Deserving (Luke 23:41)

And we indeed [are suffering] justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.

Luke 23:41

The context of this verse is the crucifixion. Christ is hanging on the cross between two criminals. One criminal is hurling abuse and telling Jesus that He should save the three of them. The other criminal tells the first that he should stop talking; points out that all three of them are nailed to crosses; reminds him that they deserve what they are getting.

That, I have been reminded twice this morning, is where salvation begins — at the place where I understand that of which I am deserving.

The criminal on the cross understood it. He knew that he was deserving of the death sentence he received. He knew that his crimes deserved death. He knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. He knew. And I know he knew because he gave voice to that knowledge.

Pilate, for all that he sentenced Jesus to death, knew that Jesus did not deserve what He received. He recognized that Jesus had nothing nothing wrong.

Do I see my transgression and sin and rebellion for what they are? Do I know, in the core of my being, that I deserve damnation? If not, then my eyes are clouded and my mind does not comprehend. My transgression and my sin and my rebellion merit damnation. I am deserving of Death — the only Death anyone should really fear — and God, gracious as He is, offers me Life. I am deserving of punishment and God offers me comfort. I am deserving of shame and ridicule and God offers to call me His own. Let me understand that of which I am deserving and in understanding be humbled.

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To Each His Own (Luke 20:25)

And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Luke 20:25

In a vain attempt to trap Jesus, the religious leaders sent people to Him on the sly with questions and challenges designed to catch Him saying something untoward. In context, these folks came and asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome. Obviously, they did not mean to ask if it was permissible under Roman law — these were taxes being paid to Rome, after all — but under The Law; the Torah. Somehow, the religious leaders had found a verse that they had mangled to mean that taxes should not be paid to secular governments — they still wanted people to pay the temple tax, let’s not get crazy — and knew that Jesus would have to speak contrary to that teaching in order to say that paying Roman taxes was lawful. On the other hand, Jesus could agree with their teaching and they could scarper off to some Roman official or another and say that Jesus was teaching people not to pay their due to Rome and have Him arrested for that. It seemed like a Catch-22. But Jesus knew. More, Jesus had an answer that called them out for their hypocrisy while maintaining civil authority. This morning’s verse is that answer.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Give what is due to whom it is due in the physical world. Caesar could easily be replaced with terms like “the government” or “your spouse” or any person or entity that has a place in the physical world. My wife is due certain things — I owe these things to her. The physical world is replete with those to whom something is due. Jesus’ instruction to me is to give them their due. This, as an aside, does not preclude God having claims on my physical life, only points out the limits of the claims of others.

Render … to God the things that are God’s. Give what is due to Whom it is due in the spiritual world. My wife is not the One I should worship. My government is not worthy of my prayers. While there are those who have very real claims on me and my resources in the physical realm, the spiritual is another matter entirely. God alone claims my all in that realm and He is the only One Who has any right so to do.

“To each his own.” is a phrase most often applied to people having preferences or interests. This morning, it occurs to me that I ought to render to each his own — to God what is rightfully His and to those to whom I owe something in the physical world what is rightfully theirs.

Praise (Luke 19:41)

But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Luke 19:40

The context of this verse is what is commonly called the Triumphal Entry. Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of His life. He will teach in the temple, be examined by the priests, be betrayed, and be crucified. He will rise the following week. As Jesus enters the city, His disciples are shouting praises. The Pharisees tell Jesus that He should command His disciples to stop making such a ruckus and Jesus answers with this verse.

Would the stones literally have cried out? John the Baptist told the religious leaders that God could raise up sons for Abraham from the stones (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Joshua set up stones as a witness to the might of God (Joshua 4). But the most compelling statement comes from Paul, who wrote that all creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:19-22). Every created thing looks forward to the day when God will set it free from the presence of sin and the rocks might very well have shouted in triumph at the appearance of the Redeemer.

