Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 3

    Nehemiah 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. These are the people who helped rebuild the wall and gates of Jerusalem: The high priest Eliashib and the other priests rebuilt Sheep Gate and hung its doors. Then they dedicated Sheep Gate and the section of the wall as far as Hundred Tower and Hananel Tower.
  2. The people of Jericho rebuilt the next section of the wall, and Zaccur son of Imri rebuilt the section after that.
  3. The family of Hassenaah built Fish Gate. They put the beams in place and hung the doors, then they added metal bolts and wooden beams as locks.
  4. Meremoth, son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, completed the next section of the wall. Meshullam, son of Berechiah and grandson of Meshezabel, rebuilt the next section, and Zadok son of Baana rebuilt the section beside that.
  5. The next section was to be repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their town leaders refused to do the hard work they were assigned.
  6. Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah restored Ancient Gate. They put the beams in place, hung the doors, and added metal bolts and wooden beams as locks.
  7. Melatiah from Gibeon, Jadon from Meronoth, and the men from Gibeon and Mizpah rebuilt the next section of the wall. This section reached as far as the house of the governor of West Euphrates Province.
  8. Uzziel son of Harhaiah the goldsmith rebuilt the next section. Hananiah the perfume maker rebuilt the section next after that, and it went as far as Broad Wall.
  9. Rephaiah son of Hur ruled half of the Jerusalem District, and he rebuilt the next section of the wall.
  10. The section after that was close to the home of Jedaiah son of Harumaph, and he rebuilt it. Hattush son of Hashabneiah constructed the next section of the wall.
  11. Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath Moab rebuilt the section after that, and they also built Oven Tower.
  12. Shallum son of Hallohesh ruled the other half of the Jerusalem District, and he rebuilt the next section of the wall. Shallum's daughters also worked with him.
  13. Hanun and the people who lived in the town of Zanoah rebuilt Valley Gate. They hung the doors and added metal bolts and wooden beams as locks. They also rebuilt the wall for fifteen hundred feet, all the way to Garbage Gate.
  14. Malchijah son of Rechab ruled the district of Beth-Haccherem, and he rebuilt Garbage Gate. He hung the doors and added metal bolts and wooden beams as locks.
  15. Shallum son of Colhozeh ruled the district of Mizpah, and he rebuilt Fountain Gate. He put a cover over the gateway, then hung the doors and added metal bolts and wooden beams as locks. He also rebuilt the wall at Shelah Pool. This section was next to the king's garden and went as far as the stairs leading down from David's City.
  16. Nehemiah son of Azbuk ruled half of the district of Beth-Zur, and he rebuilt the next section of the wall. It went as far as the royal cemetery, the artificial pool, and the army barracks.
  17. The Levites who worked on the next sections of the wall were Rehum son of Bani; Hashabiah, who ruled half of the district of Keilah and did this work for his district;
  18. Binnui son of Henadad, who ruled the other half of the district of Keilah;
  19. Ezer son of Jeshua, who ruled Mizpah, rebuilt the section of the wall that was in front of the armory and reached to the corner of the wall;
  20. Baruch son of Zabbai eagerly rebuilt the section of the wall that went all the way to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest;
  21. Meremoth, son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, built up to the far end of Eliashib's house.
  22. Here is a list of the priests who worked on the wall: Priests from the region around Jerusalem rebuilt the next section of the wall.
  23. Benjamin and Hasshub rebuilt the wall in front of their own houses. Azariah, who was the son of Maaseiah and the grandson of Ananiah, rebuilt the section in front of his house.
  24. Binnui son of Henadad rebuilt the section of the wall from Azariah's house to the corner of the wall.
  25. Palal son of Uzai rebuilt the next section, which began at the corner of the wall and the tower of the upper palace near the court of the guard. Pedaiah son of Parosh rebuilt the next section of the wall.
  26. He stopped at a place near the Water Gate on the east and the tower guarding the temple. This was close to a section in the city called Ophel, where the temple workers lived.
  27. The men from Tekoa rebuilt the next section of the wall, and it was their second section. It started at a place across from the large tower that guarded the Temple, and it went all the way to the wall near Ophel.
  28. Some priests rebuilt the next section of the wall. They began working north of Horse Gate, and each one worked on a section in front of his own house.
  29. Zadok son of Immer rebuilt the wall in front of his house. Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, who looked after the East Gate, rebuilt the section after that.
  30. Hananiah and Hanun rebuilt the next section, which was the second section for them. Meshullam son of Berechiah rebuilt the next section, which happened to be in front of his house.
  31. Malchijah, a goldsmith, rebuilt the next section, as far as the house used by the temple workers and merchants. This area was across from Gathering Gate, near the room on top of the wall at the northeast corner.
  32. The goldsmiths and merchants rebuilt the last section of the wall, which went from the corner room all the way to Sheep Gate.

    Chapter 3 gives evidence of the size of the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and of the organizational genius of Nehemiah. People from all walks of life were involved including the priests and Levites. Also involved were not only people living within the city but people from towns nearby. People were assigned sections of the wall nearest their homes. This had several advantages:

    • Most obvious was not having to travel across town each day to do the work
    • There was also greater motivation for their assignments since they involved protection of their homes
    • It allowed the assignments to be a family project 
    • When under attack workers were not tempted to leave their posts but would stay to protect their families.
    Besides people working on sections of the wall nearest their homes, priests and Levites worked on sections nearest the temple, and people from nearby towns on sections nearest where they entered the city from their town.

    Organizing people and materials was an amazing feat in itself, but doing so in the short amount of time necessary to complete the job on the schedule they were under made it even more amazing. Further reading of the book will reveal other huge accomplishments they made to be able to complete the job at all, not to mention completing it within the tight schedule.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 2

    Nehemiah 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes was king, I served him his wine, as I had done before. But this was the first time I had ever looked depressed.
  2. So the king said, "Why do you look so sad? You're not sick. Something must be bothering you." Even though I was frightened,
  3. I answered, "Your Majesty, I hope you live forever! I feel sad because the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and its gates have been burned down."
  4. The king asked, "What do you want me to do?" I prayed to the God who rules from heaven.
  5. Then I told the king, "Sir, if it's all right with you, please send me back to Judah, so that I can rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried."
  6. The queen was sitting beside the king when he asked me, "How long will it take, and when will you be back?" The king agreed to let me go, and I told him when I would return.
  7. Then I asked, "Your Majesty, would you be willing to give me letters to the governors of the provinces west of the Euphrates River, so that I can travel safely to Judah?
  8. I will need timber to rebuild the gates of the fortress near the temple and more timber to construct the city wall and to build a place for me to live. And so, I would appreciate a letter to Asaph, who is in charge of the royal forest." God was good to me, and the king did everything I asked.
  9. The king sent some army officers and cavalry troops along with me, and as I traveled through the Western Provinces, I gave the letters to the governors.
  10. But when Sanballat from Horon and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about what had happened, they became very angry, because they didn't want anyone to help the people of Israel.
  11. Three days after arriving in Jerusalem,
  12. I got up during the night and left my house. I took some men with me, without telling anyone what I thought God wanted me to do for the city. The only animal I took was the donkey I rode on.
  13. I went through Valley Gate on the west, then south past Dragon Spring, before coming to Garbage Gate. As I rode along, I took a good look at the crumbled walls of the city and the gates that had been torn down and burned.
  14. On the east side of the city, I headed north to Fountain Gate and King's Pool, but then the trail became too narrow for my donkey.
  15. So I went down to Kidron Valley and looked at the wall from there. Then before daylight I returned to the city through Valley Gate.
  16. None of the city officials knew what I had in mind. And I had not even told any of the Jews--not the priests, the leaders, the officials, or any other Jews who would be helping in the work.
  17. But when I got back, I said to them, "Jerusalem is truly in a mess! The gates have been torn down and burned, and everything is in ruins. We must rebuild the city wall so that we can again take pride in our city."
  18. Then I told them how kind God had been and what the king had said. Immediately, they replied, "Let's start building now!" So they got everything ready.
  19. When Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard about our plans, they started insulting us and saying, "Just look at you! Do you plan to rebuild the walls of the city and rebel against the king?"
  20. I answered, "We are servants of the God who rules from heaven, and he will make our work succeed. So we will start rebuilding Jerusalem, but you have no right to any of its property, because you have had no part in its history."

    Chapter 1 emphasizes Nehemiah's burden concerning the terrible condition of Jerusalem. The question was raised in my reflections of that chapter whether God had given Nehemiah this burden that He might use him for His planned purpose of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, or if Nehemiah's burden came to him naturally, providing God the opportunity to use him. I really do not consider this to be a real question. For a follower of God, as was Nehemiah, nothing is apart from God's hand. I have no doubt that Nehemiah was in God's mind for this purpose even before He gave the vision to Daniel of the rebuilding of Jerusalem some 95 years prior to this. (Daniel 9:25) Therefore, I believe Nehemiah's burden for Jerusalem came from God. Furthermore, I have no doubt that God placed him in his position as cupbearer to the king that he might have this opportunity to request the king's help in sending him to rebuild the walls.

