Getting in Line

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. 16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. Luke 16:15–16 (NAS)

Expressways in my county are notorious for forcing multiple lanes of traffic into one lane at major junctions. At the last minute cars forcibly attempt to wedge in to make their connection. This is how Jesus described the common man’s interest in the “good news” of the kingdom, a response at which the eavesdropping Pharisees scoffed.

They were also triggered by Jesus’ takes on money and marriage. They did not find greed and divorce detestable and marginalized the law’s teaching on these subjects to fit their proclivities. Jesus, on the other hand, did not come to dispense with the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He also said, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17).

Since the law was only kept by one man to the letter and in its truest spirit, and was such a high bar to scale, it’s no wonder the people were forcing their way into the line forming behind him.

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Little Things Matter

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Luke 16:10 (NAS)

Luke 16:1-13, The Unrighteous Steward

It’s the little things that matter. We tend to live our lives as though they aren’t open for inspection, but they are to God.

If we are cavalier in the management of the basic things of life, serving as God’s steward will not be an option. For example, you cannot serve in church leadership if you are reproachable, so says Paul (1 Timothy 3:2).

There are many who are shrewd and make millions, but is God impressed? I don’t want to be commended for my shrewdness but my faithfulness. Actually, He wants us shrewd in the use of our time, talent and treasure for his Kingdom.

In the end we’ll stand alone before Jesus and give an account. Therefore, we must realize early on that we’re not strong enough to dig and too ashamed to beg (16:3). We’ll not have time to retrace our steps, fix things and cut deals.

I’ve always valued having done things faithfully over a long period of time, exercise, time at one job, marriage to one woman, early morning Bible reading, etc. But this is only possible by starting early, setting patterns of faithfulness, and following them routinely day in day out.

It’s not too late to start though. After all, they’re just little things.

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A Man Had Two Sons

The familiar story, The Prodigal Son, could be told from the very first verse.

And Jesus said, “A man had two sons.” Luke 15:11 (NAS)

I feel inadequate to add my two cents to it because scholars, preachers, professors, and teachers have already set us straight on what this parable does and does not say. They are careful to warn against the urge to allegorize from its characters and elements. The less didactic, present company included, should glean from its low hanging fruit and let it teach itself. Why tell a 20 minute story to start your sermon about a story the Lord himself cleverly crafted, or get lost in the theological weeds telling it? So succinctly, it is a masterful tale of human nature, grace and disgrace, hoping and believing all things, forgiveness, pride and jealousy, and repentance and restoration,.

All this being said, I thought it might be interesting to profile the starring characters, to reverently build their backstories from clues in the text. One thought is clear though, only when the Lord has invoked a change of heart can a change of heart occur. Sadly, as this story ends, some serious issues in the heart of the eldest son are unresolved and deserve an epilogue.

As a father of four, the first three being boys, I am well aware of the tricky dynamics of budding masculinity. I am also the first born of two sons, so I can understand the psyche of the prodigal’s crotchety brother. The second born was a free spirit, early on itching to sow wild oats. He was not responsible but likable and lovable. His brother towed the line, expecting reward for good behavior. The eldest enjoyed too much adult conversation early on by rank and thought himself to be wiser than he was, and was quietly building a dossier of his father’s shortcomings and foibles. He certainly had his brother’s predilections pegged.

The “old man” was generous to a fault. He desired to please and obviously had difficulty saying no. There is no hint that he wanted the young whippersnapper to learn the hard way. He probably admired his oldest and thought of him as an ally, but was oblivious to his glibness. He had a soft spot for the youngest and probably thought him to be delightful and entertaining. When wayward, he’d talk his way back into the father’s good graces. It is no wonder that when presented with the youngest’s bold request, he quickly acquiesced without sensing that this was a very bad idea. It is important to note the story makes no mention of a discerning wife and partner who might have seen things a different way!

It is clear that the youngest had a plan he needed to fund. He only had a third of his father’s estate coming and the proceeds had to be transportable, fungible, and liquid, so he cashed out. He therefore left a lot on the table to do what he did, to be able to gather it up and go. If he had stayed put, his inheritance would have grown, with access to fixed assets later on. The clear recipient of his rashness was his older brother, who probably thought and vocalized the idea to be hairbrained and shortsighted when he heard of it, and likely predicted his brother would squander it in no time based on past experience.

