"...do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
The short term missions trip ends, and the teams come home and debrief with Jesus. And the greatest impact of their trip was that God dealt powerfully with demonic spirits through their ministry. They were participants in deliverance ministry and witnesses to people being freed from oppression. And there is this broad sense among his followers of the power they now have access to through Christ.
And Jesus' response isn't to tamp that down at all. Instead, he seems to suggest they have even more power than they have imagined. That through the authority of Jesus, they have only scratched the surface. In other words, he's enlarging their expectations beyond they're already remarkable experience. But, then he says, essentially, "don't let this power be the source of your joy and amazement... be amazed that at miracle I've done in saving you, reconciling you to the Father, and drawing you into life with God. Find your joy in that."
Jesus is a miracle worker. But his greatest miracle is the miracle of salvation for guilty sinners... that through him enemies of God would become sons of God... that's the greatest miralce of all. The danger we face is in normalizing what is superantural. Our hearts can get anesthetized to the wonder of our own redemption. We can grow acallous toward and entitled to our union with Christ which is the greatest miracle. If we're followers of Jesus, than we are seated with Christ in glory, already... we have a seat reserved at that table; our name is on the guest list; and we've been so transformed by the life of God in us that we actually belong in glory. This earth is not our home.
Jesus is warning us not to lose the wonder of that. He's reminding us not to get caught up in lesser miracles like healing of disease, calming of storms, and casting out demons. He's saying the ultimate miracle is for the dead to be raised to life. And that's our reality... he's raised our dead bones to new life in him. Let that land today... and every day.
A Prayer for Joy in my Salvation:
Father, I think of David's prayer in the Psalms, where he asks you to "restore to me the joy of my salvation..." That's my request today. Do that for me, Lord. Let me see and savor the the greatest miracle you've done, which is to save a wretch like me. Thank you for your grace and mercy that is beyond my own recognition or ability to comprehend. Thank you for the newness of life I've received through your Son. Thank you for loving me when I was, and though I am unlovable. Thank you for setting your affections on me in my lostness and helplessness. Thank you for sending Jesus to identify with me in my weakness and frailty and even take upon my guilt and condemnation, so that I could be identified with him in his power and perfections... in his righteousness and holiness. Thank you for the miracle of my salvation. Amen.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
The first few verses here are a continuation of Jesus' debreif with the disciples which we read about yesterday. It's his elaborating on the miracle of our own salvation, really, and might be read as separate from the parable of the Good Samaritan. But it's worth connecting to the parable...
The parable is a part of Jesus' answer to the question of a man who is desiring to justify himself. How it is that he can inherit eternal life. In other words, how can I be own savior? How can I work my way into God's favor?
Jesus points the man to the Mosaic Law. The man rightly restates the law in it's summary form of Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself. So Jesus says, "yeah you got it... just go do that." But the man wants to qualify it so he asks, "who is my neighbor?"
So, Jesus tells this famous parable basically to broaden our understanding of "neighbor" to an uncomfortable, surprising and even damning degree. He discerns that the man wants to stand on his own merits by narrowing his own definition of neighbor to exclude those he is hardened toward, indifferent toward, or perhaps even hateful toward. So, Jesus says, in a sense, "whoever you don't want to think of as your neighbor or are least likely to include in the category of your neighor... that's your neighbor."
The point is, he's just gone on about how salvation and eternal life are something that only come through the miracle of God's grace to us and revelation of himself through Jesus. And right on cue, as if to highlight what Jesus just said about these things being hidden from some, this man tries to ascertain and grab hold of that which can only be revealed and received.
We're called to love our neighbor which includes those we're repelled by... and that typically gets all the focus here. But that's just more law. The larger point is that we fail all the time to love our neighbor, and that's true even if you were to narrow the field. Jesus was really expanding the category so the man might admit his own failure to meet the standard and give up on v. 29... "desiring to justify himself." Jesus isn't re-establishing the law. Jesus is re-applying the law for it's first use, which is to wipe out our self-rightouesness and humble us into the dirt. You can't love your neighor. You don't love your neighbor. You don't really even want to love your neighbor.