    I am challenged by Nehemiah's patience and wisdom in this matter. As soon as he received word of the conditions of Jerusalem he fasted and prayed for "a number of days" (1:4) seeking the Lord's guidance and wisdom.  He must have known immediately that he should respond to this need, for his prayers did not seek guidance in whether to do something about it, only for success in doing it. Having prayed for success with the king, Nehemiah patiently waited for God to give him the opportunity to approach the king. It was four months before the opportunity came. In the same situation I fear I would have either attempted to take the matter into my own hands and forced the opportunity with the king or concluded God wasn't in it and decided to do nothing. Nehemiah must have remained vigilant in prayer about the situation, having it constantly on his mind, for when the opportunity came he was not caught off guard. He knew his opportunity had come and was "overwhelmed with fear" at the thought of making his request of the king.

    Although Nehemiah made his request to the one who had previously forbid any rebuilding of Jerusalem, his manner was respectful and humble. "If it pleases the king," he began, "and if your servant has found favor with you," he continued. (2:5) Nor, in light of the king's previous edict forbidding rebuilding of the city, did he mention Jerusalem by name, potentially triggering a negative response. Instead, he appealed to the king's natural sense of respect for one's ancestors by referring to it as "the city where my ancestors are buried." (2:3) Nehemiah was obviously prepared for this opportunity having ready answers for the king's questions: "How long will your journey take, and when will you return?" the king asked. Furthermore, Nehemiah knew what he needed for the task and used this opportunity to ask for it, seeking letters granting him safe passage to Judah, and another letter granting him permission to use the king's forest for building materials. Not only did the king grant Nehemiah all his requests, he provided a military escort to Judah.

    Once Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he also waited upon God's timing. He had given the king a time frame for this project and was "on the clock" at this point, so to speak, but he was not going to thwart this effort by getting ahead of God. Therefore, he took a few days after arriving in Jerusalem to assess the situation and learn who he could trust. Having done so, he then seized the first opportunity to bring the officials into his plan. It appears that this opportunity came when the officials asked what he had been doing. Verse 16 says that "the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing," referring to his secret assessment of the city, and then verse 17 "so I said to them" and so he told them the plan. In making his appeal to them to join him, he pointed out the "trouble we are in" because "Jerusalem lies in ruins," and he testified of how gracious hand had been on him in appealing to the king for help. Having shared this with the officials, they said, "Let's start rebuilding."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 1

    Nehemiah 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and in this book I tell what I have done. During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes ruled Persia, I was in his fortress city of Susa,
  2. when my brother Hanani came with some men from Judah. So I asked them about the Jews who had escaped from being captives in Babylonia. I also asked them about the city of Jerusalem.
  3. They told me, "Those captives who have come back are having all kinds of troubles. They are terribly disgraced, Jerusalem's walls are broken down, and its gates have been burned."
  4. When I heard this, I sat down and cried. Then for several days, I mourned; I went without eating to show my sorrow, and I prayed:
  5. LORD God of heaven, you are great and fearsome. And you faithfully keep your promises to everyone who loves you and obeys your commands.
  6. I am your servant, so please have mercy on me and answer the prayer that I make day and night for these people of Israel who serve you. I, my family, and the rest of your people have sinned
  7. by choosing to disobey you and the laws and teachings you gave to your servant Moses.
  8. Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations.
  9. But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped.
  10. Our LORD, I am praying for your servants--those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power.
  11. Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honor your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask.

    Following years of exile in Babylon, events occurred opening the way for the Israelites to return to their homeland. This return happened in stages. In the first stage, Zerubbabel led a group back to Judah. This group encountered tremendous opposition from the Samaritans to rebuilding the temple and their country. They did, however, succeed in rebuilding the temple. In the second stage, Ezra led another group back to Judah several years later. Ezra found the Jews living in Israel to be in a terrible spiritual and moral state. He led them to turn away from their sin and return to God. Now we come to Nehemiah who led the third stage of return to Israel. He is frequently recognized for his skills as a leader in his accomplishment of an incredible feat in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a very brief period of time.

    The opening verses of Nehemiah tell of Nehemiah's reaction to a report he received from a group, led by his brother, Hanani, telling him that "The survivors in the province, who returned from the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem's wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down." Nehemiah's response was to weep, mourn, fast, and pray. Through his fasting and praying a plan emerged for which he needed the support of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes. During his fast, Nehemiah petitioned God to give him favor with Artaxerxes that he might provide support for his plan.

    Did God place a burden on Nehemiah's heart for the conditions of those in Judah because He planned to use him to provide leadership and relief for those in Judah, or did God use him for this purpose because of his burden? In either case, God used him in a very significant way for the benefit of His people. Nehemiah's time of prayer and fasting was no doubt as much for preparing him for the task God had planned for him as it was to petition God to favor his mission. The mission, after all, was God's mission. He didn't have to be convinced. But Nehemiah needed to be on the same page with God regarding the mission and his time of prayer and fasting served this role.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reflections on Luke 24

    Luke 24 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices that they had prepared.
  2. When they found the stone rolled away from the entrance,
  3. they went in. But they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus,
  4. and they did not know what to think. Suddenly two men in shining white clothes stood beside them.
  5. The women were afraid and bowed to the ground. But the men said, "Why are you looking in the place of the dead for someone who is alive?
  6. Jesus isn't here! He has been raised from death. Remember that while he was still in Galilee, he told you,
  7. 'The Son of Man will be handed over to sinners who will nail him to a cross. But three days later he will rise to life.' "
  8. Then they remembered what Jesus had said.
  9. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women were the ones who had gone to the tomb. When they returned, they told the eleven apostles and the others what had happened.
  10. (SEE 24:9)
  11. The apostles thought it was all nonsense, and they would not believe.
  12. But Peter ran to the tomb. And when he stooped down and looked in, he saw only the burial clothes. Then he returned, wondering what had happened.
  13. That same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to the village of Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.
  14. As they were talking and thinking about what had happened,
  15. Jesus came near and started walking along beside them.
  16. But they did not know who he was.
  17. Jesus asked them, "What were you talking about as you walked along?" The two of them stood there looking sad and gloomy.
  18. Then the one named Cleopas asked Jesus, "Are you the only person from Jerusalem who didn't know what was happening there these last few days?"
  19. "What do you mean?" Jesus asked. They answered: Those things that happened to Jesus from Nazareth. By what he did and said he showed that he was a powerful prophet, who pleased God and all the people.
  20. Then the chief priests and our leaders had him arrested and sentenced to die on a cross.
  21. We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel free! But it has already been three days since all this happened.
  22. Some women in our group surprised us. They had gone to the tomb early in the morning,
  23. but did not find the body of Jesus. They came back, saying that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive.
  24. Some men from our group went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said. But they didn't see Jesus either.
  25. Then Jesus asked the two disciples, "Why can't you understand? How can you be so slow to believe all that the prophets said?
  26. Didn't you know that the Messiah would have to suffer before he was given his glory?"
  27. Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets.
  28. When the two of them came near the village where they were going, Jesus seemed to be going farther.
  29. They begged him, "Stay with us! It's already late, and the sun is going down." So Jesus went into the house to stay with them.
  30. After Jesus sat down to eat, he took some bread. He blessed it and broke it. Then he gave it to them.
  31. At once they knew who he was, but he disappeared.
  32. They said to each other, "When he talked with us along the road and explained the Scriptures to us, didn't it warm our hearts?"
  33. So they got right up and returned to Jerusalem. The two disciples found the eleven apostles and the others gathered together.
  34. And they learned from the group that the Lord was really alive and had appeared to Peter.
  35. Then the disciples from Emmaus told what happened on the road and how they knew he was the Lord when he broke the bread.
  36. While Jesus' disciples were talking about what had happened, Jesus appeared and greeted them.
  37. They were frightened and terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost.
  38. But Jesus said, "Why are you so frightened? Why do you doubt?
  39. Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. Ghosts don't have flesh and bones as you see I have."
  40. After Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
  41. The disciples were so glad and amazed that they could not believe it. Jesus then asked them, "Do you have something to eat?"
  42. They gave him a piece of baked fish.
  43. He took it and ate it as they watched.
  44. Jesus said to them, "While I was still with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and in the Psalms had to happen."
  45. Then he helped them understand the Scriptures.
  46. He told them: The Scriptures say that the Messiah must suffer, then three days later he will rise from death.
  47. They also say that all people of every nation must be told in my name to turn to God, in order to be forgiven. So beginning in Jerusalem,
  48. you must tell everything that has happened.
  49. I will send you the one my Father has promised, but you must stay in the city until you are given power from heaven.
  50. Jesus led his disciples out to Bethany, where he raised his hands and blessed them.
  51. As he was doing this, he left and was taken up to heaven.
  52. After his disciples had worshiped him, they returned to Jerusalem and were very happy.
  53. They spent their time in the temple, praising God.