This is a reminder to me that the things God is doing should be allowed to prompt my enthusiasm and my praise, unfettered by concern about what others might think or say. David danced before the LORD (2 Samuel 6:14-16). He was so carried away with joy over what God was doing that he — the king of Israel — danced and jumped around in the streets. And this is the man reputed to be “after God’s own heart.” If I wish to have the heart of God in me, then I need to give place to the joy of the LORD when it bubbles over into expressions that may or may not be thought proper by those around. Let me praise my God as my God deserves. It is about Him and what He deserves. No one else.

BC (Luke 19:10)

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Luke 19:10

I wondered what God had to say to me when this verse popped off the page this morning. A little digging into the concordance for some Greek and the meanings behind it led me to an interesting insight: Jesus did not come to find people who had merely wandered off and lost their way (as the English would suggest), but to seek out and save from destruction those who would otherwise be destroyed.

First, the seeking. The word used sounds much stronger when all of the possible translations are read from the concordance. It can mean to seek in order to find; to seek a thing; to seek [in order to find out] by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into; to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after. There is much more intent and intensity in these meanings than the English conveys. Not only does it sound stronger, but the fact that it carries within it the intent to find is important. I have played Hide and Seek with nephews and my “seeking” is lackadaisical — I generally know where they are. Christ came to strive after we who are lost. We were His aim then and we are His aim still.

Second, the saving. The word carries the potential meanings of to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction; to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue. The imagery is less akin to someone playing Hide and Seek and more akin to a lifeguard looking out across the churning surf to find the person who is in danger of becoming a drowning victim. There is focus and purpose and an intent to preserve.

Last, the lost. Possible meanings include to destroy; to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to, ruin; render useless; to kill; to declare that one must be put to death; to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. This is not lost in the sense that I have most often read this verse or thought about a person being lost, but is, rather, in the sense of having lost someone to illness. The people whom Christ came to actively seek out and to rescue are those who under the sentence of death already; who were already dead; who were ruined and useless. Christ did not come to save people who just had a few things wrong with them. He came to save those who were effectively already dead.

I feel that I needed to be reminded that I am among those for whom Christ came. I was never anything more or less than utterly and completely damnable and damned until Christ came for me. I was, as the NT writers penned, dead in my trespasses and sins until Christ brought me to life. I was useless until God worked in me both to will and to do His good pleasure. As Ezekiel saw in his vision, Jesus Christ came to a valley of dry bones — so far gone that no one could even consider these recovering — and He bade them stand and covered them with flesh and sinew and clothed them with skin. Those bones were me. Let me remember where I was when Christ came for me lest I become proud and think I was something useful or worthwhile before Christ.

 

 

 

Specificity (Luke 14:41)

“What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, [I want] to regain my sight!”

Luke 14:41

As Jesus enters the city of Jericho, there is a blind man — another gospel tells us that his name is Bartimaeus — who cries out asking Jesus to have mercy on him.

Mercy, it occurred to me, is a rather non-specific request. When Jesus stops and has Bartimaeus brought over, Jesus asks what it is that Bartimaeus wants Him to do; what sort of mercy the blind man is after.

Yesterday morning, I was drawn to the tax collector’s cry for mercy. Be merciful to me, the sinner. His request was bound up in how he saw himself: the sinner. Bartimaeus, according to Luke’s account, only says Have mercy on me. He knows who Jesus is — son of David is a prophetic name for the Messiah — but he says nothing that might indicate what sort of mercy he is asking for. So Jesus comes right down to business: “What do you want Me to do for you?”

Sometimes, I wonder if I do not receive an “answer” to prayer because my prayer was too general, à la “God, please bless so-and-so.” I can imagine God sitting on His throne saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” It is not as though He does not know what I mean — He knows everything — but that He wants me to be able to see that He has responded to me and to my request in particular. If Jesus had simply told Bartimaeus that his sins were forgiven, Bartimaeus might have been content to leave things there. It is possible that word had traveled about the paralytic and that this blind man would have been well content to know that he was forgiven by God. Jesus draws out specifics. “What do you want Me to do for you?”

I think that God is still asking those with the right view of Him and Who and what He is and enough faith to pray this very same question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Let me pray specifically so that I can see clearly when God responds to my requests.

