The one who is least ... is greater

When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

The disciples of John the Baptist are leaving and Jesus remembers and honors John.. he calls him more than a prophet and he identifies John a the forerunner of the Messiah. And in doing so Jesus identifies himself as that very Messiah. When I think of John I remember that he said of Christ: "I must decrease and he must increase". John was a humble prophet and as such he prophetically proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God that would take away our sins. He deflected attention away from himself and onto the Messiah.

Jesus then says something crazy. He says that one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than a great prophet. To me this speaks to the miracle of the new birth where people have new hearts with God's laws emblazoned on them. It reminds me that each reborn person is more than a prophet who proclaims God's message. It speaks to me about how such people are God's message. John was the last prophet of the old covenant. We who are born again are embodied by the Spirit of the Prophet Jesus.

Thank you Father that, by your grace, I have your laws written on my heart.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I cannot imagine what was going through the mind of John the Baptist. Prison was probably not a part of the plan that he had envisioned. Just a short while ago he was baptizing in the Jordan and proclaiming the good news to everyone in earshot. John had to be wondering why the one who proclaimed freedom to prisoners had not come to his cell to set him free. Hard times will cause the mind to go to strange places and ask difficult questions.

How hard it is to not carry an offence towards God when our prayers are not answered. Like John we sit hurting and wondering if God really is who he said he is. In our misery God does not seem to care about our pain or the prison cell that wraps us in darkness. Yet in the darkness Jesus asks us to trust him and to not be offended that our prayer is unanswered.

In the darkness I will trust you Lord. I will not be offended.

Do not weep.

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

I am a sucker for tears - just thinking about people in pain sometimes brings tears to my eyes. I can see tears in the eyes of Jesus as he approaches this woman who had lost not only her husband to death but now her son lies on a bier being carried to his grave. She certainly had tears in her eyes when our Lord spoke these words to her: “Do not weep.”

To we who are weeping today the Lord too speaks these words of comfort. This crisis will not have the last word in our life. The pain of the day will eventually give way to a better day. One day that which has died will be given back to us and all will glorify God in response. For a great prophet is present amongst us. God is visiting his people each new day.

Help me to see you through my tears Lord.

Not even in Israel have I found such faith ...

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them.

When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

Sometimes religious people of a certain sect can see faith as something belonging to them alone. These often feel that faith is all about following the rules and embracing a specific theology. Then a centurion comes along and helps us to see that faith is really not about rules or theology at all. In this story Jesus marvels at the faith of a humble man that neither followed Jewish law or traditions. The centurions speaks to us of what real faith is.

In the centurion we see a blend of genuine faith and humility. The man could have come to Jesus himself but sent others who he deemed to be more worthy. When he heard that Jesus was coming to his place he felt unworthy of a visit by God incarnate. And in Christ he saw one who had authority over life and death - sickness and health. And the Lord responded to his prayer by healing his servant. We can learn much from the faith of the centurion.

Lord, I so often need to see to believe. Help me to believe before I see.

The foundation on the rock ...

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

A few years ago I turned the TV on one morning to see the image of a large home being swept away by flood waters. The devastation was difficult to watch as the power of the river overwhelmed the foundations of that house. To such an event the Lord Jesus compares a life built on a shaky spiritual foundation. Consider what the apostle tells the Corinthians:

"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

In this passage Paul also speaks to the issue of foundation. When we follow Christ and his teachings we lay spiritual bricks on a firm foundation. But when we build our lives on the teachings and philosophies of men we have no assurance of everlasting life. Christ is an eternal foundation and when we build on Him we are able to withstand the torrents of death.

Teach me Lord to build on the foundation that is Christ.

Out of the abundance of the heart ...

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

A few years ago I had a continuing dialog with an old friend about his heart. He had been convinced by fundamentalist teaching that his heart was desperately wicked. It took me several sessions to help him understand that his problem was not his heart but his flesh - not the innermost being but the outer one. It is a problem that many have because of bad teaching. In truth, we who have been born of the Spirit were given new hearts by God.

In these few sentences Jesus speaks to this very issue of the inner person exercising control over the outer one. He says that the condition of your heart matters because of the words that come out of your mouth. In my thinking the issue of bad speech or behavior is one of strength. If our good heart is stronger then our nasty flesh then good words will come from it. It speaks to me of how I need to daily feed, encourage and strengthen my heart.

