Sunday, April 20, 2014

An invitation to the kingdom; Luke 14: 15-24

Obviously from our scripture text this morning, I am not planning a typical Easter message.  We celebrate Easter every Sunday morning and we certainly celebrate Easter this morning, but I will not be preaching an Easter message, per se.

However, millions of people all over the world are celebrating Easter today.  And undoubtedly many people are attending services who rarely go to church at all except for on the major holidays like Easter and Christmas.  And I don’t want to disparage people that only come to church on major holidays.  I would always want to encourage people to come to church.

But I will say that merely observing and participating in religious ceremonies, holy days and rituals really have no bearing at all on the ultimate outcome of your soul.  Jesus makes it clear in His teaching that simply an external exercise of religion is not what God is interested in.  But God looks at the heart, and He wants a heart that is devoted totally to Him.

So today the world celebrates Easter, the resurrection of Christ. Yet it must be obvious that even though they know the story, the world has largely rejected the message.  And while I don’t want to discourage anyone from attending church on a holiday, I would hope that those that do so today are challenged to examine their hearts before God, and not just be duped into thinking that merely going through the motions of rituals and ceremonies, or giving lip service is going to please God.

Jesus said in Matt. 15:8 quoting from Isaiah that God isn’t interested in lip service, but in the heart; ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.” So God doesn’t honor lip service, and neither does He honor empty ceremonies or rituals as indicated in Heb. 10:6, “IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.”  Jesus went on to show in Luke 13:26 that going to church is not enough either; “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ What these passages indicate is that God is more interested in the heart than He is in our words or even our actions.

Now that passage in Luke 13 was a reference to those who had an external form of religion but had an unregenerate heart. Their heart was still evil.  And Jesus says that they would be denied entrance to the kingdom of God.  Jesus added in 13:28, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.  And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”  What Jesus is saying is that Abraham’s children, the children of Israel will not be in the kingdom of God, but others from outside of the nation of Israel will come in and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.

Now the Jewish religious leaders understood that the kingdom of God was often likened to a banquet, or a great wedding feast, and so when Jesus uses the idea of a great banquet as a metaphor for the kingdom of God  they understand exactly what He is referring to.  And they realize that He is referring to them being denied entrance to the banquet table in the kingdom of God.

Now when you come to the next chapter, chapter 14, you see that these same Pharisees had invited Jesus to a prominent Pharisee’s house for dinner, and He uses this as an opportunity to teach them further concerning the nature of the kingdom of God by means of a couple of parables about a banquet.

Now I’m sure most of you are probably familiar with the Pharisees.  They should need little introduction since it seems that Jesus is constantly dealing with the Pharisees.  But I’m afraid that we often caricaturize them as terrible people; we think of them in such a negative light that we lose sight of the reality of what they were really like.  So I want to make sure you understand something about these Pharisees.  Pharisees were the most God fearing, moral, law abiding citizens in the country.  These weren’t the moral delinquents of society – no, far from it.  They knew the Bible backwards and forwards.  They knew most of the Torah by heart.  They meticulously attended every temple service, every festival, every feast day, every Sabbath observance.  They were the religious elite of the 1st century.  If you were to ask someone in that day who for certain was going to be in the kingdom of God, everyone without question would say if anyone gets in it will be the Pharisees.

In fact, Jesus Himself said in  Matt. 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  That verse, by the way, was the verse that caused my dad to become saved.  He had been studying the Bible, and was convicted of how much of a sinner he was.  And when he found that verse, he realized that he could never be good enough to be saved.  And that is when he discovered that salvation is by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.

But the point I want to emphasize is that when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, when He tells them they will see Abraham and Isaac and the prophets in the kingdom, but they won’t be there, when they see people coming from all quarters of the globe but they won’t be at the table, He is speaking to the most religious, God fearing, law abiding citizens on the planet.  These people worshipped the one true God, they intensely studied the scriptures and they diligently fasted, tithed and attended services and they were more zealous about it that any of us can even imagine.  And yet over and over again, Jesus calls them hypocrites, and says they will not enter the kingdom.

Now this was shocking.  That would be equivalent today  to walking into a large evangelical church and announcing that none of the leadership, none of the pastors and deacons and elders would be entering the kingdom of heaven.  And then turning to the congregation and saying the same thing.  Then saying that God had declared their hypocrisy to be so offensive that the riffraff of the world would get in, but no one in that church would enter the kingdom of heaven.  That would be a shocking statement, to say the least.  It probably wouldn’t endear you to your audience.  In fact, you would probably be lucky to get out of there without being stoned to death.

So to attempt to apply Jesus message to us today should be troublesome.  It should give you reason to examine yourselves.  In fact, it should prompt you to ask, as one of the disciples asked him in the last chapter, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And Jesus answers in the affirmative, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” According to Jesus, not many of those that think that they are going to heaven will be there.  Now that is a troublesome thing and it should give us all a reason to examine ourselves.

Now with that context in mind, let us look at this parable that Jesus gives as He is having dinner with this prominent Pharisee.  I don’t think Jesus was a great dinner guest, by the way.  Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of Jesus as some sort of soft spoken, demure, retiring sort of character who wouldn’t hurt a flea, Jesus has no problem calling the host out on numerous occasions when He visited in various people’s house.  And this time is no exception.

If you remember, the Pharisees had invited Him to dinner on the Sabbath because they wanted to trap Him into healing on the Sabbath so they could discredit Him.  They had a person there with dropsy and they  were trying to set Him up.  Now Jesus knew that, but He went anyway and in spite of their duplicity he was compassionate and healed the man with dropsy.  But as He questions the Pharisees and lawyers present, they remain silent.  They  are speechless.  They are afraid to answer His questions.  And so first Jesus rebukes them for their hypocrisy, then He rebukes them for the way they tried to elbow their way to the head of the table which revealed their lack of humility, then He rebukes them for their guest list which revealed their selfish motives.  Like I said, Jesus wasn’t the kind of dinner guest you would invite back again.

So maybe that’s why eventually this guy in the group calls out ““Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  I mean, up to now they didn’t know what to say.  By this point they are feeling pretty uncomfortable.  So maybe this guy recognizes that Jesus is preaching on the kingdom of heaven, and he is trying to patronize Jesus.  Maybe He says this thinking that it might get Jesus to think that they were all on the same side.

But what is evident about this statement is that this Pharisee is obviously inferring that he is going to be at the great dinner banquet in the kingdom of God.  And I’m sure that all his friends thought the same thing.  I’m sure there were a chorus of “Amen’s” directly following that statement.  It was an attempt to say, hey Jesus, we’re all going to be in the kingdom of God at the great banquet.  Like I said earlier, if anyone was going to be there, you would think that these guys were going to be there.  And they were convinced that they were in the kingdom.  After all, one of the doctrinal distinctives of the Pharisees was that they believed in the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife. But the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and of heaven.  And they fully expected that they were going to be there.

So this man, as the spokesman perhaps of the group says, “Blessed is he who eats bread in the kingdom of heaven.”  They take for granted that they are in.  Yet Jesus doesn’t answer him by confirming his assumption, but rather offers a story that rebukes them all, and confronts them in their self assurance.

So Jesus tells a story about a man who gave a big dinner and he invited many people.  Now as I said last week, a banquet was a big deal in those days.  It was the primary means of socializing and entertainment.  There weren’t a lot of other options in those days other than for someone to have a dinner party, or a wedding feast, something similar to what we might think of as a ball.  And the way this was arranged according to Middle Eastern custom was they would send out two invitations.  The first one was simply to let you know that you were invited to the dinner party on a general day and time.  And the invitees would rsvp to let the host know how many to prepare for.  Everyone who was invited was expected to be there, but it was a matter of courtesy for both parties.  And then there would be a second invitation.  That one would go out on the day of the event and the messenger would say, “Come now.  Everything is prepared.”  And the people would come immediately.  They too would have been preparing to come at a moment’s notice.