In the end, the budding prodigal was enabled and in a short matter of time on his way. It’d be unlikely that he’d be cut any slack if he returned, though, as his father stuck with protocol in doling out his lot in life, and his big brother would hold his feet to the fire. He had passed the point of no return.

In a distant foreign land, sans any semblance of the ethical and moral restraints of his father’s faith, the prodigal plunged into riotous living. The money he had in his bag flowed through his fingers like water. For a brief time he was high on life and pleasure, but in the morning reality and regret set in with his hangover. He had lost everything. To eat he’d have to find a job, and it’d be slopping pigs, the ultimate humiliation. That he got himself hired in a foreign country in a time of famine is indicative of his powers to persuade, and it was at this dead end that he came to his senses.

If the prodigal had not “come to his senses” and admitted he had sinned against God, it would have been just another artful way of extricating himself from a self-inflicted jam. His plan in the Lord’s story is absent any angle to restore his privileges. If accepted back he’d be a hired hand first to his father and then to his brother. There was no way around it. He was focused on that sole objective and no other scenario crossed his mind as he set a course to return. It was on that slog back home that he, now a shadow of himself, appealed even more desperately for God’s mercy.

There was not a day gone by that the father was not hoping that his son would return. He did not know how far he’d fallen or if he was even alive. The absence must have been long enough to start losing hope given his reaction when the son returned. He always had one eye on the winding road below. It had become an obsession to cast a glance there repeatedly like a nervous twitch. He finally saw a lonely figure moving toward the house and he quickly gathered up his tunic and sprinted down the path, casting any care aside for the potential humiliation that this act might bring, let alone that he was up in years.

When they met the father loudly wept on the son’s neck. As the wayward son gave his well-rehearsed speech, his father was preoccupied with unbridled joy. In his exuberance he ordered the servants to fetch a festal robe (Zechariah 3:4) and sandals, and put his signet ring (Genesis 41:42) on his son’s finger. These were clear signs of full restoration to the family.

In those days, there was always one calf that was fattened in anticipation of an unplanned celebration, and this would be one for the ages, for his son was dead and now alive!

The older son was unaware of his brother’s return as he arrived back from his dutiful labor in what would eventually be his field. He asked a servant about the ruckus inside and was told the news. Rather than be joyous himself, he was ticked, and turned and began walking away fuming. It might be better said in a jealous rage. Hearing that his older son had been told the happy news, the father immediately went outside to fetch him. Despite his pleading, the older son could only compare and contrast his loyalty and righteousness with the hedonism of his brother. The father rightfully fired back, reminding him that all he had was his, and that what was lost had been found!

This is our God, who puts our sins as far as the east is from the west and remembers them no more. He does not exact his pound of flesh when we go astray as we all do, but restores us to our rightful place in His presence. This is his response to repentance and confession. He does not walk away in disgust but weeps on our neck and then celebrates. He is full of compassion, mercy and grace.

9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

Psalm 103:9–14 (NAS)
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God Sees It

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? Luke 15:8 (NAS)

Read Luke 15:8-10, The Parable of the Lost Coin

Just a comment on this parable. My wife has a saying when something goes missing, “God sees it.” The assumption is it’ll turn up. I am more like the woman here. I run through the typical illogical questions one asks like, “where did you leave it?” The other is always, “Think!” I search and re-search. I mentally retrace my steps. It can be debilitating. But it is so satisfying to find something after losing it after such an effort is put forth. I do acknowledge that God saw it the whole time, but does he not give even the most absentminded a brain?

Lest we forget the point, there’s always a “Minor B” miracle involved in the finding of something of value. Here it was equivalent to a day’s wages. In the same fashion, we are of value to God and worth pursuing, worth turning the house upside down to find. There is joy in the house of the Lord today when one sinner changes his or her mind about Him.

Yes, he does see us!

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Lost and Found, Take Two

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? Luke 15:4 (NAS)

My wife would give her eye teeth for one of these precious sheep. If we owned any spare land I’m sure we’d have one. If it were to stray, I’m sure she’d look high and low for it, leaving other loved ones to fend for themselves. I can imagine her joy upon finding it and the text messages that’d go out with the good news.