Help me Lord to be strong on the inside today. Help my new heart to win.

Can a blind man lead a blind man?

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about loving like God loves and showing mercy to their enemies. He takes it a bit further and tells them in this passage that the judgment they have in their hearts for others causes them to be spiritually blind. Such was the case of the religious leaders of his day. These, who were supposed to lead, were blinded by religious pride. These forgot that their primary obligation was to love and not condemn.

Have you ever thought of hypocrisy as a symptom of spiritual blindness? Ever wonder why the religious leaders could not seem to really see Jesus for who he was? Perhaps each condemnation of another added an obstruction to their spiritual eyes. Maybe hypocritical actions obscure our inner vision? Would that they chose mercy over judgment. Would that they would have repented and received healing for the eyes of their heart.

I repent of judgmentalism Lord. Heal my blindness. Cause me to embrace mercy.

It will be measured back to you ...

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

I have heard this passage used so many times by preachers who are teaching about giving money to their church or ministry. Interesting to note that money is not mentioned in these verses at all. When compared to the things mentioned in these verses money falls very short. These qualities are all ingredients in the soup we call mercy. They are an explanation of what Jesus meant when he said: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

If you desire mercy and forgiveness in your life you must be a giver of mercy and forgiveness. But if you live a life condemning and judging others this kind of mercy will be hard to find. The image of mercy being returned to us "pressed down, shaken together, running over" thrills my soul. In these few words the Lord is opening our eyes to a heavenly principle where just a little bit of mercy reaps a harvest of it. Give, and it will be given to you.

Help me to be an extravagant giver of grace, mercy and forgiveness today dear Lord Jesus.

He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil ...

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The selfless and sacrificial love that Jesus teaches us about in this passage is so different than the love that most of us have experienced in life. Most of the love we have experienced is reciprocal - when we tell some one "I love you" we are offended if they do not reply in kind. We love so that we are loved in return and love becomes a quid pro quo codependent situation that is very foreign to the divine love that our Lord speaks of in this passage.

Consider how Jesus instructs us to love: " love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return" and "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful". These words challenge me to the very core because they require me to love the way that God loves. They require me to forgive when an apology is not offered and to give when my flesh does not want to. This divine love elevates me and calls me upward to be a son of the Most High.

Bring transformation today Lord. Cause me to love like you love.

Do good to those who hate you ...

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you ever wanted a definition of sacrificial love - here it is. In the context of a relationship with an enemy the Lord instructs us to treat them like they are a close friend. His words are so radical in that they shed a whole new light on forgiveness and what it means to lay our lives down for others. He offers us no excuse for hate or unforgiveness.

The golden rule is perhaps one of the most powerful principles in the bible because it helps us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we all simply treated everyone (even those who hate us) the way that we wanted to be treated there would be no wars and, in essence, no enemies. Jesus lived this out to its fullest extent when he died for his enemies on the cross.

Help me to live like I have no enemies Lord. Teach me how to really love.

Woe to you who laugh now ...

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you,
for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

The words of Christ in this passage speak to me of a people who believe that they do not need God. In the sentences leading up to this indictment Jesus speaks to his audience, and us, of the blessings of poverty, hunger, mourning and rejection. He calls these things blessings because they have the ability to turn our hearts to heaven.

Yet the things that many of us call blessings (like wealth and popularity) are things that feed our egos and cause us to look to ourselves instead of God. To be sure, he is not saying that money, food, happiness and friends are evil. He is simply saying that these things can morph into something bad when they distract our our hearts from heavenly things.

Turn my heart towards heaven Lord that I might see clearly.

Blessed are you who weep now ...

And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and
revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

This passage is perhaps one of the most majestic in all of holy writ. In the context of powerful exorcisms and healings the Son of God speaks to the qualities that make for genuine spiritual life. It is as if he is telling them that external healings pale in compare to the transformation of the inner man. The message is that those who persevere in faith will see a day that is filled with satisfaction, laughter and joy. It is such a hopeful message.

Yet this message is against everything that our flesh hopes for. The message of heaven is antithetical to the one that we see in the media and all around us. Not one of us craves the blessings of poverty, hunger, weeping and rejection - even if we accept the message in a spiritual sense. Yet the words of Christ ring true in our hearts. Faith has never been about living for the happiness of today but about living in hope for the joy of tomorrow.

Lord, help me to embrace hope today.

