Sunday, July 27, 2014

A great question, a great candidate, a great sorrow, and a great hope; Luke 18:18

The other day I was surfing through you tube and came across a compilation of television commercials from the 1970’s.  Some of them were pretty funny.  Or at least the hairstyles were funny.  But some of you that are from my generation may remember this one in particular.  There were these business men on a plane, and one man leaned across the aisle in conversation with another man and said something to the effect, “Well, my broker is EF Hutton, and EF Hutton says…”  And all the business men on the plane stop what they are doing and  lean over to hear what EF Hutton has to say.

I’m sure that all of us can identify with that situation. We can all imagine a situation where we might have an opportunity to meet some great person and talk to them about something that is very important to you.  If you are a golfer, for instance, and you could sit down and talk to Tiger Woods and ask him any question that you wanted to ask, what would you say?  What would be the most important question you could ask him if you had the opportunity?

Well, there was a similar opportunity that happened in this account recorded here in the 18th chapter of Luke.  Jesus is passing by, and a young man hears of it and he wants nothing more than to get a chance to ask Jesus an important question.  In fact, I would suggest that it is the most important question that any man could ask.  In the parallel account in Mark 10 it says that he came running up and knelt before Jesus.  This guy was sincerely looking to find an answer to what is the greatest question that anyone could ask.  So he comes running up and asks Jesus in Luke 18:18, ““Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now that is the right question.  And he seems to have the right attitude. He runs to Jesus.  That shows a desperation to know the truth.  Mark says he kneels before Jesus, showing reverence.   And thirdly, he comes to the right source.  He comes to Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  He is the right source for life’s greatest questions.

Not only did he ask the right question and come with the right attitude to the right source for truth, but this man is the right kind of candidate, isn’t he?  I mean, this guy is a pastor’s dream.  Matt. 19’s account says that the man was young and he was rich.  Luke says that he was a ruler, probably a ruler of the synagogue.  This guy was the perfect candidate for the kingdom of God, wasn’t he?  He was the kind of guy that many modern churches have reinvented themselves to attract;  he is what they call a seeker.  People that are supposedly seeking God are the new frontier for the modern seeker friendly church.  They have completely reformatted the church today in an attempt to reach this type of person. They have removed all the things that these people might find offensive.  People that supposedly are interested in Jesus, or religion, but are turned off by traditionalism and are looking for a new type of church.  Those kind of churches would love this guy.  He was young.  That seems to be a necessary component of anyone that seeks to be a worship leader, by the way.  You have to be young, and it’s a real plus if you are a hipster.

Secondly, this guy was rich.  That is a big benefit to the local church.  Boy, if we could just get a few rich people in our congregation that would be something.  Then we could really get our ministry going.  And thirdly, he was a ruler of the synagogue.  That meant that he already had a full working knowledge of the Bible, God, and all the praise songs.  He was a prime candidate for Jesus.  He was eager, he was seeking, he was asking the right questions, he was young, and he was rich.  Couldn’t ask for a better candidate.  I would expect Jesus would just sweep him right into the kingdom and give him a leadership position really quickly to make sure that He kept him.  Don’t let that guy get away.

But let’s see how Jesus responds to this greatest of questions.  Vs. 19, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’”  Wait a minute.  That’s Jesus answer?  He isn’t answering the question at all.  Isn’t that more of a rebuke?  Jesus doesn’t even answer the guy, but instead He rebukes him. He practically offends him. Why doesn’t Jesus tell this guy that He just needs to have a relationship with Him?   Why doesn’t He say that he just needs to believe in Him?  Why didn’t He lead him in the sinner’s prayer?  You know, if I didn’t know better I would have to say that Jesus failed Evangelism 101.  The modern church would have had him saved, baptized and on some kind of leadership committee in no time flat.

But, if you have noticed as we have been going through Luke,  Jesus rarely answers a question directly. And in this case He answers it with another question.  He uses the man’s question to prompt a question on His part, in order to lead the man to a right understanding.

So let’s look at Jesus’ question first.  Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Now Jesus is teaching two things here.  First of all, He is not denying His deity as some have suggested.  But what Jesus is saying is if you are going to call Me good, then you have to realize that I am God incarnate.  If I am not God incarnate, then I am not good.  So He is forcing this religious man, who knows the scriptures, who knows the law, to recognize that either He is God in the flesh or He is not good.  He cannot be good and not be God.  So Jesus is using this question to affirm His deity.  Jesus was either God in the flesh, or He was the greatest fraud to ever walk the planet and deserved to be executed.

Secondly, Jesus is teaching that no man is good.  That’s what He says, “No one is good except God alone.”  Paul says that very thing in Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."

Now for us that are Christians, that should be a familiar principle.  We may not think about it much, but I hope you have at least heard it a few times. But when you think about it, if you were to tell someone that they are not good, that sounds like a harsh statement, doesn’t it?  Can you imagine if you met someone on the street and said to them, “You are plain no good.”  That’s a very harsh statement by any standard of etiquette and especially in today’s climate of political correctness.  For goodness sakes, don’t say it to a child either, you might stunt his development.

But that is exactly what Jesus is telling this guy.   This man comes running up to Jesus, I think with all sincerity, but I also think with a great deal of pride in his own goodness. I think he really expects Jesus to make some kind of announcement like “never in all of Israel have I seen such great faith,” or something to that affect.  He expects Jesus to affirm his goodness, to tell him don’t worry, you are going to be in the kingdom because the kingdom belongs to sincere people like you.

So the third thing that Jesus is teaching is that good is a relative term.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not preaching a gospel of relativity.  But what I am saying is that good can only be defined as good as it relates to something that is not good. In other words, it needs some standard for goodness, some norm in order to determine goodness. Paul says in 2 Cor. 10:12 that when we judge by ourselves and compare ourselves among ourselves we reveal that we are without understanding.  We like to  grade ourselves on a curve.  Compared to so and so we think we are good.  But the standard the Lord uses for goodness is God’s righteousness.

And that brings us to the next statement by Christ.  He brings this man’s attention to God’s standard of righteousness which is the law.  Vs. 20 Jesus says,  "You know the commandments, 'DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'"

Well, this is another major mistake on the part of Jesus.  This guy comes wanting to know what he must do to have eternal life, and Jesus not only rebukes him, and then offends him, but now he turns him to the commandments.  Is Jesus really telling this guy that the way to eternal life is by keeping the law? Matthew 19’s parallel story actually  adds that Jesus says, “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Now how are we to understand that statement?

Well the fact of the matter is that God’s law is eternal, because God is eternal.  God is unchanged from the God of the OT.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The law reveals sin on the one hand, while revealing righteousness on the other.  The law is the standard of God’s righteousness.  It is the standard of goodness.  That is what Jesus is saying.  But God gave the law, Paul said, not to provide a stepladder to heaven, that somehow if we can keep it would give us eternal life, but the law was given to us as a tutor, to show us our sinfulness, to lead us to Christ.   If there is no sin, then there would need to be no Savior.  Jesus said He came to seek and to save those that were lost.  Those that are sinners, outside of the kingdom of God.

So in Matthew’s version, the ruler asks, “Which ones?” Which commandments?  And Jesus responds with what is called the second table of the law.  The Decalogue, or the ten commandments have been traditionally divided into two sections.  The first half is man’s relationship to God, and the second half is man’s relationship to man.  Jesus gives him the easier part first, the second half of the law.

And you can almost imagine that the young ruler breathes a sigh of relief.  He says in vs. 21, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  Now up to this point we have noticed a lot of things this guy has done right; he has eagerness, he has reverence, he has the right attitude, he asks the right question.  But now he gives the wrong answer.  His answer reveals that he has a wrong understanding of the law.

Jesus knows this man’s heart.  That really is the key to understanding this dialogue.  You have to realize that Jesus knows this guys heart before he ever opens his mouth.  And Jesus could have easily listed all the ways in which this guy had broken every commandment.  After all, Jesus showed the extent of the law in the Sermon on the Mount.  He said in Matthew 5 at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”  He also said, that “if your righteousness does not surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  So when Jesus explained the law in that message, He said that the extent of the law went so far as to say that if you hated your brother, you were guilty of murder.  And if you looked at a woman to lust after her then you were guilty of adultery.  Jesus knew full well that this man had a short sided view of the law.

