaugurated a kingdom, and that kingdom is one whose guiding hermeneutic is one of kindness, love, and deferential treatment to others, then don’t you think its slightly important that we live in that way now?

This is why futurism isn’t all its cracked up to be. Because we live now, and God cares about how we live now.

Our lives now are to be characterized by the same driving principles that will govern them upon the return of our Savior. That is why the future has invaded the present. We are to live in such a way that the invisible will become visible to the hearts and minds of those who we work with, play with, hang out with, and minister to.

For as Paul says:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. [15] For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Footnotes

[i] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[ii] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45

Forgiveness and Repentance in Luke 5

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on a portion of Luke 5 that I found really challenging.  The authority of Jesus is clearly shining through the passage, and the response to His work is just as clear.  We simply can’t respond in a neutral way to this man.  If you look at what Jesus is saying, He’s clearly calling us to repent and follow.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

PJW

The Son of Man has Authority to Forgive You

5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

The Context

Now Jesus is still presumably in the region of the Galilee. In 5:1 we read that He was “standing by the Lake of Gennesaret” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Also in verse 12 it says the “he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy” and one can assume these cities being described are part of the Galilee region. We know He isn’t in Jerusalem, because verse 17 says that people came from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. Therefore it seems safe to assume given these clues and the general flow of Luke’s gospel, that this passage occurs during the height of Jesus’ ministry as He walked around the small towns of the Galilee.

The Power of the Lord was with Him

In an important editorial note, Luke mentions that Jesus has been empowered with the Lord’s power to heal. This undoubtedly references the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, and specifically in these days as He walked through the region of Galilee healing men and women by His words, and His touch.

I think its important to realize that Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God, and that throughout His ministry it was the Spirit who worked through Him to heal.

In fact, if we turn the Bibles back just one chapter we’ll read that Jesus began His ministry in a similar fashion:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (Luke 4:14 ESV)

And…

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, [18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This all serves as the context of Jesus’ ministry. He did nothing that could not be described as Spirit-driven.

Now, in the following two accounts I think we’re going to see two main overarching truths:

  1. Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.
  2. Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way, and the response He’s calling us to is repentance.

Now, the passage…

5:18-19 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, [19] but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

For those who have grown up in the church this is likely a very familiar story. I remember the children’s church papers with the pictures of a man being lowered down through the roof of a small house – much to everyone’s amazement. In fact, when watching reenactments and movies on the scene, it always seemed like the people were more amazed at the fact that the friends lowered him down through the roof than what Jesus had to say!

How were they able to do this in the first place? Well, roofs were very often flat, and most were composed not of tile or concrete but of mud and grass. It would have been fairly easy to scrape away the mud from this roof and get their friend lowered inside. Furthermore, since these roofs were replaced (out of necessity) once a year (at least) it wouldn’t have been like they were destroying personal property in the way we would picture them doing so today.

5:20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Recently I was in Israel and had the opportunity to interact with several folks of Jewish background as we toured around the country. One discussion about this passage came to the fore and our Israeli tour guide remarked that it was the faith of this man’s friends that must have saved him. And, upon a cursory reading, it may seem that this is so. But one only needs to take a scan of the entire NT as a whole to understand that it is the faith of the individual – not any representative – that saves.

And our passage here doesn’t preclude orthodoxy in the least. For Luke tells us that “when He say their faith” the word “their” is likely to include the man who is sick. In fact, it must include that man for the passage to make sense.

Jesus is moved by men and women who cast their hopes on Him. There was no misconception, denial, or kidding about the state of this man. He was paralyzed. His life was miserable, and a shadow of what it should have been. He didn’t live each day fooling himself into thinking he wasn’t paralyzed. His condition was obvious and desperate and he knew it well enough to do whatever was necessary to improve his lot.

It is this attitude of desperation, of holding nothing back, that moved the heart of our Savior.

5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [22] When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? [23] Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? [24] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

What is the issue here? Why are the Pharisees so upset? Because this man Jesus was claiming to be able to forgive sins. It’s one thing to heal a man using medicine. In fact, its something great if a prophet heals a man with power from God Himself! But – BUT – it is another thing entirely for that prophet, for that mortal man, to arrogate to himself that which only belongs to God.

This man Jesus, this dude from Nazareth, this carpenter’s son, just uttered blasphemy, they say. And…they would be right, wouldn’t they? It is wrong for any man to claim for himself the ability or privilege or right to forgive someone else’s sins. Who made them the judge, or the arbiter? Who wronged them that they might extend forgiveness? What business is it of theirs?

All of these are valid concerns if —- IF —- Jesus isn’t who He said He was.

However, Jesus’ actions and word prove His identity. This is a man who – while they question His right to divine judgment – exhibits divine knowledge by READING THEIR MINDS!

There should have been sirens going off at this point. Red flags ought to have been hoisted before their tired synapses.

For this is how God would also prove in the OT that He was indeed God. He was show His superiority over idols, for instance, by explaining His divine omniscience and then calling on the block of wood to do the same. Here’s an example from Isaiah:

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. [22] Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. [23] Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. [24] Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. [25] I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. [26] Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. [27] I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news. [28] But when I look, there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer. [29] Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind. (Isaiah 41:21-29)

Jesus says in effect, “I know your thoughts and I am endowed by divine prerogative to forgive whomever I will. In fact I can do so in whatever way I will. I can say whatever words I wish. It’s not in the words, its in my superior authority and will that whatever I should wish to come to pass does simply because I think it to be so.”

THAT is why the Pharisees are mistaken. They didn’t realize they were talking to GOD in the flesh.

5:25-26 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. [26] And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

There are two important fruits we see in the lives of those touched by Jesus. First, men whose lives have been changed by Jesus are obedient to Him. They don’t slave under His law, but rejoice to obey His Word. Secondly, they give glory to the God who brought them out of darkness and into marvelous light. God deserves glory for His work in our lives.

This is exactly what we see in these two verses.

The first thing this man does is “immediately” rise up and obey the Lord Jesus. This is indicative of all believers who come to love the Lord Jesus. This man is a picture – a physical picture – of what happens in the hearts and minds of men who are born again by His Spirit.

Obedience is the fruit of regeneration. Those who love Jesus love His law. They hear the Master calling and they are quick to obey. Why would this man not obey? Jesus has done more than He could ever ask. The first command he receives, therefore, he obeys!

Secondly, when God does something in our lives and the lives of those around us it is right to marvel. It is right to praise Him and to be amazed.

In verse 26 it says that “amazement seized them all” – and their reaction is to give glory to God.

SIDENOTE: One of the ways you can easily recognize a false prophet comes in whether or not they give glory to God or take the credit for themselves. Tragically, history is full of men like Mohammed who elevated themselves to a point far beyond what is Biblical or appropriate. The results have been devastating – hundreds of millions populate Hell’s cauldrons who once thought Mohammed something grand. Such will be the fate of any who fail to recognize the Son as Supreme and repent before Him.

All you whose lives have been touched by Jesus rejoice and give Him glory, for as Fanny Crosby said in her hymn ‘To God be the Glory’:

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Now, onto our last section…

5:27-32 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. [29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. [30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” [31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

What Jesus knew about the physical state of the paralytic He also saw in the heart of the tax collector Levi. The paralytic was a physical example of the disastrous condition of mankind. Since the fall our lives have been marred by sin – both physically and spiritually.

Each of these hemispheres of decay are represented for us in the passage above – both illustrating man’s need, and Jesus’ solution.

I mentioned before that there are two key points we have to take away from this passage, and I’ll bring your attention back to them now:

First…Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.

The Son of Man has the ability to look inside your mind – He knows your evil thoughts. He knows your selfishness. He knows your crookedness, your stinginess, your self-righteousness. He knows it all. Because He has the power to know it all. He is God. But He also has the ability to forgive it all.

In fact, if you’re here tonight at this prayer meeting/Bible study, you are most likely a Christian. One of the beautiful truths about the Christian faith is that we worship a God who wants to forgive us. This is the overriding characteristic of this passage is it not?