It’s good to know that the Lord sees us like this helpless animal and pursues us relentlessly. When we’re found we are carried on his shoulders from then on, and heaven rejoices. This being a parable told to the Pharisees, it likely fell on deaf ears. We, on the other hand, understand it perfectly.

A widower down the road, up in years, suffered from cancer. His neighbors knew of his plight and befriended him, checked in on him, mowed his lawn, took him for his treatments, fed him, and walked his dog. Most importantly they shared Christ with him, but he resisted. Then lying on his deathbed minutes away from his last breath, they offered once more. His grip and his expression told the whole story. He went straight into the Savior’s arms, or shall we say, onto His shoulders, and the angels rejoiced in person.

I say with confidence there was no way this man would be eternally lost, because he had been pursued and found. He just didn’t know it until the end.

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Not What We Signed Up For

In Luke 14:25, the setting changes from the meal at the Pharisee’s house to Jesus on the move with a crowd in tow. Sensing many “fanboys” amongst them, he turns and explains what it means to follow him.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. He goes on. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26-27 (NAS)

This is one of those passages you want to quickly move on from. There’s a lot said about shedding the shackles of sin, but the exchange of those chains for a cross is under sold. Here the Lord shares the terms of engagement and the cost is very steep. He says true discipleship starts with emptying your pockets and ends with a cross.

If you examine those who have answered his call, yes, they did drop everything to follow him (Peter and Andrew), their fathers and mothers (James and John), their profitable enterprises (Matthew), and their associations (Simon the Zealot). The rich young ruler is the most obvious exception (Luke 18:18-26). He counted the costs. He assessed the risks. He walked away.

In response to the young man’s decision, Peter recalled all that he had left behind, only to hear from the Lord that there would be ample compensation in return now and later.

Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  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, who will not receive many times as much at this time, and in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:28-30

We all would surely like to follow Jesus. He feeds us. He heals us. He leads us. He saves us. But he appears to be an exacting taskmaster.

Yet we read…

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 1:28-30.

Back to Luke 14:25, his true disciples in the crowd offered a hearty amen to these words and kept in lockstep. The others likely slinked away as the rich young ruler did, muttering under their breaths, “we didn’t sign up for this.”

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No Excuses

16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. Luke 14:16–18 (NAS)

Read Luke 14:16-24, Parable of the Dinner

When I was growing up, if a Billy Graham Crusade was on the television we were watching it. Back in those prehistoric days he was in his prime. He was a fiery orator, compelling, and convicting. He’d bellow “the Bible says,” and the sound would reverberate throughout the stadium. At the end, of course, he’d invite the attendees to come forward to receive Jesus as their Savior. His close always included something like you may be with friends and family, they’ll wait for you, or you may be in the upper deck, we’ll wait for you, or you may have come by bus, they’ll not leave without you. Just come! Then he’d fold his hands, bow his head, and pray.

This parable, which comes with no explanation from Jesus by the way, tells of a banquet meal that a man has prepared and is finally ready. The invitations had gone out and he tells his slave to go out and tell the invitees to come. The slave is met with a rash of lame excuses and returns to tell his master the news. In this case, he didn’t wait, and the response was not patience and prayer but anger.

We’ve all been in situations when we’ve been invited to something and we just didn’t want to go. It may be a ways away and we say things that give the impression that we’ll come, but we don’t intend to. If the shoe is on the other foot, we’ve witnessed some masterful—or so they think— creative last minute excuses why someone can’t come to our event, and we think immediately they knew all along that that was going to be an issue before they said yes! Suddenly, it’s the most important thing in the world?

In this parable, one asks, is that piece of land you spotted and went to all the trouble to buy really need to be inspected now? Do you really need to take the oxen out for a spin over a well cooked meal? After the long betrothal, marriage ceremony and feast, and honeymoon of some sort, you can’t fit in a dinner that’s been on the calendar for weeks?