Now in the story that Jesus gives, the first message had already gone out.  All the people who would normally be expected were invited and the implication is that they all said that they would come.  But then the day and hour comes when the slave went out and said, “Come; for everything is ready now.”  Everything has been prepared for them.  The house is ready.  The banquet is ready.  The food has been prepared.  The entertainment has been made ready.  The guests have already been invited in advance, now they just need to come.

Now the Pharisees would have been familiar with this scenario.  But then Jesus inserts this next section which under normal circumstances would have been unthinkable in Jewish society.  Vs. 18, “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’

“And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
“And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.  ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”

So here is the situation.  This parable is yet another affirmation of what Jesus said back in chapter 13 vs. 29, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.  And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”  In other words, the Jews were the first invitees to the banquet table of the kingdom of God, and yet they wouldn’t come.  They rejected the Son of God who had been sent to make it possible for them to enter the kingdom.  They insulted Him.  They ridiculed Him.

And though it’s a rebuke against the self righteousness of the Pharisees, it is also a picture of all who reject the gospel of salvation.  Oh yes, we all want to go to heaven when we die.  We all want to believe that somehow we are going to be included in the kingdom of heaven.  But when the invitation goes out to come now, to come today, we aren’t willing  to forsake our priorities for the kingdom.  We say we are going to be there, but in reality we are committed to our own agenda, our own priorities, and as such we reject what it takes to enter the kingdom of God.  See the invitation of God to enter the kingdom of heaven requires that we forsake the world for the sake of the kingdom.  But like these people in the parable, though we say we are believers, though we say we are in the kingdom, yet our lives reveal that we are not.  We are still committed to our own agenda.

Now as we examine the excuses these men gave in the parable they sound pretty flimsy, don’t they?  But what I think Jesus was doing here was giving us three general categories of excuses that we put before the Lord.  The first guy said I bought a piece of land and I must go look at it.  This man owns property.  It represents our possessions.  The funny thing about possessions is that a lot of times they end up owning us, don’t they?  We find ourselves enslaved to paying our mortgages, paying our car payments, paying our credit card bills.  We buy and we buy, hoping to buy satisfaction, hoping to find happiness, but we end up being enslaved to the bank so we can keep those possessions.  But those things never satisfy and they distract us from complete devotion to the Lord.

You know, if you go to Acts and look at the first church, those people were selling their property and giving it to the church.  That was the characteristic of the first revival.  The converts realized that Christianity required undivided loyalty to Christ and so they sold and gave away their possessions.  And the result was a great revival.  People in the community were in awe of what was going on in the first church.  Souls were being saved.  What a contrast there is from that attitude to the attitude of the church today that teaches that Christianity is the means by which we get more possessions.  The prosperity doctrine tells people that God wants you to have your dream house, He wants you to have a new car.  I’m sorry, but that is not the Christianity of the first century church and it wasn’t the message of Jesus.

Jesus said in Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to charity.”  He said ““For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  See, this man’s heart was for his possessions.  And God will not settle for second best.  The greatest commandment says we must love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength.  We can’t love anything more than God and be accepted by God.  Listen, do you have a lot of possessions?  If you do then Jesus later in this very passage says something that should shake you to your core. Luke 14:33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”   Do you believe that?  Do you think Jesus was just kidding?  Maybe He was exaggerating.  Certainly we don’t really have to give up all of our possessions to be Jesus disciple.  I’m sure He was just kidding.  Let’s move on.

The next guy made the excuse that he had just bought five yoke of oxen and he had to go try them out.  This man had a job to do.  He had to go to work.  I think this category represents our careers, our employment, our jobs.  This man put his work ahead of attending the banquet.  He thought the job that he wanted to do was more important than attending the banquet.  I see this so much in the church today.  I believe that the devil has a field day with work more so than almost any other temptation.  Because on the one hand we are told that work is honorable, and it can be.  We are told that work is necessary, and it can be.  But I will also tell you that work can be egocentric.  It can be a means of self sufficiency, of selfishness,  it can be a means of pride.  Many a man abandons his wife and children under the guise that he has to provide for his family when in fact he is just building his ego.  But Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”  Jesus said something similar in Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”  And He went on to say in vs. 31, “But seek first His kingdom, and then these things will be added to you.”  This man in the parable exemplifies the person that forfeited the kingdom of heaven because of his work.

And the last category is that of the man whose excuse was that he had just married a wife.  Now I know a lot of men like that.  Their wife runs the house and keeps them on a short leash.  And maybe some men bring that sort of thing upon themselves.  Let me remind you of what Ephesians 5 teaches;  the husband is to be the head of the wife.  That means he is supposed to be the spiritual head of the house.  He is supposed to be the spiritual leader.  Paul said in 1 Timothy that headship was God’s design in creation and mankind fell because Adam abrogated his spiritual responsibility to his wife.

But I think this category extends further than just husband and wife.  I think Jesus is talking about anyone that puts relatives, or loved ones or friends before the kingdom of God.  He makes that clear in just a couple of verses later in this very passage, Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”  Jesus is saying that God will not play second fiddle to someone else that you love more than Him, including yourself.

Listen, I can say without a doubt that there are millions of men who have fallen away from God because they loved a woman more than God. I can assure you that there are millions of women who have fallen away from the kingdom of God because they wanted a man more than they loved God.  I personally know of many men and women right here in this community that have fallen for that trap of Satan.  And I’m not necessarily talking about adultery; though there are great numbers who fall that way as well.  But I’m talking about a young woman who said she loved God and went to church regularly, and professed to be a godly woman, and she met a man who wasn’t a believer and married him and today she no longer is living for the Lord.  Oh, she may still be a member of a church somewhere, but it isn’t a church that teaches the truth, or teaches true discipleship.  And I’ve seen the same thing with men that married a woman who wasn’t a believer and their lives were destroyed.  One of my best friends in California is a mental and financial and spiritual wreck today because his wife left him and took his children and everything he owned and left his life in a shambles.

I know of young men and women that deserted the faith because of unbelieving parents that twisted their arm financially to stay in an apostate church.  Folks, this may be a parable Jesus is teaching, but the applications are very real and have tragic  consequences.  God will not take second place to your possessions, to your career, or to your relationships.  God demands first place.

So the Pharisees were excluded from the kingdom of heaven because their hearts were not humbled before God.  They thought that they were good people.  They thought they worshipped the true God and they belonged to the right church and everyone could see that they were model law abiding citizens.  But Jesus says the man who gave the banquet was angry with them and said none of those men that were invited shall taste of my dinner.

So if the most religious people around weren’t going to be allowed to taste the dinner, that prompts the question - what characterizes the people that were going to enter into the banquet?  Well, Jesus says they were poor and crippled and blind and lame.  First of all, these poor people represented those that knew they were outcasts from society.  The poor knew they were poor.  The crippled and lame and blind knew their condition.  These are people that realize their need.  These are people that realize that they are lost.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  See, these poor and lame and blind are the kind of people that will be blessed.

Listen, when the Bible uses the word blessed what that means was that you would see God.  It doesn’t mean happy like some modern translations render it.  It means that blessed state that comes when you see the glory of God.  And Jesus is saying here that those that will be blessed in the kingdom of God will be the ones who are poor in spirit; they realize that they are spiritually bankrupt.  They know they are sinners, they know their righteousness doesn’t add up to more than the Pharisees.  They know they are lost.  They are poor, beggars seeking mercy from God.

And blessed are those that mourn because of their sin.  Listen, that is what repentance is;  it’s being sick of your sin.  It’s mourning over your sinful condition and being willing to do whatever it takes to be delivered from it.  Please understand, salvation isn’t adding a little church to your life, it’s not adding a little Jesus to your life.  If you have a pot of bad stew you can put all the ingredients in there you want and it will still be bad stew.  You need to start all over again.  You need to be born again.  That is what Jesus is saying.  The heart is desperately wicked the Bible says.  So the remedy is not religion.  It’s not going to an Easter service.  No the remedy is to get a new heart.  And the only way to do that is to come to God sick of your sin in repentance and beg Him to make you a new creature.  Like David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O Lord and renew a right spirit within me.”  And David went on to say in response to that prayer that “a broken and contrite heart you will not despise O Lord.”