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good ...

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

A pattern of accusation and judgment is developing in these passages of the gospel. I wonder if Luke, as he pens the stories, is seeing a theme unfold. Each time Jesus comes into contact with the scribes and the Pharisees he had to feel like a person who was constantly under the scrutiny of those in authority. These who were charged with the spiritual care of the masses constantly sought to judge a man who only did good.

I love the courage of Christ as he calls out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. These who should have been encouraging this hurting man would not lift a finger to ease his pain. Jesus would have none of it! In a display of compassion and power the Great Physician speaks to the hurting man and his glory is on display for all to see. The man, and all around him, rejoiced at the miracle. Yet fury filled the Pharisees. What a sad commentary.

Lord, help me to rejoice when you act in a way that is not consistent with my traditions.

The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

I once heard this idea communicated about a Christian being involved in Civil Disobedience: Never obey the civil authorities when it contradicts what spiritual authority instructs you to do. Jesus echos that sentiment when he shocks the religious poobahs of his day by saying that he himself is an authority greater than the Law of Moses. Peter and John take it a step further in Acts when they tell these same leaders that they must obey God and not men.

In Mark's gospel Jesus explains this further telling the religious elders: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” This is an important concept to grasp. When God spoke to Moses about the Sabbath rest he was not giving them an onerous law but one that would help and free them. It is a good way to measure other laws. If something gives you the freedom to fully follow God it is good. Anything else is simply unhelpful and may be harmful.

Thank you Lord that you have placed discernment in my heart. Help me to listen.

New wine must be put into fresh wineskins.

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

As Jesus teaches using these two examples we see him draw a distinct contrast between things that are old and those that are new. The context of his comments is the criticism by religious leaders that he and his disciples do not follow their tradition on fasting. His response speaks to the contrast between internal and external aspects of faith and fasting.

The good news of the kingdom that Christ taught had absolutely nothing to do with external traditions such as fasting. When Jesus speaks of fasting in the sermon on the mount he instructs his disciples (and us) to do it in secret. The two teachings did not go together. No one could fast in the traditional sense and follow the Lord's command to do it in secret.

Help me Lord to drink new wine today Lord. Help me to recognize the old wine for what it is.

They will fast in those days.

And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”

My mind races back to that song in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevya, the Jewish patriarch, regales "Tradition". To be sure, the ideas encased in the word sometimes get a bad rap by forward thinking Christians. And sometimes people certainly take the word to extremes. There is something in a tradition that is both binding and freeing.

Yet in this passage Jesus seems to be telling us that it is not the tradition (i.e. fasting) that it is the issue but the way in which it is applied. He seems to be speaking to us about the difference between a tradition controlling us and us controlling the tradition. When led by the Holy Spirit the use of a tradition can be a very freeing thing.

Help me to feel your heart today Lord. Cause me to embrace your traditions.

I have not come to call the righteous ...

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

I am amazed when I consider the men that Jesus called to be his students. It was like he wanted to train men from the ground up. He did not want theologians, teachers or philosophers who were already indoctrinated in the traditions and thinking of Israel. He saw something in the men that he called that always said an immediate yes to his invitation to simply “Follow me”. Perhaps we would do well to focus on this aspect in our lives?

In contrast to the excitement of Levi, who immediately called all of his friends together, we see in the religious elders a dark self righteous judgmentalism. In these we begin to understand why the Lord called no religious leaders to walk by his side. Christ's mission to bind up the brokenhearted could not be embraced by men who could not see past the brokenness and pain of these who they called “sinners”. He needed sinners to save sinners.

Help me Lord. I am in need of a physician to heal me of self righteous judgmentalism.

Why do you question in your hearts?

And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

It is very difficult to read this account and dismiss Jesus as some sort of prophet or great teacher. The scribes and the Pharisees understood it when they charged Christ with blasphemy because he forgave the paralytic's sins - only God himself has the authority to forgive sins. And in this face-off of authorities Jesus backs up his claim by speaking a word that not only heals the man's soul but his body as well. And amazement seized them.

The issue is why we today are not seized by amazement when we read of these "extraordinary things" in the gospels. Could it be that we too question the gospel stories in out hearts? Have we become too familiar with Jesus? Perhaps if we read the stories with fresh eyes and believing hearts we would find a renewed sense of joy and awe in our hearts. For it is true: only God appearing in the flesh can forgive sins. Amazing!