Look at the contrast between the world as represented by the Pharisees, and God who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ heart is forever bent toward seeking and saving the lost. That was us – it could be you! The Pharisees are like the world – they grumble when you are saved, they grumble when you are satisfied in Christ, they grumble when your guilt melts away like ice cream on a hot summer day! They HATE that you’re forgiven and have the gift of peace in your life. They hate that you’ve found peace and a hope for tomorrow.

Not Christ – His heart is ever on your spiritual well being. He is calling, He is tugging, He is nurturing, He is pleading with you. He invites men like you and me to come and surrender and be healed.

Which leads us to the Second point…Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way. You can’t read this story and just say “well, that’s interesting.” It doesn’t work that way.

Well what kind of response does a Christian have to this? What do you think? When you read about these men who are healed and who dine with Jesus, what is your heart telling you? What did Jesus tell them? How did He tell them to respond? What was it about them that was similar?

These men couldn’t have been more different. One’s rich, one’s poor. One’s a powerful tax collector, the other is a weak and lowly member of society. One probably has no true friends (since he’s seen as a traitor to his people), the other has friends close enough to do whatever it takes to help him. The common characteristic is this: They both had a humble and repentant heart.

Jesus is calling us to the same. He’s calling us to repentance: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Conclusion

If you are here tonight and are a Christian, you need to remember what Christ has done for you – you were the paralytic, you were the tax collector. You were DEAD. You were lost. You were bound for Hell, friend.

John Owen sums up the problem we have so well:

How can we possibly believe the promises concerning Heaven, immortality, and glory, when we do not believe the promises concerning our present life? And how can we be trusted when we say we believe these promises but make no effort to experience them ourselves? It is just here that men deceive themselves. It is not that they do not want the Gospel privileges of joy, peace and assurance, but they are not prepared to repent of their evil attitudes and careless life-styles. Some have even attempted to reconcile these things and ruined their souls. But without the diligent exercise of the grace of obedience, we shall never enjoy the graces of joy, peace and assurance.

We need to be like that paralytic in our walk with Christ. Obey – immediately obey. Rejoice for what He has done in your life, take up that bed, and get to work – go live life and share eternal life with others. Unless you are too ashamed…to which Paul says this:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [17] For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

The mark of a Christian is grateful obedience and surrender. It is the realization that you would be bound for eternal Hell had Jesus not supernaturally said to your heart, “follow me.”

Let us search our hearts tonight and repent of our lackluster faith. Let us rekindle the gratitude we once had for our Savior and diligently seek to obey Him each day.

The Tempting of Jesus

So tonight I get to teach a Bible Study on the Temptation of Jesus from Luke 4.  This has been a rewarding little study, and I decided to post my informal notes below.  They aren’t as well organized as I would have them be, but hopefully they are helpful and edifying for you as the long weekend awaits!

PJW

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-15

Couple points on the first 15 verses to contemplate before we examine each verse individually:

  1. Satan offered Jesus a kingdom without a cross – later when peter says that surely Jesus wouldn’t die, Jesus replied by calling him Satan and rebuking him! The way of the messiah is the way of the suffering servant.
  2. Jesus was fully man – only a man (a human being) could be tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).
  3. Christ is our supreme example. This is true in three ways:
    1. Jesus used Scripture to shore himself up in great distress and temptation
    2. Jesus knew the Bible and its context backwards and forwards
    3. Jesus did all things “in the Spirit” even when it would have been much easier to abandon all hope and faith in the Father
  4. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded. Jesus isn’t merely a supreme example to us here; what we see here is that He is the only Righteous One and the true Israel.

There are a great many parallels with Israel and the wilderness that we’ll see pop up here as we examine this passage more. But I want to first read a few of the wilderness passages of Isarel before we get into the text so that we have in our minds what was going on here in the OT in order for the clarity of the typology to shine through as it ought.

The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt with amazing wonders and might:

But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20)

“It was not the Israelites’ moral virtue that caused the Lord to save them from Egyptian bondage; he delivered them because of his mercy and love, which were undeserved and unmerited” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 35). “Israel’s liberation represented their redemption and testified to the Lord’s love for his people” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 33).

Despite all of this, the people of Israel rebelled:

…in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ [32] Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, [33] who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. (Deuteronomy 1:31-33)

God gave them a gracious covenant, yet the covenant that Moses received on Mt. Sinai, while gracious, revealed a major defect – and that defect was not with the law itself, but with the people of Israel whose hearts were not transformed by the covenant. This fact, and the sacrifices which provided a type of atonement which never cleansed the conscience (see Heb. 10), all pointed forward to the need for a Savior and a Sacrifice that would cleanse God’s chosen people from their sin and restore the fellowship that was obviously breached by that (aforementioned) sin.

The people of Israel failed miserably in the wilderness, but where they failed, Jesus would succeed. Thus we see that at the heart of this passage is the heart of the gospel: it is only by the righteousness of Christ that we are justified.  Only through his perfect obedience are we redeemed and reconciled to God.  This passage, while preparatory for his ministry and mission (which we’ll learn more about in verses 16-30), is also emblematic of his whole mission in that he overcame the world in order that we could bask in his victory, and that He is submissive to whatever God had in mind for Him.  His short life and death was all that was necessary to please God on our behalf, and reconciled a dying world to their Creator.

4:1-2 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness [2] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

Some versions day that the Spirit “drove” Him out into the wilderness. The ESV here describes the action as a “leading”, and I like the forcefulness of the former, but the latter shows how personal the Holy Spirit is. Such language surely gives us reason to believe that of the Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a person and indeed a person of great power – this is God.

Secondly, Jesus is described here as “full of the Holy Spirit” – and in this way He is the model for how every follower of Christ ought to be. We all need to be “full of the Holy Spirit”, and although its probably talking about the fact that Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit, still the sense of it seems to be that He was walking in the Spirit, He was abiding in the Spirit, He was listening to the Spirit. And it was the Spirit who would equip Jesus fully for His mission and ministry here on earth.

Listen to what I’ve copied down (in multiple places in my notes) from Geerhardus Vos who explains the role of the Spirit in the life of our Lord: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

It was Jesus’ submission to the Spirit that brought Him into the wilderness in the first place. God had a plan for Jesus here, and Jesus was willing to follow the Father’s plan to the enth degree. The fact that He was tempted at all, as I mention above, shows that He was indeed man – a real human being.

For as Hebrews 2 says:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. [16] For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. [17] Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. [18] For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

So God had a purpose in all of this, and that purpose was to deliver us from slavery to Satan and to destroy Satan’s power over us. He had to do this because His desire was not only to save us from sin, but to give us His own righteousness. Hence, the doctrine of double imputation (we give him our sin and he gives us his righteousness).

Geldenhuys says, “As real Man, Jesus could really be tempted, and from His childhood days until the end of His earthly career He was exposed to all the temptations that every human being has to contend with – except, however, those temptations that come from within as a result of the inward original taint or of the influence of former sins.”

Now, before examining the following verses, I’d just lastly note here that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Perhaps there’s a reason for that number, it is the number of completeness and of fullness. When Moses was on the mountain in Sinai with God, he was there for 40 days and didn’t eat anything during that time either. Also, Israel was in the desert for 40 years. So there seems to be a theme here, once again, that where Israel failed, Jesus would succeed.

4:3-4 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” [4] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Interestingly, Satan uses a similar ploy as the one he did in the Garden (of Eden) by questioning the Jesus’ relationship to God. In the garden he had questioned the veracity of God’s word when he said, “You will not surely die” (vs. 4). Here he says “if” you are the Son of God – He questions the relationship and says that Jesus has to prove Himself by doing a miracle on his terms. He’s basically saying that there’s no need for Jesus to deal with this hunger/this trial anymore. Stop waiting on the Lord and just make things happen on your own! Stop living in the Spirit and just use the powers you have as the Son of God. Stop doing things God’s way and live at the end of my cattle prod!

Yet Jesus succeeds where Adam and Even failed – as the ‘Second Adam’ He “is obedient to God in a way that other people – including Adam – are not” (Bock).

And Jesus’ response to this first recorded temptation is essentially that it is more important for Him to wait for the word of the Lord than to eat before the appointed time has arrived. He cares more about His spiritual well being than His physical well being. His flesh is subordinate to His spirit.

