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Saturday
Dec072013

Luke 19:11-44

The chapters leading up to Luke 19 have given us the teachings and miracles of Jesus as He moved toward Jerusalem. During that time, people have become increasingly divided in their view of Jesus, and even His followers have struggled to understand His true purpose and how to understand His ministry in light of the Scriptures and their expectation of the Messiah. Luke 19 began with Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, a passage which culminates in verse 10 with Jesus’ statement of purpose: to seek and save the lost. This statement however does not eliminate the confusion and misunderstanding, and so before he begins his final approach to Jerusalem, Jesus shares a parable to offer clarification on how they should understand the Kingdom of God.

The Parable of the Minas which covers 19:11-27 is similar to Matthew’s Parable of the Talents and is often confused with it, but has several differing and complementary characteristics which offer unique teaching. The setting of a powerful man traveling to a different land to be granted the authority to rule would have likely brought to mind the historical examples of Herod the Great and Archelaus in the preceding generations. In each case, there was a delay between when authority was granted and when the ruler returned to fully assert his authority. The disciples were expecting to see Jesus fully assert His authority on Earth but that time had not yet come. In the parable, the master gives specific instructions to engage in business with the money, and two of the three servants who are mentioned do so with success. The third servant not only allows his fear to stop him from carrying out the instructions, but even fails to take what would have been prudent action if his fears of the master’s anger were legitimate. Jesus makes clear the impact of the actions of the different groups. The faithful servants are rewarded with greater authority, the unfaithful servant loses even the little that he had been given, and the group who originally opposed the authority of the ruler loses their lives.

Although not everyone with Jesus accepted His authority, the disciples with Him as He approached Jerusalem were eager to proclaim Him as King. The Mount of Olives, really just a ridge to the east of Jerusalem, is mentioned in Zechariah 14 as the place where the LORD would stand as He goes to battle against the nations. Unlike the other Gospels, only the approach is shown here, not His actual entry. There was a custom for animals to be granted for service for significant figures, so it is not surprising when Jesus sends His disciples to get the colt from the village. As He approaches Jerusalem on the donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, it is possible that those around Him would have made a connection to the ancient practice of a king who comes in peace to ride in on a donkey (versus a horse for those bringing war.) With those details giving context, the focus here is on the reactions of the disciples with Him. Many had followed Him for some time and their excitement as He finally arrives was overwhelming as they spread their cloaks to demonstrate their loyalty. As He reaches the high point of the ridge and gets ready to take the road down to Jerusalem, they sing from Psalm 118, a Psalm used as a call to worship for festivals and which looked forward to a time of deliverance. It is not surprising that the Pharisees are upset as they not feel that the claims are misguided, but likely feared retribution from the Romans if they were heard.  But as Jesus makes clear, it is the Pharisees who are actually missing the truth, a truth which is recognized even by creation. Sadly, it is not only the Pharisees who have rejected Jesus, and He weeps over the city at the destruction that is to come as a result the rejection.

There is a clear line between accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and failing to do so. Recognizing and praising His wisdom and good works means nothing if we do not confess Him as Lord, recognize that He died for our sins, and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9-13.) For those that have accepted Him, doing so also gives us a responsibility to live obediently to His commands for us. We must strive to draw closer to Him and better understand His character so that we can not only recognize what He has called us to do, but be able to faithfully respond to that call. Among those commands is the Great Commission for us to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:16-20.) Just as the master in the parable provided the servants with the seed money to invest, God has granted us the gifts and opportunity necessary to share the Gospel; our job is to simply carry through and do it.

Tuesday
Nov192013

Luke 18:9-30

Luke 18:9-30 follows teaching on the signs and promise of the return of Christ. However people differed on their expectation of the return, there was shared interest in being a part of the Kingdom and receiving eternal life. The question of how someone can be a part of the Kingdom is addressed in these verses through a parable and then two narratives of Jesus’ teaching. If this sections is connected with the teaching that proceeds it, then it would seem that Jesus is speaking to a group of people that included both Pharisees and others who opposed Him and some who would consider themselves faithful followers. While it may be tempting for followers at that time, and for Christians today, to read these just as criticisms of those who do not accept Christ, there is challenging teaching in these passages for Christians as well.

