Hey, God, Look at Me

Today’s reading is Luke 18.

Let’s make sure we always understand exactly why the tax collector was justified and the Pharisee was not. The Pharisee was not condemned because he avoided extortion, injustice, and adultery. He was not condemned because he fasted twice per week and gave tithes of all that he got. That is, the Pharisee was not condemned for thinking God’s law was important, for attempting to obey it, or for attempting to demonstrate his devotion by doing spiritual things above and beyond God’s law. He was supposed to be like this and so was the tax collector. Additionally, the tax collector was not justified because he was a sinner. He was supposed to avoid sin and needed to be rebuked for it. If we are not careful, we might get the idea that God doesn’t care if people obey His law and folks who dismiss His will are automatically justified. The Pharisee was humbled and condemned because of self-exaltation. The tax collector was exalted with justification because in humility he turned to the Lord. The Pharisee was not condemned for keeping God’s Law, but for thinking he was special, set apart, and deserving of praise because of the particular laws he kept instead of being humble regarding the ones he had not and seeking God’s mercy in that humility. The tax collector was not justified for dismissing God’s will, but for realizing how important God’s law is and knowing he could do absolutely nothing to make up for how badly he had broken it. Jesus is not saying, “If you want to be justified, ignore God’s law, just say the right prayer.” He is saying, “If you want to be justified don’t think the rules you’ve kept make up for the rules you’ve broken. Humble yourself before God, realizing only His mercy can justify you.”

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 18.

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Hope for the Gentiles

Today’s reading is Luke 8.

I know we are reading in Luke today, but Isaiah 65:1-7 is a fascinating passage. There, the Lord explained He was ready to be sought by those who didn’t ask for Him or seek Him. He said “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation not called by His name. These people provoked God despite His calls to them. They sacrificed to demons (noted in the LXX, the Greek version of this passage). They sat in tombs. They ate pig’s flesh. And they told the Lord to “Keep to yourself, do not come near me.” Therefore, God explained He would repay them for their iniquities. Does any of this sound familiar? It’s like Jesus’s time in Gerasa, a city in the Greek region called the Decapolis, was modeled after this passage. The Gerasenes learn of the miraculous deliverance of the demon possessed man. However, instead of being in awe over the miracle, they were scared because of their financial loss in the pigs. They demand Jesus leave. Considering Isaiah 65, what might we expect for the Decapolis Gentiles? Judgment. Quick, brutal, complete, avenging judgment. However, how does this story end? As He leaves, Jesus sends the man delivered from Legion into the region to tell them what God had done for him. There is hope for the Gentiles, even for these Gentiles who rejected Jesus. This is the Savior we serve. Praise the Lord! There is hope for us.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 8.

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Wanted: Sinners!

Today’s reading is Luke 5.

I remember talking to a man who had decided to pursue Hinduism. He told me, “I wanted to be a Christian, but I’m not good enough for that.” I wish I had known then what I know now. I would have told Him about the Great Physician. As a doctor is looking for sick people, not well people, Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, the holy, the godly, the good enough. He came looking for sinners. He came to call sinners. He came to call those who are not good enough. No doubt, He calls us unto repentance. He doesn’t call us to linger in our own sinfulness. But Jesus isn’t roaming the streets looking for the righteous. He’s looking for sinners like me. He’s looking for sinners like you. Praise the Lord! Let’s answer His call.

Next week’s reading is Luke 6.

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He Preached Good News

Today’s reading is Luke 3.

“With many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” That’s what Luke says about John the son of Zechariah. However, did you actually read what he had just preached? “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Certainly, there is some good news in there for the wheat, but what about the chaff? In today’s climate, I’m not sure if this would qualify as good news. Not to mention, part of his preaching was specifically against sins like that which Herod and Herodias were committing. Not only did that get him arrested, it ultimately got him executed. This may not be what we would put on a marketing poster for the gospel, but while it is good news, not all of it is pleasant news. The good news includes salvation, but that is only good news because there is judgment from which we need to be saved. We may not like to hear about the wrath and fiery judgment, but without that bad news, the good news is just news. In fact, if it weren’t for the bad news, the good news wouldn’t even be news. Judgment is coming, but, praise God, Jesus came to gather the wheat and save those who would believe in Him from the judgment. That is good news. You can be part of it. Are you?

