Jesus says some really hard things when he speaks. He doesn’t gloss over things and he doesn’t paint a picture of easy-peasey faith. When Jesus calls us to be his disciples he invites us into a journey of suffering as | Read More
Jesus says some really hard things when he speaks. He doesn’t gloss over things and he doesn’t paint a picture of easy-peasey faith. When Jesus calls us to be his disciples he invites us into a journey of suffering as he hands us a cross, which is an instrument of torture…
Try that one on for an invitation to join the church family. The message of the gospel is a message that invites us into a life of suffering. Yet… to follow Christ is also to find true joy and happiness and satisfaction in the gospel. To follow Christ and to be his disciples is to serve him who served us through the suffering of his cross on our behalf so that we could be made whole again. So that we could be healed. So that we could be set free. So that we would no longer be slaves to sin but instead become slaves or servants to Christ Jesus. Christ offers us all we could ever need in his life, his death, his resurrection, his glorification and his imminent return to take us home to the presence of our Father who is love. The question for us now is this… How do we come to Christ? Do we come as servants? Do we come as people in need? Do we come as people who trust in Christ?
Read Luke 17:7 – 14…
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
#1: When We Come To Christ We Must Come To Him As His Servants… (7-10)
What stops you from coming to Christ as a servant? Servants don’t believe they are entitled to anything. Servants don’t elevate their desires above the desires of their master. Servants don’t practice prideful disobedience. Can you imagine a spouse who lives with a sense of entitlement? Can you imagine a friend who can’t get their eyes off their own needs long enough to care for someone else’s needs? Can you imagine an employee who continues to ignore the boss’ directions? These three problems of entitlement, self-centeredness and prideful disobedience are barriers to our coming to Christ. They’re like barricaded fortresses deep within the rooms of our hearts that stop us from coming to Christ as his servants. When we come to Christ we must come to him as his servants.
Serving Christ means we must work hard… (7)
Entitlement is the enemy of hard work and to be a servant means to work hard. Jesus describes what it means to be a servant who works hard instead of living out of a false sense of entitlement when he says “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?” It’s a rhetorical question that’s meant to remind Jesus’ disciples that they are not entitled to anything other than a life that is characterized by the hard work of a servant who’s been served so well by the cross of Christ. If you and I truly set our focus upon Christ and his work at the cross won’t we be compelled to serve him by working hard instead of believing that we deserve more? Won’t we be compelled to work hard instead of believing that we are owed something? What more could we want than a Savior who gave his life willingly on our behalf? Serving Christ means we must work hard…
Serving Christ means we must put Christ first… (8-9)
Self-centeredness is the enemy of Christ-centeredness. Jesus describes what it looks like to be a servant who puts his master first when he says “Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” Again… Jesus is asking rhetorical questions that are meant to remind us that serving Christ isn’t about what we get out of it. It’s not about a paycheck. It’s not about an easier life. It’s not about getting accolades. It’s not about us. It’s about Christ. It’s about putting Christ first. Jesus doesn’t have any needs. Jesus doesn’t need us to feed him. This story that Jesus is sharing is meant to help us become servants of Christ by putting him first. Putting Christ first is all about dying to ourselves. Dying to our self-centeredness. Why would we want to live for ourselves anymore? Why would we want to serve ourselves anymore? Could we pay the price of our sin for ourselves? Only Christ could pay that price and he willingly did it so that we could be saved and employed in the service of the king as servants who put Christ first. Serving Christ means we must put Christ first…
Serving Christ means that we must humbly obey… (10)
Prideful disobedience is the enemy of humble obedience. Jesus makes this point when he says “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Listen… when you do what God commands you to do and your pride wells up within you because someone else isn’t doing what they should do then you’re really just being proud of yourself for what you did and therefore disobedient. Why would we stake anything on any of our obedient actions anyway when we know that in the next moment we could disobey? The point is this… we must humbly obey what the Lord asks of us as we seek to serve him because in the picture of the cross of Christ and his perfect obedience to the Father’s gift of grace on our behalf our obedience looks like a mere duty to be performed. We can’t out-obey the obedience of Christ. We can’t out-obey the performance of others. We can only serve Christ by humbly obeying him. This is what it means to serve Christ… To serve Christ means that we must humbly obey him.
Have you come to Christ as his servant?
Think about your job, your marriage and your friendships. Are you ready to work hard to serve Christ? Are you ready to put Jesus first in everything? Are you ready to be Christ-centered? When you come to Christ you must come to him as someone who is ready to serve him by working hard… serve him by putting him first and serve him by humbly obeying him. Have you come to Christ?
#2: When We Come To Christ We Must Come To Him As People In Great Need… (11-14)
What stops you from coming to Christ as a person in need? People who believe they’re clean don’t believe they need Jesus. People who believe they’re perfectly healthy don’t believe they need Jesus. Can you imagine a person who believes they smell perfectly fine when in reality they need a really good shower? Does this person really believe they’re in great need of mercy or are they just stuck in the bonds of self-justification? Can you imagine a person who believes they’re perfectly healthy when in reality they’re terminally ill? Does this person really believe they’re in great need of healing or are they just stuck in the bonds of self-help? These two problems of self-justification and self-help are barriers to coming to Christ as people in great need.
We must come to Christ as people in great need of mercy… (11-13)
Self-justification is the barrier that stops us from believing we need God’s mercy. Instead of seeing ourselves as people in need of mercy we see ourselves as people with our lists of accomplishments that prove our worth. Luke tells us that as Jesus was, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Listen… what Jesus was encountering here was a really unhealthy community of people. Jesus was encountering a sick family of lepers. Lepers weren’t allowed to be in relationship with healthy peopl because they had a serious skin disease. They couldn’t live in town with their families. They couldn’t enjoy the intimacy of close relationship or physical touch. To be a leper was to be an outcast whom everyone stared at and avoided. Can you hear the desperation in the voices of these lepers as they call out to Christ? Can you hear the loneliness of their cries? Can you imagine the years of isolation and shame? Can you imagine their feelings of failure and hopelessness because true healing kept evading them? Can you imagine their desire for someone to just have mercy on them and extend a healing touch or an encouraging word? This is what Christ offers to all who would come to him in great need of mercy. The lepers couldn’t fix themselves or justify themselves. They couldn’t cover up their shame. They couldn’t hide their sickness. What these lepers needed most was exactly what we need the most. Mercy. Our sin is like an infectious skin disease that leaves us rotting in the stench of death. Our sin first creates chaos within our relationship to God and then second is made visible in our relationship with others around us. Mercy from our Father is what we need the most. The cross of Christ is the picture of the Father’s mercy for us. Why wouldn’t we come to Christ crying out for his great mercy that he has freely offered for our sick souls? We must come to Christ as people in great need of mercy.