The pericope begins with Jesus directing a parable to those who allowed their confidence in their own salvation to lead them to look down on others. Although a Pharisee is featured in the parable, and the audience likely included Pharisees, it does not specify them as the entire audience. While we today are inclined to immediately associate the Pharisee with self-righteousness and the tax collector with repentance and grace, we should remember that the audience at the time would have seen the Pharisee as an example of faithful living, such as a popular church leader today, and the tax collector as a traitor and cheat, perhaps comparable to a corrupt businessman or politician. While the Pharisee does at least outwardly recognize God as being responsible for how he lives, he still focuses the prayer on himself rather than God, and we can assume that he feels that his life is sufficiently righteous to earn eternal life and the tax collector’s worthy of only condemnation. The tax collector would certainly not disagree with the latter, and as such, can only humbly beg for forgiveness and mercy. In what some would have considered a shocking ending, it is the tax collector who is justified, and the Pharisee who misses out on the Kingdom.

The message apparently doesn’t quite hit home with the disciples since the next few verses find them turning away babies from Jesus, leading Him to reinforce His teaching to them from chapter 9. The story of Jesus welcoming the children is often popular because of the sweet imagery, but that is not why it is included here. The babies were too young to truly be taught, but Jesus wanted to use them to illustrate an attitude that He found lacking in the adults. While a baby exhibits complete trust and dependence, the adults failed to demonstrate that in their attitudes to Him. That faith and devotion is what is expected of those who would call themselves followers, and is the key to entering the Kingdom.

People overhearing this would likely have been interested because it addressed the core issue of entering the Kingdom, which was connected with eternal life. One of those people was likely the ruler who becomes a key figure in the final narrative. While he begins by addressing Jesus as a “good” teacher as he asks how to receive eternal life, the address was apparently insincere and Jesus immediately points out to the ruler that it carries a connotation which he didn’t really believe. Jesus then begins to answer the question by responding that he must keep the commandments, starting with the ones that he likely would have felt pretty good about, and the ruler claims that he has kept those since reaching the age of accountability. He could not, however, claim that he truly loves God with all his heart, and Jesus brings that out by challenging him with what was most important to him: his wealth. Indeed, he is unwilling to sacrifice that in order to follow Jesus, and Jesus uses his example to show how impossible it is for a rich person to earn eternal life. This was a shocking statement to the crowd who would have viewed wealth as a sign of God’s blessing, but He then reminds the crowd that where there is no hope for man in his own merit, there is hope through believing in Jesus, the only one who could truly claim full obedience.

Even though we may be thankful for how God’s work in us has allowed us to live lives more blessed because of how He has directed us, we should never lose sight of our need for His grace. If we focus on the faults of others, it will lead to division and arrogance, but if we instead focus on the difference between our sinful nature and the holiness of God, then we are served with a powerful reminder of our need for His grace and the undeserved gift that it is for us to receive it. The lesson goes back to focus; we must put Christ at the center of our lives and thoughts, exhibiting the trust and faith of a child, and not allow anything to distract us from Him or stop us from being completely dedicated to following Him.

Monday
Oct282013

Luke 17:1-19

                In chapter 16, Luke offered teaching on stewardship and priorities, bookended by the parables of the Clever Steward and the Rich Man and Lazarus. By pointing out the failings of the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that putting anything ahead of Him leads to poor decisions and abuse of the gifts and resources with which we are entrusted. That same message is applied to other matters of discipleship throughout chapter 17. Whereas the second half of chapter 16 seemed to be directed primarily at the Pharisees, now Jesus turns His focus back on the disciples to offer teaching regarding Christians’ relationships with each other and with Him.

            In Acts 20, Paul gives a warning to the Ephesians elders to watch out and protect their congregations because false teaching will arise to pull the people away. Here, Jesus gives a similar warning except directs it to all disciples to not be the origin of such teaching, which he terms as “stumbling blocks” which could cause someone to fall away. The brutality of the type of death offered as a preferable alternative underscores the seriousness of the offense and how it will be punished. Those in positions of influence must be especially careful to guard themselves. In addition, the disciples should go beyond merely not causing stumbling blocks and instead help build and protect the Body. This should be done both through the careful rebuke of sin, a process described in more detail in Matthew 18:15-17, and through offering unceasing forgiveness in the face of repentance. Carrying out neither command is easy, and perhaps was why the disciples ask for increased faith in verse 5. Jesus points out the fallacy of their request by comparing faith to a tiny seed. It is not the size of the faith but rather the presence of it that allows for amazing things to be accomplished, even accomplishments as seemingly impossible as uprooting a large tree with deep roots, and as paradigm-altering as putting that tree in the sea.