This is implied when you realize the rest of the verse he’s quoting goes like this…

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

In other words, the trial in the desert for Israel was a humbling experience to show them that they needed to rely on God and thirst after His word. We need to be hungrier for the Word of God than for chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day!

4:5-8 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, [6] and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. [7] If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” [8] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

Ironies abound here, don’t they! But before we look at that, we have to as this: what kind of kingdom is Satan offering? A worldly kingdom. And the price for that kingdom is not simply a one-time act, but a complete defection from God’s purposes. As Darrell Bock so rightly comments:

Often the temptation is describes as if all Jesus had to do was hit his knees once and all would be his. But he challenge represents a defection from God, and such a defection would have lifetime consequences. Jesus was to give the devil the respect and honor due to God alone. For by bowing down before the devil, Jesus would be accepting his authority and sovereignty. The meaning of the offer was clear: if Jesus would given Satan his heart and bow down before him, Satan would let Jesus rule. It was a high price to ask for an empty claim, but the response would reveal where Jesus’ priorities were.

So essentially, Satan is offering Jesus a kingdom without a cross.

Perhaps Satan didn’t understand this at the time, but “The cross was the pathway to his (Jesus’) exaltation and victory. He has been lifted up and glorified through the cross. Suffering has become the pathway to glory,” says Tom Schreiner (Biblical Theology, Pg. 640).

And this is why we see the close tie between what is going on here and later when Jesus rebukes Peter and actually calls him “Satan” because Peter’s thinking mirrored Satan’s:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [22] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

What is Jesus’ primary accusation here? It is that Peter is thinking in the flesh with worldy thoughts. His perspective was not heavily, was it?   Those who are in the world think like the world and are under the rule of this world’s ruler (Satan). But Jesus here in Luke 4 called out Satan’s false choice. Satan couldn’t offer Him a kingdom of any substance! God was the one who owned everything. And because Jesus is the Son of God, this is tantamount to Satan trying to give Jesus what Jesus already owns!

To apprehend this illusion of a kingdom, all Jesus had to worship Satan! No big deal right? Satan was way over his skis on this one! But you see here what he’s doing – he’s pretending that he’s equal with God (which is what got him tossed out of heaven in the first place) and can offer Jesus what it was that Jesus wanted – or what was really rightfully His (a kingdom)!

The arrogance of it! Geldenhuys is right to say, “…the Devil cannot deliver the world’s kingdoms into the power of whosoever he chooses, as he declared in the second temptation. God Himself is, in the final instance, the establisher and dispenser of worldly power.”

Now, of course Satan has been given some power, but all of that power comes from God. He is only allowed to do what he does because God allows it. He is not an absolute ruler of this world, and if there was ever a question about that one only need look at “Jesus’ expulsion of demons” (Block) to see that view doesn’t hold water.

Jesus could well have said “actually since I’m the one who made all this, I’m the one who will be worshiped.” See for example:

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. [11] I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psalm 50:10-11 ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

When we see Satan’s offer here to Jesus we see his and his temptations for what they are – lies, and cheap imitations (illusions, actually) of the real thing!

This reaction from Jesus isn’t what Satan is used to. It seems that today the people in our world gladly worship their idols in hopes that they will offer great satisfaction. They all will do whatever it takes to get an earthly kingdom. But sadly idolatry always leads to slavery and not great freedom and power.

This week Tim Challies sent out a great riff off of CS Lewis’ famous quote about mud pies and the beach. This encapsulates well what our perspectives often are versus what it means to have the mind of Christ:

It is one of C.S. Lewis’ most powerful and most enduring illustrations: An ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. It is a vivid illustration and one that is simple enough to see in the lives of other people—those people who settle for lesser pleasures when the greatest of all pleasures awaits. But I, at least, find it far more difficult to see in my own life. You may find it just as difficult.

  • It is worth asking: What is your mud pie?
  • Is it money? You will never have a bank account rich enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it food? You will never have a meal filling enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it pleasure? You will never have a sexual experience gratifying enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it popularity? You will never have enough friends to satisfy you.
  • Is it stuff? You will never accumulate enough possessions to satisfy you.
  • Is it pornography? You will never find a person naked enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it control? You will never have enough authority to satisfy you.
  • Is it leisure? You will never have enough rest to satisfy you.
  • Is it success? You will never achieve enough to satisfy you.
  • It is freedom? You will never be lawless enough to satisfy you.

And in the light of all those questions and the certainty of the answers, let’s go back to Lewis.

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So it is that Jesus saw Satan’s promises as shallow mud pie imitations of the real thing – and we should too! After all, why spend your life building mud pie kingdoms for Satan when you could be clothed in the rich majesty of the righteousness of Christ for all of eternity?

It’s notable here that Jesus didn’t come to inherit a worldly kingdom bargained for and bought by worship to the Devil, but to inaugurate a spiritual kingdom (and fulfill the everlasting Davidic kingdom – 2 Sam. 7) that would march from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the earth and conquer foe after foe in its wake. His mission and vision for us is big – bigger than ourselves and what we want here and now in the moment. Our mission is to enter into his labor (John 4) and spread His kingdom, not spend endless days in the slave fields of Satan.

4:9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, [10] for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ [11] and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” [12] And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

NOTE on the Scene: Darrell Bock has some great insight on the scene here: “Jesus ends up on the temple’s pinnacle, but the exact locale is uncertain. Some think it is the temple gate, but many think it is the Royal Porch on the temple’s southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kirdon Valley, creating a drop of some 450 feet….According to church tradition, James the Just died from a similar fall from the temple’s pinnacle (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.11).”

As we examine the text from which Satan is quoting, we see it comes from Psalm 91, which says, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” – here Satan is using scripture very ill indeed. He is twisting it to suit his own purposes – how often do we see that in today’s preaching amongst the popular preachers of our day! But looking at this particular passage we specifically see two things: 1. We see Satan’s capriciousness with human life and 2. We see that he promotes a lifestyle that says “sin first, ask forgiveness later.”

There is a great deal of presumption in Satan’s words. This same temptation though actually works for people today and we’ve seen it again and again have we not? We see people test God by living recklessly and squandering what they have. They pay little heed to their bodies or the gifts God has given them, instead they say “I’ll do things my way and if I’m wrong I’ll just ask God to forgive me.”

And at the heart of this temptation is not Satan’s desire to see God’s power magnified, but rather to see God’s image bearers maligned and killed. Remember, it if Satan’s great desire to kill and harm God’s creation – especially those who are His children.

Of course our Lord doesn’t fall (no pun intended) for the trick. Thus, we see in this third and final test that Satan has been flummoxed and completely beaten. His presumptuousness has been show for what it is, and his twisting of Scriptures hasn’t fooled the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Christ finishes each test exemplifying His role as Prophet, Priest and King – as Henricksen so neatly lays out, “as Highpriest he suffers being tempted (Heb. 2:18); as Prophet he thrice appeals to Scripture (verses 4, 8, 12); and as King he gives battle to his chief opponent and triumphs over him.” I love that!

4:13-14 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. [14] And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. [15] And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

NOTE: here it says he was “glorified” by all, and I have made mention of the way this word “glorified” can be used in my notes on John’s gospel. Commonly we think of the word used to praise God or sing praises to God, or simply the glory of light or radiance that emanates from God’s presence. But in uses like this we see a fuller version of the former idea – but its about more than singing praise. There is this underlying meaning that has to do with pronouncing the virtues or character qualities of a person. You are magnifying so that others can see, what it is that is good about this person. So there is a fuller sense to “glorify” than simply to sing praise, and it has to do with the content of that praise. You are pointing to the why and not simply the who; you are proclaiming the character of God to the nations (so to speak). This brings him glory.

Jesus comes out of the desert triumphant, whereas Moses didn’t even make it out of the desert, nor did the first generation of the Israelites!

The Israelites broke the covenant before Moses even made it down the mountain! They couldn’t get past “Go” before they were in breach of the covenant with God.