We must come to Christ as people in great need of cleansing… (14)
Self-help is the barrier that stops us from believing that we need Jesus to cleanse us. Instead of seeing ourselves as people in need of cleansing we minimize, ignore, excuse, blame or hide our shameful failures on external circumstances rather than admitting our deadly sickness and our great need for cleansing and we jump from one self-help technique to the next to try to fix ourselves. Luke tells us that Jesus doesn’t give these lepers another self-help book or another self-help talk show with Oprah or Dr. Phil but instead, “When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” One commentator on this passage says that priests effectively worked as public health inspectors and had the authority to diagnose people as either clean or unclean. So these lepers turned and headed for their meeting with their caseworkers with their heads hung low and as they did Jesus did the miraculous. He did the impossible and he cleansed them completely. Why would we want to look for cleansing in any other place than the cross of Christ? Why would we want anything other than the blood of Jesus which washes us whiter than snow? The Scriptures tell us that “though our sins they be as scarlet… though our hands have been an enemy of God… though our hearts have played the whore… God gave us more than we deserve when he washed our hearts as white as snow.” This is the message of the gospel! It’s great news! We are people in great need of cleansing and we can’t cleanse ourselves but Christ offers all the cleansing we need in the shower of his grace through his work at the cross. When we come to Christ we must come to him as people in great need of cleansing.
Have you come to Christ as a person in great need?
Think about your thinking patterns… the desires of your heart and the habits of your life. How often do you attempt to justify or defend yourself? How often do you try to just pull yourself up by the bootstraps? Is your mind occupied by how bad everyone else is in light of how good you are? Have you come to Christ as a person in great need?
Here’s my prayer for us…
My prayer is that the Spirit of God would move on our hearts and compel us by the picture of Christ who was our suffering servant. My prayer is that we would be compelled to come to Christ as his hard working, Christ centered, humble and obedient servants. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would compel us to come to Christ as people in great need of mercy and cleansing.My prayer is that the Spirit of God would move us to repentance from the sins of entitlement, self-centeredness, prideful disobedience, self-justification and self-help. My prayer is that the Spirit of God would draw us to belief in the gospel and that as he does this we would come to Christ as servants who are in deep need of Jesus.close x
Do you have true faith? Faith that sets a good example… Faith that carefully watches your own soul… Faith that gently & lovingly rebukes sin… Faith that forgives… Do you have true faith? Look at what Jesus says in Luke | Read More
Do you have true faith? Faith that sets a good example… Faith that carefully watches your own soul… Faith that gently & lovingly rebukes sin… Faith that forgives… Do you have true faith? Look at what Jesus says in Luke 17:1-6…
1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
In verses 1 – 3 Jesus tells us to set a good example. Think about this for a minute. What kind of example are you? Are you someone who models Christ for others or are you someone who opens the door to temptation and sin? Do you lead other people down the hallways of destructive & deadly living? It’s too easy to answer these questions quickly and miss what Jesus is saying here about the need for every one of us to be a good example.
Over the last few chapters in Luke’s gospel Jesus has been locked in conflict with religious people who should be setting a good example for others but weren’t. Instead, they despised him and complained about his commitment to seek and to save the lost. Over and over again, Jesus explains the heart of the Father for lost people as he confronts the hearts of the people who are listening to him preach. Jesus’ concern in the last few chapters is that he wants us to have the same heart of love towards God and people around us as our Father in Heaven has extended towards us in the picture of the cross of Christ. If we are going to be disciples of Jesus then we should…
Are you ware of the temptation & sin that lurks around in your heart? Jesus tells his disciples “Temptations to sin are sure to come.” You and I are living with our heads in the sand if we think we won’t struggle with temptation and sin in this life. You and I can be certain that the opportunities to be tempted and to fall into sin are lurking around the corners of the doorways of our hearts at all times. We need to be aware. We need to be on guard. We need to be ready. We need to be on the lookout. We need to set a good example by being aware of our bent towards temptation & sin.
We should take a lesson from the story of Cain & Abel in Genesis 4:6 – 7. Cain was ticked at Abel because God received Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. God came to Cain and warned him by saying “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” We must set a good example by being aware of our bent towards temptation and sin. Temptations to sin are sure to come. Sin is crouching at the door desiring to kill you.
Is there anger lurking around in the shadows of your heart? Is there bitterness hiding in the corners of your soul? Is there lust running rampant up and down the hallways of your desires? Is there envy or jealousy or impatience or laziness or pride or fear or un-forgiveness or hatred buried within the rooms of the fortress of your heart and mind? Jesus says that we should set a good example by being aware of temptation and sin and not only that, but we should also…
I am convinced that deep within the hallways of our hearts lie temptation & sinful impulses that are always knocking on the doors of our hearts just screaming to be let in so that they can control our every desire. After Jesus tells his disciples that temptation and sin are sure to come he says “woe to the one through whom they come!” You and I do not want to be responsible for opening the doorway to temptation and sin. We need to barricade these doorways and lock them up tight as we resist temptation and sin. You and I cannot sit passively by while playing around in the doorways of temptation and sin. If you open the door to temptation and sin then watch out because the outcome will be painful. The outcome will be dangerous. The outcome will be life threatening. We need to set a good example by not opening the doorways of temptation & sin.
James 4:7 – 10 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” In other words… Don’t open the doorways of temptation and sin by laughing at what God calls evil or minimizing what God calls sin or excusing what God calls impure. Don’t live a double standard or a double life.
Are you guilty of opening these doorways? Do you say yes to anger? Do you give into bitterness? Are you enslaved to lust? Are you envious or jealous of what others have? Do you find yourself being impatient? Are you prone to laziness? Does your pride manifest itself in being afraid of people and seeking their approval? Does your pride manifest itself in defensive posturing and seeking to crush other people with control and manipulation? Do you live out hateful fantasies of vengeance & un-forgiveness? Jesus says that we should set a good example by not opening the doorways of temptation & sin and not only that, but we should also…
Listen, if you don’t recognize or if you are not aware of the dark places of your heart that lead you into temptation and sin then you will inevitably be the one who opens the door for temptation and sin and then the only recourse you will have is to run down those dark and evil corridors and hallways of destructive and deadly living.
Jesus says that if you are not aware of your own tendencies towards temptation and sin then you will run down those sinful hallways and if you do he says “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea than that you should cause one of these little ones to sin.” In other words… if your life is characterized by your indulgence of sinful living rather than repentance then it is better for you to be cut off so that you do not lead younger Christians into the same patterns of destructive & deadly living. Think about your Facebook profile and posts over this last week. Think about the language you use in front of other young believers. Think about the children that are watching you. Think about the woman you are taking advantage of sexually. Think about the man you are placing your emotional hopes in. Does your life leave people thirsting for more of God or does it lead others down the hallways of sinful & destructive living?
