Monday, March 15, 2010

3 Responses to the Gospel--Luke 8:26-56

One size rarely fits all. I’ve noticed on clothing nowadays they’ve begun to say “one size fits most” or “free size.” The same is true in following Jesus when it comes to sharing our faith with others. Every believer is called share the gospel with others, but we are not all called to share the gospel in the same way with every person. A couple of years ago, we did the Contagious Christian study in which we looked at ourselves and how we relate to others and then looked at a variety of valid ways to share the gospel, some of which we connect to more readily than others, and also learning how others might more readily connect to the good news so that we might best be able to share with those who have ears to hear, and to present the gospel in such a way that it might be heard. We don’t change the components of the gospel—for example, we need to share that Jesus Christ came to save sinful people, that He is the true, living, way, that He died on the cross and rose from the dead, and that all who believe in Him have eternal life. But how we share can vary. Some people are visual—they like drawings or pictures. Some people connect with personal stories. Some are analytical and like to see the Bible for themselves or ask questions. Some people need to be heard before they can hear. People are different even though there is 1 gospel.
For example, I received a letter last week from some missionary friends in Thailand. Thailand is mainly a Buddhist country. You don’t use John 3:16 as a starting point in sharing the gospel in Thailand, because it is totally incomprehensible to that people group. For God—Buddhists don’t believe in God. So loved the world—love is a passion to be controlled, and why would you love the world? The world is to be escaped. That He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him—Buddhists try to be their own savior; vicarious atonement makes no sense in Theravada Buddhism. Might not perish but have everlasting life—Buddhists believe in reincarnation not a place of punishment and why would you want eternal life? In Buddhism the goal is nonexistence.
However, Buddhists might readily connect with today’s first story. Despite the fact they don’t believe in God, they do believe in demons and have had similar experiences with them. They put large demon statues outside of their temples to keep demons away. They would be curious about Someone who has the power to drive away demons and especially that someone being good and loving. When people can make connections, they are willing to hear more.
In today’s reading we have 3 different miracles by Jesus, and Jesus commands the recipients of these miracles to respond in 3 different ways. In every story there is a crowd as well as the recipients of the miracles. In the first story, we have the healing of the demon possessed man. Here Jesus is ministering among Gentile people. While there are differences among manuscripts as to the particular city, the area as a whole was a Gentile area near the Sea of Galilee. This explains why there were people keeping pigs. Jews wouldn’t have done that.
Let’s look first at the crowd’s reaction. The reaction of the crowd was to ask Jesus to leave. They ask Him to leave because of economic loss, but more than that, it is out of fear. We see a similar incident in Acts 16. Paul heals a demon possessed lady in Philippi who was a slave. She was used by her owners as a fortune teller. Once she was healed, she could no longer tell fortunes. Her owners, upset at their economic loss, started a riot saying that Jesus would cause others to lose money and also caused fear because Jesus has power over demons and false gods. The people already knew what the demons could do. Although they cause trouble, they are somewhat predictable, and therefore manageable. It’s a system of tolerance and maintenance. It’s the same pattern we see with people in abusive relationships. The relationship is one of pain and hurt, but the abused respond with tolerance and maintenance. They try to leave, but often go back because the known is somehow safer and more tolerable than the unknown. When you can’t trust what you already know, how can you trust what you don’t know and don’t understand? It’s scary. And Jesus is scary. Jesus is untamable. Jesus cannot be controlled or manipulated, even though some of us are guilty of trying it! And because of Jesus’s power, the people were afraid. Jesus had messed up their status quo. Will you allow Jesus to mess up your status quo? Are there demons that you have gotten comfortable living with even though you know they bring you pain and trouble? What demons are you trying to control? Will you allow Jesus to deliver you from your demons? Remember that Jesus’s Word is powerful enough to confront whatever powers or forces of evil you may encounter.