But Jesus is the “true Israel”, the one who succeeded where Israel failed. As Burk Parson’s said:

Only Jesus completely fulfilled all of the Father’s righteous laws for Israel. As the only faithful Israelite, Jesus is an Israelite according to the flesh, and He enjoyed all the benefits that come from being born into the nation that possessed the oracles of God. As the faithful Israelite Jesus is the true Israel because He is the true Son of God (Matt. 2:13–14).

Often times in the OT Israel would be called God’s “vine”, and when Jesus said “I am the true vine” (John 15), he was saying that He is the “true Israel” the one who obeyed perfectly and fulfilled the law perfectly in order to give us His righteousness.

Commenting on John’s portrait of Jesus as central to all things, Tom Schreiner says, “He is the true vine – that is, the true Israel. He is the true bread, which in contrast to manna, bestows eternal life” (Biblical Theology, pg. 640).

And unlike Adam, Jesus withstood all temptation – even though, as Geldenhuys says, “He had found Himself in the most unfavorable circumstances when the devil launched his most ruthless attacks against Him, He was nevertheless victorious. What contrast this forms with Adam, who fell although he was living at that time under the most favorable circumstances!”

Adam fell and plunged the race into sin, and Israel failed countless times in the wilderness to love and obey God despite all He had done for them. However, contra the Israelites, Jesus here comes triumphantly out of the wilderness. “His time of preparation and testing was now finished. He had succeeded in the wilderness where Israel had failed. He was God’s obedient Son in contrast to Adam. He commenced his public ministry full of the Spirit’s power; equipped by the Spirit to carry out the will of God” (Schreiner, NT Theology, pg. 443).

This victory was emblematic of his ministry as a whole, and it is because of His final victory at the cross that we can know our own failings are drowned in the deep pool of His success.

NOTE: As we wrap up this section and look into the next, we’ll how Jesus, filled with the Spirit, has transitioned into His mission here on Earth. He has finished the preparatory stages and is now going to proclaim the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and advance the most significant three years of historical narrative and spiritual importance up until and since.

 

The Promises to Abraham in Mary’s Magnificat

Last Thursday evening I taught on Luke 1, specifically Mary’s Magnificat.  I really enjoyed studying for this passage and teaching it. The scope of redemptive history is really encapsulated well in this passage, and I hope you enjoy these notes as you read through the verses…

1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! [43] And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

The hill country here in is south of where Mary would likely have been. The largest town in that area was Hebron at this time, although we aren’t told where Zachariah and Elizabeth are specifically living.

When Mary arrives the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps and Elizabeth interprets this through the Spirit as a joyous reaction to Mary’s arrival.

Elizabeth goes on to bless Mary with her mouth and her words go right to Mary’s heart. There truly is a blessing for those who believe in what God says, is there not?  And I can’t help but think of how reassured Mary must have felt at the words of Elizabeth.  How very confirming are these words from the mouth of her elder cousin must have been.  Yet, as we shall see shortly, the Spirit of God had been at work within Mary, and her heart responds in such a way that indicates a supernatural work of the Lord within her.  When our lips reflect the heart change we’ve had, God is pleased.

The Magnificat

What we find in the Magnificat (a title taken from the first word in Latin which simply means “magnifies”) below is one praise after another to the glory of God.  His greatness, the scope of His plan, and the intricacies of His mercy are extolled in great relish by one of “humble” and lowly estate.

For these words to have come from a simple teenage girl indicate the greatness of God’s work within Mary, and the fact that His Spirit was filling her.  It’s also a testimony to the fact that she knew her Bible really really well (Cf. Ryle and Col. 3:16)!  Philip G. Ryken says, “The Magnificat either quotes from or alludes to verses from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Mary tried to put virtually the whole Bible into her song.”

One of the most popular comparisons of Mary’s song is in the similarities with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:

[1] And Hannah prayed and said,
            “My heart exults in the LORD;
                        my horn is exalted in the LORD.
            My mouth derides my enemies,
                        because I rejoice in your salvation.
            [2] “There is none holy like the LORD:
                        for there is none besides you;
                        there is no rock like our God.
            [3] Talk no more so very proudly,
                        let not arrogance come from your mouth;
            for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
                        and by him actions are weighed.
            [4] The bows of the mighty are broken,
                        but the feeble bind on strength.
            [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
                        but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
            The barren has borne seven,
                        but she who has many children is forlorn.
            [6] The LORD kills and brings to life;
                        he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
            [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
                        he brings low and he exalts.
            [8] He raises up the poor from the dust;
                        he lifts the needy from the ash heap
            to make them sit with princes
                        and inherit a seat of honor.
            For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
                        and on them he has set the world.
            [9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
                        but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
                        for not by might shall a man prevail.
            [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
                        against them he will thunder in heaven.
            The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
                        he will give strength to his king
                        and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
(1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)
 

Mary knew this song and the Bible as a whole very well.  The scriptures were on her heart. The Holy Spirit was obviously inspiring her to say these things, but “He works with what’s there” (Cf. conversation with Parris Payden).  It wasn’t as if the Spirit was teaching her on the fly or putting these words into her mind that she’d never known before.

            1:46-47 And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 

There is a clear exaltation of the Lord here. Who is responsible for all that that is happening to Mary?  There’s no doubt in Mary’s mind that it is the Lord! Any fear that she may have had in that initial confrontation with the angel, or in the quiet times of gathering anxiety since then is not apparent here.  God has prepared her heart to face this adventure.

Ryken comments on the absence of specifics about the baby she’s carrying, “Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show His greatness.” 

            1:48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
            For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

 

Mary has no delusions about her position.  She has not become puffed up, or haughty. We don’t think much about that, but how easily do we become puffed up when God has entrusted us with a ministry.  We are entrusted with the Word of God…Mary was entrusted with the Word of God incarnate.  Definitely a different mission, but certainly one that didn’t seem to puff her up – she knows her place and her place is to be God’s “servant.”

Secondly, she recognizes (correctly) the historical significance of what she’s doing. She sees where this fits into the span of world history – and it’s a big deal.  So get this, in one breath she labels herself a “humble servant” and in another she says, “All generations will call (her) blessed”!  One can only conclude therefore that while Mary is a humble servant, God is going to use her to accomplish something worthy of the entire rest of world history looking back on her and praising God.  That’s a pretty significant understanding of the role she was playing in God’s plan – especially significant that she can at one time be so humble, and still understand her significance.

            1:49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
            and holy is his name. 
 

The close connection between God’s holiness and his goodness is key here.  Not only that, but God’s mightiness is used in such a way that we benefit from His goodness.  If God were all-powerful and yet not good, this would be a scary world!  But at the center of all things He is holy.  Holiness is not an extension of Him or His character – He is holy by definition because anything that He is or anyway that we classify His characteristics we cannot forget that they are not extensions of His character, they are who He is. This is the doctrine of the simplicity of God.  He is “other” He is “pure” He is the brightness and glory and goodness.  All of these things find their root definition in the character of God – we know what goodness is because we know who God is, for example.

Now Mary is saying that because God is holy, He has used his might to do “great things” for her.

But Mary isn’t simply wrapped up in her blessings.  She isn’t simply singing about herself and her circumstances, but about God and His character.

Ryken rightly looks at this from a practical perspective and says, “Mary did not dwell on her own happy circumstances, but rejoiced in the being and character of God. It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us.  We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God.”

            1:50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
            from generation to generation.
 

God is not a God who is mocked or tricked or bribed into showing mercy.  He shows mercy to those who regard Him in a reverent fear – who understand who He is, and who bow before Him in fearful awe.  God does not pour out mercy on those who do not recognize His kingship.

There is also a great comfort in this truth.  I think Ryken captures it well:

Perhaps you are young and poor like Mary. Perhaps you are struggling with sickness or some other physical limitation. Perhaps you are in a low condition spiritually or emotionally. If this is your situation, do not complain that you deserve something better. Do not grasp after a higher position. Do not rage against your misfortune. But humble yourself to the providence of God and recognize your lowly position before him as a sinner. The Bible gives this promise: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

             1:51-53 He has shown strength with his arm;
            he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
            he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
            and exalted those of humble estate;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
            and the rich he has sent away empty.
 

These three verses almost sound like a proverb, but they are anticipatory of a time when God will judge those who are haughty and proud and reward those whose hearts are soft toward Him.