That’s what it means to be blessed, to be humble and to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That’s the characteristic of these social outcasts Jesus was talking about.  All of us are outcasts from the kingdom of heaven.  None of us have a right to enter. Rom. 3:23 says we all have sinned and fallen short of the kingdom of God. But thank God for Rom. 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Listen, there is a banquet table that has been made ready in the kingdom of God.  God has been preparing it since the beginning of time for those that love Him.  He has prepared it for those that are willing to forsake all that the world has in exchange for eternal life with Him.  He has sent out His invitations.  Jesus said in Mat 11:28 “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”

I’m just the messenger that God has sent to tell you to come, everything is ready.  I hope you don’t refuse Him who is inviting you.  What shall it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?  What shall a man give in exchange for His soul?  The answer is everything.  God wants everything.  All of you.  All of your heart.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The kingdom rejected, Luke 14:1-14

One of the most important Jewish social events in the time of Christ was a dinner get together, or banquet or wedding feast.  It was not only a time of socializing and sharing food with relatives, friends and neighbors, but it was also a structured event that delineated the social pecking order of the community. In this passage, Jesus is invited to such an event on the Sabbath day at the house of a prominent Pharisee. That means he was probably a rich man, who was at the top of the pecking order of that community.  The text says that lawyers were there as well.  So it was a very prestigious event for Jesus to be invited to, especially considering the antagonism that the Pharisees had towards Jesus.  I can almost imagine the disciples were whispering among themselves that they hoped Jesus would behave there, and not say anything to embarrass them.  But the fact is, Jesus knows the motives of the Pharisees, and He knows that He is being set up.  But interestingly, He goes anyhow, and uses this event as an opportunity to teach some important principles concerning the kingdom of God.

In some respects, Luke has positioned this event in such a way as to continue to answer the question Jesus posed in the previous chapter, particularly vs. 18, where Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it?”  He answered that rhetorical question by giving a parable of a mustard seed that grew into a large tree, and the birds nested in it’s branches.  He was comparing the kingdom of God with a false kingdom which  grows abnormally large, and instead of bringing forth fruit, it becomes a nesting place for the doctrines of demons and false prophets who find refuge in it’s branches.  It was a picture of what had happened to Israel which was supposed to be the manifestation of the kingdom as the chosen people of God, but who through the ages had perverted the word of God and the prophets and had become a home of self serving, self righteous religious leaders who laid heavy burdens on the people and bound them up with all sorts of traditions and false teachings, while they themselves profited from their exalted positions.

Now the kingdom of God is also a reference to the future church.  As you know, when Jesus came preaching the kingdom, for the most part the Jews rejected His gospel.  And consequently, not long after Pentecost, the temple was destroyed, God’s judgment  and wrath was poured out on the Jewish nation, and entrance to the kingdom of God was extended to the Gentiles, which brought about what we call the church age which has continued up to our day.

Perhaps it is helpful to see the kingdom of God as coming in stages.  It was initially promised to Abraham, and given birth through his seed which produced the 12 tribes of Israel.  They received the word of God at Mt. Sinai through Moses, and then eventually went into the promised land of Canaan.  But at that point it didn’t take long for the people to start rejecting the kingdom of God.  In fact, they said “give us a king to rule over us like the other nations.”  And so over the next 1500 years they rebelled against God time after time, whoring after false idols, intermarrying with pagan nations, rejecting the word of God given through the prophets.  So God allowed them to be overrun by their enemies, and the temple was destroyed, Solomon’s palaces were left in ruins, and the people were taken into captivity.  By the time Jesus comes on the scene, they have returned once again to their land, but they are still subjugated by other nations and their rebuilt temple is but a shell of it’s former glory.  And yet they still are a stiff necked people. They still have hearts that are proud and rebellious.  Yet at the same time, they have developed a religious system of Judaism which claims to be true to God’s law, but in fact their hearts are far from it.

So when Jesus comes on the scene, He recognizes this, for He knows their hearts.  And yet in the compassion and mercy of God He continues to reach out to them with the truth of the gospel.  He is preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand.  They don’t really understand what that means.  They think that it refers to a return to the restoration of former glories that they enjoyed under King David and Solomon.  And they think that the Messiah is going to overthrow Roman oppression and then sit on the throne of David and then the Jews will rule the world.

But contrary to that nationalistic view, what Jesus has been preaching is that the way into the kingdom of God is narrow and few there be that find it.  He has been preaching that the way into the kingdom of God is individually by repentance from sin; it’s a matter of the heart, not a matter of your nationality, or your political persuasion, or your social standing, or even if you are a moral, law abiding citizen.

What they fail to realize is that the kingdom of God would be a spiritual kingdom which was announced by John the Baptist, and through Jesus Christ the Son of God the kingdom was inaugurated,  but it would be a spiritual kingdom  which would be administrated through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His citizens. And then one day in the future the kingdom of God will be consummated when Jesus Christ will return in glory for His bride the church at the end of the ages.

So what they failed to realize is that in rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were opting out of the kingdom of God, in fact they were denied entrance into the kingdom and God would open the way for the Gentiles to be grafted into the kingdom.  But what we, the church, need to understand is that we are being grafted in because they did not bear fruit.  They were pictured in the last chapter as the fig tree that the owner of the vineyard came to year after year, expecting to find fruit and yet did not.  And the vineyard caretaker said give it one more year, and let’s dig around the roots and fertilize it, and then if it doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down.  So it is incumbent that the church bear fruit as well, or else it too will be cut down.

So I believe that this is what is being illustrated in the first half of this chapter.  Jesus has given a series of warnings, parables and metaphors, all designed to confront the pride and implacability of the Jews who were confident in their self righteousness that the kingdom of God belonged to them by birthright.  And Jesus is challenging that assumption and convicting them of their sin.

Now in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, there is a persistent theme of the consummation of the kingdom of God being like a wedding feast, or a great dinner celebration.  In Revelation it is called the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is a common theme and one that Jesus often uses to describe the final stage of the  kingdom, or the consummation of the kingdom.  Look back at chapter 12, vs. 36 where Jesus is speaking of the day of His second coming; “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.”

So as we look at the first half of this chapter, I think that Jesus uses the opportunity of this dinner at a prominent Pharisee’s house to speak about the kingdom of God from the perspective of a feast which all of them were participating in to some degree at the Pharisees house.  And we should take a cue from Jesus here in regards to personal evangelism.  Jesus was a master of using daily incidents and commonplace events to bring about an opportunity to share the gospel. And that is how we should evangelize as well, in the course of our daily lives and interactions with coworkers or acquaintances.  I hope you all realize that the multiplication of the kingdom is dependent upon you.   I think that there is a misconception among modern Christians that evangelism is the duty of the pastor.  But I would remind you that Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave to the church pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints (that’s you) for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (that’s the church).  So I hope you don’t think that because you don’t teach or lead singing or whatever that you don’t have a contribution to make to the church.  Your job is to come to church to be equipped so that you might return to your workplace, your neighborhood, your families and so forth and you might do the work of bringing others to salvation, and ultimately build up the church.

 So Jesus is invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee on the Sabbath day and He is going to use this as an opportunity to evangelize them.  And what is immediately apparent is that it is a set up.  The Pharisees have arranged to have a person there that is in need of healing, and they want to see if He will heal on the Sabbath day so that they can use that against Him to discredit Him.

Now Luke tells us that this man was suffering from dropsy which is an old fashioned word for edema.  Edema is a condition characterized by swelling due to the buildup of fluid in the body, resulting in the enlargement of organs, skin, or other body parts.  So the man was literally drowning in his own bodily fluids.  Now the Pharisees just conveniently happen to have this guy there at this home, and vs. 1 says they were watching Jesus closely to see what He would do.