I had a friend once who served alongside me in ministry. At some point his life went on tilt and he began to lose his awareness of his own tendencies towards temptation and sin. He began to open the doorways to all kinds of evil living and then he began to run up and down the dark halls of the sinfulness embedded within his heart. When many of us came to him out of concern and love he refused to listen and he refused to repent. Many people followed him as he ran up and down the hallways of his ever-growing sinful lifestyle and today many of those people are no longer walking with the Lord. When you choose to run down the hallways of destructive & deadly living you are not setting a good example and you will inevitably cause other little ones to sin as well. Jesus is telling us in this passage to set a good example by not running down the hallways of destructive and deadly living because when we run down these hallways we become like what Jesus’ brother James says in James 1:14 – 15 when he says “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would continue to turn all of us to Jesus through the hearing of this message. My hope is that we would rest in Christ. Find our refuge in Christ. Find our satisfaction in Christ. Find our justification in Christ. Find our acceptance in Christ. Find our fulfillment in Christ. My prayer is that as the Spirit of God does this work in us that he would turn us into repentant people who in the power of the cross of Christ set the example for others in our awareness of our temptation and sin… in our resistance to opening the doorways of temptation and sin… and in our rejection of the hallways of temptation and sin. My prayer is that we continue to grow in holiness as we learn how to set a good example for others.
In verses 3 – 4 Jesus calls us to watch over our own hearts diligently… rebuke our brothers and sisters who fall into sin gently and lovingly… and forgive endlessly. Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” In other words… Wake up from your slumber! Pay attention! Open your ears! Open your eyes! Watch the condition of your own heart carefully and if you have a brother or a sister that is unaware of their sin… has opened the doorways to the sinful desires of their heart and are running like a child through the dark hallways of sinful living then you must practice the art of rebuking and forgiving them.
Jesus says “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” We must pay attention to ourselves. We must watch over our hearts and souls like hawks. We must ruthlessly run down our sinful desires, our sinful thinking patterns & our sinful behaviors and murder them relentlessly. Pay attention to yourselves! Watch yourselves! Murder sin within yourself or it will be murdering you and everyone that follows you.
Jesus says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Further down in verses 21 – 35 Jesus describes what it looks like to forgive people who’ve sinned against us and ask for mercy. The point of these passages when read in context together is neither a wholesale acceptance of harsh and legalistic punishment or passive glossing over of sin or sweeping things under the rug or ignoring and excusing sinful living. These passages teach us that we must be ready to rebuke and forgive. We must be ready to confront, correct & call out our brothers and sisters when they are standing on train tracks with trains barreling down upon them and we also must be ready to forgive them when they repent.
Back in Luke 17 and verse 3 we run into a little bit of a linguistics mess when Jesus says, “if he repents forgive him”. Does this mean that our forgiveness is conditional? To take that to be the meaning of what Jesus says here would be to interpret this phrase wrongly because we know that we are called to forgive unconditionally, perfectly and infinitely if we understand Jesus’ other references to “forgiving 7 times” properly. So what’s the meaning of this phrase “if he repents forgive him”? In my searching for some meaning here I came across this quote from J.C. Ryle where, in regards to this passage he says, “This expression is remarkable. It doubtless cannot mean that we are not to forgive men unless they do repent. At this rate there would be much bitterness constantly kept alive. But it does mean that when there is no repentance or regret for an injury done, there can be no renewal of cordial friendship, or complete reconciliation between man and man.” In other words… forgiveness is a command that we must seek to follow but restoration and reconciliation of relationships broken by the chaos of sin is conditional upon the effort and evidence of repentance. We should be people who watch our hearts and lives like armed guards… we should boldly, gently and lovingly rebuke our brothers and sisters when they begin to live in the chaos of sin… and we should be ready to forgive always.
Are you paying attention to the condition of your heart and soul? Are you ruthlessly running down your sinful desires, sinful thinking patterns and sinful behaviors so that you can ruthlessly murder them? Are you watching the backs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you practicing biblical discipline and correction? Do you have un-forgiveness running rampant in your heart that is producing bitterness and resentment? Are you watching ruthlessly… rebuking gently… and forgiving endlessly?
My prayer is that God would continue to bring us to repentance in these areas. My hope is that we would repent from our self-reliant and self-worshipping ways of living and turn in faith in these moments to the only one who can authentically and faithfully watch over our souls… rebuke our sin and extend eternal unconditional forgiveness. That person is Christ. Christ alone is the faithful shepherd who watches our hearts and souls diligently by the power of his Spirit. Christ alone is the one who gently and boldly confronts, corrects and rebukes our sin through the power of His Spirit at work through His Word and the mouths of the body of Christ in community around us. In Christ alone we find true forgiveness from our sins because of his perfect sacrifice at the cross. This is good news! This is the gospel! We must believe it today! We must rest in it today! We must find our refuge in it today! We must let the gospel forge our ability to watch diligently… rebuke gently… and forgive relentlessly! Amen!!
In verses 5 – 6 Jesus tells us to have true faith. Listen… When Jesus calls us to set an example and to watch, rebuke & forgive there comes a point when we must ask… “How in the heck do I do all of this?” We might even begin to think… “Dang… I’m going to need a lot more faith to make this all happen!” But the reality is that it’s not about having more faith it’s about having true faith. The disciples had to have been feeling the weightiness of what Jesus was throwing down here because there response was admirable and understandable when they exclaimed, “Increase our faith!” But Jesus responds to their outburst by saying “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Listen… it’s a proven fact that some mulberry trees can live for hundreds of years. Can you imagine how deep those roots go? How about this… Have you ever thought about how impossible it would be to plant an uprooted mulberry tree in a sea, miles below the surface of the water? The impossibility of uprooting a mulberry tree and then planting it in a sea merely by telling it to be done is beyond my comprehension and ability. I’m certain that you might agree with me on this point… Otherwise, if this doesn’t seem so impossible to you then I’m happy to accompany you to the nearest mulberry tree and then I would like to take a trip to the nearest sea of your choice! The point here that Jesus is making is that to do the impossible things that God calls us to do… we do not need more faith… we need true faith! This is how the impossible becomes possible! Through true faith in Christ the impossible becomes possible!
Philip Ryken commenting on these verses says “It is hard to set a good example for people, not leading them astray. It is hard to rebuke a brother’s sin in a way that leads to repentance. It is hard to forgive people who have done us some kind of wrong.” All of these things are hard to do if not completely impossible. It’s hopeless to believe that any of us can do any of this. If you think you’re going to walk away from this message and start knocking it out of the park in all these areas… you will be left with your hopes shattered in a few moments. You’ll be left unsatisfied. You’ll be left with an overwhelming sense of failure. You’ll be left face to face with the truth that doing all of this is impossible for you on your own.
