Thursday, March 01, 2007



As we continue in this study of Jesus and the kingdom in Luke we come to Luke 17.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.

Things that cause people to stumble are inevitable. These are traps that are continually set in your path. However the worst trap or temptation is when one person causes another to stumble. Jesus mentions “little ones” here which could mean new believers or literally children. I believe He is speaking of the insignificant, those who don’t stand out as leaders—the “little” and “powerless” people of our society.

The punishment is severe—to tie a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea. Each household had a small stone mill to grind grain into flower. Obviously, you would surely drown with this heavy millstone around your neck. NOTE He says that it would be better to be punished in this way (with a millstone around your neck). In other words, you deserve worse than this, if you cause the “little” ones to stumble.

Then Jesus turns the attention toward what happens when a person sins against you: "If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."

Did you get that? When a brother or sister sins against you, call them on it. If they “repent” or have a change of heart, admitting that they were wrong, then you are to forgive them. BUT on top of that, if they sin against you seven times in one day, then you are to come back to them seven times and forgive them! The disciples’ response is interesting:

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”

Wow, Jesus, if we are going to practice this kind of response toward those who sin against us then we need a large amount of faith. Jesus quickly points out to them that they only need faith as small as a mustard seed and you will be able to do miraculous things. I think this is because it isn’t the amount of faith, but the object of the faith that matters. So, you have more than enough faith to be effective. Then Jesus goes into a story:

"Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

In these first 10 verses of Luke 17 it’s as if Jesus is setting forth a list of spiritual qualities we are to embrace in the kingdom—a quality of spiritual life that doesn’t cause others to stumble, a community that knows how to forgive and get along, a faith that is powerful and now, HUMILITY.

You see, we exist to serve God, and not vice-versa. It was inappropriate for slaves to feed themselves before they fed their master, no matter how hungry they were. God promises to meet our needs, but that’s not the main point. We are not to view ourselves as God serving us—“What have you done for me lately, Lord?” But, we are to gratefully take on the responsibility of serving God. We don’t work for God in an advisory capacity. He is God and we are not! We are not to be looking for God’s praise or blessing because we serve Him. He is our God and we are to be His servants.

These four qualities are part of what makes up lifestyle in the kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of man. If you are a follower of Jesus, the King, then you must seek to embrace the kingdom lifestyle that goes along with it. This is not a system of do’s and don’ts, but a lifestyle that you will discover is most meaningful and fulfilling.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 11, when He said, “All of you who are weary and burdened down, come to Me.” Or, my favorite paraphrase of that same message is: "The Lord says, 'this is a special invitation to all of you who don't have all the answers. Who struggle with life. Who are tired. Who are burned out. Who are bruised. Who struggle with grief. Come to me I will teach you how to trust. I will teach you how to learn. Walk with me, work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn how to trust and live with joy and freedom.'"

That’s the joy of embracing the lifestyle of the kingdom! Have you tasted of that yet?



"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

"'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is not a portrayal of heaven, but it is still in the form of a parable. A parable is a story intended to convey a spiritual truth. The story doesn't have to be about real people or even real situations (like a camel passing through the eye of a needle). But to achieve its teaching goal, a parable must be striking and memorable, so that as the story is retold and remembered, the spiritual truth is reinforced again and again. The hearers must be able to imagine the situation.

Many scholars believe that Jesus is drawing upon a popular Jewish folk tale that had roots in Egypt about a rich man and poor man whose lots after death are completely reversed.

It’s like me telling you a story of the preacher and a New York taxi driver who arrived at the pearly gates and were greeted by St. Peter. The taxi driver is richly rewarded while the preacher just barely squeaks in. Why was this? It’s simple. When the preacher prayed, the people slept. But when the taxi driver drove, people prayed. Now that is a vivid story.

The rich man goes to the extreme of proposing that Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his brothers. Luke's readers will immediately think of Jesus, and how even His resurrection from the dead was not enough to sway the Pharisees from their hardened opposition to the truth.

There are four quick observations here:

FIRST—Wealth without active mercy for the poor is a great evil. Jesus is critical of the Pharisees here. He is not criticizing them for their hypercritical attitude and practices, but their neglect to treat the poorest of the poor well.

SECOND—How you treat the needs of the poor and needy have great consequences.

THIRD—If you close your eyes to the truth you are given, then you are doomed. It is irreversible.

FOURTH—The love of money to the neglect of showing mercy is inexcusable.

If you don't notice and minister to the poor, what excuse will you have? In the final analysis, the rich man's punishment is not for riches, but for the neglect of the Scriptures and what they teach us about the HEART OF GOD. Let me ask you: Does your heart resonate with the heart of God?