But Mark’s version adds an interesting note in Mark 10:21, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him. He feels compassion for him because he knows the man is deceived. He doesn’t rebuke the man for a short sided view of the law.  See, the Pharisees actually believed that they did keep the law.  Even the apostle Paul, who was the chief of Pharisees, said in Phil. 3:6 that before he was converted, he considered himself in regards to the law blameless.  The problem was that the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the synagogues had interpreted the law in such a way as to make it possible that they could maintain an external righteousness, but inwardly they were evil in their  hearts.  They had defined the law in the Talmud to provide limitations on the law, ways of getting around it so that externally they appeared righteous, but inwardly their hearts were evil.  But they failed to understand that God cared about the heart, and God sees the heart.

So he not only gave the wrong answer, but he had a wrong view of God.  And this is what Jesus is most concerned about.  That is why he looked at him and loved him.  He has compassion for him.  Because this man is lost.  You know, there is a modern view of God that we have in our churches today that is wrong.  We think God is too little. There is a popular view today that God is only defined by love.  That the love and compassion of God invalidates  all the other attributes of the nature of God.  And so God loves everyone just as they are.  According to modern church theology you can come just as you are to God and He will accept you and love you just as you are.  Therefore, this new age theology cancels out sin.  There is no more sin, no need for repentance, because God just loves you the way you are.

Unfortunately, this wrong view of God is contrary to the God of the Bible.  The God of the Bible is a God of justice and mercy.  But before God’s mercy can be applied, first His justice has to be satisfied.  Sin must be paid for. Sin is clearly defined in the law. And the Bible says that the wages of sin is death. 1John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  God loves you, but God will punish sinners.  The only way to escape that punishment is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Those that repent of their sins and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then 2 Cor. 5:21 says that God will place our sin upon Jesus and punish Him, and place the righteousness of Jesus on us and forgive us.

But that doesn’t happen unless we confess and repent of our sins.  Repentance means to mourn for our sin, to renounce our sin, to turn from our sin.  Now this young ruler doesn’t do that.  When confronted with the law, he says, “I’m good.”  I’ve done all that since I was little.  And Jesus knows that the problem is that his view of God is too limited.  He has too high a view of himself, and to low a view of God.

You know, some of my best times to contemplate on the nature of God is when I am surfing.  I particularly like surfing early in the morning.  I think it’s easier to have a small view of God when you are inside your house, reading a book or on your computer.  But when you go outside and look at the wonder of nature; when you consider the vastness of the ocean, teeming with life - when you consider the waves that travel in wave trains thousands of miles sometimes to reach our shores, when you consider the moon’s effect on the tides, when you consider the warmth of the sun at just the perfect distance from Earth to warm us and not fry us, then you should start to get a glimpse of just how magnificent God is.  The diameter of the Earth is 8000 miles from pole to pole.  And yet consider the magnitude of the sun.  Did you know that as enormous as the Earth is, it would take 1.3 million Earths to fill up the Sun?  Isn’t that mind boggling?  What kind of God makes the Sun?  Just that one fact should teach us so much about God. Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  And in Psalm 8:3 David says, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;  What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?”

When we get that kind of perspective on the nature of God, then our proper response will be like that of Isaiah, in chapter 6:5  “Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."  We would repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Yes, Jesus loved this young ruler.  He was going to the cross for just such as these.  If only they will repent and submit to His Lordship.  So Jesus overlooks for the moment this man’s arrogance and ignorance, and points him to the first law.  He says, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  See the first law says ““You shall have no other gods before Me.”  This young ruler was very rich.  And while it is possible to be very rich and enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus showed this young man that he had put his riches above God.  He wanted his riches more than he wanted God.  Jesus knew this, and He demonstrated it to this man in a very dramatic fashion.

Jesus said elsewhere that the greatest, foremost commandment was that you were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your might.  That kind of love is the love that God requires.  It’s not an emotional attachment.  It’s not a feeling of love.  It’s a commitment to surrender everything to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Like the hymn says, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my heart, my all.  There is no place for God in second place.  God will not be second.  He demands to be first place in our hearts.

I was talking to a young lady just the other day about her salvation.  She had recently been converted out of a past of drug and alcohol abuse.  And I asked her how she knew that she was saved.  And she started trying to answer it as best she could.  She was still new in her faith and she didn’t know quite how to phrase some things.  But she eventually said, “I finally surrendered.”  And I said, “That’s it.  That’s the word I was waiting to hear.  Surrendered.”  Nothing else matters anymore.  Everything is subjugated to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  I surrender everything.  I surrender all. That’s salvation.  There is no half way saved.  It’s all or nothing.

So Jesus demanded that this guy prove that he had put no idol before God and sell everything.  Give it all up to follow Jesus.  And the Bible says that he went away sad for he was extremely rich.  This man walked away from Jesus that day knowing that he was a sinner.  It was sad that he walked away.  That he wasn’t willing to give up everything to follow Christ and be saved.  But I will tell you something.  It was better to walk away knowing you were a sinner and rejecting salvation, than to continue to delude yourself into thinking that you were without sin.  You cannot be saved until you realize that you are a sinner and are willing to repent of it.   I’m afraid that most people that will find themselves surprised at being outside of the kingdom of God at the Lord’s return will not be the down and out sinners, but the ones who thought that they were good people, that thought they kept the Golden Rule.  The religious.  That never repented of their sins.

So Jesus watches him walk away and says in vs. 24, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  Now this was a familiar proverb that Jesus quotes to the disciples to illustrate the difficulty of a rich person entering into heaven.  We know that earlier Jesus had said that the gate was small, the gate was narrow that led to the kingdom of God and that few there would be that finds it.  That is true for all men.  But Jesus is using this proverb to emphasize that it was even more difficult for a rich man to enter.

I think riches is one of the primary difficulties that we have today in leading people into the kingdom of God.  And that’s because of the affluence that even normal, average Americans have today.  I’m sure that most of you may not think of yourself as rich, but by most of the world’s standards we are extremely wealthy.  But I don’t think it necessarily takes a lot of money for it to become an idol.  I think it just takes a desire for money.  The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil.  It’s not a lot of money that is the root of all evil.  It’s the love of money.  And I think a lot of us fall into that category.   So Jesus says it’s extremely difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God because they value their money more than God.

But when the disciples heard that they were shocked.  They asked in vs. 26 "Then who can be saved?" See, in Judaism, as it is in many evangelical churches today, there was this false theology that equated God’s blessings with riches.  The Talmud actually stated that "Alms giving is more excellent than all offerings and is equal to the whole law and will deliver from the condemnation of hell and make one perfectly righteous.”  That was what they were taught; that riches enabled you to give a lot of money to the synagogue, and that giving would erase yours sins and make you righteous.  So no wonder the disciples were in shock.  If rich people couldn’t buy their way into heaven, then who could enter?

So in vs. 27 Jesus said, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God."  The point is this: salvation is impossible with men.  It’s impossible to do anything to make yourself righteous.  We can’t keep the law.  We can’t even do righteous deeds that somehow will outweigh our bad deeds because Jesus said that our righteous deeds are done with wrong motives and so therefore not acceptable with God.  The only way to have righteousness is to be supernaturally changed into a righteous person.  And that is impossible for man to do.  But thank God  it’s not impossible with God.  God is able to save.  God is able to transform our hearts.  He is able to grant us repentance and faith.  He is able by His grace to transfer our sins upon Jesus  and transfer His righteousness to us.  God is able to save those that come to Him in faith and repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.

So the rich young ruler went away sorrowful, because he was unwilling to repent of his sins and surrender all to Christ.  But the passage ends with a message of hope.  The disciples front man is Peter.  And Peter speaks up and says, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  Matthew 19 adds that Peter said, ““Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”  Now Peter was correct, the disciples had left everything and followed him.  They left their businesses, their families, their homes.  They are exemplary of the kind of commitment that God requires of His disciples.  Surrendering everything for the sake of the kingdom.  So the question Peter asks is what hope is there for us that have surrendered everything to follow you?