    Luke recorded two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and refers to a third. However, there are about ten such appearances recorded in the New Testament, appearing, in all, to over 500 people. Luke makes the point in this chapter that all Jerusalem, if not all Israel, was aware of Jesus' crucifixion. If Jesus' ministry did not get the people's attention, His crucifixion surely did. The people no doubt wondered who this man was for the leaders to have been so intent on getting rid of Him. Furthermore, the events surrounding His death, with the darkness that came over the region while He was on the cross, the tearing of the dividing curtain in the temple, and the earthquake that occurred, all must have contributed to people's curiosity about who He was.

    But what appeared to Jesus' followers as a result of His death to be the end of something promising became, through His resurrection, the beginning of something even more promising than they could even have imagined. They had hoped, as the two disciples said on the road to Emmaus, that Jesus was the One who "was to redeem Israel." While this hope may have been no more than to rescue Israel from the Romans, Jesus' real purpose was much greater. It was to usher in God's kingdom, offering redemption not only to Israel but to the whole world.

    In Jesus' post-resurrection appearances with His disciples, He helped them connect the dots in Old Testament prophecies making clear that the events they had witnessed regarding Jesus' trial and crucifixion were fulfillment of prophecy and that He was indeed the Messiah. Revealing these things was not only to provide complete understanding for Jesus' followers but was to prepare them to become a part of His mission of furthering God's kingdom. But in the process of preparing His followers to take on this mission, Jesus was also preparing to go away, no longer to be present with them physically. However, He would be present with them through His Spirit who would come to them and give them power for the mission.

    So following this brief post-resurrection period in which Jesus confirmed to His followers His power over death and the truth of scripture pointing to His messiahship, Jesus ascended, leaving with them a commission. Once they had received power "from on high," they were to proclaim "repentance for forgiveness of sins" in His name "to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem." This commission Jesus gave His first followers is extended to all His followers throughout all time. Redemption for ourselves is not the end of it, but in receiving it we are also commissioned to extend it to others until the whole world has heard.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reflections on Luke 23

    Luke 23 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Everyone in the council got up and led Jesus off to Pilate.
  2. They started accusing him and said, "We caught this man trying to get our people to riot and to stop paying taxes to the Emperor. He also claims that he is the Messiah, our king."
  3. Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Those are your words," Jesus answered.
  4. Pilate told the chief priests and the crowd, "I don't find him guilty of anything."
  5. But they all kept on saying, "He has been teaching and causing trouble all over Judea. He started in Galilee and has now come all the way here."
  6. When Pilate heard this, he asked, "Is this man from Galilee?"
  7. After Pilate learned that Jesus came from the region ruled by Herod, he sent him to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at that time.
  8. For a long time Herod had wanted to see Jesus and was very happy because he finally had this chance. He had heard many things about Jesus and hoped to see him work a miracle.
  9. Herod asked him a lot of questions, but Jesus did not answer.
  10. Then the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses stood up and accused him of all kinds of bad things.
  11. Herod and his soldiers made fun of Jesus and insulted him. They put a fine robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.
  12. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends, even though they had been enemies before this.
  13. Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people.
  14. He told them, "You brought Jesus to me and said he was a troublemaker. But I have questioned him here in front of you, and I have not found him guilty of anything that you say he has done.
  15. Herod didn't find him guilty either and sent him back. This man doesn't deserve to be put to death!
  16. I will just have him beaten with a whip and set free."
  17. (SEE 23:16)
  18. But the whole crowd shouted, "Kill Jesus! Give us Barabbas!"
  19. Now Barabbas was in jail because he had started a riot in the city and had murdered someone.
  20. Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, so he spoke again to the crowds.
  21. But they kept shouting, "Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!"
  22. Pilate spoke to them a third time, "But what crime has he done? I have not found him guilty of anything for which he should be put to death. I will have him beaten with a whip and set free."
  23. The people kept on shouting as loud as they could for Jesus to be put to death.
  24. Finally, Pilate gave in.
  25. He freed the man who was in jail for rioting and murder, because he was the one the crowd wanted to be set free. Then Pilate handed Jesus over for them to do what they wanted with him.
  26. As Jesus was being led away, some soldiers grabbed hold of a man from Cyrene named Simon. He was coming in from the fields, but they put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
  27. A large crowd was following Jesus, and in the crowd a lot of women were crying and weeping for him.
  28. Jesus turned to the women and said: Women of Jerusalem, don't cry for me! Cry for yourselves and for your children.
  29. Someday people will say, "Women who never had children are really fortunate!"
  30. At that time everyone will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" They will say to the hills, "Hide us!"
  31. If this can happen when the wood is green, what do you think will happen when it is dry?
  32. Two criminals were led out to be put to death with Jesus.
  33. When the soldiers came to the place called "The Skull," they nailed Jesus to a cross. They also nailed the two criminals to crosses, one on each side of Jesus.
  34. Jesus said, "Father, forgive these people! They don't know what they're doing." While the crowd stood there watching Jesus, the soldiers gambled for his clothes. The leaders insulted him by saying, "He saved others. Now he should save himself, if he really is God's chosen Messiah!"
  35. (SEE 23:34)
  36. The soldiers made fun of Jesus and brought him some wine.
  37. They said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!"
  38. Above him was a sign that said, "This is the King of the Jews."
  39. One of the criminals hanging there also insulted Jesus by saying, "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!"
  40. But the other criminal told the first one off, "Don't you fear God? Aren't you getting the same punishment as this man?
  41. We got what was coming to us, but he didn't do anything wrong."
  42. Then he said to Jesus, "Remember me when you come into power!"
  43. Jesus replied, "I promise that today you will be with me in paradise."
  44. Around noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until the middle of the afternoon.
  45. The sun stopped shining, and the curtain in the temple split down the middle.
  46. Jesus shouted, "Father, I put myself in your hands!" Then he died.
  47. When the Roman officer saw what had happened, he praised God and said, "Jesus must really have been a good man!"
  48. A crowd had gathered to see the terrible sight. Then after they had seen it, they felt brokenhearted and went home.
  49. All of Jesus' close friends and the women who had come with him from Galilee stood at a distance and watched.
  50. There was a man named Joseph, who was from Arimathea in Judea. Joseph was a good and honest man, and he was eager for God's kingdom to come. He was also a member of the council, but he did not agree with what they had decided.
  51. (SEE 23:50)
  52. Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.
  53. He took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in fine cloth. Then he put it in a tomb that had been cut out of solid rock and had never been used.
  54. It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
  55. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and watched how Jesus' body was placed in the tomb.
  56. Then they went to prepare some sweet-smelling spices for his burial. But on the Sabbath they rested, as the Law of Moses commands.

    Events of Jesus' trials and crucifixtion described by Luke in this chapter seem rather surreal.  The vehemense with which the religious leaders insisted on Jesus' death seem totally disproportionate to anything Jesus did. By contrast the governmental leaders saw no guilt with Jesus in relation to the charges. The insistence on Barabbas' release in exchange for Jesus' death had no basis in reality adding to the surrealness. Furthermore, they preferred the death of Jesus who had done only good to the release of Barabbas who was a murderer.

    Then darkness came over the land for three hours during the period Jesus was on the cross, and at the time of Jesus' death the curtain in the temple separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was "split down the middle." Surely those who had precipitated these events had to wonder if there might be some truth to Jesus' claims. But the very forces that drove them to reject Jesus in the first place would keep them from accepting Him even then. Especially then when they had added the murder of Jesus to their accounts.

    We should understand clearly, however, that Jesus' life was not taken from Him but was willingly given by Him on our behalf. His death on the cross came sooner than was usual simply because He voluntarily "breathed His last." Following His death a description is given of events related to His burial which was necessary only if He had truly died. Some over the centuries have suggested that Jesus didn't really die but merely "swooned." Such efforts to explain away Jesus' death are made in order to avoid the resurrection. But these are only desperate efforts to reject Jesus, not unlike those of the religious leaders who insisted on His death in the first place.