            Back in chapter 12, the disciples were called to be vigilant like servants who keep the lamps burning as they eagerly await the return of the master, at which point he will turn the tables and serve them. This beautiful picture of God’s love should not lead us to forget our relationship or responsibilities to Him. Instead, we should be like a servant who has diligently completed his tiring duties in the field and comes in still eager to serve the master without expecting special treatment or commendation for simply doing his job. We owe God nothing less than our full commitment and obedience, and a proper attitude of gratitude should drive us to desire the opportunity to serve Him and thank Him. In the final story of the passage, we are given the example of someone who shows such gratitude. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus sees ten lepers on the outskirts of the village, separated from society by their condition, and commands them to go to the priest to be certified as being clean. Their initial appeal to Him indicates that they have heard of Jesus and believe that He is able and willing to heal them, and so they obediently head to the temple, trusting that they will be cleansed. All indeed were cleansed, but only one turns back to Jesus. Remarkably, this one is a Samaritan, a group despised by the Jewish people for their ethnic background and religious practices. As a non-Jewish person, the Samaritan would have not been allowed to enter the temple, a point driven home when Jesus refers to him as a “foreigner,” the very word used in the temple to prohibit their entry. In John 4, the issue of the temple was raised to Jesus when the Samaritan woman pointed out that the Samaritans worshiped on the mountain and the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus told her that a time had arrived when worship would no longer be limited by the physical location. That is seen here when this Samaritan cannot bear to bring his thanks to anywhere other than back to Jesus feet, a place where he is welcomed and made well.

            If there is one thing that Jesus has taught throughout the last few chapters that we as Christians must do in order to live faithfully, it is to make Him the center and focus of everything. We are reminded of that again here as these lessons build on each other to reveal how we should relate to each other and to Him. We must first watch out that we would never be the cause of stumbling. Instead, we should enable fellow Christians to have smoother paths through consistent exhortation, prayerful correction, and patient forgiveness. Our sinful natures make that a difficult command, but faith makes that possible. While we are likely to pride ourselves when we carry out those commands faithfully, we should not allow ourselves to forget that as servants, faithful obedience is no more than what is expected of us. Instead our hearts should be consistently focused on God’s grace and the love that He has shown to us. Just as the Samaritan could not help but return to Jesus’ feet to give thanks for his healing, we should consistently and continually return to God in prayer to acknowledge and praise Him for what He has done in our lives.

Thursday
Mar152012

A Letter from Pastor Kerry

*A Letter from Pastor Kerry

*

While God never changes, we know that change is a very real part of life. We wanted to tell you about a change ahead for us as a family and as a church. I have accepted a call to pastor a sister Ev. Free Ch. outside of Pittsburgh (Christ Community Fellowship in Sarver, PA).

After months of prayer and seeking God’s will for the next step in our ministry journey, we feel confident God is leading us to serve there. As we have researched, prayed and visited there, it seems like it would be a good fit and a timely change. Lord willing, I will serve the rest of March at Grace Bible and then will start there in mid-April.

Your commitment to God, His word and each other is a joy to us. You have been kind, generous and patient with me. We are greatly in your debt. We are thankful that even in times of change we can all entrust ourselves to Him. Allow me to remind us to:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6 - ESV)

Our godly Elders have already been meeting and praying about “what’s next”. Feel free to contact them as well with questions or concerns.

With unchanged love and appreciation for you,

Kerry & Robin & the Krew

Friday
Feb242012

Re: And we have seen and testify that

> > *"Can I get a witness?" you say? * > An eyewitness, that is, to these Jesus stories? > Why yes, you can. Here is one of many: > > "And we have seen and testify that > the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." > 1 John 4:14 > > He - John the beloved - literally saw Jesus: > The Miracle worker, lover of sinners, Pharisee-fighting Jesus. > John and others watched & heard evidence that He was God's sent Son - the > savior. > They observed this Son die - God's sacrifice for their sin & ours. > They encountered this slaughtered One alive again. Raised! > Many saw the Christ ascend into heaven, promising to return > Jesus then sent His promised Spirit to apply His adoption and empower them > - us - to be His witnesses > > John wrote an entire gospel of his eyewitness accounts and those of others. > So did Matthew. > Luke & Mark told the accounts they heard and painstakingly investigated > from many other firsthand accounts. > > John starts his first letter (1 John) on this same important theme. > Mull over the confident claims of 1 John 1:1-3 > > "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have > seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, > concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen > it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with > the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and > heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; > and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." > > > John testifies: we heard, saw & watched Him carefully. > We even touched & handled Him - the word of life. > The Father, John continues, made Him visible, audible and knowable to us. > > Knowable! > > Jesus was made known so we can have fellowship with Him and the Father. > Community and communion with the Christ is available - to us, to you. > You can take it on the basis of many reliable witnesses. > He lived, died for our sins & is alive again. > > I urge you to not just examine the evidence, > but act upon it, know Him. >