We look to Jesus. We trust in the perfect work of Jesus. We trust in the never-ending love of Jesus. We believe in the perfect performance of Jesus. When we fail to set a good example we confess our sin and proclaim the perfection of Jesus who is the best example. When we get lazy and forget to watch our souls we confess our sin and proclaim the perfect shepherding skill of Jesus who watches our souls like an armed militia. When we chicken out of rebuking our brothers and sisters or when we are being rebuked by our brothers and sisters in Christ we confess our sin and proclaim once again the perfect performance of Jesus as he dies upon the cross paying the penalty for our sin so that we can receive complete and eternal forgiveness. When we are faced with the impossibility of extending forgiveness to other people who’ve sinned against us in horrific ways we confess our failure to forgive and we look to the cross of Christ again where as he was being nailed to that cross by his enemies he looked up into the Heavens and cried out “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This is the forgiveness that Christ extends to every one of us and it’s the forgiveness that he calls us to extend to others, as we trust in his ability to do the impossible. This is where we find our hope. Christ is where we find our hope. Our ability to perform any of this will leave us hopeless, empty, dying in the chaos of sin. Christ’s ability to perform all of this perfectly will embolden our faith and breath life into our lives. This is what it means to have true faith and not more faith. God calls us to set a good example… to watch our hearts, rebuke our friends, extend forgiveness… and the way we do this is by having true faith in our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. The question we are left with today is… Do you have true faith? Faith that sets the example… Faith that carefully watches your own soul… Faith that gently & lovingly rebukes sin… Faith that forgives… Do you have true faith?close x
Luke 16:14 – 18… 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is | Read More
So here we are again in Luke’s Gospel examining Luke’s account of Jesus becoming a man, walking among us, performing miracles, preaching the gospel and intentionally heading towards Jerusalem where certain death awaits him. It’s a great story!! It’s a roller coaster of a ride!! Following the details of the birth, life, death & resurrection of Jesus is like watching a great story unfold right in front of our eyes. One of my favorite ways to relax is to kick back and watch a great movie with friends and family. For a movie to be good it has to have certain elements woven throughout the story. For a movie to tell a good story it has to be full of intrigue, suspense, action, tragedy, heroism & romance. This is why Luke’s Gospel is so good because it’s a great story. It’s a fantastic story that is full of imagination, unexpected twists & turns, danger, heartache, betrayal and sacrifice.
The last few chapters of Luke’s Gospel have been incredible. In case you haven’t been with us for this study I just have to say that Jesus was the man right! Jesus was the preacher of preachers! Over the last few chapters Jesus has preached his guts out! He’s preached on the need for repentance (13:1-9). He’s preached on the reality of the kingdom of God (13:18-21). He’s preached on striving to enter God’s family through the narrow door (13:22-30). He’s preached on the marks of humility in the parable of the wedding feast (14:7-11). He’s preached on what it means to accept the invitation of the Father to come to the banquet table and feast upon Christ (14:12-24). He’s preached on what it means to embrace the cost of being a cross-carrying-disciple of Jesus (14:25-35). He’s preached on what it means to have a heart that mirrors the Father’s heart of love for the lost (15). He’s preached on what it looks like to be crafty & intentional about our relationship between money and God (16:1-13).
Jesus has preached all of these things and more with intense clarity and courage while also leading his disciples, serving the needy crowds and responding to the opposition of the religious leaders who constantly complained and confronted and schemed against Jesus because they struggled to understand his preaching and honestly I think they opposed Jesus because he confronted some of their deepest longings & cravings for self-gratification, self-promotion, self-elevation and self-protection.
This is what the preaching of Jesus is meant to do. When Christ is preached – when Christ preaches – through the power of the Spirit our longings and our cravings and our desires are laid bare… unhidden, untwisted and unmasked. In these moments when Jesus preaches a word that directly confronts our sinfulness and we are made aware of the war we’ve made against God then we have a choice to make as the Holy Spirit calls out to us with an invitation to follow Christ.
We can either ridicule & ignore the preaching of Jesus or we can rejoice and accept his words like healing ointment for our weary hearts. We can be rebuked by Jesus for our sinfulness and respond by falling in front of the cross in repentance, confession and faith or we can openly reject him and justify ourselves on human terms. We can be reminded of the gospel, which enables us not to perform God’s rules to justify ourselves in our own strength but instead we can live obediently to God’s commands because we love the One who has loved us perfectly from before the foundations of the Earth.
What happens inside your heart when Jesus confronts your sinful longings? What emotions become present when Jesus speaks a word of rebuke to you because of the sinful cravings of your heart? What do you do when your deepest desires are dragged out of the depths of the prisons within your heart and laid bare in front of you? These are the questions that our passage provokes today. These are the questions that bubble to the surface when we look at the Pharisees and their response to the preaching of Jesus. Notice how the Pharisees respond to Jesus’ preaching.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot love both God and money in verse 13 the Pharisees overhear him preaching this message and in their classic form they move from complaining and grumbling about Jesus to ridiculing him for his preaching. I think this pattern of movement is something to pay attention to. First we complain because we didn’t get what we wanted to get. Then we grumble against the people who didn’t give us what we wanted. Then we ridicule others because they failed to meet our expectations. The Pharisees didn’t get what they wanted from Jesus so they complained, grumbled and now ridiculed him.
Luke makes this clear when he says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” The Pharisees couldn’t imagine a truly religious person being in financial need. They actually believed similarly to our health wealth and prosperity preachers of today. They believed that if you performed well enough and were in good standing with God and had enough faith then you would be wealthy which by implication means that if you weren’t wealthy then you and God weren’t tight like that. So the outcome of this theology was that the Pharisees loved their money and what Jesus had been saying to his disciples was deeply offensive to the Pharisees because in his preaching Jesus was confronting their deep longing for more money. Jesus was a homeless and poor gospel preacher who was preaching to wealthy religious leaders about their love for money. Jesus was confronting their deep craving for more status bought by money… More earthly comfort bought by money… More human power bought by money. The Pharisees loved their money and Jesus confronted that when he preached the last message in verses 1-13 in regards to being faithful, serving, loving & giving our devotion to God instead of money because we cannot be faithful to, serve, love & give our devotion to both God and money. We cannot serve two masters. This is why the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for his preaching because they loved their money and even though they would attempt to fool you into believing they were highly religious God lovers they were God-haters because of their love for money.
The Pharisees had been listening all along but they’d been listening all wrong. They couldn’t understand why Jesus would say that they shouldn’t love their money because in their hearts they had loved money to the extent that they had made wealth and poverty spiritual issues. Jesus basically said that if they continued to love their money and all of the status, the power & the comfort that money could buy then they in fact didn’t love God at all and in fact if they continued living this way then they actually were being unfaithful to God… they weren’t serving God… they were living hatefully towards God… they despised God. The Pharisees ridiculed Jesus because of what they heard Jesus say.
Can you imagine what it must be like to hear Jesus say this about you? Can you feel the Holy Spirit digging into the dark depths of your heart’s desires right now? Are you tempted to shift the spotlight away from your heart so that you can go back into hiding behind your relentless pursuit of physical & earthly possessions, wealth and status? Do you ridicule the words of Jesus or do you tremble at the truth of his assessment of your heart in these moments? The Pharisees didn’t tremble at the message Jesus preached. The Pharisees ridiculed the preaching of Jesus. They blame shifted & minimized & sought to discredit the preaching of Jesus, which is why Jesus responds to them with a stunning rebuke in verse 15!