“The heart is seen as the center of feeling (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 4:23) and as the base of reasoning power (1 Chron. 29:19; Job 12:3). This pride is deep-seated and reflects their innermost being. God will judge such pride” says Darrell Bock.

God exalts the humble and lays low the proud (Prov. 29:23), but it is a truth proclaimed not only in the proverbs and throughout the OT, but also by Jesus Himself in the gospels, and by His apostles after that (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Jesus says later that, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 – also Luke 14:11).

Not only this, but the picture of what Jesus would do is to fill the hungry (especially spiritually – the connection is made evident in 11:13) with “good things.”  Later Jesus would feed 5000 men (probably more like 15,000 people total) and shortly thereafter declare that He was “the bread of life” with the exhortation, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

Lastly, He will not allow any to be exalted in kingship above Him. Any who puff themselves up before Him will be brought low – they will be humbled and kicked off their thrones.  A great example of this is when Jesus says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Norval Geldenhuys summarized the message here this way:

The proud, those who exalt themselves and take no account of God, He puts down – beaten by His mighty arm. The powers that be, oppressors who tyrannize the poor and lowly, are deprived of their power and high standing, while those who are truly humble are exalted to great things. The hungry, those who realize their own need and yearn for spiritual food, are blessed. But the right, those who are self-satisfied and proud, are shamed in the imagination of their hearts.

1:54-56 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
 

For many years the people of Israel had been suffering under the oppression of other nations – and now it was the Romans. Israel here is described as a servant, and we find a close connection between this terminology and that found in Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah (Is. 42 etc.).

The people of Israel therefore longed for a day when God’s promises –specifically to Abraham as mentioned here but also to David – would be fulfilled.

What were those promises? The promises to Abraham were for land, seed, and worldwide blessing. This is seen in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. [5] No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. [6] I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. [7] And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. [8] And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8)

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Mary knows these promises and has read them. Furthermore, she and all Israel know that a Redeemer is coming to save Israel out of all its distress.  As Bock says, “Mary’s reference looks for the fulfillment of the nation’s hope in Jesus.” That Redeemer is going to do much more than save Israel from the Romans, however.

He will rescue Israel from sin and death and usher in an everlasting kingdom.  He will be the true seed of Abraham, the mighty King of Israel, and will save His people and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The grounding for Mary’s prophetic annunciation is God’s covenant love and mercy for His people.  He will send a Savior and a loving Shepherd who will care for His flock – unlike the faithless under-shepherds (Ez. 34) who have failed the people over and over.

Ironically this Savior will die in order to save His people from death (Is. 53). The great Shepherd will be struck for the sake of the sheep (Ez. 34), and the true Israel of God will be obedient to the Father in order to achieve perfect obedience for His people. This is detailed in Isaiah especially 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.

Mary sees the fulfillment of all of these hopes as coming to pass in her child. How can this be?  Paul helps us understand what all this has to do with Jesus – and consequently with us…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.[15] To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. [16] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. [17] This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. [18] For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. [19] Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. [20] Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. [21] Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-29 ESV)

Mary is saying this: we all have been living under the curse of sin and death, but what God began in Abraham with the creation of a new people, He will complete in the work of the Redeemer who in her belly.  The child she was about to have would be the coming king (Ps. 132:11-12) and the suffering servant (Is. 53).  He would bear the sins of His people and would redeem them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3). After His work is completed, all who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) not through works of righteousness but by faith alone (Eph. 2:1-9).  And for generation to generation the redeemed will look back at the testimony of Mary as both a blessing to her, and a blessing to us, the church.

Mary says that Christ will “help his servant Israel” and fulfill the promise to Abraham of land, seed, and worldwide blessing. “The salvation promises in that (Abrahamic) covenant would be clarified in the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) and would be ratified through the death of the very Child she carried in her womb. For it only through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ that all the sins of the redeemed – past, present, and future – are atoned for” says John MacArthur.  These promises fulfilled in Christ have redeemed you (Acts 20:28), made you a new creation (2 Cor. 5), transferred you into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:12-17, Col. 1:13-14; Hebrews 12), and commissioner you as ambassadors for Christ with a message of salvation and blessing for the nations (Is. 66; Matthew 28:18; 2 Cor. 3 &5; Rev. 5:9, 7:9-12).

In short: “…all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

An Odd Story

Last night at our weekly Bible study I taught on Judges 17 and 18.  This has to have been the oddest series of chapters I’ve ever taught on! Yet, there are also profound lessons to be learned.  Below are my notes – they are pretty rough-draft, not polished etc. But they point to a few of the major lessons I learned from my study of these chapters.  I think its fair to say that this story (of Micah and the Danites) is very odd – but also rather funny.  There are satirical nuances laced throughout each chapter, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

PJW

Chapter 17 (Introduction) 

As we enter our study on chapter 17, we’re beginning to examine the final section of this book of the Bible (there are three major sections).  Chapters 17-21 are sometimes called “appendices” of the book because they add further context to the situation in Israel in the form of two additional stories.

Each of these stories is low on commentary by the narrator, but the writing style is extremely subtle, and sophistication marks the compilation of each composition.

Both of these stories are divided up into two chapters each, and they share many things in common with each other.  In fact, Daniel Block mentions 9 such commonalities, but one that I find most significant is his final one:

Both accounts are punctuated by variations of the refrain “in those days Israel had no king” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In the first the formula is inserted at critical junctures in the narrative and functions as an episode marker, in the second the formula frames the entire narrative, appearing at the beginning and the end. Twice, once in each section, the formula is augmented with, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).

Up until this point God has raised up Judges who saved Israel from her slavery to other nations.  The cycle of sin and judgment and delivery has been a downward spiral with each Judge being less and less moral/upright in their behavior and leadership.

By the time we reach chapter 17 (which is not necessarily after Samson, but probably meant to coincide with the times of his judging Israel) the nation has hit rock bottom.  They are pretty much fully “Canaanized” and have become more like the people of the land than the men and women God wanted them to be.  This is almost surely a result of their failure to expel the native Canaanites from their home turf.

Commenting on this, Tom Schreiner explains the reason for needing to cleanse the land of the Canaanites:

The call to utterly destroy the peoples in Canaan is a shock to modern sensibilities, but despite the attempt of some scholars to say otherwise, it is quite clear that Israel believed that these were instructions from Yahweh Himself. The failure to carry out such instructions would imperil the fundamental tenet of Israel’s faith: Yahweh’s Lordship. Israel must cleanse the land from evil, for Canaan is to be a new Eden, a new garden of the Lord, free from evil.

By not expelling God’s enemies from the land, the Israelites have fallen under their influence and are no longer following the laws of Moses.

So here we are, so far from where Moses and Joshua had come both spiritually and physically.  The people are finally in the land, but far from being a light to the nations, they are hardly discernable from the people who originally inhabited the land.

Lastly, one of the things we ought to notice (that a few commentators brought up) is that there are two tribes in the spotlight here from 17-21: Dan and Benjamin.  Dan would one day lead the northern kingdom and Benjamin the southern.  Both were tribes with settlements that were in the heart of Canaan.  The significance of these things is that we’re seeing here in chapter 17 an example of the private/personal apostasy of one man’s home, and then later in 18 we see it with Dan. But its tempting to think “well I wonder if these are isolated instances…”  The author, I think, purposefully uses these examples (sic Dan/Benjamin) to show us the depth and thoroughness of the apostasy of the nation as a whole.  These are kitchen table issues (as we say in politics).  They range in scope and scale from the least to the greatest and the reach of this kind of lifestyle is vast.  We cannot leave these final chapters without understanding how far men will flee from God given their own devices:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18) 

 

17:1-6 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 6 helps us explain the bizarre story that precedes it, and the equally bizarre story that continues after it.  This man, who appears to have been a thief and one who disrespected his parents (there goes two of the 10 commandments right there), has the gall to make household idols and then appoint one of his sons to be a priest with an ephod and all the trappings (almost) of a feaux levitical ministry (there goes another one of the commandments).