And Jesus answers him in a way that confirms that there is a hope for those that leave everything.  He doesn’t rebuke them, but He affirms that they indeed have left all to follow Him.  He says in vs. 29, “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.”  The great hope is backed up by a great promise; the promise of eternal life.

The key to understanding what Jesus is promising there is not by ascribing what we often consider “blessings” to what Jesus is saying.  But the physical things that we sometimes have to give up here, will be more than made up by the spiritual blessings that come from following Christ.  There will be a day when we enter into the eternal life where God makes all things new.  Jesus isn’t promising 100’s of wives, or hundreds of children in the age to come, but many times those type of things in spiritual blessings.  As Paul affirmed in  1Cor. 2:9, “but just as it is written,

Just as our finite minds cannot fathom a God that can make the sun and moon and stars, neither can our minds conceive of all that God has prepared for us in the new heaven and the new earth that will come down out of heaven in the age to come.  But I can tell you one thing, it will be worth it all then.  When I was a boy we used to sing a hymn called Worth it all, and the chorus went like this: It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!  Life’s trials will seem so small  when we see Christ.  One glimpse of his dear face,  all sorrow will erase.  So, bravely run the race  till we see Christ.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blessed are the children, Luke 18: 15-17

There are two ways of looking at this incident which we are studying today.  There is the literal interpretation of how the kingdom of God relates to children which is expressed in vs. 16.  And there is the metaphorical application of how becoming like a child relates to entrance in the kingdom of God which is expressed in vs. 17.  Both are appropriate perspectives revealed through the text.  Jesus is obviously expressing both principles in this passage.  So we will look at them in that order; first how the kingdom of God relates to children, and secondly, how becoming like a child relates to entrance in the kingdom.

Now before we get into those two principles, vs. 16 sets it up for us.  Remember, this is a literal, actual event in the life of Christ, and so we must always approach a passage of scripture from the vantage point of it’s historical context first and foremost. 

So first in the context of the chapter, let us consider why Luke positions this event in just this way.  As we remember the previous parable that Jesus gave in vs. 9-14, Jesus was teaching a parable of contrasts between the type of person that trusts in their own self righteousness, and that of the person typified by the tax collector that comes to God in humility, recognizing their unworthiness and their sinfulness.  The over arching principle taught in that parable is that humbleness is necessary to be accepted by God.  Jesus said that the tax collector went away justified whereas the self righteous Pharisee was not justified.  Justified means to be declared righteous.  And for God to accept a person into the kingdom of God, a man or woman must be righteous, even as God is righteous.

Now the Pharisee thought that his good deeds would be enough to make him justified before God.  But Jesus said that they were not.  The Bible says that all our own righteousness is as filthy rags before God, because we do our good deeds to be seen of men.  We do them with wrong motives.  Selfish motives.  But the tax collector was so ashamed of his sinfulness, of his unworthiness that he would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and called upon God to be merciful to him, a sinner.  That attitude of humility was what precipitated his repentance.  And that is what God accepted.  David said in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Humility then is the prerequisite for the repentant heart that God will accept, that God will justifiy. The principle God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble is so important God repeats it three times in the Scriptures (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

So now to further illustrate this characteristic of humility that is so essential to salvation, Luke includes this incident where mothers and fathers are bringing their babies to Jesus to bless them.  Now first of all, please note that the Greek word translated as babies is “brephos”, which means a new born child, an infant.  Now that distinction is important.
What is happening here is typical of parents even today who wish to dedicate their new born babies to the Lord, to ask God’s blessing upon the child and to present the baby to the Lord.  We see that happening throughout Biblical history as well.  There was the time honored tradition of the father laying his hands upon his sons and blessing them such as in the case of Isaac and Jacob.  There is a prescription in the law that required bringing a new baby boy to the priest.  And there was the tradition of bringing a child to the synagogue to receive a blessing, to dedicate them to the Lord. 

But the disciples see this as an unnecessary intrusion.  They think that it’s not going to be a good thing if people start lining up to see Jesus and present their babies to Him.  It was going to trouble Him unnecessarily and even hinder His work.  And so the disciples start turning them away.  And Jesus sees this and becomes indignant with  the disciples.  He says to them, ““Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Now as I said, we are going to look first at the literal, historical context of what Jesus said.  He is literally saying let the children come to Me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  If we are going to take that at face value, which I think is clearly the primary interpretation of this statement, then that means that children, these babies belong to the kingdom of heaven.  God has a special place for babies, for children who have not yet reached the age of accountability. 

Babies and young children who have not reached the age of accountability are not able to make moral, spiritually responsible choices.  Are they sinful?  Yes, there is an innate sinful nature that is born into every man.  David said in Psalm 51:5  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Rom. 5:12, Paul makes it clear that the sin nature is inherited through Adam.  “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” And Ephesians 2:3 makes it clear that we were born with the sin nature, which destined us for wrath, the judgment of God upon sinners. 

So it’s important to realize that children, babies are born with a sinful nature that they have inherited from their parents, traceable all the way back to Adam.  But there is a time during which they have not reached the age of accountability, that they really don’t know the difference between right and wrong, when they are considered innocent before God.  They receive a special grace before God. 

Now this principle is proven in this very teaching of Jesus.  He is saying in the previous parable that humility is the necessary ingredient of the man whom God will justify.  The man was not justified by what he did or did not do.  The man was justified by grace, given to Him by God who accepted the humility and repentance of his heart.  Now then if a man who was a self confessed sinner, who had willfully acted in rebellion against the law of God, had willfully committed sin against his neighbor, if this man was justified on the basis of his humility and repentance as an act of God’s grace, then how much more then would an innocent child, who did not know his right hand from his left, who does not know good from evil, and is the perfect picture of humility and total dependence upon grace, not be justified before God? That is how salvation is qualified by Paul in Eph. 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  It is not something that you do, it is a gift of God.  And Jesus is making it clear here that babies are accepted in the kingdom of God by grace.  They haven’t done anything to deserve it, but God extends it to them on the basis of grace until the age of accountability.  Now the Bible doesn’t establish a set age at which a child is considered accountable.  I think it differs according to each child.  But we can be sure that there is an age where they are not considered accountable, and that is the very early years following birth.

This principle is illustrated for us in 2 Samuel 12.  There we find the familiar story of David and his sin with Bathsheba.  And as you recall, David sinned by taking Bathsheba who was another man’s wife and committing adultery with her and she became pregnant.  And to cover up his sin, David arranged to have Uriah her husband sent into battle and then abandoned there in order to have him killed.  This was a terrible sin which Nathan the prophet confronted David about.  And when David repented, God forgave him, but Nathan said, “"However, because of this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born to you shall surely die."  So when Nathan went back to his house the baby became ill.   And if you recall the story then you will remember that David fasted and prayed on his face for 7 days for the health of the baby.  But the baby died.  And his servants were afraid to tell David that the baby had died, because of the grief that he had shown while he was sick.  But when David saw them whispering among themselves he knew that the baby had died and made them confirm it.  After they told him, David  arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, came into the house of the Lord and worshiped.

He goes to his house, they set food before him and he ate. And his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, when the child died you rose and ate food?" And he said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept for I said...Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me that the child may live. Now he's died, why should I fast, can I bring him back again?" And then this confident statement, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."  David knew that one day he too would die and go to heaven, and that he would see this child who had gone on before him.  That was David’s confidence.  That was one of many Old Testament examples.  And now in the New Testament, Jesus Christ the Son of David confirms that hope.  That unto these babies is given the kingdom of heaven.  If they die before the age of accountability, God in His grace will accept them into the kingdom. 

Now in Mark’s account in Mark 10:16, he adds that after this Jesus “took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.”  Jesus blesses them because they are considered part of the kingdom of God.  He is praying over them.  That’s what it means to bless someone.  To ask God’s blessing upon them.  It’s not saying some special incantation that imparts some mystical power upon a person.  We say the blessing upon our food, don’t we?  But just because we bless our Big Mac, it isn’t going to make it a prime rib.  We bless it, we thank God for it, we ask God to use it for His purposes, but we don’t change it’s nature.  It’s still a Big Mac.

