An Upside-Down Kingdom

Today’s reading is Luke 7.

I caught something today I’ve never thought about before. When Jesus is describing John, He says, “Those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.” The thing is–John is part of a King’s court. He is the herald of the greatest King ever. Yet, he still lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and wild honey, and was rough as a cob. What’s up with that? Jesus’s kingdom is upside-down. It isn’t about advancing to luxury and leisure. It is about advancing to the role of servant. The greatest servant in the whole kingdom is the King Himself, who stepped off His heavenly throne, lived as a poor man on earth, and suffered as if He were a criminal all to save us. Is it any surprise His great herald is a man like John? The good news for us is to become a citizen of the Kingdom, we don’t have to climb the ladder of corporate success. We do not have to be financial tycoons. We do not have to be counted great in the eyes of the world. We do not need to advance up the ranks to hit the top. In fact, that is not advancing in the kingdom at all. We must grow to be the least, the smallest, the servant, and we will be great in Christ’s kingdom. In fact, we will become greater than the King’s herald. What is your advancement strategy today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 7.

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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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Children from Stones

Today’s reading is Luke 3.

“For I tell you,” John said, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Think about that for a moment. If God is able to raise up children for Abraham from stones, He is able to make children of Abraham out of you and me. I know there are times when we fear we will never amount to much in the kingdom of God. Sometimes, we want to simply give up. Don’t. In His time, God is able to make out of us exactly what He wants us to be. Don’t let go of Him. He has made us into His children and is making us into the kind of children He desires. No matter what, hang on to Him today.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 3.

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Baptism of Repentance

Today’s reading is Luke 3.

When John baptized people for the forgiveness of their sins, it was not so they could live however they pleased. Rather, it was a baptism of repentance. They were to follow their baptism up with fruit in keeping with the repentance their baptism proclaimed. The crowds were to learn to share with those who had less. The tax collectors were to learn not to take more than they were authorized. The soldiers were to learn not to extort money, but be content with their wages. Ours is also a baptism of repentance for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38). We do not receive the remission of our sins in order to live however we please. We are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. As the practical application of this was different for each person at John’s baptism, it will be different for each of us. What does fruit of repentance mean for you? Does it have to do with material contentment? Submission to authority? Humility? Morality? Spiritual focus? What fruit of repentance can you work on today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 3.

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Not “Once Upon a Time”

Today’s reading is Luke 3.

As Luke digs into the story of who Jesus is, he doesn’t say, “Long ago, in a land far, far away.” He doesn’t say, “Once upon a time.” He gets specific. It was the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee. Philip was the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitus. Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene. The high priesthood was shared by Annas and Caiaphas. Wow! That is pretty specific. Of course, critics try to poke holes in these details while supporters have found evidence that every bit of this fits exactly right. Luke isn’t writing a fairy tale. He is not sharing a myth or a legend. He is recording historical events. He is not providing a metanarrative. He is not trying to write a series of stories to help us organize our way of thinking about life and the world. He is claiming these events happened in real time in real places. They can be dated on the calendar. They can be pinpointed on the map. This story of Jesus matters because it happened. He really lived. He really taught. He really died. He really rose again. And because these things really happened, they mean something even today. You may disagree. You may think Luke is wrong. You may think Luke lied or was mistaken. You may think Luke completely made it up. If so, feel free to state your case. However, please don’t make the very silly mistake of claiming Luke believed he was passing on mythic stories to help explain the world and how we should live. He didn’t. He believed he was writing history. He believed he was writing a biography. And everyone reading it in his day would have known that was what he was attempting. For Luke, this story needed to be recorded because it actually happened. Since it actually happened, it actually means something, it actually has consequences for our lives. Keep reading to consider what those consequences are.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 3.

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Filled with the Spirit

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

John was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. However, according to the people’s testimony of John 10:41, he never performed any signs. Not only that, he would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah multiplied the flour and oil for the widow of Zarephath, raised the widow’s son from the dead, called fire from heaven. Yet, John never performed any signs. He didn’t speak in tongues, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, foretell a drought, pray the rain back, call down fire from heaven. We might claim he prophesied in that he spoke from God about the the identity of Jesus. Even with that, there were never any accompanying miraculous signs to testify that his teaching was from God. There was even a time when he wasn’t sure about Jesus’s identity (see Luke 7:18-19). Yet, he was constantly filled with the Holy Spirit his entire life, even from the womb. This is different from his parents’ experiences. They were also filled with the Holy Spirit, but only for short periods of time (see Luke 1:41-45, 67-79). This is important to note because when we talk about any aspect of the Holy Spirit, we sometimes commit a Bible study fallacy. We think particular phrases, like “filled with the Holy Spirit,” are technical terms that always refer to the exact same experience or manifestation.* The fact is seen in this very chapter: John being filled with the Holy Spirit was a manifestly different experience from Elizabeth and Zechariah. By the way, the text doesn’t at all say Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, but she experiences the exact same manifestation as Elizabeth and Zechariah (see Luke 1:46-55). What a fantastic rule of Bible study we should learn here. Certainly, whether we are studying the Holy Spirit or some other issue, we examine all the uses of similar phrases. We will learn a great deal from that exercise. However, never forget immediate context is our biggest help in understanding what is meant with a given word or phrase at a given point. Don’t assume every time you see a word or phrase it means the exact same thing as every other time you read it. Further, don’t assign technical meanings that you then try to force into the words or phrases every time you see them. Stick with the context.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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I Don’t Get to Know Everything

Today’s reading is Revelation 10.

How frustrating! Is God taunting us? Here are seven thunders that said something, but He doesn’t let us know what. Why even make us aware that the seven thunders sounded? Perhaps because we need to understand 1) God knows what we don’t and 2) we don’t get to know everything. However, do you catch what happens next? The angel announces that in the seventh trumpet the mystery of God would be fulfilled just as he announced to His prophets. That is, the mysteries that benefit us, that help us, that we need to know, we get to know. He reveals those to us. Let’s face it. Whether we like it or not, our human minds cannot handle all that God knows. But our God is a good God and reveals all we need to know. The question isn’t whether we should get to know what was in the thunders, the question is whether we will listen to what God has revealed. What about today? Will you spend more time worrying about what God hasn’t revealed, or more time living by what He has?

Tomorrow’s reading is Revelation 11.

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