Monday, May 17, 2010



"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?



"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and people are forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

In these three short verses Jesus is putting the Mosaic Law in to perspective. This is an example of Jesus' teaching on how the Law ought to be understood or interpreted. There seem to be four themes here:

FIRST-Jesus sees the good news of the kingdom as a shift into a new era. The era of the Law and the Prophets was up until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being proclaimed. Jesus, being introduced by John continues the message of the good news of the kingdom as coming here right now. The Messiah's kingdom is ushered in at this time. It was the good news because through the Law and the Prophets you could only get a glimpse of God's Messiah and His kingdom. Now it is finally here in Jesus.

Jeremiah referred to the fulfillment of this great shift that Jesus began in 31:31-34: "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

SECOND-Jesus notes that the kingdom requires "forcing their way into it." This is a curious statement. Too often we want the blessings of the Kingdom, but are not willing to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus. We are half-baked believers in Jesus. But Jesus makes it clear that He wants everything we have and we are.

So, Jesus is saying that everyone who becomes part of the kingdom is "forcing his way" into it. In other words, those who enter the kingdom must make some effort to do so. The effort? I like to think it is being interested with some effort to it. This is why Jesus says, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you." You must seek it out for yourself. You can't enter the kingdom by going along with the crowd or by some sort of spiritual osmosis. You must be enthusiastic enough to "force your way in."

THIRD-Jesus affirms the permanence of the Law. Just because there has been a shift from the Law into this new kingdom era, doesn't mean that the Law has been done away with. It is still truer than ever.

We must reject the Pharisees' picky, legalistic approach to the Law, but must understand and affirm its purpose, spirit and intent. Primarily the Law must be undergirded by the spirit of the law versus the letter of the Law-the internal over the external. So, the Law is still powerful and true, but we must be careful to read the Law with its original intent.

FOURTH-Jesus insists that the Law must be interpreted properly, searching for the original intent. Then Jesus gives an example of the enduring nature of the Law's intent when it comes to marriage.

In Jesus' day some of the Pharisees had become extremely permissive, allowing men to divorce their wives on the most trivial grounds. If a wife spoiled her husband's dinner, she could be divorced. Another reason for divorce was when a man finds another woman prettier than his present wife. In other words, as long as you get your paperwork done, you can divorce your wife.

Jesus reaffirms the bond of marriage in no uncertain terms when He said, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Here's His point: Marriage must be taken seriously and not lightly. Divorce is a serious matter and you must realize God hates divorce. It is not some loophole in the Law. The word construction of what Jesus says makes even more sense, when you translate this verse: "Anyone who divorces his wife IN ORDER TO marry another woman commits adultery." That's looking at marriage too loosely.

Also, it's important to NOTE: Jesus is the one who pursues lost sheep. He is the one who is looking for sinners (sick people), not the righteous (healthy people). So, Jesus holds sternly to the sanctity of marriage, but continues to reach out to those who have sinned in this area. The Law holds up the standard, yet those who fall short may come to Jesus for salvation and restoration.

There is nothing you can pull off that Jesus can't forgive and heal. The Law is the standard. You actually don't break the Law or the standard when you divorce. The Law or standard breaks you. Yet Jesus, who relentlessly pursues broken people, picks you up and stands you back on your feet again. He is the genuine balance between grace and truth. He loves you and forgives you and calls you to follow him in spite of your past sin, present situation and falling short of the standard. This is the GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM!



Today we come to Luke 16 where Jesus presents another parable. This is a unique one, to be sure, and has stirred up a lot of trouble as people try to understand it. Because of this, this parable has often been ignored. So let's consider the story and try to determine the key teaching of Jesus. Remember, each parable seems to have one primary point that it is making about the kingdom of God.

Let's work our way through it.

Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'

The owner of a business has discovered that his manager has not been doing a good job running the business. So, he informs the manager that he will be out of a job shortly and wants an accounting of what has been going on.

"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg-I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.' "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' "'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'

NOTE these businessmen he was dealing with were not paupers, but quite wealthy. They were working with large sums of money between them. The manager must have been thinking that if he were to befriend these wealthy businessmen, then when he is out of work he will still have a warm relationship with them for some future dealings. Now, check out the owner's response to what the manager had done.