First I want to offer a note of explanation about the curse and the blessing of Micah’s mother. There’s a good chance that the curse itself was enough to motivate Micah to return the silver, and the reason for this is that at the time a “curse” was seen as something that was alive and active – like a hidden warrior who could strike at any moment without you knowing it.  The blessing was thought of as the only way to undue the curse.  So we ought not to think of Micah’s mother as so elated at her son that she sought to bless him (though perhaps she was), but rather that this is the sort of stock response to undue the cursing she had uttered previously.

Now, secondly, note how syncretistic the situation is here.  This man Micah has made idols out of silver, which is clearly a pagan practice in violation of the law of God, yet he has also made an ephod and appointed one of his sons to be a sort of priest for the idols.  He’s doing all this in his own home, which is clearly a violation of how God wanted to be worshiped.  Much of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy focus on the fact that God will be worshiped as He wants and where He wants.  But Micah is either showing significant ignorance, or rash arrogance.

So when we read in verse six that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, it begins to make sense – especially in light of the fact that “there was no king” at the time.  Not only was there no physical ruler that united all the tribes under one lawful banner, but the people who occupied the land of Canaan no longer regarded the Lord as their King.

To this end, I thought it right to quote Baptist Scholar Peter Gentry who said the following while remarking on the nature of the Davidic Covenant and the order of God’s bringing the Ark into Jerusalem prior to making the everlasting covenant with David:

The return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6 indicates that Yahweh is returning to live in the midst of his people as king. The fact that 2 Samuel 6 precedes 7 shows that only when the kingship of Yahweh among his people is firmly established can the issue of kingship in Israel be discussed. A sanctuary for the Lord comes before the monarchy

At this point in Israel, everyone is doing what they think is right.  They are following what they believe to be the right way to live their lives.  However, those guidelines are all subjective to however each man feels or thinks (as Dale R. Davis said, the entire law code seems subject to each man’s “glands”!).

17:7-13 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

We don’t know what the name of the “young man” was in verses 8-13, but he was a Levite, and he seems to have been on a journey when he came to Micah’s house.  We don’t know why or where he was going, but once he comes up on the house of Micah his entire life changes.

Block hilariously describes this young Levite as he’s dealing with the fact that we really don’t know a lot about him:

He is a “laid back” professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up. And he just happens to arrive at the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim. But what a stroke of luck this turns out to be, for both him and Micah!

Micah, who we’ve seen is a syncretistic idolatrous sinner, sees this man, this Levite, as from God. Why? Because to date he has been making due with one of his sons as priest, but no longer.  Now he can have the real deal – a Levite!

We know that there’s a lot more to being a Levitical priest than simply being a descendent of Levi – there are ceremonial cleansing, and learning and all manner of rules that one must go through.  But not so here, Micah doesn’t care about all that.  And why should he?  In his lifetime, and in the generations that have come before him, I’m betting he never saw the priesthood properly modeled, not only that, but a true encounter with God hadn’t happened in quite some time.

When verse six says that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, it reminds us that there was no fear nor any love for God in the eyes of Israelites.

What this means is that men like Micah would have been more superstitious than religious.  Micah thinks that simply having a Levite as his own personal idol-priest will make him to “prosper” (as Block says, “the Levite is nothing more than a good luck charm”)!

We get a chuckle at this because is sounds absurd, but we see the same thing in our churches today.  In fact, I was just reading Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ and he talks about how in Texas where he is a pastor, there are record church attendees.  It’s a way of life to go to church on Sunday morning.  Having spiritual transformation, obedience and love for God are not necessarily part of the equation.  It’s motivated partly by a way of life, partly based on some superstition (enabled by the prosperity gospel preachers), and partly on feel-good self-help centered gathering that give attendees a helpful trinket of useful to-dos for the week ahead.

So as ridiculous as Micah’s situation looks to us, let’s not forget that many of us have grown up in churches, or know those who still go to churches, that don’t preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ignorance of the Word breeds superstition, prosperity gospel, and all manner of evil.

Chapter 18

18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 

The more clear way of putting this is that there was no inheritance “taken”, perhaps.  They were given an inheritance (as we read of in Joshua 19:40-48) but they were beaten back by the Amorites and could not repel them – see chapter 1.

So instead of going before God and asking for help, they have basically been stuck in these two cities of Zorah and Eshtaol (likely their basecamps from which they launch their initial Canaanite expedition) for several generations, having failed to take the land the Lord gave them.

We might note that this entire chapter is somewhat of a parody of the earlier conquest accounts.  As Block says, “this chapter is deliberately composed as a parody on the earlier spy mission traditions. Nothing in this chapter is normal; people’s values and behavior are all topsy-turvy.”

18:2-6 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

So like in former generations, the Danites send out “spies” to scout out the land.  The “able men” as the ESV translates it, could also be “noble men” or “noble/mighty warrior” to which Bock comically states, “the present designation would have suited Joshua and Caleb, the two trustworthy members of the original team of twelve Israelite scouts (Num. 14:5-10), but here it is ironic. The Danites may be heroic figures physically and militarily, but they are spiritual pygmies.”  Ha!

It is interesting that these Danites recognize the voice of the Levite, and though we don’t know how (the author doesn’t explain it) they recognize his voice, they begin to immediately interrogate him.  Interestingly, his responses are reflective of his totally self-serving agenda.  He talks about how good Micah has been to him (vs.4) and how Micah has paid him good money to be there (vs.4).

The next thing that happens here is that the Danites seem thrilled to have run across someone who can tell them their fortune – what luck!  As Block says, “Just as Micah’s cult has lacked credibility and authority  until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from the deity.”  But now they have a genuine Levite before them – heck, he’s even got an Ephod!

It’s just such an odd situation – it’s as if you’re watching a Monty Python movie or something.  I can picture these guys getting made fun of so badly.  Everything is so whacko…

Then, to add to the oddities, the response of the Levite is pretty much instantaneous…its almost like he just glibly answered, “Ya, looks like you’re blessed…move along.”  Did he even bother to consult with God?  Who even knows!? In fact, its not as if he answers them clearly that God will bless the mission!  But it doesn’t seem to bother the Danites – they take it the way they want to take it and the Levite sends them on their way…and like the dolts that they are, they proceed in the utmost happiness and tranquility of mind. 

18:7-10 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

Here are more parallels between the original mission to spy out the land of Canaan, and this comical less-than-holy mission of the Danites.  They spy things out, they like what they see, they come back, they report on the situation, and the response seems favorable.  They have scouted a land that is safe, has natural defenses of mountains and naturally occurring ramparts to safeguard the city (see Block), and is far from the Amorites and the Sidonians who wouldn’t want to bother with anything inland anyway.  They have plentiful resources, and they live a sort of idyllic life – a life that the Danites see themselves enjoying soon!

The scouts are so excited, that they accuse their fellow brothers of stalling and even through in that the land has been given to them by Yahweh – no doubt encouraged by their encounter with the fake priest.

18:11-14 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

One of the interesting things that we find in verse 11 is that there’s only 600 men that decide to go with the 5 who spied out the land.  It seems like a small amount given the fact that the whole tribe of Dan had commissioned them. This is reflected in the fact also that in verse 11 the author uses the word “clan” instead of tribe (even though the ESV uses the same word here, the Hebrew is more limited).  So I think that the sense of the text is that many people from the tribe didn’t decide to go – and as Block notes, the rest of them pretty much disappeared from the pages of history.

Once the group gets the Micah’s house, they are definitely going to stop and check in with their lucky Levite.  After all, he offered great advice the first time, so why not stop again – heck, why not stop and offer the man a better job?  After all, he would probably take it…

18:15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?”

18:20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

I think its fairly obvious that “the priest’s heart was glad” signals the ambition of this Levite.  He thinks mostly about himself first, and doesn’t seem to give a whit about loyalty to Micah – much less about the blatant apostasy he’s been committing.

This reminds me of the simony that marked the church in the medieval ages.  Becoming a church minister became a normal career to consider like that of a farmer or dairyman, rather than a calling from the Lord.