The man who is freed, clothed and in his right mind, desires to follow Jesus. But Jesus says no. The best way for this man to serve Jesus is not by following Him from town to town. Instead, Jesus tells him to go back to his own town and tell everyone what God had done for him. The man obeys. He goes back and tells everyone what Jesus had done for him. This man understands that Jesus is divine. He equates Jesus with God. Why did Jesus tell the man to go back to his town? I believe Jesus wanted these people to have a correct fear of Him. He didn’t want them to be terrified of trusting Him. If they could see this man’s transformed life, a person whom they had previously feared, although controlled by chaining him up, they might be able to trust someone more powerful whom they don’t understand, but Someone with the power to destroy evil and create good. Jesus might not be understandable, but He can be known. He might be feared, but He is also to be loved. Yes, He is powerful, but His is power that overcomes evil with good. If the man had left with Jesus, the people wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the changes in his life. They would be left in terror instead of rejoicing in the one whom even the demons must obey.
In the second incident Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood while on His way to Jairus’s house. This woman was an outsider among her own people because she was perpetually unclean. Anyone who had any dealings with her would have been unclean and had to go through purification rites before being able to worship. This woman would have been barred from worship and fellowship because she could never be considered clean. Why did Jesus make her expose herself after she touched Him? Remember that our faith is personal but not private. Jesus wouldn’t let her be private. He tells her so go in peace and that her faith had made her whole, but He didn’t let her go until she had testified to what had happened. Like the freed man, this woman is called to testify to the crowd. The man is called to go and tell, but this woman is called to tell immediately what the Lord had done for her. Why? If Jesus had let her slip away unnoticed, the people would have not had the responsibility to reach out to her and restore her into the community. Jesus calls her to share both for her sake and for the sake of the crowd. Jesus holds the woman accountable for the part that she has in being restored among her community. The crowd couldn’t respond to an unknown need, but with her testimony, the need for restoration is made evident. Restoration of fellowship is the responsibility of both parties. We are called to be in community with those who profess faith in Christ. Are you neglecting your brother or sister in Christ? How have you been shirking your responsibility to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you feeling neglected by the family of faith? What is your part in your own restoration to the community? Is Jesus telling you to let someone know how you feel and voice what you are going through?
Jesus calls us to be restored to one another. This woman was to be an outcast no longer. The crowd knowing that she has been purified is challenged by Jesus to accept her back into their midst. Now that they know she is no longer unclean, they must decide what to do about her. The correct thing is that she shows herself to the priest, goes through purification rites, and rejoins the community with all of the rights and privileges as a member. When we are confronted with the truth, we must respond. We cannot claim ignorance. Truth always demands a response.
In our final story, Jairus’s daughter has died while Jesus was “delayed” by the woman. But Jesus goes to the house, and tells the crowd of mourners who have already gathered that the girl is only asleep. They laugh at Jesus. Jesus calls Peter, James, and John, Jairus and his wife into the room where the girl was. Jesus raises her from the dead, tells her parents to feed her, and also tells them to tell no one what happened. In the previous 2 stories, Jesus called for public declaration from those who had been healed, but now He insists on silence. Why? Lazarus’s resurrection would be public, and Jesus raised the widow’s son publicly. Once again, the crowd has something to do with it. The mourners had already mocked Jesus. They had demonstrated their unbelief. If the parents had told, they would have been mocked as well. Will they encounter this young girl again? Of course. Will they believe that maybe she hadn’t really been dead after all? Perhaps. Will some eventually come to believe? Very possibly. But at this point, they did not have ears to hear. Jesus isn’t forbidding the parents to share their faith. He would never do that. We are always called to share the faith. We are even called to share our faith at the risk of losing our lives. But Jesus is forbidding them to share the experience. It would be as Jesus says elsewhere, “Like casting pearls before swine or giving what is sacred to dogs.” We do not always have to share our precious experiences with others. We do not have expose our intimacies with Jesus with those who are unwilling and unable to accept them. This audience was both. There have been things in my own life—personal encounters with Jesus that I have shared selectively. They are not stories for the masses. To share what is sacred with those who are scorners can cause their hearts to become harder. The precious things can become twisted and misused by those who don’t have ears to hear. While this family was not permitted to speak, they weren’t commanded to relocate and live in secrecy. No, they were to live openly. They were to be part of their community. And in living, they might gain the opportunity to speak later. But this was not the time. We too are called to live our lives openly. We are called to live out our faith and to be ready to answer anyone who questions us about the hope that we have within us. To do that, we must live in a way that our hope is evident.
