“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
This text records several shorts snippets from Jesus' teaching and interactions... I'll try, in one or two sentences to summarize his points:
Being delivered from an evil spirit doesn't guarantee freedom, because we can always use our freedom to re-open doors to the demonic. Demonic spirits have a way of returning with a vengence and for our greater destruction if we fail to guard our hearts, and minds. A supernatural experience of Christ's power is of no value if we don't walk in the reality Christ's power.
We think of God's blessing in terms of material affluence, broad influence and reputation, fame and the applause of men, success, and these earthly thing. But Jesus thought the greatest blessing was have the word of God revealed to you so that it lands and actually reorders your life according to it. To hear and obey God's word is a supernatural thing and it is the deepest blessing God can bestow on us.
The generation that lived and around Jesus was really not unlike our own generation... and probably every generation. We all want proof. We all want the sensational. But Jesus refers back to significant figures from Israel's history, Jonah and Solomon. And rather than giving into the appetites of people for the remarkable, Jesus says he's the greater Solomon and the greater Jonah. Solomon was known for his wisdom as Israel's King, and Jonah was known was the prophet to a wicked people who preached repentance. Jesus is saying rather than signs, which he obviously did plenty of, the real essence of his ministry is the wisdom of God which he not only has, but actually embodies, and the loving plea for people to repent from their sinful and selfish ways of life to turn to God. No amount of signs and wonders is more important see Jesus as wisdom from God and responding to him in repentance and faith.
This one is a little tricky but I think Jesus is saying that he came to give us ligh by which we can see everything as it really is. But our own eyes, our own perspective will determine the usefulness of that light. If my own sight is distorted, darkened or dimmed in any way; in fact, if I'm blind, no amount of light will change that. It's one thing to be blind and know it. But it's another thing entirely to be blind and think yourself as having great sight. If you know you're blind you will rely on the sight of others... they become light for you. If you think you're fine, you'll stumble around in darkness you're whole life. Will we allow Jesus and the light he brings and is, to become the means by which we navigate our way through the world and this life?
A Prayer for Trust:
Father, at the core of all these things is the question of where I put my trust. Will I trust Jesus to orient my life rightly? Will I trust him to order my thoughts and feelings wisely? Will I trust him moment by moment, day by day? Will I bring everything in life under the light that Jesus gives? Or will I trust me and my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas, my solutions, my understanding, and my interpretations? Will I trust social trends, cultural orthodoxy, modern sensibilities? Lord, I choose you. Jesus is far more credible than any other source of wisdom, and I choose to lean into him, today. But my flesh wants to assert myself everyday. I want to trust me everyday. That impulse is strong in me. Help me choose to trust you again tomorrow... and the next day. Let me never waver from relying on you, Jesus. Amen.
"Woe to you..."
The Pharisees and the Lawyers are obsessed with the right outward behaviors. They're good at appearances. They're proficient at externally embodying the values of their culture. And they think everyone else should be too.
But they're motivated by status, recognition and the personal benefits of social clout. These were the morally elite; the sexually pure; the theologically precise; the faithful donors to charity; the spiritually impressive; the educationally advanced; the culturally accomplished; they were the standard to which everyone aspired. And Jesus wants nothing to do with them. Why? Because as John Gerstner has said of the religiously credentialed, "the main thing between [them] and God is not so much their sin, but their damnable good works.
Their is a religious, church version of the Pharisees today. And their is also a cultural version of the Pharisees today. There are those in the church who are gracelessly preoccupied with outward morality, religious practices, saying and doing the right things, fixating on alignment with accepted religious orthodoxy, but who ignore the cruel bent of their own hearts. There are also those in the culture who are intolerantly preoccupied with pushing a social agenda, turning everything into political outrage, always saying and doing the inoffensive thing, fixating on alignment with the accepted cultural orthodoxy, but who ignore the cruel bent of their own hearts. Both are filled with disdain and contempt for those who don't fit in their narrowly defined boxes.
The gatekeepers of a culture or sub-culture are always in danger of becoming ruthless toward those who don't immediately and comprehensively conform. Jesus is always concerned about the character of our lives and how we live and engage in the world. He's even and always more concerned with the motivational forces which animate the character of our lives. This is why he says to the Pharisees, "But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you."
He's saying that the condition of our hearts determines the true quality of our character. Jesus certainly isn't advocating for the indulgence of immoral impulses within. He's arguing for integrity. A whole person conversion. He's saying that external holiness may be of social benefit, but only external holiness which flows from internal holiness is a spiritual benefit.