"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

He affirmed the manager for his shrewdness. "That was some good thinking." He wasn't praised for being dishonest, but for his shrewdness. His owner knew exactly what he had done. Jesus then applies this story:

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Jesus says that followers of the kingdom ought to learn to be as shrewd as those who are in the world. This seems a little strange coming from Jesus. What does He mean to urge His disciples to use worldly wealth to gain friends? He goes on to say, "so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Let's read on:

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

We know that there are two kinds of wealth-being rich toward God and being rich in yourself. When you use your worldly riches toward kingdom use, you will store up for yourself treasures in heaven-where you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings as Jesus says. So, be shrewd about how you handle your money, your wealth-your stuff. You are the manager and He is the owner.

Now, NOTE the response from the Pharisees: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.

The Pharisees have chosen the wrong way to handle their wealth. And NOTE what their problem was. They loved money and used it to justify themselves in the eyes of others. They used their wealth and positioning to look good in order to impress others. Now, it's important to understand that there is nothing wrong with money. Money is not the problem. It's how it is valued and how it is used. Money can be used in a compassionate way which is the way of the kingdom of God.

However, when you value money so much to be used for showing off and impressing others, you are misusing the wealth your "owner", the Creator, has allowed you to manage.

Then Jesus makes a very powerful statement: "What people value highly is detestable in God's sight." God knows your heart and what you really value most.

So, pay attention to your heart. You cannot serve two masters, so choose, choose again and re-choose some more. There is one fascinating thing Jesus says here, tying money and God together. He says, ""Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"

Do you want to be entrusted with the true spiritual riches of the universe? Then, handle your money wisely, shrewdly and compassionately and then it's all yours to enjoy!



We come to the third parable of the lost. Jesus has shared the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and now the lost son. This is by far the most popular of the three. In this story Jesus takes it to a human level-the dynamics between a father and his two sons.

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

This is so familiar that I'll let the story speak for itself. What I want to do is to deal with the three characters-the lost son, the son who stayed at home and the father.

FIRST-The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it all. He ended up working for someone else and found himself wallowing along with the pigs. He woke up and made the decision to go home and see if he could possibly work for his dad as servant, because he knew that being a servant for his dad was so much better than hanging out with his pig friends. When he came home, his father greeted him enthusiastically. He interrupts his son's rehearsed speech and ordered the servants to prepare for a celebration. He ordered them to bring four things-the best robe to honor him, a ring to signify his rich love for his son, sandals as a sign of a freeman as opposed to a slave and a fatted calf that had been specially fed in order to be ready for a special occasion.

SECOND-The older son who never left and squandered his wealth, but continued to stay at home and do what he was supposed to do. However, what we have here is not just one son who was in the wrong, but two.

There are two types of sinners mentioned in this story. There was the younger son who really blew it and squandered his father's wealth. And there was the older son who was more of a hypocritical son in the family. The younger son sinned against his father and admitted his wrongs. The older brother had anchored himself in Pharisaical self-righteousness. The younger obviously disregarded his father's love and yet the older also disregarded the love of his father. He didn't appreciate what he had. The younger was honest and the older is extremely hypocritical.

THIRD-The father was father not only to the prodigal son, but to the Pharisaical son. He had to face two kinds of failures in his family and did so very well.

There are, at least, 4 basic lessons in this story: 1. When there is true repentance, God exuberantly extends His love. 2. God's great love is for all sinners-no matter their stance before Him. 3. God desires sons more than servants. 4. God's love is unconditional. You can't do anything to turn His love away.

This third parable paints a good picture of God's attitude toward those who are lost. The father in this story is the God-like figure for us. All three parables on those who are lost-the sheep, the coin and the prodigal son-should set in concrete two revolutionary thoughts about God and His attitude toward you.

FIRST-God is relentlessly pursuing you with His love. He will do anything He has to do to connect with you.

SECOND-God loves you no matter what! This is nailed down by Paul's words in the letter he wrote to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."