    If only everyone could understand and accept Jesus and what He offers. Anything one tries to preserve by rejecting Jesus pales in comparison to what is gained by accepting Him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reflections on Luke 22

    Luke 22 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Festival of Thin Bread, also called Passover, was near.
  2. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus, because they were afraid of what the people might do.
  3. Then Satan entered the heart of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve apostles.
  4. Judas went to talk with the chief priests and the officers of the temple police about how he could help them arrest Jesus.
  5. They were very pleased and offered to pay Judas some money.
  6. He agreed and started looking for a good chance to betray Jesus when the crowds were not around.
  7. The day had come for the Festival of Thin Bread, and it was time to kill the Passover lambs.
  8. So Jesus said to Peter and John, "Go and prepare the Passover meal for us to eat."
  9. But they asked, "Where do you want us to prepare it?"
  10. Jesus told them, "As you go into the city, you will meet a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him into the house
  11. and say to the owner, 'Our teacher wants to know where he can eat the Passover meal with his disciples.'
  12. The owner will take you upstairs and show you a large room ready for you to use. Prepare the meal there."
  13. Peter and John left. They found everything just as Jesus had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
  14. When the time came for Jesus and the apostles to eat,
  15. he said to them, "I have very much wanted to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer.
  16. I tell you that I will not eat another Passover meal until it is finally eaten in God's kingdom."
  17. Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he told the apostles, "Take this wine and share it with each other.
  18. I tell you that I will not drink any more wine until God's kingdom comes."
  19. Jesus took some bread in his hands and gave thanks for it. He broke the bread and handed it to his apostles. Then he said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this as a way of remembering me!"
  20. After the meal he took another cup of wine in his hands. Then he said, "This is my blood. It is poured out for you, and with it God makes his new agreement.
  21. The one who will betray me is here at the table with me!
  22. The Son of Man will die in the way that has been decided for him, but it will be terrible for the one who betrays him!"
  23. Then the apostles started arguing about who would ever do such a thing.
  24. The apostles got into an argument about which one of them was the greatest.
  25. So Jesus told them: Foreign kings order their people around, and powerful rulers call themselves everyone's friends.
  26. But don't be like them. The most important one of you should be like the least important, and your leader should be like a servant.
  27. Who do people think is the greatest, a person who is served or one who serves? Isn't it the one who is served? But I have been with you as a servant.
  28. You have stayed with me in all my troubles.
  29. So I will give you the right to rule as kings, just as my Father has given me the right to rule as a king.
  30. You will eat and drink with me in my kingdom, and you will each sit on a throne to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  31. Jesus said, "Simon, listen to me! Satan has demanded the right to test each one of you, as a farmer does when he separates wheat from the husks.
  32. But Simon, I have prayed that your faith will be strong. And when you have come back to me, help the others."
  33. Peter said, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to jail and even to die with you."
  34. Jesus replied, "Peter, I tell you that before a rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will say three times that you don't know me."
  35. Jesus asked his disciples, "When I sent you out without a moneybag or a traveling bag or sandals, did you need anything?" "No!" they answered.
  36. Jesus told them, "But now, if you have a moneybag, take it with you. Also take a traveling bag, and if you don't have a sword, sell some of your clothes and buy one.
  37. Do this because the Scriptures say, 'He was considered a criminal.' This was written about me, and it will soon come true."
  38. The disciples said, "Lord, here are two swords!" "Enough of that!" Jesus replied.
  39. Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives, as he often did, and his disciples went with him.
  40. When they got there, he told them, "Pray that you won't be tested."
  41. Jesus walked on a little way before he knelt down and prayed,
  42. "Father, if you will, please don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want."
  43. Then an angel from heaven came to help him.
  44. Jesus was in great pain and prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood.
  45. Jesus got up from praying and went over to his disciples. They were asleep and worn out from being so sad.
  46. He said to them, "Why are you asleep? Wake up and pray that you won't be tested."
  47. While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd came up. It was led by Judas, one of the twelve apostles. He went over to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss.
  48. Jesus asked Judas, "Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"
  49. When Jesus' disciples saw what was about to happen, they asked, "Lord, should we attack them with a sword?"
  50. One of the disciples even struck at the high priest's servant with his sword and cut off the servant's right ear.
  51. "Enough of that!" Jesus said. Then he touched the servant's ear and healed it.
  52. Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the temple police, and the leaders who had come to arrest him. He said, "Why do you come out with swords and clubs and treat me like a criminal?
  53. I was with you every day in the temple, and you didn't arrest me. But this is your time, and darkness is in control."
  54. Jesus was arrested and led away to the house of the high priest, while Peter followed at a distance.
  55. Some people built a fire in the middle of the courtyard and were sitting around it. Peter sat there with them,
  56. and a servant girl saw him. Then after she had looked at him carefully, she said, "This man was with Jesus!"
  57. Peter said, "Woman, I don't even know that man!"
  58. A little later someone else saw Peter and said, "You are one of them!" "No, I'm not!" Peter replied.
  59. About an hour later another man insisted, "This man must have been with Jesus. They both come from Galilee."
  60. Peter replied, "I don't know what you are talking about!" Right then, while Peter was still speaking, a rooster crowed.
  61. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered that the Lord had said, "Before a rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will say three times that you don't know me."
  62. Then Peter went out and cried hard.
  63. The men who were guarding Jesus made fun of him and beat him.
  64. They put a blindfold on him and said, "Tell us who struck you!"
  65. They kept on insulting Jesus in many other ways.
  66. At daybreak the nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses got together and brought Jesus before their council.
  67. They said, "Tell us! Are you the Messiah?" Jesus replied, "If I said so, you wouldn't believe me.
  68. And if I asked you a question, you wouldn't answer.
  69. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right side of God All-Powerful."
  70. Then they asked, "Are you the Son of God?" Jesus answered, "You say I am!"
  71. They replied, "Why do we need more witnesses? He said it himself!"

    Chapter 22 describes a succession of events that led up to Jesus' arrest by both Jewish and Roman officials. Through these events we see the roles and the choices made that placed various ones in the roles they fulfillled. Popular thought is that if people have accurate information they will make the right choices. Individually we like to think that by assessing information related to a choice we can examine the pros and cons and make an intelligent decision. But in truth, most decision are not made purely on the basis of intelligent choices. Most include emotional influences if not primarily emotional ones. When it comes to spiritual/religious choices there is an added factor - faith.

    Those involved in the events leading to Jesus' arrest and crucifixtion were not in the roles they chose simply because of the facts surrounding Jesus' identity. Take, for instance, the chief priests and scribes who are first mentioned in this chapter. We are told they were looking for "a way to put Him to death." (22:2) Did they come to this conclusion based on the facts surrounding Jesus' life and ministry which obviously proved Him to be a fraud? Just the opposite. Evidence was plentiful that He was exactly who He claimed to be. Even when they arrested Him, He performed a miracle in healing the guard's ear. If this raised any consideration that they might have been a bit hasty in their conclusions, no one acted on it. Throughout Jesus' ministry the religious leaders continually asked for signs to prove that Jesus was the Son of God, ignoring those He repeatedly provided them. No, these individuals made their choices concerning Jesus based more on the threat He posed to their way of life than on facts.

    Then there was Judas who opened himself to allow Satan to control him. Under Satan's influence he then chose to play the role of betrayer. He had been with Jesus continually, and whether or not he fully realized who Jesus was, He had sufficient evidence to recognize that Jesus was not a fraud. Nor did Satan enter him without Judas opening the door for him to enter. Judas was not a victim nor did he end up in the role of betrayer based on an intelligent assessment of the facts.

    Then there were the disciples. Their choices were not all good ones nor were they all intelligent choices. But their choices placed them in the role as Jesus' followers throughout the whole ordeal of the crucifixtion, emerging stronger in this role afterward than before. In the midst of the ordeal they were, no doubt, somewhat reluctant in this role as follower, confused by events they did not understand. But Jesus had prepared them for what they encountered even though they didn't realize it at the time, of which Peter's denial of Jesus is a good example. Peter chose to follow Jesus after He was arrested, though when put on the spot he was reluctant to identify himself as a follower. But when he had denied Jesus three times and the rooster crowed, he remembered what Jesus had told him and was overcome with grief at what he had done. In this experience, though, he chose to continue following Jesus despite the obvious risk.