Next week’s reading is Luke 4.

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Good News of Great Joy

Today’s reading is Luke 2.

When Luke was written, “gospel” or “good news” was not a religious word. It was a political word. That is, “gospel” or “good news” usually referred to some great news about the emperor, the empire, or victory. It was the word used to describe the birth of the coming emperor or the ascension of a new emperor or the victory of the emperor over Rome’s enemies. When the angels used this word to describe the birth of Jesus, it was a powerful word for those Jewish shepherds. The anointed King of Israel, the descendant of David was born. He would be both Lord and Savior of the Jews. Rome would not be able to withstand this King. It was very much a challenge to the politics of the day. It was good news of great joy because finally the real King had been born, and victory over all enemies was coming. What good news of great joy this still is today. Our King was born. He lived. He conquered. He reigns. Follow Jesus today. He is the Savior. He is the Lord. He is the King. He is the Emperor. He is the only way to victory over and salvation from every enemy, including sin and death. And that is good news of great joy.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 2.

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The Scandal of Judgment

Today’s reading is Matthew 21.

Wow! Is today’s master of the house the same one we read about Friday? Friday’s master was generous and gracious, giving one-hour workers a full day’s pay. Today’s master is a straight up killer. I mean, I get it; the tenants deserved it. But how is this the same master? We learned on Friday that grace is scandalous. The interesting thing is everyone who heard Jesus’s new story of judgment knew exactly what the master in the story would do, and it made sense to them. The problem is it was scandalous to think the hearers of the parable were in the exact same situation as the subjects in the parable. And that is what makes judgment a scandal, isn’t it? Grace is scandalous because none of us deserves it, but we all think we do. When we see someone else get it, we think it is a scandal. Judgment is scandalous because we all deserve it, but none of us thinks we do. When we are told we are going to receive it, we think it is a scandal. Judgment is coming; it shouldn’t be that scandalous to us. That is why we need God’s grace; it shouldn’t be that scandalous either. Yet, here we are. Pick your scandal.

Today’s reading is Matthew 21.

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The Scandal of Grace

Today’s reading is Matthew 20.

What boss acts like this? It’s utterly crazy. It’s scandalous. And we all know it when we stop to think about it. If we owned the vineyards and fields next to the master of the house inĀ Matthew 20, we would be ticked. Not only that, we’d think he was a fool. Pay the guys who only worked the last hour of the day for a full day’s work? Great! Now tomorrow, no one will show up for work until the 11th hour. And then, they will actually expect to get a full day’s pay. I can hear the vineyard owners’ coalition meeting now: “What was that guy thinking?” “Doesn’t he know when you give that kind of grace to people they take it for granted and then take advantage of it?” “These workers will use it as license to lay about and be lazy.” “He’s shooting himself and us in the foot.” That is the scandal of grace. Isn’t it what so many of us are afraid of when we hear God’s grace proclaimed? Let’s face it. Are there workers who will use the master’s generosity and grace as a license to laze about? Of course. But that didn’t stop the Master from bestowing grace and generosity. And it shouldn’t stop us from actually proclaiming God’s grace. Will some use it as a license to sin? Yes. But it is not our job to alter or twist the teaching of grace to try to manipulate the outcomes in others’ lives. It is our job to teach God’s grace, scandalous as it is. It is the hearers’ job to respond properly or no. And, of course, it is our job when people respond improperly to warn them. It is God’s job to dispense the generosity when, where, and to whom He will. Finally, it is also our job to be humbled, amazed, and grateful when His generosity and grace surprises us. I promise you, it will. (After all, when I receive it, I won’t hold it against you if you are surprised. And I hope you won’t hold my surprise and shock against me when you receive it).

Monday’s reading is Matthew 21.

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