February 15, 2019

Faith in Christ is for . . .

Sometimes people say that Christian is for middle-class North Americans. Or they say it is okay for others but they are not interested. I’ve heard also, “I don’t need that.” Luke’s Gospel has several passages that challenge those ideas.

After Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds in the night. They were terrified, but the angel said:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10, italics mine)

This is significant at a cultural level because these shepherds were likely near the bottom of the ladder. They were often poor and uneducated, not what most would consider worthy of being the first to hear that the Messiah had arrived.

When Jesus was only a few days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple. There a righteous and devout man named Simeon had waited for the Christ. He saw Jesus, took the baby in his arms and said:

My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30–32)

Considerably up the social ladder, this religious Jewish man recognized that Jesus was for both Gentiles and Jews.

Later, when Jesus had grown to manhood, John the Baptist told the people that the Messiah had come. He quoted the Old Testament showing how the gospel is for everyone:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4–6)

Simeon and Jesus knew this passage. While Jesus focused His ministry on the Jews, He did not ignore the Gentiles or even the Samaritans who were also despised by the Jews: But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where (Jesus) was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33)

Why did He do that? It was to fulfill His mission. As Luke said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Near the end of Luke’s account, he quotes Jesus who made it plain that His message of salvation is for all people:

Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46–47)

When I hear others accuse Christianity of being an exclusive religion, they often add that they had a bad experience with a group of professed believers with the attitude of “us four, no more, shut the door.” This should not be. Jesus said that He came because “God so loved the world” and the NT repeatedly offers the wonder of forgiveness and eternal life to “whosoever will may come.” This makes me wonder if the problem is not with the message but the messengers.

It can also be a problem for those who hear the message and resist it with, “I will not have this man rule over me.” I know that my sin problem is just that. At times, I want to run my own life and this puts me outside the will of God. But that should not be either. Jesus came and died for all. All are invited into His family, His kingdom — rich and poor, without name or famous, intelligent or not so, large or small, young or old, people from every walk of life, every category, every nation, clan, tribe, race or religion.

Lord Jesus, You died for everyone. You offer redemption and Your very self to those who will receive You. What more could You do? Yet I know I need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to see myself the way You see me. Without You, I am a self-sufficient sinner. If You had not done a work of grace in my life, I would be resistant and blind to the glory of salvation that meets the deepest need of my soul. Grant that amazing grace as Your Spirit works in the hearts of those who have yet to discover the wonder of You.

February 14, 2019

That perfect man . . .

My daughter was in her teens when she decided a certain TV personality was a perfect man. She now realizes he was not, but at the time he looked awfully good to her. Both of us realize, as almost everyone knows, finding perfection is impossible, or is it?

Luke addressed his Gospel primarily to Greek readers presenting Jesus as the Son of Man, the ideal human being. The Greeks had long sought after the “perfect man” so this New Testament book was designed to show them their ideal. Luke did this in several ways.

First, he described the unique birth of Jesus, born of a virgin and protected by God (Luke 1 and 2). Then he writes of God’s verification of His love and pleasure:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21–22)

Luke also tells of Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath day testifying Himself of His role as a man:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17–21)

His mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He was sinless and not lost Himself.

Luke also puts emphasis on His prayer life, parables, gracious dealings with interesting people and evidence of the Holy Spirit in His life. The Spirit was involved in His birth, descended on Him at His baptism, was upon Him in the synagogue as He quoted Isaiah 61 (above) because He was full of the Holy Spirit and followed His leading:

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

I’ve been reading the book, “Twelve Patients” on which the television series, “New Amsterdam” is based. It is not an easy read. The stories of real people in dire straits, including the author who himself battled cancer, is well-written and gut-wrenching. This book is putting a stop to my whining about petty things like a sore neck. It almost makes me feel guilty about being as healthy as I am.

When I read about Jesus and His perfections, I’m pulled to the other end of emotions. It is one thing to compare my health to those worse off and quite another to compare myself with Someone who is sinless, lived totally pleasing to God, knew His mission and fulfilled it perfectly, and was willing to do whatever the Holy Spirit asked of Him, even go into a desolate place to be tempted by the devil.

Oh Jesus, from this brief overview of Luke, I am drawn again to the wonder and perfection of You. You came to seek and save me, as well as millions of others. I must bow my head in gratitude at the amazing grace of God and the humility of the incarnation. You became a man, a perfect man, that I might be redeemed, even one day to be like You. I am overwhelmed once again.

February 13, 2019

Jesus knows all about the brat in me . . .

Recently I noted that Jesus knows all things except when He will return, showing that He is our example in how the things of God are known. They are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. I believe that this is true about Jesus when He lived here on earth. In becoming a man, He showed us what we should be as His children, relying on God for everything.

For instance, Jesus does not know the day of His return but He was totally aware of the day of His departure.

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. (Mark 9:30–32)

Even though He told the disciples, they didn’t get it. The Holy Spirit needed to open their minds to this truth. This explains why people can read the Bible, even the very words of Jesus Christ yet not understand them.

Jesus also knows our hearts and ambitions. He and the disciples were on their way to Capernaum. When they got there . . .

He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:33–37)
Jesus knew what they were doing and told them what was wrong with their attitudes. The passage does not say that they understood this either. What part of being like a child and receiving Him like a child did He mean? How can receiving Jesus be the same as receiving the Father who sent Him? This must have been puzzling to these twelve men. Their lack of understanding is revealed in what Mark wrote next:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38–41)

John, perhaps the most loving and gentle of the twelve, wanted to stop others from doing the work of Christ because that other person was not in their group. This attitude has been repeated throughout history causing division such as church splits and even wars. The sinful human heart is all about “us four, no more, shut the door” creating cliques and exclusiveness that is far from childlike and far from the will of God. We need to be like children who, if not instructed otherwise, don’t notice differences on the playground; they simply play together.

Jesus knows the human heart, the causes of our divisions and the pride that keeps us from acting like the children of God that He declares believers to be. However, my experience is that I can read His words many times, but not understand it until He gives me that understanding. His truth is not about IQ or any other human attributes; it is about having my eyes opened by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, while it isn’t spelled out in these verses from Mark, the New Testament often shows that what You reveal to me is connected to my obedience. That is, if I do what I already know, more is given. If I get hung up on a truth and fight it with a proud “I don’t want to” heart or the attitude that “I can do this myself” then usually You will show me only what I need to get over this impasse and obey You as I should. I’m glad to be Your child. At times the word ‘brat’ might be a better description, yet Your loving grace and patience is always there, treating me from Your big loving heart, the heart of an all-knowing and good Father.