Lastly, the whole situation here is just odd, as I’ve mentioned before.  The household shrine is now stolen from Micah, who ironically had stolen his mom’s silver which was then used to pay for this shrine by his mom in the first place…not only this, but they have the arrogance to think that wherever they setup shop the Lord will be with them.  “We can plop down a shrine anywhere and be all set!”

18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

If ever you wondered about whether the Danites might have been righteous men, this passage should stop your wondering.  They have stolen what was not theirs, and subsequently stolen into the night.

In his anger and frustration, Micah chases after the band of miscreants and upon catching up to them tries to stop them from stealing all that he has.  You would think, at this point in the story that the Levite might interject himself – that perhaps he would feel a sense of remorse for what he had done.  But that isn’t the case.  Instead, he keeps silent.  He has made his bed and will lie in it.

When Micah realizes that to argue further with the men would result in his termination (“you lose your life and the lives of your household”), he desists and returns home.

Is this the way righteous men act?  Is this the way the promised land was taken?  Is this the way those who fear God and serve Him behave?  With no consideration for others…this is yet another indication of the self-centered idolatry that permeated all of Israel from the least to the greatest, each man followed in his path according to his own ideas and counsel.

Today there are many who call themselves Christians – even claiming to be part of the evangelical church.  But they are nothing short of Danite robbers.  They have no honor, nor do they live according to the word of the Lord.  They are pretenders who are self-centered glory seekers.  They are, in the end, mercenaries.  They are mercenaries because they serve themselves and not God.

18:27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Laish means “lion” but the Danites named it after Dan, their ancestor, one of the sons of Jacob (Israel).

It is not until verse 30 of this final chapter in the two-chapter story that we really understand the full weight and depth of the Canaanization of the land.  And this is because we finally learn in verse 30 that the Levite who has whored himself out to idols and to the highest bidder is a direct descendent of Moses himself.  His is the son of Gershom (“son” in this case likely means “descendent” but if it does not, then there is good reason to believe this story took place earlier in the Judges narrative than later).

The intent of the story is to leave you feeling nauseous.  You want to throw up because if you’ve been reading the accounts of Scripture up until this point and have any idea as the manifold destiny of this people you can’t help but feel like they have unwittingly charged forward to their lowest point since slavery in Egypt.  Instead of slavery to Pharaoh they are slaves to idols.  They have broken free from service to God and have whored after other gods who are not Gods at all.  They are foolish, arrogant and headed for ruin.

So might you and I be had it not been had it not been for the grace of God.  You and I are like these Danites.  We spy out land that isn’t given to us.  We are always looking for greener pastures – never content to conquer what has been given until our hands by the Lord.  We steal, pilfer, and snub our noses at God and rebel against all that He has intended us to be.  If Christ hadn’t rescued us from ourselves we would be lost.  Forgotten in the pages of history.  Missing in some dungeon in Hell’s dark cavernous landscape never to be heard from again except by those who share our fate.

Praise God that He rescued us.

The Call of Gideon

This past Thursday our small group took a look at Judges chapter 6 wherein we learn of the call of Gideon.  Gideon was a man who no one would have picked as the next rescuer or “Judge” of Israel.   The plight of God’s people in this chapter is dire.  They are suffering under cruel oppression, and their hearts are as black as can be.  They have no desire for true repentance, and only seek deliverance for the sake of freeing themselves from their foreign enemies.

As the group studied the passage, we hit on three major themes in the chapter:

  • True Repentance = True Freedom
  • A fresh look at God’s holiness and how we encounter that today
  • It is very often that God uses our weaknesses to teach us about Himself and bring Himself glory

Below are my notes from the chapter, I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction

Chapter 6 introduces us to Gideon, who is listed in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith along with Deborah and Barak and Sampson in the following context:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:31-34)

Gideon is a most unlikely hero, but actually takes up a lot of space in the book of Judges – in fact, as Morris notes, 100 verses are spent detailing his story, which is more than any other Judge in the book.

The scene is set in the first few verses of the book where we find the situation for Israel is not a good one.  Dale Ralph Davis comically comments about the plague of Midian:

For seven years they (midainites) left Israel no ‘sustenance’ or means of sustenance. The same scourge and terror every year: invade from the yeast, cross the Jordan, hit the bread basket in the Plan of Jezreel, sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistian, practicing their clean earth politic. Seven years of it. You are hungry, poor, and tired. Every year, as sure as income tax, Midian’s buzzards come.

It’s in this frustrated, beaten down state that our story begins, and where God intervenes in a way that, at first, is unusual…

6:1-2 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.

The cycle of sin is beginning again –isn’t this familiar! The people once again do what is evil in God’s sight, and this time they are given into the hands of Midian.  Note the total sovereignty of God here.  Many times in our own lives we have bad things happen to us but we say ‘this isn’t from God’ – but how do you know?

We know that God is not the author of evil, and yet we know that He uses evil people and circumstances to bring about His good will for our lives (Rom. 8:28).  We know that He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) in order that His glorious purpose would triumph through Christ’s death.

The Israelites, however, were not holy, righteous, or in anyway obedient to the Lord.  And God punished them in order to bring them back to Himself (Heb. 12).  

6:3-5 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.

Note that Midian was not interested in political control of Israel, rather they were interested in simply plundering the nation of its resources.  Israel became their food pantry and its inhabitants nothing more than nice in the cupboard who fled to holes in the mountain at the first sign of trouble.  Indeed in the eyes of Midian, they were simply pests who needed exterminated.

6:6-10 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

This is the most devastating situation Israel has ever faced.  They are completely impoverished and are scratching a living off the rocks of the land (cf. Tolkein).  They have been driven by their circumstances to final cry out to the Lord.  But what do they get in return?  They get a sermon instead of salvation (cf. Keller).

Before God will deliver them from their enemies He wants them to understand very clearly why they have been punished and “brought very low” at the hands of Midian.

It is significant that God didn’t simply raise up a judge to save them right away.  Instead He wanted to make sure they heard His word and knew His heart.

This is the way it is today, is it not?  We need to hear the word of God and listen to what the Spirit has to say through His inspired Word. It is the Word which is necessary for correction and rebuke and encouragement. It is our very life, as Moses was fond of saying:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47)

And the author of Hebrews connects the living and active word of God to its ability to give the Christian rest and peace – but also adds a warning that it is by this word we will be judged:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13, ESV)

Godly Grief

In Tim Keller’s study of this book he rightly calls us to recognize that there is a difference between repentance and regret.  Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)

The difference between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow and repentance are vast. Their outward manifestations are similar, to be sure.  But the motivation for each is different.  A worldly sorrow mourns over the things that have been lost by the circumstances brought about in our lives, whereas a Godly sorrow mourns over the sin itself and the dishonor and rebellion shown toward the God who saved us.

The beautiful thing about true repentance is that it allows us to get past the sin and sorrow of past failures, unlike worldly regret that lingers and places the shackling burden of guilt around our necks.

Keller says this, “When we realize that God has forgiven us and we haven’t ‘lost’ Him, we feel that earthly results are rather small in comparison. We say: I deserved far worse than what happened. The real punishment fell on Jesus, and will never come to me. 

The natural follow up question we need to ask ourselves is this: What are we sorry about and why? And do we need to truly repent of those things instead of just feeling regretful about them?

6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

What we find here is that the Israelites were so fearful of the Midianites that even the common tasks of beating out wheat was done undercover.  Gideon is beating out the wheat in a winepress – obviously not the most convenient place to do this task, but it was likely not the first place a Midianite would search for grain on a raid of the countryside. 

6:12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 

I think it’s pretty crucial here that we recognize that Gideon wasn’t that big of a deal.  He’s probably not being modest when he later says that he’s the least of all in his father’s house.  Yet the Lord says that he’s this mighty man of valor – that’s a pretty amazing title!

Wouldn’t you love to be known as a man or woman of valor?  What is it in him or about him that gives the Lord reason for assessing him this title?  The answer is…nothing.

As we’ll see in later chapters, the story of Gideon is the story of God using the weakness of man to accomplish His ends.  Note that verse 12 says, “the Lord is with you” in conjunction with “O Mighty man of valor.”  It is these two ideas that go hand in hand.  The fact that the Lord is with Gideon is the very reason why he is going to be mighty in battle. Chapters 7 and 8 confirm this for us.