What is striking in this parable is the finality of the decision not to attend. There was no entreaty made to change their mind. They were out and many from the highways and byways who hadn’t planned to be anywhere were in. This has to represent how God switched his attention to the Gentiles when his own people refused him. But it could also mean that there is one moment in time when the invitation is made and we must make the effort to come to him. You can’t risk the possibility that the opportunity will not come again. Perhaps you’ll be attacked on that piece of land and killed. Or run over by the five yokes of oxen, or led astray by your new wife.

For now it appears that the Lord patiently waits and prays, but the motor in the bus is running.

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Greatest of All Time

He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table. Luke 14:7 (NAS)

Read Luke 14:1-15

Note to self. It’s not a good idea to invite the “greatest of all time” to dinner. If you think this will be a good chance to corner him in front of witnesses you will be sadly mistaken. Jesus used this occasion for maximum impact. In the end some of the attendees were saying how great it would be to dine at his house.

He started by healing a man thought to be incurable on a day when no work was to be done. Then afterwards he dressed down his critics with, and I paraphrase, “would you hesitate because it’s the Sabbath to rescue your own son or ox if either fell in a hole?” Of course they’d do the “work” to save them! Thus, they all were speechless. No reply at all.

Then he moves on to study how the guests chose their seats, as kittens vying for a bowl of food. He shares a parable, meaning only those who were inclined towards him would catch the meaning (Luke 8:10), and then another, to drive home his point.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

Both parables, in fact rendered practically helpful social wisdom.

Imagine the conversations as the guests walked home. The humiliated lawyers and Pharisees resolve to “double down,” while those who got the message had “gone to church.”

In a sense Luke “blesses the meal” at the end, recounting the statement of one guest, “When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this [i.e., witnessed all this], he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” Luke 14:15

This exclamation invoked one parting parable, a portent of things to come. Luke 1:16-24. To be continued.

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Cutting to the Chase

1 It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 2 And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Luke 14:1–3 (NAS)

When we sense Jesus is asking us a question, whether we hear him in our head or read scripture that poses one, the best answer may be to not respond at all as did the lawyers and Pharisees in this case.

The dreaded question of “Do you love me?” can’t be answered in my mind without equivocation. Such a question caused Peter significant distress. (See the familiar story in John 21:15-17) It led to determining the manner in which he loved him, with agape (sacrificial) or phileo (brotherly) love.

The turning point in my life some 45 years ago was not on a question but a declarative statement made in my head by Jesus himself as I sat with Bible in hand in a chair as I am now. “You don’t love me,” he said. If he had asked it in the form of a question, the answer would have definitely been “no” in terms of agape love. At least he spared me from self incrimination. My only response was to resolve to go forward knowing he could have taken me out in that very state at that moment.

Perhaps it’s much better to have the Lord speak directly and spare us the inquisition. Perhaps that he speaks directly is a sign that we are his—I hope so— and he’s cutting to the chase.

Some would question if the Lord speaks audibly–he didn’t in this case. But the message was loud and clear and it came out of nowhere. All I know is that from that point on I was a changed person. And to this day I remember the encounter as it happened yesterday and am thankful this morning he has nothing directly to say and his focus is on a proud gathering of Pharisees.

Now back to our text…

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Today Tomorrow and the Next Day

31 Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.” 32 And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’ 33 “Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. Luke 13:31–33 (NAS)

Jesus when warned that Herod was tracking him down to kill him offered some interesting comments. It’s a passage like this that causes Jesus movie makers to portray the Lord more sardonically. Jesus says to the Pharisees that were so helpful, “Go and tell that fox” what I do all day long, cast out demons, perform cures, and by the way, I’m coming to Jerusalem.

We might not see Jesus as a leather-wearing, honey-eating prophet, but what the Lord uttered would soon materialize exactly as pronounced. The day of his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem was right around the corner.

My kindergartner understanding of this event was that he was greeted by adoring fans in that city, waiting to catch a glimpse of the new rock star. Truth is they had to be told who he was, and it was his disciples and close followers chanting, ”Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” not the citizens. (Matthew 21:19, Luke 19:37-39)

10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” Matthew 21:10–11

He went on to predict to the Pharisees his fate, and that of the city.

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! 35 “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” Luke 13:34–35

It’s essential that a prophet be right all the time, “today, tomorrow, and the next day.” There is ample proof that Jesus was killed by his own people and that Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans in 70 A.D.

43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:43–44

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