These babies in our care we should bring to the Lord to dedicate, to consecrate, to bless, to use for His purposes, but there will still come a day when they will reach the age of accountability where they will be able to determine right from wrong, to make moral decisions, to deliberately rebel against God.  And at that time they need to confess their sins, repent of their sins, and in faith and humility surrender their hearts and wills to God to serve him as Lord of their lives.  There must be a day when they personally take responsibility for their response to the gospel and be saved. 

But this principle certainly should be of great assurance for those of us that have small children.  There is a special dispensation of grace that God affords babies and small children if they should die prematurely.  We can trust, like David, that we will go to them and join them one day in heaven if we are saved ourselves. 

But that should also serve as a reminder of the tremendous responsibility that we have as parents.  There is only a few short years where there is that innocent spirit in the life of our children where we have this tremendous opportunity to reach them.  They will reach a point where they will begin to make their own decisions, and go their own way.  That is why Proverbs 22:6 says that we should “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” 

When our children are young that is the optimum time to instruct them in the way of the Lord.  That is the optimal time to bring your children to faith in Christ.  I just want to emphasize that the training and instruction of a child is the parent’s responsibility.  It’s augmented by the church, it may be supplemented by a Christian school, but it is primarily the parent’s responsibility to live out a godly example of faith to your children, and to teach your children the Word of God and ultimately lead them to Christ.  This is not a responsibility that you want to delegate to someone else.  God has given you a stewardship of your children.

Paul recognized that in the life of a young godly man named Timothy.  Timothy had been raised by his mother and grandmother.  And he says in 2Tim. 3:15 “that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” That’s the same word, “breathos”, from infancy his mother and grandmother taught him the word of God which was able to give him the wisdom that leads to salvation by faith.  How important it is to teach your children the Word of God from the time that they are babies.  That’s your first responsibility as parents. 

The second responsibility is to model that kind of faith.  You know, it does no good to tell them that they need to surrender their hearts to God and then you live as though you are enslaved to your career.  Our kids are going to emulate what they see lived out in our lives, not necessarily what they hear.  I can’t help but be reminded of the song by Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  He starts by singing of his child being born.  “My child arrived just the other day, He came to the world in the usual way, But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay, He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew He said, "I’m gonna be like you, Dad, You know I’m gonna be like you"  But then the child grows up, and the things the dad meant to do never really got done.  He was too busy.  And so at the conclusion of the song the young man is now grown and has a family of his own, and he too is too busy to do the things he should do.  And so the last verse says, “I’ve long since retired, my son's moved away, I called him up just the other day. I said "I'd like to see you if you don’t mind", He said ‘I'd love to Dad, if I could find the time. You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu. But It's sure nice talking to you, Dad, it's been sure nice talking to you.’ And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, He'd grown up just like me, My boy was just like me.”  We have a responsibility to raise our children, and our children are going to follow our example. 

Thirdly, let me suggest that you love your children. What do I mean by that? Let them know your heart is for them. Be affectionate, tender, compassionate, sensitive, sacrificial, generous. Like Jesus did with the babies they brought to Him, take them in your lap.  Touch them.  I think the majority of psychological problems that children have today is that they don’t feel loved.  They feel abandoned, isolated.  They warm up their own dinners.  Let themselves into an empty house.  They isolate themselves behind headphones and behind laptops.  We need to do as Jesus did and touch our children.  Lavish love on them.  Sacrifice for them.  That may mean sacrificing that extra income that you could have got by working late or taking that extra job, or moving up the corporate ladder.  They don’t need an iphone so they can keep in touch with you.  They need to feel your touch.  Show them they matter.  Especially you Dads.  Take your little daughters on your lap and tell them how beautiful they are to you.  Kiss them everyday.  Real men kiss their daughters.  Ephesians 6:4 says Dad’s don't provoke your children. Don't exasperate them. Be utterly unselfish. Serve your children. Reward them when they do well. Make your home a joyful place. Do fun things with them. Love them.  Make them want to become the type of Christian that you model for them.  Model to them the sort of love God has for sinners. Sacrificial love.  Model that kind of love.

Now then the Lord moves from this principle of children’s acceptance into the kingdom to the metaphorical application.  He says in vs. 17, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all." Notice He does not say one must enter as a child.  But like a child.  Child likeness. There is a quality that children have that is essential to salvation. These little babies provide an illustration of how a person is saved. You are saved by an act of  divine sovereign grace.  You are saved as a result of your humility, your total dependence upon God for His grace, and His provision.  Not because of any good works that you have done.  You have achieved nothing morally. You have achieved nothing spiritually. You have achieved nothing  that can merit your salvation. And like a child, humble, trusting, unpretentious, dependent, weak, lacking any achievement, you come to the Kingdom. Jesus says if you don't come to God like an infant, you will not enter the kingdom.

Ultimately, becoming like an infant means we need to be born again. In John 3 there is the story of Nicodemus who was a ruler of the Pharisees, and he came to Jesus one night to ask Him about the kingdom of God.  And Jesus said to him,  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Just as a man is born in the flesh, so a man must be born again in the spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We must become a new creation. Rom 8:8 says that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Jesus continues in John 3 to Nicodemus; "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'”  So Jesus is saying that the way into the kingdom of God is by being born again.  It is by new birth.  Becoming a new creation.  Being born again in our spirit, by the Holy Spirit. 

Now how does this new birth happen? It happens by humbling yourself like a little child.  Coming to God totally dependent upon His grace and mercy.  Surrendering your life into His care, to do His will.  It means coming like the tax collector in the previous parable, mourning over your sin, realizing that you are lost, that you are hopeless and helpless and in need of forgiveness.  The tax collector prayed a very simple, childlike prayer.  Any child could pray this prayer.  “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”  That prayer of humility, of child like trust and faith, is the prayer that God justifies.  That is the prayer that God responds to.  It’s like the cry of an infant in the dark of the night.  And the mother hears the cry and  swoops the baby up in her arms and comforts him.  God is waiting to forgive, to comfort, to give life to those who recognize that they are lost and come to Him like a child, like an infant, helpless, dependent upon his love and grace.  Those that come like that God will justify, He will impart unto them the holiness and righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for their sins.  And then having been declared holy, God will give you the Holy Spirit to give new life to your spirit, to make you a new creation.  The Holy Spirit living in you gives life to your old body, so that you may do the works of Christ.   

We are going to close out our service today by singing the old hymn “Rock of Ages.”  And I would just point out that third verse which I think exemplifies the type of child like faith which God accepts as we come to Him.   It says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.” Jesus said, Permit the little children to come to Me.  Will you humble yourselves today as a child and come? Simply pray, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Two men, two prayers, two outcomes; Luke 18:9-14

As we look at this parable of Jesus today, we should remember that it comes in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the characteristics of the coming of the kingdom of God.  This is what Jesus is presenting here in chapter 18.   As I said last week, it’s not a couple of stories about how to get more results from our prayers.  Many people have taught this section that way. 

But this whole chapter must be looked at in the context of chapter 17 vs. 20, when Jesus responds to a question about the coming of the kingdom of God.  So even though vs.1-8 mentions prayer, and this parable starting in vs.9 mentions prayer, that is not the main thrust of this teaching.  The main thrust is the coming of the kingdom of God and being prepared for it.  In last weeks parable, the teaching was that when the consummation of the kingdom is delayed, we are not to become disillusioned or discouraged, but we are to continue to keep praying for the return of the Lord.  In spite of all that is going on in the world, in spite of the fact that it looks like God isn’t paying attention, Jesus is encouraging us to not lose heart, but keep focused in prayer on the glory which is yet to be revealed.  Don’t give up.  Don’t lose heart. God is going to act in judgment, and we need to be looking for His return.