Vs. 3, “And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away.”  Now a couple of things are noteworthy here.  First of all, the silence on the part of the lawyers and Pharisees indicate that they are complicit in this scheme to catch Jesus breaking the law.  And not only is it the house of a prominent Pharisee, but He has also invited lawyers there who are well versed in the law and can act as judges concerning whatever Jesus decides to do.

Well, Jesus knows He is being set up, but in spite of that He is compassionate.  So He heals the man with dropsy and then sent him away.  And the fact that Jesus sends him away shows that the man had no other reason to be there other than He had been brought there to set up Jesus.  But Jesus heals him anyway, and then addresses the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and lawyers.

Vs. 5, “And He said to them, ‘Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?’ And they could make no reply to this.”  They could not reply without incriminating themselves, that’s why they don’t answer.  They know that first of all there was no law regarding healing on the Sabbath day.  And secondly, they knew that if they had a son that fell into a well, they would all have quickly done whatever was necessary to save their son.

But this man, this poor Jewish man that they had drug from off the street to use to catch Jesus in some infraction of the law - they had no mercy for him.  They could care less that he was drowning in his own bodily fluids and needed saving.  Their only concern was to preserve their self righteousness and their power in the community.

So this passage is another illustration of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Remember in chapter 12 vs.1, Jesus started his sermon by saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”  And then further into His message in chapter 12vs. 56 He says, “You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?” Then again in chapter 13 He calls the synagogue official a hypocrite for rebuking Him for healing on the Sabbath.

But the point here is not to produce a sermon on the law of Sabbath keeping.  Jesus said in Luke 6:5 that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.  He said in Mark 2:27 that man was not made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for man.  No, the point that Jesus is making is that the Pharisees are guilty of the sin of hypocrisy.  Jesus is pinpointing their particular, glaring sin that they didn’t think was evident. Hypocrisy masks sin behind a charade of righteousness.   They prided themselves on keeping the law, but in fact they were guilty of the sin of hypocrisy.

What is the sin of hypocrisy?  It is the sin of false witness.  It is having an evil heart, but masking it in a show of self righteousness and religious ritual.  It is putting on a show of righteousness, but inwardly having a heart full of greed and pride and selfishness.  It’s having an unregenerate heart.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

You may not know your heart, but God knows it.  I Cor. 4:5 says that one day God will disclose the motives of men’s hearts.  And isn’t that what Jesus said in chapter 12? That the day will come when what has been whispered in the inner room will be shouted from the rooftops.  God knows the hearts of man, and one day He will disclose your motives. This is the sin of hypocrisy.  James says in chapter 2 vs. 4, because you have made distinctions among yourselves,  you have become judges with evil motives.  And he says in chapter 4 vs. 3, “you ask and you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

So Jesus is making the case that these Pharisees and lawyers were excluded from the kingdom because they had unconfessed sin in their hearts which they covered up by self righteous acts to be seen of men. In Matt. 6:1 in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Listen, beware of doing your works to be seen of men!  That is the sin of hypocrisy and it is a damning sin in the eyes of God.  The world may be fooled by your hypocrisy for a while, but it is seen by the eyes of God. Beware of publicizing your religious deeds while in your heart harboring evil.  This is the season of Lent and people love to proclaim what they are giving up for God.  They give up ice cream or chocolate and think that somehow this is a way of chalking up credits with God.  They proclaim that they are fasting by marking their foreheads with an ashen cross and think that they are scoring points in the kingdom.  And they forget that Jesus said when you fast, wash your face and change your clothes and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  God sees the heart and He weighs the motives of men’s hearts and He hates hypocrisy.

Now in continuation of this principle Jesus gives a parable about trying to get the choice seat at a banquet – something that undoubtedly was in practice at that very dinner party.  The invitees would be jockeying for the favored positions at the table.  Please understand that Jesus is not simply giving us an etiquette lesson here about dinner parties. That’s what a lot of people think that this is saying.  But the point of what Jesus is saying is revealed in vs. 11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Look at the parable for a moment.  People in that day were seated at dinner in a large U shape configuration.  And the host sat in the middle of the U and then everyone was seated either to his right or left in descending order of importance.  That’s why James and John’s mother asked Jesus if her sons could sit on either side of Him in the consummation of the kingdom.  It meant that they were the favored ones, or the most distinguished guests.  So Jesus is saying when you go to a banquet, don’t take the first  seat of prominence, because the host may designate someone else for that honor, and you will have to move to the last place.  But rather go to the last place and then the host may invite you to come to the first place of honor.

Now once again I reiterate that Jesus isn’t interested in teaching etiquette, though it would certainly be proper etiquette to do as He said.  But what Jesus wants to emphasize through this parable is that those that are humble will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven.  He said something similar at the end of the last chapter; Luke 13:30,  “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”  But look back at chapter 13 for a moment and the verses immediately preceding that statement starting in vs. 28,  “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.  And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”  He is talking about the wedding feast at the consummation of the kingdom of God, and that the Jews will be thrown out, they will be refused admission, while others from around the world will be seated at the table.

And why were they excluded?  Because they rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of repentance from sin.  They didn’t think that they needed a Savior because they thought they were keepers of the law, they recognized the one true God, they were circumcised, they kept the Sabbath and worshipped in the temple.  Yet they were not  saved because they never accepted that they were lost and had repented of their sins and trusted in the Savior for their forgiveness.  I wonder how many people in the church today are in that same situation?  They try to be good moral people, they believe in God, they have been baptized, they come to church most Sundays and they sing worship songs, but yet they are unsaved because they have never come to the point of recognizing that they are lost sinners who deserve God’s judgment and repented of their sins and asked for forgiveness and a new life in Christ.  All they have done is just add religious activities to a sinful heart.

Jesus established the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of God in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.”  He was saying that the way into the kingdom is by recognizing your spiritual bankruptcy, mourning over your sinful condition, and humbling yourself in repentance before God.

So not only hypocrites would be rejected from the kingdom, but the proud and self righteous would be rejected, those that refused to humble themselves in repentance.  And then thirdly, Jesus gives another characteristic of the kingdom, which is hospitality.  Look at vs. 12, “And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.  But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now once again, Jesus isn’t giving us wedding party etiquette or banquet etiquette.  And neither is He making an unequivocal statement that you are not to ever invite your family or friends over to dinner.  I guess if you want to use this as a proof text to not have to have your in laws over for Thanksgiving dinner that is your call, but I don’t think that is what Jesus is teaching here.

It’s the same principle as the chief seats at the  banquet.  He is speaking against the principle of reciprocation.  Of you rub my back and I’ll rub yours.  That was a fact of life for the Pharisees and the Jews in general in Jesus’ day, and it is a fact of life in our day as well.  Don’t just do good to those that can do good to you.  Don’t just love those that love you back.  But the commandment of God is to love our enemies.  Because we are to be as Christ was to us.

These men there that day were enemies of Christ and He knew it.  He knew that some of these very men would be the ones calling for His crucifixion in a few months.  And yet He is extending to them the gospel.  He is offering them a chance to repent and be saved, even though He knows that in their hearts they are His enemies.

That is the grace of God though isn’t it? Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Though the Pharisees did not see it, they were enemies of God because they rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But as Romans makes it clear, we are all enemies of God.  Our fleshly nature is at war with God’s nature;  our will is at odds with God’s will. By nature we are all hypocrites; even when we try to do good we do so with wrong motives and our hearts are evil.  By nature we are not humble, but we are proud, boastful and elbow and climb over anyone and everyone in order to get the choice seats, the places of prominence, in order to get the promotion, or the next sale.  By nature we are inhospitable; we are only nice to those who can reciprocate, who can return the favor.

The problem isn’t that we need to grab ourselves by our bootstraps and pull ourselves up, or that we need to try to turn over a new leaf, or that we need to try to do better, but the problem is that we have an evil nature.  This is really what Jesus is illustrating.  As I said last week, you can’t bring forth fruit unless you first are made into a fruit tree.  Jesus said earlier in  Luke 6:44, “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.”