Jesus hears their complaints and he hears their grumbling and he sees the darkness and the deception of their hearts and he issues a stunning rebuke that is meant to stop them in their tracks and lay the condition of their hearts and their need for the gospel naked and bare before them when he says “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” This is a scathing rebuke. It’s an in-your-face rebuke of the Pharisees and their practice of seeking human justification instead of Godly justification and elevating human desires above the desires of God!
The word justification means to be made right, to be declared as innocent or to be acquitted of guilt. The reason that Jesus’ rebuke is so scathing in this passage is because he accuses the Pharisees of being guilty of seeking their innocence through human means. They would seek to justify themselves or remove any outward signs of guilt while all the while their hearts were as guilty and dirty and as stinky as a 2 year olds diaper. Their mumbling, their grumbling, their complaining and now their ridiculing of Jesus’ preaching gave evidence to the condition of their guilty hearts before God. They thought that their outward performance, which produced human recognition & status, would also result in inner transformation. They failed to remember that justification or being declared innocent doesn’t happen because of our performance. Being declared innocent or being justified is an inward change that happens because of the performance of Christ & the legal declaration of the Father, which then results in outward holiness that receives the preaching of Christ in humility and brokenness. But why did the Pharisees seek human justification instead of Godly justification? I think it’s because the Pharisees had confused human desires for godly desires.
Think about the desires that course their way through your heart and soul on a daily basis. How often can you say that the desires or the longings of your soul are in tune with the desires or the longings of God? Jesus digs into the cravings of the hearts of the Pharisees when he says, “…God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Jesus literally tells these guys that their hearts are full of longings and cravings and desires that are in opposition and at war with the longings, and the cravings and the desires of God. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are guilty of loving outward performance & status rather than inward change and by doing so they actually loved what God hates.
How do you deal with your guilt? In what ways do you seek to defend yourself? What desires and longings do you give into that in fact are cravings that the Lord hates? How do you seek to hide your sin? In what ways is your heart being laid open, naked and bare in these moments? The Pharisees received a stunning rebuke from Jesus because they were living in opposition to him. It’s almost as though the Pharisees failed to connect the dots of the Law and the Prophets and the gospel and their limitations. It’s almost as though the Pharisees needed to be reminded to connect the dots of the basics once again.
I remember when all of my children were younger and they were learning to draw simple basic shapes. We had these little coloring books that the kids could use to draw simple shapes by connecting the dots. It was always interesting watching the process of our kids learning to hold the crayon just right and learning how to draw the lines just right to connect the dots and produce the shape on the page. Then as they got older they began to color the shapes with other colors. It was so fun to watch them grow in their ability to connect the dots on these simple basic shapes. And sometimes I would observe their art later down the road and wonder if they needed to go back to the basics of connecting the dots and coloring inside the lines to produce the beauty of a picture. In many ways I think this is what Jesus is doing with the Pharisees. He’s reminding them to connect the dots again.
In verse 16 Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. In other words… There are dots that must be connected between the Law, the Prophets, the Gospel and our Effort for us to understand the kingdom of God lest we become guilty like the Pharisees of building our own little personal kingdoms of self-promotion, self-elevation & self-gratification. Jesus is essentially connecting the dots in order of 1 – 4. The Law is the first dot, which reminds us how to live in holiness & love. The Prophets are the second dot, which reminds us that we have failed to follow the Law and we are in desperate need for God to save us from the penalty of breaking the law. The Gospel is the third dot, which reminds us of our need for Christ, who followed the Law perfectly & gave his life on our behalf so that we can be saved from the penalty of our law breaking lifestyles. Our Effort is the fourth dot, which reminds us of the fact that the only way to force our way into the kingdom or family of God is through the hearing and responding to the preaching of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees were literally connecting the dots in a backwards fashion, seeking to find their justification in their outward performance & effort while ridiculing the gospel that Jesus preached, murdering the prophets who called them to holy living and rewriting the Law of God so that they could keep it and therefore justify themselves. This is why Jesus brings up the matter of connecting the dots of the Law & Human Limitation.
In verse 17 Jesus says …it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. It is common to hear people say that the Law has passed away or that the Old Testament no longer needs to be followed because Jesus has come & died. But what Jesus says here completely blows that theology to smithereens! He says that it would be more impossible to abolish the Law of God then to destroy heaven and earth. Only God can destroy the heavens and the earth. Only God can write the Law. The Pharisees were mere humans with human limitations that needed to be embraced. The Pharisees had set themselves up as law writers, governing judges and executing juries. They had set themselves in the seat of God. They had not embraced their human limitations. They fought for control and power and status and they rejected the notion that God’s Law is meant to remind us of our limitations and God’s unlimited love. The Law of God is meant to remind us that we are limited in our sinfulness and our humanness and that we are in great need of receiving God’s love, which is limitless and will never end. This is the reason that Jesus turns his attention to a basic issue of love in the final verse of our passage.
In verse 18 Jesus says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. At first glance this last verse seems like a bunny trail but if you put yourself in the room as Jesus says this and you have an understanding of the purpose of the Law of God then what Jesus says here is actually a clear call back to the basics of love. What Jesus does here is he uses one of the most basic laws of God in regards to marriage and divorce to illustrate his point that the Pharisees had missed the point because the point of all of this was that the Pharisees were lovers of everything that was opposed to God rather than being lovers of God and this illustration would have driven the point home like a small nail with an 8lb sledgehammer.
The Pharisees did what we do all the time. They were guilty of breaking God’s laws and then making excuses or minimizing the sin or rewriting the law to apply it differently than it was intended to so that they could be let off the hook of their guilt. This basic law regarding divorce was something that many of the Pharisees had tampered with so that they could make it easy for people to accomplish. They wrote in fine-print disclaimers that gave men the right to divorce their wives based upon the wining of their wives and even so far as allowing divorce if a man’s wife wasn’t pretty enough or if she didn’t perform sexually enough but then on the flip side they would not give permission for divorce to a woman even in some severe cases of abuse. By doing these things the Pharisees cheapened the purpose of the Law and diminished the command to love. They were caught up in loving themselves instead of loving God with their entire beings. They were caught up in loving themselves instead of loving their neighbors sacrificially. The entire point of the Law is to help us love God and love people as recipients of God’s never ending love.
The basic failure on the part of the Pharisees was a failure to love God and people entirely. How do these dots connect for you? Have you been prideful? Have you been a lover of control? Are you guilty of loving things and accomplishments instead of loving God and the people in your life? Have you rewritten the law of God to no longer apply to you? Have you ignored the prophetic preaching of Christ? Are you in these moments ridiculing what Jesus would preach to your sinful and needy heart? How do you respond in light of the ridicule of the Pharisees and the rebuke of Jesus and His reminder to connect the dots?