Give me fresh eyes Lord. I need to see anew today. You are amazement incarnate!

Go and show yourself to the priest ...

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

I am deeply moved as I read this passage. Imagine with me, if you will, a man in pain and full of leprosy falling down before the Lord pleading for help. His words are so moving. I can imagine the compassion on the face of the Son of God as he stretched forth his hand to touch one who is deemed untouchable by the law. Jesus was unafraid of becoming unclean himself through this contact and showed amazing courage in this healing.

Yet his concern was not for his fame but for the man's relationship with God and his community. The easy thing to tell the man was that he was healed and needed to be an itinerant witness for Christ. The harder thing was to tell him to go back and be a witness to the priest and all of those in the synagogue of God's mercy. Perhaps Christ saw something in the man that needed further healing? Or perhaps the priest needed encouragement?

Cleanse my mind this day Lord that I too might be a witness of your mercy.

Put out into the deep ...

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Stories like this one remind me of how Jesus proclaimed an uncommon message to very common people. The Lord had been using Peter's boat to preach from and the disciple had been listening to the teaching. I wonder what the Lord was teaching? Perhaps it was how God takes care of the sparrows? For soon Peter would experience the provision of God in an extraordinary way. Soon the words of Christ would be displayed with a boat full of fish.

Peter's reactions are so telling. At first he resists but then obeys Jesus' words. And moments later he kneels in amazement and leaves everything to follow Jesus' call to fish for men. I think that this is the way that most of us react to the call of Christ in our hearts. His words initially seem too good to be true but something inside of us relents and we obey putting out into deep uncharted waters. And then we fall to our knees in awe leaving all for Jesus.

Make me a fisher today Lord. Open my eyes to opportunities to share you with others.

I was sent for this purpose.

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Ever wonder what it would have been like if Jesus was born in our times? I sometimes think that things would have been different yet they would be the same. The message would have been the same but the transmission of it might include microphones and loudspeakers.. and maybe even radio or television. People back then and people today are hungry to hear the good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus was sent to proclaim.

I am intrigued by the way that the Lord did not simply stay in places where people loved him and the good news that he preached. It seems like it would have been so easy to stay and so difficult to leave. It speaks deeply to me of how Christ was truly led by the Father when he prayed. It challenges me to listen for his voice in my times of prayer and to be willing to change when I hear him speak to me about my purpose on earth.

Not my will but thine Lord. Let your kingdom come in my life as it is in heaven.

Be silent and come out of him!

And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

Jesus has left his hometown and is now teaching again in the synagogue at Capernaum. His words are creating awe and amazement in the people there. I wonder what about his teaching astonished the people there and how it came across having authority. Perhaps his teaching was bypassing their heads and going straight to their hearts. I have experienced teaching such as this that had the power and authority to bring change into my life.

Yet the power of Christ was evident in a greater way that day. Not only did the words of Christ have the power to transform the inner being but also had the authority to provoke and exorcise demons. I find it interesting how the unclean demon was provoked by the teaching of the Lord. It was like the demon raised up to challenge to the teaching and authority of Christ. Incredible how Jesus took care of him with just a few words of rebuke.

Open the ears of my heart Lord that I might hear your words and be changed by them.

No prophet is acceptable in his hometown ...

And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

What is it about Jesus that brings out the best and worst in people? The folks listening to him in his hometown synagogue began by dismissing him as the son of the local carpenter and ended up trying to take his life. There is something about truth spoken by a prophet that has a polarizing affect on listeners. It was true of Jesus in the same way that it was for prophets like Elijah and Elisha. People sometimes simply cannot get past their prejudices.

Isn't it interesting how God so often uses people to minister to strangers? I wonder why it is so often easier to hear God in the words of strangers than in the words of family members? Perhaps it is simply difficult for us to change our perceptions of them? In truth it is hard to forget the past and embrace the present. It is easier to rely on antiquated traditions and old perceptions of people. It is the reason that we must seek the Lord for direction each day.

Help me Lord to shed my past paradigms and embrace your mission for me today.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ...

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Jesus has been baptized by John, tempted by the devil and now begins his ministry with this reading in his hometown synagogue. He ends the reading by saying that he is the fulfillment of this passage from the prophet Isaiah. I wonder if the Father gave this passage to him during those forty days of fasting? It is one of the truly majestic words of holy writ. It tells us that the poor will have good news and those who are in bondage and hurt will be free.