Now in today’s parable, the emphasis changes somewhat.  Jesus is still talking about the kingdom of God and will continue to do so through the end of the chapter.  But specifically in this parable He is indicating that righteousness is required to enter the kingdom, and  contrasting those who think they are righteous, with those that God declares are righteous. 

Now that is a pretty significant distinction. What this parable is teaching is that it is entirely possible to be self satisfied in your definition of righteousness, and yet not satisfy God’s standard of righteousness.  And that would be a tragedy, would it not?  To go to the end of your life thinking you have obtained righteousness,  only to have the King of Heaven declare you unfit for the kingdom. 

Now this is a very simple parable.  There are only two people in this illustration.  Two men come to worship God, and yet only one is justified.  The first person that Jesus talks about is a Pharisee.  I don’t want to take for granted that everyone here is familiar with a Pharisee.  So let me give you a quick definition.  A Pharisee literally means “separated ones”.  They were a sect of Judaism that strictly observed the law of God and consequently served as something of a public barometer of religious  fervor.  Jesus said about them at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that unless your righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees you could not enter the kingdom of heaven.  To borrow a quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “they were pretty righteous dudes.”  They were known for a fastidious approach to keeping the law.   And that brings up another important aspect of the Pharisees.  They loved to be known for their religious fervor.  They paraded their righteousness in public and made sure that everyone knew just how religious they were.  Jesus called them hypocrites.  The word hypocrite literally means an actor on a stage.  They did their works for the applause of men.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says three times that the Pharisees did their good deeds to be seen of men. [Mat 6:2, 5, 16] 2 "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ... 5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ... 16 "Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Now that is the negative aspects of the Pharisees, but to be fair let’s also consider the positives.  After all, no one is perfect, are they?  The good attributes of Pharisees were that first of all they worshipped the one true God.  They recognized and had faith in Jehovah God.  They revered Him.   Secondly, they believed the Scriptures.  They studied the Scriptures and memorized large portions of them.  Thirdly, they prayed regularly.  Fourthly, they were zealous for good works.  And fifthly, they were faithful in attending the religious festivals and Sabbaths associated with worship. 

Now none of those things are bad in and of themselves.  It’s all good stuff; they believed in the one true God, they studied the Scriptures, they prayed a lot,  were zealous for good works, and were faithful in worship.  Sounds like they would have made a good Baptist, or a good Methodist, for that matter.  The point is, it sounds like your typical committed church member, doesn’t it?  Basically good people, church going, God fearing people.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that compared with the average church member today, they actually went much further.  The Pharisees were fastidious about worshipping God.  They took it to another level.  They were the kind of people that if you knew them, you would say “if anyone was going to get to heaven, then the Pharisees were.”

I can’t say that without remembering this lady in the church where I grew up down in eastern N.C.  Her name was Mrs. Brown.  She was the quintessential church lady.  She wore those cat eye glasses that they wore back in the 60’s, and she had a bee bonnet hairdo.  She kind of had a bad overbite too, which she was self conscious about so she kept her lips pursed all the time.  To a little 11 year old boy, Mrs. Brown seemed like the picture of what holiness was supposed to look like.

Back in those days, my dad who was the pastor, loved to preach on the rapture.  And I had developed a morbid fear that somehow Christ was going to come back and everyone was going to be taken, except for me.  Well, one day I thought it actually happened.  We lived next door to the church in the parsonage.  And I remember one summer afternoon, I couldn’t find my mother or my brother.  So I went over to the church to look for them.  And I didn’t see anyone at the church.  My dad’s study was empty.  My mother and brother were nowhere around.  And the really scary thing was there was a day care center in the back of the church.  And that was empty too. 

Well, when I found the day care empty it was the last straw. I started running around the church crying, sobbing, calling out for my mother, thinking that somehow God had decided that I wasn’t really saved and had left me behind.  I was so upset at the thought of having to go through the tribulation and see the anti Christ and all that, that I didn’t know what to do.  And then I thought of Mrs. Brown.  I said to myself that if anyone was saved, it would have to be Mrs. Brown.  And so in desperation I ran home and called her house.  And the phone rang and rang.  And just before I hung up the phone someone picked up the other end.  It was Mrs. Brown.  I was so relieved I couldn’t stop crying.  When I told her what had happened she said she had been leaving the house and forgotten something and came back inside just as the phone was ringing.  Thank God for Mrs. Brown.  I probably wouldn’t be here today if she didn’t answer that phone.

Now that doesn’t have much to do with my message, but the Pharisees were kind of like Mrs. Brown.  If anyone was saved, you would have to think it was the Pharisees. From all outward appearances these were good people, the best of people.  And yet Jesus says that they were not justified before God.  So as we look at this parable we need to figure out what was wrong about their worship. Something was missing. So Jesus reveals what the Pharisee is missing  by means of his prayer. Prayer is one element of worship. And so Jesus examines his prayer, because his prayer reveals his heart.  Now in the parable Jesus says that this Pharisee comes to the temple to pray.  There were morning and evening prayers that were offered at the times of daily sacrifices.  And I am sure that as a good Pharisee regular attendance at the temple sacrifices was his daily practice. 

Now it’s interesting how Jesus describes his prayer.  He says in vs. 11, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’”

Now let’s examine his prayer.  First of all, notice that he is standing.  We have already looked at Matthew 6:5 where Jesus describes a Pharisee praying and standing in a synagogue or on a street corner.   Now there was nothing wrong about standing to pray, in and of itself.  You can stand, you can sit, you can kneel, or you can fall down prostrate; all of those may be appropriate postures of prayer.  But the implication here and in Matt. 6:5 is that the Pharisee was standing in a place and in such a way so as to be seen of men.  So that is the first indication of something wrong.  This person loves the spotlight. They have to be up front, on stage.  Their attitude reveals a lack of humility.

You know, I always feel uncomfortable when some one wants to pray over me in public.  Maybe it’s a lack of humility on my part, I don’t know.  I try to be accommodating.  But sometimes I have to be just a little suspicious of these people that will pray over you in a public place, laying one hand on your shoulder and raising the other hand in the air.  And they go off on this long prayer, supposedly for your benefit.  Maybe I’m too cynical, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if it is because they want to be seen to be praying over you, to be in the position of the one doing the blessing, and you end up feeling like you’re being used for their benefit. 

Jesus says in Matt. 6:5 that they pray standing in synagogues or on the street to be seen of men, and consequently they have their reward right here on earth.  Jesus gave instruction in Matt. 6:6 how to pray; He said pray in your closet, pray in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will reward you.  The point is not whether you are standing or sitting or in private or public, the point is your attitude and your motivation for praying.  The point is that you reveal your secrets to God, knowing that God knows the secrets of your heart.

Secondly, notice Jesus says this Pharisee was praying to himself.  That almost seems like Jesus misspoke.  And yet I think it is deliberate.  The Pharisee may have been addressing God, but he was speaking to himself.  He was praying for everyone else’s benefit, but not God’s.  He was not praying for God’s will to be done, for God’s kingdom to come, but he was praying to be heard by men, to be seen by men. 

I often have people say that they don’t know how to pray in public.  Listen, the way to pray in public is not to rehearse, not to listen to how others do it and then try to mimic their style or way of delivery.  It’s not to show how great you are at oratory or prose.  The way to pray is to humble yourself before God.  Open your heart to God and just talk to Him in sincerity and humbleness as if you were the only person in the world.  Empty yourself of your pride.  I’d rather listen to 20 seconds of prayer like that than 30 minutes of prayer from someone that wants to show everyone all the scripture that he knows and all the doctrine that he thinks he knows.  God doesn’t like to be used either.  He won’t accept worship which uses Him to show off. 

Thirdly, his prayer reveals his pride and self righteousness.  He prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  Notice that this guy manages to mention himself five times in two sentences.  That is an indication of where his heart is at.  He is prideful.  He is comparing himself to others, and those that do so tend to magnify others shortfalls while minimizing there own. 

Paul said in 2Cor. 10:12 about such people that “when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.”  Such people measure themselves by others, compare themselves to others, and think that they are more righteous, more zealous, and view others with contempt.  But the problem is that they are using the wrong standard of measure.  They are measuring fallen men against fallen men, and not against the standard of holiness that God requires. 