My hope and my prayer is that we all would be convicted of our sinfulness and awakened to the hope that we have in Christ. My prayer is that our ridiculing would be changed to reception… that Christ’s rebuke would soften hard hearts and that we would be reminded to connect the dots to the never-ending love of God made available through the cross of Christ where Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed on our behalf. My prayer is that many would come to repentance and faith in Christ through the preaching of this word. How do you respond in light of the ridicule of the Pharisees and the rebuke of Jesus and His reminder to connect the dots of love?close x
Luke 16:1-13… 1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What | Read More
In these 13 verses Jesus tells his disciples the story of the dishonest manager (1 – 8), then he tells them to use their worldly wealth to make eternal friends (9), then he tells them to be faithful with what’s been given to them (10 – 12) and lastly he tells them not to be mastered by their money (13).
Why does Jesus tell this story here? In chapter 15 Jesus has just responded to the religious elite who were grumbling, complaining & whining about his decision to hang out with sinners & tax collectors. Jesus responded to their complaints by telling 3 stories about the lost getting found by God who is like a shepherd chasing down wandering sheep, an old lady searching diligently for her lost coin and a loving father who waits at the end of the driveway for his lost son to come home while also confronting the hypocrisy of his older son. But now, Jesus turns his attention to his disciples as he tells the story of the manager who was dishonest.
Put yourself in the audience while Jesus is talking for a moment and just imagine with me what it must have been like to hear Jesus telling these stories about the lost getting found and feel the thickness of the conflict in the air between Jesus and the religious crowd. I bet the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Then imagine that Jesus turns his attention to you and I as his disciples as he launches into yet another story but this time the story catches you by surprise because it’s a story about a dishonest manager. What’s up with that? Does Jesus have a bad case of ADHD? Did Jesus just change the topic?
Jesus describes a wealthy dude who calls his business manager in for a confrontational meeting because he’s received a report that his right hand man has been dishonestly wasting what’s been entrusted to him and as he meets with him he confronts his dishonesty, asks for a record of his business dealings & informs him that his position as his business manager is about to be terminated because of his dishonesty. Have you ever been in this place? Ever been caught red handed? Ever got caught up in making one dumb decision after the next and found yourself reaping the benefits & consequences of your sinful behavior? This is a scary place to be isn’t it? What do you do now? How do you dig yourself out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself? What do you do when you realize that all of the hard work you’ve done to protect your image, your investments, your future and your public record are going down the drain because of some stupid, selfish, sinful, spur of the moment dishonest decision?
Jesus says that the manager begins to take an inventory of his pitiful situation right there on the spot when he realizes that his boss is going to fire him because of his dishonesty. He realizes that he doesn’t have a lot of other skills to earn a living so he makes a split second decision to ensure some sort of a sustainable future for himself. Ever made split second decisions? Ever been completely caught off guard by the outcome of your own stupidity that you made yet another in the moment decision because of your worry in regards to your current circumstances & foreseeable future? This is what the dishonest manager does… He makes yet another dishonest decision in the moment that was driven by his fear of his current circumstances and the uncertainty of his future.
Our dishonest manager makes an in the moment decision to meet with a few people who owe his boss money or material wealth and essentially forgives portions of their debts and fixes the books in regards to what they owe his boss. He essentially does some pretty massive favors for his boss’ clientele so that they’ll be indebted to him and therefore ensure him some future income to stay afloat after he officially loses his job. In other words… the dishonest manager (who was probably better at being dishonest than he was at managing) puts his skill of dishonesty to work to sustain his future income. What do you think of this guy? Kind of feels like a slimy car salesman or a loan shark or a lawyer who overcharges you and gets away with it because of the supply and demand principle right? But even though we reject the distasteful, dishonest, selfish, sinful way this manager deals with his circumstances… we kind of have to admire his calculated, clever, wise, intelligent decision don’t we? Jesus even says that the manager’s boss in verse 8 “commended the dishonest manager (not for his dishonesty) for his shrewdness” which is the point of the entire story. It’s almost as though Jesus has wanted to say something about shrewdness all along.
Jesus says that the people of the world are often more shrewd, intelligent or clever in regards to their worldly wealth than believers are with matters of eternity. We all know what this is like right? It’s too easy to get caught up in earthly wealth, earthly possessions, earthly needs and earthly concerns. It’s far too easy to be intelligent schemers with earthly things while being thoughtless, lazy & wasteful with matters of eternity. This is how Jesus makes the turn from telling a story about a dishonest manager to explaining the connection between worldly wealth, eternal friends, faithful stewardship & being mastered by money in verses 9 – 13.
Jesus says I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. This portion of what Jesus says confronts our tendency to see our worldly things as a means for more worldly things. It’s funny how we often use our worldly wealth, which will rot & rust & waste away to accumulate more worldly wealth, which will rot & rust & waste away. It’s a broken cycle of using broken things to accumulate more broken things, which leads to more brokenness not wholeness. It’s a failed system of using failing things to accumulate more failing things, which leads to more things failing rather than things being restored & fixed. It’s a picture of being used by our worldly wealth rather than using our worldly wealth for eternal purposes.
Think of the religious crowd Jesus has been confronting in chapter 15 and the disciples Jesus is speaking to in chapter 16. Remember that Jesus was speaking to a mixed crowd of religious leaders, fishermen, tax collectors & sinners. They, like us, often fell into the broken cycle of valuing & pursuing earthly comfort, status, power & appearance. They had been given the express privilege & responsibility of being a shining city on a hill and a godly representation before other nations. They were supposed to be managers of God’s grace towards other sinners but they often wasted their privilege and responsibility by ostracizing the very people Jesus wanted to reach with the gospel. And now Jesus is instructing his followers not to be like that. Not to misuse or waste their privilege and responsibility like the dishonest manager by setting their eyes on things that will rot & rust & waste but instead to use the things that rot & rust & waste for eternal purposes. Jesus is instructing the disciples to be shrewd in their use of worldly wealth so that when the wheels fell off the bus of temporary earthly things they could secure eternal dwellings with eternal relationships that would at some point be completely restored rather than rotting & rusting & wasting away. Listen… If you live with your hearts, your minds, your eyes & your lives set upon physical things which will rot, rust & waste away then you will fail in eternity.
God wants us to use our worldly wealth for eternal purposes. How are you doing at investing your time, talent & especially your treasure in the ministry of the gospel? Are you growing in your practice of giving financially to the ministry of the church, local missions agencies, churchplanters across the country and missionaries across the world? We should be shrewd, calculated, intentional & wise in the way that we use our worldly wealth to make eternal friends. This is why Jesus continues to drill down into this principle in verses 10 – 12 as he tackles the topic of being faithful stewards next.
Jesus says “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
God calls us to be faithful with what’s been given to us and faithfulness is measured by how responsible we are with managing what’s been entrusted to us. The key issue here is trust. The question is can you be trusted? Are you trustworthy? Are you dependable? Do you follow through? When you are given a little responsibility are you faithful with it? Jesus says that if we aren’t faithful with the worldly wealth that God entrusts to us then he won’t give us more responsibility over eternal things. The reality is that we are called to be stewards and managers of the gospel to the world around us. Are you being faithful with the physical wealth that’s been given to you? Are you shrewdly investing in matters of eternity? Are you being irresponsible with your worldly wealth? Can you be trusted with the wealth that has been entrusted to you?