    Choosing to follow Jesus for Peter, as for us, was not devoid of intelligent considerations. It was definitely based on what he knew to be true given his experiences with Jesus but there came a point at which faith weighed in. Just as his choice was not devoid of intelligent considerations, neither was it devoid of faith. By design, faith is required to follow Jesus, and therefore, faith is required to enter God's kingdom.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections on Luke 21

    Luke 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box.
  2. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies.
  3. And he said, "I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others.
  4. Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had."
  5. Some people were talking about the beautiful stones used to build the temple and about the gifts that had been placed in it. Jesus said,
  6. "Do you see these stones? The time is coming when not one of them will be left in place. They will all be knocked down."
  7. Some people asked, "Teacher, when will all this happen? How can we know when these things are about to take place?"
  8. Jesus replied: Don't be fooled by those who will come and claim to be me. They will say, "I am Christ!" and "Now is the time!" But don't follow them.
  9. When you hear about wars and riots, don't be afraid. These things will have to happen first, but that isn't the end.
  10. Nations will go to war against one another, and kingdoms will attack each other.
  11. There will be great earthquakes, and in many places people will starve to death and suffer terrible diseases. All sorts of frightening things will be seen in the sky.
  12. Before all this happens, you will be arrested and punished. You will be tried in your meeting places and put in jail. Because of me you will be placed on trial before kings and governors.
  13. But this will be your chance to tell about your faith.
  14. Don't worry about what you will say to defend yourselves.
  15. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong.
  16. You will be betrayed by your own parents, brothers, family, and friends. Some of you will even be killed.
  17. Because of me, you will be hated by everyone.
  18. But don't worry!
  19. You will be saved by being faithful to me.
  20. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by soldiers, you will know that it will soon be destroyed.
  21. If you are living in Judea at that time, run to the mountains. If you are in the city, leave it. And if you are out in the country, don't go back into the city.
  22. This time of punishment is what is written about in the Scriptures.
  23. It will be an awful time for women who are expecting babies or nursing young children! Everywhere in the land people will suffer horribly and be punished.
  24. Some of them will be killed by swords. Others will be carried off to foreign countries. Jerusalem will be overrun by foreign nations until their time comes to an end.
  25. Strange things will happen to the sun, moon, and stars. The nations on earth will be afraid of the roaring sea and tides, and they won't know what to do.
  26. People will be so frightened that they will faint because of what is happening to the world. Every power in the sky will be shaken.
  27. Then the Son of Man will be seen, coming in a cloud with great power and glory.
  28. When all of this starts happening, stand up straight and be brave. You will soon be set free.
  29. Then Jesus told them a story: When you see a fig tree or any other tree
  30. putting out leaves, you know that summer will soon come.
  31. So, when you see these things happening, you know that God's kingdom will soon be here.
  32. You can be sure that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all of this takes place.
  33. The sky and the earth won't last forever, but my words will.
  34. Don't spend all of your time thinking about eating or drinking or worrying about life. If you do, the final day will suddenly catch you
  35. like a trap. That day will surprise everyone on earth.
  36. Watch out and keep praying that you can escape all that is going to happen and that the Son of Man will be pleased with you.
  37. Jesus taught in the temple each day, and he spent each night on the Mount of Olives.
  38. Everyone got up early and came to the temple to hear him teach.

    Jesus commended the giving of a poor widow in the first four verses of the chapter which serves as a commentary on what He said in 20:47 about the scribes who "devour widows." Some of those widows were more righteous than the religious leaders who took advantage of them because out of their love for God they gave all they had. In terms of sacrificial giving, their offering was much greater than that of the rich who gave out of their surplus, though the actual monetary value was considerably larger.

    This commentary on giving may seem an insignificant sidenote as is also often the attitude concerning teaching about giving in the church. In fact, the subject is often avoided in the church because of the sensitivity of many about the subject. However, teaching on giving is of greater importance than most want to admit, for it is an indicator showing on what our heart or love is focused. Referring to money, Jesus taught, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)  Is our trust on God or on material things? Our offerings are an indicator.

    Then the topic changes to the future of Jerusalem and of Jesus' future return. Since Jesus' remarks on both subjects are intertwined in this passage, it can be confusing to sort out. This is the case with prophecy in scripture. It is often presented using symbolism or in vague terms leaving us uncertain about the details of the future events to which they refer. This, I believe, is the intent. Our concern is not to know the details but to know the One who directs the future. We have no control over the future nor is there anything we can do in preparation for the future except to place ourselves in the hands of the God who does control the future.

    In verses 5-6 and 12-24 Jesus told of the coming destruction of Jerusalem which would occur in the near future - A.D. 70. In verses 8-11 and 25-28 He told of events leading up to His second Advent. Concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus warned His disciples that they would experience persecution prior to this event. They would be brought before the synagogues and before kings and governors because of Jesus. However, this persecution would lead to opportunities to witness. To be effective witnesses when these things happen, they should not prepare a defense for themselves. Instead, they should allow Jesus to give them the words and wisdom to speak, and in so doing, their adversaries would be unable to resist or contradict their testimonies. (21:15) If they will endure through these trials, they would gain their lives, though it is unclear whether this means physical life or spiritual.

    As for the destruction of Jerusalem, they will know that it is near when they see the city surrounded by armies. Though this may seem to be stating the obvious, people are prone to hold out hope that they will be delivered in some way and defeat the opposing armies. Jesus is telling the disciples that such hope will be unproductive. What the citizens of Jerusalem need to do at that time is to flee from the city into the mountains. All those in the city will either be killed or taken captive and Jerusalem "trampled by the Gentiles." (21:24)

    Concerning Jesus' second advent which He prophecied for the more distant future, Jesus gave them signs to watch for that His return was drawing near, and with it their redemption. They should not be deceived when people claim to be the Messiah or predict that the time is near. Followers of Jesus are not to follow such people. Neither are they to be alarmed by wars and rebellions, for these will occur but do not indicate that His return is to happen right away. What will point to His return being near is "violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places," and "terrifying sights and great signs from heaven." (21:11) Further signs will come from the celestial bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, though what, exactly, those signs will be is not given in this passage, they will evidently be cataclysmic in nature and visible on earth. We are told that "the celestial power will be shaken." That sight will cause people to be shaken and "faint from fear." (21:26) At the sign of these celestial disturbances we can expect to see the "Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (21:27) When we see Him coming we should "stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!" (21:28)

    Following these instructions, Jesus told His disciples to be "on guard" for His return. Jesus' followers of any age should not become distracted by "carousing, drunkenness, or worries of life," and therefore allow that day to "come on you unexpectedly." What is the purpose of our preparedness and for what are we preparing? We are preparing to "stand before the Son of Man" when He returns. That involves enduring and being faithful in our obedience to Him.

Reflections on Luke 20

    Luke 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and telling the good news. So the chief priests, the teachers, and the nation's leaders
  2. asked him, "What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?"
  3. Jesus replied, "I want to ask you a question.
  4. Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?"
  5. They talked this over and said to each other, "We can't say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn't believe John.
  6. And we can't say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize. The crowd will stone us to death, because they think John was a prophet."
  7. So they told Jesus, "We don't know who gave John the right to baptize."
  8. Jesus replied, "Then I won't tell you who gave me the right to do what I do."
  9. Jesus told the people this story: A man once planted a vineyard and rented it out. Then he left the country for a long time.
  10. When it was time to harvest the crop, he sent a servant to ask the renters for his share of the grapes. But they beat up the servant and sent him away without anything.
  11. So the owner sent another servant. The renters also beat him up. They insulted him terribly and sent him away without a thing.
  12. The owner sent a third servant. He was also beaten terribly and thrown out of the vineyard.
  13. The owner then said to himself, "What am I going to do? I know what. I'll send my son, the one I love so much. They will surely respect him!"
  14. When the renters saw the owner's son, they said to one another, "Someday he will own the vineyard. Let's kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves."
  15. So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked, "What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do?
  16. I'll tell you what. He will come and kill those renters and let someone else have his vineyard." When the people heard this, they said, "This must never happen!"
  17. But Jesus looked straight at them and said, "Then what do the Scriptures mean when they say, 'The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all'?
  18. Anyone who stumbles over this stone will get hurt, and anyone it falls on will be smashed to pieces."
  19. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses knew that Jesus was talking about them when he was telling this story. They wanted to arrest him right then, but they were afraid of the people.
  20. Jesus' enemies kept watching him closely, because they wanted to hand him over to the Roman governor. So they sent some men who pretended to be good. But they were really spies trying to catch Jesus saying something wrong.
  21. The spies said to him, "Teacher, we know that you teach the truth about what God wants people to do. And you treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are.
  22. Tell us, should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?"
  23. Jesus knew that they were trying to trick him. So he told them,
  24. "Show me a coin." Then he asked, "Whose picture and name are on it?" "The Emperor's," they answered.
  25. Then he told them, "Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God."
  26. Jesus' enemies could not catch him saying anything wrong there in front of the people. They were amazed at his answer and kept quiet.
  27. The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So some of them came to Jesus
  28. and said: Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother.
  29. There were once seven brothers. The first one married, but died without having any children.
  30. The second one married his brother's widow, and he also died without having any children.
  31. The same thing happened to the third one. Finally, all seven brothers married that woman and died without having any children.
  32. At last the woman died.
  33. When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? All seven brothers had married her.
  34. Jesus answered: The people in this world get married.
  35. But in the future world no one who is worthy to rise from death will either marry
  36. or die. They will be like the angels and will be God's children, because they have been raised to life.
  37. In the story about the burning bush, Moses clearly shows that people will live again. He said, "The Lord is the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
  38. So the Lord isn't the God of the dead, but of the living. This means that everyone is alive as far as God is concerned.
  39. Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses said, "Teacher, you have given a good answer!"
  40. From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any questions.
  41. Jesus asked, "Why do people say that the Messiah will be the son of King David?
  42. In the book of Psalms, David himself says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right side
  43. until I make your enemies into a footstool for you.'
  44. David spoke of the Messiah as his Lord, so how can the Messiah be his son?"
  45. While everyone was listening to Jesus, he said to his disciples:
  46. Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes, and they like to be greeted in the market. They want the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets.
  47. But they cheat widows out of their homes and then pray long prayers just to show off. These teachers will be punished most of all.

    Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His throwing out of the temple those who were selling is told in the previous chapter. Having done this He began teaching daily in the temple complex. These direct challenges of the religious leaders forced on them a choice - ready or not. They had been dallying with what to do about Him, asking for signs to prove He was from God as He said He was as if they might accept Him. But with these challenges they had to make their choice. Either accept Him as Messiah or deal with Him. Pride, position, prestige, and tradition were all forces hindering them from any serious consideration of accepting Jesus for who He was. The Jewish religious system and thus their positions in that system were at risk should they accept Jesus and His teachings. Furthermore, much of the teaching of these leaders and of those who came before them would be considered erroneous. From their perspective, too much was at stake to accept Jesus and His teachings. What they were unwilling to consider was that more was at stake if they didn't.

    Chapter 20 records the most intense and frequent exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders of any other time during His ministry prior to His arrest and trials. Each of these exchanges were initiated by the leaders and carefully crafted to trap Jesus and discredit Him before the crowds. In the first of these exchanges the leaders questioned Jesus' authority. First they wanted to know, "By what authority are You doing these things?" and then they wanted to know, "Who is it who gave You this authority?" (20:2) With the first question they were asking if He was a prophet, a priest, or a king. With the second, they wanted to know who was behind this authority. Was He acting on His own or for some group, or what?

    It was not Jesus who became trapped in this encounter but rather themselves when Jesus turned the question back on them. "Tell Me," He asked, "was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?" (20:4) He was asking by what authority John baptized, for John's authority had the same source as Jesus'. It was from God. But the religious leaders were unwilling to give an opinion. They didn't know the source of John's authority, they said. Therefore Jesus would not answer their question concerning His authority. Since they were unwilling to meet the challenge, Jesus would not take their bait. They found themselves on the opposing side of popular opinion among the people, not only concerning Jesus, but also concerning John the Baptist. However, they would unwilling to expose their opposition before the crowds and be discredited. They valued the esteem of the people too much.

    Though the religious leaders backed away from Jesus' question to avoid exposing their opposition to John, Jesus exposed them nevertheless by using a parable. In this parable a landowner had leased his vineyard to tenant farmers and wanted to collect from them his portion of the harvest. On three occasions he sent servants to collect and each time the tenant farmers beat his servants and sent them away empty-handed. Thinking they would at least respect his own son, the landowner send his son to collect. But they actually killed the son. The inevitable result was that they landowner destroyed the farmers and gave the vineyard to others. What other outcome did they expect? That the owner would simply overlook this offense?

    The point of the parable was obvious to the religious leaders and no doubt the crowd. They were the tenant farmers and Jesus was the beloved Son who was sent to collect what was due the owner, which is God. As a side note, this parable also serves as a good perspective on the position we all have in God's creation. We are tenants, not owners. God owns it all but is willing to let us use his creation and benefit from it with the understanding that we give Him what is due Him. His due is credit as creator/owner and a portion of the fruit from use of His creation in recognition of that fact.  Though the leaders understood the point of the parable they did not choose to accept Jesus as the Son sent from God. Instead they chose to oppose Him and fulfill the outcome of the parable. They began immediately to look for a way to "get their hands on Him" to kill Him as did the farmers who killed the son of the landowner in the parable. In this way, the parable also served as a prophecy.

    This effort by the leaders to find a way to get their hands on Jesus led to sending spies to follow Jesus and find an opportunity to trap Him publicly in His teaching so they could legally arrest Him with the support of the people. This led first to sending spies in an attempt to trap Jesus politically with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. If Jesus disapproved of paying taxes He was in trouble with the Roman rulers and if He favored it He was in trouble with those in the Jewish community who disapproved. But Jesus was too crafty for them pointing out that the coin which had the inscription of Caesar should be used to give Caesar his due by using the coin to pay taxes, and the individual who reflected the image of God should give God His due by giving Him themselves.

    Next Jesus was confronted by some Sadducees with a complicated hypothethical question about marriage in the resurrection. But Jesus pointed their error in understanding scripture by using scripture first to show that there is no marriage in the resurrection, and second that there is indeed a resurrection. These Sadducees did not believe there to be a resurrection so they found themselves to be discredited instead of Jesus.

    Following these events the religious leaders "no longer dared to ask Him anything." (20:40) Questioning long-held beliefs is difficult and even seems a betrayal to those for whom we care who have taught us those beliefs. Such questioning should not be done carelessly or rebelliously or pridefully. Only sincerely seeking God and His wisdom and guidance should direct us toward truth and an understanding of God's kingdom. This includes regularly, even daily, seeking God through scripture and prayer and meditation. Such an endeavor will lead us to God and His truths. Sincerely asking God to show us truth and to help us know Him and understand His kingdom will lead us to His revelations.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reflections on Luke 19

    Luke 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jesus was going through Jericho,
  2. where a man named Zacchaeus lived. He was in charge of collecting taxes and was very rich.
  3. Jesus was heading his way, and Zacchaeus wanted to see what he was like. But Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree.
  4. (SEE 19:3)
  5. When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today."
  6. Zacchaeus hurried down and gladly welcomed Jesus.
  7. Everyone who saw this started grumbling, "This man Zacchaeus is a sinner! And Jesus is going home to eat with him."
  8. Later that day Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated."
  9. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "Today you and your family have been saved, because you are a true son of Abraham.
  10. The Son of Man came to look for and to save people who are lost."
  11. The crowd was still listening to Jesus as he was getting close to Jerusalem. Many of them thought that God's kingdom would soon appear,
  12. and Jesus told them this story: A prince once went to a foreign country to be crowned king and then to return.
  13. But before leaving, he called in ten servants and gave each of them some money. He told them, "Use this to earn more money until I get back."
  14. But the people of his country hated him, and they sent messengers to the foreign country to say, "We don't want this man to be our king."
  15. After the prince had been made king, he returned and called in his servants. He asked them how much they had earned with the money they had been given.
  16. The first servant came and said, "Sir, with the money you gave me I have earned ten times as much."
  17. "That's fine, my good servant!" the king said. "Since you have shown that you can be trusted with a small amount, you will be given ten cities to rule."
  18. The second one came and said, "Sir, with the money you gave me, I have earned five times as much."
  19. The king said, "You will be given five cities."
  20. Another servant came and said, "Sir, here is your money. I kept it safe in a handkerchief.
  21. You are a hard man, and I was afraid of you. You take what isn't yours, and you harvest crops you didn't plant."
  22. "You worthless servant!" the king told him. "You have condemned yourself by what you have just said. You knew that I am a hard man, taking what isn't mine and harvesting what I've not planted.
  23. Why didn't you put my money in the bank? On my return, I could have had the money together with interest."
  24. Then he said to some other servants standing there, "Take the money away from him and give it to the servant who earned ten times as much."
  25. But they said, "Sir, he already has ten times as much!"
  26. The king replied, "Those who have something will be given more. But everything will be taken away from those who don't have anything.
  27. Now bring me the enemies who didn't want me to be their king. Kill them while I watch!"
  28. When Jesus had finished saying all this, he went on toward Jerusalem.
  29. As he was getting near Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples on ahead.
  30. He told them, "Go into the next village, where you will find a young donkey that has never been ridden. Untie the donkey and bring it here.
  31. If anyone asks why you are doing that, just say, 'The Lord needs it.' "
  32. They went off and found everything just as Jesus had said.
  33. While they were untying the donkey, its owners asked, "Why are you doing that?"
  34. They answered, "The Lord needs it."
  35. Then they led the donkey to Jesus. They put some of their clothes on its back and helped Jesus get on.
  36. And as he rode along, the people spread clothes on the road in front of him.
  37. When Jesus was starting down the Mount of Olives, his large crowd of disciples were happy and praised God because of all the miracles they had seen.
  38. They shouted, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God."
  39. Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, make your disciples stop shouting!"
  40. But Jesus answered, "If they keep quiet, these stones will start shouting."
  41. When Jesus came closer and could see Jerusalem, he cried
  42. and said: It is too bad that today your people don't know what will bring them peace! Now it is hidden from them.
  43. Jerusalem, the time will come when your enemies will build walls around you to attack you. Armies will surround you and close in on you from every side.
  44. They will level you to the ground and kill your people. Not one stone in your buildings will be left on top of another. This will happen because you did not see that God had come to save you.
  45. When Jesus entered the temple, he started chasing out the people who were selling things.
  46. He told them, "The Scriptures say, 'My house should be a place of worship.' But you have made it a place where robbers hide!"
  47. Each day, Jesus kept on teaching in the temple. So the chief priests, the teachers of the Law of Moses, and some other important people tried to have him killed.
  48. But they could not find a way to do it, because everyone else was eager to listen to him.