God’s standard of holiness is found in the OT and the NT, and it is the same standard in both.  It says in Leviticus chapter 11 and 19 and in 1 Peter 1, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  I quoted RC Sproul a couple of weeks ago as saying that the holiness of God is the only attribute of God that is repeated in triplicate.  Both Isaiah and Revelation declare that God is holy, holy, holy.   The scriptures do not say God is love, love, love.  But it does say that God is holy, holy, holy.  And when you measure yourself by the standard of God’s holiness, then everyone comes short of the kingdom of God.  There is none righteous, no not one.  The Pharisee only measures himself against other men. He measures outward manifestations, and doesn’t examine his heart.

So the Pharisee’s prayer reveals that he is self righteous.  Not holy in the sight of God, but only appearing holy to himself and to men.  And to bolster that self righteousness, he gives a list of what he does which he think constitutes righteousness.  He says, “I fast twice a week.”  The law only required that one fast once a year, and that was on the day of atonement.  There were other times someone could fast if they wished, but there was only one day required. 

The problem though isn’t his fasting, it’s that he did so to be seen of men.  That’s what Jesus said in Matt. 6.  Jesus said that rather when you fast, you should wash your face and put on normal clothes so that people won’t notice that you’re fasting.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Jesus says if you’re noticed fasting by men, then you already have your reward.  I can’t help but wonder if those people that fast at Lent and mark a cross on their forehead in ashes, I can’t help but wonder if they take these instructions by Jesus seriously.  They must not. 

And the other thing this guy offers as an indication of his righteousness is that he tithes of everything that he receives.  Under the old covenant, they had a theocratic style of government that required ten percent of what you got went to fund the national government, ten percent went to fund the national festivals and feasts on high holy days, and ten percent every third year for the poor. So altogether there was about a 23 and a third percent tax, that's what funded the theocratic kingdom of Israel.

But again in Matt. 6, Jesus says the problem with the Pharisees tithing was that they sounded a trumpet before they gave to draw attention to themselves.  And so Jesus said that rather than tithing producing righteousness, they received an earthly reward, they got the praise of men.  Jesus said in Matt. 6 that the way to give alms was not to let your right hand know what your left hand was doing.  Now I think that had a double meaning.  It meant don’t broadcast to your neighbor know what you are giving, first of all.  But I think secondly it meant don’t calculate your giving.  There was a sort of ancient calculator that was called a abacus.  It required two hands to use it.  And so I think that Jesus means don’t worry about figuring out exactly what your ten percent would be.  But the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  Give according to need, recognizing that Jesus is Lord even of your pocketbook. 

Now remember, this is a parable. It’s fictitious account designed to illustrate a spiritual principle.  So this isn’t an exhaustive list of what kinds of things contributed to this Pharisee’s self righteousness.  But these would have been exemplary things of a self righteous, prideful spirit that was not justified before God. 

The second character in the story was called a tax collector.  And there really aren’t too many positive things you could say about a tax collector.  They were on the bottom of the social ladder.  These guys had sold out to the Roman government in order to get a tax collection franchise.  So in the eyes of the Jews, they were traitors of the lowest order.  But not only were they traitors, they were looked at as crooks.  Because they had the authority of the Roman government to charge any amount that they deemed obtainable as long as the government got their share.  So the tax collector would add exorbitant fees on top of the taxes and everything over and above the tax he would pocket.  And he had the government to help him extract these taxes by use of force if necessary.  So pretty much everything the Pharisee said he was glad he was not in the earlier prayer was attributed to tax collectors.  The Pharisee said I’m glad I’m not a swindler, unjust or an adulterer, like this tax collector over here.  See, the only people that would hang out with tax collectors was prostitutes who were also outcasts from proper society. 

But for some reason, this tax collector has come under conviction.  He knows that he is a sinner of the worst order.  He knows that technically they could run him out of the temple.  But he comes to the temple, under conviction of his sins, and he too offers a prayer.  So let’s look at his prayer and what it reveals about this man.

Vs. 13, “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’  This guy is standing as well.  So there is nothing wrong with standing to pray.  But this guy’s attitude is completely different.  He is not standing up front, hoping to be noticed by everyone.  But he is in the back, unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven.  And Jesus says he is beating his breast.  Now that was something that was associated with mourning.  Mourners, especially women, would wail and beat their fists upon their breasts as they cried out in anguish over the dead.

You get the picture?  This guy is mourning over his sin.  He is in anguish over his sin.  He has been confronted with the holiness and righteousness that God requires and he knows that he is far, far from righteous.  He knows he is a sinner.  He cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

This guy is exemplifying the kind of attitude that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount; the attitude of mourning over your sin.  That’s what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 5:4 when He said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”   Listen, folks, mourning over your sin is what is required in repentance.  Repentance is not just saying I’m sorry.  Repentance is not just wishing it hadn’t happened.  Repentance is not just having a relationship to God.  Repentance is considering your sin as dead.  Mourning.  Repentance is a desire to turn from your sin.  To renounce your sin.  To run from your sin.  To hate your sin.  That is repentance.  And repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation, for justification, for righteousness. 

There are a lot of people trying to force their way into the kingdom of heaven today on the basis of their self righteousness.  “God is my friend, Jesus loves me and I’m special so I’m in the kingdom of heaven.  I worship God.  I do this and I do that.  I’m a good person. I turned over a new leaf.”  But they have never repented of their sin.  And that is a problem.  That was the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.  The Pharisee was a sinner.  And the tax collector was a sinner.  Both were excluded from the kingdom of God.  But Jesus says only one left that day that was justified before God.  Two people go to worship God.  Two people pray to God.  Yet only one is justified before God. Justified means made righteous, declared not guilty before God.  Only one.  And that was the sinner.  Those that come to Christ must come as a sinner, confessing their sins, repenting of their sins, turning away from their sins.  And for that person, God will justify them.  He will declare them righteous on behalf of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. 

The word for merciful that the tax collector uses there is significant.  He says, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”  The word merciful comes from the Greek word  “hilaskomai” which  means propitious.  That word is used only one other time in the NT, in Heb. 2:17  which says, “Therefore,  [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”  Propitious means to make atonement.

See, this tax collector knew something that the Pharisee should have known but did not; that is he could never achieve the righteous standard of God.  But he knew that the sacrificial system taught that the lamb was slain as a substitute for his sins.  That was why he came there to worship at the time of the evening sacrifice.  He came asking for God to make propitiation for his sins.  That God would in His grace and mercy provide a substitute like He did for Isaac on the altar, when God provided a ram caught in a thicket.  And we know that Jesus Himself was the sacrificial lamb that was offered for the sins of the world.  Jesus was the substitute that could and did live the perfect sinless life that we can never live. 

David the Psalmist said, “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.”  David knew repentance even after he sinned with Bathsheba.  He mourned over his sin, and God restored him and forgave him.  On Wednesday night we are studying Genesis and we saw last week how the Word says that Noah found grace with God.  He found it.  In other words, he didn’t earn it.  God granted to him righteousness on the basis of faith.  And we are saved the same way today that Noah and Abraham and David and all the saints were saved, through faith and repentance. 

Jesus declares in vs. 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.”

 Listen, pride is the reason this Pharisee left still in his sins.  And repentance, resulting in humility, was the reason that the tax collector was forgiven for his sins.  There are a lot of people today that want to be religious, that want the recognition that comes from being religious, they like the attention that self righteousness brings, they like the way it feels, but they have refused to acknowledge they are a sinner.  They refuse to repent, to turn away from their sins.  They want to continue in their secret sins while keeping an exterior façade of righteousness for everyone else to see.  I hope and pray that no one here today is like that Pharisee.  Justification, righteousness, holiness according to God’s standard can’t be earned, it can’t be faked.  Because God knows the heart.  There is only one way to justification, and that is through the grace of God extended to repentant sinners. 