God calls us to use our worldly wealth to make eternal friends and to be faithful not dishonest or irresponsible with the use of our worldly wealth. But Jesus knows that the issue isn’t so much the irresponsible ways we manage or steward what’s been given to us because a severe focus on worldly wealth and a severe issue with being unfaithful with our wealth is a problem of the heart being mastered by anything other than God. This is why Jesus moves on in verse 13 with instructions in regards to what masters us.
Jesus says No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” What Jesus is talking about here is an issue of slavery. The image that Jesus is provoking here is an image of what masters our hearts. It’s a picture of what kind of shackles and chains are holding the desires of our hearts in captivity. Jesus’ point here is that we can be enslaved to money and therefore serve the almighty dollar in such a way that we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into the cellblocks of our captivity by our in the moment decisions to save our own skin. We can love our money so much that we become like Golum from the Lord of The Rings movies thinking that everything we can possess is more precious than God. We can become so devoted to building our physical kingdom of wealth that we despise anyone who calls us to truly sacrifice our wealth for the purposes of the gospel. We can become so devoted to material wealth & possessions that every shiny new thing grabs at our heart’s desires to the extent that we despise God. We can become so much in love with our material wealth & possessions that we actually live hatefully towards God. We cannot serve two masters.
Are you serving God with your money or has money become your God? Do you love your money and hate God or do you love God and hate your money? Are you devoted to God in a way that leads you to despise the control money once had over you or do actually despise God in the way that your money controls you? My prayer is that everyone hearing this message would come to a place where they say that Jesus is their Savior & Lord & King & Master Commander of the ship of their lives.close x
In chapter 15 Jesus tells 3 stories about the lost getting found by God in response to and in stark contrast to the hearts of the religious elite who were grumbling, and whining, and complaining about how Jesus was engaging | Read More
In chapter 15 Jesus tells 3 stories about the lost getting found by God in response to and in stark contrast to the hearts of the religious elite who were grumbling, and whining, and complaining about how Jesus was engaging with the sick and sinful people around him. The first story is about a lost sheep that gets found by a faithful shepherd. The second story is about a woman who loses a coin that belongs to her so she searches diligently until she finds it and then she throws a fat party with her friends to celebrate the fact that she has found the valuable coin that belongs to her. The third story is about a lost son who melts his life down on every level but then wakes up and comes home to his father with an attitude of true repentance before God & his earthly father who meets him at the end of the driveway and welcomes him back into the family with a welcome home party.
In these stories we learn that God is the great shepherd, the diligent owner & the loving father. God is the Great Shepherd who searches for and finds the sheep that has absent-mindedly wandered off and gotten lost. God is the diligent owner who searches for his highly valuable children who accidently get lost and when he finds them his joy over finding what belongs to him is uncontainable! God is the loving Father who is waiting with open arms to welcome rebellious & destructive people who wake up and see the chaos & sickness of their sin and respond by running home to God in true repentance. In these three stories Jesus paints a picture of God as the Great Shepherd, the diligent owner & the loving father.
What questions should these 3 stories provoke in our hearts? Have you been found by the great shepherd of your soul? Do you belong to God who has gone to great lengths to diligently find you? Have you returned in true repentance to your loving heavenly father who has been waiting with open arms at the end of the driveway for you to come back? Are you like the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son or are you more like the lost religious leaders?
Many of us probably don’t identify with or relate to the hypocritical religious elite or the lost older brother very much. This reality is the reason why we’re spending this week examining the lost older brother, and as we turn there I want us to contemplate something for a minute. I want us to notice how Jesus begins in confrontation with a bunch of complaining & grumbling & whining religious elitists who are ticked off about Jesus’ interaction with sinners. But notice also that he ends by highlighting the lost older brother who, because of his resentment, refuses to join in the joy of his father receiving his sick younger brother back into the family.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
What is your knee jerk reaction when you see someone who has lived offensively before God and others? What runs through your mind when someone offends you? What emotions or desires well up from within your heart when you see someone living in the chaos of sinful behavior? How do you treat other people who are stuck in the destructiveness of their sin? When you get around people who have melted their lives down to the last shred do you refuse to engage them past the level of courteous and surface level relationship? Do you get angry & resentful towards other people when they do offensive things? I think if we are honest with ourselves before the Lord then I think we have to admit that we all struggle with refusing to engage people who offend us and I also think we struggle with being angry & bitter & resentful towards people who have offended us. Look at verses 25 – 28 again with me…
While the younger brother has been out melting his life down with wild living the older brother has been right where he belongs working out in the field and caring for his father’s kingdom. When the younger brother comes home in repentance the older brother doesn’t leave the field to meet his brother with open arms as his father had done. Instead of being intimately involved in working to reconcile the relationship between his family and his younger brother the older brother refuses to acknowledge his younger brother’s arrival. The older brother just keeps his head down working hard to take care of the physical kingdom his father has built.
We oftentimes get distracted from the work of the gospel in saving the lost but eventually we’ll have to face the fact that Jesus is seeking to save the lost. The older brother tried to hide out in the fields but eventually he had to come into the house after his work and upon returning home he was confronted with the sound of music and dancing. What’s he suppose to do now? He’s been ignoring the fact that his younger brother was back all day and now he can’t hide from it anymore. Even if the older brother didn’t know all the details his refusal to go in and find out what was happening is an indicator of what was happening in his heart. Was he already angry? Did he already have a clue? Was he already pissed off that his younger brother could get away with breaking all of the rules and still come home and be welcomed and received back into the family without some sort of tangible period of waiting and testing and punishment? At some point we will all have to wrestle with the work of the gospel of grace in saving the lost.
We’ll have to choose whether we join God in his mission to redeem what’s been lost or refuse to join him and become lost ourselves. Instead of going into the party and joining the celebration the older brother refuses to engage his younger brother who has come home. Instead of running in and throwing his arms around his brother he calls one of the servants over and asks for a report. I can just see the older brother asking his litmus test of questions like a good cross-examining legal lawyer. Why is there a party going on? Why is everyone celebrating? Did anyone sit my younger brother down and scold him? Did anyone make it clear to my younger brother that he had a lot of trust to rebuild? Has anyone thought of the gross misuse of time, talent & treasure that is being invested in my irresponsible, rebellious & careless brother? What is my dad going to do to make my brother prove that he has changed? How do we know this isn’t just some cry for help because my dumb brother made a mess of things with his sick life? Why doesn’t my dad stick to the rulebook? Doesn’t everyone know that we don’t throw parties for rule breakers? What’s dad going to do now… rewrite the rulebook on discipline and consequences for our family? Can’t you just hear the older brother’s voice in your mind right now? Can’t you feel his anger? Can’t you see yourself in him? Don’t you sometimes think the same way? What happens when we do this? Don’t we just at that point refuse to engage relationships with the lost in grace because we think they’re too messy? When we are confronted with the work of the gospel in saving the lost we’ll have to make some tough choices.