Abel and Zechariah were these two righteous men before the Lord. They were prominent men in the OT who were slain unjustly because of their righteousness. And Jesus is so strongly censuring the Pharisees and Lawyers way of seeing and being in the world that the innocent blood of those two men, and those who are like them, is on their hands. He's saying that the heavy handedness and rigid demands they place on people; the shame and guilt they mass produce is choking life out of people.
This is the problem with corrupt leadership. Not only do they fail to enter into the reality they pretend to represent. They actually create barriers for others to enter into that same reality. When leaders refuse to genuinely enter into life with God on God's terms, they inevitably end up keeping others on the outside of life with God too.
It's a stark indictment on them and a serious warning to us. Are we the graceless keeping people from knowing the real Jesus? Are we allowing the graceless to keep us from the real Jesus? Are we precoccupied with creating an image for people to be impressed with and affirming of, or are we preoccupied with nurturing in our hearts, a love for Jesus and for people that is grounded in our awareness of our own need and unimpressiveness?
A Prayer for Grace:
Lord, I love to pretend I have it together. I love measuring my worth and value by what I do really well. And I can't help it... I actually love denigrating others in my own heart based on what they do poorly. It's just easier to focus on cleaning the outside of our lives. And it's easier to try to get other people to clean the outside too. I can feel really successful when I define success by certain outward behaviors that come easier to me, while seeing as failures those to whom those same things don't come so easily. Save me from being in the graveyard of unmarked tombs. Let the grace you've lavishly extended to me, extend through me to others. Make me a grace-filled person. Amen.
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God..." (Luke 12:8)
We tend to be short sighted. We are caught up in expediency and pragmatism. But what's best for right now is often the enemy of what's best. Jesus sees things differently. He has a long view of things. He is present in the moment to be sure, but he isn't ruled by the moment.
Our temptation is always to do right now whatever gets us what we want right now or avoids pain right now. But we will never follow Jesus faithfully without seeing the bigger picture. It's easy to see the wicked in the moment as prospering or as threatening to us. Worldly forces are always against Jesus because his Kingdom is not of this world.
So Jesus is reminding us of what is true beyond the momentary fear of the earthly powers are set against us. And in the big picture here's what's ultimately true which undermines are momentary fears:
- The injustice and corruption which we think others are getting away or perhaps which we think we're getting away with will be seen for what they are... in the end there will be no secrets and the implication is we will be held to account.
- The earthly powers that hate you because of Jesus, and which threaten you, can only do earthly damage. They can even go to the point of killing your body, Jesus says, which is scary. But he's reminding us that our physical body is just a temporary housing for our eternal souls. There is a life beyond this life and a body on the other side of this body, and Jesus is speaking to our realest and deepest earthly fears of pain, loss, rejection, suffering and death by reminding us that we're deeply loved by God, valuable to him, cherished by him, and therefore ultimately safe and under his protection. Jesus is saying we can be at peace in the possibility of earthly suffering, because there is a corresponding certainty of our eternal security.
- But then Jesus says something surprising. Jesus seems to think that an eternal perspective doesn't just give us hope for a better end, it gives us the courage for a better now. If we're willing to openly identify with us, and have an opened awareness of him in the midst of whatever earthly sufferings we face, it will be his own joy to openly identify himself with us, which he will do by sending the Holy Spirit of God to minister according to our needs of the moment. If we'll embrace Jesus as our ultimate reality, not only will we have an eternity secured by him and with him, but we will have his living presence with us right now to sustain us through whatever challenges we face. That's an amazing promise... and it's an even greater reality.
A Prayer for the Holy Spirit:
Father, Jesus says elsewhere that you lovingly provide for the material needs of your children, but how much more will you give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? I'm asking... I'm pleading and begging you... don't let me do life my way, in my strength and wisdom, or in service of my agenda. I've had enough of me. I don't want life on my terms. I want the Holy Spirit. I want your power and strength and wisdom... I want your very presence. Please give me your Spirit in greater measure to orient my thoughts, feelings, desires and will toward Christ. Turn my eyes upon Jesus so that the things of earth may grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I need you to even turn my eyes and heart in that direction. I don't want the Spirit to help me escape earthly realities, Lord. I want the Spirit to help me engage meaningfully and redemptively in earthly realities. I need a presence and power not of this world to navigate this world. I need you.
“...be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Through the rest of Luke 12, Jesus addresses how we relate to material provision. In this section, Jesus tells a parable of a man who has great wealth and spends his time and energy figuring out how to store and spend his wealth on his own enjoyment and pleasure. He has a small and selfish view of what he has accumulated. It all proves to be a waste because he's used his resources to build his own life and kingdom rather than to build into others and God's Kingdom.