Believers are called to share their faith. Sometimes we are told to go and tell, sometimes we are called to tell immediately, and sometimes we are told to wait and let people observe our lives before we tell. We must listen and obey those promptings of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Generous Women--Luke 7:36-8:3

Today is Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday, so we have readings today about women who gave to Jesus. Jay and I looked at our first story last week in Sunday School. We compared all four gospel readings. According to Matthew and Mark, the incident takes place on Holy Tuesday—the day before the first day of the Passover before Jesus was crucified. Matthew and Mark also say that the incident took place at the home of Simon the Leper. Here we learn that Simon is a Pharisee. He is actually one of many Pharisees who believed in Jesus. Perhaps Jesus had healed him of his leprosy.
In John’s gospel, the story takes place at Lazarus’s house and his sister Mary is named as the one who brings the ointment. It is Judas Iscariot who is named as the one questioning Mary’s actions. She is never called a sinner by John because she wouldn’t have been considered one. Nor would she have been poor. Lazarus was wealthy. Is John recording a totally different, but similar incident? Or did he get some facts confused? We don’t know, but today we are focusing on Luke’s account.
We know this nard was expensive—almost a year’s wages. Jay and I figured that it would take the average person over 20 years to save up a year’s wages considering things like housing, transportation, food, the costs of other necessities, and taxes.
I believe Simon is a genuine follower of Jesus. He invites Jesus to his home for a meal. Yet Simon, like many of us, still struggles with some of his old habits and hang-ups. Simon sees this woman as a sinner—someone that he wouldn’t want to be associated with, and yet this woman is free to come into his house. He doesn’t refuse her entry or kick her out, but he definitely has his opinions about her. In his mind, he is somehow “better” than this woman. Luke is the only gospel to record Jesus’s parable in response to Simon’s thoughts. And apparently, he wasn’t alone in his thinking, because Matthew and Mark add the disciples in there making judgments about the woman. Even committed followers of Jesus have prejudices from which we must repent. To whom do you feel superior? How is God calling you to treat this person/these people? Simon expresses gratitude to Jesus by having Him over, but Simon’s gratitude only goes so far. This woman expresses extreme gratitude to Jesus.
This woman also has extreme reverence for Jesus. Simon has gotten comfortable enough with Jesus that he has become almost too casual with Jesus. Simon calls Jesus, “Teacher,” which shows his respect for Jesus, yet he doesn’t take time to give common courtesy to Jesus by offering him water to wash His feet. Perhaps Simon expected Jesus to get the water for Himself. But this woman is not at all casual with Jesus. She, even in her wealth, puts herself in a humble position before her Lord. She cares for his feet first. Matthew and Mark mention the nard going on Jesus’ head. It probably did, but I doubt she started there. The woman also knew Jesus well enough to pay attention to the times that He said He was about to die. Jesus clearly says she is anointing Him for burial and that He will not be with them much longer. Again, this shows that Simon and the disciples, have gotten too casual with Jesus. Have we gotten too casual with Jesus that we have forgotten that He is our Lord as well as our Friend? Have we forgotten just how much Jesus has forgiven us that we only show mere tokens of gratitude? Have we gotten too casual with Jesus to take His Word seriously?