See, the problem is not something that we can fix ourselves.  We need to be changed from being a thorn bush to a fig tree, and then we can produce the fruit of a fig tree.  And according to the gospel the only way to be changed is to repent of who and what you are.  Repent of your sins and ask God for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed for remission of your sins.  And when through faith the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin, then God sends His Spirit to dwell in our hearts and give us new life in Him.  We become a new creature, old things are passed away.  And only then in the power of this new life in Christ are we able to be the children of God, citizens of the kingdom of God, set apart to do good works.  This is the gospel, the new covenant, when according to Ezek. 36:26 God “will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

Listen, the gospel of Jesus Christ is founded on repentance and faith in Christ which produces regeneration – a new life in Christ.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is not subject to some other version that you like better or that isn’t quite so restricting.  It is a gospel that was formed before the foundation of the world to redeem a bride for Christ.  It’s not open to interpretation or modification.  Jesus said in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is far from it.  Few there be that find the way into the kingdom of heaven.  It is a narrow door.  It is a door that requires that you bow down on your knees in repentance before God and ask for forgiveness and to be made new, to create a clean heart in you.  I trust that you do not reject Him today.  Let’s pray.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life at the crossroads; Luke 13:31-35

I’m sure many of you have heard the famous story concerning a young black musician that lived in the 1920’s and 30’s named Robert Johnson.  According to a mixture of actual history and  folklore, Robert Johnson was a Mississippi blues singer and songwriter, who according to legend, sold his soul to Satan "at the crossroads" in exchange for his remarkable talent on the guitar.

Robert Johnson was born and raised in Mississippi and started playing blues guitar in the late 1920s. His wife and child died in childbirth around 1930 and afterwards he is said to have become bitter towards God and devoted himself to the guitar, heavy drinking and a wanton lifestyle. The crossroads story emerged after he dropped out of sight for a while in the early 1930s and returned as a great guitarist, much to the surprise of many of his contemporaries.  His friend and fellow blues legend Son House once told the story of him selling his soul to the devil as an explanation of Johnson's astonishingly rapid mastery of the guitar.  As the story goes, Johnson went down to a lonely crossroads at midnight and made a deal with the devil, who tuned his guitar and showed him how to play.

Some people said that Robert’s deal with the devil came due and offered as  evidence that they had seen him on all fours, howling at the moon the night he died. Johnson died of mysterious causes at the young age of twenty-seven, and left a legacy of Delta Blues music that has influenced guitar players like Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs included "Crossroad Blues," "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Hellhound on my Trail." In 2003, Johnson ranked fifth in Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

I use such a dramatic illustration to bring to your attention the importance of the crossroads that we all come to at some point in our life.  Most people’s life’s journey is punctuated by a number of crossroads, where we have to choose a direction or choose a response.  And while most of  us would never knowingly make a deal with the devil as Robert Johnson was supposed to have done, yet I’m afraid that we routinely make decisions at these crossroads of our lives without fully appreciating how momentous an effect these decisions might have on our life and even potentially disastrous consequences.  Though most of us would never intentionally make  a deal with the devil, we often inadvertently or even deliberately make a choice to turn away from the truth of God’s word for the lie of the devil.

I’m afraid that most of us view these types of crossroad decisions in our lives like the famous Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  We see two roads diverging in a yellow woods, and we cavalierly choose one above the other, and somehow though we know it makes a difference, yet we fail to understand the full significance and long reaching consequences of our decisions.

If you remember out study last week, you will recall that Jesus Himself warned in Matthew 7 that not all roads lead to heaven.  He warned that the road that seemed easier, that seemed more popular, the road everyone else seemed to be on, was actually the road to hell.  And He said that the way is narrow that leads to heaven, and few there be that find it.  Jesus referenced that narrow way in our text when He answered the question posed in vs. 23, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

I’m afraid that most people today don’t give proper consideration to the day to day decisions that we all make on a routine basis. I have been appalled at some of the conversations that I have had with people over the last few years regarding decisions they have made in regards to jobs, or where they would live, or where they wanted to go to church.  Often, they had heard the truth, they may have even recognized it as the truth, and yet they made decisions to reject the truth for another version that they liked better and they didn’t realize the consequences of what they are doing.  They didn’t understand that the decision that they made so glibly, so blindly, was really a diversionary tactic of the devil and will lead them eventually to destruction if they don’t repent.  Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” We don’t recognize the seriousness of decisions that we make.  We don’t really understand the consequences of our decisions as we come to crossroads in our lives.  We think we can accept a less narrow path, or a less stringent gospel, and we will still be ok.  But Satan knows that a series of little deviations from the straight path of God will add up to a big difference in destination. Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Starting in chapter 12, Luke has been recording a running sermon that Jesus has been preaching, which is really a warning of just this very situation.  The Jews were making the wrong choice time after time, in decision after decision, and the underlying message that Jesus has been giving is that there will come a day when their opportunity will be finished.  They have consistently rejected His message, and John the Baptist’s message before Him.  In fact, He says in vs. 34 that this rejection has been the history of the Jews since the time of Moses, rejecting prophet after prophet, even to the point of killing the prophets.  And ultimately, they would even kill the Son of God Himself.

But what they failed to realize was that their time to repent was coming to an end. John the Baptist said that the axe was already laid at the root of the tree.  And in this chapter Jesus gave a parable about the fig tree which was about to be cut down because it failed to bring forth fruit.  They failed to realize that they were at a crossroads in history and they were making a disastrous decision.

In our Wednesday evening service we are studying Genesis, and we discovered in recent weeks that contrary to evolutionary theory, according to the genealogy given in the Bible, mankind is only about 6000 years old.  And the significance of that is born out by understanding God’s timeline.

If we break down this 6000 years, we find that from Adam to Abraham was 2000 years, and from Abraham to Jesus was 2000 years, and from Jesus to our day is 2000 years.  If we consider the first 2000 years, then you will notice that Abraham was a descendent of Noah’s son Shem, and Shem was still alive in the early years of Abraham’s life.  And of course, the flood was God’s act of judgment upon the sins of the world during this first 2000 years. God found one righteous man, Noah, and preserved this man during the flood from whom came Abraham.  And God made a covenant with Abraham that from his seed would come One through whom all the world would be blessed.  It was the promise of the Messiah.

So from Adam to Abraham was 2000 years during which time God judged the world by the flood.  Then from Abraham to the coming of the Messiah was another 2000 years.  During this time God raised up from Abraham’s family the nation of Israel, who would be His chosen people, to whom He gave His law, sent His prophets, and gave His presence in the temple.  This covenant was to be consummated  by the coming of the Messiah.

But we all know the history - the children of Israel disobeyed God continually.  They wanted self rule.  They worshipped pagan idols and lusted after the pleasures of the pagan world.  They rejected God again and again.  And so God brought calamity upon them.  And when they continued still in their rebellion He brought the Chaldeans to kill them and destroy their palaces and the temple and take them away into captivity.  Eventually there was only a remnant of the Jews left who returned to Palestine to rebuild the temple under Nehemiah.  But by the time Jesus comes as the Messiah, they have once again returned to an external form of religion, but denied the power of it to change their hearts.  Judaism has become a religion of self righteousness by performing religious rituals, but their hearts are far from God.

So this is the situation during the ministry of Christ.  Though great crowds accompany Him, they are looking for miracles and following Him for the free food and to see what He might do next.  But very few are being saved.  For the most part, the religious leaders reject Him and even hate Him.  Their hatred will eventually result in crucifying Him.

But Jesus is the Son of God, and He knows not only what is in their hearts, He also knows the Father’s plan and purpose for His coming is not subject to the whims of these rulers. Vs. 31 says at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.  Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.”