When your relationships are based upon the keeping of rules then when the rules are broken you no longer have the context for the presence of grace and relationships cannot be restored. You will always see other people as people who get away with doing things that you can’t get away with. When your rules get broken and they aren’t repaired according to your litmus test of legal laws & formal punishment then you will effectively cultivate legalistic relationships based upon external results rather than the in-working of grace through the message of the gospel which is good news for sin weary rebels. If you are like the older brother – which, we all are sometimes – then just like the older brother in verse 28 – you will be angry and refuse to go in and join the joyful celebration when other sinners and rebels come home. Will you choose to cultivate relationships based on rules or grace?
What happens when you get stuck in the place of refusing relationship to other sinners? What happens when your expectations don’t get met? When your rules don’t get kept? I think the answer is that we get resentful. It’s too easy to lay out our cases against sinful, offensive, rebellious, irresponsible & sick people and then we get angry because they don’t do what we want them to do and then we get resentful when they don’t get what they deserve and when they do get what they don’t deserve. Another way of saying this is that when the legalist within every one of us is in control then we want to be receivers of mercy & grace but we don’t want to be extenders of mercy and grace. When rule keeping becomes normal, grace becomes foreign & resentment becomes obvious.
Luke tells us that when the father finds out that the older brother is angry & has refused to come to the party then he comes out and confronts the older brother for refusing to join in the celebration. Can you see them standing there in the driveway or on the sidewalk next to the house? Can you see the older brother ready to explode because of his anger? Can you see the father pleading with his older son to change his thinking, to change his heart and to change his behavior towards his younger brother? Can you feel the breaking point for the older brother as his father attempts to correct him? Can you see the older brother’s resentment yet?
You’ve done a good job. Other then a few minor mishaps throughout your life you’ve always been at your father’s side. You’ve always worked to do what he’s asked you to do. And now your kid brother who is always messing things up has come back home and your dad, who is throwing a party for your kid brother who has taken things too far this time, is standing there confronting you because you’re pissed not just at your kid brother but you’re pissed at your dad because he hasn’t related to your kid brother the way you want him to and so you’ve refused to join in the fun and your dad is trying to correct your thinking… and correct your affections… and correct your behavior. How dare he? How dare your dad correct you for wanting your kid brother to tow the line? How dare your dad undermine all of the years of hard work and faithfulness on your end? What do you do now? Can you imagine yourself in the place of the resentful older brother?
In moments like these, what is really growing on, on the inside comes out in a huge mess and that’s exactly what happens when the older brother explodes on his dad by saying “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Look at all the work I’ve done. You never honored me this way. I never got what he’s getting. I can’t believe you would treat him this way. Don’t you remember all the pain he’s caused? Have you forgotten how destructive he’s been? Why would you go all out for him and try to get me to join you in doing it? Resentment always explodes all over everyone around you.
Think about it with me for a minute… This older brother isn’t just resentful towards his younger brother he’s actually resentful towards his father. He doesn’t address his father by name. He doesn’t refer to his brother as his brother but rather as “this son of yours”. The older brother is resentful towards his father because his father hasn’t behaved in accordance with his list of rules. Isn’t it the same with us? Isn’t our struggle with resentment really resentment towards our Heavenly father? Isn’t our struggle with resentment really just an indicator of the fact that our hearts are still in desperate need of receiving God’s grace and mercy? Isn’t it much easier to talk about God’s mercy & grace, as an idea or a theological construct instead of actually receiving God’s grace & mercy personally? How is this evidenced in your life? The evidence is visible in our continual making of lists. Lists of right things done. Lists of policies followed. Lists of rules needing to be re-written. Lists of wrong things done. Lists of policies not followed. Arguing and stewing over the ever changing set of rules that we carry around in our pockets. And the lists go on and on and on and on… Who are you resentful towards?
Listen… When mercy and grace move beyond the place of theological construct then we have to wrestle with truly receiving & extending grace & mercy apart from anything we’ve done, not done or plan to do. We must wrestle with receiving & extending God’s mercy & grace apart from the lists we keep in our pockets and the masks we wear. You see… legalistic constructs lead to resentment but experiencing grace leads to joy.
I have to be honest with you and just confess to all of you that I struggle with the older brother syndrome. I grew up in a home where rule keeping was celebrated & rule breaking was punished. So it’s easy for me to feel angry & resentful when either I or someone close to me doesn’t follow the rules. It’s easy for me to feel happy when I or someone close to me follows the rules. And I get it… rules are put in place to keep us safe & healthy but the problem isn’t necessarily in the rules or the rule keeping. The problem is in the motivation behind our obedience & enforcement of the rules. Ask yourself these questions… “Do you obey the rules and enforce the rules so that you can be happy because you’ve done the right thing? Or… Do you obey the rules and enforce the rules because you are already full of joy, which is the result of being the recipient of God’s grace & mercy?” I suspect that we all struggle with this. I suspect that we all struggle to be motivated in our obedience by the presence of joy rather than being motivated to obedience so that we can be happy. It’s good to remember at this point that joy is something that wells up from within and happiness is something that is conditional upon external circumstances.
The older brother is unhappy. The older brother is full of resentment. We are just like the older brother oftentimes. So what’s the solution? What’s the remedy for the older brother syndrome? What’s the good news in light of this bad news? I think the answer is found in the response of the heart of the father of the sick son who came home and the sick son who was still at home. When the father realizes that the older brother is just as sick as the younger brother he responds to the older son’s stubborn refusal and angry resentment by saying “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ Can you hear the father’s joy oozing out in his response to the older brother’s outburst? Can you hear the joy of Jesus in his response to the complaining, whining & moaning of the religious elitists? The father’s inner joy as a recipient & extender of grace & mercy cannot be missed here. The father joyfully calls both of the boys his sons. The father joyfully welcomes the licentious son. The father joyfully reminds the legalistic son that he has already inherited the benefits of the kingdom, which is relationship with the father. The father is full of joy and in his expression of joy we have the remedy for our struggle with the older brother syndrome. The remedy for the older brother syndrome is the father’s joy.
My prayer is that the Spirit of God would fill us with his enduring joy in these moments. Joy because of the cross of Christ, which gives us the opportunity to become sons & daughters of God. Joy because we catch a vision for the never-ending presence & love of our Father in Heaven because of the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. Joy because we understand that everything in the kingdom of God belongs to us not because we’ve earned it but because God generously gives it to us as a gift that we don’t deserve. Joy because we too once were dead in our licentious living and legalistic living but now we’ve been brought back to life because God formed the faith in our hearts to trust in the work of Christ. Joy because we once were lost in the sins of rule breaking and rule keeping in accordance with our desires to either rule our own lives with irresponsible living or legalistic living but now we’ve been found by the grace of God through the mercies of the message of the gospel.
Are you full of stubborn refusal and resentment towards God? Or are you being filled with joy because of God’s grace & mercy towards you? Are you like the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son or are you more like the lost religious leaders & the lost older brother?close x