This woman knows how costly Jesus gift was to her. She was the one who had been forgiven much. She spent a year’s wages on one item for one person, and that person was Jesus. Can you even imagine spending a year’s wages on 1 item? Do we do anything extravagant for Jesus? It’s not that Simon or you or I haven’t been forgiven just as much as this woman. It’s whether or not we recognize it. This woman did. She acts in faith first even before Jesus openly declares her forgiven. This woman knows who she is and who Jesus is. She knows Jesus can forgive if He chooses. Perhaps in a previous encounter, she already knew that Jesus had forgiven her, but now the audience hears, not for her sake, but for theirs. Jesus wants the others to know that He has the authority to forgive sins—and sins of any type and any amount. When we see ourselves as we truly are, our gratitude will overflow, like this woman’s.
Jay said that if he had witnessed was this woman had done, he would have thought that her act was awesome, but he would’ve also thought that she was crazy. I would probably have thought the same thing. But what about our actions…Would anyone call us crazy for Jesus?
Who was this woman? We don’t know. There have been many speculations—John says Mary of Bethany. She could have afforded the nard, but she wouldn’t have been considered a sinful woman. Some say Mary Magdalene, but Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name later in today’s text, so it probably wasn’t her. The term “sinner” and the reactions of the people could have indicated that this woman was a prostitute, so perhaps she was. The term “sinner” can also mean “debtor”—like the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is “the same as forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” So perhaps she was poor and was spending her life savings—again showing extreme extravagance towards Jesus. And the attitude of her criticizers shows their haughtiness, but this is less likely since one of their excuses was that this money could have been given to the poor. All we know is that out of faith, gratitude, and love towards Jesus, flowing from a true knowledge of Him as well as knowledge of herself, this woman demonstrated extreme generosity.
We also have a short passage of other generous women—women who were disciples of Jesus that supported Him out of their own means. We have to remember that the entourage that followed Jesus was huge. It was more than just 12 men. There were many men and women who followed Jesus. There were many who named apostles. Contrary to Jewish custom, Jesus taught women. We have the example of Mary of Bethany who sat and listened at Jesus’s feet and was encouraged to do so. We have women who supported Jesus out of their own funds--some perhaps from wealthy families, others who worked. Yes, women did work in Jesus’s day. If you don’t think so, read Proverbs 31 more carefully. They just worked out of their homes—making things to sell in the marketplace, growing things.
In this list we have Mary Magdalene. Never in the gospels is Mary Magdalene called a prostitute. That is tradition, but never stated in Scripture. She has been assumed to be the unnamed woman caught in adultery in the gospel of John, but we don’t know. What we do know is that, “out of whom 7 demons were cast.” We are learning in our Revelation Bible study that 7 stands for completion. This woman was totally possessed. She knew her total depravity, and it certainly wasn’t doubted in anyone else’s mind either. Yet, Jesus had healed her and forgiven her. We have Joanna, who was probably wealthy since her husband was in charge of Herod’s household. Mary Magdalene and Joanna are mentioned again by name as witnesses to the resurrection. They had the incredible privilege of knowing this news first! Next we have Susanna, about whom we know almost nothing, and of course there were other unnamed women. What we do know is that these women were committed to Jesus, and it showed in their financial support of Him. Financial liberality is a mark of discipleship and is essential for the continuation of ministry. Hearers of God’s Word are involved in God’s mission. These women were hearers of God’s Word. Are you a hearer of the Word? How do your finances reflect your commitment to Jesus and His ministry?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sabbath--What's the Point

Of the 10 Commandments the 1 that is not repeated in the NT is #4—“Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.” We don’t worship on the Sabbath; we worship on the first day of the week, Sunday, because this is the Lord’s Day—remembering that Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday. The only mention of Sabbath in the NT other than what Jesus says is in Colossians 2:16 where Paul says that the OT festivals including Sabbaths are mere shadows of what is to come, “but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Today we have 2 stories in which some Pharisees accuse Jesus of Sabbath-breaking. Their accusations are that Jesus is working on the Sabbath. Jesus never argues as to whether or not what He is accused of constitutes “work”. Instead He says something different. He says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” and asks whether it is lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath. In the first story, Jesus uses King David as an example. David’s authority as king allowed him to eat the showbread since his need was greater. Jesus is saying that He as Son of Man is King of the Sabbath. Jesus is the embodiment of the reign of God.