In addition, there is a correlation between verses 12-16 and verse 34 where we learn that God “going with” Gideon is going to be in the form of the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s presence with Gideon that allows him to accomplish all that God has set before him.

Now we have the advantage of knowing what comes later, but Gideon did not, so his own lack of might is exposed (ironically) by this statement and he reacts…

6:13-16 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

Gideon has made the mistake that so many of us make during out own struggles.  He equates the difficulties with the Midians as meaning that God isn’t with them.  This simply isn’t the case – which is both reassuring and terrifying.

We need to understand that God has sent the Midianites to plague Israel – God is meticulously sovereign here.  He is using the decedents of Moses’ second wife to bring about utter destruction and calamity and He is doing it with eyes wide open. God is in that place alright, He is in Israel throughout her pains and throughout her oppression.  His arm of judgment has swept through the land in an effort to bring Israel to her knees in true repentance.

We often struggle with the idea that in the worst times in our lives God is with us.  It doesn’t feel like He’s with us. It doesn’t seem like He would want us to go through this evil or that trial.  But the worst evil in this world cannot blink an eye or bat an eyelash without permission from the throne room of God.  Think of Pilate and what Jesus said to him:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11, ESV)

Therefore God will use evil to accomplish good and use the weakest and least accomplished as His instrument to do this.

6:17-21 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” 19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.

It’s worth noting here that this angel of the Lord seems to be a Christophany and not simply an angel like Gabrial.  The text indicates that this is “the angel of the Lord” but also says, “the Lord said to him” in verse 16.  Not only this, but in verses 17-21 the angel seems to be accepting of the offering that Gideon makes.  As a rule angels don’t accept offerings or worship from men.

Later on we’ll see Gideon ask God for a sign of the fleece, and I’ll just address that briefly here.  Why is Gideon asking God for signs?  Does this justify our asking God for signs?

First, Gideon is asking God for confirmation of His presence and of His plan.  He wants to make sure that this is really God and that He will really be with him.  He is asking God for divine revelation of His holy character.  He isn’t putting God to the test as we commonly think of it (think Satan’s testing of Jesus in Luke’s gospel).

Dale Ralph Davis says, “Gideon shows how highly he values Yahweh’s promise by wanting to be sure it is Yahweh’s promise…Gideon proposed that his offering become the laboratory for God’s assuring sign.”

This is why we can’t ask for similar things from God.  Our motivation is usually something like this (paraphrasing Tim Keller), “God I really want to get this job, so please have them call me today if it is your will that this happen.”

Gideon isn’t asking for help making decisions.  He’s learning more about the character of God – he’s asking God who He is, and seeking to learn more about Him.

6:22-24 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

There are many parallels with Moses and Abraham here, as noted earlier, but when we read of Gideon’s reaction to the revelation of God’s presence with him, he shouts aloud something that reveals his knowledge of God from Moses’ own experience.  We read in Exodus 33 the following account:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20, ESV)

So not only does Gideon realize this, but he also understands that he has seen the Lord face to face – not in the fully revealed splendor of His glory, but in a way that even Gideon could understand.  Likely He was clothed in appearance as a man.

We read time and time again in Scripture that when people encounter God their first reaction is one of woe.  They immediately realize that they are sinful, unholy people and that God’s grace has come upon them.  This is true for Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Mary, Paul and here we see it in Gideon.

As Davis says, “Here is an amazing paradox. Gideon must have assurance of Yahweh’s promise, but, when the assurance comes, it terrifies rather than fortifies him.”  Such is the case when we encounter the holy. As Davis continues, “This sort of talk (vs. 22) is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”

Note also how in each case of God revealing Himself to these Godly men and women, He has a task for them and reveals to them that He is going to use them for something extraordinary – here God is revealed as a God of peace and grace.  It is not that Gideon didn’t deserve to die, but that God spared him in His grace.

I wonder if we need to step back sometimes after spending some time in the Word and get a deeper understanding for the holiness of God.  This is the God who is said to be “a consuming fire” who “dwells in unapproachable light.”  Paul describes Him in this way:

…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:14-16, ESV)

The magnificence of His presence is something we often take for granted.  It is right, therefore, to spend some time in awe of who God is, and who we are. Sinners before the throne of grace, saved by blood – and saved as Gideon was for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).

6:25-27 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. 

So Gideon obeys the Lord and follows the commands God gave him.  But he does so in the middle of the night.  I think it’s interesting that he would do this.  I mentioned earlier that God shows meticulous sovereignty over this situation and here is another example of that sovereignty.

God knows the character of Gideon, He knows what he will do and how he will do it.  Gideon is certainly a coward for not immediately obeying God in broad daylight and he allows fear to rule his life – fear for his life actually probably kept him alive for God’s task and allowed the people in that area to see that God was moving and stir them to recognize that something was afoot.

Just as God knew that Joseph’s dreams would provoke the young man toward pride and a propensity toward annoying his older brothers and father, God also knew that Gideon would be too cowardly to cut down the Baal in broad daylight.  God uses the weaknesses and sinfulness of His children to accomplish His will.  He plans and ordains all things – and that means all things.

6:28-32 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

Isn’t it ironic how all these people get upset and want to kill Gideon for what he did in tearing down there alters?  This mob was standing up for Baal, but as Joash points out, if Baal was a real powerful being he should be able to take care of himself, thank you very much.

So Joash stands up for his boy, and I find this really commendable.  There seems to have been at least some honor in this family or at least in this man, despite the fact that he was a man who worshiped multiple deities!

Anyway…the irony is that God is the one who in this story has vowed to stand up for Israel.  God is the one promising to be with Gideon as he leads Israel to victory of its’ enemies, and God is the one who will empower Gideon…as we’ll see soon in verse 34.

SIDE NOTE: The ESV Study Bible has a nice blurb on Asherah and what it was, “Asherah may function as both the divine name for a particular goddess or, as in these verses, refer to sacred wooden poles erected at places where she was worshiped (vv. 26, 28, 30; cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 17:16). Most frequently, these sacred objects are called “Asherim” (e.g., Ex. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Kings 17:10). 

6:33-35 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Now the scene is set and things are coming into motion.  We read that the Midianites and their buddies the Amalekites along with other nomads from the East are all ready to raid the breadbasket of Israel.  They’ve all gathered together and are encamped in Jezreel, which is north of where Jerusalem sat, and southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  This is really close to home for the Israelites, and so once again their crops and their daughters were in peril.

However, as the author is describing the situation, he bookmarks Israel’s impending doom by noting that the Spirit of the Lord had “clothed” Gideon.  What does this mean, “clothed”?  I think the best way to understand it is “empowered supernaturally.”  As Block notes, “if anything positive happens to Israel in the book of Judges, the credit must go to God.”  And so, “the same Spirit which possesses the divinely called deliverer compels the recipients of the summons to respond to his call.”

In his book ‘God’s Indwelling Presence’ Tom Schreiner (citing James Hamilton) says, “The Old Testament speaks of the Spirit “rushing upon” someone not to describe a conversion experience (e.g., the expression is not used of Abraham or Rahab), but rather the Spirit’s empowering leaders who will deliver the nation.” 

6:36-40 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

As I mentioned earlier, Gideon’s test of God is not like our test of God.  Yes it seems that Gideon was testing God out of unbelief and probably fear (for he was not a warrior and was about to lead an army into battle).  But what Gideon seems to be getting at here is a search for the character and power of God.

Gideon deeply desires to ensure the God is with him, and that God will be the one doing the fighting on their behalf.  Even though it seems silly to ask God for these signs, we see Moses do the same thing in Exodus 4.  One of the ways I think we can know that Gideon was asking with deeper motives was God’s gracious response toward his request.  Gideon was weak, and needed to know that God would be with him, for without God there’s no way that this man would be able to conquer his enemies.

As we continue on in our study over the next several chapters, we’re going to see that one of the major themes of God’s empowering use of Gideon is His desire to use those who are weak to accomplish great things in order that He might get all the glory.

It is no different today.  We need to learn that, as JI Packer says, “weakness is the way” of God, and as Paul says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)