    Chapter 19 concludes events leading to this point in which Jesus taught of the coming kingdom of God. Then it transitions to a new set of events which involved His presentation of Himself in Jerusalem as the Messiah. These events forced the hand of the religious leaders to accept Him as Messiah or rid themselves of Him.

    The account of Zaccheus in the first ten verses of the chapter serves as a commentary on Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler told about in 18:18-27. Whereas the rich ruler turned away from Jesus because of his dependence on his wealth, Zaccheus willingly gave up much of his wealth, choosing to follow Jesus. Jesus concluded His encounter with the rich ruler by telling His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (18:24-25) When asked by His disciples "who can be saved?" He told them, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." When Zaccheus announced His desire to give half his wealth to the poor, doing what the rich ruler would not, Jesus proclaimed that, "Today salvation has come to this house." (19:9)  God had done the impossible with Zaccheus.

    The Pharisees had protested Jesus' willingness to "lodge with a sinful man!" (19:7), so Jesus told a parable which portrayed God's kingdom and the role the Pharisees would play in it as well as Jesus' role and that of people like Zaccheus. In the parable, Jesus was the nobleman who went to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king. Jesus' disciples and those such as Zaccheus were the slaves to whom were entrusted money with which to "engage in business" until the return of the nobleman. The religious leaders fell into the category of those subjects of the nobleman who "hated him and sent a delegation saying, "We don't want this man to rule over us."

    The slaves who invested the money wisely that was entrusted to them showed their belief that the nobleman would return and require of them an accounting of what was entrusted to them. The one that did nothing with what was entrusted to him showed his belief that the nobelman would not return. Those, too, who protested his rule over them demonstrated their belief that he would not return and judge them for their actions. All of this portrays people's responses to the coming of God's kingdom. Many do not believe Jesus to be the Messiah who will bring in the kingdom and rule over it and therefore are like the slave who did nothing. Others are actually hostile toward Jesus and protest His rule. And then there are those who do believe in His return and rule over God's kingdom and are faithful with what is entrusted to them until His return. They know there will be an accounting at that time which will involve rewards and destruction.

    Following these events, Jesus set the stage for His entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah. To this point He had not made a public Messianic claim, but now He was doing so very publicly. In addition to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey to the joyful proclaimation of His followers, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord," Jesus also went into the temple complex and threw out those who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging money, referring to the scene as "a den of thieves." Then He returned to the temple every day to teach. He was forcing the hand of the religious leaders. We, too, must choose what we will do with Jesus.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reflections on Luke 18

    Luke 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jesus told his disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up:
  2. In a town there was once a judge who didn't fear God or care about people.
  3. In that same town there was a widow who kept going to the judge and saying, "Make sure that I get fair treatment in court."
  4. For a while the judge refused to do anything. Finally, he said to himself, "Even though I don't fear God or care about people,
  5. I will help this widow because she keeps on bothering me. If I don't help her, she will wear me out."
  6. The Lord said: Think about what that crooked judge said.
  7. Won't God protect his chosen ones who pray to him day and night? Won't he be concerned for them?
  8. He will surely hurry and help them. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find on this earth anyone with faith?
  9. Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:
  10. Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
  11. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there.
  12. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn."
  13. The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, "God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner."
  14. Then Jesus said, "When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored."
  15. Some people brought their little children for Jesus to bless. But when his disciples saw them doing this, they told the people to stop bothering him.
  16. So Jesus called the children over to him and said, "Let the children come to me! Don't try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom.
  17. You will never get into God's kingdom unless you enter it like a child!"
  18. An important man asked Jesus, "Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?"
  19. Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good.
  20. You know the commandments: 'Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother.' "
  21. He told Jesus, "I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man."
  22. When Jesus heard this, he said, "There is one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower."
  23. When the man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
  24. Jesus saw how sad the man was. So he said, "It's terribly hard for rich people to get into God's kingdom!
  25. In fact, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's kingdom."
  26. When the crowd heard this, they asked, "How can anyone ever be saved?"
  27. Jesus replied, "There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything."
  28. Peter said, "Remember, we left everything to be your followers!"
  29. Jesus answered, "You can be sure that anyone who gives up home or wife or brothers or family or children because of God's kingdom
  30. will be given much more in this life. And in the future world they will have eternal life."
  31. Jesus took the twelve apostles aside and said: We are now on our way to Jerusalem. Everything that the prophets wrote about the Son of Man will happen there.
  32. He will be handed over to foreigners, who will make fun of him, mistreat him, and spit on him.
  33. They will beat him and kill him, but three days later he will rise to life.
  34. The apostles did not understand what Jesus was talking about. They could not understand, because the meaning of what he said was hidden from them.
  35. When Jesus was coming close to Jericho, a blind man sat begging beside the road.
  36. The man heard the crowd walking by and asked what was happening.
  37. Some people told him that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by.
  38. So the blind man shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"
  39. The people who were going along with Jesus told the man to be quiet. But he shouted even louder, "Son of David, have pity on me!"
  40. Jesus stopped and told some people to bring the blind man over to him. When the blind man was getting near, Jesus asked,
  41. "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see!" he answered.
  42. Jesus replied, "Look and you will see! Your eyes are healed because of your faith."
  43. Right away the man could see, and he went with Jesus and started thanking God. When the crowds saw what happened, they praised God.

    The central truth given in chapter 18 lies in the account of children being brought to Jesus and is expanded on in Jesus' explanation to His disciples of what was to happen to Him. Other accounts in the chapter demonstrate man's false reliance on the wrong things for entry into the kingdom.

    Verses 15-17 tell of infants being brought to Jesus for His touch. When His disciples rebuked the people for bothering Jesus in this way, Jesus told them that "Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." No doubt it was the simple acceptance and total dependence characteristic of a child to which Jesus referred. These qualities, He was saying, are necessary in all of us if we are to enter the kingdom of God. Simple acceptance of God's provision for our entry through Jesus and total dependence on this provision.

    Immediately following this account Jesus explained to His disciples what was to happen to Him in Jerusalem. He was to be "handed over to the Gentiles, and He will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog Him, they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day." All of this, He told them, is "written through the prophets." Thus, when they witnessed Jesus' arrest, the mocking, the flogging, and the crucifixtion, they were to understand that things were not going terribly wrong, It was all just as God had told the prophets it would be. It was God's provision for our entry into the kingdom. It is this provision in which we are to demonstrate faith and reliance as little children.

    In the parable of the prayers of the Pharisee and tax collector Jesus pointed out the reliance of many people, in particular the nation of Israel, on things other than God's provision. The Pharisee in the parable relied on his own righteousness - fasting, tithing, and being better (in his view) than the tax collector. By contrast, the tax collector humbled himself before God and placed himself at God's mercy.

    In another account Jesus was approached by a wealthy ruler who asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Also a reference to entering God's kingdom. Though this man seemed more humble than the Pharisee in the parable, he too seemed to depend on his own righteousness for entry into the kingdom. It may have been that this man would have been persuaded to follow Jesus when told that this was required to "inherit eternal life," but Jesus added a caveat that exposed his main problem - his dependence on wealth. Jesus told him to sell all he had, distribute it to the poor, and then follow Him. But the man coveted his wealth too much to do this. To this point he may have assured himself of acceptance by God due to his wealth and a mistaken perception that it was an indication of his special standing with God. But Jesus burst this bubble and the man went away sad.

    The chapter closes with an account of a blind man who asked Jesus for healing. His inability to do anything except to call out to Jesus for help and his total faith in Jesus to heal him demonstrated the way in which we must all enter the kingdom.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reflections on Luke 17