The tax collector went away justified.  Now there is a lot implied in that statement that isn’t stated outright.  And I don’t have time to go into all of it today.  But let me say this much;  if that man truly repented as Jesus said he did, then it drastically changed his way of life.  He would have had to change the way he did business, wouldn’t he?  He couldn’t claim repentance and continue to cheat people, to rob from people, could he?  He might even have had to quit his job. 

Listen folks, let’s be honest with ourselves first of all.  If we truly mourn over our sin, then we must consider our bodies as dead to sin.  We must die to sin.  If you haven’t really done that, you can say you’re sorry all you want.  You can do religious things.  But it won’t produce justification.  God knows your heart.  I urge you to truly examine yourself today in the light of God’s word and ask yourself if you have ever repented of your sins and asked for God’s forgiveness.  He is willing to forgive you.  He will justify you through the righteousness of Jesus Christ’s atonement for your sins if you will just humble yourselves today.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Don’t lose heart; Luke 18:1-8

There is a saying among some Bible commentators when the text reveals something obvious, that the key to understanding the passage is “hanging on the door.”  That simply means that the key is right there in the text, metaphorically on the outside of the door.  In a lot of the parables that Jesus gave the meaning was obscure, and often the disciples had to ask Him privately what they meant.  But in this case Luke presents the purpose of the illustration right at the beginning, hanging on the door. 

The key to understanding this parable then is right there in vs. 1. However, even though the text says that Jesus taught this parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart” there is still some confusion among some people as to the principle being taught in this parable.  Is Jesus teaching that the way to get God to do what you want Him to do is just keep on pestering Him day and night until He finally relents and gives you what you want?  Is that what Jesus is saying in this parable?  I’m afraid that many television preachers who favor what is called the “word of faith” style of name it and claim it theology which is so prevalent today do in fact teach that is what Jesus is saying.  They say this is evidence that the key to getting what you want from your prayers is just being persistent, and sooner or later God will either get tired of your prayers and give you what you want, or He will reward your perseverance and give you what you want. But either way the end result is the same; that you get what you want.  And that encapsulates those kind of people’s doctrine concerning prayer.  God is kind of like a reluctant genie who needs to be prodded and bothered to the point of finally giving us what we want.

If you happen to hold that doctrine, then I am afraid that I am here to tell you that is not a Biblical view of God, first of all, and neither is it a Biblical view of prayer.  The key hanging on the door is that we are to always pray and not lose heart.  Always pray we should understand to some extent at least.  But what is meant by don’t lose heart?  What are we in danger of losing heart about?  Not getting that new car that I have been asking God for?  Is that it?  I would suggest that the context of this passage indicates that it  means a little more than that. 

First of all, losing heart is translated from the Greek word, “egkakeō”, (en-kä-ke'-ō) which means to lose heart or become discouraged.    Now why would the disciples become discouraged?  Well, the answer comes in the context of the preceding chapter.  Jesus presents this parable as a continuation of His teaching on the coming of the kingdom of heaven which started in vs. 20 of chapter 17. We are sometimes done a disservice by the relatively modern convenience of chapter and verse headings.  They weren’t there when Luke originally wrote the book.  They can be very helpful in helping us navigate through the Bible, but in cases like this we too often tend to see them as introducing an entirely new concept when actually that is not the case, it should be a continuation of what went before.. 

Now we looked at this passage in detail last week but it might help to have a quick review.  Starting in vs.20 Jesus presents some characteristics about the coming of the kingdom of God.  The first principle that He teaches is that it was already here.  The kingdom of God is where the King is.  And Jesus Christ was the incarnation of God Himself upon the earth.  So He says the kingdom of God is in your midst.  Jesus Christ was the kingdom of God realized.   He was the King prophesied in the Old Testament, coming from the throne of David, the Lion of Judah.  Yet though the kingdom was realized in Jesus Christ, it was still an invisible kingdom.  It was a spiritual kingdom.  It was inaugurated in Jesus Christ, and manifested in the lives of those who believed in Him and who had given their hearts to Him.  So the kingdom of God is simply Jesus ruling in the hearts of His people.  Those who have surrendered their lives to Him, are following Him and obeying His will.  Those people by the way are called the church of Christ.  The church then is the manifestation of the kingdom of God throughout the world.  That is how the kingdom operates and functions.  In and through the church.  The church is not a building, but a body of believers who are the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in them and empower them to live as God would have us live. 

But there is another stage of the kingdom of God which is yet to come.  And Jesus references that in vs. 22 to 37 of the last chapter.  This stage is the future consummation of the kingdom.  When the King comes back for His bride, the church, and He brings about the consummation of all things.  And the first thing He says about that time yet in the future is that (vs.22) “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.”  In other words, there is going to be a season after Jesus leaves Earth, when His followers are going to be longing for His return.  It’s going to seem like He has been gone forever.  Like He is never coming back. 

Peter spoke of that attitude that will be prevalent in those days in 2Pet. 3:3-4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,  and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."  Now this is where the danger of losing heart comes in.  This is where the danger of becoming discouraged comes in.  God doesn’t act in the time frame that we thought He would.  He doesn’t fit into our patented doctrine of eschatology that we expected.  And so the danger is that we become discouraged, even disillusioned and fall away from the truth.  Jesus warned in Matthew 24 that the difficulty and discouragement of those days would be so great, that He says if it were possible, even the very elect would be misled into apostasy.

So in light of the context of this passage, I believe of this clearly shows that the reason that Jesus gives the disciples (and by extension to us) this parable is that when those discouraging times come, when we long for His coming and yet it seems like it will never come, that we would continue to pray and not lose heart.  He wants us to stay resolved in our faith and not lose hope of the King returning for His bride. 

I don’t know about you folks, but sometimes I must confess I get discouraged.  I begin to lose heart.  When I look at the political landscape in our country I become discouraged.  There is no salvation in Washington, I’m afraid.  When I see the moral decline in our society I sometimes lose heart.  It is a tough time to be a Christian. It’s a tough time to be a man, period.  It’s beginning to be a tough times for the church.  I fully expect that within a few years I will no longer be able to stand out here and preach with boldness the Word of God without being arrested.  Though persecution of the church is no where near the point where it was during the time of the Apostles, or even during the Middle Ages, yet I believe we are at a point in history where the persecution of the church is starting to ramp up.  People are starting to lose jobs because of their faith.  Christians are starting to experience difficulty maintaining their faith in the public arena.  If you stand up for your faith today on most college campuses you will bring on yourself a firestorm of ridicule and attacks.  They will more than likely require you to attend sensitivity training.  Judges are requiring businesses to not only accept but promote an ungodly lifestyle or face fines and possibly incarceration.  The government is trying to force abortion rights through health care legislation.  To quote the Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”

As Christians, we need more than ever to remember what Paul said in Phil. 3:20, that our citizenship is in heaven.  That is where we will finally one day fit in.  This world is not our home.  We are aliens living in a foreign country, longing for home.  Our hope is not in social programs, or political parties, or in new legislation.  Our hope is for Jesus Christ to return and vindicate His followers.  Our hope is for Jesus to make all things new; to create a new heaven and a new earth.  Our hope is for Jesus too put an end forever to sin and death and the devil.  Our hope is for a glorified body that will never die and never get sick and never grow old. Our hope is to see Jesus.

So Jesus presents this parable because He was concerned that the disciples would soon experience the kind of discouragement similar to that a wife who suddenly finds herself widowed.  He was going to Calvary to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin upon the cross.  He would rise from the dead, but after a few days would ascend into heaven with a promise that one day He would return again for those that remained faithful. And Jesus knew that most of them would die for the cause of Christ. So Jesus offers this parable to illustrate that in the days to come, they should always pray and not lose heart. 

Let’s look at the parable for a moment.  We could easily go off in all sorts of directions with this parable if we do not stay within the confines of the context that I just gave you.  Jesus is actually making a very simple point.  The first thing you should realize is that it was very common in those days to argue from the lesser to the greater.  This was the way that rabbis or teachers would present an argument.  If such and such is true in the lesser example, then it stands to reason that such and such is even more true in the greater example.  It was a graphic way of showing contrast and at the same time illustrating a greater truth.

