Keep Going

Luke 18:4f  “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” … And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? …Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

Jesus knows that we are in danger of giving up.  He told the story of an unrighteous judge and a relentless widow for the very reason that many are about to give up.  He was brutally honest about the things that cause us to lose heart.  The judge in his parable reflects the absence of justice and the absence of respect that prevails in the world.  This man neither looked up to God nor out to the world.  He was not moved by any external fear or love.  No one who loves righteousness and goodness could be unaffected by such callous evil.

But the haunting question with which Jesus closed this parable may reflect the most grievous of all discouragements.  To see others fall by the way, give in to the pressure, or cower before the callousness of the world is a sore trial for someone who would remain faithful.  This isn’t discouragement.  It is warning.  If you know a storm is coming, it is the worst discouragement of all to let your neighbor stroll in happy ignorance, only to be devastated when the storm breaks.  Not only will he be broken by the storm, but he will know with utmost certainty that you cared not one whit for him.  Jesus cares.  So he raises for us the specter of a world without faith.  He is preparing us for a storm that the Scriptures say will happen, a falling away from faith.

The parable encourages us when Jesus shifts our attention from a self-consumed judge who looks neither up nor out, to the righteous character of God and the certainty of his promises.  This judge doesn’t fear God.  Our judge is God.  This judge regards no man.  Our judge watches over his elect, those chosen in Christ Jesus, his own beloved Son.  If the unrighteous judge could be forced to a good thing by his own selfish nature, will God, the perfection of all virtue, who has already given his only begotten to redeem us, do any less?

To affect such a man, this widow had only one tool in her arsenal.  Persistence.  You don’t need anything special for that.  You just need to keep going.

Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and your will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Superior Knowledge

Matthew 7:21-23  Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.

Not what we say, not what we do, but what God knows us to be is the real definition of a life.  Words may be a cover.  Deeds are often done out of character.  Who has not seen a wicked man do a good deed, for whatever reason?  And every man, however good he thinks himself to be, has done an evil deed.

It is tragic when men rely on performance to gain entry to Paradise.  Consider the deeds of the men described by Jesus.  They preached in his name.  This is not a thing that normally gets bad marks.  They cast out demons.  This is impressive.  How many demons have you cast out?  They did awe-inspiring works.  Mouths dropped.  Eyes popped.  Voices exclaimed.  And they did it all in the name of the Lord.  Who on earth would call these men unrighteous and their deeds lawlessness?  Jesus.

The first word of Jesus to these men is “I never knew you.”  This is obviously not the knowledge of mere intellect.  If God is omniscient, he knows.  This is the knowledge of personal relationship and it begins, not with our knowledge of him, but with his knowledge of us.  These men, for all their perceived righteousness, do not know God well enough to realize how crucial the relationship is, both to him and to us.

Men find it hard to grasp that their definition of righteousness is trumped by God’s.  In God’s eyes there is no such thing as righteousness apart from him.  Indeed, the very attempt to be right without him is the fountain of all our foolishness.  It is the Eden fiasco all over again.  It is, in fact, trying to be God.

It stings the pride of man, does it not, to be told that our best efforts are lawlessness?  But this was not new.  Isaiah was hard as nails.  “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)  That stinks!  But if it is true, then our situation is desperate and we need to know it.  Pride must be stung if we would find life.

I think that Peter must have been a very loving man.  And I also think that he must have been very proud of it.  In John 21:15f, when Jesus asked Peter about the greatness of his love for the third time, Peter was cornered.  Three awful times he denied even knowing Jesus, let alone loving him.  Cornered by real love, Peter did the wise thing.  He surrendered to it.  At the same time, he surrendered to a superior knowledge.

John 21:17  he (Peter) said to him (Jesus), “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Best day’s work you will ever do… surrender to his superior love and knowledge.  Trust what he said.

John 3:16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  What a Savior!

Troubled Heart

Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

There were those who looked for and longed for God to come, like Simeon and Anna.  Perhaps the shepherds were among this group though we are not told this.  We are only told that they rejoiced at the wonders revealed to them.

There were those who had a theological expectation of God’s coming, but who showed no practical evidence that it much concerned them.  They accurately diced the Scriptures to show that Bethlehem was the place of Messiah’s birth.  But who among them was stirred enough to trek a mere six miles from Jerusalem to find out what all the fuss was about?  Knowledge of prophecy does not always profit!