Humbly Justified (Luke 18:14)

I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 18:14

Jesus tells a parable of two men going to the temple to pray.

One man is a pharisee and he prays, according to Jesus, to himself. The Pharisee is thinking about himself as he prays, not getting his eyes and his focus on God. His prayer never leaves the temple. This man’s sins remain.

The other man is a tax collector. These men were considered traitors and swindlers and agents of a corrupt system. So, not much different than modern Americans view the IRS. This guy goes down to the temple and finds an out-of-the-way corner and curls up and is striking at his chest, knowing the wrong heart contained therein. He prays that God would be merciful to him. He knows he does not deserve it. He knows that God has no reason to show him mercy aside from mercy being in God’s character. His prayer gets to the heart of God. This man is forgiven.

The difference is stark. One man is so proud that his words never leave the temple while the other begs for mercy and receives it. One man is praying to himself and does not know it while the other pleads with Almighty God and knows it very well.

Which am I? My prayers should be marked by the knowledge that coming into God’s presence at all is a privilege that I should not be afforded. My unworthiness should humble me and lead me to beg mercy of God.

As I prayed this morning, I found myself thinking about deeply personal matters and realizing something that had not occurred to me before. While I and others involved with the situation have been praying for resolution in a particular vein, I am not certain that any of us considered asking God to change things on the other side of the coin. There are two of us involved in the matter and we have both been praying for the other person to be changed, but God asked me whether or not I could accept it if the change needed was me. Would I be willing to accept that?

Then He reiterates the message with this verse. One man is humble and receives what he asks: justification; right standing with God. The other man is proud and does not think that he needs to change. He gets nothing.

Which one am I? Am I proudly damned or humbly justified?

(Luke 18:1)

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart …

Luke 18:1

The Bible is not always so direct about the purpose of the things that are recorded. For example, The Bible records that several great men of faith — Jacob, David — were polygamists. Scripture does not tell me why it records this detail, but it is recorded. In the case of the parable of the widow and the judge, The Bible shifts gears and tells me precisely why Jesus told the parable and, by extension, why it is recorded.

Since I know why the parable is told and put down in writing, it behooves me to take a moment to consider whether or not I have learned the lesson that the parable is supposed to teach.

First, do I pray? The answer, simply put, is yes. However, the lesson is that I ought to pray … at all times. Am I praying at all times and about all things?

The idea, to my mind, is that there should be no subject that is taboo in my discourse with God. He wants me to bring to Him everything: my concerns, my thanks, my hurts, my praise … everything. I do not think that God is itching to cast me out of His presence when I come before Him with my anger and my hurt. I think He wants to heal my hurts and put my anger in its proper place. I do not think that the language I use can ever shock Him — He did, after all, hear everything I ever said. All of it. Likewise, I do not think that I can shock God with the things that have entered into my heart and mind. It is not as though He is unaware of them. He wants to create in me a new heart and restore a right spirit within me, as David prayed. Reading the psalms can lead me to one of two conclusions: either prayer can be asking for some really violent and retributive things (and possibly getting them) or prayer can be a time when I vent my spleen to God and He puts things in their right order and restores communion with Himself. The second is the conclusion I have reached.

In addition, there should be no time when I do not pray. Whether I am unaware of any wrongs I may have committed or whether I just finished doing something heinous, I should still come before God to repent and to beg His forgiveness or to praise Him or thank Him or whatever is appropriate to the moment.

Second, I should not lose heart. The reason for this is obvious to any believer who has ever prayed about anything: Sometimes, God takes a long time to respond to our inquiry. God is working on a whole different time scale than I am and that difference in time table can be frustrating. Worse, it can cause me to lose heart. I pray that God will deliver me from some besetting sin and know that I know that He wants to do so. And it seems that all I get is Heaven’s silence for an answer. Do I persevere or do I lose heart? To my shame, I too often lose heart and drop the subject.

Let me press on in prayer, knowing that God will not give me anything that is not for the best and knowing that God will make good on every promise He has ever made. Let me pray about all things and on all occasions, even and especially when I feel least worthy to pray. It is, perhaps, those times in which I most need to pray.