And so Jesus begins this parable by inventing a story of an unrighteous judge.  Now this judge would be the lesser example.  Jesus says this unrighteous judge “did not fear God and did not respect man.”  This guy was in it for himself.  He was in it for money.  In that society, bribery was commonplace.  Most of the time the judges were political appointees.  And so they used these positions of power to feather their own nests.  It was practically expected.  And Jesus paints a pretty dark picture of this judge.  He isn’t going to do what is right because he loves God or because he has any love of his fellow man.  He was in it for himself. 

But Jesus says there is a widow that “kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Now in that society a widow was a helpless individual.  She had practically no rights without a husband.  She may have had no source of real income.  She could not buy property.  She was the type of person that this unrighteous judge could care less about.  She had no political power, no money to offer, no husband to stand up for her.   And this judge could care less about this sort of person.  She had nothing to offer him.

But as we look at vs. 4, we see that even though this judge was a scoundrel, something about the woman’s persistence was enough to cause him to act on her behalf.  “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”  Now that is the parable;  even though he didn’t respect her, doesn’t love God or people, even though he is only out for himself, yet because she is persistently being a bother to him, even to the point of wearing him out, he decides to act on her behalf.  The Greek there is actually saying she gives him a black eye.  I think we would say it like this;  “she is beating me up”.  The woman was relentless.  And he figures it would be easier to answer her than have to look forward to seeing her show up at his court every day.  So the judge and the widow is the lesser example. 

Jesus now uses that lesser example to contrast with the greater example.  Vs. 6, “And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.”  If such help is given by an unrighteous judge to someone he considers a nobody, then how much more will the righteous God bring about justice for his elect who cry to Him day and night?  Will He delay long over them?  Obviously, the answer is that the righteous God will answer His people’s prayers to Him for deliverance.  He will not delay any longer than necessary to bring about justice for the elect.  See the elect are not just nobodies.  The world may think you don’t matter.  That being a Christian is equivalent to being a loser.  They may think that what we suffer is insignificant.  But it is not so with God.  We are His chosen ones, the bride of Christ.  We are of such value to God that He gave Jesus up to suffer and die for us that He might bring us to Himself.  How much more then will the righteous God bring about justice for His people?

But the problem for most of us is that our timetable is not on par with God’s timetable.  Our agenda is not God’s agenda.  And so we become impatient.  We lose heart, because we don’t get what we want when we want it.  Going back to the reference in 2 Peter we looked at earlier, 2Pet. 3: 8-9 says, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 

See the Lord is not slow because He is sleeping or preoccupied.  He doesn’t need to be roused, to be prodded in order to help His people.  But the Lord has a time schedule that is  eternal in scope, whereas ours is temporal.  The years of our lives slip by and we scurry around, worrying about all these temporal things, feeling the weight of every hour and every second.   And yet against the scale of eternity, our lives are but a vapor, here for a few seconds and then gone. 

I was trying to explain this concept of time last Wednesday evening at our Bible study where we had several young people in attendance.  And I said that when we have lived a thousand years with God in eternity, it will be like only one day.  And then we live another thousand years and in eternity it is only like having been alive two days.  Can you imagine that? So God’s timetable is different than ours.

But in addition to the principle of eternity is the idea of God being patient with mankind, to give them time to repent.  “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  This is where Jesus reveals the heart of God.  Yes, God is pictured as a Judge, coming in the consummation to bring judgment to the Earth.  But God is a reluctant judge.  He isn’t willing for any to perish. 

We saw that in the last chapter in the illustration given of Noah and the ark which we looked at last week.  Peter says concerning the days of Noah in 1Peter 3:20 that the patience of God kept waiting.  Waiting for what?  What was God being patient about?  Well the answer is He was waiting for people to repent.  The Bible says that Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and that he built an ark for 120 years after God pronounced judgment upon the earth.  For 120 years God kept waiting for people to repent at the preaching of Noah.  And yet they did not repent.

So if our persistent prayer is not necessarily designed to get God to act according to our timetable, or to act on our agenda, then what exactly is prayer designed to do?  I think the answer is found in the last question Jesus asks there in vs. 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Prayer is designed to keep us strong, to keep us from losing heart, from becoming discouraged.  It is to bring us into communion with God, to see God’s perspective, to dialogue with God.  Prayer is designed to keep us in the faith. 

Now once again, Jesus brings us back to the real point of this illustration.  He says in vs. 8 “that when the Son of Man comes” will He find faith on the earth.  The emphasis I want to bring out is “when the Son of Man comes” should serve to keep us on track here in the exegesis of this parable.  The parable is about not losing heart because the Lord seems to delay His coming.  It’s about not losing heart in service to the Lord, in the trials and tribulations that accompany salvation.  Did you know that Jesus promises tribulations for His followers?  John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  And because Jesus overcame sin and death and the world and hell and rose again from the grave He now sits on the Father’s right hand and will return again to take out His church, the faithful.

So then how are we to pray?  First of all, Jesus says pray always.  Pray always.  You know, every day I have the intention that today I am going to exercise.  Today I am going to work out.  I have that intention.  I mean well.  But I have learned that unless I purposefully plan a time to work out and then go to that place, it just doesn’t happen.  The day slips by and I lay in bed at night and say, O my, I forgot to work out today.  Or I didn’t have time to work out today.  And I’m afraid that prayer is a lot like that.  I need to schedule prayer.  I got smart one day and decided to combine my prayer and my workout.  So now when I run that is my time to pray.  I run mostly through rural farm roads near my house.  So I can pray out loud and it doesn’t bother anyone.  And I’ve found that works for me.  Maybe you have a long commute to work when you can pray.  But bottom line, if you want to be found faithful, you will make prayer a priority in your life. 

Jesus was our best  example of prayer, wasn’t He?  The Bible says He regularly went away by Himself to pray, sometimes all night.  If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? 

Remember on the night that Jesus was arrested before His crucifixion?  And He prayed so hard that He sweated drops of blood?  I can’t imagine that kind of  prayer.  But what stands out to me is that He prayed, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”  Even though He was equal with God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or held onto.  He submitted Himself in obedience to the will of God.  He was concerned with the coming of the Kingdom of God.  That was the purpose of His prayer. 

So we are to pray always, but what are we supposed to pray for?  Obviously, we pray for the coming of the Lord, the coming of the kingdom. As the example of the Lord’s Prayer illustrates, we should pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I submit to you that we need to pray not for our will to be done, but for God’s will to be done. We don’t pray to manipulate God to our will, but to be conformed to His will. 

So when we are to pray; always.  What are we to pray? The coming of the kingdom, first in our hearts and then in the world.  And finally, why are we to pray? Remember on that night in which He was betrayed, He went into the Garden to pray and took a little further with Him Peter, James and John.  And He said to them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That is why we pray.  Prayer is designed to keep us from falling into temptation.  I’ve never yet fallen into temptation when I was praying, have you?  I fall into temptation when I either deliberately or inadvertently stop praying.  Prayer is a safeguard against temptation.

Unfortunately, many of us are like the disciples were that night.  They were so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open.  They kept nodding off.  And when suddenly they were awakened by the gang of soldiers and ruffians coming through the woods to arrest Jesus they found themselves woefully unprepared for the trials that lie ahead.  They all ended up falling away from Him that night.  Peter even found himself cursing and denying Jesus to the soldiers around a campfire later that evening.  And like the disciples when we neglect to pray, when we subordinate prayer to rest and relaxation, to 3 hours of television, or computer, we end up falling asleep spiritually.  Prayer is like being on guard.  On watch against temptation.

Listen, I can assure you that tribulations and troubles will come on all who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  God doesn’t want you to lose heart at the trials that will come.  One way to prevent that discouragement that can lead to falling into temptation is to stay on your knees before God.  Acknowledging that you need His help, His protection.  Confessing your trust in His care.  Professing your faith in His promises and His providence.  Entrusting yourself to a faithful Creator.  I hope and pray that when He comes, you will be found faithful. 

Heb. 10:19-25  “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Amen.