Then there were those whose heart was troubled by his coming.  If history reports the truth, Herod’s heart was a frequent flyer in the atmosphere of trouble and he delighted to pass his troubles on down the line.  His position was such that he could.  His disposition was such that he would.  This phrase comes to mind: if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  Herod wasn’t happy and all Jerusalem began to feel it.

There is more than one kind of troubled heart.  The psalmist had a troubled heart.  Psalm 94:3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?  But the answer to his troubled heart was for God to come.  Psalm 94:14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage.  And come he did!  At an unexpected but oh-so-strategic moment!  Psalm 94:18 When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.

Herod’s troubled heart was not of the same family as the psalmist.  Herod concluded that the answer for his troubled heart was to make double sure that God did not come.  How sad!  How foolish!  Herod might have learned from another king that God is neither easily ignored nor easily dismissed.

Daniel 4:34-35  At the end of days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;… and he does according to his will among the host of heaven… and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

What a wonderful Savior he is !

Wise Heart

Matthew 2:2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

It happened right under Herod’s nose.  It happened six miles from the religious center of the Jewish world, where the best and the brightest studied and pondered and pronounced.  It happened and they did not know that it had happened.

I am not sure I understand all that first century ‘magi’ were.  But these magi knew more about the doings of God than the best and the brightest.  And up to the moment of their appearance, Herod, whose suspicious nose was ever in the wind, failed to smell the trouble where these men smelled salvation from far away.  Some translations style them ‘wise’ men instead of ‘magi.’  No problem here.  They discerned the coming of God with far less evidence those who should have known.

God regards a wise heart as one than knows him and seeks him.  He puts a premium on that.  Jeremiah 9:23-24  Thus says the LORD, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD

What a Savior he is!

Shepherd’s Heart

Luke 2:8-9  And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And the angel of the Lord appeared to them

“In those days,” Luke wrote.  While the Roman world scrambled to meet the demand of Caesar, while the locals made the best of the situation, while whatever constituted the hustle and bustle of the times rolled along, God quietly moved to change things forever.  It was nearly unnoticed, but not quite.  Somewhere in the fields surrounding Bethlehem, God made a dramatic announcement to an unlikely and limited audience.  Shepherds.

We don’t know how many shepherds there were.  But there are some very large clues as to why it was shepherds and not, for instance, priests or prophets.  God had left a clear trail in the history of Israel that led straight to his shepherd’s heart.

When Israel’s premature demand for a king exploded in their faces, God followed up with a king after his own heart, a shepherd king.  When prophet and priest became careless and self-consumed, God promised to raise up shepherds who would care for the flock of his people.  They were to watch for one shepherd in particular whose name would be known as “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23)  The psalm of the suffering servant (Psalm 22) and the psalm of the returning king (Psalm 24) hold in their heart the psalm of the good shepherd.  The trail to the heart of God was long and broad.

How wonderful then, and how telling, that among the few who even noticed the first Christmas, there were shepherds.  The great heart of God was on full display in a feed trough and the news was channeled to some night-watchers, some flock-protectors, some unclean sabbath-breakers who deep in their hearts knew more of God’s ways than a host of religious functionaries and their followers.

Those shepherds would have risked much to save the flock.  God would risk all to save even one, even me, even you.  What a Savior!

Sticky Thicket

Psalm 17:12-13  He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.  (13) Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword.

David’s flight from Saul must often have found David feeling like verse twelve and praying like verse thirteen.  As hard as it must have been to understand how ‘the apple of your eye’ (17:8) must endure such a constant threat of ambush, David’s wilderness wandering was not senseless.  It had a significance that even a man after the heart of God might not see.

When David could not see far ahead, he was faced with that simple but oh-so-hard choice.  Will I trust the things God has clearly said to me or will I turn to my own understanding?

1 Corinthians 10:6  Now these things took place as examples for us… (11)  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.

Paul, inspired and looking back with the light behind him, saw clearly.  The wandering, the stumbling, the grasping of the ancient covenant people, every hardship and every glory, happened as examples for Paul, for me, and for you.  Paul looked back often because he was required to go forward every day.  The future for Christians is sometimes too bright for us to see clearly.  We must look back to reorient ourselves, to make certain that we walk the same path that the inspired record has charted.

Do you see what David saw?  An enemy like a roaring lion? (1 Peter 5:8)  A bright, piercing sword in the hand of God? (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12)  It is the only weapon we have.  It is also the only one we need.

When an early warm spell visited New England, the old heads warned the young heads not to be fooled.  Their counsel went like this.  “Stick to your long johns til your long johns stick to you.”  May I transpose this counsel for the Christian experience?