Jesus doesn’t use the work argument, because for Him, it’s not an issue whether picking wheat is work or healing is work or if He had chosen to do something else tha t was more obviously work. There is an extra biblical story found in an entire codex of manuscripts that many scholars think is accurate of Jesus. The story says that on the same day of the first incident, Jesus saw a man working on the Sabbath and said to him, “Man! If you know what you are doing, you are blessed. But if you do not know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.” Jesus is saying it isn’t wrong to work if your heart is right, but if your motives are wrong, it is wrong to work. Jesus is concerned not with work but with the purpose of the Sabbath.
We have to examine our hearts as to our motives for how we use the time set aside for rest. We are either guilty of consciously breaking the law or we are conceding to a Higher Power than the Law. In the Mark version of this story, Jesus says, “For the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was made for our benefit—rest. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. We rest in His finished work. Christ interprets Sabbath for us. Jesus wants us to rest in Him. It doesn’t have to be a certain day or a certain time. It doesn’t have to be done in a certain way. But we need rest in Jesus. It shouldn’t be work to rest, and the Pharisees had made it work, but Jesus gives true rest. Jesus says, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
And Jesus wants true worship. Again, Jesus is not concerned with forms. He said to the woman at the well, “The time is coming and is now come when the true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in Truth.” His response was in regard to her question about where is a legitimate place to worship. Jesus doesn’t care about location. He cares about our hearts. John MacArthur makes an interesting observation about the Pharisees and scribes that were accusing Jesus of Sabbath breaking. “They observed Sabbath law while plotting to murder the Lord of the Sabbath.” We find this at the end of the second incident. Verse 11, “They were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” So much for Sabbath keeping! These folks had all the right forms, but they were not worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. Sabbath is worship—it is spending time with Jesus and giving Him the praise, honor, and glory that is due to Him. It is ceasing from work, our futile efforts to please God, and embracing God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus is our rest because Christ set us free from the Law of Sin and Death. We can rest in the freedom that Christ brings to us.
Also in the second story, Jesus emphasizes that it is never the wrong day to minister to another’s need (or even our own need, as in the first story with the disciples eating). Also in this second story Jesus points out that to neglect the opportunity to do good is to incur the guilt of doing evil. James puts it this way, “The one who knows to do good and does not do it, to that person, it is sin.” Love is higher than Law. Jesus operates out of love. He said that He came to fulfill the Law not to abolish it. Notice how Jesus heals the man. All Jesus does is speak and tell the man to stretch out his hand. Jesus doesn’t touch the man or anything. There is nothing Jesus does that one of his accusers could call work! Again we are called to examine our hearts. Are we truly meeting need, or are we being self-serving. Are we doing good or justifying evil? Are we operating by love or merely by law?
To ask, “Is it lawful?” can give us safe boundaries, but we need to go further and ask, “Is it loving?” Sometimes the loving thing to do goes beyond the Law (example: by law you are required to report cases of physical abuse, but the loving thing to do is not just to report it, but support those trying to get out of abusive situations) and other times it stops short of the Law. The legal thing is not always the most loving thing to do (example: abortion is legal, but it is not loving; pornography is legal, but it is not loving—makes people into objects and commodities and destroys families). To operate out of love is to operate by the power of the Holy Spirit; for God is love. To operate out of love, we must spend time with Love, we must Sabbath in Jesus.
Is Jesus Lord of your Sabbath? Do you rest in Jesus?