These Pharisees were not concerned about Jesus.  They didn’t care that Herod was seeking to kill Jesus.  They just wanted Him to go away.  They hated His message of sin and the need for repentance.   And perhaps they thought they could scare Him off and get rid of His annoying message.  You know, I have come to realize that people who are in rebellion towards God hate the message of repentance from sin.  They hate it.  It makes them feel uncomfortable.  It makes them feel convicted.  They want self rule, they love their sin and are proud in their self righteousness just like the Israelites were.  When I hear someone complain that they don’t like to hear about sin or the need for repentance than I know that person is either not saved or they are in serious rebellion against the gospel.  Because the gospel is the message of repentance from sin.

Even though Israel had routinely rejected God and was even now rejecting their Messiah, yet what Jesus said illustrates the compassion and mercy of God.  Jesus came to Earth, not to be their political savior, but to be their substitute, the sacrifice for their sins, their Savior.  And this is what He is referring to in that statement.  That today and tomorrow He will continue to perform cures and cast out demons, and on the third day He will reach His goal.  And what He means is that the third day He will rise from the dead, after procuring salvation for those that trust in Him.  He will be in the tomb for three days, and the third day will rise from the dead, after having triumphed over sin and the grave.  And it illustrates the compassion of God in that He is resolutely planning to offer Himself as a sacrifice even as they are planning to kill Him.

But there is also a final warning in this message.  Look at vs. 34; “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!  Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

Jesus reiterates the compassion and love of God – “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”  This is the love of God, the outstretched arms of God, beseeching the children of Israel who were supposed to be His children to come under His wings, to come under His protection, but they would not.

But there is a warning  there as well.  They didn’t realize that destruction and desolation was coming on Israel for their rejection of God.  In their lifetime, within their generation, there was coming a time of judgment.  In AD 70, Titus would destroy the temple, he would desecrate the altar, and he would destroy the nation of Israel.  They trusted in the temple of Jerusalem.  It was the foundation of their faith.  They believed that it was proof of the presence of God among them.

But what they failed to recognize that God does not dwell in temples made with hands.  They didn’t realize that at some point in their continual rejection of God the glory of God had left the building.  All they had was a relic of what once was the power and pride of Israel.  Now it was just an empty building, the object of empty rituals, a place of commerce and politically appointed priests who paid bribes to Rome for the seats of authority in the temple.  God was no longer there and instead, He was bringing judgment upon them to destroy it.

The Jews trusted in the temple, and when Titus eventually surrounded the city they would seek refuge in the temple, thinking that God would spare them, but thousands would be massacred inside the temple grounds and then it would be burned to the ground.  Their house would be left desolate.  They had made one decision after another to reject the counsel of God.  They were wise in their own estimation.  They thought they were self sufficient, safe in the external edifices of their religion and Jesus pronounces judgment upon them.  For most of them listening that day, they would be slaughtered during the coming desolation of the nation of Israel.

So in AD 70 the desolation of the house of Israel happened just as Jesus had warned them.  And the time of the Gentiles was ushered in.  We live in the church age which has characterized the last 2000 years.  We live in the light of the gospel.  A greater light than that which the Jews had because we have the complete word of God to reveal God’s finished work of Christ.  We live in a greater age than the Jews because we live under the new covenant, whereas they lived under the old covenant.  We are fortunate enough to live under grace, whereas they were under the law.  But in spite of our great advantages I’m afraid that there are many similarities between the church and the nation of Israel.

It’s been another 2000 years in the timeline of God.  6000 years now since creation.  The number 6, the Bible says, is the number of man.  And I’m afraid that our time is nearly up as well.  As Jesus said in chapter 12, we know how to ascertain the signs of the weather, but we don’t know how to ascertain the signs of the times.  In spite of God’s great compassionate gift to the world, we have turned the grace of God into licentiousness.  We have used the grace of God to say as in chapter 12 vs. 45, “my master is a long time coming…”  and we have begun to live in self indulgence and wickedness and accept evil.   We have sinned against God and said it doesn’t matter.  We have turned to another version of the gospel that doesn’t ask for righteousness, that doesn’t require purity, that doesn’t require sacrifice, and we have turned the church of God into a marketplace and a place of self righteous ritualistic religion that denies the power of a consecrated, holy life.

It’s been the church’s turn at 2000 years and what have we done in response to the gospel which Jesus Christ suffered and shed His precious blood to procure? Look at Hebrews 10:29 which was written to the church.  It contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant and says, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Hebrews says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”
So with that in mind, “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.”

Listen, the day is drawing near.  I believe that we may be in the very same situation that the Jews were in the day Jesus preached this message.  This tree is about to be cut down.  This church that has become bloated and monstrously overgrown so that rather than bringing forth fruit it is become the roosts for demons and the doctrines of demons, this church that has harbored sin and not repented that is corrupted and bloated is ready to be judged by God.  He is right at the door.  He is coming back.

1Pet. 4:17 says, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”  Listen, don’t be deceived.  God is going to purify His church.  Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of God.  But those that do the will of God.  The Lord will judge His people.

Oh Christian, be careful the decisions you make.  Be careful when you come to a crossroads in your life.  Don’t lean on your own understanding.  Don’t make a decision based on appearance or what your mind says is a natural decision.  Don’t make a decision based on your desires or your lusts.  We need to stop serving the almighty dollar and start serving the Almighty God. We need to sacrifice our bodies on the altar to God as an acceptable sacrifice, which is our reasonable service. Listen, the time past is sufficient to have carried out the lusts of the Gentiles.  God is right at the door.  The decisions you make today will have lifelong consequences.  Fear God.  The problem with the church today is there is no fear of God before their eyes. These are like the times of Noah when every man did what was right in his own eyes.  I believe we are at a crossroads in history.  We are at the crossroads of the last days.  And I’m afraid most Christians are blithely going about their business, living for the moment, buying and selling as if things were going to continue this way forever, and we don’t realize that Christ is right at the door.

Jesus said earlier in chapter 12:5 in this same sermon; “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”  He continues in vs. 45, “But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes,
but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”  O listen church, we have been entrusted with much.  Much will be required of you.  God is at the door.  He is coming soon.

And for those of you that aren’t saved, remember what Jesus said in chapter 12 vs. 49, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” Listen, at the end of the first 2000 years the world was destroyed by water.  But Peter says in the last days it will be destroyed by fire.  2 Peter 3:4, ““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.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Listen, there is coming a day of judgment upon all the world.  And salvation simply means being saved from the judgment that is coming upon the world.  Jesus said in Luke 13:34, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”  When I was a little boy in Sunday School in North Carolina, I remember my mother teaching a story on what they used to call a flannelgraph; a board covered in flannel that you could put pictures on and they would stick to it.  And the story I remember best that she told was of a farmer who had livestock that he housed in a great big barn.  And a mother hen had just had her eggs hatch and she had three little chicks.  But that night a fire broke out and the barn burnt down.  The next morning the farmer was examining the ruins of the barn and he noticed a burnt carcass on the ground.  He walked over to it and pushed it over with his hoe and discovered three little chicks came running out from beneath.  The burnt carcass was the mother hen who had sacrificed herself for her chicks by covering them with her wings.

Jesus says in this passage that this is the purpose that He came into the world.  He came to offer us salvation for the judgment that is coming on the world for sin.  He stretches out His arms to you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  Will you come under His wings?  Or will you be like the stiff necked Israelites who would not come? Who would not accept God’s Son?  I pray that you will humble yourself today and repent of your sins, and ask God to save you. God promises that in response to faith and repentance He will transfer your sins to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness to you. Jesus is waiting with arms outstretched for you.  But He won’t wait forever.  One day the door will be closed and God will come in judgment.  I pray you won’t be found lacking in that day.  Today you stand at the crossroads, and the only way anyone will escape that day of judgment is by the cross of Christ: if we are under the wings of God’s grace, having repented of our sins, and trusted in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to cover our sins.  Let us pray.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Striving to be saved; Luke 13:22-30

I like the old Welsh hymn, Here Is Love that we sung today.  It is a good hymn, teaching sound doctrine, and one that I find refreshing in a time when so much Christian music is favored not because of what it says, but because of the way the music sounds.  But though the origin of this hymn preceded the Welsh Revival by about 20 years, it found a certain measure of fame from it’s use in what became known as the Welsh Revival of 1904, 1905.

