A Prayer Prompted by Luke 13

Heavenly Father,

At present, we see that good and bad things happen to both good and bad people.

We accept the way that you maintain your control over the world, allowing evil and tragedy to exist side-by-side with everything that is good.  Even within the church, the living expression of Christ’s life on earth, we see that there is corruption.  Help us not to be a part of that problem, but rather be part of the solution.

Help us not to trust in ourselves, in our own goodness, merit or virtue or righteous works.  We see that before your holiness, the only safe way to approach you is in humility, admitting our guilt and seeing our need for repentance.

Forgive us of our sins, fill us with your Spirit.  Help us to live completely for you, relying on your power, the power of Christ’s resurrection life at work with us.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

A chance to repent – Luke 13:1-5

When extreme tragedy strikes, there is an almost universal tendency to see that the person somehow had it coming to them.  Call it karma, call it something else, the tendency has always been there.  The Bible has a version of this, memorably expressed by Paul in Galatians 6:7-8.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

At the same time, the Bible sees this principle as limited, at least in this life.  The story of Job is an excellent example.  A perfectly righteous man endures terrible hardship, while his friends try to make sense of it as best they can.  Perhaps inevitably, they resort to blaming Job for his own troubles.  They were wrong, but they add much insult to Job’s injury before they are forced to see it.  God sets all things right at the very end, but it took Job a long time and a lot of undeserved suffering to get there.

Jesus encountered this kind of thinking one day and answered it perfectly as always.  Let’s read it from Luke 13.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The Galileans killed by Pilate and the victims of the fallen tower were no worse people than anyone else.  The twist in Christ’s version is not that they were especially innocent in God’s eyes, but that everyone else is comparably guilty.  This is the biblical view of sin.  It is the bad news that makes the good news of the gospel good.

We are all in need of repentance.  That is one of the earliest lessons that the Bible aims to teach us.  At some level, we are guilty before a perfectly holy God.  Sure, there may be mitigating factors to the particular level of our guilt.  A certain temptation was especially difficult.  Under the circumstances there were no good choices.  We have a natural tendency to do this or that.  Someone or something drove us to a point where we reacted, which was wrong.  But, in the end, we are wrong too.  We have sinned because we are fundamentally flawed members of a flawed race who eventually lived up – or maybe down – to our potential.  We sinned and fell short of perfect holiness, which is the standard of the one and only thoroughly holy God.

The solution is repentance.  We are not to hold onto our sin and cherish it.  We are to turn from it and turn our hearts toward our divinely provided Savior.  This is the point made by Jesus when he says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

John 3:16 steers us directly to this principle.  We have a chance to repent right now.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 5

Father in Heaven,

We thank you that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but rather sinners in need of repentance.  If you were looking for righteous people, you would never have chosen us.

We now ask you for your forgiveness, healing, cleansing and complete transformation.  We want to know that we are new creatures in Christ.  

And then, just like those earliest disciples, we want to be used by you to draw others into a relationship with Jesus. We ask that you would help us to “fish for people.”  Like Levi’s friends, let us have the blessing of seeing our friends and family come to know you.

We know that we come to you as sinners, but that you have the ability to make us saints. Make us holy, please.

In Christ,

Amen.

Luke 3 – Verse by Verse

Photo for Luke

This chapter gives us a glimpse into the ministry of John the Baptist and a moment when he and Jesus crossed paths – at the baptism of Christ.  We then get a second version of Jesus’ genealogy.

Luke 03.pdf

Luke 03.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 3

Dear heavenly Father,

We certainly know that, unlike Jesus, we are in dire need of repentance and forgiveness of our sins.  Help us to truly and deeply repent, and then help us to live lives that bear fruit worthy of repentance.  As James would later say, let us be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.

Please also empower us with your Holy Spirit, so that we can faithfully be your witnesses in this present day.  And help us to fully and faithfully entrust ourselves to your Son Jesus Christ, the King and Savior you sent to deal with our problem of sin – who we know will reign forever.

To him and to you be all the glory both now and forever.

In Christ,

Amen.

Jesus got baptized – John 3:21-22

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the more remarkable things about this passage is that Jesus got baptized at all.  If anyone had zero need for a baptism of repentance, it was Jesus.  Matthew 3:15 adds the detail that Jesus said it was “to fulfill all righteousness,” but I confess I do not find it easy to say what that even means under the circumstances.

But I do see that many people were being baptized and they certainly saw that they needed a baptism of repentance, even if Jesus didn’t.  At least some of Christ’s earliest disciples were first followers of John, who in turn saw himself as Christ’s forerunner.  Finally, we also know from a later verse, Luke 7:30, that many Pharisees and lawyers did not receive the baptism of John.  

Under the circumstances, we might at least see that Jesus did not want to be confused with self-satisfied Pharisees and lawyers.  If there was to be any confusion, let it be that the sinless Son of God and Messiah went all the way in his identification with sinful humanity.  A baptism of repentance?  He submitted to it, just like so many of his followers.  John, who was some kind of blood relative, saw Jesus outwardly and obviously supporting his ministry.  Christ did everything he could to be “one of us.”

And isn’t that the great thing about him?  God the Son emptied himself and he began his public ministry getting baptized by John.

The benefit of a little guilt – Matthew 21:28-32

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus told a parable about two sons.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

Jesus was speaking here to the chief priests and elders of the people who had just questioned his authority (v.23).  He explained this parable without any request to do so, making sure that his audience knew exactly what he was saying by it.

The lesson has to do with doing God’s will in the end, as a final outcome.  Many people express good intentions.  The chief priests and elders would have been perceived as just the kind of people who were known for doing God’s will.  If that were the case, they should have been the first in line expressing their repentance and receiving the baptism of John. 

When we understand the nature of sin, we realize that we are all in need of repentance.  That sense of guilt would be even more pronounced when coming face-to-face with the likes of John the Baptist.  Yet these guys are so numb that they even question the authority of Christ.  Their relationship with God was little more than a nice show, having no humility or sense of need.

On the other hand, tax collectors like Matthew our author and prostitutes saw their sin.  Like the first son in the parable, they did not do the will of the Father from the beginning, but later changed their mind.  They repented at John’s preaching and followed Jesus with transformed lives.  In a culture obsessed as ours is with not making anyone feel bad, let’s take note that as far as Jesus is concerned a little guilt can be a good thing.  There is no repentance without it.