    Luke 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jesus said to his disciples: There will always be something that causes people to sin. But anyone who causes them to sin is in for trouble. A person who causes even one of my little followers to sin
  2. would be better off thrown into the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their neck.
  3. So be careful what you do. Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry.
  4. Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, "I am sorry," you should still forgive that person.
  5. The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith stronger!"
  6. Jesus replied: If you had faith no bigger than a tiny mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree to pull itself up, roots and all, and to plant itself in the ocean. And it would!
  7. If your servant comes in from plowing or from taking care of the sheep, would you say, "Welcome! Come on in and have something to eat"?
  8. No, you wouldn't say that. You would say, "Fix me something to eat. Get ready to serve me, so I can have my meal. Then later on you can eat and drink."
  9. Servants don't deserve special thanks for doing what they are supposed to do.
  10. And that's how it should be with you. When you've done all you should, then say, "We are merely servants, and we have simply done our duty."
  11. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus went along the border between Samaria and Galilee.
  12. As he was going into a village, ten men with leprosy came toward him. They stood at a distance
  13. and shouted, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
  14. Jesus looked at them and said, "Go show yourselves to the priests." On their way they were healed.
  15. When one of them discovered that he was healed, he came back, shouting praises to God.
  16. He bowed down at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was from the country of Samaria.
  17. Jesus asked, "Weren't ten men healed? Where are the other nine?
  18. Why was this foreigner the only one who came back to thank God?"
  19. Then Jesus told the man, "You may get up and go. Your faith has made you well."
  20. Some Pharisees asked Jesus when God's kingdom would come. He answered, "God's kingdom isn't something you can see.
  21. There is no use saying, 'Look! Here it is' or 'Look! There it is.' God's kingdom is here with you."
  22. Jesus said to his disciples: The time will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not.
  23. When people say to you, "Look there," or "Look here," don't go looking for him.
  24. The day of the Son of Man will be like lightning flashing across the sky.
  25. But first he must suffer terribly and be rejected by the people of today.
  26. When the Son of Man comes, things will be just as they were when Noah lived.
  27. People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day when Noah went into the big boat. Then the flood came and drowned everyone on earth.
  28. When Lot lived, people were also eating and drinking. They were buying, selling, planting, and building.
  29. But on the very day Lot left Sodom, fiery flames poured down from the sky and killed everyone.
  30. The same will happen on the day when the Son of Man appears.
  31. At that time no one on a rooftop should go down into the house to get anything. No one in a field should go back to the house for anything.
  32. Remember what happened to Lot's wife.
  33. People who try to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives will save them.
  34. On that night two people will be sleeping in the same bed, but only one will be taken. The other will be left.
  35. Two women will be together grinding wheat, but only one will be taken. The other will be left.
  36. (SEE 17:35)
  37. Then Jesus' disciples spoke up, "But where will this happen, Lord?" Jesus said, "Where there is a corpse, there will always be buzzards."

    There does not appear to be a single line of thought flowing through chapter 17 but rather several scattered thoughts that seem to fall into three topics:

    Offenses: The first topic has to do with being the source of offenses to others that cause them to stumble. Jesus told His apostles, "Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through!" This may refer to the unbelief of the Pharisees and of their hindrance to others in following Jesus. This is a serious offense. Next Jesus cautioned the Apostles to be on guard that they counteract sin with their brother. This can be done by rebuking him for his sin and by forgiving him when he sins against them and repents. Through their forgiveness the brother can experience the power of forgiveness and the need to receive it from God.

    Faith: These instructions from Jesus to His disciples seems to prompt a request from them to "Increase our faith," but the connection between the request and Jesus' instructions is unclear. Jesus responsed by telling them the issue is not quantity of faith but rather quality of faith. If one has even the faith of a tiny mustard seed they can do mighty things. But they must use the faith they have.

    As an example of faith, Luke tells of an event that followed Jesus' teaching time with His apostles. He was traveling to Jerusalem and as he entered a village He saw 10 lepers standing at a distance. At their request, Jesus healed them, sending them to show themselves to the priests to be declared clean. But only one of the 10 returned to Jesus to give glory to God for his healing and it was a Samaritan. None of the Jews among the 10 recognized Jesus for who He was - only the Samaritan. Jesus told him, "Your faith has made you well." It may have been more than physical wellness to which Jesus referred.

    Preparedness:  In verses 20-37 the subject moves to the coming of the kingdom of God. The main topic in this section, however, is preparedness to enter the kingdom. It opens with a question from the Pharisees about when the kingdom will come. Jesus answered by telling them it will not be something observable with the eye and it will come when we least expect it. It is something for which we will want to be in readiness so that we do not hesitate to respond in the proper manner when it comes. Those who try "to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (17:33) Security at that time will not be in material things. To turn to these for security will lead to destruction as was the case with Lot's wife who turned back when fleeing the destruction of Sodom.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reflections on Luke 16

    Luke 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jesus said to his disciples: A rich man once had a manager to take care of his business. But he was told that his manager was wasting money.
  2. So the rich man called him in and said, "What is this I hear about you? Tell me what you have done! You are no longer going to work for me."
  3. The manager said to himself, "What shall I do now that my master is going to fire me? I can't dig ditches, and I'm ashamed to beg.
  4. I know what I'll do, so that people will welcome me into their homes after I've lost my job."
  5. Then one by one he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He asked the first one, "How much do you owe my master?"
  6. "A hundred barrels of olive oil," the man answered. So the manager said, "Take your bill and sit down and quickly write 'fifty'."
  7. The manager asked someone else who was in debt to his master, "How much do you owe?" "A thousand bushels of wheat," the man replied. The manager said, "Take your bill and write 'eight hundred'."
  8. The master praised his dishonest manager for looking out for himself so well. That's how it is! The people of this world look out for themselves better than the people who belong to the light.
  9. My disciples, I tell you to use wicked wealth to make friends for yourselves. Then when it is gone, you will be welcomed into an eternal home.
  10. Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters.
  11. If you cannot be trusted with this wicked wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
  12. And if you cannot be trusted with what belongs to someone else, who will give you something that will be your own?
  13. You cannot be the slave of two masters. You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than to the other. You cannot serve God and money.
  14. The Pharisees really loved money. So when they heard what Jesus said, they made fun of him.
  15. But Jesus told them: You are always making yourselves look good, but God sees what is in your heart. The things that most people think are important are worthless as far as God is concerned.
  16. Until the time of John the Baptist, people had to obey the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets. But since God's kingdom has been preached, everyone is trying hard to get in.
  17. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter of the Law does.
  18. It is a terrible sin for a man to divorce his wife and marry another woman. It is also a terrible sin for a man to marry a divorced woman.
  19. There was once a rich man who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food.
  20. But a poor beggar named Lazarus was brought to the gate of the rich man's house.
  21. He was happy just to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. His body was covered with sores, and dogs kept coming up to lick them.
  22. The poor man died, and angels took him to the place of honor next to Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
  23. He went to hell and was suffering terribly. When he looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side,
  24. he said to Abraham, "Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue. I'm suffering terribly in this fire."
  25. Abraham answered, "My friend, remember that while you lived, you had everything good, and Lazarus had everything bad. Now he is happy, and you are in pain.
  26. And besides, there is a deep ditch between us, and no one from either side can cross over."
  27. But the rich man said, "Abraham, then please send Lazarus to my father's home.
  28. Let him warn my five brothers, so they won't come to this horrible place."
  29. Abraham answered, "Your brothers can read what Moses and the prophets wrote. They should pay attention to that."
  30. Then the rich man said, "No, that's not enough! If only someone from the dead would go to them, they would listen and turn to God."
  31. So Abraham said, "If they won't pay attention to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even to someone who comes back from the dead."

    Continuing into chapter 16, Jesus taught kingdom values to His disciples. Using a parable, Jesus taught them that possessions are best used to invest in the kingdom. Those who are "sons of this age," Jesus said, "are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people." (16:8) That is, those who have no concern for God's kingdom prepare for their future in this world more astutely than those of the kingdom prepare for their future in heaven. Then Jesus advised His disciples to use "unrighteous money" to "make friends for yourselves" so they may "welcome you into eternal dwellings." (16:9) The Bible Believer's Commentary states it this way, "we should use money and other material things in such a way as to win souls for Christ and thus form friendships that will endure throughout eternity." Then Jesus drove home the point that no one can serve two masters.  We cannot "be slaves to both God and money." (16:13) Whatever money we possess should be used to serve God, making Him our master rather than the money.

    The Pharisees had evidently been listening in on Jesus' instructions to His disciples and scoffed at what He was telling them. This made no sense to them because they "were lovers of money." (16:14) What Jesus told the Pharisees next might be summarized in this way: "You reject the good news of the kingdom of God claiming to place your trust in the law. But in truth you don't even keep the law." To point out their failure in keeping the law, Jesus used the example of divorce. The law forbids divorce, but the Pharisees justified themselves in condoning it. Furthermore, they were guilty of spiritual divorce, turning their backs on God's covenant with them in their quest for wealth.

    The chapter concludes with another parable told by Jesus. It tells of a rich man who, during his life on earth, ignored the poor man Lazarus who sat outside his gate without food or care. After both had died, Lazarus was in heaven and the rich man in hell. Though the rich man had ignored Lazarus' needs while on earth he had not failed to see him in need outside his gate. From hell he saw and recognized Lazarus who was in heaven along with Abraham and asked that he be allowed to come to hell to offer some relief from his torment. Failing at that, the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to his five brothers who were still living to warn them of the torment of hell. Then came the main point. If the brothers were not persuaded to enter God's kingdom by scripture, they would not be persuaded even if one were raised from the dead.

    The main point of the parable was Jesus' message to the Pharisees. They had the scriptures (Moses and the prophets) and were not persuaded by them to accept Jesus' good news of the kingdom of God. Neither would they be persuaded by the signs and wonders they expected Jesus to perform so they might believe. And so it is with any of us. We have available to us all the truth and evidence needed to accept that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) If we are not convinced by them, we will not be convinced.