But you've been loved as a neighbor. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who went to the other side of the tracks, scooped us up in our weakened state, carried us to safety, fully paid for our healing, mercifully restored us to new life, and so proved to be a good neighbor. The only way you can be a good neigbhor is living inside and under the love of the Good Neighbor. By receiving daily the care for your soul that you did not earn or deserve from him, you can be empowered to love your neighbor, not perfectly as a means of earning, but imperfectly as as extension of having received.
A Prayer for Receiving Love:
Heavenly Father, thank you for receiving me into your care, for allowing Jesus' reconciling work to bring me to you, where you have received his payment for my forgiveness and healing. Thank you for restoring me. Let me forsake all of my foolish attempts to be for myself what Christ has already been and which only he can be. Let me receive from him, and from You the Love that my soul needs and longs for, and which I owe to but withhold from others. And as I live inside the reality of your love for me that is utterly insane, considering who I have proven to be time and again, let me humbly receive power from your Spirit to display something of your love for those nearest me and those I'd like to maintain distance from. Amen.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:40)
Yesterday was a little long... my apologies. But today I will justify myself by being more brief. :)
This is a tough one for most of us. I think Martha would receive the praise and accolades from most of us if we were at the party. I can picture all the Christians who were in the room would be whispering that night or gossipping the next day about Mary's laziness or flirtatiousness or unthoughtfulness, always making things about her, making her sister do all the work while she sat around chit-chatting.
This is so important for us to get though... because Jesus has called us to be servants. What do servants do, if not serve. Yet here, he's critical of Martha who is serving him and others faithfully and sacrificially. But he gives us a clue as to why in v. 40-41... notice these three words: Distracted. Anxious. Troubled.
Martha, like many of us, works out her restlessness through frenetic activity. But the solution to restlessness isn't productivity. It's rest. Your busy heart will not find rest in finishing your work. Your busy heart will only find rest in Christ, and his finished work on your behalf. It's so easy, so natural and so normal to be so preoccupied with what needs to get done, that we neglect to root ourselves in what has already been done. We instinctively and chronically replace personal connectedness to Jesus with personal accomplishments for Jesus. (It's worth noting that what is easy, natural, normal, instinctive and chronic is typically sinful, even if subtly so).
We let knowing Christ get swallowed up by serving Christ. And serving Christ is what we're supposed to be about, but it becomes a disservice to ourselves and others when it is detached from, rather than fueled by, intimacy with him. Jesus isn't excusing us from serving him or others. He's simply inviting us to the necessary reordering of our hearts so our lives can be rightly ordered.
Working and doing more is always the enemy of an already distracted, anxious or troubled heart. Those negative emotions and thought patterns are only alleviated by slowing down and reconnecting to Jesus himself... letting our distancing hearts rejoin to his welcoming heart. More busyness is never the antidote to busyness. But receiving from Jesus the rest and refreshing and renewal that he gives can settle a busy heart and sustain a busy life.
A Prayer for Restfulness:
Lord, pour into me the refreshing I need from you. Settle my troubled soul. Focus my distracted heart. Calm my anxious thoughts. I lay down my need to produce and reaffirm my need to rest in you. Let me breathe in your grace, sit in your presence, and reconnect to your heart. Let your love wash over me, your nearness surround me, your worth embed itself in me. Let me be at peace today, internally. Let anything I do outwardly flow from a heart satisfied in you. Amen.
...one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray..." (Luke 11:1)
The disciples, just back in chapter 10 experienced the power of God to overcome demonic spirits even throgh their ministry. The've experienced the authority of Christ over real spiritual forces. Yet, they never ask how to do that. They're energized by it. They're amazed by it. But they aren't looking for a class on dealing with the devils. To their credit, they were looking for a class on Prayer.
I wonder if they assumed a cause and affect relationships between the prayer life of Jesus to the power of Jesus' life and ministry. At any rate, it's encouraging to me that we, with the disciples, can admit we don't really know to pray and we need Jesus' help. Jesus is certainly a willing teacher on the subject.