There were a number of revivals or spiritual awakenings that happened both in this country and abroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   But I want to quote from Wikipedia about the distinction of some aspects of the Welsh Revival as opposed to previous revivals.  “Unlike earlier religious revivals based on powerful preaching, the revival of 1904-05 relied primarily on music and on alleged paranormal phenomena as exemplified by the visions of Evan Roberts.”

I am not qualified to speak authoritatively on the veracity of  the revival that happened in Wales during that year.  Undoubtedly, some people were saved.  There are many reports of lives being transformed, bars being closed, policemen not having anyone to arrest because entire towns were being transformed.  There seems to be ample evidence of true repentance in many cases, resulting in real conversion.

But at one point Evan Roberts claimed to have a vision in which he saw that he would be the means by which a 100,000 people would come to Christ.  And such was the effect of the revival throughout the countryside that many claimed that there were indeed 100,000 souls saved in a six month period.  However, this number was arrived at by arbitrary means, for there was no real way to confirm that number.  But the report of this number of conversions was in and of itself a sort of confirmation to many that this was a great new work of the Holy Spirit.

But at the same time, there was obviously a counterfeit work that was going on concurrently with the revival.  Several of the histories that I read emphasized that much of the paranormal phenomena was centered particularly upon young teenage girls who became a driving force in the revival.  As a consequence of the emphasis on the paranormal, much  of what was initially attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit was in fact eventually deemed to be not of God at all.  Evan Roberts himself had a nervous breakdown after the first year of the revival.  He began to suffer from serious depression.  He was taken in by a well known patron of the movement, a woman named Jessie Penn-Lewis, who was a prominent religious author.  As a result of this and other events, the revival declined as quickly as it had begun.

Together, Roberts and Penn-Lewis would author a book a few years later renouncing much of what went on during the revival.  The book was called “War on the Saints” and detailed the way in which Satan and his demons counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit, made especially deceitful when naïve people readily accept all spiritual phenomena as being of God, without discernment of the fact that there are many deceitful spirits gone out in the world.

The main point that I wish to make from this illustration though is that great numbers are not necessarily an indication of true revival in the hearts of believers.  Undoubtedly, many people were saved.  But just as certainly, many more were simply swept along in the emotion and frenzy of the moment and when that had passed, they were no longer as zealous for the things of God as they once were.

Today we see much of the same thing happening in our culture.  Joel Olsteen’s church is held in an football stadium and they have supposedly 60,000 people in attendance on Sundays.  Tens of thousands of people regularly show up in stadiums around the country to hear him speak.

But this fascination with large crowds and great numbers isn’t just limited to Joel Olsteen.  Many evangelists such as Joseph Prince conduct services around the world to packed out audiences numbering in the tens of thousands.  On a national level, mega churches boast several thousands of members at multiple services and some even have multiple satellite church campuses around their cities.  As Americans, we tend to think that bigger is always better.  We think there is no greater testimony to a pastor’s success than the size of his congregation.  And I’m afraid there is no greater assurance to his congregation than the self confirming  knowledge that they are part of a huge congregation.

But great numbers or large churches have never been the credentials of a godly prophet or pastor or a work of God.  Though Jesus Himself had thousands of people following Him, only 500 were in attendance at His ascension, and only 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

I think there is going to be a great upset at heaven’s Bema seat judgment one day, when some of the preachers and evangelists that received the most accolades here on earth will be last, and those unknown faithful missionaries in foreign lands and pastors of tiny churches in the boondocks will be first.  Jesus says that very thing in vs. 30; “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

I think this seemingly contradictory element of ministry was the basis for the scenario that we see identified in this passage.  Jesus has this great crowd numbering in the thousands that is following Him around and waiting for Him to do a miracle or some great thing.  But yet there weren’t many that were actually getting saved.  And someone in the crowd recognizes this and questions Jesus by saying, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”

It’s obvious that this  question was prompted by the two parables Jesus had just finished giving to that effect in vs. 18-21.  In both of them He showed that the kingdom of God was something that would have an unhealthy, unnatural, even monstrous element to it.  In the first parable Jesus relates the kingdom of God, which by the way is simply a way of speaking of the church, that the church becomes a large tree where the birds of the air nest in it’s branches.  As we said last week, mustard seeds produce mustard bushes, not trees.  And so this picture is of a monstrosity, a seed that produced a tree that instead of producing fruit, had birds of the air nesting in it’s branches.  And I showed you last week that in Jesus prior parable about the soils, that He identifies the birds of the air as being the devil and his angels.  So the devil and his angels (demons) nests in the branches of the church.

And the other parable is basically indicating the same thing.  In this case it’s leaven, always a picture of sin in the Bible, that is hidden in the three pecks of flour until it’s all leavened.  And we told you last week that the three pecks of flour, which are likened to the kingdom of God, the church, comes from the Old Testament idea of the grain offering which was offered to the Lord in worship.  And so the picture is of sin being in the worship of the church, and the entire church being corrupted by it.

Now that is the scenario then when someone from the crowd asks Jesus the question, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”  Whoever it was, and I think it may have been the disciples, was kind of confused.  There were all these people following Jesus around, seeing His miracles and listening to Him preach.  There was all kinds of enthusiasm, and emotion, and expectations that surrounded His ministry.  And yet it was apparent from His teaching that the majority of those listening were not entering into the kingdom. And furthermore, Jesus is making it clear in His messages that not all that thought that they were of the kingdom were really in it.

And so Jesus gives an answer to this person that is instructive for us today as well as we consider the great tree that has become the church, and as we recognize that doctrines of demons have found residence in the church, and that sin has corrupted the church and it’s worship.  And many of us are left wondering at how the crowds rush to embrace the next new church trend, while those of us that try to be faithful to God’s original blueprint of the church are left feeling and looking like an archaic, out of touch relic of the Reformation.

It’s a question that gives rise to speculation that perhaps if we just adapted to what other churches were doing, perhaps if we just loosened up on some of the doctrines of the church, if we just followed some of the strategies that seem to be working so well for others, then perhaps we could enjoy some of the same success.  We might become more popular.  This thinking progresses along the lines of “it’s got to be our fault. We need to update.  Maybe we need different music, or a younger, hipper pastor.”  After all, whatever brings more people into the church can’t be a bad thing.

But notice that Jesus doesn’t really even answer those questions.  He doesn’t even directly answer the question that was posed to Him.  But what He does say is to present a version of salvation that is totally at odds with most evangelical’s approach to salvation.  Jesus presents salvation without a formula, without a sinner’s prayer, or even using the Roman’s Road.  He doesn’t give a method for invitations, or a method for church growth.  He doesn’t give the number of how many will be saved.  But what He does is present yet another picture of salvation, of entering in the kingdom that is at odds with most people’s understanding.

Note that first of all, Jesus says in vs. 24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  Strive is an interesting word.  It comes from the Greek word “agōnizomai”.    It means to contend, to fight, to struggle to endeavor.  It was used to depict the struggles of a sport or a fight.

And I dare say that it is a principle that I have never heard a preacher use in relation to salvation.  Salvation is presented as accepting a gift, of receiving a blessing, of being given something for nothing.  But Jesus is presenting it as something that you have to battle for.

Now what on earth does He mean?  I’ll tell you what He means.  He means that you have to battle with yourself, fight against your sin nature, your selfish nature, your desire for self rule, for self gratification, for self fulfillment.  Salvation means nothing less than being willing to give up your will for His will, your desires for His desires.  And the flesh doesn’t want that.  Satan doesn’t want that. The world doesn’t want that.  So there is a great conflict in coming to Christ.  Because most of us come to Christ wanting something, wanting deliverance from a crisis, or deliverance from hell, but unwilling to sacrifice anything to get it.  And yet salvation does not come without a cost.