The part I want to draw attention to though is the first leading into the parable, where Jesus says, "be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
The parable is told to illustrate this point that Jesus makes so plainly. And it's really simple, yet very profound. This man comes to Jesus because he sees the authority and power of Jesus' words, and he wants to leverage that authority to secure his financial future. He's coming to Jesus, the one from whom the God's glory radiates, and his total fixation is with a financial inheritance that he and his brother are bickering over. If when you come into the presnce of Jesus and the dominant thought is your financial viability long term, you may not be seeing Jesus for who he really is.
Jesus is essentially saying, "guard yourself against discontent and a preoccupation with more, because more stuff doesn't lead to more joy or more life." Discontent isn't really about resources, it's about perspective. We are all pursuing satisfaction in something, and it's natural and normal to think that more of what hasn't satisfied will ultimately satisfy. And Jesus is saying we're wrong. Discontent is not about more accumulating more of what we desire, it's aobut adjusting our desire toward the ultimate good we were created for...
Thankfully, Jesus doesn't just identify problems, he actually proposes solutions. The enemy of our happiness is v. 21... laying up treasure and living for ourselves. It's a powerful impulse within us to think we need to make our own happiness our greatest aim or we'll never be happy. But that's the problem. We become obsessed with earthly comfort, modern conveniences and the chronic need for more.
The solution is the other side of v. 21... being rich toward God. The key to happiness is counterintuitive... it's not living for your happiness. Happiness comes when we live for a higher purpose and greater pursuit than our happiness in general. And ultimate happiness comes when we live for our ultimate purpose and pursuit which was established for us at creation and is not set by us at our whims. We exist as God's image bearers to reflect His nature and His character for His glory and His kingdom.
A Prayer for True Happiness:
Father, I seek satisfaction in so many ridiculous things. I know better, but it's like I can't help it. My heart drifts back, again and again, to the desire for earthly comfort and personal convenience as the solution to my discontent. I am drawn so easily away from your beauty and radiance and to things with a dull shimmer and shine. Would you put in me a deeper desire for you and your kingdom... for your ways and your wisdom. Put in me a dicontent - indeed an utter contempt - for the best the world has to offer, so that I might be obsessed, not with my own fleeting happiness, but with you who can make me pervasively and eternally happy.
Anxiety is normal. Worrying about clothes and food and housing and our future is normal. This is what people from everywhere on the face of the earth have always done. And living in the most affluent society in human history hasn't diminished that one bit. Jesus knew this was a real issue for people. And he even knows the felt needs are legitimate. He just says that are coping mechanisms are useless and self-defeating.
But he's not doomsday about our situation. He gives us a real comfort and then a real solution to the real emotional turmoil we experience.
The comfort is this: Look at how well He takes care of other aspects of creation and consider that we, as His image bearers, are of the highest value to Him in all of creation. If you're factoring God into the equation at all - and most of us do even though there is a varied conception of who He is - than factor in the evidence for his trustworthiness. If God is real, and God is good, stop believing and acting as though you dictate outcomes. Take a deep breath.
The solution is this: rather worrying and internalizing things, and rather than trying to control things externally, Jesus says seek the Kingdom. Meaning, if you want peace, security, settledness of heart and a internal rest, than give yourself to the things of God. Every culture in history as fallen for the trap of pursuing peace and security through earthly wealth and control and America as achieved it at a higher level of any society, and we're medicating seemingly everybody for anxiety and depression. It just doesn't work.
The antidote to anxiety isn't ultimately medication, it's to orient our thoughts and lives around Jesus and his kingdom. Give ourselves to eternal and heavenly realities, and the our hearts will calm down. If earthly worries are cuasing you anxiety it's a signal your too preoccupied with earthly things. You certainly can't know God is going to give you a certain job, or salary, or house, or wardrobe, or food and drink. He provides for our needs but not all our wants.
But he loves to give you his Kingdom. He loves to extend his loving reign into your life, and be present with you, and to minister to you and through you... he loves to use as an agent of peace. He loves to lead you into reality with God and life with Him. So, if you'll make that your emphasis, your preoccupation, your fixation and obsession, he'll be more than happy to meet you personally, and give you the peace you long for and which no earthly solution can grant you.
A Prayer for His Kingdom:
Father, I don't pray this enough or even consider this enough... you have a Kingdom not of this earth but which you have invited us to live in through Jesus while we're on earth. And still I get so caught up in what's visible and visceral. Open my awareness and arrest my thoughts to desire, pursue and live in the reality of your kingdom, to invest in and represent your kingdom throughout each day. Let my sense of place and belonging and ambition be tied to the enjoyment and advancement of your Kingdom. May I experience in and through the living presence of Jesus, the joy and peace of your loving care, in such a way that my internal state is not ruled by earthly needs or wants, but by my eternal rest in Christ, and all that he has secured for me. Amen.