I could cover the content of the Lord's prayer in depth but that would take a lot of time and space. Instead, I'll just summarize that by saying that our prayers are to be characterized as relational and personal (Our Father); confessional and worshipful (hallowed be your name); mission advancing and kingdom expanding (your kingdom come); humble and dependent (give us each day our daily bread); repentant and honest (forgive us our sins); considerate of our hearts and negative emotions (for we ourselves forgive everyone...); and an opened awareness of our own vulnerability to sin.
So Jesus gives us a model to order the content and considerations of our prayers. But then Jesus compares the Heavenly Father to earthly fathers in order to highlight the predisposition of His heart toward attentiveness, kindness, generosity and a wide openness to responding to our need.
And that undergirds v. 5-8 which essentially urge our persistence in prayer... that we will see the blessing of God on our lives and his closeness to us if we'll pray this way, not occassionally or sporadically, but continually and resiliently.
A Prayer for Prayer:
Lord, I am chronically prayerless. It just isn't natural for me. I have to work at it. But I really do believe it matters and that it changes me and reaches your heart. I want to be faithful in prayer like Jesus was. I know I need it, even though I don't act like I need it. Would you deepen my heart for prayer? Would you draw me more irrestistably into prayer? Would you meet me tenderly and personally in prayer so that I might come back again and again in eagerness and desperation. I know I need to pray as a discipline... but I want so much more to pray as delight and desire. I want to draw from you the strength and wisdom and grace I need, through prayer and personal closeness... I want to drink from that well rather than all the polluted wells I so often settle for. I look forward to more intimacy with you and trust you'll be more than happy to open yourself to me, if I'll actually open myself to you. Amen.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)
This is a pretty complicated text on the surface, so I want to try to simplify it. I'll start with the demonic spirit and it's impact on the man. The word translated "mute" also indicates deaf. In essence, the demon has robbed this man of communication. He is cut off socially but also spiritually, in the sense that he cannot hear or share the good news. He's essentially scattered from community with people and communion with God.
By casting the demon out, Jesus has reconnected this man to his people and gathered him to himself. The irony of the text is that the Pharisees presume to be the guardians of Israel's connectedness to their history, to each other and to God. So what Jesus is doing by the power of the Spirit they accuse him of doing by the power of Satan. And Jesus talks about the house divided against itself... that to do in name of God the work of the Devil would ultimately be self-defeating. This is a second irony. They are actually the ones doing what they are accuing Jesus of doing. They are claiming to minister in the name of God and for the purposes of God and yet they keeping people from God all the time.
Jesus says, basically, "either I am doing this as you say, by the power of Satan, or I'm doing it by the finger of God, and you have a different problem, because you've opposed me at every turn." They think they're protecting Israel's worship and spiritual purity, but they're really fighting to preserve their religion, their power, their control. Satan is using them to preserve his kingdom against the oncoming kingdom of God.
According to Jesus, the kingdom of darkness divides, fragments, isolates, and disconnects people from their own hearts, each other, and from God, bringing conflict, confusion and chaos. Meanwhile, Jesus' kingdom is about gathering people together, giving them a place to belong, real and meaningful connection to their hearts, to others and to God. Jesus' mission and his kingdom is all about God gathering back to himself a people for his own name from among the scattered and displaced masses.
He illustrates the point by gathering to himself a mute, deaf man who was detached from his people, while highlighting the detached reality of the ultra-connected Pharisees themselves as well as their scattering impact on people. The whole point seems to be that if we're rallying people to anything or anyone other than Jesus, than we are simply scattering by another name.
A Prayer for Gathering:
Father, we live in a fractious time and it's easy to beat the drums of our own opinions and agendas, even to attach you to our agendas. I pray for a supernatural ability to withstand the powerful pull into uhelpful conflicts and unfruitful controversies. Give me wisdom to refrain from the many outlets available for venting and airing grievances in ways that are not valuable. Help me to make your kingdom and your rule be my agenda, over and above the many hot button issues of our day. As I think about, speak into, and listen to those conversations let be so as one whose agenda is promote and embody the glory and grace of Jesus faithfully, so that you might gather people to yourself. Amen.