Jesus said we must count the cost of following Him.  You say, “But Roy, I thought Jesus paid it all, and grace is free.”  You don’t understand grace.  Grace is Jesus paying a price you could never, ever pay.  But there is a cost for  you as well.  Jesus said in chapter 12 that it is the cost of division between mother and daughter, between father and son.  It is the cost of not having a place to lay your head.  It is the cost of giving up your possessions.  It is the cost of taking up your cross and following Him in the fellowship of His sufferings.  It is the cost of rejection by the world, it is the cost of losing business, it is the cost of being an outcast in society.  There is a cost to following Jesus which involves a battle between your natural inclinations and God’s will, your natural instincts and God’s commandments, your common sense and God’s wisdom.  It’s a struggle, and it’s an epic struggle.

Now look at the rest of the statement, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  Note second of all that it is a narrow door.  It’s not necessarily easy to find, nor is it easy to go through.  It’s not a door that allows you to carry a bunch of baggage in with you.  You can’t enter into the kingdom of heaven with the world on your back.  You have to leave the world on the other side.  And it’s a door that you have to go through individually.  It’s not entered as part of a crowd, or a congregation, or by a race or nationality.

Jesus said in Matt.7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Listen, there are many who seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  There are many that think that they are already in the kingdom of heaven, but if what Jesus says is true then most of them are not in the kingdom of heaven after all.  Many statistics have come out in recent years that show that about 80% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians.   And yet the percentage that believe in the inspiration of the Bible as God’s word is just a tiny fraction of that.  The percentage that believe in a literal hell is just a tiny fraction.  There is a great difference between those that think that they are on the road to heaven, and those that will find it.

Everyone wants to go to heaven.  Only a fool is an agnostic.  Only a fool is an atheist.  But merely believing to some extent in God does not bring about salvation.  Even just believing that Jesus existed and lived on the earth does not constitute salvation, otherwise Jesus would have just shown that everyone who was looking at Him in the flesh on that day would have been saved.  That He was alive was irrefutable.  And all Jews believed in the existence of God.  But yet He says that few there are that are saved. Obviously just believing in His existence did not save them.

I’m afraid that many people in churches today are not saved.  I fear that over zealous evangelists and preachers have used gimmickry to get people to make an emotional response to the gospel.  As I have studied some of these revivals and the men that led them, it’s apparent that many of them used theatrics, music, emotional appeals and every thing imaginable to get people to come forward in an invitation and say a prayer and then counted as having made a decision for Christ.  But even a cursory look at some of those results a year or two later and you will find very few of them living a Christian life.  But I’m afraid that vast numbers of people like that fill our pews on Sunday mornings, under the illusion that they are good with God.

This is a tragedy, that people are being deceived into thinking that they are in the kingdom of God, and yet one day they will find out that they are not.  Jesus presents an illustration of this point.  He says, “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’

It’s possible to be caught up in the enthusiasm, to be a part of the congregation, to think that you have been accepted in the kingdom of God, and one day the door is closed and you find yourself on the outside.  What a horrible thought.

Vs. 26, “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’;”.  These are people that think that they are in the kingdom.  They went to church.  They took communion.  They listened to sermons, participated in the worship. They were members on the rolls.  They may have even taught Sunday School.   They thought they were in.  But they are not.

Vs. 27, “and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’”   Here is the distinction folks, don’t miss it.  There is a distinction between those that claim to be in the kingdom and are not, and those that are in the kingdom.  And the distinction is their fruit.  Now please understand something;  fruit is not the means of salvation, but it is the evidence of salvation.  Look once again to Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”  Twice Jesus says that you will know true believers by their fruits.

Now what are fruits?  The text makes it clear that fruit is simply doing the will of God, obeying the word of God.  The contrast is in the next verse; to not do the will of God is to practice lawlessness.  Vs. 21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”  

So salvation is not dependent upon saying “Lord, Lord.” Salvation isn’t dependent upon what comes out of the mouth, but what comes out of the heart.  But salvation is dependent upon doing the will of God.  This throws much of our contemporary theology right out of their stained glass windows, doesn’t it?  But they will say, “Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons? Didn’t we do miracles in your name?”

Hey, these guys had all the spiritual gifts going, didn’t they?  One of the problems of many charismatic churches is that the proof of their salvation is that they speak in tongues, they prophesy.  One of the proofs of their salvation is that they think that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit in all sorts of paranormal phenomena.  And naïve congregations clap and hoot and holler at the histrionics of their leaders, not knowing what spirit they are of.

Listen, I’m not hear to tell you today who is saved and who isn’t.  I don’t know.  I might make an educated guess by examining the fruit of someone that claims to be saved.  But I can’t know for sure.  But God knows.  He knows the hearts.  He knows the deeds that we do in secret.  He knows whether or not we have ever really repented of our sins and have in fact turned away from sin and the world.  Whether or not we have forsaken sin.

Listen, the only way to have fruit in your life is to first of all be a fruit tree.  In our natural state, we are not fruit trees. In our natural state we are unable to produce righteousness. But by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ we are grafted into the body of Christ.  That is the first step.  It’s coming to Christ in desperation and poverty and bankruptcy, begging God for forgiveness and mercy. Begging God to be transformed and changed from a sinner to a child of God.  And God promises that whoever comes to Him like that will not be cast out, but will be adopted into the family of God.  And when we are grafted into this body, then we will bring forth fruit.  We will be in Christ and Christ will be in us.  We will be new creatures, living a new life in and through Christ who lives in and through us.  And then it is going to be evident to everyone that we are bearing fruit. We live righteously because we have been made righteous.

That invitation to be grafted into the body of Christ is universal.  The Jews thought that it was a physical thing, that their salvation depended on being sons of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  They thought they could get in based on heredity.  Based on nationality.  Based on religion.  But in vs. 29 Jesus says that those that are going to be in the kingdom “will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

There is an invitation that is inherent in Christ’s message.  There is good news and that is that Jesus has paid the price you could never pay.  And for those that are willing to forsake sin and the world to follow Him there is salvation from the judgment to come.  But please understand what it means to follow Christ, to forsake the world.  It’s a battle of the will to let go of everything for this pearl of great price.  But it is a battle that has eternal reward.

I hope no one here has been deceived into thinking that somehow they have entered into the kingdom without the struggle of repentance and forsaking sin.  I hope no one thinks that they are in because of an association, or membership, or their relationship to someone who is in.  I hope that on that day when God shuts the door, you won’t find yourself on the outside wondering what happened.  There is going to be a terrible day of judgment that day is coming soon when the door will be closed.

I’m afraid that the point Jesus is making in this message is that most people lack true repentance. They lack the true contrition, true brokenness. They have never come  in desperation. They don't have a true relationship to Jesus Christ. They just hang around the church and think that is enough. They don’t know what it means to bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  They want a gospel that doesn't ask for repentance. They want a gospel that has no threat of condemnation or judgment. They want a gospel that allows them to have some superficial attachment to Jesus, but not a bowing to His absolute sovereignty at any cost. They want a gospel that fixes them in this world to make them more comfortable. But that's not the gospel that Jesus is preaching. And that's not what Jesus offers.

Listen, the word revival is not even in the Bible.  Don’t be deceived great movements, great signs and wonders. Jesus says that the church will be characterized by an unnatural growth, it will be the roost for doctrines of demons, it will be puffed up by the corruption of sin, but not all that think that they are part of the kingdom are actually known by God.  They thought that the way was easy, the road was broad, but in fact the road was narrow, and the gate was small.  It is with difficulty that people are saved.  It is by striving, by contending, and by struggling with sin and false doctrine.  The church of God is not going to be characterized in these last days by great revivals where thousands and tens of thousands are swept into the kingdom in a wave of emotion and ecstasy. But true revival is an individual process of repentance, and then bringing forth the fruit in keeping with repentance.