As we break down this mission statement of Christ we begin to understand the very heart of God for mankind. We start to understand how broken our world is and how much we need a Savior. Poverty is a stench in the nostrils of God. Spiritual bondage and blindness are affront to His presence. Yet the word says that because the Spirit of the Lord came darkness will no longer rule on earth. The Holy Spirit is upon you and upon me to do his will!

Come Holy Spirit! Fill us afresh and anew so that captives will be set free.

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1976 and my first wife Ellen was wanting to stop taking insulin because she believed that God had healed her. We were new Christians and did not know what to do so we flipped open the bible and came to this verse in Acts 5:
"How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?"
Now I would not recommend getting guidance from God in that manner but the message rang true to us and Ellen continued to take insulin injections for her diabetes.

In this passage Jesus speaks to the very issue that Ellen and I were dealing with - do we act on the words of scripture from an attitude of faith or presumption. Do we take the general words of holy writ and presume to know what God's will is for our lives? Jesus speaks to us from these words and tells us to not presume to know God's will in these matters. He says that, when we do, we foolishly put God to a test. A test that God will not respond to.

Lord help me to walk by an attitude of trusting faith, and not presumption, today.

It is written ...

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

The story seems incredible and the ilk of legends. How the devil confronted Christ in the wilderness and showed him all the kingdoms in a moment. Amazing. As I reflect on it I am drawn to the conclusion that it comes from the very lips of Jesus.. perhaps it was part of a teaching told to the disciples? The story paints a troubling picture of the devil as a powerful entity on planet earth. Yet the power he exerts is resisted with the words "it is written".

I find it interesting how the Lord uses his voice to combat evil, sickness and lies as he ministers. In this instance he does not argue with the devil but merely speaks the scripture to him. It is an powerful example to us of how we should handle temptations. First we must embrace the word of God as powerful - we must read and believe it. And when we are tempted to worship another we will have the power to resist by speaking the precious word.

You alone are worthy of my worship Lord. I bow to you alone.

Man shall not live by bread alone.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

This is the first temptation of Christ in the desert and it speaks to the nature of sin - both in the devil's question and Jesus' answer. On the surface it would not seem to be a sinful act to do something miraculous to satisfy a need like hunger - remember how Moses struck a rock and water came out from it.. or how Jesus fed thousands by multiplying a few fishes and loaves. So it seems that sometimes God meets our needs with the miraculous.

Yet in this case the issue was not meeting a need but giving in to the temptation to sin by breaking a fast. I suspect that Christ had plenty of opportunity to eat but he did not because he had set apart this time to seek his Father's will with prayer and fasting. Physical bread would have satisfied for a time but it would have robbed him of the bread that lasts forever. It is a truth that we must often deny our fleshly needs for the bread that satisfies our souls.

Help me Lord to reject the bread that briefly satisfies for the bread that feeds eternally.

I must be in my Father's house ...

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

So far in the book of Luke we have read about events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. The scriptures are silent concerning the life of Christ before his public ministry with the exception of this story. I think that the story tells us a few things about the preteen Jesus. Firstly I think that the story tells us that he was a normal human boy who did not consider his parents feelings. Secondly it tells us of his divine nature.

I think that it is so intriguing to read that, at this early age, Jesus understood that God was his father. Unlike today, this was a very radical idea. It speaks to me of how Christ understood his nature and his mission long before he emerged at the Jordan River. It also tells me that our life message must be anchored in the Fatherhood of God. If we, as children of God, embrace this identity we will also increase in wisdom, in stature and in favor.

For the joy of being your child I am so thankful Father. Help me to honor our family today.

Go into all the world ...

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

I am trying to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples when Jesus appeared to them. Reports of his resurrection had been told to them but they did not have it in themselves to believe the good news. These men saw their friend and teacher die a brutal death. They were traumatized and in the early stages of the grieving process. When Christ appears to them they are both confused and relieved.. shocked and joyous.

To these who did not believe.. to these with hard hearts.. Jesus turns their unbelief and their heart inside out. Instead of commiserating with them the Lord lays down the gospel gauntlet. In just a few words he casts the vision and the mission that would fire up the church for centuries to come. He assures them that their message will have the power to save and changes lives. These hardhearted unbelievers would soon turn the world upside down.

Help me to proclaim the good news today Lord in what I say and what I do.