Whether you are at this moment in a sticky thicket with David or enjoying an unnatural warm spell, stick to the Word til the Word sticks to you!

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Today

Genesis 19:21  He (the angel) said to him (Lot), “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.”

God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah was at hand.  The angel said to run for the hills and don’t look back.  Lot said he could not make it that far.  He pleaded for a little town much nearer.  Lot was given this grace and the town was spared because of it.  They named the town Zoar which means ‘little.’  Little may be a matter of perspective in terms of population.  But whether there were ten souls or ten thousand souls, it was no little gift they received that day.  They received, on no merit of their own, another chance.

In Acts 27, Paul was on board a sinking ship.  He stood in midst of 276 shipmates with bad news and good news.  The bad news was that the ship was going down.  The good news was that God had plans for Paul and all 276 passengers would benefit because of it.  They got another chance, a new opportunity.  They didn’t earn it.  They just got it.

Did anyone from Zoar seize the new day given to them?  Are any of the 276 shipmates of Paul in heaven today because they got another chance and took it?  These are great questions that have no answers.  But if any man will take the chance given to him today, then he will find the answer to those questions eventually.

Revelation 3:20  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Psalm 95:7-8 Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts

What a Savior!

A World of Books

John 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Of any earthly king, a fistful of biographers writing across a hundred years will have said everything certainly true about that king a dozen times over.  There isn’t enough substance and certainty about some kings to make one good biography, let alone fill the world with books.

Therefore, many take John’s statement about Jesus to be ecclesiastical exaggeration, evangelistic hyperbole.  Yet those who come to know something of this King may well believe it is a true statement.  The doubter may respond, “But John is speaking only of his earthly ministry, not his eternity.  How can a mere three years fill a world with books?”

Yet of that brief three year ministry we are still discovering and still writing.  This Sunday in countless classrooms, pulpits, abandoned storefronts and theaters, his words and ways will be explored, fresh insight will appear, and new life will be born.  And those born anew by his grace will write, sing, play, think, pray, serve, and by a thousand means release new rivers of his grace.  Those three ‘mere’ years are still unfolding because they cannot contain the glory and majesty of the One who walked them.

Only a few speak words that live beyond their lifetime.  Of those few, fewer still speak words that live a long while.  The words of this King do not merely live forever, but they cause to live.

John 15:3  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

What a Savior!

Simple

Gandalf and company stood at the ancient doors of the mines of Moria as he translated the inscription over the door for them.  “The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.”

“What does it mean by speak, friend, and enter?” asked Merry.  After it was explained that if you are a friend, you only need to speak the password and the door would open, Gandalf proceeded to speak every password in every language he had ever known.  Nothing happened.  At length, the light came on.

“The translation should have been ‘Say “friend” and enter’.  I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened.  Quite simple.  Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days.  Those were happier times.  Let us go.”

‘Simple’ has a breadth of meaning that includes uncomplicated and easy.  I am thinking of uncomplicated.  Hiking to the top of the mountain may not be complicated, but it may not be easy either.  The message of Jesus was simple enough to be reduced to this.

Mark 1:14-15  Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Everything else in the book is an exposition of these startlingly simple phrases.  It is not complicated.  As Gandalf might say, “Quite simple.  Too simple…”  This moment, his rule, your turning, and your faith.  Simple enough for children, but it is the hardest thing you will ever do.  For embedded in that simplicity is the end of your procrastination, the renunciation of your rule, and the departure on a journey that changes destiny forever.

John 3:16.  What a wonderful Savior he is!

Contented

2 Kings 4:13  And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?'” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.

The Shunammite woman had provided a resting place for the prophet Elisha.  Elisha was seeking a way to return the blessing.  His offer to speak a word in the ears of the great would have been seized by many.  But this woman displayed a contentment with her situation that was remarkable.  Eve could not see what she had for looking at what she wanted.  This woman saw what she had and it tempered her wants.

This is the age where you take your life in your hands if you venture out on Black Friday.  The greed that has gripped our time is blinding us.  We cannot see the Christmas we have for grasping at the Christmas we want.  The words of Paul speak with fresh vigor.

1 Timothy 6:6-7  Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

In Isaiah 1:3, the ox and the ass recognized their master’s manger.  When men become as wise as the ox and the ass, they will see the Christmas we already have.  In the manger is a gift you can take with you when you leave this world.  It is for now and forever.  Those who open that gift by faith will have a foundation for contentment the world cannot know.

What a wonderful Savior he is!